Saturday, May 02, 2009

Explaining the success of science

Science works. Is this fact better explained by naturalism, or by theism? My claim has always been that if naturalism is true, there would be no scientists.

19 comments:

philip m said...

Swinburne goes one step further - predictable laws of nature are predicted by the existence of God. Thus, the success of science would be one additional reason to believe in God. The argument is one based on the necessity of predictable laws for moral behavior. Without a rational universe, we would never be able to determine what effects our actions would have, and thus it wouldn't be knowable to us whether a given action we were about to perform would be good or bad. But in the present world we know that if we do certain things, it will make flowers grow or food grow, or that if we do other things, it will burn down our neighbors' house, or poison him and he will die.

But these are all the contingent physical phenomena of the unviverse's workings - it seems to me that Christians have always thought these things had scientific explanations, going back to the very beginning of Church history. That we lived in a universe where things happen by regularities was not unknown, though definitely less explicated. The interesting question has been why we live in this particular universe, or a universe at all - that is, ultimate, boundary-level explanations.

Matthew said...

philip m,
that was exactly what I was thinking when I read "success of science".

I believe I recently read an article on this in Bede's library.

"The Divine Lawmaker" also argues something along those lines.

Crude said...

Peirce had another argument along these lines. I think the way he presents it is more modest than the AfR. But I find the argument rather powerful, and think it can be developed into a distinct argument from the AfR that reaches a similar conclusion.

Doctor Logic said...

It occurs to me, Victor, that you are trolling on your own blog. :D

...

You've defined your God to be the kind of God who wants the world to be the way it actually is. You then claim that the way the world actually is should be viewed as evidence for your God. Sorry, but that's not a prediction. (It's circular reasoning.) And because it makes no predictions, it's not explanatory at all.

Victor Reppert said...

This is an important argument, the Naturalism or Chaos argument, and the related argument from pseudoexplanation. Though I have given rebuttals to thses in the past.

It seems to me that, even absent any mechanistic underpinning, intentional explanations are anything but pseudoexplanatory. Since I am familiar with lots of intelligent beings, it seems to me that a reasonable conclusion from 1) God is an intelligent being is 2) God will create an orderly universe which can be understood by humans. There are orderly and chaotic possible worlds, but one with an intelligent being in charge will select only intelligible, orderly worlds. If the world is not governed by any intelligence, then it could be orderly but it could just as easily be chaotic.

It seems to me that "Reppert cheered loudly when Fitzgerald caught a touchdown pass from Warner" can be predicted from "Reppert is a Cardinals fan" whether or not Reppert is a body, a soul and a body, or a disembodied intelligence. "God will create an orderly universe" can in the same way be predicted from "God is an intelligent being." What is the problem.

Doctor Logic said...

Victor, the problem is that (2) doesn't follow from (1). For several reasons. Here are a couple.

a) The universe can be arbitrarily chaotic and still comprehensible by God.

b) What is the universe for? Why create universes at all?

b.1) If the universe has no specific purpose, then why not make it chaotic? Even maximally chaotic?

b.2) Maybe a god created universes, but not for us.

In general, I agree with you that intentional regularities are explanatory. But if you don't know the intentional regularity, you can't predict anything relevant. You can't empty a claim down to "an entity might have wanted X, therefore X is explained by the mere possibility of an entity wanting X," and still retain any explanatory power.

I think I used this analogy recently. Suppose Egon has drilled a hole in his head with an electric drill. We all knew Egon, but can't think of any intentional regularity that would explain why he would do this. We all ask "Why did Egon drill a hole in his head?"

In this case, Egon's drilling a hole in his head is unexplained. Sure, we know that if Egon had wanted to drill a hole in his head, he could have exerted his will to do it. But that is trivial and only tells us that there is the mere possibility that Egon would drill a hole in his head.

Compare this with a physical analogy. Suppose we see some unusual event - a pool of water instantly turn into black smoke without any visible application of heat or other compounds. It would not be explanatory for me to say that "Physics is capable of turning water into smoke (or anything else, for that matter) assuming that the laws of physics say that water under these conditions will turn into smoke."

Do you see what I mean? Sure, it's logically possible there is an undiscovered law of physics that would have predicted the water would turn into smoke, but we don't know that law, so it can't be used as an explanation.

God is equivalent to either (i) an undiscovered law of physics, or (ii) a trivial law that explains a unique set of circumstances with an untestable regularity.

[(ii) is like me theorizing that there's a one-time, special law that only accounts of the water turning to smoke this one time, and no other.]

Ilíon said...

What does it even mean to speak of "the success of science?" What is the metric by which which this "success" is to gauged?

Persons who speak glowingly of "the success of science" seem never to say how they are evaluating that "succuees" ... though, they do seem always to want to derive wider, sometimes immensely so, implications from it.

philip m said...

Doctor Logic,

It is true that if all of God's intentions were equally probable, then we could always speculate that the actual world aligns is explained by God's intentions, which we are know are actual in light of the fact that their effects are actual. That would indeed be begging the question.

The hypothesis of God, however, is not just that he is a personal agent, but that he is eternal, unlimited in freedom, power, knowledge, and he is completely good. And while it is true that we cannot know God's intentions fully, that does not mean it cannot be more probable that God has certain intentions.

So we have certain boundary-level facts in need of explanation, such as the existence of the universe, its beauty, its orderliness, and the fact it is one that can and did bring about the existence of intelligent life. Now these are things which cannot be given scientific explanations in terms of other related physical phenomena, since they are boundary-level. So they can either be explained through intentional actions or have no explanations at all.

Now since God is perfectly good, if there is reason for a good being to bring about these phenomenon then the hypothesis will make the data more probable. As I mentioned earlier, we do not in fact know that these are God's intentions, or what the specific content of God's mind is, but that does not mean we cannot tell whether or not the effects are probable on the intentions of a perfectly good being.

Most atheists recognize this. This is why the problem of evil is the atheist's main tool. God of course has the ability to make a universe, and might make a particular universe where creatures flourished and were provided for, but not *this* universe, where they suffer to such high degrees. So there is a tradeoff here - either the problem of evil is something theists have to deal with, or God can't explain anything.

But in so far as we see that the universe and life are good things, it seems like God becomes the best explanation for why this particular universe is actual - other universe's would not be as probable, such as an ugly one, or one with no life, or a chaotic one (I don't see how chaos could be conceived as being good in itself), and so on. Even in the case that there are many other universe's with slight variations on this one, where we might suppose a good being has a nonzero probability of having the intentions to create it, it seems that God seems the best explanation just in that without him there are *no* explanatory resources for making sense of the data.

In the Egon example there is not even a reason to suppose that Egon would form that intention. The physical analogy doesn't compare simply because it doesn't relate to the forming of intentions, since physics is not a person. Person's might have higher probabilities of forming certain intentions, which is what I think is the case. And that there are intentions needed at all I think makes God a better (though not full, if we do not in fact have direct access to the content of his intentions) explanation than none.

Doctor Logic said...

Philip,

The main problem with your response is that your definition of "good" begs the question. Implicitly, you define good as, broadly speaking, what is good for man. God's goodness is defined as some sort of abstraction from human goodness. It's a circular argument to claim that a universe we regard as good is what God would create.

(Perfect goodness is poorly defined because it violates all sorts of linguistic rules, and takes goodness out of one language game and into another where it isn't properly defined. However, for the rest of this comment, I'll pretend linguistic philosophy never happened.)

You say "I don't see how chaos could be conceived as being good in itself," but (1) I don't see how anything can be considered good in itself, and (2) we think a chaotic universe is bad because it is bad for us, defeats our will, comprehension, etc.

You also say "it seems that God seems the best explanation just in that without him there are *no* explanatory resources for making sense of the data." Well, I think that there are explanatory relationships between many features of the universe, but I get your point... at some point we will run into some set of brute facts about the universe that cannot be explained in terms of other brute facts about the universe. However, all you're doing is positing that there is a God whose defining feature is that he wants to make a universe corresponding to the observed brute facts. That's not an explanation. I can always do that. I can say that there's Doctor Logic's Law that predicts nothing apart from Coulomb's Law, but where does that get us?

Intention is irrelevant to the argument at hand. There is a logical possibility that God could create the universe, and there is a logical possibility that physics can cause water to turn into smoke. Regularities are what turn the possibilities into probabilities. You don't have probabilities in God's case, except by defining God to be the kind of God who wants the brute facts as we see them. (Then, the probability is 1 but the argument is circular.)

If you accept the AfR then you would have a reason to say that God was explanatory because conscious minds could not be created except by external input of a conscious mind. However, we're not talking about the AfR at the moment.

philip m said...

Doctor Logic,

As I mentioned, there is a tradeoff between your position and using the problem of evil. And I am of the opinion that the problem of evil is a deeply important one for Christians to answer - that is, God's goodness *does* mean something. There are worlds God cannot create. God cannot create a world where everyone is born in a blazing oven and suffers excrutiating pain for ten minutes and then dies. Some atheists think the world we are actually in has crossed the threshold of possible permissible evil and that this therefore falsifies the hypothesis that God would have created this world, and thus that he does not exist.

But anyway - you are right that I have a conception of good that I use when thinking about God as a hypothesis. But here are the possibilities: either you think there is a definition of good that we can arrive at, and my explanation of how God is then predictive stands, or *you* are begging the question by asserting that we can never know what it means for something to be good. The former option means you have to introduce a concept of good and explain why everyone should accept that formulation of it, and then we can use it to think about what God would create or whether God would create. The latter option means that your claim that God is explanatorily useless has a key assumption which mostly everyone is apt to deny; that there are things which are objectively bad and objectively good is something maintained by even most atheistic philosophers.

Doctor Logic: You say "I don't see how chaos could be conceived as being good in itself," but (1) I don't see how anything can be considered good in itself, and (2) we think a chaotic universe is bad because it is bad for us, defeats our will, comprehension, etc.(1) I don't see how something *couldn't* be seen as good in itself. That is to say, goodness is a stopping point, where there are things which are simply good. Otherwise, there is no goodness.

(2) I don't think that's why it is bad - God could have made our part of the universe orderly, and the rest of it could have been chaotic for example. I think this is a better universe, simply because order is simpler, more elegant, exhibits more beauty, etc. And it does not matter that we are here to recognize that fact. Humans could have never been around and it would have been better for all these reasons if God were the only observer.

... at some point we will run into some set of brute facts about the universe that cannot be explained in terms of other brute facts about the universe. However, all you're doing is positing that there is a God whose defining feature is that he wants to make a universe corresponding to the observed brute facts. That's not an explanation. I can always do that. I can say that there's Doctor Logic's Law that predicts nothing apart from Coulomb's Law, but where does that get us?I am not defining God to be a being whose ony possible desires are those which correspond to the actual universe. That was what my last comment intended to delineate - that the regularity which we have to work with in this case is the feature of God's goodness. So it is the conjunction of the goodness of that which we observe, and as you mention later the necessity of a personal agent to bring about that data, that makes God explanatorily useful. And it does seem to me that a beautiful, orderly universe that brings about the existence of life, and conscious, morally responsible agents to be more specific, is a good thing which God has a higher probability to create than some anonymous agent whose intentions are all equally probable (which is what you are saying is how God is).

You don't have probabilities in God's case, except by defining God to be the kind of God who wants the brute facts as we see them. (Then, the probability is 1 but the argument is circular.)As mentioned above, you only get out of this by saying there is no such thing as goodness. Secondly, the probability of these things would not be one - they would be nonzero, but not one. Epistemically at least, they are uncertain. God did not have to create anything, but could do so as a creative act, by which he could create something good.

I don't see how the AfR is any different from other brute facts about the world. I don't see why there couldn't be correlations between certain arrangements of matter as we observe in brains and the reasoning processes which we perform. It would just be another brute fact about the natural universe with no explanation.

Which brings up another point to be made about why to prefer the existence of God intellectually - it is not just one brute fact we are talking about, but the conjunction of many things, such as its existence, the conformance of objects to natural laws, and so on, and because of this it seems to be good to postulate the existence of God given that while it would greatly expand the scope of what we are explaining, it would make our ultimate hypothesis much simpler. For in the case that we simply accept all the brute facts as they are, we are accepting the existence of a very complicated reality, where many things 'just are' and that is the end of the matter. With God, however, we only have one fact which is 'just so' while the other brute facts are explained as being brought about by an exceedingly simple personal agent. It seems we should prefer God in this case because while he is a hypothesis with a large scope, he is simpler than accepting the conjunction of all the boundary-level facts about the universe as being 'just so.'

Doctor Logic said...

Philip,

You say "...either you think there is a definition of good that we can arrive at, and my explanation of how God is then predictive stands, or *you* are begging the question by asserting that we can never know what it means for something to be good." Most people agree on most moral policies, e.g., not stealing. So, we can certainly find some "moral agreement", but that doesn't make morality objective. The level of agreement can easily be explained by the facts that we are the same species, live in similar cultures, etc. Moral agreement is nowhere near total, even among Christians. (In fact, if you can say that objectivity of morality is clear even before we introduce God, then that defeats the typical Christian claim that we ought to believe in God in order to ground morality.)

Suppose Bob and Fred have similar moral views about wanting to live, having an orderly life, wanting to reduce crime, etc., but they differ on certain particulars. Bob thinks that discrimination against gay couples is wrong, and Fred thinks homosexuality ought to be criminalized. Bob and Fred both have conceptions of what is good, and they'll agree on a lot of things. They also agree that the universe has a lot of good in it, even if only because they are alive to even contemplate the question. They'll also agree that the universe has a lot of evil in it too.

Now, both Bob and Fred might theorize that there is a good God who created the universe, and the good in the universe is a reflection of the good in God. But that argument is, again, circular.

I assume that when you brought up the problem of evil, you meant to say that our conception of good is distinct from "the way things are." This is true. The God theory should predict no evil, and so the presence of evil is at odds with the idea of a perfectly good creator. That problem doesn't go away, even if there's no objective morality (as the story about Bob and Fred shows).

In light of the problem of evil, theists have to put forward some sort of just-so story to justify the amount of evil that is observed (e.g., Genesis). However, these just-so stories do not specify just how much evil there ought to be. Most theists assume that there is as much evil as there ought to be, no matter how much evil we see. And in doing this, they lose all their predictive power.

You might try to say that an intelligible universe is the minimum level of goodness a God would inject. However, I hardly think that is obvious. A universe in which intelligent creatures are tortured isn't less evil (to me) than a chaotic universe with no intelligent life in it. Indeed, some ethicists are concerned about the creation of AI simulations in which the AI's suffer.

"With God, however, we only have one fact which is 'just so' while the other brute facts are explained as being brought about by an exceedingly simple personal agent." Again, this seems circular. God is fine-tuned to bring you what you want. God is not simple. God is far more complex than the entire universe. The only thing simple about God is the spelling of his name.

I'll just add that you bring up aesthetics, but aesthetics runs into the same problem as goodness. In fact, I think that goodness is just the aesthetics of action. Supposing that God is aesthetically perfect you run into the same issue - a problem of ugliness. So you have to propose a just-so story to explain why the universe is not perfectly beautiful, but the just-so story doesn't specify how beautiful things ought to be.

philip m said...

Doctor Logic,

The God theory should predict no evil, and so the presence of evil is at odds with the idea of a perfectly good creator.It seems that in saying this you accept the point, i.e. that there are universes that God cannot create. But if *that's* true, then that means that all his intentions are not equally probable, and we are not simply stipulating a hypothesis whose intentions align with the present world.

So given God's perfect moral character, he will have reason to create certain universes over others. That makes God the best explanation of phenomenon where scientific explanations are not available to us, the phenomenon is something good or will achieve something good, because in that case his existence would make the data more probable.

There are two ways out - either deny the existence of goodness as an external paramater by which we can judge certain universes, or claim that we don't know what goodness is. It appears as if you do a little of both. You imply morality isn't objective because of the lack of agreement - but of course, not everyone has to agree on a truth for it to be a truth.

The real question is whether or not, then, we can have an adequate conception of goodness by which we can then assess this hypothesis. I agree that any person's conception of goodness will be incomplete in some way, so our judgment on it or the hypothesis won't be perfect, and that we ought to be open to revising our views in light of new information. However tentatively though, I do think there are moral facts and an external concept of good which we can use to consider the universe as the possible creative act of an all-good God.

Now, both Bob and Fred might theorize that there is a good God who created the universe, and the good in the universe is a reflection of the good in God. But that argument is, again, circular.It's not circular if we have conformed ourselves to an external concept of good. In that case there is an independent criterion by which we can assess the hypothesis.

Most theists assume that there is as much evil as there ought to be, no matter how much evil we see. And in doing this, they lose all their predictive power.I delineated in my last comment that I of course do not agree with the clause 'no matter how much evil we see.' God cannot do certain things, like allow everyone to undergo endless torture without them having merited it, and with no possible good coming from it. The evidential argument from evil is one I listen to, and think about, and that is precisely because God is not an anonymous hypothesis, one which we can get away with by, as you say, defining the intentions of creating the present universe into the hypothesis.

God is far more complex than the entire universe. The only thing simple about God is the spelling of his name.Perhaps we are not talking about the same God. What I mean by God is an eternal mind who has a finite number of properties, knowledge, power, freedom, and goodness, all of which are limitless in degree. Given that he has mathematically few properties, is the simple idea of a mind, i.e. a conscious agent with the ability to choose, and his properties have no finite limits to them, which would seem arbitrary, it seems to me that God is about as simple a hypothesis as it can get.

And in regards to postulating God in order to explain a number of brute facts that we have on our hands, like its existence, fine-tuning, and that all objects obey the exact same natural laws, it seems like it is preferable, especially in the case where it seems God has reason to bring about these particular phenomena, to postulate a God who can bring them about.

Imagine you are a soldier in a trench, and you hear a stentorian yell above you, and you peek out above your trench to see that the entire enemy army is charging toward your trench. Of course, whatever is beyond the army is beyond the horizon, and thus you can't see it, and even if someone had ordered the charge, you weren't there to see or hear the order given. But does this really naturally result in you thinking, "Well, there is no explanation for all the troops charging at us. It just must be a brute fact about reality!" Given the sheer number of brute facts we have in the universe - for instance, every single object behaving the exact same way as all the others - we have a similar view of events which are unexplained to us. But in the same way we probably ought to postulate a general who ordered the troops to charge, since we may after all see possible reasons for why he would order the charge (the intention of whiping out your army, which is still not a clear result, and thus not so arrantly circular as you imagine), we ought to prefer it as a simple hypothesis than simply thinking each soldier charging is its own brute fact.

Thresholds are what gives the atheist his warrant, I suppose - one can always argue that this is *almost* the universe God would have created, if only it were more beautiful or there was less evil in it. But those arguments are an ensuing step - we first at least have to agree that the hypothesis is a meaningful one we can discuss, which I think it is.

Doctor Logic said...

Philip,

I'll try to be more concise, and state my points as briefly as I can.

1) If I define good based on my moral intuitions, then I can specify what I think an all-good God would do.

2) The universe is clearly nowhere near as good as I think it can be.

3) If I suppose an all-good God created the universe, then I am left with a problem of evil so serious as to disprove an all-good God's existence.

4) To resolve the problem of evil, I have to say that either my intuition for good isn't what God thinks is good (i.e., God is evil from my subjective viewpoint), or else God and I agree on what is good, but the actions of an omnipotent being are indistinguishable from the non-existence of an omnipotent being. In other words, God's goodness becomes non-predictive relative to an impersonal universe.

You said "God cannot do certain things, like allow everyone to undergo endless torture without them having merited it, and with no possible good coming from it."

Let's contrast three different universes. In one universe, there is an all good God. In another, there is no God. In a third, there is an evil God. The naive expectation is that all three universes will be clearly distinguishable. In the first, there is no significant suffering, in the second, there is a blend of joy and suffering, and in the third, there is total and extreme suffering.

What we observe is the second universe. In order to keep the benevolent God scenario in the game, you tackle the problem of evil by saying that, for unclear reasons, an all good God would make our universe look like an impersonal one. I find this no more convincing that the claim that an all evil God would also try to make our universe look like an impersonal one (say, to give us false hopes before imposing reverse justice and punishing the nice folks more than the evil-doers).

A hypothetical believer in the evil God (an "etheist"?) would say his theory was predictive because it prohibits a world in which everyone lives without significant suffering. Yet, like the regular theist, the etheist cannot say how much suffering there will be in our universe. There are no real predictions from either theist or ethiest because they've fine-tuned their theories to match the data. Without the fine-tuning, you get the problem of evil (or the problem of good, for the evil theist). If I'm going to radically fine-tune God to make the universe appear impersonal, why should I choose the good God theory over the evil God theory?

Doctor Logic said...

Philip,

I want to address your argument about the trench and the advancing army. I just don't think it works as an analogy.

The analogy to the ultimate laws of the universe would be the personality of God.

When I introduce the idea of the ultimate physical laws of the universe, I'm assuming I know that I have the complete set, and that these laws won't regress into further physical explanations.
So, for a physicalist, pondering why the ultimate laws of the cosmos are what they are is not like, say, pondering what undiscovered laws might explain quasars.

Similarly, for theists, pondering what possible motivations might have caused a general to order the army to advance towards the trench is not the same as pondering why God has the personality he (allegedly) has. Assuming you ultimately know God's personality, you're quite prepared to stop at that point and not ask about the source of God's personality.

philip m said...

If I'm going to radically fine-tune God to make the universe appear impersonal, why should I choose the good God theory over the evil God theory?
A powerful question. I have a few responses.

1) It seems at least as if we have something of an understanding about the usefulness of a personal agent in explaining brute facts about reality, however minimally. The trench analogy works like this. That there are laws of nature is really only tautological, because to say there are laws of nature really just means thats all objects or forces in the universe tend to do the same thing in our observations. Referring to laws of nature is a descriptive act. This constitutes one set of brute facts then, mainly every objects' conformance to these natural laws. Other brute facts include that our universe exists, that it has initial conditions which lead to a sustainable expansion, and that it leads to the evolution of humans. From our position, this is the charging army. Our interest here need not concern God or the general's personality. We can still postulate the existence of the order in order to account for these facts in an arrantly simple fashion. Taking them as facts makes our view of reality much more complicated; it means we postulate the conjunction of the many brute facts we see working together has no ultimate explanation. But surely that all the troops decided on their own for no reason to all charge at once is a much worse thing to assume than that each of their decisions to advance has a common cause.

The point here is that I think we can get to your ultimate question - why prefer the hypothesis of a good God over that of an evil one?

2) In examining the available data, I think it is true that what we have discussed so far wouldn't be sufficient to warrant belief in a good God over an evil one. But if you admit the history of humanity into the data, including the historical facts concerning the life of Jesus, we now have a reason for supposing what the character of the creator is. Jesus is purported to be the "exact representation of his being" and was without any sin or fault, according to the testimony of the community born out of his preaching and resurrection. If there are good reasons to think that Jesus was good, and that Jesus was representing God in his earthly ministry, then I think we have good reasons to think that God is good.

3) More data that could be added to the pool is the history of encounters with God that people have had. This does not need to be one's own experience, but merely the observance of the millions of people throughout history and in the present who have had or claimed to have had their lives changed for the better by their experience of God. This seems to me to make much more sense given the existence of a good God. People tend to testify to the joy and fulfilment they get from such experiences, and this makes no ultimate sense for an evil God to be giving these experiences. And if you want to bring up that it might be just to trick these people so that afterwards they are really punished more severely, then this is a throwing out that maybe we are being deceived by Descartes' demon after all, and all bets are off.

4) This only works for each person individually, but if one actually comes to know God, then this can provide the direct warrant they need for knowing that God is good. This would be a concession that secular reason alone cannot lead to the conclusion of a good God's existence, if it were the only response put forward. But there are other approaches, I think, though this one, taken in conjunction with arguments for God's existence at least puts one's experiential beliefs in harmony with their reason.

5) Now this is partly a confused discussion, for your claim has been that God doesn't predict anything - but that's clearly false. God predicts a universe which is overall a good one, and which has no evil in it which was unecessary for producing some greater good. So the argument isn't that God doesn't predict this, it's that we can't tell that that's the universe we're living in from our epistemic vantage point. Will the overall content of the universe end up being good or bad? From our position, we cannot tell for sure.

So this option would just be to argue that it makes more sense for the content to tend toward being good than bad. That is, assuming a good God, I can make more sense of what we observe than if we assume an evil one. This would simply be each side putting forward their theodicies and seeing which is more powerful. So I would argue that many evil actions lead to a host of goods, in terms of the development of hope, compassion, love, and much else, while there is no equivalent positive derivative for evil being produced because of good actions.

For the hypothesis that there is a God who is an evil God seems very awkward to me when viewing human history. We have no real basis for thinking of a system where people who were good and lived happy lives will be punished - it is an idea without precedent. It fits better with what we know about moral law to think that bad is what will be punished.

6) Which leads us to the next response, which would be to argue for the necessity of God's goodness. Swinburne's argument for the necessity of God's goodness derives from God's freedom and omniscience, and his (Swinburne's) belief in the existence of objective moral values independent of God. If you believe in those things, then it follows that God will know whatever moral truths there are, and will be completely free of temptation to not do them, and thus will always do what one ought to do.

7) An evil God will have created a superfluously beautiful universe, in my opinion. For while there are ugly places on earth, I have never seen any picture on hubblesite.org that was anything near ugly. Some nebulae on there are just amazingly beautiful. So given that were are on a planet with much suffering, but there are also great expanses of beautiful things like oceans, forests, and mountains, all while being in the context of a universe which is beautiful, it seems the evil God hypothesis loses on evidentiary grounds in this way as well.

8) One could also use a wager argument here, that if it's really come down to a good God or an evil one, there's no predicting how an evil God will decide what to do, and thus no way we can try to please him. Defiance might impress him - who knows. In that case, why wouldn't one try to arrange their life in such a way that they experience the good God who so many have professed to have encountered, and is a belief which at least has historical grounding, since it seems more plausible and is more ably believed.

It still seems to me that belief in a good God is the most plausible one to have. Whether or not I have articulated the reasons why very well is much less certain. I think I understand the criticism - it is an important one to take into account, as Victor has mentioned, but it seems more likely to me that one of the above responses goes through than the criticism really deflates the case for God based on explanatory power.

Ilíon said...

An "evil God" cannot create "goodness." And, even to speak of an "evil God" presupposes the existence of "goodness."

Doctor Logic said...

Philip,

Thanks for the detailed reply.

But surely that all the troops decided on their own for no reason to all charge at once is a much worse thing to assume than that each of their decisions to advance has a common cause.

In physics, this is exactly what we do. We search for a common cause for all the disparate laws we find. Such a common cause would be a grand unified theory. So, again, I think this could be analogous to what physicists do when they don't know all the laws, but it doesn't work when we're assuming we have the simplest complete set of laws.

In explaining the universe as a whole, we're out to explain the fact that (hypothetically) we have the smallest, simplest set of laws which describe the universe. I still say that the cause you propose is more arbitrary and complex than the universe itself. The Standard Model of particle physics plus gravity has around 25 parameters in it. God cannot be described with so few parameters. When you say "God likes beauty," that may be just three words, and it may sound simple, but it's extremely complex. It would be like me saying "natural laws are simple." Just four words, but it's only four words because it lacks the detail required to make it predictive. Make beauty a predictive concept and you'll end up with a lot more than 25 parameters, I expect.

If we disregard the AfR for the moment, then the Standard Model of particle physics is a very simple and elegant explanation for humans. Just 25 parameters goes on to explain evolution, us, and my typing this. The universe is a far simpler thing than God.

As for (2), (3) and (4), I think they can be explained by cognitive bias. There's no evidence to suggest that God is doing anything in these cases because the effect only exists when we don't use science to see it, i.e., when we're biased to see it. Indeed, the science shows that if God didn't exist, people would make him up. The reason that people believe in a good God is that evil Gods aren't very useful to us. Indeed, people create God as an abstraction of their aspirations (which they view as good), i.e., they create God in their own image. If God is better than me in every way, then he must be more "good" than me, whatever that means to me. So I see reference to the religious predilections of humans as circular.

(5) You say that So the argument isn't that God doesn't predict this, it's that we can't tell that that's the universe we're living in from our epistemic vantage point. I don't agree.

Suppose we sign a contract in which I agree to give you $10,000. However, the fine print says that, from your epistemic vantage point, you'll never be able to tell that I gave you $10,000. Is our contract meaningful? I don't think it would be. It's indistinguishable from the case where I am in breach of contract.

Another analogy. Suppose I have a theory called Z. My Z theory has an infinity parameters that need to be fixed by experiment. (Imagine it is, say, an infinite order Taylor expansion.) Of course, this can never be achieved in a finite number of experiments. Is it fair to say that the Z theory is predictive? Well, it would be predictive if I knew all the infinite collection of parameters and could compute an outcome. But if I cannot predict anything, and have no possibility of doing so, then it's not really a prediction.

The same goes for the two God theories. What you mean is that if we understood the mind of God, we could have predicted the universe in detail. But because we can't know the infinite mind of God (no matter how much we look at the universe), we will never be able to predict even a single observation. To me there's no difference between God and Z theory.

Obviously, (6) I don't buy. :)

(7) It's not obvious to me that the universe is any more superfluously beautiful in the evil God case than it is superfluously evil in the good God case. If the evil God wants to hide his existence from us, he'll create a universe filled with something. If we took photos of this something and artificially colorized it, it would probably look awesome and beautiful to us. I would say both God models are superfluous in creating far too much stuff. If the point is to create a little human petting zoo, even a single galaxy is overkill.

(8) The wager arguments don't work for me. There are standard replies to it, but, also, it seems at odds with morality in this case.

You say So I would argue that many evil actions lead to a host of goods, in terms of the development of hope, compassion, love, and much else, while there is no equivalent positive derivative for evil being produced because of good actions. You seem to be assuming the evil God made us evil in his image, no? If evil God wanted to create a universe for evil entertainment purposes, it might be desirable to make a universe of mostly good beings.

philip m said...

I still say that the cause you propose is more arbitrary and complex than the universe itself.

The problem with asking for a specification of parameters in this case is that we are not discussing a scientific hypothesis; when dealing with minds we deal with characteristics of that mind, which is how we predict the behavior of our friends. For here we are postulating a personal agent G to bring about effect E for some reason R. When finding the cereal all over the floor and crayon on the wall, we suspect the child who was the troublemaker because they are an agent who possesses the characteristic, troublemaking and mess making, which would make us expect those sorts of effects from them.

Because it is all a personal explanation of certain effects, I think in order to claim God as a more complicated thing than the universe, you would have to argue that the general who purportedly ordered the charge as a more complicated entity than the universe - which is clearly false. The general is a mind with certain tendencies and possible goals based on those tendencies - wiping the enemy army out is one such possible goal based on his characteristics.

To be honest I have trouble trying to imagine a simpler explanation for regularity of the laws of nature. How does it get simpler than a mind with no finite limits to his characteristics, and who has only a few select fundamental characteristics to name?

Indeed, the science shows that if God didn't exist, people would make him up.I would love to see the experiment that temporarily removed God from the universe to see if people would still believe in him. Fascinating. ;-)

I understand that naturalists have explanations which they can confidently rely on to explain religious experiences, which we won't scrutinize here - but how does an appeal to cognitive bias get out of the historical case for the life and resurrection of Jesus? Supposing we have accounts that allow us to get at the person of Jesus with some confidence, it seems a historical case that he lived a life of teachings and deeds which would be validated through a resurrection, and that there is sufficient evidence this resurrection took place, then we can form an abductive case to the goodness of God.


Suppose we sign a contract in which I agree to give you $10,000. However, the fine print says that, from your epistemic vantage point, you'll never be able to tell that I gave you $10,000. Is our contract meaningful? I don't think it would be. It's indistinguishable from the case where I am in breach of contract.

This is *exactly* what I was saying. The hypothesis that you will actually give me the $10,000 is a meaningful one which predicts that you will actually give me the $10,000. It is only ultimately confirmable, however, in the case that I have all of the facts of the case. In the case of the universe and God, humans are not in the position to properly estimate the balance of good and evil in humanity - though it can be attempted. This would be the argument that while I can't see if - for instance, in the case you promised to pay me back within twelve months - you paid me back in the end, I can make a judgment based on your rate of delivery in the time which is epistemically accessible to me, by which I could inductively infer the fulfillment of the contract.

6) Because you don't agree there are moral facts, I presume?

7) I don't think the entire point of the universe is the existence of humans - that would be just a little bit self-centered. Like I said earlier, even if human beings never existed, it would be a good thing for there to be a creative work like the universe to exist. And it seems to me it is completely within the capabilities of an omnipotent evil God to create a universe where there was nothing particularly striking about it. Many other things are bland and uninteresting, there's nothing which logically prohibits interstellar bodies from being likewise.

8) This confused me then - now it seems you do agree there are moral facts. What would the objection to the argument for the necessity of God's goodness be then?

And there doesn't seem to me to be anything wrong with the case where a person who thinks that God is a live possibility for being the explanation of the universe's existence, but who isn't quite sure if it is true, decides by testing the livability of the option through what they do in life. One ultimately *does* make a decision through how they live their life, so I don't see what makes designing a life which does not believe any more intrinsically moral than designing one which does believe when from the current view both options seem plausible. After all, it is the case that both the atheist and the theist are betting their lives that their beliefs are true.

So it still seems the case for me that from a wide angle we have many phenomena e such that Pr(e | G)>Pr(e | ~G) while noting that the same might be true of Pr(e | eG). (i.e. evil God.) So in the case we can muster independent reasons to believe in God's goodness, I still don't see what is illicit in making sense of the universe by postulating the existence of God.

Whether you respond or not, thank you for the good discussion. :-)

Doctor Logic said...

Philip,

Because it is all a personal explanation of certain effects, I think in order to claim God as a more complicated thing than the universe, you would have to argue that the general who purportedly ordered the charge as a more complicated entity than the universe - which is clearly false.

I'll try to be more precise. The number of parameters we would need to describe the current state of the universe is immense, perhaps even infinite. However, the number of parameters required to describe the laws of physics of the entire universe is probably a tiny number. If string theory is correct, then there may well be only a dozen parameters or fewer.

(The so-called fine-tuning problem is the fact that these few parameters are not all of order one. They vary over large orders of magnitude. Even then, we're not sure that these variations won't be explained by a future theory.)

A general cannot be described in a dozen parameters or less. You can't even describe his uniform in a dozen parameters. :)

Let's suppose that the general has a desire for a military victory over an opposing army. Sounds simple. What counts as an opposing army? Presumably, a flock of gulls does not count, while the US Army does. St. Vincent's high school does not, whereas a drug cartel does. So, how does one parameterize the definition of opposing army? I would argue that you cannot parameterize a machine that would recognize an opposing army with fewer than 12 parameters. You probably need hundreds or thousands of parameters just to recognize an army, let alone an opposing one.

While a general may not be more complex than the present state of the universe, he is far more complex than the minimal set of laws of the universe. In fact, my cell phone is more complex than the minimal set of laws of the universe.

I think we can talk sensibly about how intelligent agents can be explanations for things. You are saying that a personality is like a law of physics. I realize that theists don't like to look at it that way, but that is what makes personality explanatory. If personality didn't predict activity, then we wouldn't be able to detect personality. So, I have no problem with that. The problem is that in order for a personality to function, it needs a high degree of complexity. If you cannot recognize a goal or simulate its achievement, you can't have personality. And recognition and simulation require immense amounts of complexity. Even if you deny that minds are mechanisms, it would still take an immense amount of information to describe a mind in functional detail.

Supposing we have accounts that allow us to get at the person of Jesus with some confidence, it seems a historical case that he lived a life of teachings and deeds which would be validated through a resurrection, and that there is sufficient evidence this resurrection took place, then we can form an abductive case to the goodness of God.

We don't have nearly enough information to make this case. Think about Benny Hinn. Lots of people think he performs miracles. Though there has been plenty of debunking on the part of skeptics, Hinn continues with his charade, and continues to win converts.

In Mexico, there's a guy who claims to be the second coming. He also has converts.

People continue to believe in weeping icons, even after they've been proven to be hoaxes.

Now, suppose that there's a case to be made for Hinn, the second coming guy, and the weeping icons. Maybe they're real. However, the kinds of evidence we would need to provoke rational belief in them is absent. There's too much noise in the form of false claims, religious hysteria, etc. What we would need is a massive barrage of controlled experimentation. Science tells us that statues do not weep, and faith does not heal. It will take immense amounts of data to overcome the immense amounts we already have.

You are saying that a guy who lived 2000 years ago, who traveled with a bunch of religious revolutionaries who must have known they were risking their lives for their beliefs, and who did faith healings like Hinn... that this guy was the real McCoy. And all of this on the basis of a book written by his traveling troupe of revolutionaries for the purposes of selling their religion. There is no serious historical case for the Resurrection. Resurrection is a 1 in 10 billion shot. The history doesn't make a 10 billion to 1 case for Jesus being supernatural, let alone who the church says he was.

Of course, this is another debate. :)

This would be the argument that while I can't see if - for instance, in the case you promised to pay me back within twelve months - you paid me back in the end, I can make a judgment based on your rate of delivery in the time which is epistemically accessible to me, by which I could inductively infer the fulfillment of the contract.

I strongly disagree with this. This is a biased methodology from which you can prove anything you want. For example, I can prove that 13 is an unlucky number using this methodology. If I win on 13 at the roulette wheel, something else bad will happen to me, though, not every time. The believer in unlucky 13 then filters out all the good stuff, finds something bad, and associates it with the appearance of 13. It's cherry-picking. I really don't see the difference between this methodology and superstition. Controlled experimentation is the methodology that removes personal bias. Science can't see God. It could have seen God. God could appear to science if he wanted to, but that doesn't happen. Making excuses for God not appearing is like making excuses for 13 being unlucky but not showing up in the statistics.

And it seems to me it is completely within the capabilities of an omnipotent evil God to create a universe where there was nothing particularly striking about it. Many other things are bland and uninteresting, there's nothing which logically prohibits interstellar bodies from being likewise

Interstellar bodies (and the stars themselves) are bland and uninteresting, for the most part. The reason we think otherwise is that we focus on the few objects that are pretty or interesting. In the end, a lot of what is interesting out there is interesting because it is about us, our origins, etc. The fact that we are surrounded by a universe so huge and empty is fascinating to us because we place it in scale relation to ourselves. For example, one things that's cool to talk about is the distance to the nearest star. That star is rather boring, and the space between a void. When we say it's cool that it would take our fastest spacecraft 40,000 years to get to that star, we are marveling at the scales involved. But what's so interesting about long distances in and of themselves? Nothing that I can see. I think what is interesting is the comparison of 40,000 years to, say, the lifetime of a man, or the entire history of humanity.

If the world and universe were a flat space covered in an Earthlike atmosphere with a pebble beach stretching out for light years in either direction, that might well seem more pleasant. As it stands, we're all only a few miles from an icy cold, radioactive vacuum that would kill us in under a minute.

So it still seems the case for me that from a wide angle we have many phenomena e such that Pr(e | G)>Pr(e | ~G) while noting that the same might be true of Pr(e | eG). (i.e. evil God.)

Well, I'm gonna disagree again. :) I think that God is actually very fine-tuned. If we would naively expect the physical constants to be of comparable magnitude, then we would certainly naively think that God would make an obviously good universe, and be obviously present in that universe (assuming he cares that we know of his existence). (Jesus isn't obvious presence of God any more than Thor is.) You have to fine-tune God to be the kind of god who makes a universe that looks remarkably like a universe in which God doesn't exist. In other words, God is already way behind in the Bayesian analysis before you even try to make him account for things like fine-tuning of parameters.

It has been a pleasure exchanging comments with you, Philip.