Thursday, February 12, 2009

Carrier's Atheistic Cosmological Argument

From the Carrier-Wanchick debate, which I am linking to .

Carrier's Atheistic Cosmological Argument from his Debate with Wanchick.

Atheistic Cosmological Argument (ACA)
The universe is almost entirely lethal to life. By far, most of existence is a radiation-filled vacuum, and there are easily a trillion times more dead worlds than life-bearing planets. Life is clearly an extremely rare and unusual product of the universe. We also know it took the universe billions of years to finally produce any life anywhere, and then only an extremely simple single-celled life form. Then it took billions more years of a long, meandering and often catastrophically failing process of evolutionary trial-and-error to finally produce human beings. CN explains this state of affairs better than BT, since this state of affairs is highly probable on CN but not particularly probable on BT.
Even if a God might have some reason to build a universe this way, he had many other ways he could have chosen (like the way the Bible literally depicts and early Christians believed), and some make more sense on BT (a God has no need of a universe so old or big, for example). But we know of only one way CN could produce human beings: pretty much the way they were, with vast ages of unguided trial-and-error spanning across vast stretches of life-killing space. For example, if CN, then (a) life could only be an accidental byproduct of the organization of the universe, but (b) the only way life could then exist is if the universe were so incredibly old and big that something as improbable as the origin of life would be possible, yet (c) that is exactly the universe we find ourselves in. We have no comparably good explanation for why the universe would be so old and big on BT, or for many other peculiar features of our universe. Therefore, CN is a good explanation for why we observe what we do, while BT is not.

P21: If CN is true, the nature and scale of the universe, and the history of life that we actually observe, is the only possible way we could exist that we know of, and is therefore what we would expect to observe.
P22: If BT is true, the nature and scale of the universe, and the history of life that we actually observe, is one of countless possible ways we could exist that we know of, including some that make more sense, and is therefore not what we would expect.
C10: Therefore, per logicum, CN explains what we observe better than BT.

Parody argument:
1. I crossed the street today.
2. If naturalism is true, then the only way I can do that is by walking.
3. If God exists, then there are many ways I can get across the street besides walking, because, for example, God could cause me to apparate across the street Harry Potter style.
4. Therefore, we have evidence that God does not exist, based on the fact that I walked across the street today.


Perezoso said...

Carrier argues his case effectively. At the same time, CarrierSpeak might remind some of Nietzsche's assessment of JS Mill: offensive clarity.

Anonymous said...

CN is only capable of one possible observation.
Therefore, CN is a good explanation for why we observe what we do.

Anonymous said...

He says "a God has no need of a universe so old or big, for example." This seems to assume that God's sole purpose in creating the universe was so he could make mankind. But why think this? Why is that a necessary assumption? Couldn't it be that he just enjoys looking at the beauty of the galaxies, stars and nebulae just as much as we do? Or perhaps he intended somehow for us to populate the rest of the planets in the other planetary systems that could be out there at some point once our population level has exceeded Earth's capacity. I think some Christians might not go along with this next suggestion, but how are we to know that God didn't create races of other people in other parts of the universe which he just hasn't told us about? I believe C. S. Lewis once suggested something like this. I seem to recall him suggesting this in some of his non-fiction prose, but he also used this as the idea behind The Space Trilogy (though he was a bit naive about the planets within our own solar system, I think the basic idea is interesting).

I, too, used to struggle with the idea that the enormity of the universe and the vastness of time seemed to point away from a creator. But this is actually kind of anthro-centric thinking. God may have all sorts of other purposes for doing things that he has no obligation to let us in on. Though Christian doctrine holds that man is important to God, it need not be concluded from this that mankind is the ONLY thing God has some interest in.

philip m said...

I think JB has it right on.

If you take a look at the account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, it says 'God saw that it was good' before there is any life at all in creation. So it doesn't matter that most of the universe is lethal to life since the *entire* universe could have been lethal to life, and yet it still would have been good.

The next verse goes on to talk about vegetation, and he says that is good, and many other things are declared good before humans even step into the picture. It is of course possible for God to have not created human beings at all, and creation still would have been good.

If one thinks the only thing of any positive value in creation is human beings, then it may be a bit strange if we come onto the scene late and only in one place, but that is not, in fact, a doctrine taught by Scripture.

With regard to size, here is what Richard Swinburne has to say: "If God does create a type of substance that has its own special value, although there may be no best number of such substances or best degree in which they can instantiate what is valuable in them, there must be a high probability that he will instantiate significant numbers or dgrees or extent of them - since there are so many other possible numbers, extent, and degrees. In general it will always be a better act to create more - more humanly free agents, and animals, and a larger physical universe (or more physical universes). But, since there is no maximum to the more, God's perfect goodness does not require him to create any particular amount of such beings."

Since God will create good things, it seems plausible that he will make them in large quantities, and so not even the size of the universe is unexplained by theism. His assessment therefore does not seem to be one which invokes the most robust account of theism, which makes his CN appear to be a raging success by comparison.

Anonymous said...

Was the parody argument your own interpretation? I think it was a fairly take on it.

Victor Reppert said...

My parody. I'm not sure Carrier would reject it as an argument.

The problem with Carrier's argument is that he just ignores all those possible worlds with no life. Why isn't one of those instantiated. A lifeless world seems probable given atheism, and improbable given theism. Also, Carrier's argument is incompatible with some of the rebuttals to the fine-tuning argument.

Eric Koski said...

jb and philip m: Consider John 3:16. On a Christian view (considering scripture), it's pretty clear that humanity is the heart of the matter; it's hard to see scenic galactic vistas playing much of a role in the universe's divine purpose. (It's not Slartibartfast we're talking about.)

Eric Koski said...


"A lifeless world seems probable given atheism, ..."

Why? Carrier isn't committed to this. Maybe you're back to the Fine Tuning Argument ...

Parody is always dangerous. Add enough distraction and distortion and you can make the intuitions run differently, without this really proving anything.

philip m said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
philip m said...


For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...

In Christianity this is a true statement; it expresses the redemption of mankind through Jesus Christ. Is the claim that the doctrine of redemption for mankind is incompatible with the doctrine that God made the rest of creation 'good'? (And therefore would have reason to create it even in the absence of humanity.)

There is no possible interpretation of John 3:16 that could suggest that incompatibility, since the verse simply does not reference other features of the universe made before humans, such as animals, vegetation, and inanimate matter, and therefore cannot compare the importance of each in God's creation. The only way to get that meaning in there is through flagrant eisegesis.

Simply pointing at John 3:16 doesn't do much by way of analysis to show your point with regards to *all* theology, which would make you have to include points which may have fallen out of the picture when you narrow your theological data down to *one* verse.

Humans were the ones capable of rebelling, so while God may take special action in his creation with regards to them, we shouldn't take that too mean the rest of everything is irrelevant. It just means it wouldn't make much sense for Jesus to come to die for the sins of planets; but that does not mean planets are not good.

In any case, I cited the creation story, which could be taken to be *fairly* important theologically, and you didn't even comment on that. If you want to take up the point, don't be so lazy about it.

Humphrey said...

This is a rubbish argument.

Why the universe is so big...