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

The fine-tuning argument says that if the laws of our universe had been just slightly different, intelligent life could never have existed. Some say this shows that the cosmos was carefully designed by a supreme intelligence as a home for people like us.

I have explored this question in a fictional conversation in my book, Bridging the God Gap. In this discussion, Theodore is a theist; Althea is an atheist, and Agnes is an agnostic. Obviously I do not agree with everything these three people say, and some of their arguments are persuasive but fallacious. Here are excerpts from the book, pp. 106-108:

To get the most out of these dialogues pay particular attention to what the “other side” says. Notice what happens when you encounter a good idea that disturbs your preconceptions. What emotions do you feel? What impulses do you experience? At such uncomfortable moments it’s only human to look for an exit: “I’d better catch up on my emails.”

Ancient peoples tended to assume that there were only two possible explanations for the existence of heaven and Earth. Either “everything just happened” or “God(s) did it,” and the latter seemed far more likely. Although they realized there was a lot they didn’t know, it did not occur to them that their limited understanding also limited their awareness of alternatives.

Physics and biology have already given us another candidate: The universe radiated outward from the Big Bang and life-forms evolved through natural selection. Some of us agree with these theories and some do not, but at least they offer a conceivable alternative. So now we have at least four options rather than two: “it just happened,” “a Creator made it,” “Big Bang plus evolution,” or a combination in which God caused the Big Bang and included evolution in the divine plan. Importantly, future scientists and philosophers may develop other credible theories about how the cosmos could be “a watch without a watchmaker.” And of course, even if we had a million legitimate options, the right answer might still be, “God did it.”

Let’s see what our three friends have to say about this topic. Theodore leads off.

Theodore: Even if I try to convince myself that the universe could have appeared out of nowhere, it just doesn’t seem plausible. Everywhere I look I find intricate order and regularity. Unbelievably complicated systems have to work with finicky precision for me to stay alive a single second. To me all of this just screams “intelligent design!” Don’t either of you ever feel that way?

Althea: Of course it’s hard to imagine how everything could function without an invisible guiding hand. But it’s hard for me to imagine a great many things that have been well-established. I am only a moderately intelligent mammal living on a little planet near a smallish sun. Why should I be able to comprehend how the whole universe works?

Agnes: We’re just a bunch of curious little critters trying to grasp infinite subtlety and complexity. Even so, I prick up my ears when I hear that physicists have found evidence of creative intelligence. Remember that YouTube video of the debate between Daniel Dennett and Dinesh D’Souza? D’Souza claimed that if certain cosmic laws had been infinitesimally different, “we would have no universe. We would have no life.” He concludes that a creative intelligence wanted us to be here, and some scientists agree with him. This is one reason I’m an agnostic instead of an atheist. …

Althea: Right, but Dennett pointed out [in Part Seven] that there may be  lots of other universes which operate according to laws that prevent life from occurring. Some cosmologists even say there could be an infinite number of universes. Life might be impossible in almost all of these systems, but some of them might be suitable homes for living creatures. If these creatures didn’t know about all the other universes, it would seem as if “the” universe was specifically designed for their benefit. “Wow, how come everything is arranged so precisely? I guess there must be a God!” …

Theodore: The idea of a godless cosmos offends my intelligence. I had a logic teacher in college who often spotted a fallacious argument just by noticing that it sounded fishy. He relied more on hunches than on tight little syllogisms. His mind was equipped with a built-in nonsense-detector that sounded an alarm, and an alarm goes off in my mind when people claim that all this wonderment happened for no reason at all. [End of excerpt from Bridging the God Gap.]

So – which statements felt right to you? Which ones upset you? Which ones made you squirm because you didn’t agree but you weren’t sure how to reply? We’ll finish this conversation in my next posting.

Roger Christan Schriner

For my main web site, click http://www.schrinerbooksandblogs.com/

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Quotes about Agnosticism

Today I posted a page called Quotes about Agnosticism. I have also collected quotes about theism and about atheism, which are posted on separate pages.

If you’d like to “nominate” quotes of up to 100 words about theism, atheism, or agnosticism, please include the author you are quoting, the source, and the page number or URL. Thanks.

Here are the current contents of Quotes about Agnosticism:

From Bridging the God Gap: Finding Common Ground Among Believers, Atheists and Agnostics, p. 99:

“Theism and atheism are two ways of articulating our responses to ultimate mystery. And here is a key idea that is obviously true but difficult to fully accept: There is no objective place where we can stand and say, ‘Now I can see who is right about deity.’

“Of course, many people believe they have attained objective truth about God. Some say it is quite clear that God is real. Others find it equally clear that atheism is correct. But there is no ‘tie-breaker,’ no super-objective vantage point that settles this dispute…. We want to avoid this unsettling but undeniable conclusion. Honestly admitting that no one knows the truth about God is likely to make us squirm (unless we happen to be agnostics).

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have certainty about such an important question, so that all people who are good, smart, and well-informed would agree? But that is not where we find ourselves. We cannot dismiss the testimony of either believers or unbelievers.”

In my book I also mention a videotaped exchange between philosopher Daniel Dennett and conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, debating God’s existence. At one point D’Souza stated that God’s existence cannot be conclusively proven. In that sense, he said, both he and Dennett are agnostics. “I don’t know, and still I believe. Dan doesn’t know, and therefore, he doesn’t believe. What unites us is both of us don’t know. We’re actually both ignorant…. We are both reasoning in the dark.” (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iw7J15TeDG4&feature=PlayList.)

Ian Markham, a Christian theist, has offered a wonderful insight about our current theological confusion. The diversity of our world-views shows that reality is (for human beings) inherently ambiguous. We say we “believe” in some doctrine precisely because we cannot know it is true. “We are all … making assumptions that we cannot prove….” Markham concludes that God evidently wants us to have multiple orientations. He therefore speaks of “an inevitable provisionality that God has built into the creation.” “It is partly because this is the way that God made creation that I am confident God will be merciful to those who opt for a different [i.e., non-Christian] interpretation of the world.” “We need to learn to live with divinely intended pluralism….” (Against Atheism: Why Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris Are Fundamentally Wrong, pp. 141-42).

The Christian philosopher Eric Reitan states that “… however the facts are arranged, it is possible to interpret them in theistic or atheistic terms” Is God a Delusion? p. 114).

And here’s a remark by Clarence Darrow:

“I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure – that is all that agnosticism means”
(http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/31156.Clarence_Darrow).

One of the best-known books on agnosticism is Michael Krasny’s Spiritual Envy. Here are several quotes from that publication:

“God is unknowable and so, for the present, is the universe …” ( p. 90).

“Though most agnostics eschew organized religion, many, even in their cloud of uncertainty, often take comfort in religious ritual, practice, ceremony, and community” (p. 6).

“Wishy-washy agnostic! I felt on the one hand as if I should give thanks for blessings and what seemed the miracle of birth, and on the other that I was being absurdly primitive and irrational, even cowardly, in having such mixed emotions” (p. 152).

“There is no rah-rah power in agnosticism. It enters through the intellect, not through the emotions. Stories or chants or affirmations of belief have emotional effects. Stories of uncertainty usually do not” (p. 223).

“The answer is that, until further notice, there is no answer” (p. 199).

Finally, a passage from the last chapter of Bridging the God Gap, which notes that some forms of agnosticism only ask “whether Christian theology is right about God. Such a narrow focus leads to odd logic, such as the claim that since the Christian God either does or does not exist, we can start by assuming that the chances are 50-50 and then see which way the evidence moves us.

“This would be like a simple card game, turning over a playing card after betting on red or black, but this is no two-card wager. Visualize instead a Las Vegas style “shoe” holding six decks or more – and some of these decks contain cards we have never seen before. Instead of the King of Diamonds we may be dealt the Count of Rubies and have no idea how to play it. The theological possibilities before us are vast and unknowable” (p. 191).

Roger