In a recent comment, Vincent writes that
However, I would argue that if we believe in human freedom, then that freedom has to include the freedom to bind oneself to a particular vision of humans’ ultimate good – whether it be one that includes God as its core or one which excludes God as a hindrance to unfettered liberty.
I’m very interested in theories of freedom and this idea of atheism as somehow involving “unfettered liberty.”
For the most part, when we talk about theism and naturalism, we focus on the epistemological side of the question: what counts as evidence for or against a position, the best explanation of the available data, and so on. Clearly such discussions have their place.
But I also think that the exclusive focus on epistemology is problematic, since it inclines us to neglect the “passional” (William James’s term) side of our natures. Why do we want theism or naturalism to be true, what motivates us to affirm or deny. If you will, “man cannot live by reason alone.”
It’s reasonably clear that the affective aversion to naturalism amongst theists arises from an anxiety that naturalism causes (not entails!) nihilism. So we must believe in God to avoid the threat of meaninglessness. (Some theists are less than clear whether the relation between naturalism and nihilism is causal or logical, but we can get into that in the discussion.)
Here I want to pick up on the suggestion that atheists want atheism to be true because they desire “unfettered liberty.” One sees this claim made quite often (it’s a reliable trope at Uncommon Descent, for example) and it needs to be examined closely.
To do this, I want to look at theories of freedom: what does it means to be free?
In the classical liberal tradition that runs (roughly) from John Locke to Bob Nozick, freedom is non-intervention: one is free to the extent that others cannot prevent you from doing what you want, or might want to do if given the option.
There is another conception of freedom, freedom as non-domination, that some theorists (including myself) find more compelling. On this approach, known as republicanism, one is free to the extent that one is not subject to the arbitrary or uncontrolled power of a master, regardless of how benign his intentions.
Consider this analogy. Suppose my boss is prone to micromanage her office. Some employees end up being interfered with because they don’t do things her way. I, on the other hand, turn out to be very good at anticipating how she wants things done. I adjust my behavior to meet her expectations. As a consequence, I’m interfered with less than my co-workers are. Does this mean that I am more free than they are?
On the freedom as non-interference conception, we would have to say “yes”. But this is counter-intuitive: we’re all equally under the dominating authority of our employer, and I’m just better at accommodating myself to her. I might be better off — say, more content, less disgruntled — than my co-workers who are constantly being micromanaged. But surely I’m not more free than they are!
We can now distinguish between liberal atheism and republican atheism. A liberal atheist doesn’t want there to be a God because she doesn’t want there be anything like the God of theism to get in the way of satisfying her desires. By contrast, a republican atheist doesn’t want there to be a God because she doesn’t want there be anything like the God of theism to have power over her.
In short, it’s not necessarily that the atheist wants “unfettered liberty”, in the sense of being able to do satisfy her desires, whatever those desires happen to be. If she is a republican atheist, what she wants is to not be under the power of any one else, not even God, and certainly not those who appeal to religious language to legitimize their domination. (There is a nice question here as to how religions become ideologies.)
One final thought: in further development of the republican tradition beginning with Hegel, the only stable alternative to domination is mutual recognition. There is a theological tradition on which the existence of God — or the belief in God — is necessary for mutual recognition between human beings. Martin Buber, in his short and extraordinary I and Thou, articulates this approach quite well. I mention this because there’s indeed a crucial question here as to whether religion is necessarily dominating, or if religion can be part of the struggle for recognition in resistance to domination. Within American religious/political thought, Martin Luther King is perhaps most clear about the capacity of religious discourse to articulate the struggle for mutual recognition in resistance to domination; see his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (PDF).
Let me try a silly analogy of my own. Saying that God can choose to design universes that don’t require fine tuning for life and also that fine tuning is required for life is like filling your kitchen with snakes and claiming that antivenom is required to prepare fried chicken
I never said it was a requirement. All I’m saying is that it can serve as a sign of the
existence of a Designer, that’s all.
In response, I’d like to quote here from Dr. Robin Collins (bolding mine – VJT):
If I read him aright, Dr. Collins is saying that mathematical beauty really kicks in at levels 3 and 4. Varying the laws and constants would alter things at level 2, but leave levels 3 and 4 untouched. At a deeper level, a universe with different laws and constants, but possessing the same fundamental principles (level 3) and basic mathematical structures (level 4), would still be equally beautiful.
Back to your comments:
You’re making some highly questionable assumptions here. You’re saying God could change any constant to any value and keep the universe going. But would it be the same universe, and would the things in the universe remain the same entities, while all these laws and constants were varying? I think not.
The fact that a Designer can do either A or B doesn’t mean that both A and B are equally good evidence for the existence of a Designer. If the Designer wanted to design the universe in a way that left strong mathematical evidence of His existence, designing a fine-tuned cosmos would be one way to do it. In a universe that wasn’t balanced on a knife edge, you could still make a philosophical case for the existence of a Designer (based on the contingency of the cosmos and the reliability of laws), but you couldn’t make a mathematical one.
Hi Neil Rickert,
This sounds like extreme nominalism to me. You’re saying that concepts are merely inventions? Are you denying that things fall into natural categories? (Think of the periodic table, for instance, or the families of fundamental particles in the Standard Model.)
I once used to be sympathetic to this view myself. What it overlooks is that it’s an empirical matter as to whether anything exists which exemplifies the concepts that we dream up. For any set of laws that we can conceive of, it is still perfectly meaningful to ask whether these laws actually apply to any entities and why all the entities we observe conform to these laws (and not some other set of laws).
Try telling Albert Einstein that – or for that matter, Steve Weinberg. Here’s Weinberg: “We’ve learned that certain kinds of theories – the kind that win races – actually succeed in accounting for natural phenomena. The kind of beauty we look for is a kind of rigidity, a sense that the theory is the way it is because if you change anything in it, it would make no sense.”
Mathematics is not an empirical science, but physics is. And it is an empirical matter as to whether the fundamental principles of physics (Robin Collins’ level 3) and the basic mathematical framework of current physics (Collins’ level 4) exemplify the kind of mathematical beauty described by Weinberg – or by Collins himself, who, following William Hogarth, defines beauty in terms of simplicity combined with variety.
Hi Glen Davidson
I’ll let Dr. Robin Collins answer that question (bolding mine – VJT):
So one can define a cause capable of doing what is needed, then note that such a cause could produce those effects.
Yes, but that wasn’t in doubt. It’s finding independent evidence for such a cause that is necessary, not making up what you want your cause to be.
Nonsense. I am not denying that there is a reality.
I most certainly did not use the word “merely”.
There are no natural categories. We create categories, and we place things into those categories.
It is often said that we “carve the world at its seams.” But there are no seams. Rather, we carve the world at its seems (spelling intentional). We carve the world in a way that seems to be useful to us. That is very much a pragmatic way of interacting with our world. And what seems useful to us depends on our biology, our culture and our technology.
To illustrate the latter point, consider map making. Traditionally, we would use easy to recognize landmarks such as rivers and tall mountains as a basis for how we begin our process of “carving up”. But today we would be more likely to do it with GPS coordinates. That’s an effect of technology. And if technology can influence how we carve up the world, so can cultural innovations.
The use of the periodic table was a pragmatic choice made in a scientific culture. It did not happen in all human cultures, though it eventually spread to them when the pragmatic advantages were clear. And, of course, it depends on technology.
Who said anything about dreaming up? Certainly not me. We start with reality, and find was of carving it up — or, as said above, carving it at the seems. There’s a lot of work involved in finding good ways of carving up. It isn’t a matter of dreaming or imagining. It has more do do with trial and error.
Einstein and Weinberg were theoreticians. They were not experimentalists. If we were empirically discovering mathematical structure, we would expect that discovery to be made by experimentalists. If we are imposing mathematical structure, that would be more likely to come from theoreticians.
We impose structure in the way that we carve the world at its seems. Physicists tend to carve up the world according to a grid-like structure. That’s a very geometric way of carving up the world. If we carve up the world in a mathematical way, we should not be surprised to find that the individual parts (or carvings) fit together in a mathematically structured way.
The overall point is that the mathematics, including the mathematical structure, comes from us.
I only assumed that you had suggested that God designed the natural laws, based on what you wrote (more like what I got from it, wouldn’t be the first time I misread someone)
So if the above is right, you lean towards the second horn of the dilemma instead: God couldn’t have designed the laws themselves. It’s not up to him which laws produce which universe. In this view He’s restricted in His creative power by what the laws are intrinsically capable of. In this case you have the laws entirely unexplained.
We have no background knowledge of cosmic designers. Why have absolutely no idea what He would be capable of or willing to do. In fact all your estimates are completely made up, so your bayesian analysis is meaningless as a mathematical argument. At best it’s a math sounding philosophical one.
You say : “If the Designer wanted to design the universe in a way that left strong mathematical evidence of His existence, designing a fine-tuned cosmos would be one way to do it”
A fine tuned cosmos created in this fashion is not a designed one. At best this is a cosmic handyman following a cosmic user guide to build universes.
Presumably God would simply know which combinations of constants work and which don’t. But who designed the laws that way to begin with?
But your argument doesn’t really work without all those outlandish assumptions like “If the Designer wanted to design the universe in a way that left strong mathematical evidence of His existence”
And here’s another interesting consequence of Roberts’ reformulation of the FT argument:
if we already know that life exists, then the probability that life would require fine-tuning is higher if there’s a Designer than it would be if everything is ultimately the product of blind chance
How come no theologian predicted the fine tuning “observation” before physicists run the math? I mean, you already knew life existed, right? This is clearly just an a-posteriori, ad-hoc argument.
Another mistake in your argument is assuming that the alternative must be “blind chance”. So typical. If we had some knowledge of how universes come into existence, perhaps we would be able to discard some combinations of constants as physically impossible, or determine which ones are more probable. The more you know about the process, the more restricted the results are. So the alternative is not randomization of constants.
So your FT argument is useless unless you can reframe it to something like this:
if we already know that life exists, then the probability that life would require fine-tuning is higher if there’s a Designer than it would be if everything is ultimately the product of some unknown physical process
And this is where I think Robert’s argument fails:
This analogy only works because we have extensive background knowledge of darts, dartboards, and the kind of beings playing the game. You have none of that for Gods creating universes.
Imagine we were somewhat intelligent insects living in an open field, with just one apple tree in the center of the field. Once a year apples fall in a confined space around the tree, and we insects feast on the ripe apples. What are the odds that the apples would always fall precisely there every year around the same time? Well, given blind chance that seems highly improbable, but given a benevolent God willing to keep us fed our yummy apples, that would seem much more probable according to the same line of reasoning, right? Problem is apples don’t just fall at random, and none of us insects have ever experienced apple throwing Gods.
It’s enough to point out that you have absolutely no idea how probable R is given some unknown naturalistic explanation, precisely because it’s unknown, and therefore you have nothing to compare to Pr(R|D & B) , but you also have nothing in terms of background knowledge about D (designer).
So seems to me that the reformulated FT argument falls flat.
And hence the ‘retirement’ of Billy the Kid Dembski? He didn’t (yet, Paul Nelson, still no retraction of unpublished book promise?!) follow through on his proclaimed soon-to-come (Revolution, baby!) mathematical theory. Poor Winston, trapped now with Marks. : (
People might want to remind Torley he is ‘doing theology/apologetics’ at a ‘Skeptical’ zone. It is not mainly curious skeptics, but rather largely hardened anti-religious skeptics, with some (incl. moderator) exceptions here. So he’s obviously a man who has few other options or curiosity left to explore higher quality. (& for some reason he has no ‘stick’ at BioLogos – prefers to be regular here than there.)
If you wish to butter your Japanese bread mainly with atheists & agnostics, this is a much better place than BioLogos, Vince. Otherwise, your program is Sal-like in its gross misunderstanding of balanced Christian theism on the topic of “Intelligent Design” ideology in science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse. No coming clean from IDism still as his sun rises in the East. o saving break…
It may interest you to know that Bill Dembski is not a great fan of the fine-tuning argument.
I respectfully put it to you that you can’t argue for both of the following propositions, as you’ve been doing:
(a) for all we know, life may be possible without the need for any fine-tuning, in some universe where the laws and fundamental constants are radically different from our own, and where these laws and constants can vary over quite a broad range without rendering life impossible; and
(b) for all we know, there may be some natural explanation as to why life in our universe is balanced on a knife’s edge, such that even a slight variation in any of the laws and fundamental constants would render life impossible.
Which one do you accept, (a) or (b)?
I would also disagree with your contention that Roberts’ argument about darts and infra-red goggles depends on what we know about darts, dartboards, and the kind of beings playing the game. All the argument assumes is that there is something special about the point where the dart lands. That alone makes it choice-worthy. Ditto for our finely-tuned cosmos. I can’t calculate the probability that a Designer would choose our cosmos, but I can say that since it’s not just any old point in the “space” of possible laws and constants, it’s privileged over points which have no distinctive traits.
There may turn out to be some naturalistic explanation as to why our cosmos is fine-tuned. I can’t rule that out. But any probability calculation has to be based on what we currently know, and at the present/i> time, there seems to be no naturalistic reason why a life-friendly universe would also have to be a fine-tuned one. In other words, there’s nothing we know of, corresponding to your apple tree.
Does that mean that the fine-tuning argument is provisional? Sure. But what’s wrong with that? Aren’t all good scientific arguments somewhat provisional?
You ask: “How come no theologian predicted the fine tuning ‘observation’ before physicists run the math?”
Good question. That’s because for centuries, theologians relied on philosophical arguments to demonstrate God’s existence – which is fine, if you accept the background metaphysics. The notion that God might have left scientific evidence for His existence in the constants in the cosmos would have struck many of them as a bit “occult” – rather like The Bible Code (which most Christians steered well clear of).
For my part, I have an open mind. I don’t see any reason why God would have to leave mathematical evidence for His existence, but if somebody comes to me with such evidence, I won’t turn up my nose at it and walk away, saying with a dismissive academic sneer, “Your God is too small.” Who am I to tell God how big or small He can be? That’s His choice. Instead, what I’ll do is look at the evidence. If it holds up, well and good. If not, too bad.
Thanks for your response Vincent
I must be the worst communicator of ideas of all time. I have NOT been arguing for both those positions. I was proposing a dilemma, and for the sake of argument, exploring the consequences of both horns of the dilemma. Glad you admitted that one can’t hold both positions at the same time.
So for the emptienth time, either a) is true and there’s not FT requirement, or b) is true and God couldn’t have designed the laws themselves (the math). In this view, nature is ontologically independent from God if that makes any sense.
Can we please focus on the dilemma for a bit and then perhaps discuss the reformulated FT argument later on?
Off topic, sorry
Would you consider doing a post on the teaching of the immortality of the soul and related to it the existance of consciousness after death?
I have written a short post on two popular views on consciousness that has not been approved yet, but I think it would be helpful if you covered the immortality of the soul from the Judeo-Christian prospective … Your diligence in doing your posts is much appreciated …😊
Why bring up things you know about the personal lives of other participants that have no bearing on whatever point you’re trying to make? As noted several times, it’s creepy.
Dembski’s views of fine tuning & ‘design/Design’ hold little interest for me. Sadly and unnecessarily he pretty much disgraced himself with his IDist fanaticism & activism. He has not repented of this, but has just dug in elsewhere, with his ID infamy marked on the rest of his life. They set a pattern at CSC for folks like you to follow like Lemmings repeating their catch phrases and PR-style rhetoric. He dirtied the well you still float in with your upper case Intelligent Design copycat Seattle ideology, Vincent.
It really shouldn’t be hard to understand why Christians are critical of IDism, but Vincent J. Torley seems to willfully misunderstand and thinks others should misunderstand like he now does. That is, he might catch an inkling, over there where he lives far away from where the action is, of why Christians reject IDism. But I haven’t seen him yet concentrate, sit down and write just a few paragraphs from his countlessly waging keyboard, about reasons Christians are critical of and reject IDism. He’ll normally just pick a nit and disregard the question behind it, ignoring the elephant sitting on his front door as he exits each morning full of new column ideas for TSZ, his solace of IDist warriorhood, while he pauses his appreciation of the DI, Douglas Axe & ID leadership.
So here he is at TSZ out in the wild, with nowhere left to go to make ‘friends’ except among ‘skeptics’ that he’s trying to show about religion, in one of the most non-religious and/or anti-religious places possible. One might find tools to help understand this with a new perspective for the sake of Vincent, if he would EVER open his ears to listen properly.
For your information, ID-scarred Vincent, let me ask you a question about your currently preferred opponents: “What’s a god to a non-believer?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJt7gNi3Nr4