Friday, May 28, 2010

Preview For my Book Now Available on Amazon

Click the link and you'll be able to read the first ten pages of my book (Click the cover where it says "Click to Look Inside":

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mapping the Fine-Tuning Argument: Why Intelligent Design Fails

No amount of complexity, specification, or information found in the universe could ever lead us to conclude that it was caused by a cosmic creator.

Why is that? If we found something like a tractor on another planet, we would conclude that it was created by an intelligence (wouldn't we?). So if we discover fine-tuning in the laws of nature, shouldn't we conclude that it was caused by God?

No. Because for every possible state of affairs we can think of (a universe with only hydrogen, a universe with only three atoms, etc.) we can also think of some peculiar spiritual being who would desire exactly that kind of universe to be created. A creator who wants a life-friendly universe is therefore just as improbable as the life-friendly universe he is called on to explain. In fact, he is more improbable, given the facts I've outlined here.

People bring up a lot of challenges to this argument. For example, isn't this just asking for "an explanation of the explanation"? No, it isn't. When you truly explain something you have to provide an explanation that is more likely than postulating simple chance to explain event X. If you do not, then lucky chance is a more likely cause of event X than is your explanation, and therefore, we cannot accept your explanation.

Another objection is the following: what if we found tractors on another planet? Would people like you refuse to attribute this to alien intelligence? Couldn't people like you just say,

"For every possible state of affairs we can think of (a planet with only hydrogen, a planet covered in silly string, etc.) we can also think of some peculiar alien being who would desire exactly that kind of planet. An alien who wants a tractor is therefore just as improbable as the tractor he is called on to explain."

No, I couldn't say that. And here's why: In this case, there is reason to think that alien with the desire to build a tractor would not be equally likely to the other nonsensical possibilities. And that reason is that we have tractors on earth, we use them for harvesting food (which we, and certainly every other living being, needs) and this provides us with some backround knowledge that increases the initial probability that creatures on other planets will do the same.

However, we can't really extrapolate like this to God (or any other spiritual being that might exist). Our backround knowledge about intelligent agents means essentially nothing in regard to God and other hypothetical spiritual beings. And that is because we are physical beings who evolved, while God is not a physical being and did not evolve. Our desires and our ways of thinking were determined by natural selection. God's (or other spiritual being's) thinking was determined by... Well, whatever it was determined by it couldn't have been a process of evolution, and we don't really have a clue what could determine it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Review: The Christian Delusion

The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Failsis the greatest critique of Christianity I've ever read. It is a sharp, thorough, and devastating case against the Christian religion. Not only that, but the book has contributions from several prominent atheists (Hector Avalos, Bob Price, Richard Carrier, John Loftus). This gives the book a very refreshing variety, as the contributors write on a wide-range of issues and look at them from different perspectives.

Part 1 is entitled "Why Faith Fails" and I take it to be a refutation of the common notion that one needs no rational reason to believe Christianity to be true, you can just "take it on faith." It is amply demonstrated that "faith" (in the sense that is used here) is completely unreliable, due to, (among other things) the fact that people "have faith" in a wide variety of religions, and since only one (at best) can be true, it makes one's own faith very likely to be false if the faith has not been rationally scrutinized.

Part 2 consists of three chapters which argue that the Bible is not God's word. Ed Babinski convincingly shows that the writers of the Hebrew Bible were given no divine revelation about the world in which they lived: their writings reflect belief in a flat earth covered by a dome (the 'firmament') which was the sky, or heavens. These beliefs are extremely and inexplicably strange if the Bible was inspired by God, but completely to be expected if the Bible was simply a product of its time and culture and not inspired by God. Paul Tobin, author of the website and book The Rejection of Pascal's Wager, explains a few of the contradictions and failed prophecies in the Bible, and I have a feeling that his approach would be very persuasive to fundamentalist Christians. Tobin proves his thesis far beyond a reasonable doubt, to the point that anyone unconvinced that the Bible contains inconsistencies after reading his chapter would have to be in deep, deep denial. Indeed, they would have to be in pathetic denial. John Loftus wraps up the section by discussing the "failure to communicate" of the Biblical God. The problem, as Loftus explains, is this: if God actually inspired the Bible, then why the hell is that Christians can't agree on the meaning of so many passages, and even on the basic messages of the biblical books themselves? Loftus' point could be forcefully illustrated by the following webpage, which lists passages in the Bible that condemn alcohol consumption followed by some that condone it. At the bottom of the page is a list of Christian websites that believe the Bible condemns drinking... Followed by a list of Christian websites that believe the Bible condones drinking! Well, which is it? And if God wrote it, why didn't he make his message clearer?

I don't have the time to review the other parts of the book in such detail, but the highlights of the rest of the book include: Hector Avalos' chapter arguing that atheism was not the cause of the holocaust or the mass murders of communist regimes and Richard Carrier's chapter on the Resurrection (which forcefully and convincingly argues that such an event, given the poor evidence we have, is totally irrational-- even illogical-- to believe).

To sum up, this book should be read by anyone who wants to understand the case against Christianity.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mapping the Fine-Tuning Argument: The Puddle Analogy and Misc. Objections

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

-Douglas Adams

The 'Puddle Analogy' seems to me to be simple, funny, and somewhat unoriginal. What is its relevance to fine-tuning? The puddle, of course, fits its hole so well not because anyone designed it that way, but because the water it is composed of adapts itself naturally to whatever shape the hole takes. The analogy that this would have with fine-tuning would be something like the following: 'Life is adapted to the universe, and not the other way around, so if the universe had been different life would be too. In other words, a different kind of universe would have yielded a different kind of life.' If that's what the analogy means, then it is simply a funny way of putting the 'Other Forms of Life Objection' that we have examined previously.

The Anthropic Principle

Some have responded to the fine-tuning by simply saying, 'Of course the universe has to be just so to allow our existence. If it wasn't, we wouldn't be here to comment on it.' The logic used here is undoubtable correct: the universe must be able to permit our existence, since if it wasn't we wouldn't exist, and we do exist. But people sometimes take this tautology and mistake it for an explanation of the fine-tuning. And it isn't: Your existence is a result of the fine-tuning. It is NOT a cause of the fine-tuning. Your existence in no way caused the universe to be fine-tuned, so it cannot explain the fine-tuning.

Circular Reasoning?

I've heard people say that the fine-tuning argument argues in a circle because the very word 'fine-tuning' implies that one has already established that some agent did tune the universe. But that can't be assumed in the argument because that is the very thing to be proved: whether there was a conscious agent who rigged the laws of physics. I think this is a weak objection. It's a semantic point masquerading as something more. The phenomenon we describe as 'fine-tuning' could be described in less anthropomorphic ways: it could be called 'improbable life-friendliness' instead, for example. Nevertheless, the phenomenon we refer to as 'fine-tuning' or 'improbable life-friendliness' still requires an explanation, and we want to find the best explanation available. The best explanation could be a designer, or a more fundamental law of nature, or a multiverse, etc. And we will begin comparing these explanations in later posts.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Common Descent Proven

A new study has shown that it is overwhelmingly likely that every living thing known to man has arisen from just one common ancestral species:

Unless someone can point out some statistical or logical error in this, then this study conclusively proves that creationism, and even evolution from two or more ancestral species, is false. It can't be said with literal 100% certainty, but it can be said with over 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999% certainty.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

'Atheism and Naturalism' Now On Amazon!

Finally! Here's the link:

Atheism and Naturalism

My book has finally made it to Amazon! I'm so glad. Anyway, if you've read it be sure and write a review for It'll only take a few minutes and it will help me out a lot.

Also, if you want to purchase it but don't have a lot of cash, I recommend signing up for swagbucks and doing daily searches until you have enough swagbucks to purchase amazon gift cards, and then you'll be able to buy it. If just start using swagbucks to search for things instead of google, you'll probably have enough to purchase my book in eight or nine weeks.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Book Proposal

Hi guys,

I hope you've been enjoying my blog series "Mapping the Fine-Tuning Argument". I've been thinking about doing something wild, something that might be a lot of fun for both me and my readers: writing another book. The book will be about arguments from design, and it will examine pretty much every argument from design that exists.

So, I want to know: how many people want to see this book get written, and how much do you want to see it written?

I've already quite extensively on arguments from design (obviously! this blog debunks creationism fro cryin' out loud!). However, I think that I need to study a bit more before I can write the book I want to write. So, I've written up a list of the books I need:

God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science

The Life of the Cosmos by Lee Smolin

ATHEISM IS FALSE Richard Dawkins And The Improbability Of God Delusion

Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe

No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence

All of these are listed on my Amazon Wish List. So, if anyone wants to purchase a book for me from the wish list, I'd be much appreciative. Used books are fine, they're cheaper and just as readable. Also, over on the right there is a Donate Button where you can send me money through paypal, so either one of those is fine.

If I have all five of those books sent to me, or if I am given enough money to purchase them myself, then (and only then) I will reward my contributors: Those who donated at least $5 (or purchased a book that cost at least that much) will recieve a free downloadable version of my book when I finish writing it. Those who donate at least $30 will recieve a free printed copy of my book when I finish it.

If you've donated, just make sure that I have your email address and your mailing address (if you donated at least $30).

I have quite a lot I want to write about in this book: I want to defend the idea that God is a poor explanation because he is the kind of being whose existence would only be probable if someone were around to design him, or if he could evolve (but God, by definition, cannot be either one of those, so it follows that there is no God). Essentially I'm planning to defend Dawkins' argument in order to drive the argument from design into the ground.

Then I want to examine all of the popular arguments to design: the fine-tuning argument, Michael Behe's irreducible complexity, arguments from the existence of a lawful and regular universe, William Paley's classic biological arguments to design, etc.

My aim is to cause complete devastation to every form of this argument, to the point that it is mortally wounded and can never legitimately be made again.

I look forward to hearing what my readers think about this!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mapping the Fine-Tuning Argument: Why Did God Create A Physical Universe?

This is the eighth installment in my series "Mapping the Fine-Tuning Argument" which critically examines the Fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. Click here to read my formulation of the argument, or here to read a simplified statement of it.

In this installment we will examine premise B-2: "The hypothesis that God exists predicts a life-friendly universe."

Does the God hypothesis predict a life-friendly universe? If there is a God, would he create a physical universe, and if he did, would he create one with life? Why wouldn't God simply create a spiritual world?

I have searched for possible theistic answers to this question and have not been able to find any adequate ones. I did find an answer on page 31 of this kabbalistic book, but it didn't really make sense to me. I found the question asked on Yahoo! Answers and the best answer to it, as chosen by Yahoo Users, was simply "Good Question."

If anyone can think of a possible answer to this question, please write it in the comments.

Why is all of this important? Because when someone comes up with an explanation for the fine-tuning, they must be able to show why fine-tuning would be likely (given the existence of God). If no one can show this, then God isn't even a possible explanation for the fine-tuning and the whole argument falls apart.

You know, at first I didn't think this objection was a big deal, and I was almost sure that I could find something somewhere which would give a plausible reason for God creating a physical universe with life in it. But now my mind has fully absorbed the ultimatum theists face: they must give a plausible reason for the creation of a fine-tuned physical universe or they must give up this argument. And they don't seem to have made much progress in coming to terms with the former.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Debate On Jesus' Resurrection

I'm having one now, and it is in full swing, but not yet finished. Read it here.

I'll post something when the debate is over.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dawkins, MacKay, and Inductive Reasoning

Watch it here. MacKay's basic argument was, "To believe the Earth is old or that evolution occurred, you'd have to believe that Carbon-14 (and all the other elements used for dating) worked the same in the past as they do in the present. Believing that takes just as much faith as believing the Bible!"

Um... No, it doesn't. Believing that things work exactly the same way as you've always observed in cases that you cannot observe is inductive reasoning. Creationists use it all the time. They haven't observed the future, but they know inductively that the sun will rise and that the laws of physics will continue as they always have. That isn't faith.

Of course, creationists will often argue that the only reason we can expect the world to work in a regular and orderly way is if it was created by a rational God. But if that's the case, then what right do they have to say that the world didn't always work the same way so that they can dismiss the results of scientific dating methods that show that the Earth is very old?

Besides, their solution still leaves open the question of why we should believe that God will go on behaving rationally in the future. Their solution solves nothing.

But all that isn't even the worst of their problems, because, as it turns out, there are ways to justify inductive reasoning that are completely logical. For example, I believe that it is more parsimonious (or simple) to postulate only one kind of cause for every kind of effect, and vice versa, and since simpler explanations are to be preferred (a view which I defend on a priori grounds in my book Atheism and Naturalism) then it follows it is reasonable to believe that the effects of the past that we observe today were created by causes that create similar effects in the present day. Think about it: If we observe Cause A creating Effect B, and we reason that it is simpler (and therefore more probable) to suppose that Effect B is only created by Cause A, then in cases where we observe Effect B without having the benefit of being around to witness Cause A occur, we can still be reasonably sure that Effect B was created by Cause A.

And that isn't the only justification for induction. Here's another one: Induction can be likened to the sample-taking done by scientists. Scientists will often take a very large sample of something, and then reason that what is true of the sample is probably true of the whole (of whatever they are sampling). For example, if I interview 10,000 random people, and 90% of them inform me that they will re-elect Barack Obama, I can be reasonably sure that this is true of the entire population of voters. It is logically possible that somehow my sample wasn't representative of the entire population. Maybe, out of the entire population, only 10% want Obama re-elected. But it is extremely improbable that my sample would be that far off the mark.

Likewise, when we reason inductively, we observe something so many times (equivalent to taking a sample) and we assume that that sample is probably representative of all cases of that kind of event.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why the New Atheists Failed?

LukeProg posted a series of videos which showed his speech "Why the New Atheists Failed and How to Defeat all Arguments for God in One Easy Step". The second half of the speech I mostly agreed with (it was mostly a reprise of Greg Dawes' arguments about why theistic explanations are poor, which I wrote about here). Luke overstated his case in saying that these could be used against "all" arguments for God (could any of Luke's points be used against the ontological argument, I wonder?). Nevertheless his points are valid ones which sink the vast majority of arguments for God.

The first part of the speech I strongly disagreed with. Luke claims that Richard Dawkins' Ultimate 747 argument for the nonexistence of God is attacking a God which "came into existence" and which is not the eternal God most Christians and Jews believe in. This is false. Something can be eternal and still improbable. For example, if someone brought up the fine-tuning of the universe, would postulating an eternal universe go anyways at all towards answering why the constants are "fine tuned"? Would an eternal universe, in any way, reduce the improbability of the universe's life-friendliness (assuming that the diagnosis of fine-tuning is right in the first place)? I'd like to hear what Luke thinks. My opinion is that something eternal can indeed be improbable, as long as we can concieve of the eternal thing being different from the way it is, or not existing, etc.

Second, the fact that most theists postulate a necessary God does not answer the problem of God's improbability. Unless they can prove that a being with God's other attributes (omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, etc.) also possesses the attribute of necessary existence, we can only consider it a hypothesis that a being with God's other attributes exists necessarily. That hypothesis has no support from observation or experience. Further, that hypothesis has an incredibly low a priori probability, as I've tried painstakingly to show here and here. To see why it has a low a priori probability, think about all the other possibilities: that no necessary beings exist, that some other hypothetical being(s) besides God is necessary (and there are gazillions of hypothetical beings we could dream up), and so on.

Luke might say that I'm missing the point and that I'm going off on another argument. But I view what I just said above as directly related to Dawkins' argument. If Luke agrees with me that eternal existence does not affect Dawkins' argument (as I believe he will), then the only point of contention that we have is whether Dawkins' argument assumes a contingent God or necessary God. Hopefully Luke will agree that Dawkins' has successfully shown that a contingent God is improbable, since such a being would be one of enormous 'specified complexity' in the way its mind worked. If he agrees with this, then he should be able to see that a contingent God's existence as a brute fact would be massively improbable, since the brute fact could have just been a mindless being, or a being with a disorganized mind, an insane mind, a mind short of the perfection that God's mind supposedly has. All of those minds would be just as probable, perhaps even more probable, than God's mind. But even if we abandon the notion of a contingent God and move towards the notion of a necessary God, the necessary God faces a strikingly similar problem: the hypothesis that God is necessary is one among many hypotheses, each of which is just as likely (or perhaps more likely) than it is. If there is a necessary being(s), it could be a mindless being, or a being with a disorganized mind, an insane mind, a mind short of the perfection that God's mind supposedly has.