The Fine-Tuning Argument for God’s Existence, Part Four

Today I’ll conclude my series on “fine-tuning.” Some scientists claim that if the basic physical laws of the universe had been just slightly different, intelligent life could never have existed. Does this show that the universe was designed by God as a home for humans? In my previous post I quoted an imaginary conversation from my book, Bridging the God Gap. Theodore, a theist, Althea, an atheist, and Agnes, an agnostic, are debating this issue, and Theodore has said:

The idea of a godless cosmos offends my intelligence. … [A]n alarm goes off in my mind when people claim that all this wonderment happened for no reason at all.

The conversation continues:

Althea: Theodore, my nonsense-detector is ringing so loud it hurts my ears. You are forgetting what is completely obvious. SOMETHING basic and wondrous did have to happen for no reason we can ever know, whether it was the universe itself or a hidden reality which gave birth to the universe.

Agnes: People who say God made the universe don’t ask where God came from, because they don’t know how to even begin thinking about something so far beyond their own experience. They just shrug their shoulders and change the subject. As Steven Wright says, “A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.”

Theodore: Nevertheless there are brilliant scientists and philosophers who say that it looks like the whole shebang was set up as a home for creatures like us.

Agnes: This is all speculation on top of speculation. Sure, some scientists say the universe seems to have been designed to enable life to exist, but other scientists disagree. It’s easy to go on TV and proclaim that “researchers believe Blah Blah Blah,” but there is no clear consensus about this issue. I have a sneaking suspicion that in ten years, or ten thousand years, a bunch of sheepish physicists will publish an apologetic news release: “Sorry, everyone. We now realize that there are an unbelievably large number of ways that a universe could support intelligent life. For one thing, ‘intelligent life’ doesn’t need to be anything at all like us. Please disregard our previous statements about this matter.”

Althea: Besides, if a super-duper mind created the universe, why would it resemble our traditional concepts of God? It would have to be an incredible information-processing system with the power to shape matter, but look at all the ways that a matter-shaping mind might not be godlike. It might not be conscious. It might have no emotions, and no sense of right and wrong. It might be unaware of (or uninterested in) Homo sapiens. It might not be eternal, and in fact it might not even exist anymore. “It” might be several different entities, working together. Its attention might even be focused on some other universe, and our cosmos might be an accidental by-product of what it’s doing “over there.”

Theodore: Regardless, when I try to think about the universe reasonably, I reject the idea of existence without an intelligent cause. To me that is nonsense, pure and simple. If I am going to use my own reason, I can’t ignore what my reason is telling me.

Agnes: Theodore, I agree with you that there is evidence of intelligent design. I do find that intriguing, and I’d like to believe that it proves there is a god. But I agree with Althea that if we claim that the world had a cause, and call that cause God, we are only substituting one puzzle for another. Why not just assume that the world has no cause? Some physicists, such as Stephen Hawking, say that a causeless cosmos makes excellent sense. It seems backwards to drag in a mysterious extra entity in order to solve a mystery. Something must exist for no reason, either God or the cosmos.

Reviewing this discussion, which statements felt right to you? Which ones seemed far-fetched? What comments sounded reasonable even though they contradicted what you tend to believe? The controversy about how the cosmos began is a classic example of the way people can look at similar data and reach diametrically opposite conclusions. (From Bridging the God Gap, pp. 108-110, boldface type added.)

Roger Christan Schriner

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I’ll Be Back

I’ve been taking a break from this blog which has lasted longer than I anticipated. I’m completing my new book, Your Living Mind: The Mystery of Consciousness and Why It Matters to You. I’ve also been distracted by extraneous factors, such as glitches in setting up a new computer. Your Living Mind should be out later this summer, and then I’ll return to Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground.

In the meantime I encourage interested readers to explore this site. This is my 118th post, and I’m happy to respond to comments about any of my previous entries.

Roger Christan Schriner

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I’m facing an important deadline in preparing my new book, Your Living Mind: The Mystery of Consciousness and Why It Matters to You. As a result, I’m taking a break from this blog for a few weeks.

Roger Christan Schriner

To subscribe to Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, click the “Follow” link on the upper left.

Atheism vs. Theism vs. Agnosticism vs. Gnosticism

James Ford is one of my favorite bloggers. He’s a Unitarian Universalist minister AND a Zen Buddhist priest, and his blog-site is called Monkey Mind. He featured a cartoon by Pablo Stanley in his August 3 post:

Stanley’s cartoon pictures an atheistic-agnostic, a theistic agnostic, an atheistic-gnostic, and a theistic gnostic. It’s a bit odd to use the ancient term “gnostic” in this context; he just means someone who is dogmatically certain of being right.

Check out this theological quartet and see how they look to you. I think both agnostics seem weak and wishy-washy. They need a button I’ve seen that reads: “MILITANT AGNOSTIC – I don’t know and you don’t either.”

It’s amusing to see that both of the dogmatic fellows have their eyes closed.

James says he mostly identifies with the two atheists – the one who admits he might be wrong and the one who says theism is stupid. He reports that he floats between these two alternatives “depending on various things, but mostly who is annoying me at the time …” I can relate, James!

Roger Christan Schriner

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A Materialist Philosopher Defends Dualism

I recently stumbled across a paper by a highly-respected philosopher named William Lycan. This article is quite remarkable, in at least three ways.

1. It defends Descartes’ supposedly-discredited theory of substance dualism, updating René’s ideas while retaining his basic claim that mind and matter are two radically different sorts of stuff.

2. The author of the paper does not think dualism is true. In fact he thinks that physical reality is all there is – no souls, no spiritual kingdoms, no immaterial deities. But he has also concluded that the case against dualism is fairly weak:

“Cartesian immaterial-substance dualism has few, if any, defenders. This paper argues that no convincing case has been made against substance dualism, and that standard objections to it can be credibly answered.”

3. Lycan wrote this paper after engaging in a systematic process of role-reversal, imagining himself as a dualist, to see what sort of case he could make. He candidly comments:

“I have no sympathy with any dualist view, and never will. This paper is only an uncharacteristic exercise in intellectual honesty. It grew out of a seminar in which for methodological purposes I played the role of a committed dualist as energetically I could. That was a strange feeling, something like being a cat burglar for a few months.”

In Bridging the God Gap I suggest that friends who disagree about religion try a role reversal, but it’s amazing to find someone who has actually done this. So many people find it frightening to take someone else’s lifestance seriously. This is one of the ways in which we drastically, and unnecessarily, limit ourselves.

Lycan also provides support for a bottom-line agnosticism about the big questions of life. We all need to form opinions about the nature of reality, but we do not need to assume that we’re right. He comments on “a general tendency in philosophy: When working in one area, we feel free to presuppose positions in other areas that are (at best) highly controversial among practitioners in those areas. To take a limiting example, philosophers nearly everywhere outside epistemology presuppose that we have some knowledge of the external world. If we do have it – as I too presume we do – epistemology has delivered not one tenable account of how that can be so.”

Well, now, if we haven’t established that we can know anything about the external world, agnosticism about other matters follows rather easily, doesn’t it?

One more candid comment:

“Since question-begging is such an elementary and easily identifiable fallacy, why do we seasoned professionals commit it as often as we do? (I am no exception.) I believe the answer is a more general fact: that we accept deductive arguments mainly when we already believe their conclusions.”

Lycan’s paper, “Giving Dualism its Due,” was published in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy in 2009. You can read it at: 

Roger Christan Schriner

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Let’s Play “Name that Lifestance” (Revised 7/10/13)

It’s sad when a useful idea remains nameless. Words help us bring complex concepts into clear focus. Here is a lifestance looking for a label. Can you help find one for it?

What I have in mind is a form of agnosticism. Agnosticism means not knowing if there is a god, or not knowing the truth about some other contentious topic. But there are many kinds of agnosticism. One that I think is both helpful and under-utilized is based on two simple principles:

1. Whenever large numbers of sincere and competent people persistently disagree, we probably do not know who is right.

2. Principle #1 applies to a wide range of topics.

The hallmarks of this lifestance are objectivity and breadth. I have my own opinions about the existence of various sorts of gods, for example, but I also know that I could be mistaken. People who are just as smart and sincere as I am disagree with me about theology. I cannot float up above the fray and say, “Aha, that’s the truth!” Even so, I am sometimes able to sincerely acknowledge the biases and limitations of my own mind. Paradoxically, this realization helps me achieve a sort of objectivity, an ability to partially and temporarily detach from my own opinions. I can apply this principle to many issues, particularly in religion, philosophy, politics, and ethics.

What sort of label fits this wide-ranging meta-perspective? I’ve thought of several, but I’m not sure any of them are good enough.

* Wide-angle agnosticism
* Wide agnosticism
* Big-picture agnosticism
* Panagnosticism
* Metagnosticism

In Bridging the God Gap I speak of broad-spectrum agnosticism, but I’ve been told that sounds like an antibiotic.

So what do you think? And what terms would work for you? All suggestions are welcome!

Roger Christan Schriner

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