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

Home  >  Philosophy  >  Atheism/Theism

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.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Genetically Modified Skeptic vs Arguments for God

Home  >  Philosophy  >  Atheism/Theism

Introduction



Drew McCoy has a YouTube channel called Genetically Modified Skeptic and he posted a video titled The Arguments for God's Existence Tier List responding to various arguments for theism. I’ll go through them in chronological order of the video.

Pascal’s Wager



(1:38 to 3:03)

As Genetically Modified Skeptic (GMS) presents it, Pascal’s Wager is this: if you act as if God exists and God does exist, you have infinite gain in heaven and finite loss, whereas if you act as if God doesn’t exist and God doesn’t exist you have finite gain but infinite loss in hell. Summarized in a handy table:

BeliefGain if correctLoss if wrong
GodInfiniteFinite
No GodFiniteInfinite


Given the gain and loss data above, the rational individual would act as if God does exist. If God exists, acting as if he does exist gives you infinite gain and at worst finite loss. Whereas if you lived as if God didn’t exist, your gain was at best finite and your loss was at worst infinite. Therefore, the rational person would act as if God does exist.

GMS claims this commits the black and white fallacy, acting as if there are only two possibilites when there are actually a lot more. After all, there are many different religions with one or more gods. Which religion to pick?

I think GMS is sort of right in his objection, but the version of Pascal’s Wager he attacks isn’t really the strongest. The strongest version of Pascal’s Wager I’ve seen is that if you’re in a situation in which atheism and Christianity are the two viable options (e.g. perhaps you believe the case for the Resurrection of Jesus is strong enough to be likely if God exists) and the probabilities between the two options are roughly equal, then you should act as if God exists. Of course, this is a particularly narrow application of Pascal’s Wager, but it is arguably true that if the conditions were met then you should act as if God exist. A nontheist might not think the aforementioned conditions are met, but if so that would be a different matter than whether it would be rational to act as if God exists if the conditions were met.

The Ontological Argument



(3:06 to 4:55)

As GMS states, there are multiple forms of the Ontological Argument and GMS (tries to) address Anselm’s version of it. In Chapter 2 of Proslogion Anselm introduces the argument like this:
For it is one thing for something to exist in a person's thought and quite another for the person to think that thing exists. For when a painter thinks ahead to what he will paint, he has that picture in his thought, but he does not yet think it exists, because he has not done it yet. Once he has painted it he has it in his thought and thinks it exists because he has done it. Thus even the fool is compelled to grant that something greater than which cannot be thought exists in thought, because he understands what he hears, and whatever is understood exists in thought. And certainly that greater than which cannot be understood cannot exist only in thought, for if it exists only in thought it could also be thought of as existing in reality as well, which is greater. If, therefore, that than which greater cannot be thought exists in thought alone, then that than which greater cannot be thought turns out to be that than which something greater actually can be thought, but that is obviously impossible. Therefore something than which greater cannot be thought undoubtedly exists both in thought and in reality.
That’s a bit of a mouthful, so let’s do a bit of analysis and simplify it a bit. One popular analysis is such that Anselm considers God as that which nothing greater can be conceived, or what is often called the “greatest conceivable being” (GCB).
  1. God is the greatest conceivable being (by definition); God exists in the mind and is thus conceivable.
  2. Something that exists in reality is greater than that which exists only in the mind.
    1. Suppose God, the greatest conceivable being (from 1), exists only in the mind and not in reality (i.e. God does not actually exist; which is the negation of what this argument attempts to prove).
    2. Then there is a conceivable being that is greater (than the being in 4), namely God existing in reality (since as 2 says, something existing in reality is greater).
    3. So it is conceivable for something to have been greater than God (from 4).
    4. Since God is that which nothing greater is conceivable (from 1), then it is conceivable for something to be greater than that which nothing greater is conceivable (from 5).
  1. Statement (6) is absurd and cannot be rationally accepted, thus the claim of (3) must be rejected and the greatest conceivable being must exist.
As it stands I think this version of the ontological argument is unsuccessful, but not for the reason GMS claims. GMS bizarrely claims that Anslem’s argument has God’s existence as a premise, but this is not a premise in Anselm’s argument. It is a premise of Anselm’s argument that God exists in the mind but that’s not the same thing as God existing simpliciter.

A more popular objection against Anselm’s argument is attacking premise (2), the notion that existence is a great-making property. One could even argue that “existence” isn’t really a property at all (the fancy philosophy way of putting it is “existence is not a predicate”). A statement like “God is omniscient” basically claims that if God exists this entity has the property of “omniscience” (I add “if God exists” because if there is no God, then there isn’t any God to have any properties). However, even trying to phrase it like “God has the property of existence” is basically saying that if God exists, he has the property of existence, in which case “has the property of existence” isn’t adding very much to saying what God is like if he exists, and so it isn’t a real property in the sense that omniscience, redness, and having a mass of eighteen kilograms are properties. Here’s a key portion of the Anselm text I quoted earlier:
And certainly that greater than which cannot be understood cannot exist only in thought, for if it exists only in thought it could also be thought of as existing in reality as well, which is greater.
Yes we can think of God existing in reality, but that wouldn’t make him exist in reality. Similarly, we can grant that God would exist if God existed, but that doesn’t mean he exists. (I think God does exist, but I don’t think this particular argument is successful; just because a view is correct doesn’t mean that every argument for that view is a good one.)

Lots more can be said about the “existence is not a predicate” objection to premise (2), and the objection isn’t universally agreed upon, but it at least attacks a real rather than an imaginary premise.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument



(4:56 to 6:55)

The kalam cosmological argument (KCA) basically goes like this:
  1. Anything that begins to exist has cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
After that, philosophers have given further arguments to try to show that the cause has some characteristics conducive for theism, e.g. the cause of the universe being nonphysical and unimaginably powerful. You can read more about that and the argument in general at this William Lane Craig article (Craig is the philosopher famous for reigniting the KCA’s popularity in the late twentieth century).

GMS’s objection is quite bizarre; he points out that the conclusion of the KCA (the universe has a cause) doesn’t by itself get you to God. That’s true, but irrelevant. The KCA syllogism doesn’t aspire to do that. The nature of the universe’s cause is left to other arguments.

The Moral Argument



(6:59 to 9:01)

The moral argument for God’s existence that GMS critiques is this:
  1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.
Christian philosopher William Lane Craig has popularized this variety (Craig gets around, philosophically speaking, in apologetics circles). At 7:18 to 7:27 GMS essentially attacks a straw man as follows:
This argument’s first premise is unsubstantiated. It doesn’t demonstrate that the only way objective moral values can exist is if God exists.
But that is not what the first premise claims. The first premise doesn’t claim that objective moral values cannot exist if God does not exist, it claims that objective moral values do not exist if God does not exist. This is important because all one has to do to justify the first premise as probably true is to argue that it is unlikely that objective moral values exist if God does not exist. I did just that in my debate on the moral argument with Jeffery Jay Lowder of internet infidels fame, and I didn’t need to argue at all that God is necessary for objective morality to exist (though the first premise is slightly different in the debate, the general reasoning would apply). At 7:47 to 7:58 GMS attacks another straw man:
Some other moral arguments such as C.S. Lewis’s argument in Mere Christianity state that moral law has not been shown to have a natural origin so it must have come from a supernatural moral lawgiver. First of all, this is an argument from ignorance; not knowing does not excuse asserting an unsubstantiated answer. Second, evolution by natural selection is actually a pretty good explanation for why social species would behave according to practices which promote fairness, peace, and well-being among groups.
As Lewis makes clear in chapter 3 of Mere Christianity by “moral law” Lewis is not talking about descriptive patterns of behavior as GMS seems to think here, so even if evolution by natural selection did explain why our species came up with the practices it did, this is irrelevant. Lewis is talking about the “oughtness” type of morality; e.g. men ought to be unselfish. As I’ve written before, moral oughts are non-natural.

Lewis never says that the moral law must have come from a supernatural moral lawgiver simply because it has not shown to have a natural origin. After observing that we do have this inner sense of the moral law (among other things), in chapter 4 Lewis says:
All I have got to is a Something which is directing the universe, and which appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong. I think we have to assume it is more like a mind than it is like anything else we know—because after all the only other thing we know is matter and you can hardly imagine a bit of matter giving instructions.
Among known stuff, Lewis believes a mind is the best explanation. Maybe you disagree with Lewis’s inference to the best explanation, but it is not the same thing as an argument from ignorance; Lewis doesn’t say “It hasn’t been shown to be a natural cause, therefore a supernatural moral lawgiver is behind it.” For one, it isn’t just that it hasn’t been shown to be a natural cause; Lewis believes we have good reason to think it’s just not the nature of inanimate matter to give instructions, whereas the same doesn’t apply so well to a mind. Whether you like or dislike this reasoning, it’s not of the form “It has not been shown that p is true, therefore p is false.”

In 8:28 to 8:55 GMS asserts that this argument has the special ability he calls “denigrate” in which the user asserts or implies that their opponent lacks morals. The problem with this alleged “special ability” is that it’s not an ability of the argument at all. Nowhere does the argument say or imply that nontheist can’t be moral. William Lane Craig, incidentally, has made it clear on repeated occasions that the moral argument doesn’t claim that atheists can’t live a good and decent life.

Argument from Personal Experience



(9:08 to 12:59)

GMS puts the argument like this:
  1. My personal experiences are reliable sources of information.
  2. I personally experienced [insert God claim here].
  3. Therefore [the God claim] is true.
William Lane Craig has been known to often assert that God can be immediately known and experienced, but even he claims this really isn’t an argument, e.g. in the Craig-Curley debate he says this:
God can be immediately known and experienced. This isn't really an argument for God's existence; rather it's the claim that you can know God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing Him…. If you're sincerely seeking God, then God will make His existence evident to you. The Bible promises, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4. 8). We mustn't so concentrate on the proofs that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own heart. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.
This is more of an invitation than an argument. As an argument, I agree that it sucks—at least if you’re trying to use it to convince other people. There are instances in which subjective personal experiences can trump even objective evidence for the person who has had the experiences.

Think that can’t happen? Imagine you’re on trial for a crime you know you didn’t commit because of your own personal experience of you not committing the crime, but all the objective evidence available to the court stands against you. You have no objective evidence you can give to the court to prove you are being framed, but you are still rational to believe in your own innocence. Subjective personal experience can be a powerful source of rational justification. If people really do have personal experiences of God, this can potentially be a source of rational justification for belief in God.

But as an argument to convince other people, I don’t see it being much more useful than reporting your own personal experience of being innocent before a jury who sees the objective evidence heavily stacked against you.

GMS notes that personal experiences can sometimes be delusory, which is true, but insufficient to reject our personal experiences (e.g. I’ll still trust my experience that I was alive in the twentieth century). He notes people can have conflicting personal experiences, which is again true, but still insufficient. People can look at the same set of data and disagree where the evidence points, thus having different intuitive experiences of where the evidence points, but I doubt that would make GMS reject anthropogenic climate change. That said, arguments from personal experiences like this are still not that useful to convince other people.

Teleological (Fine-Tuning) Argument



(13:03 to 16:13)

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.

GMS makes the claim that this argument makes a false dichotomy fallacy at around 13:43 to 13:58:
First it makes use of a false dichotomy presenting pure chance and an intelligent creator as the only two possibilities when it hasn’t successfully ruled out other options. There could perhaps be some purely physical rule to the universe which demands that these constants be the way they are.
William Lane Craig however has often introduced the fine-tuning argument this way:
  1. The fine-tuning is due either to physical necessity, chance, or design.
  2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore, it is due to design.
Now perhaps GMS doesn’t believe that physical necessity has been successfully ruled out, but if the third possibility of physical necessity had been considered as a possibility and the argumentation against physical necessity for fine-tuning is just unsuccessful, this isn’t a case of a false dichotomy, since three possibilities were indeed considered.

Perhaps the physical constants are physically necessary in the sense that their values (represented numerically in physics) are the way they are in the universe and there’s nothing within the physical universe that can change it (it would require something supernatural to affect them). Note that physical necessity is distinct from metaphysical necessity which is the necessity of the way things could have been in a more absolute sense. If we define a possible world as a complete description of the way reality is or could have been like, some believe there are possible worlds with different physical laws, and that is at least partly why we need empirical study to see what the physical laws of our universe are actually like. In contrast, there are no possible worlds with a married bachelor.

But even if physical constants are physically necessary, we would end up with fine-tuned physical necessities and would not solve the problem or even really provide an alternative to chance.

To illustrate why, consider the following Meter Shower Scenario. 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 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. A cosmic designer would seem to be the best explanation of the meteor shower text.

Similarly, even if the physical constants for a life-permitting universe are physically necessary, they don’t seem to be the sort of thing that is metaphysically necessary. The notion that there couldn’t have been a life-prohibiting universe to the point of a life-prohibiting universe being metaphysically impossible does not seem plausible.

GMS continues at around 13:59 to 14:12:
Second, this is an argument from ignorance because the arguer doesn’t know how such an unlikely thing could have possibly happened, they posit unsubstantiated explanation: a God, instead of saying, “I don’t know.”
First, the conclusion is “design” not “God” (though to be fair, the fact—if it is so—that the universe was designed would make atheism considerably less plausible). Second, we can see how such an unlikely thing could have happened, it’s just…unlikely (in the absence of a cosmic designer). Third, is this really an argument from ignorance? Arguments from ignorance take the form of something like “It has not been shown that p is false, therefore p is true.” Maybe somewhere somebody has argued this way in presenting the fine-tuning argument, but it’s just not an inherent part of the reasoning.

One could more charitably see the fine-tuning argument as an inference to the best explanation. To illustrate why, consider the Meteor Shower Scenario in which someone claims the fine-tuning for the meteor shower is clear evidence of design. Suppose a skeptic responded with this:
You’re saying you don’t know how such an unlikely thing could have happened, we must posit an unsubstantiated explanation: a designer, instead of saying “I don’t know.”
This rebuttal is less than convincing, in part because (1) simply saying that A is evidence for B here doesn’t by itself imply an argument from ignorance like the skeptic described above; (2) the fine-tuning being explained is the evidence for the posited “unsubstantiated” explanation of design; and (3) this response seems like a really desperate maneuver to avoid an intelligent designer of the cosmos.

Lots more could be said about the fine-tuning argument, but the objection GMS gave here is highly unsuccessful, as were many of the objections presented in the video with respect to other arguments for theism.