Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Why the Past Cannot be Infinite

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Relevance to Theism



A finite past bears relevance to the kalam cosmological argument (KCA) which goes like this:
  1. Anything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe begins to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Further arguments are given to show that the cause of the universe is (among other things) a transcendent personal cause. If we have adequate grounds for thinking the universe has a transcendent personal cause, this gives at least some evidence for the truth of theism. I’ve justified premise (1) in my anything that begins to exist has a cause article. In this article I’ll argue for premise (2) by arguing for a finite past.

Would a finite past mean that not even God is sempiternal (i.e. having existed for a beginningless, infinite duration)? Yes it would. One idea is that God is timeless sans creation. Note that if spacetime itself began to exist and our spacetime universe had a cause, that cause would have to transcend space and time. Whether you want to call this spacetime-transcending cause supernatural or not, such a cause would have to be something beyond the physical laws as we know them today. The fact that there is some sort of (at least) de facto supernatural cause beyond space and time creating the universe would seem to make atheism less plausible.

An Infinite Traversal



Some philosophy lingo: a potential infinite is a collection that grows towards infinity without limit but never actually gets there. For example, if you started counting “one, two, three…” at a rate of one number per second and continued indefinitely, the number you’re at would grow larger and larger without limit but you’d never actually arrive at “infinity.” An actual infinite is a collection that really is infinite, such as the set of all positive whole numbers.

Traversing an actual infinite region at a finite rate seems impossible. Suppose for example there were a road that starts at a particular location and is infinitely long. Someone named Jill Walker starts at the beginning of the road and walks at a rate of one meter per second. Will she ever traverse an infinite region? She will not; the distance (and time!) she traverses is a potential infinite only. What if she were given infinite time? The problem is that traversing an actual infinite amount of time can never happen. Even if she is given unlimited time she will never traverse an actual infinite amount of time or an actual infinite distance; both will be a potential infinite only.

A similar problem occurs with a beginningless past: for a beginningless, infinite past to exist an actual infinite amount of time would need to be traversed, which is impossible, and thus we never would have arrived at the present moment. Another way to look at it: imagine if we viewed a universe with an infinite past and rewound it, traversing it at the same rate as time normally goes but backwards. Could we traverse the entirety of the infinite past? The infinite past would be impossible to completely traverse even given unlimited time. Similarly, going the other direction would be impossible because it requires an infinite traversal and we never would have arrived at the present moment (or at any moment, since any moment in the infinite past has an infinite amount of time before it).

The Eternal Society Paradox



There are also various paradoxes one can make with an infinite past, an example of which is the Eternal Society paradox. Roughly (in the paper the Eternal Society paradox was published), an Eternal Society is a society that has existed for a beginningless, infinite duration of time and has the abilities of ordinary human beings in each year of its existence; e.g. in each year people in the society can flip coins, write books, sing songs, and pass on information possessed in the current year to the next year. Because of the society’s extremely modest abilities, it seems like an Eternal Society would be possible if an infinite past were possible (note that by “possible” in this article I’ll be referring to metaphysical possibility, as opposed to e.g. physical possibility).

Now imagine the Eternal Society has the following Annual Coin Flipping Tradition: each year they flip a coin and if it comes up heads, they all get together to do a particular chant but only if they have never done the chant before. If the coin does not come up heads they do not do the chant for that year.

The coin flips are probabilistically independent events, so any particular permutation of coin flips is equally unlikely. Consider scenario S1 in which the coin came up heads for the first time last year. The Eternal Society gets together to do the chant for the first time. This seems like it would be possible if an infinite past were possible (an eternal society with the ability of ordinary humans, by which I mean the society has the ability of ordinary humans in each year of its existence, could surely do something like this), but this scenario is provably not possible.

Again, the coin flips are probabilistically independent events, so if scenario S1 were possible, then another scenario, that we can call scenario S2, would be possible: the coin came up heads each year of the infinite past. If the coin came up heads each year, did the Eternal Society ever do the chant? They would have had to have done the chant some year, because they would have done the chant last year if they hadn’t done it yet (since the coin came up heads last year). And yet any year you point to, there is a prior year in which they would have done the chant if they had not done the chant before. So they had to have done the chant (since the coin came up heads last year), yet they could not have done the chant (there is no year they could have done it), and so this scenario creates a logical contradiction.

Although scenario S1 is not directly self-contradictory, scenario S1 is impossible because it implies the possibility of a logical contradiction. The Eternal Society argument against an infinite past goes like this:
  1. If an infinite past were possible, an Eternal Society would be possible.
  2. If an Eternal Society were possible, then scenario S1 would be possible.
  3. If S1 would be possible, then S2 would be possible.
  4. S2 is not possible.
  5. Therefore, an infinite past is not possible.
One could deny premise (4) particularly since that seems to be the most vulnerable premise, but as the Eternal Society paradox paper says, “Surely there is something metaphysically suspicious about an infinite past if an eternal society with the abilities of ordinary humans can actualize a logical contradiction.” The idea that an infinite past is possible but an Eternal Society is not possible strikes me as overly ad hoc due to the Eternal Society’s extremely modest abilities (the abilities of ordinary humans in each year of its existence).

Conclusion



While there is also scientific evidence favoring a finite past, philosophical arguments seem to provide a strong case for temporal finitism (the view that the past is finite). For a beginningless, infinite past to exist an actual infinite amount of time would need to be traversed, which is impossible, and thus we never would have arrived at the present moment. Moreover, the Eternal Society paradox shows that an eternal society with the abilities of ordinary humans would have been able to create a logical contradiction, which strongly suggests that an infinite past is metaphysically impossible.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Pseudohumility of Christianity?

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Stephen Woodford has a YouTube channel called Rationality Rules and he posted a video titled The Pseudohumility of Christianity attacking the humility of Christianity.

Arguments Against Christian Humility



Christianity encourages its adherents to practice humility, e.g. Matthew 23:12 and Philippians 2:3. So what’s the issue? At around 4:53 Woodford says, “The issue is that these verses are predicated upon sheer arrogance, and here is where my rant starts.”

He says that Christians believe there is one perfect God and that we’re created in his image (true so far), “which is a not-so-subtle way of saying we are, or close to, perfect.” What? Why think that? Exactly what it means to be created “in the image of God” is unclear and is debated among theologians (we are like God in some ways, having mind, will, and emotions—perhaps it means this). Woodford provides no evidence or argument for his particular exegesis nor does he cite any theologian who adheres to it; he gives only his word for this uncharitable interpretation. What should be needless to say is that Christianity teaches we are far from perfect, so far in fact that it is while we were enemies of God that Christ died for us (Romans 5:10), which is quite far from perfect indeed.

At around 5:15 to 5:34 Woodford recognizes an alternate interpretation for being made in the image of God: us being created above animals and Woodford says this “stinks of hubris.” But does it? My parents chose that I exist because they wanted a child to love and care for, and presumably they valued me over any animal. Does this belief “stink of hubris”? After all, it’s not as if I did anything to deserve it. In a way it could be said that God “chose” us insofar as he created humans and we have greater value than animals, and Woodford seems to think this justifies his claim that it “stinks of hubris,” but this doesn’t seem to follow.

At around 5:41 Woodford says that “most Christians believe that the universe was created for us in mind.” So? It doesn’t follow that most Christians believe that the universe was created only for us in mind; after all there’s an awful lot more to the universe than just us! (To say nothing of the untold legions of angels that also exist in reality!) At around 5:45 he also adds that most Christians believe that “we are a vital part in a grand divine plan.” Well, we are a part and we are “vital” in the sense that God loves us very much, but so what? It’s not as if we’re the only part of God’s plan; we could well be one of innumerable vital parts. At around 5:48 to 5:54 he notes the Christian belief that we have personal consciousnesses that outlast our bodies. Again, so? It’s not as if we’re the only beings who will outlast our bodies, e.g. angels. At around 5:55 to 6:08 he says many Christians believe they have a personal relationship with God (so?) and that God answers prayers (so?).

I could go on, but you get the gist. It’s true that in many ways God is nice to us. Woodford’s arguments fail largely because of a failure to ask why God answers prayers, gives humans an afterlife, makes us part of his divine plan, etc. Does God do so because we’re so awesome when we’re not? If so, then this is arrogance. But if instead it’s merely due to God being generous, then this doesn’t imply arrogance. So which is it? Well, consider again Romans 5:10: Christ died for us when we were still God’s enemies. The reason God is so nice to us is not because we’re so awesome and deserving. Indeed, part of the Christian faith is that we’re not deserving! It’s because God is so generous in his sacrificial love. We don’t deserve eternal life; rather it’s a gift from God, so teaches Christianity. Thus, a litany of nice things that Christians believe God does for us (which Woodford apparently believes are “extraordinarily arrogant tenants,” around 6:45 to 6:51) fails to constitute a good argument for arrogance; the conclusion just doesn’t follow.

Conclusion



I’ve seen multiple nontheists charge Christianity with arrogance, a claim often that they often supply with little to no evidence. After all, the Bible nowhere teaches that the universe was created just for us. Christianity teaches humility and explains why we have good reason to be humble; we are sinners in need of a savior, and it is while we were enemies of God that God sent his Son out of sacrificial love. It wasn’t because we deserved it. At around 7:01 to 7:06 Woodford says that “There is nothing humble about asserting the universe revolves around you.” He’s right, but he’s also wrong in thinking Christianity teaches anything of the sort; it doesn’t, and Woodford fails to provide sufficient evidence justifying this assertion (after all, for all we know there could be intelligent life in many other parts of reality whom God loves as well). Christianity suggests that, metaphorically speaking, the universe revolves around God, not us. We’re just fortunate to be in orbit.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Argument from Evil as an Internal Critique

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Introduction



Even if certain atheists reject moral objectivism, can such atheists still use the argument from evil as an internal critique of theism?

A Problem for Atheists Who Reject Moral Objectivism



As I wrote about in my article Rosenberg’s Argument from Evil Folly, there’s a big problem for the atheist in using the argument from evil if the atheist in question believes objective morality does not exist. People can have different ideas of what sorts of things are morally good. Suppose for example a theist has a standard of goodness such that it’s good that God permits the evil we see for certain reasons that are morally sufficient on this standard of goodness. Some atheists might say that if God adopted their standard of goodness, God would not permit the evil we see. But without an objective moral standard, there’s no objective fact of the matter about which standard of goodness God would adopt if he existed, and thus there’d be no objective fact of the matter whether God would permit evil if he existed, in which case the argument from evil would collapse under its own weight.

A Solution?



Another idea is to use the argument from evil as an internal critique. For example, couldn’t the atheist at least criticize the theist for having an inconsistency in the theist’s conception of goodness with respect to a perfectly good God allowing evil? That depends on the theist, but it’s relatively trivial to construct a view of goodness that is consistent with a perfectly good God allowing evil in the world. Suppose for example a hypothetical theist says that it is morally good for us humans to try to fight against evil (refraining from doing morally wrong actions, advancing medical technology, learning to share our food with the hungry, etc.) with the limited abilities that we have, with the obstacles we face etc. and that this is better than God making the evils any less bad, such that if God adopted this standard of goodness God would allow the evil we see (on this view, it’s good that God permits evil in the way that he does, but it’s not necessarily good that we humans permit evil; in a sense God and humans would have different responsibilities). Maybe this view of the hypothetical theist is wrong, but it’s not self-contradictory, and so there would be no inconsistency in this hypothetical theist’s conception of goodness with respect to a perfectly good God allowing evil.

There is another way an atheist who isn’t a moral objectivist could supply an internal critique. God is not only perfectly morally good, he is also all-loving. In the June 2020 debate on Capturing Christianity between Cosmic Skeptic and Inspiring Philosophy, Cosmic Skeptic said this at around 1:48:23:
Let’s not talk about good and evil because if they’re not objective maybe it’s unhelpful. But if you think that God is all-loving as a separate point then the question just reformulates itself. It’s not just a question about what’s loving and what’s not. It’s like we know facts about the universe. We know that children get cancer and we have to be committed to the view that that is loving; that it is loving to allow a child to get cancer. It’s the same problem as saying you have to accept that it is good or at least not evil for a child to get cancer. It would just be framed differently. Whatever the person believes, as you say Cameron that’s probably the best way to answer it, with any argument I ever make on any debate that I do, on any video I make, it’s always an argument of consistency—pretty much, most of the time. And that’s what I’m looking for here; is just consistency.[1]
Does it follow that if a loving God permits cancer, that it is loving to allow a child to get cancer? No. For starters, let’s ask this question: why assume that a loving God would not permit suffering? Presumably it’s because that if you love someone you value their well-being. It’s reasonable that loving someone implies valuing that person’s well-being, but the problem is that a morally good God might value other things as well, things that “interfere” with valuing one’s well-being.

To give an example of how valuing someone’s well-being can conflict with another value, suppose a loving and just judge is tasked with sentencing a man who has committed a heinous crime. The judge loves everyone including the man she is sentencing, so she values the man’s well-being, but on the other hand she also values punishing those who commit heinous crimes. So, the judge gives the man a long prison sentence to pay for his crime, even though she loves the man (by virtue of loving everyone) and values his well-being, and even though a lengthy prison sentence would decrease the man’s well-being.

Obviously the child Cosmic Skeptic has in mind hasn’t done anything wrong to deserve cancer, so the loving and just judge doesn’t work as analogy, but it does work to illustrate this point: values can conflict, including valuing someone’s well-being. If God is not just all-loving but also morally good, God could conceivably have other values that supersede the immediate well-being of humans. Imagine a hypothetical theist who believes God is all-loving but also believes that God is morally good, and that God adopts a standard of goodness such that it is good that God permits the observed suffering we see even though he loves us all, and that (at least in part) because God is all-loving our suffering in the mortal realm is finite and a pleasant everlasting life is available to every human who freely chooses God. This hypothetical theist grants it is not loving to permit suffering, but believes it is good that God permits the finite suffering we observe; God has values that supersede the immediate well-being of certain individuals. Again, maybe this view of the hypothetical theist is wrong, but it’s not self-contradictory, and so there would be no inconsistency in this hypothetical theist’s conception of goodness with respect to a perfectly good and all-loving God allowing evil.

Conclusion



The problem of evil fails as an internal critique not just against a morally good God but an all-loving and morally good God, at least tout court. It’s reasonable that an all-loving God would value our well-being. However, a theist could believe that while God values our well-being because he is perfectly loving, this is only one of the things that God values, and that other values could outweigh our immediate well-being such that an all-loving God who is also perfectly morally good would permit the evil we see.

I said that the problem of evil fails as an internal critique against an all-loving and morally good God tout court, but the problem of evil could succeed as an internal critique if the theist really did adopt a standard of moral goodness in which it is not good that God permits the evil we see. So in a way whether the argument from evil works as an internal critique depends on the theist. My objection is that the internal critique is not inherently successful; the theist could easily adopt a standard of moral goodness that evades the problem. Alternatively, the theist could say that while she knows some moral values (“moral values” in this case being “stuff that’s morally good”), she doesn’t necessarily know all the values, much less all values in conjunction with the appropriate weights for each value, such that for all she knows God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing the evil we see even if those reasons are beyond her ken (there are even more complications for whether to permit evil beyond knowing all the values and their appropriate weights, but for purposes of this blog article I’m mostly focusing on this).



[1] I’ve lightly edited the quote to remove some filler words such as “um” and “right” for better flow.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Great Cost of the Kalam?

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Introduction



Stephen Woodford has a YouTube channel called Rationality Rules and he posted a video titled Great Cost of the Kalam claiming that the kalam cosmological argument is incompatible with libertarian free will (I’ll explain what both are shortly). A popular version of the kalam cosmological argument, popularized by American philosopher William Lane Craig, goes like this:
  1. Anything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
There are other ways to word the first premise (e.g. “Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its beginning” and “Everything that begins to exist has a cause”). Libertarian freedom is the ability to choose without being determined by prior causes; e.g. when choosing between chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Determinism is roughly the view that all events are determined by prior conditions, such that given the initial conditions only one outcome is possible. For example, determinism would say that when Sally selected chocolate over vanilla ice cream, given the initial conditions there was only one selection she could make, even if the initial conditions were that both were available at the grocery store and she had sufficient currency for both.

What is a cause?



At around 2:30 to 2:38 Woodford says this.
A cause is a person or thing that gives rise to a phenomenon, action, or condition. It is a synonym of determinism.
No, it’s not. Something bringing about the existence of something else is not synonymous with deterministically causing its existence. To give a hypothetical example, suppose a ray gun has a 30% probability of creating chocolate ice cream, with the outcome being truly indeterministic (i.e. identical initial conditions can produce different outcomes). Now suppose I turn on the ray gun and chocolate ice cream appears courtesy of the ray gun. Since the ray gun did indeed bring about the existence of the ice cream (albeit indeterministically) the ray gun caused the ice cream to exist. But if it is correct to say that in this scenario the ray gun caused the ice cream to exist, then it is not the case that causality is synonymous with determinism.

To be fair though, there is one sense in which determinism and causality are related, and that has to do with the cause of an event (as in outcome 1 coming about versus outcome 2) as opposed to a cause of the existence of a thing. The difference is subtle but important. To illustrate, consider the case of two physically identical uranium-238 atoms A and B, where atom A emits an alpha particle and atom B does not. It may indeed be true that identical physical conditions can produce different outcomes, and while this would rule out the uranium atom deterministically bringing about the alpha particle, it doesn’t rule out indeterministic causation (viz. the uranium atom bringing about the alpha particle, after all it’s the uranium atom that emits it!). So let’s consider the theory that the uranium atom indeterministically causes the existence of the alpha particle. This theory would entail that the existence of the alpha particle (the existence of the thing) has a causal explanation, but this theory would also imply that there is no causal explanation for why uranium atom A emitted an alpha particle and physically identical uranium atom B did not, i.e. there wouldn’t be a causal explanation for the different outcomes between the two physically identical atoms (though there would be a “random chance” explanation for the difference), even though the existence of the alpha particle would have a causal explanation (viz. the uranium atom).[1] The “anything that begins to exist has a cause” claim says that every thing that begins to exist has a cause, but allows for the possibility of uncaused events (e.g. outcome 1 coming about versus outcome 2) in the sense described earlier.

As William Lane Craig (the American philosopher who popularized the kalam cosmological argument in the 20th century) said:
But in any case the reader needs to recall that the premise of the argument is very carefully formulated. It is: everything that begins to exist has a cause. That is deliberately formulated so as to allow for quantum indeterminacy with regard to events. This is quite consistent with admitting that there are events that occur without a cause. And so events that are, say, movements of a libertarian free will or decay of an atomic isotope or emission of a photon, we can happily admit, at least for the sake of argument, that those are uncaused events, and it wouldn't affect the truth of the premise, which concerns whether or not things can actually begin to exist without any causes.
To reiterate, kalam’s causal premise prohibits things (alpha particles, mountains, people, root beer, etc.) beginning to exist without a caused, but does not prohibit uncaused events in the sense described earlier.

Libertarian Freedom



At around 5:11 to 5:32 Woodford says:
According to libertarianism, that is according to the vast majority of theists, the will of a free agent is at least partially non-determined. Thus, by freely stating that whatever begins to exist has a cause, you have demonstrated the contrary. You have proven its falsehood. You are contradicting your statement though the very means in which you express it.
Woodford mistakenly believes that libertarian freedom implies that free acts are uncaused, but this doesn’t follow. While some variants of libertarianism require that our acts be uncaused to be free, this isn’t true for all versions of libertarianism. One libertarian view called agency theory posits agent-causation whereby an agent (person, self) causes events without being determined by prior causes. So, a free act is not uncaused; it is indeterministically caused by an agent. The existence of the agent and its ability to have free will in turn could have been caused by something else.

Conclusion



Woodford’s objection to the kalam cosmological argument for the libertarian proponent is that causality is synonymous with determinism, and the libertarian must hold to their free actions being uncaused, which would thus require the libertarian to not believe the kalam’s causal premise. Three main problems are: (1) causality is not synonymous with determinism; (2) indeterministic causation is still an option (e.g. a uranium atom indeterministically bringing about the existence of an alpha particle); (3) not all versions of libertarianism require an act be uncaused to be free (e.g. agency theory). It would seem therefore that this objection fails.



[1] At the same time, there is a sense in which there is a cause of the event for why A emitted the particle and B did not: the cause is time and chance acting on inherent properties of matter indeterministically bringing about the two different events (the inherent properties of uranium-238 determine the probability, which is why it has a measurable half-life, as opposed to there being no consistent probability among atoms of the same kind). To some degree it boils down to semantics of what a “cause” is.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Is the Kalām Cosmological Argument Slyly Circular?

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Introduction



Cosmic Skeptic wrote an article called The Sly Circularity of the Kalãm Cosmological Argument. Before getting into the objection let’s review what the kalam cosmological argument (KCA) is.

The kalam cosmological argument (KCA)



A material cause is the stuff something is made out of, and an efficient cause is that which produces an effect. For example, when an artist creates a wooden sculpture, the wood is the material cause and the artist is the efficient cause. The relevant version of the KCA, popularized by William Lane Craig, is this:
  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Let’s unpack the two premises further. For Craig, the first premise “Everything that begins to exist has a cause” includes both material and efficient causation. You can see that in this Reasonable Faith webpage. So to say that the universe began to exist without a cause would mean beginning to exist with no efficient cause and no material cause, i.e. coming into being from nothing.

For the second premise, it should be noted that William Lane Craig defines “the universe” in way so that it “comprises all contiguous spacetime reality.” If for example there were some pre-existing physical reality that caused the big bang to occur, that physical reality would itself be part of “the universe” as Craig is defining the term.

This KCA is logically valid, i.e. the conclusion follows from the premises inescapably by the rules of logic such that it’s impossible to have true premises and a false conclusion. Since a sound argument is just a valid argument with all true premises, the only way this argument can fail to be sound is with a false premise.

Cosmic Skeptic’s Rebuttal



In his article he said this:
However, I will stress that in granting that ‘the universe began to exist’, we are really granting that ‘the universe began to exist out of nothing’. If the universe were created out of preexisting material, we would be left with the question of where this material itself came from, and the argument would prove nothing important.
Charitably, by “the universe began to exist out of nothing” he actually means the universe began to exist without a material cause, i.e. beginning to exist without arising from pre-existing material (it could still have an efficient cause). Recall though that by “the universe” Craig means it in such a way that it includes all contiguous space-time, so there can’t be any pre-existing material that the universe arose from since by definition that “pre-existing material” would itself be part of the universe.

Cosmic Skeptic then says this:
If ‘beginning to exist’ means anything philosophically significant in this context, it must mean beginning to exist ex nihilo.
That’s not quite true; we could just define “the universe” in way so that it “comprises all contiguous spacetime reality” as William Lane Craig has done and the conclusion of the KCA would be theologically significant, since among other things the universe beginning to exist (in the normal sense of the phrase) implies the universe did not arise from pre-existing material given Craig’s definition of “the universe.”

With Cosmic Skeptic defining “begins to exist” as “beginning to exist without using pre-existing material to form it,” he interprets the first premise to mean “Everything that begins to exist [without using pre-existing material to form it] has a cause,” even though this is not what the first premise actually means.

Having redefined “begins to exist” as “beginning to exist without using pre-existing material to form it,” he notes how we’ve never seen anything “begin to exist” because all the things that have begun to exist (in the normal sense of the term) were made out of pre-existing material.
What, then, within the universe, has truly begun to exist (from nothing) at a particular point in the past?

Nothing. The answer is nothing. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, and thus nothing in physical existence ever ‘began to exist’ in the sense we are interested in.
It’s a widespread myth that energy cannot be created or destroyed. The expansion of space means that photons can lose energy from redshifting (the wavelength of the photons gets longer as space expands, and the photons lose energy as a result; the cosmic microwave background radiation used to be orange and it lost energy to become microwaves), and the expansion of space also means more dark energy. You can see this fun Science Asylum video for more on that.

But for sake of argument let’s pretend energy is always conserved, and that nothing in the universe begins to exist in the redefined ex nihilo manner. Cosmic skeptic says this leads to a circularity in the KCA because the only thing that began to exist is the universe, so “Everything that begins to exist [without using pre-existing material to form it] has a cause” becomes “The universe has a cause” and we get this argument.
  1. The universe has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. The universe had a cause.
But this argument is circular, since the conclusion (3) just reiterates (1).

Now sure, if you mutilate the first premise of the KCA from “Everything that begins to exist has a [material or efficient] cause” to “The universe has a cause” then you get a circular argument, but at that point you’re no longer talking about the same argument! The original KCA is still not circular even if Cosmic Skeptic’s mutilated version of the KCA is.

Conclusion



Cosmic skeptic makes some points that, even if true, don’t really go anywhere in establishing the relevant point. (For more on this sort of maneuver, I made a video about red herrings.) For example, he says that for the first premise to be “philosophically significant” it needs to mean “beginning to exist without using pre-existing material to form it.” But even if that’s true, and as a sort of rescue effort (to make the KCA philosophically significant?) one modifies the KCA so that the first premise becomes “Anything that begins to exist without using pre-existing material to form it has a cause” and this modified first premise renders the modified KCA slyly circular, this modified KCA is not the original argument. One isn’t establishing that the original argument is “slyly circular” but is instead establishing a different point, viz. that the modified KCA is slyly circular.

If it is true that on the actual meaning of the KCA’s premises and conclusion, the KCA’s conclusion isn’t “philosophically significant,” one can object to the KCA’s utility for theism on that grounds. As it stands, the alleged circularity doesn’t arise until one mutilates the KCA into a straw man.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Paulogia vs Capturing Christianity's Puddle Analogy Video

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Introduction



Someone named Paul has a YouTube channel called Paulogia and he posted a video titled Puddle Parable and Fine-Tuning (Capturing Christianity Response) responding to a Capturing Christianity’s Puddle Analogy video.

Background



For those who don’t know, fine-tuning refers to the observation that certain parameters of our universe (certain physical constants and quantities) are “fine-tuned” in the sense that if any of these parameters were altered even slightly, the universe would be life-prohibiting rather than life-permitting, and physical life would not have evolved. So why is the universe life-permitting rather than life-prohibiting? The cosmic fine-tuning being the result of design seems to be a good and straightforward explanation. Cosmic fine-tuning is taken as evidence for the universe having been designed, and this constitutes the fine-tuning argument.

The details of the fine-tuning argument vary upon its application, but the type of argument Cameron gives in his video (at around 1:34 to 1:58) is structured thusly:
  1. The probability that our universe would be life-permitting given naturalism is very, very low.
  2. The probability that our universe would be life-permitting given theism is not very, very low.
  3. Therefore, the fact that our universe is life-permitting provides evidence for Theism over Naturalism.
The puddle analogy is where the water in the puddle notices that the hole he is in happens to fit him perfectly, and thinks the hole must be designed for him. This analogy is then used as an objection against the fine-tuning argument. How exactly? Well, it depends on how it’s applied. Cameron’s video criticizes the analogy for being too ambiguous because he can think of at least five interpretations, but I wouldn’t say that’s the puddle story’s fault exactly. The puddle story has multiple applications and criticism should be laid at the feet of the particular application in question. Still, one application is that just as the water can fit whatever hole it’s in, life could have evolved in pretty much whatever the universe happened to be. This application of the puddle analogy essentially denies fine-tuning, but this objection isn’t terribly plausible. To quote the non-Christian educational source PBS Space Time at around 14:20 to 15:26:
Many people had the following objection: they say that the universe isn’t really fine-tuned for life or for observers because there could be many types of observer very different to ourselves that could potentially exist if the fundamental constants were different. Well, actually, fine tuning arguments for the fundamental constants [being fine-tuned for life] for the most part take that into account. We can probably assume that for an intelligent observer to emerge in any universe, that universe must be capable of forming complex structures—whether or not it looks like life as we know it. So the universe needs to last a reasonable amount of time, have stable regions, and energy sources for those structures to form, and have some building blocks—whether or not they look like atoms as we know them. Much of the parameter space that the constants of nature could have taken eliminate one or more of these factors. So while there may be many small parts of that parameter space where observers can arise, most of it—and hence most universes—should be devoid of observers.
Cameron responds to the fine-tuning denial application of the puddle analogy (albeit not with PBS Space Time) as well as others. Cameron’s video and Paulogia’s response are both fairly lengthy, clocking in at about half an hour each. So I won’t be responding to everything, but I will respond to some of the more salient points that Paulogia made.

Probability Distribution



In 23:20 to 23:57 Paulogia says we don’t know whether the probability distribution of a particular fine-tuned parameter is equal across the range, but this isn’t a very effective objection. The type of probability distribution that would presumably help naturalism here is if there’s a giant spike of probability over the extremely narrow life-permitting range, but this would require the probability distribution itself to be fine-tuned for that extremely narrow life-permitting range! The fine-tuning for life would merely be pushed back a step and the problem wouldn’t be solved at all.

Necessity



In 24:06 to 24:44 he raises the possibility that the life-permitting value is the way it is by necessity. The problem is that this necessity of physics would itself be fine-tuned to be within that extremely narrow life-permitting range, and it’s just as easy to conceive a physical necessity that lands somewhere on the far more enormous area of life-prohibiting universes. As with the fine-tuned probability distribution, this seems like pushing the fine-tuning problem back a step and doesn’t really solve the problem.

Alternatively, perhaps Paulogia believes the necessity is not only one of physics but of some deeper metaphysical principle. My fine-tuned meteor shower scenario of a previous blog post once again helps to illustrate the problem. To recap, suppose a meteor shower clearly spelled out on the moon, “There is a cosmic designer; I supernaturally fine-tuned certain parameters of this universe so that this message would appear.” Now suppose we do find such fine-tuned parameters (certain physical constants and quantities) that can be expressed as numerical values, like a series of multiple dials that are set extremely precisely for the meteor shower text to appear. Suppose also that the parameters are physically necessary (the values are part of the rules of the universe, and no force purely within the universe can alter them) but the physical necessities are nonetheless fine-tuned so that if the values were altered even slightly, no meteor shower text would appear. Clearly there’s still sense in which it is incredibly unlikely that the fine-tuned physical necessities happen to be the way they are in the absence of a cosmic designer, because this fine-tuning just doesn’t seem to be metaphysically necessary. True, one could in this scenario claim that it is metaphysically necessary that we’d see such a meteor shower text, but that would seem highly implausible under the circumstances, not to mention severely ad hoc. A cosmic designer would seem to be the best explanation of the fine-tuned meteor shower text. But if we’re to be rationally consistent, we must apply the same logic for the fine-tuning in our universe: the parameters don’t seem to be metaphysically necessary, and if one is putting forth the metaphysical necessity of a fine-tuned life-permitting universe with no argument to back it up, it looks like an ad hoc and inferior alternative explanation to design, just as it would in the fine-tuned meteor shower scenario.

Getting the Math Wrong



Paulogia makes some errors in reasoning in which some probability theory will be helpful. So here’s a little probability symbolization to get us started;

Pr(A) = The probability of A being true; e.g. Pr(A) = 0.5 means “The probability of A being true is 50%.”
Pr(A|B) = The probability of A being true given that B is true. For example:
Pr(I am wet|It is raining) = 0.8
This means “The probability that I am wet given that it is raining is 80%.”


To recap a bit from my article on Bayes’ theorem, here’s one version of the theorem:

Pr(H|E) = 
Pr(H) × Pr(E|H)
Pr(E)


On the normal conception of evidence, evidence E is evidence for hypothesis H if P(H|E) > P(H), i.e. evidence E making H more likely than without that evidence. Pr(H|E) is called the posterior probability of H, and Pr(H) is the prior probability of H (as in “prior to taking E into account”). Notice that, all other factors being constant, the higher P(E|H) is, the greater P(H|E) is and thus the greater evidential force evidence E is for hypothesis H.
  • N = Naturalism is true.
  • L = The universe is life-permitting.
  • T = Theism is true.
The structure of Cameron’s fine-tuning argument is basically this:
  1. The P(L|N) is very, very low.
  2. The P(L|T) is not very, very low.
    • (Such that P(L|T) > P(L|N).)
  3. Therefore, L provides evidence for T over N.
Thanks to the magic of math, the structure of this argument is logically valid, i.e. it’s impossible to have true premises and a false conclusion (more on this later). Note how T is in both 2 and 3 here. That’ll be important to remember in a little bit.

At around 27:27 to 27:55 Paulogia parodies Cameron’s argument with this.
  1. The probability that I will roll a 3 on a 6-sided dice under naturalism is 16.6%.
  2. The probability that I will roll a 3, given an all-powerful god who wants me to roll a 3 is 100%.
  3. [Conclusion:] the fact that I rolled a 3 provides evidence for Theism over Naturalism.
Using these two symbols:
  • G = An all-powerful god who wanted outcome X to occur existed. (The outcome in this case being the die coming up 3.)
  • O = The outcome X occurred.
The structure is this:
  1. The P(O|N) is 16.6%.
  2. The P(O|G) is 100%.
  3. Therefore, O provides evidence for T over N.
After Paulogia describes his parody, he adds “That doesn’t seem right.” In a way he’s correct, because this parody fails to match the structure of Cameron’s argument; note how T is in both 2 and 3 in Cameron’s argument but T is present only in 3 in Paulogia’s parody. Paulogia’s parody is logically and mathematically invalid, unlike Cameron’s argument. We can fix the parody by using this structure:
  1. The P(O|N) is 16.6%.
  2. The P(O|G) is 100%.
    • Note that P(O|G) > P(O|N).
  3. Therefore, O provides evidence for G over N.
The structure now sufficiently mirrors Cameron’s fine-tuning argument, but as a result the conclusion follows from the premises; assuming of course that our conception of “evidence” is such that a fact making something more likely would constitute evidence for that fact. We can say that O is evidence for G over N if the ratio of P(G|O) to P(N|O) is greater than the ratio of P(G) to P(N). Or put another way, O is evidence for G over N if this is true:

P(G|O)
P(N|O)
 > 
P(G)
P(N)


Now note the following equation, which is sometimes called the odds form of Bayes’ theorem:

P(G|O)
P(N|O)
 = 
P(G)
P(N)
 × 
P(O|G)
P(O|N)


Notice that the odds form of Bayes’ theorem entails that if P(O|G) > P(O|N), then O is evidence for G over N. In other words:

If P(O|G) > P(O|N), then  
P(G|O)
P(N|O)
 > 
P(G)
P(N)


Since P(O|G) > P(O|N), O is evidence for G over N, even if Paulogia thinks otherwise. It may be extremely weak and negligible evidence, but it is technically evidence nonetheless. The conclusion, “O provides evidence for G over N” follows logically from the premises, and the argument is logically valid. The same math applies to Cameron’s actual argument:

P(T|L)
P(N|L)
 = 
P(T)
P(N)
 × 
P(L|T)
P(L|N)


If P(L|T) > P(L|N), then  
P(T|L)
P(N|L)
 > 
P(T)
P(N)


If P(L|T) > P(L|N) then L is evidence for T over N, and Cameron’s argument is logically valid. That said, the conclusion of Cameron’s argument is quite modest; it doesn’t specify how much evidential support L brings, and the atheist could theoretically concede that Cameron’s argument is sound (valid + true premises) while also believing that L’s evidential force for theism over naturalism is small. How much evidence L brings will depend on the values in the odds form of Bayes’ theorem (P(L|T), P(L|N), etc.). I’ll comment more on that later.

Paulogia’s second parody is at around 28:01 to 28:24. In its original form it is this:
  1. The probability that I will win Lotto 6/49 with one ticket under naturalism is 1 in 14 million.
  2. The probability that I will win Lotto 6/49 with one ticket, given an all-powerful god who wants me to win Lotto 6/49 is 100%.
  3. [Conclusion:] Me winning Lotto 6/49 provides evidence for Theism over Naturalism.
As before, Paulogia’s parody fails to mirror Cameron’s actual argument due to a mathematically invalid structure, with this time O being the outcome of winning the 6/49 lottery:
  1. The P(O|N) is 1 in 14 million.
  2. The P(O|G) is 100%.
  3. Therefore, O provides evidence for T over N.
Unlike Cameron’s actual argument, the conclusion can be false even with the premises true. How? The probability of God wanted specific person S to within the lottery given that God exists seems extremely small (assuming God cares at all about who wins the lottery and has a specific random person he wants to win, the prior probability of God wanting that specific person to win the lottery is extremely small). As such, the probability that you will win the lottery given that God exists is actually extremely small, so even though P(O|G) is very high, P(O|T) is very small, and if P(O|T) is as small as (or smaller than) P(O|N), winning the 6/49 lottery won’t be evidence for T at all and 3 would be false even with 1 and 2 being true. This parody fails as a critique of Cameron’s argument however because the parody fails to match the structure of Cameron’s actual argument. Cameron’s argument is logically valid, whereas this parody argument is logically invalid. The same problem occurs with the parody immediately following the winning-the-lottery one at around 28:24 to 28:39 in which premise 1 is him not winning the lottery, premise 2 is an all-powerful god wanting him to not win the lottery, and the conclusion is that him not winning the lottery is “evidence for Theism over Naturalism”; the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises, unlike Cameron’s argument. The parody’s math is wrong.

Suppose though we repair the winning-the-lottery parody argument so that it more closely fits the basic structure of Cameron’s argument as follows:
  1. The P(O|N) is 1 in 14 million.
  2. The P(O|G) is 100%.
  3. Therefore, O provides evidence for G over N.
As with the repaired parody of the die coming up 3, it is indeed evidence for the theistic hypothesis. Still, in both the rolling-a-3 and winning-the-lottery cases the putative evidence doesn’t seem like very strong evidence. Why is the evidential force so negligible? Take the lottery case. The prior probability of an all-powerful god who wants me to win Lotto 6/49 is extremely small (since the probability of the deity wanting that specific person to win seems extremely low, and then there is the probability of the deity caring who wins the lottery!). So even though P(O|T) is low, and G is specified in a way that cranks up P(O|G) to be 1, it does so at the price of plummeting P(G) to a vanishingly small value. It’s possible for P(E|H) to be very high and yet P(H|E) still be very small when P(H) has an extremely low probability to begin with (recall Bayes’ theorem), e.g. when H is an all-powerful deity wanting a specific person to win the lottery, H has an extremely small prior probability and thus P(H|E) ends up being very small.

Contrast all that with cosmic fine-tuning, letting F represent The universe is fine-tuned for life. While God wanting a specific random person to win the lottery given that God exists seems extremely small, does the probability of God wanted a universe with life given that God exists seem extremely small? It does not. So as long as the prior probability of theism simpliciter isn’t too low and P(F|T) isn’t too low, cosmic-fine-tuning can potentially be very strong evidence for theism.

To illustrate, suppose that the God of our conception has only a mild interest in creating a universe with life and a mild interest of creating a physical universe just right for life such that this is true:

P(F|T)  = 
1
10,000


Suppose also that the following values obtain (note that the P(F|N) value below is taken from one possible value that Paulogia raised from something Cameron said in his original video, though of course Paulogia raised the necessity and probability distribution objections):

P(F|N)  = 
1
1060


P(T)  = 
1
100


P(N)  = 
99
100


Now plug in those above values into the odds form of Bayes’ theorem:

P(T|F)
P(N|F)
 = 
P(T)
P(N)
 × 
P(F|T)
P(F|N)


If you do the math, P(T|F)/P(N|F) comes out overwhelmingly in favor of theism over naturalism even if we gave the aforementioned implausibly low values for P(F|T) and P(T). I’m not saying the above values are accurate or even close to accurate, but I used those numbers to illustrate the following point. If the following are true:

P(T) = not that low


P(F|T) = not that low


P(F|N) = extremely-super-duper-ultra-mega low


Then the result is that fine-tuning is going to be very strong evidence for theism over naturalism.

Conclusion



What amazed me about Paulogia’s response, and the responses of some internet atheists, is how they deliver remarkably bad objections to the fine-tuning argument. A much better objection is the multiverse hypothesis in which there’s a massive ensemble of universes with varying parameters such that at least one of them is life-permitting, thereby affecting the value of P(F|N). To be fair, this response does have its problems (there are a number of obstacles in making this a better explanation than design) but it’s certainly a lot better than pushing the fine-tuning back a step, or just getting math wrong.