Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Wild Card Argument

I'm redating this post, because I noticed that Vinny has a post on his blog which essentially uses the WCA against my position. 

Dr. Logic's argument is what I have called the Inadequacy Objection, or we might also call it the Wild Card Argument. The idea is that theistic explanations don't really explain because they don't give you a reason to supposed that event X was expected as opposed to event Y. God had the power equally well to bring about X or Y, therefore, to say that he caused X doesn't really tell us why X was caused and not Y. Playing the God card is what you can do anytime, anywhere, and so it really doesn't do any real work.

We might believe that X is more in character for God than Y, and therefore X was more to be expected than Y given the existence of God. But here, I think, a kind of empiricism about the sources of our probability judgments is employed. We actually haven't seen God perform this act or that, and therefore we have no basis for believing that God is more likely to do this as opposed to that.

I'm not a pure empiricist about the basis for our probability judgments, and in fact I think that frequentism in probability theory leads to contradictions. But the Wild Card Argument is far from silly. Defenders of theistic explanations had better learn how to counter it.

My Infidels paper on Hume on miracles covers this issue, and I like to it here.


Mike Darus said...

I was wondering if the frequency of an historical event is always just once. Even when raising the dead, if we had 100 occurances, would not each occurance be unique enough that it would not be 100 occurances of the same event but 100 unigue occurances? In that way, every historical occurance has the same frequency even if counting sunrises?

The implication is: "I saw the sun rise on August 4, 1642." has the same probablity as, "I saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead."

Anonymous said...


At III in your paper you give Hume's definition of a miracle. Now, you mention briefly that such a conception of miracle has problems, but you seem content (and I could understand why) to accept it for the sake of argument.

You mention the possibility of laws of supernature. I agree that's possible, and this relates to some problems I have with the entire argument.

1) Defining a miracle as "the violation of the laws of nature" strikes me as bizarre. I don't see why it's logically impossible (or otherwise not reasonable for the theist to think this) for Christ to have died, then risen bodily after 3 days, but for this to have taken place in accordance with, rather than any "violation" of, the laws of nature. I recall you yourself in the somewhat recent past arguing that distinctions between "natural" and "supernatural" are hard to make, and that for all you care God can both exist and be called natural. That seems to have some application here.

2) Let's say I make a computer simulation of the world, complete with Jim B. and congregation. Let's assume (consistent with, say, physicalism) that the inhabitants of this simulation are conscious. Jim B. dies for whatever reason. I intervene in the program and restore Jim to life after three days time elapses. Without my intervention, Jim would not have come back to life.

My question: Did a miracle occur?

If the answer is no, then it seems that a resurrection (or really, just about any and all claimed miracles) can (and did/does) really occur even given naturalism. The question then becomes whether or not we ourselves are in a simulation or something analogous to one - and the existence of any simulations or analogues, even ridiculously simple ones, serves as some reason to suspect we may be or are.

If the answer is yes, then - oddly enough - it seems to indicate a very similar result. Miracles can happen given naturalism. In fact, we can perform them at will (and chances are we do, if we play with computers much.) It doesn't mean miracles actually occur in 'our' universe (on our level of the universe, so to speak?), but it's established as a possibility - and what's more, we know at least some miracles do occur in nature. We're just not sure they happen to "us".

Of course, one way out of this is to argue that simulations of actual minds and therefore worlds-containing-minds is not possible. I believe you, Victor, have an argument (the name escapes me) that may touch on that sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

Another comment I'd throw in.

"We actually haven't seen God perform this act or that, and therefore we have no basis for believing that God is more likely to do this as opposed to that."

This cuts both ways where naturalism is concerned. We haven't seen event X or Y take place "blindly" or "without guidance", etc. For all we know panentheism, idealism, panpsychism, or otherwise is true, and nothing we see in nature is really taking place without the input of a mind, etc.

We don't need to answer such questions to have quite a lot of success in science. But that just highlights the fact that some questions science has yet to answer, and may never answer.

unkleE said...

That Infidels paper is very good, Victor. But there is another aspect of Dr Logic's argument I would like to question.

"theistic explanations don't really explain because they don't give you a reason to supposed that event X was expected as opposed to event Y"

I think there is a difference between "explaining" something and deciding if it is true and useful information. Thus, believing that God did a miracle may not explain everything about that miracle (such as being able to predict its occurrence), but it may still be the truth and it may still be useful information.

As an example, suppose police are investigating why an otherwise respectable citizen A beat citizen B over the head with an axe. If they discover that A was being ordered to hit B while held at gunpoint by citizen C, they have "explained" A's actions and obtained a useful item of fact, but they haven't "explained" the event in Dr Logic's terms, because the reason why C took this action is still unexplained. The problem has been just pushed back.

But surely no-one would deny that progress towards truth has been made?

Likewise with God and (say) the creation of the universe or the resurrection of Jesus. If our concern is to know ultimately why an event happened, saying "God did it" just begs the question how or why did God do it? But if our concern is to know the truth about whether God exists and how he acts, then coming to the conclusion that God did it is a very helpful step.

Doctor Logic said...


Thanks for taking this argument seriously. I realize you don't find it ultimately convincing, but your response is intellectually honest - far better than than the ridicule and dismissal I'm used to seeing from theists.

unkleE said...

It was interesting, and fortuitous, that the blog post you referenced in the post following this, itself follows a post relevant to this present topic. Check out Who Designed the Designer?". The question is phrased differently, but I think the response applies to "The Wild Card Argument" too.

Doctor Logic said...


You are indicting inductive inference in general.

While you cannot prove that past experience is a guide to future experience, the assumption is necessary for all rational thinking.

Take addition. When you sum two numbers, why not argue that the summation was a unique event at that particular time? Maybe 7 + 9 = 16 yesterday at 3:15pm after eating a chocolate chip cookie, but not today at 6:27am right after your orange juice.

The same goes with sunrises. If we assume that the past is a guide to the future, we infer future sunrises. Statistically, the inferences factor out the case-by-case accidental specifics, or reveal the underlying patterns.

Doctor Logic said...

unkle e,

I don't mean to suggest that explanations have to be ultimate explanations. We just need partial theories to meet the criteria.

That is, C forcing A to hit B is a perfectly acceptable explanation (or potential explanation) for A hitting B. However, supernatural explanations don't even rise to this level.

Consider that your theory about C forcing A's hand is predictive in many ways. It predicts that, statistically, a person X can be forced to hit person Y by some third person Z using techniques like those of C. It predicts that, statistically, C has some utility for his action, and that he probably has a past history of causing pain or of coercion.

Indeed, if we were careful, we could probably induce C to commit the act again in another scenario (a sting operation).

However, none of this works for theism in practice. You can't induce God to do anything. The world is indistinguishable from a world without God, and, frankly, that's not predicted by a God theory.

Of course, in principle, theism could be explanatory if God was predictable, but I have yet to meet a theist who thinks God is predictable in any measurable way.

Every proper explanation is predictive. If I get hit by lightning every time I say something derogatory about God, God would be a good explanation of the lightning strikes. As we all know, no one believes in such a God because it's plainly obvious he doesn't exist.

Doctor Logic said...


I don't agree with your opinion about frequentism.

You criticize methods of reference classification as being arbitrary. However, I think that reference classification is vital to inductive inference and to rationality itself.

As I wrote to Mike, why shouldn't we consider peculiar arithmetic results achieved after unique events to be special? Suppose I eat a ham sandwich made from the last slice of my ex-pet pig Porky. Immediately afterward, I compute the sum of 7 and 9 to be 38. However, all future computations yield 16. Isn't it possible that my ham sandwich actually caused mathematical reality to change the sum of 7 and 9 to be 38 at that one time? After all, it was a very unique sandwich! Maybe Porky was trying to tell me something?!!

First, I think there has to be the assumption that unique factors do not define reference classes.

Second, what is the noise rate for false computations in the absence of special sandwiches? If it is higher than the rate of my special event, I'm never going to achieve the statistics necessary to believe that the sandwich changed mathematics. Indeed, I won't even achieve that statistics necessary to claim that the sandwich changed my own mathematical abilities.

Finally, if induction is fundamental to rationality, you'll never get a non-circular inductive justification for the selection of classes.

unkleE said...

Dr Logic:

I could probably disagree with your comments at several points, but let's start with this ...

"The world is indistinguishable from a world without God"

That may be how you see it, but I don't think most people (including agnostics) see it that way. My brief summary would be as follows:

If there was no God, I'd expect there not to be a universe at all (why should something appear out of nothing?), but if there is a God, I'd think it quite possible that a universe might exist.

If there was no God and (against expectation) a universe did exist, I'd expect it to be chaotic, random and short lived, but if God exists and created, I'd expect the universe might be well designed. Which it is.

If there was no God, I'd expect any intelligent creatures which evolved would be fully determined by their brain electro-chemistry (i.e. no free will), and their cognitive faculties would be unreliable and a bit random. But if God existed and created, I'd think it quite possible that he'd give such creatures relatively reliable cognitive faculties and freewill. Which is what most of us assume every minute of every day.

If there was no God, I'd expect ethics to be evolutionary - whatever aids survival of the gene or the society would be seen to be "good". But if God exists, I'd expect there to be true ethics - which most of us assume in practice.

If there was no God, I'd expect religious figures like Jesus to be explicable in fully naturalistic terms. But if the God of Jesus exists, I'd expect this wouldn't be possible. And, in fact, although religious figures like the Buddha and Baha'u'llah can be explained in natural terms, I don't believe Jesus, his life and his resurrection can be easily explained that way.

Obviously the latter point is highly arguable, but I think the earlier points are quite clear. The universe is quite distinguishable in so many ways from a hypothetical one where there was no God. And we can be very thankful for that. : )

Best wishes.

philip m said...


Doctor Logic's objection breaks down into simply being the problem of evil.

For the theist does believe that there is a way of determining what God will do. God will always do what is good. That is the only way we can determine whether or not creating the present world is something God would do: by assessing the reasons to create it, i.e. whether it can be judged as good.

What does DL say here?

"If God's goal is the good as colloquially understood by humans, then God would be pretty predictable. Alas, God's lack of intervention to prevent suffering is totally inconsistent with the
benevolent God theory."

Of course, this is where theodicy comes into play. And an important feature of theodicy to point out is that a theodicy gives a defense of God's justification for allowing the suffering which occurs in the world.

Of course, "the good as colloquially understood by humans" is something which is colloquially thought of about humans. (i.e about what moral obligations other human have.) But when we consider that God is the source of our lives, and that he knows counterfactual propositions about both physical events and free actions, he ends up occupying a much different position than we do with regards to moral obligations. It means that he is in a position to allow certain evils in our lives (since he is our supreme benefactor), and he can allow those evils in virtue of the goods they presuppose or in the future goods they will bring about (since he knows what will happen). This also underlines the fact that he knows the full force of what goods there are, and how valuable they are.

From this starting position, we can then imagine to a certain extent what it would mean for God to allow certain evils to occur. Are these evils morally justifiable? What could make them morally justifiable, and what is the probability that that moral justification obtains in the real world?

I think the problem of evil is a serious one. It is the serious argument waged against the theist. I don't propose an answer here, but those are the grounds on which we can begin to build such an answer.

And if we can give reasons why God would allow the evils which occur in the world, and the world is on other grounds good, then we are not plugging in an anonymous hypothesis. We are saying the world was created by a good God because we know to an extent what goodness amounts to. Thus, we are not defining intentions into God; we are saying it is probable a good God would have these intentions.

The skeptical theist is, however, susceptible to Doctor Logic's attack, for he has no idea why God would allow certain evils. In that case, he is left saying "I don't know what the theory is that predicts why the world would be like this. But if we knew the details of the theory, then it would predict all of this. I am calling that theory 'God.'"

Anyone who offers a theodicy they think works is not, however, doing such a thing.

Doctor Logic said...

unkle e,

The examples of how you think the universe would look different if God did not exist suffer from similar problems of circularity. I won't go through every one of them in detail because a blog post could be made of each of them, but I'll describe the general problems they face.

They all have the form "My God has the tendency to do unique action X, therefore my God is explanatory of the appearance of X, even if we can't predict anything but the past, unique event X".

For example, you think God is likely to create the universe, yet you can't say anything specific about the universe he would create.

This is circular. You believe God has a tendency to create universes only because that what you're trying to explain. Otherwise, you might just as well theorize that God hates universes. Of course, there's nothing wrong with devising a theory consistent with the data. That happens in physics all the time. I can theorize that there are electrons and protons in hydrogen, but the difference is that while my theory was inspired by past experience, it predicts new experiences. Electrons and protons aren't just fancy ways of stating what I already know about specific past experiences of atoms. They're ways of predicting new experiences.

You're falling victim to what I call the placeholder fallacy. Suppose I'm looking for a physical theory to explain a mystery, e.g., consciousness. I call this theory "Theory XXX". By definition, Theory XXX will explain consciousness in physical terms. However, it being the early stage of my research, I haven't yet fomulated Theory XXX. Theory XXX is the name for my research project. Now, I ask you, does Theory XXX explain consciousness?

Of course, Theory XXX would explain consciousness if it were in my possession, but it is not in my possession, so it presently explains nothing. Were I in possession of Theory XXX, I could predict when a system would be conscious and when it would not. Not being in possession of the theory, I am unable to predict anything.

God is exactly the same. God would be explanatory if you knew the mind of God to the point that you could make predictions, but you don't know the mind of God.

Doctor Logic said...

unkle e,

One more way of looking at it...

Suppose I propose that there are one-time unique laws of physics. For example, suppose that I declare there to be a one-time unique law of physics that blinks the universe into existence 13 billion years ago.

This is a law that caused the universe's existence (supposing that this is actually meaningful for sake of argument), but which predicts nothing else.

Does this law explain the existence of the universe? By your standards, it does.

I reject that idea. One-time laws aren't explanatory. They're just useless restatements of past observations.

Doctor Logic said...

unkle e,

And foythermore...

* The universe isn't well designed. If you think it is, tell me what it was designed for and why there's no better way of designing it. I mean, almost the entire universe is inhospitable to life. Is that supposed to be well-designed for us?

* We don't know that we're not deterministic systems. We can't know.

* There's an evolutionary advantage to reliable cognitive faculties.

* Ethics are evolutionary.

* Jesus is fully explicable in natural terms. His followers were hysterical religious fanatics. Plainly false religions spring up all the time and garner millions of followers.

unkleE said...

Hey Dr Logic! I am privileged - three replies for the price of one! : ) Thank you for them.

We are discussing at this point "how [I] think the universe would look different if God did not exist". Let me avoid EDE (exponential discussion expansion) by focusing on the universe.

Most of your comments address why God as a theory may not explain everything you want to explain. But that is not the question we have agreed we are discussing. My comment was simply:

"If there was no God, I'd expect there not to be a universe at all .... but if there is a God, I'd think it quite possible that a universe might exist."

And you haven't dented that statement at all.

But the real problem I see is that you haven't addressed the other alternative at all. So let's ask the question again. If we were capable of sitting abstractly outside this present space-time, if there was no God, would you expect a universe to exist at all? Would you expect either a universe to appear out of nothing, or for a space-time universe to exist infinitely in time?

I cannot see how anyone could argue anything other than that it would seem almost certain that out of nothing nothing comes. But you may feel moved to offer a reason for concluding differently.

I think you are allowing your conclusion (I presume) that no god exists to impinge on your consideration of the logical and expected consequences of two theories - God exists or he doesn't.

So I conclude that no matter how much you try to diminish the likelihood that, if God exists, he might create, it is still not as unlikely as something existing for no reason.

I'll come back to some other what I believe are questionable statements in a subsequent comment, but I'd be interested in your defence so far.

Best wishes.

Doctor Logic said...

unkle e,

The Big Bang is not just the appearance of the universe in time, but the beginning of spacetime itself. Asking what happened before the Big Bang to cause the universe to exist is like asking what there is before the North Pole (in latitude) to cause the rest of the Earth's surface to exist. That is, time is a variable like latitude - it describes the spacetime inside the universe. Consequently, it makes no sense to try to identify entities temporally preceding the Big Bang.

Your principle that nothing comes from nothing is based on an inference from stuff that happens inside our universe. Specifically, when we see an event, we can often (though not always) (1) find a state of affairs that precedes it temporally, and (2) verify that such states of affairs generally result in similar effects. However, the whole notion of this sort of causation relies on the concept of there being a preceding time where a state of affairs can exist. The Big Bang model precludes that possibility.

Suppose that the universe begins with a single uncaused event. The fact of this event would be a brute fact, but I don't see any fundamental problem with that. I certainly don't think that the physics of caused events within spacetime has any bearing on the likelihood of such a scenario at the edge (or, rather, the tip) of spacetime.

Now, I don't see any economy in proposing a God who exists as a brute fact simply for the purposes of causing the universe and saving the universe's existence from being a brute fact.

(BTW, conservation of energy is the result of a symmetry of physics with respect to translations in time. At the Big Bang, no such symmetry exists, so there's no necessity for conservation of energy at the Big Bang.)

unkleE said...

The universe, part 2. Dr Logic said: "The universe isn't well designed."

I don't know what evidence you'd offer to support this statement. But in defense of my argument that it is indeed amazingly designed, I offer evidence from four eminent cosmologists (none of whom believe in God, to my knowledge):

Roger Penrose, formerly Professor of Mathematics at Oxford, who worked with Stephen Hawking on the theory of black holes wrote about the probability of our present universe arising by chance: "This now tells us how precise the Creator's aim must have been: namely to an accuracy of one part in 10^10^123. This is an extraordinary figure. ........ But why was the big bang so precisely organised ..... ?" (Note: Penrose is not a theist as far as I can discover, and here uses the term "Creator" as a figure of speech.)

Lee Smolin: "how probable is it that a universe created by randomly choosing the parameters will contain stars. .... The answer, in round numbers, comes to about one chance in 10^229."

Leonard Susskind: "To make the first 119 decimal places of the vacuum energy zero is most certainly no accident."

So we can clearly see that the universe we live in is not the sort of universe that might occur by chance, i.e. if God did not create it. So what do the cosmologists say about the God option (remember none of these are theists)?

Leonard Susskind believes the string landscape and the multiverse are sufficient scientific explanation, but then adds "neither does anything in this book diminish the lilelihood that an intelligent agent created the universe for some purpose"

Martin Rees offers four explanations for the amazing "fine-tuning" - (1) providence, (2) coincidence, (3) a theory of everything and (4) the multiverse. He rules (2) and (3) out on scientific grounds, supports (4), but cautions against dismissing the God option: "But physicists can never explain what 'breathes fire' into the equations, and actualises them in a real cosmos. The fundamental question of 'why is there something rather than nothing?' remains the province of philosophers."

But even if the multiverse, the scientific theory supported by Rees, Susskind and Weinberg ("the string landscape may explain how the constants of nature that we observe can take values suitable for life without being fine-tuned by a benevolent creator") is true, we can still ask the question, if there was no God, would we expect a multiverse capable of generating untold zillions of different universes to have occurred?

So I submit, on the basis of the evidence of expert cosmologists, if there was no God, we would not expect a universe that was so finely designed to last 14 billion years at least and allow stability, planetary systems and life to form, but if there is a God, it might be what he would do.

The universe does indeed look more like a universe that God created than one which he did not.

Best wishes.

Doctor Logic said...

unkle e,

Just to clarify, your original question was:

If we were capable of sitting abstractly outside this present space-time, if there was no God, would you expect a universe to exist at all?

To be honest, I don't think your question makes sense. However, there might be other ways you could phrase it that I could make sense of.

Maybe you mean what Rees means when he asks "why is there something rather than nothing?" However, theism doesn't answer this question either. Indeed, no explanation could ever be found because any force capable of doing the work would be a something rather than a nothing.

You're always going to have to start from some brute facts. You give no reason why God is a better brute fact than the universe itself. In principle, God could be a better brute fact if God did more than replace physical brute facts, but that would entail God predicting something new.

Doctor Logic said...

unkle e,

I think your summary of the consensus in cosmology is a bit misleading. The assumptions being made about vacuum energy, coupling constants, etc., are all based on inferences from our small, cool, flat corner of the universe. They're really a reflection of our lack of knowledge about physics at very high energies. They are not hard constraints.

For example, we might ask, "what are the odds that the peculiar proboscis a rare moth just happens to match the peculiar shape of a rare flower and that the two species just happen to live in the same vicinity?"

If you did not know about genetics and evolution, you might think the odds were so small as to rule out a system lacking intelligent direction. However, as we know, evolution's very simple mechanism explains the apparent coincidence.

The question is, before we knew what we now know of evolution, did the existence of the strange moth-flower combo create a hard probability constraint on unguided mechanisms? It did not, IMO.

The peculiar combo was a brute fact under an unguided scenario (without evolution), but the designer's goal in the design scenario is equally brute without predicting anything other than what we have already observed.

When we learned about evolution, we not only explained some specific systems, but we made successful predictions about what we would find. That's what makes evolution explanatory, and not just a restatement of brute facts.

I don't think your cosmological argument does any work. You seem to assume that gaps in our knowledge of physics today place a hard constraint on theories we might discover tomorrow. That's not the case. We're not concluding fine-tuning issues are problematic from a position of excellent and thorough knowledge of the physics involved. We're saying that fine-tuning is problematic from the perspective of known unknowns. (Uh oh, I'm gettin' all Rumsfeldian. Time for bed I think. :P)

unkleE said...

G'day Dr Logic, I hope you slept well! Here in the antipodes, it is approaching that time for me.

I can't see that your discussion about biological evolution has any relevance to cosmology. And until and if you can produce a swag of counter quotes, I suggest what I outlined is pretty much the prevailing, though not consensus, view in the cosmology I have read.

But in the end, the argument is still - does this world look more like one God created or one which occurred without God (presumably by natural processes). The way we are testing that is making two assumptions (God exists and no God exists) and asking what universe (if any) might result from each assumption. At this stage in the argument we are not considering how likely each assumption is, just what is likely on each assumption.

I gave reasons why both the existence of the universe and its precise "design" could be envisaged (i.e. the probability appears to be greater than miniscule) on the assumption a God exists, yet highly unlikely on the assumption that no God exists (i.e. the probability is miniscule).

You seem reluctant (and I can understand why) to commit yourself to the position that if we assume no God, the existence of a precisely designed (according to the cosmologists) universe is likely.

Until you either argue that even if God exists the probability of such a universe is miniscule, or show how the cosmologists are wrong and the probability of such a universe is more than miniscule on naturalist assumptions, your statement "The world is indistinguishable from a world without God" seems contrary to the evidence.

Would it be rude to ask you to focus on that one point? (I'm sorry if it would be, but I am asking it anyway.)

Best wishes, and good night!

Gregory said...

When I reflect upon my own life, I am struck by a very interesting fact: namely, that my own "choices" and "circumstances" are not scientifically predictable. If we were to say that the effulgence of scientific genius were to discover all the varied aspects of "natural law" and the underlying relationships between all the known sciences, so as to allegedly enable scientists to give a scientific/empirical reckoning of choice and of reason, how, then, ought we be blamed if we reject all such scientific conjectures? How can these "scientists" and "philosophers, of the physicalist stripe, castigate dissenting opinion as "untrue" when the disserters, and their dissenting opinion, are every bit as "natural" as the believer in science....all opinions coming, as it were, from the same source (i.e. the physical universe)?

note: modern science, ironically, is just another variety of the older "nature worship" religions.

Why not believe that "science" itself, as a methodological discipline, is simply another realm of "fairy tale" and "superstition", like that of religion or fantasy? If scientists must address the "biological origins of religion", as a way of explaining "why people believe weird things", then why not also address the "biological origins of science" in the same manner? Why not insist that scientific beliefs, like religious beliefs, are the non-rational by-products of a capricious universe....a mere epiphenomenon of the brain?

If reality is the way the physicalists paint it, then all arguments---including a "wild card argument"---are the result of the nomic operations of the physical universe, and not as the result of any rational determination of the mind. Therefore, the "wild card argument" is really wild. There are no such thing as "arguments". And there certainly is no such thing as "persuasion". All you really have, in terms of mind, are neurological pathways and the possibility of their relative adjusment/connection. The point of argumention--in terms of physicalism--is not about "truth" or "reason" or "logic". The "real" point of argumentation is the connectedness, or disconnectedness, of neural pathways.

If arguments actually mean something....if "reason" were, somehow, not susceptible to the vagaries of neural plasticity and physical manipulation....then one not need speculate on the possibility, or impossibility, of a miracle; you would already have found one!!

Doctor Logic said...

unkle e,

Sorry if I wasn't clear enough with the evolution example. The basic point is that when we have incomplete information about the connection between two matched features of a system (i.e., if we think the two features are independent), then we can be fooled into thinking the observed situation is hyper-improbable.

This is precisely the case in physics. There used to be a fine-tuning problem with respect to the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force. However, unification of the forces in electroweak theory told us how the two forces were connected, and why the vast difference in force strengths exists.

In the case of cosmology, we have quantum field theory (which is known to be an incomplete theory) describing reactions at small scales. QFT works extremely well as far as predictions are concerned, but it contains assumptions that are known to be false or at least known to contradict what we know about gravity.

Let me give you an example from the 1930's. Electrons are fermions, so you can't have two electrons in the same state at the same time (this is what stops all electrons in an atom from sharing the ground state). In the theories of the time, free space consisted of an infinite number of energy levels extending down to infinite negative energy. The problem was, what stops an electron from emitting infinite energy and falling to the lower levels?

Dirac proposed that electrons in free space were prevented from falling down to infinite negative energy because all the energy levels below the vacuum were already filled (the "Dirac sea"). This theory correctly predicted anti-particles. Of course, if it were literally true, the vacuum would have infinite energy, charge, and density, which contradict gravitational theory, to say the least.

Physicists are used to this sort of problem. We're building up theories of particle physics and cosmology almost independently. So it's a mistake to assume that there's no simple reason why certain apparently independent features of the universe are the way they are.

Doctor Logic said...

unkle e,

Even if your view of fine-tuning were correct, your argument still would not work.

Imagine that there is a set of parameters that describe possible physics. There is a huge parameter space describing all possible universes. You claim that our universe is just one tiny volume in this huge parameter space, and, therefore, the probability of our universe occupying that one volume is correspondingly tiny. Let's say for sake of argument that this is true.

Why should God select parameters for our universe within that same small volume?

In principle, an unspecified god with unspecified goals is no more likely to choose one part of parameter space over another. So, a priori, theism doesn't solve the problem.

At this point, you fine-tune your model of God. You say God wants us to live in a universe like the one we live in. Fair enough. But have you done more than just move the fine-tuning from the universe to God? In principle, you can do better. If your model of God predicts more than what we have already observed, then you have succeeded in explaining our universe with God. For example, if you can predict physics based on your God model, you are making real headway. As we know, in practice, God doesn't predict anything at all about physics or cosmology. It's just, if we knew the mind of God, we could say why he picked this set of parameters over some other set of parameters. Lacking knowledge of the mind of God, you're in no better position than a naturalist. The probabilities are matched all the way unless you fine-tune God.

unkleE said...

Ah Dr Logic, you are presenting all sorts of arguments, but you don't seem to want to address the one thing I am asking you.

You said this universe looked like one where God was absent, I said the opposite. I said this was easily settled by considering (as might occur in Bayesian probability estimates) how likely the present universe would be granted each starting assumption (God or no God).

For your statement to stand, you have to argue (contrary to the cosmologists) that it is at least somewhat likely that if there was no God, a universe would exist at all, and that universe would be built around a number of highly "coincidental" constants.

This you seem quite unwilling to say. I think that is because it is a difficult proposition to really support.

That was what I was trying to indicate. So I think I'll leave the discussion there. Thanks for a courteous discussion, and best wishes.

Doctor Logic said...

unkle e,

My arguments show that there is no probability advantage to God at all, so they are a direct answer to your challenge. Even if God exists, there's no more reason he would create this universe over another or none at all.

unkleE said...

The cosmologists have shown that the probability of our universe occurring by chance is very low. Even if God had no intentionality, and acted totally randomly, the probability of him causing the universe would be the same.

Thus the universe would look equally likely to exist on either scenario. And your original statement that it looks like a godless universe would still be wrong.

But few people would define God as intention-less and random, so this conclusion would not bother any believers.

But as soon as God is defined as having any intentionality at all, the probability that he might create rises, and the world makes more sense on the God-option. And if "there's no more reason he would create this universe over another or none at all." (your own words), that makes the probability that God created immeasurably more than the miniscule numbers the cosmologists are talking about.

The logic of this is so clear that I feel sure a person with your nom-de-plume can see it clearly, and I think it is only this adversarial situation that makes it hard for you to admit it.

Which is why I suggest we leave off. This is, after all, not just an academic exercise or a debate, but life and truth. I'll leave you with it.

Best wishes.

Doctor Logic said...

unkle e,

You haven't understood my point, so perhaps you could withhold the psychoanalysis just a while until you do.

Okay, you're agreeing with me that there's no difference in the probability distribution between the non-fine-tuned God and non-fine-tuned physics. If we assume nothing at all about God, then God fares no better than undiscovered physics.

Then you say that if we accept a fine-tuned God (one with the intent to make the universe we see), then God has the advantage.

In your words:

But as soon as God is defined as having any intentionality at all, the probability that he might create rises, and the world makes more sense on the God-option.

"Intentionality" here meaning intent to make the universe we live in.

However, EXACTLY the same can be said of a fine-tuned physical theory. If we DEFINE the theory we're dealing with to be the type which leads to what we observe, then a physical theory can do just as well as a God who intended the same outcome.

Just substitute "Theory of Everything" for "God" and you get the same results. To be even more explicit, we're substituting "Theory of Everything fine-tuned to predict our universe" for "God fine-tuned to intend our universe."

If you had a theory of God precise enough to predict the fine-tuning of the physical constants, you could predict a heck of a lot more than what we've already observed. But you can't predict our physical constants from your theory of God. You, indeed, cannot predict a single thing with your theory of God.

Well, don't feel bad about that. I can't predict a single thing using my Theory of Everything for essentially the same reason: I possess a Theory of Everything in name only.

The DIFFERENCE is that you think God (in name only) is explanatory but my Theory of Everything (in name only) is not. THAT is the point. If a fine-tuned God explains the universe, so does a fine-tuned physical theory.

God has no advantage because there's a price to be paid for fine-tuning, whether your theory is physical or not. You are assuming that your God theory's fine-tuning is free while the physical theory's fine-tuning must pay the price. Your assumption is wrong.

Doctor Logic said...

unkle e,

How is the price for fine-tuning paid?

Answer: With verified predictions.

Think about this. Newton's Law of Gravity is fine-tuned to predict the right force. We figured out the gravitational constant by testing the gravitational force between two known masses.

So how did physicists pay for this fine-tuning of the gravitational constant? By successfully predicting the attraction of other masses, and by successfully predicting the motions of the planets. If our fine-tuning were unjustified, the world would not have looked as Newton predicted it.

Supernaturalism, with its prediction-phobia, can never hope to explain anything because it can never pay for its own fine-tuning. Note that non-physicalism can pay if it is predictive, but there are few who think God is a predictable non-physical entity.

unkleE said...

Dr Logic, we can at least agree about one thing. : ) "You haven't understood my point".

You just seem to me to be digging a deeper hole for yourself. First you 'assume" God has no intentionality, now you suggest that "a physical theory can do just as well as a God who intended the same outcome", even though the cosmologists indicate that no physical theory seems able to explain the fine-tuning. And I from the beginning was discussing the christian God who, like the gods of other monotheistic religions, is defined as being intentional and creative.

I don't wish to be rude, but I can see no point in discussing further when you say things like this. So, as I indicated previously, I think it is best to not keep going over the same points, and leave it at that.

Best wishes.

PS Re prediction: theism made the biggest prediction of all. The historians tell us that a significant factor in the rise of the scientific method in the christian west (and nowhere else) was that christians expected the universe to be orderly and predictable, and hence worth scientific study, something not expected on other beliefs. And so it proved - so much so that scientists like Martin Rees and Paul Davies can marvel at it.

Vinny said...

Dr. Reppert,

Your paper at Infidels seems directed primarily to the question of the probability of miracles. However, if we are unable to rely on frequentism, how do we assign probabilities to events that do not violate the observed order? If we cannot rely on empircally derived probabilities, how can we say that willingness to die for a lie is so unusual that we are justified in positing the actions of a divine being?

Victor Reppert said...

I think that people simply have to go off their own credence functions. There are two requirements. One is to make sure our probability assessments are internally consistent. The other is that we have to be prepared to change our probability assessments as we encounter evidence. So, for example, if one person started off with a really high prior for a flat earth, and another for a round one, looking at the evidence would probably convert you to round-earth-ism fairly readily in response to virtually any set of priors. With religious issues it's going to be tougher.

Of course the claim that no one would die for what they knew to be false is something that strongly disconfirms only some naturalistic theories, those that involve deliberate fraud on the part of the disciples. It wouldn't be a problem for hallucination theory.

Vinny said...

Dr. Reppert,

In the earlier post you suggested that for someone like me who does not believe in the resurrection, "there are a bunch of inconvenient facts out there that are hard to make sense of." Doesn't that imply a credence function that is in some sense objective? If you and I do not share a credence function, can there be any grounds for you to think that any fact would be "inconvenient" for me?

Victor Reppert said...

If we have something that is more likely given the hypothesis that you espouse than on the hypothesis that I espouse, then it tilts everyone's probabilities toward my beliefs. However, since priors may be different, the swing may or may not change the relevant beliefs.

SteveK said...


WC Argument: The idea is that theistic explanations don't really explain because they don't give you a reason to supposed that event X was expected as opposed to event Y. God had the power equally well to bring about X or Y, therefore, to say that he caused X doesn't really tell us why X was caused and not Y. Playing the God card is what you can do anytime, anywhere, and so it really doesn't do any real work.

I don't see how naturalism does a better job. I would say it does a worse job because naturalism lacks the necessary ontology to get the job done from the very start.

What is it about naturalism - it's essence or ontology - that gives us a reason to suppose life and the Darwinian process came about instead of no life?

Nature's essence supposedly has the power equally well to create life and no life. We see that clearly just by looking around.

So here, naturalism falls prey to the same complaint - playing the "nature did it" card seems not to do much work in the same sense that the argument above supposes that God does not do much work.

However it goes further than that. The essence of nature is impotent and cannot do the work necessary even if it wanted to, because of what it is.

God, at least, has the necessary ontology to get the job done because of who he is. That's the difference.