The Problem

Pascal, in your post titled Romans 1:16 you agreed with the Christians and Buddhists that there is a problem. I doubt there is any religion that doesn’t admit of a core problem and then provide the solution. Christians think that problem is original sin and a savior (Jesus Christ) is needed to redeem them to God. Buddhists think that problem is suffering (which comes partially from attachment) and enlightenment is needed to overcome it. I also think there is a problem. It has some similarities to both the Christian and Buddhist views. Like the concept of original sin, it is there from birth. Like suffering, it is partially fueled by desire. Like both, it is subtle, and identifying the problem doesn’t come easily. It has been in our ancestors’ DNA for millions of years and only very recently were we able to detect it. We cannot excise it or radiate it. It is genetic. We cannot escape it and there is no cure.

So what is the problem? Its discovery and understanding was neither divine nor esoteric. It didn’t lead me to nirvana.

The problem is, we each experience errors in the way we think – including a strong natural tendency to preserve our existing beliefs. The more closely a belief is held, and the more beliefs that rely on that belief being true, the stronger the tendency to preserve it. This one fact changes everything. It is more important than any point I will make. There are natural, non-intuitive, very-difficult-to-detect, problems with the way we think.

Pascal, I know you’ve listened to Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills and are somewhat familiar with this problem, but some of our readers might not be. I think it’s worth elaborating.

It is extremely difficult for any of us to examine our own beliefs critically, especially those we are invested in or hold dear for some reason. I believe we each think we are capable of doing so, but believing we are capable and actually doing it are different things. Our belief in scripture is no exception and is as vulnerable to our mental failings as any other. Understanding and being honest about the way we approach and analyze the scripture we believe makes all the difference.

The exact definition of “belief” has been debated for thousands of years. I’m not going to attempt to get into the weeds here (there’ll be enough of that later) but I do want to distill some practical meaning for belief that we can use for the purposes of this topic. We all hold certain things to be true and others not true. In general, the things that we deem more likely to be true than not true, we say we believe.

The manner in which we come to those beliefs is a very complex topic. However, I like complex topics because they represent a puzzle. How can we break them down into simple pieces that are easy to understand? I think there is a simple equation that could represent how we come by our beliefs that would hold true in all circumstances. Understanding that equation could be very valuable, as it could shed light on why we each believe what we do as strongly as we do, and how others disbelieve as strongly as they do. An understanding of how people come to their beliefs could greatly reduce suffering by bringing humanity together.

I do not have that equation ready for this post, but I think it is important enough that I may work on it in the future. Many smarter individuals have probably already done so, but I just haven’t seen it yet. Until then, I’ll start with a rather simplified version as an example of what I’m talking about.

Belief is some combination of objective belief plus desired belief. Objective belief is that which is observable or justifiable by science. It is idealized and may not be attainable, since beliefs are held by subjective individuals, but imagine if you could take all the bias out of a subjective belief. That would be an objective belief. Desired belief is that portion of belief that comes from our hopes, desires, biases, faith, etc. So here’s one extremely minimal equation that should work to get us started:

belief = objective belief + desired belief

The amount of weight desired belief has is not the topic of this post.

We are all victims of the following hidden methods of fallacious thinking that corrupts belief:

  • Confirmation bias – we remember the hits and forget the misses; buy a red car and suddenly start seeing red cars everywhere; pray for something and see the answer you’re looking for; you tend to find what you’re looking for more often if you’re looking for it
  • Pattern matching – recognizing patterns in large sets of data, even when they are not there
  • Innumeracy – our inability to grasp large numbers naturally; misunderstanding of statistics/odds/chance/rates/coincidence/the clustering of randomness/etc.
  • Fallacy of affirming the consequent – assigning too high of a level of confidence to the cause of some effect when the cause cannot be known; iMultiverse
  • Projection – viewing others from our perspective and seeing our behaviors and desires in other free agents
  • Failure to understand the appearance of design – projecting our design ability onto the things in nature we have anthropomorphized, and the seeming design of artificial and natural selection
  • Difficulty of leaving current beliefs is proportional to our level of investment in the belief; this is especially difficult when considering faith, which includes in its ante/buy-in the notion of eternal reward (the carrot) or punishment (the stick) for yourself and your loved ones
  • Religious faith (in the sense of certainty in direct supernatural causes of the effects we experience) – this is a potential problem because every supernatural claim begs the question and is a victim of the fallacy of affirming the consequent. That does not mean the claim can’t be correct, but it does mean that we should not assign great certainty to the claim unless the evidence is astonishingly high. The problem is faith requires a heavy investment and absolute certainty/belief, which cannot be justified objectively. It is also based on hope, emphasizes trust rather than critical examination, and is the epitome of a high-investment belief structure. It demands commitment, every ounce of which is a buttress against critique.

Those are just a few of the main errors in thinking that relate to religion, but there are many more that influence us. They affect all of us much of the time and make it extremely difficult to come to conclusions that are more in line with objective reality (i.e. more likely true than false). The authors of the Bible were not exempt to these pitfalls.

These problems are part of being human, but unchecked, they also contribute to a catastrophic amount of harm, suffering and death. The unfortunate reality is that we all suffer from these errors in our thinking but they are non-intuitive and thus very hard to detect. Because of the general lack of understanding about these fallacies they are able to divide us, cause us to hate one another, and right now many are dying because others were not aware their minds are victims of these (sometimes) extreme, un-justifiable biases in their subjective thinking.

So where does that leave us? We each have a very serious flaw in the way we come to our beliefs which means some of them are simply false, even very closely held ones (these are actually more likely to be false, on average, because they are relatively unexamined). Wanting something to be true does not give us reason to think it is true. It gives us more reason to question it.

Dear reader, consider this (I believe Pascal already has). I do not know of any specific beliefs I hold that are false. If I did, by definition, I would not hold them. However, I do know that some of the beliefs I hold statistically must be false. I am definitely wrong about some things that I’m certain I have right. Being human, you hold some false beliefs, too. You just don’t know which ones they are. But admitting we are wrong about some of them will make us much more able to evaluate all our beliefs, even ones we feel we cannot abandon.

I think of the problem like a crossword puzzle (see Cruciverb), or a game of Sudoku. Sometimes we fill in what we believe are the right answers using a pen rather than a pencil. Beliefs don’t live in a vacuum. When we use a pen, most future potential beliefs that don’t fit with the penned answers are eliminated prematurely. When one doesn’t seem to fit, you look at the penned answer, decide you can’t change it, and choose a new belief only from the potential set that fits with the foundation you have. This approach is less likely to reveal correct answers because many potentially correct future beliefs are not fully examined. With each new word or Sudoku row, your original penned in answer becomes harder and harder to change. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle leading to ever-increasing confidence in more and more false beliefs.

If only there were a solution

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

102 comments

  1. Hello Brother,

    Well put as always. I read the post and thought for about an hour, and to be honest, I still have more thinking to do. Your way of approaching critical thinking has challenged and enriched me. You are currently my favorite atheist, although the application process will remain open through the end of the century. By then we’ll both be dead. If you are right, you won’t be able to gloat. If I’m right, I would never want to. The thing I like about you is this: gloating is not in your character. So – – all my assumptions about the character of an atheist, the basis for morality have been challenged in friendship with you.

    What then to do? Change my mind. I loved the Cruciverb post too and I’m glad that CC follows here. But you can change words penned in ink. You did. I did. She did. I agree that it is painful, not easy in any regard, but possible, plausible, and well worth the effort.

    There are two ways of knowing. David Hume said, “A wise man, therefore proportions his belief to the evidence.” The Psalmist said, “the fool says in his heart, there is no God.” Paul said, “I am under obligation to both the wise and to the foolish.” As you know, one of my life goals is to be a true sophomore: wise fool.

    The logical fallacy that you mentioned only in reference was the false dichotomy. You are more a poet and I am more a scientist than either of us acknowledge freely. We serve as examples that right/left brain theory is insufficient and is being constantly challenged by modern neurobiology. We love theories challenged, revised, and improved – – held with humility. That is science. That is faith too.

    So can a believer change his mind and still love scripture? Not only yes, but scripture was the reason I changed my mind. As I go into the second half of Romans I’ll foreshadow this – – the way I view gays has completely changed from the way I was raised — because of scripture. What did the theory of evolution and Big Bang cosmology do to my faith? Strengthen it. I did not entrench and insist on reading Genesis like a science text. The Bible never taught a geocentric universe. It was written from the perspective of men on earth in the days before the telescope. You read that the sun rises in the same sense that you say that today.

    I was taught by a mechanical engineer father with simple faith that science and scripture did not conflict. I was taught by a poet mother that I needed to take the six days literally. Clearly there was tension – – introduced to a trusting child in PJs. Growing up did not lead me to lose faith. False dichotomy. It is not either or. Critical thinking is not only for the rationalist. Critical thinking is for the Christ follower who desires to follow Christ with his whole mind.

    Pascal
    –1:16

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    1. Hi Pascal,

      I completely agree with you. Thank you for raising the excellent points that I failed to mention. I also appreciate learning about your experience with these issues as a child and how you overcame them.

      Christ-followers certainly can and do think critically and change their minds, even about their penned-in beliefs. If the answers aren’t in pen (which very few are even for the Christ-follower) they change as easily as they do for the individual without faith. I’m not sure that the (admittedly weak) “penned cross-word puzzle analogy” fails here. It may be that most Christians only have one belief in pen, “Christ rose from the dead and is lord.” Others may also have “the Bible is the word of God,” and/or “the Bible is inerrant.” Maybe some believers had the later two in pen and dropped one or even both of them, with difficulty, but maintained the first belief. That certainly is possible.

      I think the point is not which beliefs or how many are held with certainty – the point is more that the practice of saying “I know that I know that I know that such-and-such” (pick your penned belief) is not a declaration of certainty you (should) find in an objective view of reality. Such commitments delve into the realm of unjustified certainty fueled by a level of desire that requires future beliefs to conform to it.

      This type of reasoning – assigning inappropriate levels of certainty to certain beliefs – is also not limited to religious faith. People often do that regarding politics, global warming, certain races, the character/intentions/intelligent of their mother-in-law, the bias of certain news stations, sexual preferences, etc. I just used faith as an example because it tends to contain at least a few claims that are a particularly potent example of the issue.

      I think we can agree that the more we are invested in belief that we hold with certainty (particular a faith-centered belief thought to be from God and central to our eternal souls) – what I’m calling penned-in answers – the more difficult it is to change it. I would probably still argue, and you may agree, that the solution mentioned in the next post has made it much easier to change those opinions. I doubt that many penned answers would be overwritten were it not for the solution in the next post. When people do change their penned answers, it is likely due to the fact that they are critical thinkers who have found strong counter-evidence that outweighs what they have penned, and they’ve chosen to confront rather than ignore the issues. If we lived in an earlier century when there was no evidence that could possibly compete with the level of desire-based-confidence behind a Biblical claim… few people if any would ever change one of these penned-in beliefs.

      As for the Bible not being a science book, I also agree. Dropping what many would call the literal interpretation was difficult for me, but I achieved it without losing my faith. A natural reading of the Bible without knowledge of science, however, does not lead one to come up with the counter-intuitive view of nature that the solution presents. If one learns certainty in the Bible before learning about what science shows us of nature, this is particularly difficult. At least some effort is required for those believers to change their beliefs about reality from what the Bible says to a view that reflects what we now know. So while it may not be a science book, it still puts believers in a situation of having to interpret which beliefs should be in pen. This is often the cause of interfaith discrepancies.

      We definitely agree that critical thinking is not only for the rationalist. Many of those who hold a faith-based view, like Christ-followers, can and do change their minds – even about things they held most certain. I think evidence just has to reach an abnormally high level (higher than it should… high enough to challenge their certainty) to convince them to try. This is why so many Christ-followers still resist conclusions drawn from the currently testable observations of reality.

      I hope to discuss my specific issues with “the Bible is not a science textbook” soon.

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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  2. I really should be doing other things right now…but I am having such a splendid time reading here. Your thinking is beautiful. Your search is profound! I wanted to highlight certain points you raise, but alas I cannot choose. I can only say that the only answer is to continue ferreting out the penned in words that were wrong to begin with and maybe by the end of this lifetime we will have finished the crossword puzzle. I simply can out it no other way. I wish I could convey all that is in my mind after spending close on an hour reading here… I am sure you can understand why I could never do that without writing several articles all at once! 😀
    Thank you for a fabulous journey so far. May we all continue to search and move beyond all our doubts to find the answers we need to know what the truth really is. I guess that really IS the journey of life. Learning from each other until we meet ‘somewhere in the middle’ so the fighting and arrogance can be put aside. Something like that 😉
    Right – on to read some of Pascals words now. (skipped over his comments to write here or I possibly would run out of time!)

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  3. Hi Russell, you referred me to this post, and I thought it was core to some things we have been discussing, so here I go with a few thoughts.

    First, I’m sure you’re right that most people don’t easily change their beliefs. But you have, I gather. I have too (I wasn’t brought up christian, though I was sent to Sunday School, but I chose to be a christian in my mid to late teens). A UK study showed that about 16% of people have changed religious belief (8.3% from belief to atheism and 7.7% the other way). A US study found 28% had made a major change in their religious affiliation and a further 16% a smaller change – and many of these had made more than one change. And a spreadsheet model I constructed showed between a third and a half of christians worldwide today are converts.

    So people are perhaps more willing to change than you might think.

    Second, your suggested solution is objective science, but I wonder whether you would suggest this solution for matters like choosing a marriage partner, deciding what job to accept or deciding whether war is ethical? In all these cases, we rightly do some hard thinking, and may well write out lists of points for and against (I certainly have done that for choosing a job).

    But would we really think that we need to undertake a careful (and replicated?) scientific study of our future wife? Can we conduct an experiment to test her fidelity? Should we do a DNA test to check for any genetic defects? Should we construct a questionnaire to test social attitudes?

    I think most people would think that such application of structured reason and testing (which is what science is) is going a little too far. We need to think, sure, but we need to feel as well. Would you agree?

    If this is so for these cases, isn’t it possible that it will be so for religion too? I suggest your science approach may be too inhuman and objective.

    Third, some scientific studies have shown that humans employ both analytical and intuitive thinking, and that each is better in certain situations. Three findings stand out here.

    One is that most decisions are made intuitively first and then verified analytically if appropriate and there is enough time (many scientists affirm that that is how they arrive at their discoveries). Second, the best decisions are generally made with a mixture of both types of thinking. And thirdly, for complex decisions with limited information, predominantly intuitive thinking is often better (i.e. leads to best results).

    Now making a decision about God is clearly a complex decision with incomplete information, so intuitive thinking may be at least as important as analytic. And of course scientific thinking is predominantly analytic. These findings must throw some doubt on your approach to this issue, I think.

    You seem to be wanting to prove God, or go as close to that as you can, before you can believe. But if intuitive thinking is helpful, even necessary, in this situation, how will you use it? My tentative suggestion is that the goal of “proving” God is too stringent. I suggest it is quite reasonable to start with our intuitive conclusion and then test if it is reasonable (which is still an analytical question, but less rigorous than proving). But I would want to think a little more about that.

    Finally I want to suggest a little role playing. If I was God wanting to create a human race to bestow my love on, what would I require of people? I don’t think I’d make everyone go to heaven because some people (e.g. Richard Dawkins) would hate it. But I don’t think I’d make it a totally logical/scientific thing because that would favour the intelligent and educated. I might choose people who behaved morally, but that might exclude those who came from a dysfunctional family. I might simply choose who really wanted to be with me. I don’t know what I’d do, but it’s an interesting question.

    Because one conclusion seems clear to me, I wouldn’t want to just reward the ones smart enough to do the science. So again I feel your approach is logical but not appropriate to trying to decide if a personal God is there and cares for us.

    Just a few ideas. What do you think?

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    1. Hi unkleE!

      Welcome to this post. 🙂

      I like your objections and I would offer them too. They are concerned with extreme versions of what it seems you think I might believe, but I don’t hold to any of those extreme versions. I’ll be happy to clarify that for you. Here we go.

      So people are perhaps more willing to change than you might think.

      To your first point, I’m not saying anything about the number of people who might be willing to change their mind. I’m saying that our reasoning is flawed and we have a tendency to invest our egos in conclusions rather than the process of coming to those conclusions. Some set of closely held, core beliefs are more difficult to change than others, and these I compared to crossword puzzle answers written in pen that we don’t feel we can easily change so other beliefs must conform to them. We all have such beliefs, but if we don’t value a process of coming to true beliefs more than we value the beliefs themselves, it will be more difficult to ever change them despite the evidence we find because they are comfortable and we have a community built up around that belief to support us in it. I know many people convert back and forth and in and out of belief systems and that doesn’t contradict my point. I expect that.

      To your second point, I’m not meaning science to be only the formal application of the scientific method. I’m meaning the inclusive version of science that encompasses all the filters we know of to remove as many of the biases and other logical fallacies as possible from human reasoning (including logic, critical thinking, objective verification, etc.). So, yes, I think that is extremely relevant to “choosing a marriage partner, deciding what job to accept or deciding whether war is ethical.”

      To your third point, I completely agree about the analytical vs intuitive reasoning. Another way to look at my arguments here is to consider that we all do intuitive thinking first, in the vast majority of cases, but don’t subject our intuition to the best level of analysis we could because we don’t fully understand the holes in our reasoning and which analytical processes will have the best chance of shoring up the leaks.

      When you say, “You seem to be wanting to prove God, or go as close to that as you can, before you can believe.” and “… the goal of ‘proving’ God is too stringent,” I completely agree. I could understand your concern here but let me put it to rest. I am, in no way, trying to prove God. You probably know by my previous comments in the other post thread that I don’t consider that to even be possible. And it’s definitely too high an expectation. I’m not even a strong rationalist or a foundationalist. I rely much more on coherentism. The point is, all I’m looking for is evidence in favor of a God claim that outweighs evidence against it. I need to hold a belief for the proposition before I’m going to claim that I believe it. I’m not looking for proof, but sufficient evidence for belief just like we would require in any other claim.

      To you final point, I would ask this. Why do you think there are any people who wouldn’t want to go to heaven? Richard Dawkins only dislikes the idea of God because he sees insufficient evidence for it. If any atheist, even any strong atheist, knew that a “good” God actually does exist, demonstrates how they are still good in a way that the atheist will accept, and explains that they love the atheist and want to spend eternity with them, I don’t know any atheist who wouldn’t want to be loved forever and continue consciousness alongside that being in some form. Atheists don’t hate God. Some strong atheists hate some beliefs of people that assert God-claims which they believe stand on insufficient evidence and yet very negatively impact living creatures and human psychology. They’re not mad at a God they don’t believe in. They’re mad at people who project what they belief is a false belief in a God that doesn’t exist. If they knew that God existed, it would be a completely different scenario, so we can’t say that atheist X would hate heaven. If God revealed himself as a good and completely loving being who knew and intimately loved each human right now, and then clearly and unambiguously communicated his will to everyone, all “sin” would likely cease. Our ability to defy a God’s will likely only extends to our level of doubt about the combination of his will, his character (to the extent that it agrees with our own internal morality), his desires, and our confidence level in his existence. The extent that we doubt any of those is the extent to which sin is possible.

      As far as who you think God would favor in your hypothetical, why would have favor anyone? Right now it certainly seems like his disfavoring the scientifically educated if we look at the numbers, which is causing a rift between sold-out-belief and science education. Since many of the science educated see science as the good path to a healthier and happier life with the least suffering and the greatest well-being, the resistance from the more certain in the faith causes the science-minded to oppose faith even more. I don’t think it should favor anyone, and choosing only those who really want to be with the God just means choosing those who find the evidence for the God’s existence compelling, agree with the God’s morality and reasons for allowing human suffering, understand its desires and feel the depths of its love for them. If a God exists, I don’t know if it has any of those attributes, but I’m working with your hypothetical and I’m just guessing you’re assuming those traditional, personal attributes from the Christian God.

       

      I hope this clarifies my position a bit. I’m sorry that this post left you feeling that I held those views. I’ll try to use more words to reign in the positions I don’t support in the future. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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      1. Hi Russell, I very much support your view about atheists not being angry with God. I suspect that view comes from the argument spread by theists that everyone really believes in God in their heart, but not everyone wants to obey the commands.

        Came across a bumper sticker the other day:

        I don’t have any trouble with God, it is his cheer squad I can’t stand

        But I should emphasise I would never say that about our good friends Pascal and UnKleE, both of whom I have a lot of time for.

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  4. Hi Russell,

    Thanks again for your response. Again I must say that you have nothing to apologise for – I very much appreciate your thoughtful and friendly approach, and I don’t take disagreement personally.

    I have been pondering these matters overnight, because it is clear we agree on some of this, and on other aspects you feel I have misunderstood you and have tried to correct that, and yet I still feel there are issues here. In brief summary ….

    I feel you are still overstating the amount of bias in decision-making about religion (in the light of the stats I gave) and I think this affects how you approach things, making you set the bar impossibly high for religious belief …..

    whereas in personal matters like marriage and career, I feel unsure how much you use even an “inclusive version of science” and whether you set the bar as high as you do for God.

    I was wrong to use “prove” as that wasn’t the emphasis I wanted. I wanted to emphasise the value of intuitive thought, as part of how we decide about God, just as I think it is in other decisions. It seems to me that your approach to my first two points precludes intuitive thought, yet you say you use it. I’m not sure how it fits in.

    I also didn’t state my final point well. I don’t think atheists hate God (I didn’t say they did), though some are on record as hating the idea of God (Christopher Hitchens was very strong on this, and even a non-militant atheist like Thomas Nagel admits he doesn’t want God to be true). But none of that was my point. My point was twofold, but poorly stated, I’m sorry:

    (a) If God loves us enough to give us autonomy and hence the choice of whether we want him or not, making belief only an intellectual thing would be unfair to the less intelligent, and wouldn’t be testing anything God is really interested in.

    (b) You set the bar for evidence very high, but have you set the bar as high for unbelief? People say the burden of proof is on christians, but the burden of proof rests equally on all viewpoints – the only viewpoint that doesn’t have such a burden is agnosticism, which I guess is where you are. But you seem (correct me if I’m wrong) to be an agnostic who is more inclined to unbelief, in some ways as a default. But say you set the bar for both belief and unbelief equally high, and stayed an agnostic. You could hardly live as a christian in your heart and mind, even if you could externally, so you would default to some form of non-belief, even though it never satisfied its burden of proof. It sort of seems lop-sided to me.

    But I want to finish with something more positive. You say “all I’m looking for is evidence in favour of a God claim that outweighs evidence against it.” I want to completely agree with this. My problem is that I feel all the above matters suggest you have set the bar higher than that.

    So here would be my summary – I’ll be interested in how much (or little) you agree. Christians claim knowing God isn’t just an objective matter of scientific fact, but also a relationship. So I think we have to want to be in that relationship. (If we eliminate all subjectivity, we will be biasing our conclusion against God.) We have to believe that the evidence for this God is better than the evidence against, or there is insufficient reason to believe. We also have to be willing to try to allow that God to convince us both before we commit and after (if) we commit. Evidence is necessary, but it will always include both objective (analytical) and subjective (intuitive), in different amounts for different people. We may use analytical thinking for each component of the evidence, but the evidence is probably too complex for analytical thinking alone, and we will need to use intuitive thinking as well. Of course we have to be wary of bias, but bias goes both ways. You and I will probably always mostly base our conclusions on objective evidence, but there will still be a subjective element, and some other people (both believers and disbelievers) will be very much more subjective.

    I said previously that I suspect that our differences would be as much in how we approach evidence as in the evidence itself. All this is part of what I meant.

    What do you think?

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    1. Hi unkleE,

      Thanks for the clarifications. Here we go… 🙂

      I feel you are still overstating the amount of bias in decision-making about religion (in the light of the stats I gave) and I think this affects how you approach things, making you set the bar impossibly high for religious belief ….. whereas in personal matters like marriage and career, I feel unsure how much you use even an “inclusive version of science” and whether you set the bar as high as you do for God.

      I disagree. I’m not being critical at all concerning any decision-making about religion that does account for bias and logical fallacies. I’m only pointing out that decision-making that doesn’t account for bias and logical fallacies is less likely to lead to truth. That’s the first point. I’m not saying that faith is heavily involved in most decision-making about religion. I’m saying that when it is involved, it concerns me if it’s used without and understanding of what’s going on in someone’s mind. Faith seems to be the direct exploitation of the natural, hidden, nonintuitive flaws in human reasoning in order to promote a higher level of confidence in a desired conclusion than is warranted by the evidence. The higher confidence level is essentially a modification in the belief equation, and one that should be discussed and understood because people don’t learn about it naturally from experiencing the world. It’s come about through thousands of years of study in philosophy, mathematics, logic, neuroscience, cognitive psychology and other such sciences.

      You say I’m overstating the amount of bias. I say I’m just pointing out that it’s there to a greater degree than almost everyone thinks. Until I understand that someone knows the flaws in reasoning I’m talking about, understands them well, searches their beliefs to see which have been affected, updates their confidences accordingly and communicates that, I don’t think they are in a place where they can properly judge the importance of doing so (since they won’t yet know how much they’re affected by it). Have you done this?

      In my experience, the more one understands the flaws in human reasoning, the more their trust in faith diminishes, and the less value that modifier has on their conclusions. If they still claim to rely heavily on faith, they tend to mean something different by it than what I’ve described, and see it more as an appropriate level of confidence that is warranted by the evidence alone, plus some admitted hope (rather than increased confidence or a claim to know such-and-such unknowable thing). If you believe that adhering to a process of reasoning that seeks to match confidence to the evidence by putting a reign on our biases is “setting the bar too high,” I disagree. It would only be setting the bar to high if we value our conclusions more than we value the process we use to come to those conclusions. That is the mark of someone who prioritizes comfort over truth, and I’m just not their in general.

      Yes, I set the bar in the same place. I put a lot of thought into this. I don’t want to distrust God. I don’t have a bias against God or the supernatural. I reason the same way about God-claims as I do about anything else. It’s about weighing evidence while keeping an eye on how much my desire is modifying it and thinking about which fallacies are influencing my feelings or conclusions. I get it wrong often. I’m wrong in many ways about many things and I know it, I just don’t know which things they are which is why I try to consider all this carefully and apply new things I learn to my existing beliefs. I do care about the process over the conclusion and I hope that in the long run (over a lifetime) it will lead to more true beliefs and fewer false ones.

      I’d love to create a flowchart to communicate my reasoning pattern some day but that sounds like it would take some time. If you still doubt how I reason and think I might be setting the bar at a different place, give me a specific question and I’ll do my best to let you know how I go about coming to my confidence level.

      Until then, I’d like to ask if you might be able to provide a syllogism that demonstrates that using a method of reasoning that doesn’t provide tools to counteract our non-intuitive, hidden biases and logical fallacies is as likely to lead to true beliefs, on average, as a mechanism that does? If not, then it sounds like we mainly agree and we’re primarily discussing details.

      I was wrong to use “prove” as that wasn’t the emphasis I wanted.

      No worries. I constantly find myself using a word for which I mean definition X, and then realizing some of the audience read definition Y.

      I wanted to emphasise the value of intuitive thought, as part of how we decide about God, just as I think it is in other decisions. It seems to me that your approach to my first two points precludes intuitive thought, yet you say you use it. I’m not sure how it fits in.

      I have high respect for intuitive thought, especially for deciding about things when there is little evidence one way or another. I’m not sure why you think my approach precludes intuitive thought. Can you explain? Maybe it will help if I clarify that I use intuitive thought constantly, as much as the next person. The difference is that some people understand the degree to which reality is counterintuitive. The most severe biases and fallacies I’m talking about are just such ones. I rely on intuition, but I try to pass my intuitions through the filters I mentioned because when my intuitive conflicts with something demonstrable for which there is more evidence, I recognize that the reality my conscious mind forms is not equal to the reality that IS. Intuition is extremely vital and should be trusted in most cases, if properly filtered and not in conflict with objective methods of reasoning. In the case of strong conflicts with repeatable evidence, confidence in intuitive conclusions alone should be reduced if we prioritize truth (in my opinion).

      I also didn’t state my final point well. I don’t think atheists hate God (I didn’t say they did), though some are on record as hating the idea of God (Christopher Hitchens was very strong on this, and even a non-militant atheist like Thomas Nagel admits he doesn’t want God to be true).

      I don’t think it would be accurate to imply that person X hates the idea of God, even if we think they said they do, because it’s unlikely they mean what most of our audience will think they mean. For example, there is not one idea of God for someone to hate. Hitchens doesn’t hate a deistic God. He hates the idea of what he views as a narcissistic judging God that gave what Hitchens believed was horrible morality and genocide, suffering, death, and the threat of eternal torment for not believing in Him on poor evidence. I honestly don’t believe that even the most militant atheist would not prefer to live forever with their loved ones and in the presence of a being that knew them intimately and loved them completely if they thought his character was admirable. All the objections you hear are to God-claims that they believe are illogical, immoral, and don’t match reality. So when we talk about people not wanting God to be true, we’re implying that they’re against even what they’d see as a good God, when what their really talking about it your God or some other God-claim they find appalling. Making them out to be against any God makes it easier to believe that they’re just rejecting control and choosing to live in sin, etc., and that’s what people will tend to think, but I don’t think it usually represents the situation accurately.

      But none of that was my point. My point was twofold, but poorly stated, I’m sorry:

      (a) If God loves us enough to give us autonomy and hence the choice of whether we want him or not, making belief only an intellectual thing would be unfair to the less intelligent, and wouldn’t be testing anything God is really interested in.

      I’m not arguing that a God would be fair to make belief only an intellectual thing. I’m saying it wouldn’t be fair to make belief far less available to the intellectual. Is the difference clear? Also, we can’t know what God is an isn’t interested in, but requiring belief in something (for which there is, today, more evidence against it than for it in the minds of many), is a poor standard to base a judgment upon. The fruit of action is a more moral and appropriate thing to judge upon than the ability to believe something for which one doesn’t find the evidence compelling.

      (b) You set the bar for evidence very high, but have you set the bar as high for unbelief? People say the burden of proof is on christians, but the burden of proof rests equally on all viewpoints – the only viewpoint that doesn’t have such a burden is agnosticism, which I guess is where you are. But you seem (correct me if I’m wrong) to be an agnostic who is more inclined to unbelief, in some ways as a default.

      I don’t believe I set the bar high, as I explained above. I set it where it should be if we prioritize truth. I’m not sure what you mean when you ask if I set the bar as high for unbelief. No, the burden of proof does not rest equally high on all viewpoints. Yes, agnosticism, as you pointed out. Burden of proof is for those making a claim. I’m not making a claim about God. I’m only rejecting some God-claims as less likely than other hypotheses to explain the reality I see. I lack belief in any specific God-claim but I don’t claim there is no God. I’m a weak-agnostic weak-atheist.

      Unbelief is the default for any claim. A claim must be presented in a coherent fashion and understood. Then it must pass some tests and be judged. And then a level of confidence and margin of error is assigned. We all do this. Until we get to the last step, we don’t even have the option to a positive belief in the claim, so unbelief is the default until the process is completed and a (possibly) a positive belief is attained. I’m not inclined to unbelief other than that which is explained by ignosticism coupled with understanding of the process of reasoning. If a claim doesn’t make sense, I don’t hold a positive belief in it. That’s not being inclined to unbelief. If I detect that a claim has a shortcoming within my intuition (coherentism and foundationalism) including all the holes in human reasoning I know I’m subject to, etc.,), I’m probably going to pull it out and analyze it a bit, and it is probably going to be docked to some degree which may mean I won’t thinks its the best explanation, but that’s not a guarantee. Everyone does this step as well, we just don’t all have the flaws in reasoning filter ready in the second step to detect the flaws when it’s in the intuition step, so we don’t know when our desires are influencing us and to what degree and we let the claim pass our filters and increase our confidence levels. Even when we do, we largely fail (I’m sure I fail at that step quite a lot despite my best efforts – I’m not actually a robot). To say I’m inclined to unbelief would, I think, be inaccurate. If I make it to the phase of giving a verdict and I think the claim was unconvincing, I hold it as a possibility to keep in mind as future evidence comes in, but I don’t claim to believe it.

      But say you set the bar for both belief and unbelief equally high, and stayed an agnostic. You could hardly live as a christian in your heart and mind, even if you could externally, so you would default to some form of non-belief, even though it never satisfied its burden of proof. It sort of seems lop-sided to me.

      I don’t feel like I set the bar high, and I’ll still need clarification for the “unbelief” bar before I can address it without missing your intent. If you’re implying non-belief in Christianity has a burden of proof, that’s incorrect. Christianity is the claim. First it must be made coherent. I don’t know if I’ve heard a version of it that is coherent. If I entertain some version as being coherent, it must provide evidence of its truth that outweighs the evidence against it. It has not. Therefore, I do not believe. That is not being lop-sided. In addition, the beliefs in all versions of Christianity I’ve heard, including claimed miracles and faith, are better explained by the hypothesis of evolution which has a mountain of evidence in its favor. Finally, all the versions of Christianity I’ve heard make claims that have been falsified by the most likely interpretations. That counts not just as a lack of sufficient evidence for it, but positive evidence against it. This is not relevant though, as it fails to meet its burden of proof to begin with.

      But I want to finish with something more positive. You say “all I’m looking for is evidence in favour of a God claim that outweighs evidence against it.” I want to completely agree with this. My problem is that I feel all the above matters suggest you have set the bar higher than that.

      I’m not sure why you think the bar is “too high.” Is it possible that you feel that way because you assume I hold to a standard that I actually don’t hold to? If you can clarify what requirements you think I have that I shouldn’t, I think it might help quite a bit. Neither of us let everything in. We all have a bias filtered. We each have ours tweaked differently than others. If you’re claiming that I don’t believe because mine is unreasonably high, please help me see it. I want to believe, but if you’re saying I must let down my guard more and start having confidence in things that are likely untrue, that’s not something I can just choose to do.

      So here would be my summary – I’ll be interested in how much (or little) you agree. Christians claim knowing God isn’t just an objective matter of scientific fact, but also a relationship.

      Agreed.

      So I think we have to want to be in that relationship.

      I do. From understanding the way my mind works, I have a strong sense that I can’t let myself be in that relationship if I don’t think it’s true. So I must believe it to be true first and prioritize that over the strength of my desire to be in it. I’ve learned enough to know that if we don’t prioritize truth we can be sold out for any entirely subjective notion. Do you agree?

      (If we eliminate all subjectivity, we will be biasing our conclusion against God.)

      First, I’ve never suggested eliminated subjectivity. Does this make sense? You haven’t really responded to this but I know I’ve repeated many times in the last few days. Subjectivity may be the only thing that IS real. Of course we can’t eliminate it nor should we try. However, it is subject to flaws in human reasoning that are hidden, counterintuitive, and lead us to more false beliefs on average. Do you agree or not? If so, then you probably agree that we should subject any beliefs we have (including those that seem to have objective evidence to back them up) to filters that are provided by understanding the biases and fallacies we fall prey to – if we want to come to more true beliefs. Agree or disagree? Finally, if repeatable objective evidence contradicts our subjective ideas, we should reduce our confidence in our subjective ideas proportionally to the strength of that evidence if we care about truth. Agree or disagree?

      Why should we assert that by focusing on truth rather than a comfortable belief system we’re biasing our conclusion against God? Isn’t God the God of Truth, the Word of God the Word of Truth, the Spirit of God the Spirit of Truth, and the people of God the people of Truth? If God doesn’t match up with what is most likely true, that’s a problem with the God belief that claims deity X has communicated Truth, rather than a truth that by seeking truth first we’re biasing ourselves against a true God.

      We have to believe that the evidence for this God is better than the evidence against, or there is insufficient reason to believe.

      Amen! 🙂

      We also have to be willing to try to allow that God to convince us both before we commit and after (if) we commit.

      I tried. I think it was a direct invitation to follow confirmation bias. Still, I did it and it worked for years. Now, knowing more about confirmation bias and pattern matching, etc., he needs to convince me another way. If the only way a God can work is through the same means of flawed evolutionary reasoning that led us astray into confidence in the religion of our culture, that God is likely playing with us. Still, I long for it so much that I caved and made the random number generator – something for which some fellow atheists and believers alike think relies are far too much confirmation bias. 🙂 I did it to partially to demonstrate that I’m not biasing myself against the possibility of the supernatural, and that I’m open to listening for God even if he chooses to only speak in the ways that we can’t distinguish from our fallacies. But I provided a safeguard against false confidences because I now know longer make regularly prayers like, (if you just do this somewhat-unlikely-but-still-possible-within-the-law-of-large-numbers thing, I’ll believe). Too many of those and eventually something unusual will happen (pattern matching and confirmation bias at work). Now if God wants to reach me while remaining in the shadows, he just needs to give me a 1 on that generator within my lifetime. He knows my number and I’m waiting by the phone.

      Evidence is necessary, but it will always include both objective (analytical) and subjective (intuitive), in different amounts for different people.

      We agree!

      We may use analytical thinking for each component of the evidence, but the evidence is probably too complex for analytical thinking alone, and we will need to use intuitive thinking as well.

      We agree here, too!

      Of course we have to be wary of bias, but bias goes both ways.

      And here! Are you reading me now?

      You and I will probably always mostly base our conclusions on objective evidence, but there will still be a subjective element, and some other people (both believers and disbelievers) will be very much more subjective.

      Couldn’t have said it better. Okay, I feel like we’re in sync now. 🙂

      I said previously that I suspect that our differences would be as much in how we approach evidence as in the evidence itself. All this is part of what I meant.

      I think our difference is just in how we reason about the evidence. For me it’s about how much I’m willing to sacrifice likely truth in order to gain confidence in the conclusion I want to believe. You’re telling me why you think I don’t believe and why you think my standards are unreasonable. Perhaps I’ll be able to convince you otherwise and we’ll find and our differences may be temporary. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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  5. Hi Peter, thanks for your kind words. I don’t think I have ever said that atheists are angry with God. But I do think (though I don’t think I said it before) that some of the more militant atheists carry a lot of anger and negativity against christianity, sometimes for good reason, and this sometimes leads them into intolerance – like trying to “freeze” believers out of science and education. I am very far from being a conspiracy theorist, but I do find some of their agendas very scary, just like I find some of the christian right agendas scary. But I don’t ever think that applies to all atheists, certainly not people like you, Nate, Russell and others I have met.

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    1. I have concluded that there is anger, hypocrisy and judgment on both sides of the fence. Which ever side of the fence we are on we should strive to ensure we are not among those who lapse (or in some case wallow in) into such behaviour. One of the reasons I value this site is that it expressly seeks to encourage respectful dialogue.

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  6. Hi Russell,

    I think I have said twice what I think here, so I think it would be painful to say any more on those things. But I will try to answer the questions you have asked.

    “Until I understand that someone knows the flaws in reasoning I’m talking about, understands them well, searches their beliefs to see which have been affected, updates their confidences accordingly and communicates that, I don’t think they are in a place where they can properly judge the importance of doing so (since they won’t yet know how much they’re affected by it). Have you done this?”

    I have searched through your site to try to find more about what you are referring to here, because it was already clear before this comment that this matter is very important to you. But I couldn’t find enough to think I understand what you mean.

    I have reviewed my beliefs over and over again, and changed many of them. I think I have been fairly rigorous and evidence-based, but I don’t know how I match up to what you are asking here. Can you point me to somewhere you have explained this in full?

    The place I most expected to find something was in the two Solution posts following this one, but there the main thing I got was the scientific method of hypothesis formation, testing and review. Is that what you meant? What exactly do you mean by “filters”?

    “provide a syllogism that demonstrates that using a method of reasoning that doesn’t provide tools to counteract our non-intuitive, hidden biases and logical fallacies is as likely to lead to true beliefs, on average, as a mechanism that does?”

    This is even more mysterious to me. I have studied philosophy and symbolic logic, so I am aware of what a syllogism is, but I don’t understand what you are asking me to do here, I’m sorry. I could write most of my reasons to believe in the form of syllogisms (I have done that for a few of them here) but I don’t think that’s what you’re asking here.

    “I’ve learned enough to know that if we don’t prioritize truth we can be sold out for any entirely subjective notion. Do you agree?”

    Yes, though I think truth can come in ways other than, or in addition to, syllogisms.

    “Finally, if repeatable objective evidence contradicts our subjective ideas, we should reduce our confidence in our subjective ideas proportionally to the strength of that evidence if we care about truth. Agree or disagree?”

    Yes, I agree here.

    “If God wants to reach me while remaining in the shadows, he just needs to give me a 1 on that generator within my lifetime.”

    I am intrigued by this experiment when I read it elsewhere on this blog, and it might just work. But it might just be a random result. I think it is not the best way to “test” God, but full marks for at least trying.

    “I’ll still need clarification for the “unbelief” bar before I can address it without missing your intent.”

    I think in the end, if we took a video of our lives and analysed them by computer, we could soon tell what was most important to us. So, say you stay with your current state of (un)belief, what would the analysis show? As I understand it, you still attend church, love your wife and family (do you have one child?), are kind and thoughtful to other people, etc. But at the end of this life of agnostic atheism (is that a fair description?) there wouldn’t be a lot of prayer or submission to God’s will, there wouldn’t be a lot of helping people in Jesus’ name, nor a lot of sharing the good news about Jesus, because you don’t believe in those things.

    Now comes the tricky part – would God be “happy” with that? Obviously I can’t say. But many christians would say no, you haven’t surrendered your life to Jesus, you have asked forgiveness, etc. Other more progressive christians (e.g. Rob Bell) might say you have done very well, you are a kind person, etc, and God will be pleased with you.

    Now I would probably be somewhere in between those two, but what do I know? I sincerely hope God will be pleased with you, but I can’t speak on his behalf. But the point is this. Your life would not be very different than if you had definitely concluded that there was no God – you would still be a decent person. But if you came to the conclusion that Jesus was really the son of God, your life would look quite different. You would still be a kind, decent person, but now you’d be living under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and you would likely do some very different, possibly unexpected, things.

    So …. life as an agnostic turns out to be pretty much the same as life as a kind atheist, but quite different to life as a spiritual christian. So, in the end, your filters made it impossible for you to live as a christian, and led you to life that was not really tested by filters, just by default.

    It comes down to Jesus saying “If you’re not for me you’re against me”. I think you have high filters on being for him, but not on being against him (or indifferent to him, which comes in the end to the same thing). I don’t suppose you’ll see it like that, but that’s what I was getting at.

    Finally, yes it is good to see the number of time we DO agree! Thanks.

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    1. Hi unkleE,

      “Until I understand that someone knows the flaws in reasoning I’m talking about, understands them well, searches their beliefs to see which have been affected, updates their confidences accordingly and communicates that, I don’t think they are in a place where they can properly judge the importance of doing so (since they won’t yet know how much they’re affected by it). Have you done this?”
      I have searched through your site to try to find more about what you are referring to here, because it was already clear before this comment that this matter is very important to you. But I couldn’t find enough to think I understand what you mean.
      I have reviewed my beliefs over and over again, and changed many of them. I think I have been fairly rigorous and evidence-based, but I don’t know how I match up to what you are asking here. Can you point me to somewhere you have explained this in full?
      The place I most expected to find something was in the two Solution posts following this one, but there the main thing I got was the scientific method of hypothesis formation, testing and review. Is that what you meant? What exactly do you mean by “filters”?

      I outlined most of this in this post, and the two solution posts. I’m sorry if you mainly got “the scientific method of hypothesis formation, testing and review” from that. That’s not what I meant at all. I just meant that as an example. First, that was just an example of how one small branch of science (the formal process of testing and peer review, etc.) works and how  the process it is designed to account for confirmation bias. But a) there is much more to the inclusive version of science I’m talking about than that formal method, and b) confirmation bias which it confronts is only one of the many flaws in human reasoning. It was just meant as an example of what I’m talking about. This is a specific example copied straight the scientific method section of the Science article from wikipedia.

      While performing experiments to test hypotheses, scientists may have a preference for one outcome over another, and so it is important to ensure that science as a whole can eliminate this bias.[36][37] This can be achieved by careful experimental design, transparency, and a thorough peer review process of the experimental results as well as any conclusions.[38][39] After the results of an experiment are announced or published, it is normal practice for independent researchers to double-check how the research was performed, and to follow up by performing similar experiments to determine how dependable the results might be.[40] Taken in its entirety, the scientific method allows for highly creative problem solving while minimizing any effects of subjective bias on the part of its users (namely the confirmation bias).[41]

      So, please don’t think I’m saying that the solution to the flaws in our human reasoning is this very limited version of testing that deals with objective, empirical evidence (e.g. the scientific method). I can see why it would make someone conclude I’m being too critical and eliminated the possibility of faith, but it’s a misrepresentation of my philosophy here. I don’t think that scientific method is currently appropriate to all questions of life or the supernatural (though it has much application; where it speaks, we should listen; and many areas thought out of it’s domain will soon be within it). What I’m saying is that, as this formal process demonstrably helps reduce confirmation bias (and some other biases), there are other processes that can help to reduce our other biases and fallacies that lurk unknown in our human reasoning until we learn about them. The first step is to understand what they are. I listed some of them in this post, and probably the most devious one in Why I Respect Pascal. As for how to address as many as possible, that’s not a simple prescriptive answer but a philosophy of life. I think of it as metacognition about human reasoning. The best resources I can would be in this order…

      1. Your Deceptive Mind – A Scientific Guide To Critical Thinking Skills (this audio course isn’t about religion at all but is the most important resource I can point to for explaining this way of thinking)
      2. Science Wars – What Scientists Know And How They Know It (this audio course isn’t about religion either but it discusses what level of confidence we can have in which types of claims, the difference between reality and our mental construction of it, and the fallacy of affirming the consequent which I think affects all claims of the supernatural)
      3. List of cognitive biases (ultimately, these two lists are what it comes down to – these are the things we all need to understand, absorb, and be willing to compare our closely held beliefs to before we can know where our biases are affecting us)
      4. List of Logical Fallacies (same as 4)

      When I talk about science, as I explained, I’m also include math, logic, cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, etc. – not just the formal scientific method. But none of this is about science. I’m not married to science. We can call the process whatever we want to (e.g. Bob). All I’m promoting is that we need some process to identify and help us understand where the flaws in our reasoning are so that we can assign an appropriate level of confidence to our beliefs so they match the evidence (and again, the evidence does not preclude non-scientific objective evidence – but some things that are more demonstrable should be weighted higher than others that may be solely intuitive and not in accordance with reality, etc.). I hope this makes sense.

      “provide a syllogism that demonstrates that using a method of reasoning that doesn’t provide tools to counteract our non-intuitive, hidden biases and logical fallacies is as likely to lead to true beliefs, on average, as a mechanism that does?”

      This is even more mysterious to me. I have studied philosophy and symbolic logic, so I am aware of what a syllogism is, but I don’t understand what you are asking me to do here, I’m sorry. I could write most of my reasons to believe in the form of syllogisms (I have done that for a few of them here) but I don’t think that’s what you’re asking here.

      I’m only asking for this if you’re proposing that desire should be allowed to influence our confidence levels (i.e. faith). I’ll try to reword what I’m asking for. Let’s agree that our goal is to believe things that are true (reflect reality). Let’s also agree that, by default, our human reasoning (we can call it HR if you like for this example) consists of many biases and logical fallacies that often stand in the way of reaching true beliefs. Now let’s say there are two methods of reasoning that we can use to modify our human reasoning that might affect how we come to our beliefs.

      We might call method 1 HRRF (for human reasoning with religious faith) – it’s process is to increase the confidence we hold in our beliefs so that it is believed to a stronger degree than the evidence (objective + subjective combined) warrants (basically a promotion of motivated reasoning which is one of the biases that keep us from true beliefs on average). The advantage of this method is that it is promoted by a religious or other tradition and it focuses on the subjective experience where, if a God exists, it seems to restrict its involvement to.

      Method two we might call HRBF (for human reasoning with bias filters) – it’s process is to understand as many biases and logical fallacies as possible and filter each of our beliefs by each bias and fallacy we understand so that we have a better chance of coming to true beliefs. The tradeoff of this method is that, if a God exists and limits himself to the areas where our flawed human reasoning exists, this method won’t let us have high confidence in him without overt subjective or objective action.

      You can use whatever names or methods you want. This is just one example of a possible place to start. What I wanted was, if you support the faith-based approach, to see if you could demonstrate logically how it will lead one to more true beliefs on average. We both think some balance is needed between the two, but I lean far more towards option 2. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve spent more time understanding and applying the bias and fallacy filters due to a personality difference, or something else. That’s my guess of what’s going on. I hope this clears it up a bit.

      “I’ve learned enough to know that if we don’t prioritize truth we can be sold out for any entirely subjective notion. Do you agree?”
      Yes, though I think truth can come in ways other than, or in addition to, syllogisms.

      Okay. The fact that you put that last part in makes me think that when you wrote this you thought I was implying that truth can only come from syllogisms. If that’s the case, I think you’re missing my points quite a bit. We may need to Skype this out or something. Haha.

      “Finally, if repeatable objective evidence contradicts our subjective ideas, we should reduce our confidence in our subjective ideas proportionally to the strength of that evidence if we care about truth. Agree or disagree?”
      Yes, I agree here.

      Yea! 🙂

      “If God wants to reach me while remaining in the shadows, he just needs to give me a 1 on that generator within my lifetime.”
      I am intrigued by this experiment when I read it elsewhere on this blog, and it might just work. But it might just be a random result. I think it is not the best way to “test” God, but full marks for at least trying.

      I think that’s because I haven’t explained the odds. In science we can say the null hypothesis is disproved if the odds of seeing the results are 1/100, depending on the type of study. That’s enough to warrant further investigation, if not confidence in the results. I’m not asking for more from God than I am from science. That’s my point. What you don’t know is that I set it up because I know the odds precisely. That’s something we rarely know in real life when we look for signs. I’m not pattern matching anymore. I’ve removed that bias as much as possible by setting up this experiment. The odds of it turning up a 1 this year are extremely low. Much lower than winning a lottery. The odds of it turning up a 1 only become 1/100 by 2075, and if it happens sooner the odds will be far less. It’s going off every single minute from now until then. I’d much prefer other evidence for God, but if He likes staying in the shadows, I’m giving Him an option to win me over. Could it still be a fluke it a 1 happens? Yes, but one the I can have some level of confidence in, depending on when it happens. That’s the other point. It can’t be strongly argued that he won’t do it because it robs people of free will (not that that’s a compelling argument at all). It’s not for anyone else, and few other people will get it’s significance because they didn’t build the thing and know the odds like I do.

      “I’ll still need clarification for the “unbelief” bar before I can address it without missing your intent.”
      I think in the end, if we took a video of our lives and analysed them by computer, we could soon tell what was most important to us. So, say you stay with your current state of (un)belief, what would the analysis show? As I understand it, you still attend church, love your wife and family (do you have one child?), are kind and thoughtful to other people, etc. But at the end of this life of agnostic atheism (is that a fair description?) there wouldn’t be a lot of prayer or submission to God’s will, there wouldn’t be a lot of helping people in Jesus’ name, nor a lot of sharing the good news about Jesus, because you don’t believe in those things.
      Now comes the tricky part – would God be “happy” with that? Obviously I can’t say. But many christians would say no, you haven’t surrendered your life to Jesus, you have asked forgiveness, etc. Other more progressive christians (e.g. Rob Bell) might say you have done very well, you are a kind person, etc, and God will be pleased with you.
      Now I would probably be somewhere in between those two, but what do I know? I sincerely hope God will be pleased with you, but I can’t speak on his behalf. But the point is this. Your life would not be very different than if you had definitely concluded that there was no God – you would still be a decent person. But if you came to the conclusion that Jesus was really the son of God, your life would look quite different. You would still be a kind, decent person, but now you’d be living under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and you would likely do some very different, possibly unexpected, things.
      So …. life as an agnostic turns out to be pretty much the same as life as a kind atheist, but quite different to life as a spiritual christian. So, in the end, your filters made it impossible for you to live as a christian, and led you to life that was not really tested by filters, just by default.
      It comes down to Jesus saying “If you’re not for me you’re against me”. I think you have high filters on being for him, but not on being against him (or indifferent to him, which comes in the end to the same thing). I don’t suppose you’ll see it like that, but that’s what I was getting at.

      I’m not choosing unbelief. I’m unable to believe in the claims made by Christianity. That’s not a choice and not in my ability to change at the moment. You can think I’m lying and that I have an anti-God agenda, but I know I’m not and I don’t. An omniscient God, if one exists and cares to judge us for anything, will know why I don’t believe the claims I’ve heard and know my heart. I’m not fearful of judgement for those reasons. I think it’s also possible (though not likely) that there’s a judging God who will judge living beings by other standards than “faith” and those people would be surprised. The point here is that the argument can be applied many ways.

      Finally, I don’t have high filters against him. Seriously. I just don’t completely let down my guard about a claim because a religious person said it. Or if it’s a feeling, I don’t automatically believe it just because I want to, since I know about my biases. I don’t disbelieve those automatically either, I just put an appropriate confidence level and margin of error around them based on what I know about human reasoning and our gullibility. We’re superstitious creatures. Please let me know if this doesn’t make sense. If you still think I’m setting the bar too high for God after all I’ve explained, my impression is that either your version of God too small, or he isn’t interested in people who think like me. I’m not refusing to believe, I’m just trying to keep the lights at least dimly on so my mind doesn’t trick me into certainty that noises are ghosts.

      Finally, yes it is good to see the number of time we DO agree! Thanks.

      Here’s to hoping for more. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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      1. G’day Russell,

        I want to start by making something clear. On several occasions you seem to feel I have been critical of you and misunderstood you – e.g. you say “I’m sorry if you mainly got “the scientific method of hypothesis formation, testing and review” from that.” and “So, please don’t think I’m saying ….” and “You can think I’m lying and that I have an anti-God agenda”, etc. I want you to know I respect and appreciate you you greatly, for your open-mindedness, your friendliness and your thoroughness. I certainly don’t think your are lying and have an anti-God agenda.

        In most of those cases I think you think I am being more critical than I am. I don’t think most of the things you seem worried about and I’m really sorry if I have upset you in any way. It’s just that there are differences between our conclusions and I’m trying to search out where those differences arise. In many cases, the differences aren’t black and white, but spelling out my thoughts briefly may make them seem more black and white than they are.

        So, on with the show. And I think the only matter I need to comment on is the question of overcoming potential and often unconscious bias.

        I haven’t watched the two audios you reference though I will try to get around to them, for I rarely watch audio/video as this is time-consuming and I can’t skim read them for the relevant content. But I am familiar with logical fallacies and I had a quick look at the page on cognitive biases.

        I think I try reasonably honestly to be fair. I read both sides of questions. I report both sides on my blog and consider the negative (to my current beliefs) facts in revising my beliefs. I have changed my beliefs in many areas (the Bible, hell, evolution, other religions, church, evangelism, social justice, war, etc) and people who know me think I am honest, innovative, even heretical.

        The scientific method consists of forming hypothesis, making predictions and then testing them by trying to falsify them. I wouldn’t pretend that I have arrived at my beliefs that way, but I can and do think about them that way now (and it is a better way than asking for “proof”). So in thinking about God, there are two main hypotheses (of course there are more, but I’m simplifying, and this is the practical reality).

        Hypothesis 1 is that there is no God, and materialism/naturalism/physicalism is true. If this was true, we would expect nothing to exist, because why should it? And if something did exist, we would predict it would be random and chaotic – even granted the present highly mathematical laws, we would statistically predict that the universe would be short-lived and composed of only one or two chemicals (all this is scientifically established). Once granted an orderly universe exists so that life can evolve, we would expect that life to have no free will (there is nothing outside the physical and therefore nothing to prevent the physical laws from controlling everything), there would be no consciousness (why should there, we can evolve perfectly well without it), no ethics beyond that necessary for survival, and little likelihood of abstract rationality (it’s not needed for evolution).

        Hypothesis 2 is that there is a creator God who wants to create and love autonomous beings. If this was true, we’d predict that this God would create a stable environment for that life and endow it with qualities that mimic his on a smaller scale – free will, rationality, ethics, love, consciousness, etc. We’d also predict that this environment would be pleasant and safe.

        Now I can’t pretend to be totally objective in those brief assessments and expectations – I obviously already know the outcome – but I invite you to re-phrase any of it. But the point is clear – if we adopt this quasi-scientific approach, H2 is much closer to the world we actually experience than H1 – much, much much closer. The major failure in H2 is the prediction of a safe world, whereas the real world is full of danger and suffering. But that doesn’t alter, in my opinion, the fact that H2 >> H1.

        Another test of reality is whether a hypothesis works. The correct hypothesis should be consistent with evolution and natural selection, and, other things being equal, should promote human well-being and survival. If there was no God, we might still expect people to have some form of religion, but we wouldn’t expect there to be any real evidence for it, and we might expect an irrational belief to impose some wellbeing penalty (like indicating the person is delusional). But under H2, we’d expect there to be both wellbeing and other evidence for people’s experiences and wellbeing advantages because those people are in contact with the God who made them.

        Now this is a little harder to assess, but (1) there do appear to have been some well-documented miracles, (2) religious belief definitely gives wellbeing advantages, and (3) there is historical evidence for all the major religions, and one has been studied more, history matters more to it, and the history lends some support to it.

        So on all those grounds, using hypothesis testing, I honestly can’t see how it can be denied that H2 is much closer to our world than H1. So I am rationally justified in believing it, perhaps even rationally required. Now of course it could all be stated differently, bringing in other religions complicates things, but I think it all still stacks up.

        So I believe my belief meets at least a lot of the bias tests by being analysed in that way.

        Just one other point. Your analysis of HRRF and HRBF is interesting, but I think fails for two reasons. (1) why can’t it be both? (2) I don’t suggest faith enters the analysis, only the application.

        I think that’s enough for now. Thanks.

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        1. Hi unkleE,

          In most of those cases I think you think I am being more critical than I am. I don’t think most of the things you seem worried about and I’m really sorry if I have upset you in any way.

          No worries at all. 🙂

          It’s just that there are differences between our conclusions and I’m trying to search out where those differences arise. In many cases, the differences aren’t black and white, but spelling out my thoughts briefly may make them seem more black and white than they are.

          Agreed. I’m guilty of the same thing!

          I haven’t watched the two audios you reference though I will try to get around to them, for I rarely watch audio/video as this is time-consuming and I can’t skim read them for the relevant content. But I am familiar with logical fallacies and I had a quick look at the page on cognitive biases.

          I really think the first audio book, at a minimum will be worth the time. It might be much easier to resume this conversation after, if you ever get around to it.

          I think I try reasonably honestly to be fair. I read both sides of questions. I report both sides on my blog and consider the negative (to my current beliefs) facts in revising my beliefs. I have changed my beliefs in many areas (the Bible, hell, evolution, other religions, church, evangelism, social justice, war, etc) and people who know me think I am honest, innovative, even heretical.

          I definitely think you’re a reasonable person who doesn’t have too many “penned in answers” that you’re unwilling to give up. That’s why I think the process I’m describing will suit you well. You already do it. It will just give you a few more tools and a little more insight into my position, which should help make sense of why we see the same evidence and come to different conclusions.

          Hypothesis 1 is that there is no God, and materialism/naturalism/physicalism is true. If this was true, we would expect nothing to exist, because why should it?

          I disagree that we would expect nothing to exist without a God. That sounds like the fallacy of composition. The fact that things don’t exist without causes inside our universe doesn’t tell us about how the whole of the universe operates. We don’t have any others to compare ours to or any way (currently) to discover the laws of a universe-generating state. We can predict how to create universes from within our own universe, however, and this is a possible explanation for where ours arises from. Also, there are many ways you can think about reality existing that don’t require a theistic God. Deism is a perfect alternative. Beyond that, some natural process could cause existence and it’s not something we understand yet, so asserting it must be a God is the God of the Gaps argument. To illustrate this, what’s the default state of nature? Either there are no relationships (i.e. instability, information, etc.), or there are. If there is at least one relationship in the default state of nature, the reality can’t be ruled out in principle. We’re not in a position to know what’s there. Also, positing a thinking being that is more complex than the universe itself does not simplify the problem. It would have to exist in some state which would have it’s own properties, and that state may be encompassed in what we mean by nature. Even if we ignore the infinite regression problem (who created the creator), there’s no compelling reason to think that whatever event was causal for the big bang was the first causal event. There could have been, and still could be, other states of nature to lead to the instabilities that lead to expansion. When we talk about existence, it’s all quantum information. Energy (including it’s matter form) is made up of charges which are just abstract mathematical constructs as far as we know. We don’t know if it’s ultimately discrete or continuos, and if it’s ultimately infinite or finite and in what dimensions. We are making rapid progress and it’s safe to say that we’ll have much more confidence in 100 years than we do now.

          “We would expect nothing to exist, because why should it?” sounds like ad-hoc reasoning use to support a conclusion (God). We need to make sure we reason from the evidence to the conclusion rather than the other way around. We don’t know what we should expect from nature since we don’t yet understand it’s fundamental properties that make it up. While we won’t likely ever have certainty in those properties, we can, in principle, learn much more than we now know about them.

          The appropriate thing to say is we don’t know why and stop there. The less accurate (because it’s proposing something) but next logical step is to say that maybe the default state of some ultimate reality (with likely different laws that we don’t comprehend) isn’t absolutely stable and our reality is a byproduct of it (possibly far down the line along with many other states of nature). After that, and less likely still, is that the immediate cause of our present universe was a being in a prior, more basic reality. Even less likely than that was that the being had an intent to create this reality. This is where my software simulation ideas come in. A few rungs down the ladder of likeliness you find the option of something like a personal God that creates the universe for us.

          And if something did exist, we would predict it would be random and chaotic – even granted the present highly mathematical laws, we would statistically predict that the universe would be short-lived and composed of only one or two chemicals (all this is scientifically established).

          First, I have serious doubts that this is “scientifically established.” To establish that we’d need to know what the prior cause for the big bang was and understand the odds that it would create this universe or that. Then we could make statistical predictions. We have no predictions because we don’t know the processes involved or the frequencies of occurrences of each. Second, there is clumpiness in randomness. Always. This is information which is the substrate of the universe. Random chaos is good because it creates pockets of order by definition. That’s where we’d expect to find ourselves, and we do. All this follows from necessity from the first proposal I listed above – the one that was more likely than a personal God creator because it requires fewer assumptions and complexities.

          Once granted an orderly universe exists so that life can evolve, we would expect that life to have no free will (there is nothing outside the physical and therefore nothing to prevent the physical laws from controlling everything),

          Why would we expect that life to have no free will or no consciousness. That doesn’t seem to follow at all. Please explain so I can see if I agree. Pockets of ordered information leads to enough stability to create replicators which become self-organized enough over time to have emergent properties of complexity from interacting with the environment (the brain) to become self-aware. Why assume there’s no free will from that creature’s point of view, and what does their being or not being free will have to do with the cause of existence?

          there would be no consciousness (why should there, we can evolve perfectly well without it)

          Consciousness is a byproduct of a nervous system and the feedback loop which causes memory to know what stimuli to seek and what to avoid is superior for survival and gene reproduction. Superior consciousness that allows for superior reasoning about what to avoid, where to get fuel and how, etc., is even more advantageous for survival and gene propagation. This doesn’t sound like a valid conclusion.

          no ethics beyond that necessary for survival, and little likelihood of abstract rationality (it’s not needed for evolution).

          Ethics improves survival and gene prorogation, as does abstract rationality, both of which are emergent properties of the complex mind. This also doesn’t sound valid.

          I disagree with all points in your first hypothesis and find that we can say little about the cause (if you want to call it a cause, I won’t get into causality in quantum mechanics and the difficulties we face with causation in general, much less at the initial singularity point). What we can say is that there was something that led to our present reality, and it could have been mindless laws in a reality completely foreign to us with laws and logic we can say nothing about. We can try to posit that the higher reality must have contained a complex mind that kicked things off intentionally for a purpose, but that doesn’t follow from the evidence of existence itself. It’s just a hypothesis to fit the conclusion we want. This is especially apparent once we start tacking on attributes for what this being must have been like and what it must intend – and each religion claims that it must have had exactly this set of properties and justify it the same ways (reasoning from their conclusion to their cause), though the properties contradict.

          Hypothesis 2 is that there is a creator God who wants to create and love autonomous beings.

          Here we go. 🙂

          If this was true, we’d predict that this God would create a stable environment for that life and endow it with qualities that mimic his on a smaller scale – free will, rationality, ethics, love, consciousness, etc. We’d also predict that this environment would be pleasant and safe.

          First, this is circular reasoning because the conclusion is wrapped in the premise (the God has “free will, rationality, ethics, love, consciousness, etc.”) Second, we have no evidence of a pleasant and safe place for life. This hypothesis is disproven. Perhaps you can update it and try again. If you’re talking about Eden, not only is there little supporting evidence for it, there’s extremely strong evidence that such a place never existed. There was never perfect stability and peace on the earth while humans were here. Unless your a life-form using photosynthesis, most of your ancestors have survived by killing and eating other life-forms for billions of years.

          Now I can’t pretend to be totally objective in those brief assessments and expectations – I obviously already know the outcome – but I invite you to re-phrase any of it. But the point is clear – if we adopt this quasi-scientific approach, H2 is much closer to the world we actually experience than H1 – much, much much closer.

          This is one example of how we come to different conclusions. I lack your specific knowledge, which is obvious advanced. For me, I’ve read quite a bit about evolution, psychology, morality in non-humans and early humans, physics, cosmology, philosophy and the philosophy of science, logic, information theory, etc., and I use that information to follow the evidence where it leads rather than imposing my views on it first and then trying to see how it might fit in to match my expectations. In the case of the scientific method, there’s a step where we’re required to make sure that our conclusions are supported by our evidence. We don’t say anything beyond what the evidence supports in the conclusion, and others who peer-review will test it to make sure we’re not putting additional thoughts into it. We can offer speculations for and recommendations for further experimentation, but the process helps alleviate that bias in the conclusions. No other process I know of has that step, but I find it valuable so I try to apply it to the rest of life.

          I basically rephrased H1 already. After “we don’t know,” I added some possibilities on to H1 in decreasing order of likelihood (since every specific attribute about a thing we can’t know decreases it’s likelihood by some margin). I would suggest rephrasing H2 to explain why one of the less likely explanations for H1 (a personal God) makes more sense of what we see around us than an impersonal complex agent (God) or other mindless process.

          The major failure in H2 is the prediction of a safe world, whereas the real world is full of danger and suffering. But that doesn’t alter, in my opinion, the fact that H2 >> H1.

          As you can tell, I’m responding sentence by sentence and I just got to this. Sorry about that. I’m confused why it doesn’t cause you to eliminate H2 as a viable hypothesis. The fact that it’s still on the table would seem to point to motivated reasoning. It’s a step in your hypothesis and you think it’s invalid, but you keep the hypothesis and claim it’s more likely. In most cases I’d say that isn’t a good example of prioritizing the process of reasoning more than we value the conclusion we wish to preserve.

          Here’s a question. Can you imagine a universe identical to this one for which there is no personal God answering prayers? Why or why not?

          In my opinion, a) there’s nothing in any holy scripture that couldn’t have been written by the people at the time it was written; (agree or disagree?); b) all God-beliefs for all religions are explainable by evolution (agree or disagree?); and c) the universe is indistinguishable from what we’d expect to see if a God (may have wound the watch but) wasn’t actively involved. That doesn’t preclude a God’s involvement and my ability to make accurate expectations about such a world is limited since I’m in one or the other and don’t know which. I just mean I don’t think it’s obvious that theism is more likely than deism (at a minimum), or even naturalism. I’m still holding out hope, though.

          Another test of reality is whether a hypothesis works.

          Yes, that’s the only test. If it works better than competing hypotheses, explains more data using fewer untested assumptions, makes predictions, and provides possibly control. It’s a ranking system among competing hypotheses more than anything else. But if one fails (H2), we reject it (send it back as less likely than it’s competitors, or if there are no competitors, than the default of “I don’t know”).

          The correct hypothesis should be consistent with evolution and natural selection, and, other things being equal, should promote human well-being and survival.

          I agree with the first part, but only because there is evidence for those things. If science gets turned on its head and those things get replaced by a better theory, we’d drop the need to be consistent with those and pick up coherence with the new theory. I think we agree on that.

          What I’m confused about is the second part. Are you saying human well-being and survival are a factor in a whether or not a hypothesis is likely true? I get “survival” if your still talking about evolution, but “human well-being” sounds almost like you might be saying if two hypotheses are equal in every way but one is better for human well-being, it should be accepted and the other rejected. If not, please forgive my misunderstanding. If so, I disagree with this. In that case we should acknowledge that they both may be true and devise tests to see if we can make one fail. Our desire has no impact on truth. In fact, if we start using it as factor it opens the door to motivated reasoning. We’re motivated to more easily believe what feels good rather than what is, so we should scrutinize anything we want to be true as much as we scrutinize anything else, and possibly more depending on how much hold it has on us and evidence is backing it.

          If there was no God, we might still expect people to have some form of religion, but we wouldn’t expect there to be any real evidence for it

          There’s a problem with this reasoning. We’re talking about what we’d expect in a hypothetical world in which there is no God. It’s a thought experiment, which I like, but we can’t possibly know what we’d expect in our hypothetical world since we don’t know if we evolved in a world with a God or without one. Still, I’ll attempt to say how I see it, but then I’ll conclude that it doesn’t matter because we’re reasoning in a circle.

          I would have no expectations one way or the other about whether or not they have religion, If evolution is true, it explains our superstitions quite nicely. At some point in our past we became decedents of the creature who heard a rustle in the leaves and fled (imagining a larger predator) rather than the one who desired the truth/knowledge of what was there and went to investigate). Somewhere in our genes is the drive for anthropomorphizing the unknown and scary parts of our world so we could find comfort in controlling it (sacrifices to please the Gods of the volcano, sun, rain, etc.). In our reality, religion seems perfectly explainable and expected, but that’s because evolution makes sense. If there’s another world in which things are just created with a knowledge of the environment, or reach the level of human cognition without evolving through the fear and imagination stage of slightly lower primates learning to control their environment, I don’t have any frame of reference for what I’d expect.

          I definitely would expect evidence for religions if evolution is true. That’s innumeracy and a misunderstanding of the law of large numbers. People aren’t evolved to deal with massive odds and population-level statistics. We don’t walk though the forest looking for food with an understanding of base-rates and enormous probabilities. We didn’t evolve for these errors in our logic – we discovered them after the advent of civilization where large numbers of smart people could dedicate their lives to the pursuit of logic, metaphysics, philosophy, and science. Now we know that rare events are happening constantly. When people are looking for any sign and leave it fairly open ended (as faith often leads many people to do), we will see patterns where none exist, or experience the extremely rare event, and claim evidence – because after all, what are the odds? It’s a miracle. The improbability of it defies the laws of nature. It’s the gambler’s fallacy (I won the lottery! Not understanding that the odds that someone would when were pretty high, etc.). So, yes, I expect evidence for God to happen all of the world, but only within these probability sets. If they exceed that by any measurable degree (has never happened to my knowledge), or if they demonstrate a demonstrable break in the laws of physics or a repeatable event that can be tested, etc., then I would not expect such occurrences unless something unusual was happening. Then we’d need to investigate that unusual behavior to see if it unlocks our understanding of another natural process, or to see if it points to something else (e.g. if it seems to be supporting one religion over all others, etc.).

          , and we might expect an irrational belief to impose some wellbeing penalty (like indicating the person is delusional).

          The rationality or irrationality of a belief does have some wellbeing penalty. The measure of whether a belief is rational is conducted by the culture. If the culture one is in accepts the belief, then it is not irrational to them and there is no penalty. If another culture believes it irrational, they will impose some penalty that isn’t always directly affecting wellbeing, but can and will tend to if the belief is seen as strong enough and irrational enough. This is how “irrationality” persists – in cultural bubbles where well-being is preserved.

          But under H2, we’d expect there to be both wellbeing and other evidence for people’s experiences and wellbeing advantages because those people are in contact with the God who made them.

          I’m not sure I follow this point because I’m having a little trouble with the wording. I think I’ve communicated that this is explainable by evolution whether or not a God exists and whether or not that God is a personal God. Whether or not someone is in contact with a God who made them is not demonstrable as evidence. If you see someone has wellbeing advantages, that is explained by their belief that they’re in contact with the God who made them and says nothing about whether or not they actually are in contact. This is easily demonstrable by considering the wellbeing advantages attained by people all over the world when they worship their deities that are mutually exclusive. It is also demonstrable by observing the chemical/neurological changes to brain states when someone is worshipping or communing with their God, regardless of their faith – and when that God belief is triggered by external stimuli in a lab. In conclusion, this point does not seem valid.

          Now this is a little harder to assess, but (1) there do appear to have been some well-documented miracles,

          I am interested in looking at these when I have time. I hope to find some that are more than the occurrence of an unlikely event that is easily explainable by a natural phenomenon that the experiencers of the event didn’t understand. Otherwise, they don’t represent strong evidence because they’re statistically expected. That’s why we used to higher psychics in war. There was some evidence that they could perform remote viewing, read things in other rooms, etc. The data was skewed because the scientific method doesn’t account for all biases and fallacies, just some of them. The researchers didn’t know that they were skewing the data by starting to count successes (hits) when the psychic had warmed up. The warm up phase lead to a phase of some successes that then dropped off again. It took some time before it was clear that this was the clumpiness of randomness at work. There are always sets of unusual events, with occassional peaks of highly unusual events. But if we only pay attention to the things we’re looking for (which we do by default, called confirmation bias – e.g. buy a red mustang and start noticing them everywhere) we’ll notice and remember the hits and forget the misses. Then we’ll fool ourselves into thinking there is a pattern in our experiences that promotes the belief we’re leaning toward – this is called pattern matching. Together, confirmation bias, pattern matching and innumeracy account for most miracle claims (some percentage of cancers will go into remission, but God never seems to heal amputees, etc).

          (2) religious belief definitely gives wellbeing advantages

          Yes, but the key here is religious belief, not the truth behind the belief. And as I mentioned, they (religions) contradict each other so, if anything, this is evidence against H2.

          and (3) there is historical evidence for all the major religions

          This just demonstrates that people believed things and doesn’t seem to yield weight to H2 over H1 or Hn (any number of the other hypothesis we’re not discussing). And the fact that there’s evidence for other religions isn’t, on the face of it, support for your specific H2 that your drawing towards.

          , and one has been studied more,

          I don’t see this as very relevant.

          history matters more to it

          This seems rather arbitrary and indemonstrable. Even it is true in some sense, I don’t think it affects the confidence level of the conclusion.

          and the history lends some support to it.

          You just said there is historical evidence for all the religions, so this isn’t an advantage.

          So on all those grounds, using hypothesis testing, I honestly can’t see how it can be denied that H2 is much closer to our world than H1.

          Did I help clarify how it can be denied?

          So I am rationally justified in believing it, perhaps even rationally required. Now of course it could all be stated differently, bringing in other religions complicates things, but I think it all still stacks up.

          I disagree. 🙂

          So I believe my belief meets at least a lot of the bias tests by being analysed in that way.

          It was a great first attempt. I suggest listening to the first audio book and thinking through it some more. Or not. Only if you’re interested.

          Just one other point. Your analysis of HRRF and HRBF is interesting, but I think fails for two reasons. (1) why can’t it be both?

          I’m not sure why you think it fails for that reason. I didn’t say those were the only two options or that it couldn’t be both. I also wasn’t making the argument so I’m not sure how it could fail. I offered it as a starting point for you to work from so you could use something like them to make a syllogism from. They were just attempted definitions of two relevant but opposing ways of reasoning (which we’ve been discussing) for you to start with. In addition, I actually listed some advantages and disadvantages of each and the tradeoffs between them. Then I said, “We both think some balance is needed between the two…” Why can’t it be both? It can, but I started with, “I’m only asking for this if you’re proposing that desire should be allowed to influence our confidence levels (i.e. faith).” If you want to use faith-based reasoning AND you want to prioritize only beliefs that reflect reality (true beliefs), you have a potential conflict. The experience is designed to see if you can reason your way into the conclusion that faith-based beliefs (as you define it, but I offered a suggestion that seems relevant) are appropriate for coming to true beliefs. If you say it can be both, then you’re allowing faith-based reasoning and I thought it would be useful to see if doing so makes sense in an abstract logical way, without involving feelings about your own personal faith beliefs. I suspect you’d find that faith-based reasoning (as we’ve defined it so far) requires some tradeoff with true beliefs.

          (2) I don’t suggest faith enters the analysis, only the application.

          I’m also not sure how this makes the request for a syllogism to justify faith-based reasoning over bias-filtered reasoning an invalid exercise. But I don’t really understand your meaning by “application.” Are you talking about the application of your belief, (e.g. adding faith to increase your confidence level) or the application of action (the things you do based on your confidence level in your belief)? If the former, I don’t think that changes anything. If the latter, our beliefs inform our actions. Faith is a process of reasoning about beliefs. If it’s impacting your application of your beliefs, it’s impacting the beliefs themselves by modifying your confidence level in those beliefs, right? So the purpose of the exercise seems to remain either way. Maybe you meant something else. I apologize if I missed it.

          Have a great day!

          Gentleness and respect,
          –Russell

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  7. Hi Russell,

    I saw your comment to Peter. I thought I was struggling to keep up with you! In this case, I have delayed a day or so to give me time to think about how to reply.

    I outlined briefly the evidence I would use to determine which hypothesis has more truth, and you have responded to all that. If I tried to reply on all points, we would need a textbook, so since we have had one go each, I will try to confine myself to what I see as the main point – the question of hypothesis testing without bias.

    First, I feel your reply doesn’t deal so much with hypothesis testing, but the more usual approach of arguing on the strength of evidence. I’ll explain (if I can).

    If we present a logical argument, we then argue the merits of the premises, and if I can’t show them to be very likely, then my argument has failed. But you suggested a more quasi-scientific approach, and I tried to do that in the standard scientific method of proposing hypotheses and making testable predictions. I acknowledged that this was a bit of a “game” in this case because I already know the answers, but nevertheless, I thought I was following the approach you suggested.

    But your response seems more like showing why I haven’t demonstrated that other possibilities exist, rather than actually outlining why you would test the hypotheses differently.

    The best example is the first one, where you say: “I disagree that we would expect nothing to exist without a God”. I acknowledge that there are all sorts of other theoretical possibilities, as you mention, but that isn’t the question. The question is, if there was nothing, would you honestly predict something to exist or would you predict nothing to remain nothing? Or if something existed, that you would predict there to be a cause, or you wouldn’t.

    I can’t really see how anyone would predict the options you suggest. And I think the same problem occurs elsewhere too.

    Now your answer will likely be something like saying that what we might most naturally predict is actually “ad-hoc reasoning used to support a conclusion (God).” Yes, of course it may look that way, just as alternative reasoning can look the other way. But beyond those feelings, I have trouble seeing that anyone would actually predict anything else in at least some of the cases I mentioned. The whole of science is predicated on finding causes and laws, yet on this matter we predict something different?

    Secondly, this leads me to the conclusion, again, that I think you are aiming for too much certainty about things on which we cannot have certainty. I am saying this is not good probability theory. You seem to be familiar with probability (probably better than I am) so I will give an example. You probably understand Bayes Theorem, which starts with three pieces of information – a prior estimate of the probability of a proposition, and the estimates of probability that a certain known result would be true (a) if that proposition was true and (b) if it was false. From this, a new probability of the proposition’s truth can be calculated.

    Now let’s apply it to the existence of God, and let’s start with a prior probability of God’s existence of 0.1. And let’s assume I have given 6 sets of facts (the origin of the universe, free will, etc) that each are 60% likely to be true if God exists and 40% likely to be true if God doesn’t exist. Just to be clear what this means, using the origin of the universe question again, I am suggesting that if a creator God exists a universe is 60% likely, and if God doesn’t exist a universe is 40% likely. Do the Bayes calc for all six items and the probability of God’s existence jumps from 0.1 to 0.56. Start with 50/50 and the probability of God jumps from 0.5 to 0.92. Start with Pr(God)=0.01 and the final probability is 0.1.

    Now I’m not interested in arguing what probabilities we each would assign to each argument, I’m just showing that arguments like “what caused the universe?” need their probability to be only modestly greater if God exists than if he doesn’t for the final result to shift quite a bit from the prior. None of the arguments need be anywhere near the level of certainty that you seem to ask for the final result to be much more probable.

    Finally, I’m aware that we should also factor in the arguments against God, like suffering. But I’m not trying to do anything comprehensive here, I’m just pointing out that an accumulation of facts that would be slightly more likely if God exists than if he doesn’t, is enough to get a quite positive (for belief) result.

    So finally, a few brief comments in response to queries:

    “I have serious doubts that this is “scientifically established.””
    I recommend this paper by an agnostic cosmologist actively working in this field of fine tuning.

    “this is circular reasoning because the conclusion is wrapped in the premise (the God has “free will, rationality, ethics, love, consciousness, etc.”)”
    We are not doing reasoning here but developing a hypothesis. All good hypotheses reflect what we have found by experience – that’s what the scientific method does.

    “Can you imagine a universe identical to this one for which there is no personal God answering prayers? Why or why not?”
    I’m not sure what you’re getting at here, but yes, of course I can, I can imagine a lot of things (not all god or true!). The question is, is the apparent answering of prayers more likely or more predictable on H1 or H2?

    “there’s nothing in any holy scripture that couldn’t have been written by the people at the time it was written; (agree or disagree?)”
    Disagree. I don’t think Isaiah 9:2-7 could have been written by anyone not inspired. But I would agree most of it is as you say. But, and this is most important and I’ve said it before, nothing I say in apologetics requires anything more than normal historical documents.

    “b) all God-beliefs for all religions are explainable by evolution (agree or disagree?)”
    Disagree. It might look like that when we give a cursory look, but evolution cannot (I believe) explain free will, consciousness, true ethics, miracle healings, etc.

    “c) the universe is indistinguishable from what we’d expect to see if a God (may have wound the watch but) wasn’t actively involved.”
    Disagree again. Miracles, Jesus, and experiences of God are some of the differences.

    “Are you saying human well-being and survival are a factor in a whether or not a hypothesis is likely true?”
    I’m saying two things. (1) A hypothesis that works is a better than one that doesn’t. It may not be enough to settle the matter, but it is evidence. And religion, especially christianity, works better in many different ways including human wellbeing. (2) Evolution is true, so the correct hypothesis should show a natural selection advantage. If atheists are right and religion is a delusion, it should reduce survival prospects, whereas if God created, that should increase survival chances.

    “But I don’t really understand your meaning by “application.””
    I don’t emphasise faith in any of my apologetics, but I emphasise faith a lot in applying my beliefs to life.

    Well that’s long enough. There is heaps of what you wrote that I didn’t respond to. MY reply is long enough as it is. I’m wondering whether we should have a breather, and come back to some of this again some time. But I don’t want to cut short anything that is burning within you. What do you think?

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    1. Hi unkleE,

      I acknowledged that this was a bit of a “game” in this case because I already know the answers, but nevertheless, I thought I was following the approach you suggested.

      I think this is the most telling part. You already know the answer. That’s where our differences in reasoning can be found.

      But your response seems more like showing why I haven’t demonstrated that other possibilities exist, rather than actually outlining why you would test the hypotheses differently.

      I wasn’t only mentioned that there were other options in small part of one line of my response, if my memory isn’t failing me. It’s early and I wrote a lot, though. Haha. But the vast majority of my words were about why I disagreed with your arguments and why I would approach it differently.

      The best example is the first one, where you say: “I disagree that we would expect nothing to exist without a God”. I acknowledge that there are all sorts of other theoretical possibilities, as you mention, but that isn’t the question. The question is, if there was nothing, would you honestly predict something to exist or would you predict nothing to remain nothing? Or if something existed, that you would predict there to be a cause, or you wouldn’t.

      I believe I answered that above. “There’s a problem with this reasoning. We’re talking about what we’d expect in a hypothetical world in which there is no God. It’s a thought experiment, which I like, but we can’t possibly know what we’d expect in our hypothetical world since we don’t know if we evolved in a world with a God or without one. Still, I’ll attempt to say how I see it, but then I’ll conclude that it doesn’t matter because we’re reasoning in a circle.” In the theoretical possibilities you’re referring to that I mentioned, I discussed the problem with causation along with the composition fallacy. Both support the difficulty with coming to a conclusion about what we would expect. Then I added theoretical possibilities that could also explain existence without requiring a personal God to further demonstrate that we aren’t in a position to judge accurately between those possibilities and therefore we shouldn’t posit one of another unless there is strong evidence of a personal God (something in addition to the creation event which could be explained by non-personal things and we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference).

      I should clarify two things. Whether the immediately prior event/causation/etc. of the Big Bang (I’m speaking of causation in loose terms without getting into the problems with it) is a God or a natural process, we can’t possibly guess unless we have supporting evidence of a personal God interacting with the universe. In other words, a deistic type God and a natural universe are indistinguishable. If you posit that we exist, therefore God, I’m going to say you don’t have enough evidence to go there unless you’re pointing to personal theistic interactions. The reason is essentially that we can say nothing about the state of nature (be that a God or prior natural laws) before the Big Bang, because classical physics breaks down at that point and we don’t yet have a working theory for the quantum laws and behavior at the singularity, much less whatever might be causal for it.

      That’s why I’m 50/50 on the existence of a God. When I talked about why we can’t make conclusions about the nature of nothing because we have no reference for it and don’t know it’s default properties in reality (e.g. potential instability) that’s the best I can do for showing why I can’t set an expectation for it. And again, composition fallacy with causation, and issues with causation in quantum mechanics, so I have no idea about causation there. And the examples I listed showed that even if you assume causation, there are many other immediately prior potential causes that aren’t “personal God.”

      I can’t really see how anyone would predict the options you suggest. And I think the same problem occurs elsewhere too.

      Perhaps you can now that I’ve explained a bit more. Even if you did predict a cause, you’re not getting very far because we can know or infer nothing about that cause. If you follow a regression back to something as complex as a God, that entity is necessarily more complex than an instability of some kind (which could be the default state of nature – e.g. vacuum energy). It seems that your making several layers of assumptions on things we can’t know, each of which decrease the likelihood, to get you to a conclusion of “I would predict this” and then saying you can’t see how someone would fail to “predict the same.”

      Now your answer will likely be something like saying that what we might most naturally predict is actually “ad-hoc reasoning used to support a conclusion (God).”Yes, of course it may look that way, just as alternative reasoning can look the other way. But beyond those feelings, I have trouble seeing that anyone would actually predict anything else in at least some of the cases I mentioned. The whole of science is predicated on finding causes and laws, yet on this matter we predict something different?

      I explained why I would not make a prediction about the cause of the universe without evidence that couldn’t be better explained by natural processes that we understand within this universe. That doesn’t apply to your question about “some of the cases” (e.g. other cases you mentioned. I’m not sure which ones, specifically, you’re referring to yet. I’ll keep reading to see if you highlight them and address them there.

      Secondly, this leads me to the conclusion, again, that I think you are aiming for too much certainty about things on which we cannot have certainty. I am saying this is not good probability theory.

      I disagree. 🙂 If I feel I lack sufficient information to posit a reasonable guess, I don’t add it to the prior probability. That’s what 50/50 odds means, and it’s okay. I’m quite comfortable with “I don’t know.” Since I’m not start off to reason my way to a specific answer, it feels natural. I don’t see it as aiming for too much certainty. Let the probabilities come from things with more evidence one way or another.

      You seem to be familiar with probability (probably better than I am) so I will give an example. You probably understand Bayes Theorem, which starts with three pieces of information – a prior estimate of the probability of a proposition, and the estimates of probability that a certain known result would be true (a) if that proposition was true and (b) if it was false. From this, a new probability of the proposition’s truth can be calculated.

      Bayes Theorem is only as good as the probabilities we use as the inputs, which is why I’m careful with them.

      Now I’m not interested in arguing what probabilities we each would assign to each argument, I’m just showing that arguments like “what caused the universe?” need their probability to be only modestly greater if God exists than if he doesn’t for the final result to shift quite a bit from the prior. None of the arguments need be anywhere near the level of certainty that you seem to ask for the final result to be much more probable.

      We can’t have much confidence in our priors for things like “what caused the universe.” Using Bayes Theorem for things like this is often difficult to use as a base to reason from because with small tweaks and guesses we can dramatically skew the results. The confidence interval would be wide. It is more applicable for the later specific claims you mentioned which have more data to examine. I addressed those by providing alternative explanations which can compete with the ones you mentioned. This aren’t meaningless or missing the point of the argument you making because they, in effect, serve to reduce the probabilities that goes into the theorem for those arguments.

      I should also point out here that I’m not arguing that no God exists. I, in fact, to be very clear (I mentioned this before but it was a while back on the other post if memory serves), do not think that no God exists. As a result, I do not believe that there is no creator and no cause for the reality we see. That’s what weak atheist means. I’ve never held a belief that there is no God. Our minds are Bayesian engines. We reason this way, we just don’t always think it through consciously. I also think a God could never be disproven but could be demonstrated with enough evidence to justify belief in a God (if an intervening God exists and chooses to, or chose to from before time, reveal itself). That’s what weak agnostic means. As I said, I’m a weak agnostic, weak atheist possibilian. I hope that makes sense.

      Finally, I’m aware that we should also factor in the arguments against God, like suffering. But I’m not trying to do anything comprehensive here, I’m just pointing out that an accumulation of facts that would be slightly more likely if God exists than if he doesn’t, is enough to get a quite positive (for belief) result.

      I feel like this sentence should be sounding alarm bells. Bayes Theorem doesn’t ask what positive things we can use as inputs into the probabilities so you can mathematically justify the belief we want. This sounds like the very definition of motivated reasoning, which leads more, on average, to confidence in false beliefs. I think this might be what’s going on here… If you’re trying to reason to the existence of a creating agent (something like a God), that’s one thing. The arguments against it a personal God who loves us (e.g. suffering) don’t apply so you are right in leaving them out. However, the arguments you presented were for a personal God. You seem to be conflating the two, arguing that a cause implies a God and then using Bayes Theorem to increase the likelihood of that God existing by demonstrating personal God attributes. But if you don’t count the negative evidence for a personal loving God you can’t count the positive ones. Basically, there are two separate arguments you’d need to make. One for a deistic God (you’ll get nowhere, in my opinion). And a second for a personal, loving God with attributes and intentions X, Y, Z… with that one, you’ll have to account for the positive and negative arguments and include them all in the probability inputs that go into Bayes Theorem. Doing that well requires a great understanding of both the counter-arguments against for each input your including AND a good application of the filters against logical fallacies and biases we’ve been talking about. Sending them to review by people who disagree will help with narrow your confidence interval in the end. That’s the proper application of Bayes Theorem, in my opinion, such as it is. 🙂

      I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but it might help clarify what I mean. Dr. Sean Carroll breaks down potential categories of God in this video. It might strengthen your argument if you clearly divide it somehow, so this is just a reference.

      So finally, a few brief comments in response to queries:

      “I have serious doubts that this is “scientifically established.””
      I recommend this paper by an agnostic cosmologist actively working in this field of fine tuning.

      I’m somewhat familiar with it. About fine-tuning, though, there’s an conclusion in the premise of the term. For something to be tuned, someone had to tune it. This should be another red flag. Also, I never argue against the idea that things are appropriate for life. I just point out the anthropic principle should keep a reign on our certainties here. Next, I don’t make any claims about whether it is or isn’t “finely” tuned. Those making the claim need to provide the evidence. They cannot to a very strong degree and I pointed out why. One would first need to determine all possible states where life could exist, then all the states where life couldn’t, and then divide. None of the papers I’ve seen that promote fine-tuning do this, because they can’t. This might explain why they don’t. You’ve probably see it, but I though I should point it out because it demonstrates the point I was trying to make.

      “this is circular reasoning because the conclusion is wrapped in the premise (the God has “free will, rationality, ethics, love, consciousness, etc.”)”
      We are not doing reasoning here but developing a hypothesis. All good hypotheses reflect what we have found by experience – that’s what the scientific method does.

      But you’ve already done the reasoning that God has “free will, rationality, ethics, love, consciousness, etc.” Now you’re trying to demonstrate that. There’s no way to get from “thing X has qualities Y and Z, therefore, thing X’s supernatural creator must have qualities Y and Z” without reasoning and without using the fallacy of affirming the consequent to do it. We try to find causes, yes, but ones that are demonstrable by the evidence. We can promote causes that aren’t demonstrable by sufficient evidence, but we can’t assert them with confidence.  Sufficient is in the eye of the behold, of course, but many beholders (including me on many occasions) aren’t aware of 1) the flaws in the arguments or probabilities, 2) the strength and numbers of the counterarguments or 3) their own logical fallacies and biases that shift their reasoning toward a desired conclusion (often desired subconsciously because it helps them preserve existing beliefs in the coherentism of their current view of the world, thus avoiding cognitive dissonance). If people account for 1, 2, and 3 they will tend to hold their conclusions with less confidence because they know how much they don’t know and they statistically hold some false beliefs (they just don’t know which ones they are or which other beliefs are relying upon them).

      “Can you imagine a universe identical to this one for which there is no personal God answering prayers? Why or why not?”
      I’m not sure what you’re getting at here, but yes, of course I can, I can imagine a lot of things (not all god or true!). The question is, is the apparent answering of prayers more likely or more predictable on H1 or H2?

      Demonstrable prayer-answering would definitely point to H2. However, answered prayers that happen in a way that doesn’t defy the laws of nature and that occurs at a rate no greater than we’d expect within the framework of the law of truly large numbers which is seen as miraculous because people don’t understand such natural explanations for unlikely events or their own fallacies and biases – such things do not increase H2 over H3 (a personal God is not directly causing the miracles) because they have a simpler natural explanation.

      “there’s nothing in any holy scripture that couldn’t have been written by the people at the time it was written; (agree or disagree?)”
      Disagree. I don’t think Isaiah 9:2-7 could have been written by anyone not inspired. But I would agree most of it is as you say. But, and this is most important and I’ve said it before, nothing I say in apologetics requires anything more than normal historical documents.

      I have two questions about the prophecy your cited. First, what is your confidence level that the only explanation for Isaiah 9:2-7 is only explainable if it was communicate to someone from a supernatural being (please write this number down first and don’t change it)? Second, what alternative explanations can you think of that might also explain it (if any)?

      “b) all God-beliefs for all religions are explainable by evolution (agree or disagree?)”
      Disagree. It might look like that when we give a cursory look, but evolution cannot (I believe) explain free will, consciousness, true ethics, miracle healings, etc.

      First, I’m talking about the belief of miraculous healings, just to clarify. So, would you explain why you think evolution isn’t sufficient to explain these things? What is this belief based upon? Could a God not use evolution to produce all those things (except actual miracles or course)?

      “c) the universe is indistinguishable from what we’d expect to see if a God (may have wound the watch but) wasn’t actively involved.”
      Disagree again. Miracles, Jesus, and experiences of God are some of the differences.

      I touched briefly on why evolution explains belief in miracles, belief in Jesus, and God experiences. Can you provide a response for why you think natural processes couldn’t have led us to be mistaken in these cases (that beliefs in supernatural things must be backed by real supernatural things that must exist)?

      “Are you saying human well-being and survival are a factor in a whether or not a hypothesis is likely true?”
      I’m saying two things. (1) A hypothesis that works is a better than one that doesn’t. It may not be enough to settle the matter, but it is evidence. And religion, especially christianity, works better in many different ways including human wellbeing. (2) Evolution is true, so the correct hypothesis should show a natural selection advantage. If atheists are right and religion is a delusion, it should reduce survival prospects, whereas if God created, that should increase survival chances.

      We agree on 1. I would agree with your conclusion about Christianity if there was evidence that wasn’t better explained by natural processes. We disagree on 2. I explained why and you didn’t say why you don’t accept my explanation of cultural bubbles protecting beliefs through evolutionary history. Atheism likely was culturally and biologically selected out to some degree in the past. But in the distance past (evolutionary periods) there were likely fewer atheists because we knew less about the natural world then, including it’s ability to explain what we believed was supernatural and a lack of understanding of our fallacies and biases (we’ll know many more in the future).

      “But I don’t really understand your meaning by “application.””
      I don’t emphasise faith in any of my apologetics, but I emphasise faith a lot in applying my beliefs to life.

      I responded to this above. You seem to still be using faith as a modifier for beliefs so the issues still stand.

      I’m done. Haha. You’re turn if you like. I may not respond for a while. 🙂

      Thanks once again for the amazing and engaging discussion! Please forgive all the typos. In a huge hurry! 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

       

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  8. Hi Russell, how are you going?

    I delayed a reply because you said you were busy, I was busy, and I wanted to consider how to approach this. I am enjoying the discussion, but as often happens, it keeps ballooning out into other topics. All would be useful to discuss, but as comments get longer, it becomes impossible to address them all well. So I am happy to discuss any topic, but I am limiting myself here to answering questions, correcting what I think are misunderstandings, and addressing the main issue of the level of “certainty” needed to make a choice to believe in Jesus. So here goes (I wonder how brief I can be?) ….

    A lot of this discussion relates to my suggestion that we make predictions on H1 and H2 and see which fits the real world, all the time recognising that we already know the answer. But I still think it is a reasonable procedure, and the best we have.

    And I think here we have identified a deep and fundamental difference between how we approach this. I think (but you don’t) if we ask the question “Why is there something physical rather than nothing physical?”, it is quite obvious (to me, but not at all true for you) that if there was nothing, we’d normally expect that state to continue, for if there’s nothing, there’s no cause, no reason for something to start. Even the staunch atheists (e.g. cosmologist Lawrence Krauss) show they feel the force of this argument, even though they won’t often admit it, because they pretend that they have solved the problem by positing a matter-less quantum field from which the universe began. But everyone knows that a quantum field is not “nothing”, it is something. I admit there are unknowns in this, but I feel quite clear in my mind that we’d normally predict nothing from nothing.

    Now you are not convinced by this, and argue that we just don’t know enough to say, that there may be a “default state of nature” of instability, etc. But I think these are far from nothing. Now we could argue the case here, but that isn’t my main point.

    My main point is that we both judge differently on what would be a reasonable prediction of H2. I’m not sure if there’s any way to overcome that difference.

    Another area of difference is your distinction between a distant deistic God and the God of christianity. I recognise the difference of course, but I see it simply as a series of definitions and a gradual focusing. Like a detective starts off with everyone a suspect, then decides on the basis of evidence that the killer must be a man, then that he must have worn boots, then that he had been to New York on the train that day, etc. It is the same here. Some “proofs” tell us some things about God, some tell us others. It wouldn’t worry me if all the cosmological and design arguments “proved” was a deistic God, because I believe in the christian God for other reasons as well. So that is another area where we differ and I’m not sure there is any way to resolve that either.

    Regarding Bayes, you misunderstand me I think. I think all evidence, either way, should be considered and included. I just illustrated using some of the positive evidence that none of the evidence for God need to be highly compelling in itself if there is enough of it. I think there is enough of it, again you differ and think there’s not enough.

    I think we are a little at cross purposes about fine-tuning. The “fine-tuning” of the universe is a scientific fact that hasn’t been properly explained yet. The fact is this. Of all the possible universes allowed by the laws of physics and theoretical physics analysis, only a vanishingly small number would allow life. The odds against this happening if the universe came into existence randomly is so small as to be insignificant. There are 10^80 baryons in the known universe, but the odds of picking a labelled baryon at random are far far greater than the odds of this universe. Roger Penrose estimated the odds at 1 in 10^10^123.

    That is all well established in the scientific literature. Then we have to explain that, and God is one of the possible explanations. The only other one really is the multiverse, and that just leads to the question “how did the multiverse get to be so finely tuned that it randomly produces universes with different physical laws?”

    So there are two aspects to fine-tuning, the science and the metaphysics. But again, my main point isn’t to argue for my conclusion, but to highlight that the differences between us come down to our respective judgments on how we decide what is a reasonable conclusion and how much weight we’ll give to speculative alternatives.

    That to me is the key thing I get out of our entire discussion. Do you agree?

    Now a few answers to questions ….

    “First, what is your confidence level that the only explanation for Isaiah 9:2-7 is only explainable if it was communicate to someone from a supernatural being”
    Firstly, I don’t use OT prophecy as an argument for Jesus, this was only an answer to your question. But a monotheistic Jew writing 700 years before Jesus, saying that a child, a son (presumably of the king) would be called mighty God, everlasting Father, etc? Pretty unlikely. 75% confident?? I don’t know, something like that.

    “Second, what alternative explanations can you think of that might also explain it (if any)?
    500 monkeys trying to type the words of Shakespeare but getting it wrong?? 🙂 A drug trip? Someone inserting it later? I don’t know, it is hard to think any Jew, let alone a prophet and noble as Isaiah was, writing that.

    “would you explain why you think evolution isn’t sufficient to explain these things?”
    I assumed you meant evolution alone. I wasn’t talking about belief in miracles, I was talking about actual miracles, for which I think there is heaps of evidence. A lot of it is very doubtful, some of it is well verified, there could always be another explanation, but the cumulative effect of all those incidents is very compelling to me. But I guess it will be the same as the above examples, that you want stronger demonstration than I do. As for the other things, scientifically I don’t think anyone has satisfactorily explained free will (most cognitive scientists don’t believe in it I think) or consciousness, nor ethics that are truly true, and I can see why. If materialism is true, it can easily be seen than no true free will is possible, only compatibilist freewill which is not really freewill at all, and there is no way ethics can be really true, only evolutionarily convenient, and consciousness can only be some sort of emergent property.

    “Can you provide a response for why you think natural processes couldn’t have led us to be mistaken in these cases”
    Like I said above, spontaneous remissions occur, but are very rare in some medical conditions. Misdiagnoses also occur. But there is evidence that after people are prayed for by christians, remissions do occur and have been documented. The connection between the prayer and the remission cannot be proven in any individual case, but the cumulative probability of them all occurring by chance is beyond belief for me. I wonder if you would judge differently on this matter too?

    Your comments on when I said “(2) Evolution is true, so the correct hypothesis should show a natural selection advantage”
    Some atheists very strongly argue that christians suffer from delusion, can be considered to have a mental illness, that they aren’t fit to do science with such unscientific religious beliefs, etc (I have been looking at this a bit because I will soon be posting on the topic). I know you don’t say that, and many atheists think these statements are unhelpful and wrong. But if they were true, you’d expect religious people to be less fit for life, as are most people with genuine mental illnesses without the right medication. But the opposite is the case (religion tends to lead to greater wellbeing), so this extreme atheist view is wrong.

    In a lesser way, you’d expect any false belief to lead to an evolutionary disadvantage, not an advantage, and you’d expect a true belief to lead to an evolutionary advantage. Wellbeing is an evolutionary advantage, because it makes it more likely a person can pass on their genes. So here, as in other cases, H1 predicts a result that occurs generally and H2 doesn’t.

    So that’s it for this time. Where do you want to go from here? I’m inclined to think we should rein in the wide-ranging discussion, and if we continue at all, continue in a more narrowly focused way. But I’m happy to be guided by you. Thanks again for such a stimulating and friendly conversation.

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    1. Hi unkleE! 🙂

      Please forgive the typos again. I’m being very lazy after my speedy off-the-top-of-my-head typing and not taking the time to proof-read. My apologies. I hope it’s clear enough for you to make sense of it all…

      A lot of this discussion relates to my suggestion that we make predictions on H1 and H2 and see which fits the real world, all the time recognising that we already know the answer. But I still think it is a reasonable procedure, and the best we have.

      I use this method as well. I agree that it’s a great approach if we account for the flaws in our reasoning while doing it. Otherwise, we don’t gain as much from it as we could (in my view).

      And I think here we have identified a deep and fundamental difference between how we approach this. I think (but you don’t) if we ask the question “Why is there something physical rather than nothing physical?”, it is quite obvious (to me, but not at all true for you) that if there was nothing, we’d normally expect that state to continue, for if there’s nothing, there’s no cause, no reason for something to start. Even the staunch atheists (e.g. cosmologist Lawrence Krauss) show they feel the force of this argument, even though they won’t often admit it, because they pretend that they have solved the problem by positing a matter-less quantum field from which the universe began. But everyone knows that a quantum field is not “nothing”, it is something. I admit there are unknowns in this, but I feel quite clear in my mind that we’d normally predict nothing from nothing.

      Now you are not convinced by this, and argue that we just don’t know enough to say, that there may be a “default state of nature” of instability, etc. But I think these are far from nothing. Now we could argue the case here, but that isn’t my main point.

      I think that if there was nothing, as we currently define it (e.g. take the null set and then remove the set), that it’s more likely that there would continue to be nothing. My argument is that we can’t know that the default state does not include some information (so relationships, randomness, opposition, forces, surprise, potentiality, etc.). I don’t call that nothing either, but some do so I’m trying not to get caught up in the semantics. My position is that the assertion that the original, most basic state of ultimate original existence can’t be known to be without some kind of instability of this sort. I don’t think anyone can claim certainty one way or the other on that without committing a logical fallacy. Notice that position doesn’t use the word “nothing.” I personally think something likely caused this state of reality (e.g. there was a prior reality), but my second point is that we can’t “know” that because our ability to reason is limited to within a certain fixed physical level within this reality. Right now, we’re trapped and can’t make assertions about causality since we know about how it seems to break down at the quantum level. I’m not talking about what I think is more or less likely, or what other people are free to conclude for themselves. I’m simply arguing that we can’t put certainty in such claims (e.g. the margin of error would need to be wide). The third point is that even if you get a cause, there’s no compelling evidence I’ve seen that would mean that immediately prior state was the the ultimate first cause of all states. That’s a non-sequitur for me. It could have been just about anything as far as we can know – since our logic wouldn’t necessarily apply in an outer reality. See iMultiverse. These are all reasons why we can’t argue from existence that it was caused by what we see as a personal God who has things like omniscience and intentions just for us.

      A completely separate argument is that this entire line of reasoning seems void of a point because God is not “nothing.” So positing that the default state of nature couldn’t have held within itself the ability to create alternate states of nature also invalidates the idea that the default state of nature was a God, which is infinitely more complex and has the ability to create alternate states of nature. For all those reasons and more, that’s why this argument just doesn’t influence my belief position much. I hope that makes sense.

      Another separate but related issues is that we will likely soon possess the means and motivations to create our own simulated reality. Many many of them. The implications being that this universe is more likely to be immediately preceded by the execution of a simulation program in a previous reality, which would explain any arguments for fine-tuning or design as well as the traditional God hypothesis, without making complex claims about what we believe must have existed in the ultimate first reality.

      My main point is that we both judge differently on what would be a reasonable prediction of H2. I’m not sure if there’s any way to overcome that difference.

      We judge differently because we have difference evidence and difference weights use to multiply that evidence based on past beliefs.

      Another area of difference is your distinction between a distant deistic God and the God of christianity. I recognise the difference of course, but I see it simply as a series of definitions and a gradual focusing. Like a detective starts off with everyone a suspect, then decides on the basis of evidence that the killer must be a man, then that he must have worn boots, then that he had been to New York on the train that day, etc. It is the same here. Some “proofs” tell us some things about God, some tell us others. It wouldn’t worry me if all the cosmological and design arguments “proved” was a deistic God, because I believe in the christian God for other reasons as well. So that is another area where we differ and I’m not sure there is any way to resolve that either.

      Those other reasons you have for believing in the Christian God are what are more likely to be convincing for the reasons I’ve given. I once heard this story from the author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. If a puddle became conscious and found itself in a hole, it might reflect on the perfect fit and think the universe was made for just for it – even as the last bit of water evaporated into the atmosphere.

      Existence by itself doesn’t imply we were the purpose when so many other things exists and trillions more are possible with even higher intelligence. Specific revelation is needed for such a belief, in my mind, and we’ll need to look to evidence of purposeful theistic interactions in human affairs.

      Regarding Bayes, you misunderstand me I think. I think all evidence, either way, should be considered and included. I just illustrated using some of the positive evidence that none of the evidence for God need to be highly compelling in itself if there is enough of it. I think there is enough of it, again you differ and think there’s not enough.

      First, I should be clear that my prior in something like a God (e.g. some agent designed this universe for some purpose) is .5. That’s what I think it should be because I can’t know one way or another with the information I have. Imagine a large bucket with pennies in it and I ask you if the number of pennies is odd or even. Your prior should be .5 because you know it’s either one or the other (same way as I know the immediately prior-cause, if there is such a thing, is either something like a God or it isn’t), but there are too many to count. Further, if I ask you, “Do you believe the number of pennies is even,” your answer shouldn’t be “yes.” You don’t have enough evidence for that. That’s exactly the same way in which I’m an atheist. I don’t believe there isn’t a God either, in the same way that saying you don’t believe there’s an even number of pennies automatically means you believe there is an odd number. We both would be in the position of withholding a positive belief claim one way or the other until we get more information.

      Second, it’s a little misleading to just state the positive aspects and demonstrate how it raises the confidence level. If you think there’s enough, I’m delighted. I’d like to hear the specifics to see if it can boost my own confidence. So far, it hasn’t much, but that’s more due to the counter-evidence which you didn’t mention. And my main point there is that non-compelling positive evidence for God does not lead to a justified positive belief in it if the negative evidence isn’t also taken into account (which you didn’t appear to do to the same extent in your example and I was curious about that). We’re trying to see why we come to different conclusions and I think this is very relevant.

      I think we are a little at cross purposes about fine-tuning. The “fine-tuning” of the universe is a scientific fact that hasn’t been properly explained yet. The fact is this. Of all the possible universes allowed by the laws of physics and theoretical physics analysis, only a vanishingly small number would allow life. The odds against this happening if the universe came into existence randomly is so small as to be insignificant. There are 10^80 baryons in the known universe, but the odds of picking a labelled baryon at random are far far greater than the odds of this universe. Roger Penrose estimated the odds at 1 in 10^10^123.

      That is all well established in the scientific literature. Then we have to explain that, and God is one of the possible explanations. The only other one really is the multiverse, and that just leads to the question “how did the multiverse get to be so finely tuned that it randomly produces universes with different physical laws?”

      I simply disagree with that. I’d heard of it for years. I explained why I no longer agree with Penrose and then linked to a video in the previous comment that discussed it further. Perhaps you can explain why you don’t accept that it’s going to far to say what the odds are? If I believed they were that low, I would agree with your conclusion that either fine-tuning is right (pointing to some design though not necessarily something like a traditional personal God) or the anthropic principle is definitely work. The anthropic principle also makes sense, so it doesn’t conclude “God.” We can certainly ask about the ultimate forces governing something like a multiverse, but asserting the answer is God is a God of the Gaps argument. We can believe it, but not justifiably so based on the evidence alone unless we are aware of other strong, personal evidence for God which outweighs the unlikeness of a complex-God-as-the-ultimate-first-cause argument. If there is something like a God setting up laws that lead to the laws of this universe, it doesn’t follow that such a being is omni-anything (e.g. a simulator).

      So there are two aspects to fine-tuning, the science and the metaphysics. But again, my main point isn’t to argue for my conclusion, but to highlight that the differences between us come down to our respective judgments on how we decide what is a reasonable conclusion and how much weight we’ll give to speculative alternatives.

      That to me is the key thing I get out of our entire discussion. Do you agree?

      Yes. I give very little weight to speculative arguments. That’s a strength of the weak agnostic weak atheistic possibilian position. I think “personal-God-as-ultimate-cause” is far too speculative with the evidence I have, so I remain more neutral on it.

      “First, what is your confidence level that the only explanation for Isaiah 9:2-7 is only explainable if it was communicate to someone from a supernatural being”
      Firstly, I don’t use OT prophecy as an argument for Jesus, this was only an answer to your question. But a monotheistic Jew writing 700 years before Jesus, saying that a child, a son (presumably of the king) would be called mighty God, everlasting Father, etc? Pretty unlikely. 75% confident?? I don’t know, something like that.

      It does sound like you are using OT prophecy as an argument for Jesus, though. If you’re only 25% confidence that it could have been written without divine influence, then why offer it as a response to the request for any Bible verse that couldn’t have been written without divine influence?

      “Second, what alternative explanations can you think of that might also explain it (if any)?
      500 monkeys trying to type the words of Shakespeare but getting it wrong?? 🙂 A drug trip? Someone inserting it later? I don’t know, it is hard to think any Jew, let alone a prophet and noble as Isaiah was, writing that.

      Are you confidence that Isaiah wrote all of Isaiah and that it wasn’t edited later. Are you certain that those who wrote the NT narrative later could not have interpreted their experiences through the OT texts and been the unwitting victim of self-fulfilling prophecy? Are you certain that the prophecy was specific enough that it couldn’t have been believed to have been fulfilled in many ways and times? Are you certain it wasn’t talking about something that was unrelated to the Jesus stories? Are you certain that the Jesus narratives accurately fulfilled the perceived prophecy? If so, have you read about why the Jewish people during and since the time of Jesus don’t agree with you (possibly for logical reasons)? If you have doubts on any of these, or others (you can google possible explanations, this was just to see where your reasoning is) then you do believe it’s possible that the events could be explained without an actual divine hand, right? So, I haven’t heard of any claims from any religious book that couldn’t have been written by the people at the time.

      “would you explain why you think evolution isn’t sufficient to explain these things?”
      I assumed you meant evolution alone. I wasn’t talking about belief in miracles, I was talking about actual miracles, for which I think there is heaps of evidence. A lot of it is very doubtful, some of it is well verified, there could always be another explanation, but the cumulative effect of all those incidents is very compelling to me. But I guess it will be the same as the above examples, that you want stronger demonstration than I do.

      To my knowledge, no miracle has ever been demonstrated, only belief in miracles. This what I mean by remission of cancer but not arms growing back in modern times. Only things that can’t be demonstrated seem to be within the realm of what a God can, or is willing to, do. The fact that the cumulative effect is very compelling to you and not to me is one key difference. I don’t think it is compelling because it is expected in a species that has undergone evolution and the subsequent flaws of human reasoning we all have. It’s evidence, yes, but not compelling to me. I’ll be happy to see more though and would love to see something I do find compelling.

      As for the other things, scientifically I don’t think anyone has satisfactorily explained free will (most cognitive scientists don’t believe in it I think) or consciousness, nor ethics that are truly true, and I can see why. If materialism is true, it can easily be seen than no true free will is possible, only compatibilist freewill which is not really freewill at all, and there is no way ethics can be really true, only evolutionarily convenient, and consciousness can only be some sort of emergent property.

      I think I mentioned that I don’t see how free will or “true ethics” is relevant. It seems like arguing backwards. You seem to be assuming the existence of some set of properties that we must have if we were created by God in order to demonstrate that we were created by God. Second, I disagree that no true free will is possible if materialism is true. I also disagree that ethics cannot be really true. And you haven’t stated why consciousness being an emergent property would be evidence against the reality we see. So I don’t quite get the reasoning here, but rather than go into it I’ll agree that we should stay more focused. 🙂

      “Can you provide a response for why you think natural processes couldn’t have led us to be mistaken in these cases”
      Like I said above, spontaneous remissions occur, but are very rare in some medical conditions. Misdiagnoses also occur. But there is evidence that after people are prayed for by christians, remissions do occur and have been documented. The connection between the prayer and the remission cannot be proven in any individual case, but the cumulative probability of them all occurring by chance is beyond belief for me. I wonder if you would judge differently on this matter too?

      I believe that some remissions occur after prayer by Christians, but that is anecdotal right. Further, it’s expected within the laws of very large numbers. Predictably within nature. And according to the studies I’ve seen, it occurs at close to the same rate when prayed for by believers of other faiths and when not prayed for at all. Let me clear, if the cumulative probability is as you say, I will believe in Jesus. If there was evidence that prayer to one God over all others provided objectively better outcomes, I would believe to the extent of the improvement in odds, at least. Unfortunately, I think you’re position is wrong and prayer studies have not shown what you claim. I would honestly love to learn more and find I was misinformed before, and I’ll join you in sharing the great news. Until then, I don’t follow how statistically predictable remissions demonstrate that natural processes alone couldn’t be accounting for what many believe are miraculous healings.

      Your comments on when I said “(2) Evolution is true, so the correct hypothesis should show a natural selection advantage”
      Some atheists very strongly argue that christians suffer from delusion, can be considered to have a mental illness, that they aren’t fit to do science with such unscientific religious beliefs, etc (I have been looking at this a bit because I will soon be posting on the topic). I know you don’t say that, and many atheists think these statements are unhelpful and wrong. But if they were true, you’d expect religious people to be less fit for life, as are most people with genuine mental illnesses without the right medication. But the opposite is the case (religion tends to lead to greater wellbeing), so this extreme atheist view is wrong.

      In a lesser way, you’d expect any false belief to lead to an evolutionary disadvantage, not an advantage, and you’d expect a true belief to lead to an evolutionary advantage. Wellbeing is an evolutionary advantage, because it makes it more likely a person can pass on their genes. So here, as in other cases, H1 predicts a result that occurs generally and H2 doesn’t.

      I explained why a fixed false belief would not be expected to be weeded out of cultural bubbles that benefit from that belief (especially reproductively – e.g. be fruitful and multiply, etc.). I still don’t agree that we should expect religions to exist if their wasn’t a true God that matched that religion. See all the other religions of the world. I’m following the logic. This is a completely separate question from religion bringing wellbeing. Beliefs can certainly and demonstrably bring psychological well-being without being true. I don’t agree with the expectation levels your assigning which increase the likelihood of a personal God in your H values.

      I hope I didn’t say anything in a way that sounded offensive. I wish we could talk about this verbally so I could do a better job communicating how I feel as I relate my personal views on this complex subject.

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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  9. Hi Russell,

    Please be assured you definitely haven’t said anything that sounded offensive – this time or ever. Plenty I disagree with, some possible misunderstandings, but nothing to be concerned about.

    But I’m feeling like our comments try to cover too much territory, and nothing is covered very well. I think this can lead to misunderstandings. So I have identified 6 topics I think I should respond to.

    Fine-tuning
    Why is there something rather than nothing?
    Bayes and positive evidence
    Free will
    Healing miracles
    Isaiah 9

    I propose to just address them one by one. So I’ll start with fine-tuning and later try another. Is that OK?

    My first concern here is to see if we can agree on the facts. I have made 3 points.

    First, we must distinguish between the science of fine-tuning and the arguments that flow from the science.

    Second, the definition of fine-tuning is this: Of all the possible universes allowed by theoretical physics, a vanishingly small number would allow life to occur.

    Third, the majority of cosmologists draw this conclusion.

    Yet you have said: “I simply disagree with that. I’d heard of it for years. I explained why I no longer agree with Penrose and then linked to a video in the previous comment that discussed it further. Perhaps you can explain why you don’t accept that it’s going to far to say what the odds are?”

    I want to provide the evidence why I think you are mistaken here.

    First, Luke Barnes, a cosmology researcher, has published the latest scientific paper I know of on this subject. In it he outlines the reasons why cosmologists have concluded this way, refers to 200 papers to support his conclusions and on p7 he names 24 of the biggest names in cosmology who agree. At the end of this blog post he quotes a number of those cosmologists saying the same thing.

    Sean Carroll (the only cosmologist I think you have quoted from memory) is not on his list, so perhaps you have given Carroll more weight than you should have given the overwhelming evidence Barnes references. Barnes has addressed Carroll’s arguments here.

    “Perhaps you can explain why you don’t accept that it’s going to far to say what the odds are?”

    Because theoretical physics can calculate the odds roughly (in this case rough enough is good enough, because we could divide the odds Penrose calculates by a number bigger than the number of baryons in the universe and the answer would still be enormous). The Barnes paper shows graphs from which the area where life can occur can be shown as a small part of the possible area. So I have seen numerical statements by Penrose, Smolin and Susskind. But like I say, the odds don’t really matter, the fact is that if the universe was produced by random processes, the odds are beyond possibility against our universe appearing.

    “If a puddle became conscious and found itself in a hole ……”

    In the light of Barnes’ evidence, this is a quite unscientific and un-mathematical statement by Douglas Adams, not entirely unexpectedly. The odds are amazingly against any universe forming, or one with any atoms other than Hydrogen or Helium, so there is no realistic question of life evolving in the overwhelming majority of the possible universes. His analogy is not apt.

    Now none of this argues that God exists, only that the science shows that fine-tuning appears to be a fact.

    So let’s see if we can agree on that much. Thanks.

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    1. Hi unkleE,

      I’ll start with fine-tuning and later try another. Is that OK?

      Absolutely! 🙂

      My first concern here is to see if we can agree on the facts. I have made 3 points.

      First, we must distinguish between the science of fine-tuning and the arguments that flow from the science.

      Agreed. I promote this as well.

      Second, the definition of fine-tuning is this: Of all the possible universes allowed by theoretical physics, a vanishingly small number would allow life to occur.

      I do not agree that this is a fact. Some people define it differently, or have different things in mind when they consider fine-tuning. For example, some only consider what the currently known laws would allow if the constants were altered. Others consider possible states if the laws themselves might be altered (one abstraction higher, so to speak). So there is ambiguity in the definition.

      Third, the majority of cosmologists draw this conclusion.

      I don’t know if that’s the case or not. I think it’s likely from the data I’ve seen, but I can’t count it as a fact until I see a decent sized random survey that clearly describes the terms. I have seen that Paul Davis believes most cosmologists agree the universe is fine-tuned for the building blocks and environments that life requires. Even if most did think it was true, we’d have to know exactly what definition they’re arguing for when they say it’s true. If the majority agreed with your definition and thought it accurate, it’s still an argumentum ad populum so it doesn’t add as much confidence as many people think. Were their multiple surveys that weeded out religious motivations, other biases, etc.?

      Yet you have said: “I simply disagree with that. I’d heard of it for years. I explained why I no longer agree with Penrose and then linked to a video in the previous comment that discussed it further. Perhaps you can explain why you don’t accept that it’s going to far to say what the odds are?”

      This is a bit of a misrepresentation, probably just a misunderstanding. What you’re quoting from me did not follow what you preceded with in your last comment. It followed this quote from a previous comment…

      The “fine-tuning” of the universe is a scientific fact that hasn’t been properly explained yet. The fact is this. Of all the possible universes allowed by the laws of physics and theoretical physics analysis, only a vanishingly small number would allow life. The odds against this happening if the universe came into existence randomly is so small as to be insignificant. There are 10^80 baryons in the known universe, but the odds of picking a labelled baryon at random are far far greater than the odds of this universe. Roger Penrose estimated the odds at 1 in 10^10^123.

      That is all well established in the scientific literature. Then we have to explain that, and God is one of the possible explanations. The only other one really is the multiverse, and that just leads to the question “how did the multiverse get to be so finely tuned that it randomly produces universes with different physical laws?”

      I disagreed with the statement, “The ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe is a scientific fact.” I also disagreed that the multiverse would need to have been finely tuned. Also, you’re talking about “all the possible universes allowed by the laws of physics and theoretical physics analysis.” If you assume the laws of physics are fixed, the argument the there aren’t many ways in which life can exist becomes more compelling, though not conclusive. But why limit the possible ways the universe could exist to allow life to just the subset with the fundamental laws we currently have? That’s the constraint many cosmologists are applying and I don’t understand why. If you back it up to the more fundamental abstraction of information theory, those laws aren’t a requirement at all. All you need is replicators. To get that, all you need is an instability somewhere.

      I want to provide the evidence why I think you are mistaken here.

      First, Luke Barnes, a cosmology researcher, has published the latest scientific paperI know of on this subject. In it he outlines the reasons why cosmologists have concluded this way, refers to 200 papers to support his conclusions and on p7 he names 24 of the biggest names in cosmology who agree. At the end of this blog posthe quotes a number of those cosmologists saying the same thing.

      Sean Carroll (the only cosmologist I think you have quoted from memory) is not on his list, so perhaps you have given Carroll more weight than you should have given the overwhelming evidence Barnes references. Barnes has addressed Carroll’s arguments here.

      I’ve read parts of Barnes’ paper, but not all of it. I’ll continue to look at it in the future. Thank you for bringing that reference back to my attention. 🙂

      It doesn’t seem accurate to suggest I’ve given Carroll more weight than I should have “given the overwhelming evidence Barnes references” unless you believe I’ve read all of Barnes’ references, which I haven’t. I think I’ve weighted it properly because Carroll is just pointing out that none of the arguments he’s seen, as I mentioned, are creating an equation with probabilities that we can accurately pin down. We don’t know enough to say what would emerge if these constants were changed in this way. I fundamentally agree with that. The reason is that we don’t even understand dark matter, dark energy, a universal theory, or many other things. There is a lot we do know well, but without a complete picture, we can’t reasonably say with confidence how things would look if this law were different here or there. It’s backwards. It’s going too far, in my opinion, to hold confidence in such reasoning. I’m not saying we can’t hold a belief, I’m saying we cannot say it is scientific fact. The reason is that all the laws are interdependent. You can’t just change one and know that none of the others won’t be affected in a way that creates some new state for pockets of order and replicators (leading to life). No cosmologist can. So Carroll’s point stands on it’s own reason, not on the weight of Carroll’s “authority.”

      Also, the post you mentioned doesn’t address all of Carroll’s arguments I mentioned. For example argument #3, 2:37 in the video, that demonstrates that what we’re tempted to think we know about the fine-tuning of the constants may not be correct. He explained how the possible expansion rates of the early universe would not have precluded life if we use the proper derivations. We don’t know what all the appropriate derivations are for the other constants because we don’t understand all of nature. It may be that none of them give the odds the cosmologists typically cite (simply because we don’t have all the information about the universe yet). We’re assuming a problem that might not exist. I’m not saying one way or the other, I’m just pointing out that this should restrict our confidence a bit. Do you disagree?

      “Perhaps you can explain why you don’t accept that it’s going to far to say what the odds are?”

      Because theoretical physics can calculate the odds roughly (in this case rough enough is good enough, because we could divide the odds Penrose calculates by a number bigger than the number of baryons in the universe and the answer would still be enormous). The Barnes paper shows graphs from which the area where life can occur can be shown as a small part of the possible area. So I have seen numerical statements by Penrose, Smolin and Susskind. But like I say, the odds don’t really matter, the fact is that if the universe was produced by random processes, the odds are beyond possibility against our universe appearing.

      I disagree with the approach used, as I’ve mentioned. Rough, to me, in this case, is too rough. Our margin of error is too high to be meaningful. This statement… “the fact is that if the universe was produced by random processes, the odds are beyond possibility against our universe appearing.”… seems to me to be an unjustifiable claim. Please help me understand if you believe otherwise. If we can’t talk about potential states that would have led to God, we can’t talk about potential states that would have led to any reality that could potentially exist prior to this universe (or in a place where the laws are different), including whether or not randomness was involved. We can say nothing about it for certain. We can speculate, but I think we should be clear to leave them as just that, speculations, not assertions of impossibility.

      “If a puddle became conscious and found itself in a hole ……”

      In the light of Barnes’ evidence, this is a quite unscientific and un-mathematical statement by Douglas Adams, not entirely unexpectedly. The odds are amazingly against any universe forming, or one with any atoms other than Hydrogen or Helium, so there is no realistic question of life evolving in the overwhelming majority of the possible universes. His analogy is not apt.

      You seem to be assuming traditional atoms here, in the way they currently exist (e.g. hydrogen and helium). Those are not essential for life. That’s why information theory has a huge advantage here, and many cosmologists don’t operate heavily within that framework (though some do). When you say the odds are amazingly against any universe forming, where does that claim come from? We don’t have a clue about what the causal forces might be. When you say they are amazing against one with any atoms other than Hydrogen or Helium, why do you believe those are a requirement for life? We’re not talking about life as it is, within the forces as they are, but as it might be given any arrangement of any forces (which may not need to make Hydrogen at all). All you’d need is a replicator. Randomness in large sets cannot exist without pockets of order. At the boundaries between the two is where replicators can emerge. There’s no requirement for hydrogen as we know it.

      To the point of “puddle thinking,” it’s not evident from the response that you applied his point to the right context. He wasn’t talking about fine-tuning of the laws. He was talking about anthropomorphizing nature, centering it upon ourselves, and demonstrating our keen ability (too keen) to think it’s all for us or about us. Humans are very bad at spotting randomness. We create patterns everywhere and then assume design. It’s just the way we operate due to evolution and we should keep that in mind when we consider all this. His analogy is apt because it’s something to keep in mind as we consider the data. How much of our pattern recognition might be subject of one or more of these cognitive biases? Knowing that it’s a least possible, should we hold extreme confidence in our conclusions?

      Now none of this argues that God exists, only that the science shows that fine-tuning appears to be a fact.

      Appears to be a fact or is a fact? I’m curious which one you’re standing on since I’ve read both here (almost entirely is). Also, some of it is arguing that God exists, for example the assertion that random processes cannot lead to a universe that would allow life. The need to have a place reserved for which we know there can be no other explanation except God is what you seem to be arguing towards. If such a place exists, we haven’t demonstrated it yet. There’s always room for something other than something like a deity in a reality that is causal to the known universe and its laws.

      So let’s see if we can agree on that much. Thanks.

      Unfortunately, not yet. 🙂 I feel I should point out again that I don’t disagree with most of the arguments of fine-tuning and I don’t think the universe wasn’t fine-tuned. I’m only pointing out that the evidence that it was fine-tuned isn’t iron-clad. I starting all this by saying I’m not convinced. That seems like a reasonably place to be. Can we agree on that?

      Thanks, unkleE!

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

      Like

      1. What is interesting is how it is possible for two people to look at the same evidence and draw different conclusions.

        One could argue, why is the universe was fine tuned and humanity on earth is the centre of it all (which is the conclusion one must draw from the Bible) is it so vast, surely this is over engineering. Why did it take so many billions of years to get to the point where earth was habitable when humanity has only been around for about 10,000 years. The fine tuning argument might point to a sort of deist concept that Paul Davies subscribes to, but it does not point to the type of god revealed in the Bible.

        Further, the whole concept of evolution shows how life adapts to the environment. Could it not be the case that in a totally different type of universe a totally different type of life might arise?

        Like

        1. Hi Peter, I agree with you that a key question is why people disagree when they have similar evidence, and I have pondered this and discussed it with a number of non-believers. But I honestly think in this case that there is also a problem with not having enough evidence.

          I am not a cosmologist or physicist, but I have been interested in astronomy and cosmology since I was a teen. I have read maybe half a dozen books by some of the worlds most eminent cosmologists, I follow Luke Barnes’ blog and have heard him speak, and I read a lot on the web. I chose this topic to discuss with Russell first because I have some familiarity with it.

          But I find that many non-believers have many misunderstandings about the subject. The key one is many assume “fine-tuning” infers a fine-tuner, but it doesn’t Luke Barnes says it’s simply an analogy. But it pushes many non-believers to dispute the science unnecessarily and sometimes foolishly.

          Sceptics pose all sorts of questions, but most of them have been answered by the scientists. This is the case for the points you raise here.

          Granted the physics, the universe has to be this large or it wouldn’t still exist, and it couldn’t have evolved life. It needed this long and to be this size. You can say God should have been able to make it different I suppose, but that is irrelevant. It is what it is, and we can see that intelligent observers wouldn’t be here if it was even a tiny bit different.

          The fine-tuning science suggests that life adapting to the environment is not the case here. if the physics had been even a little different, there wouldn’t be anything other than hydrogen, or maybe helium, no complex chemistry enough to support life, no solid places to provide an environment, not enough time before the universe collapsed back in on itself for life to evolve, etc. I offered this Barnes quote to Russell:

          “If the strength of the strong force were decreased by 50%, all the atoms of all the elements used by living things would disintegrate. …. We have positive reasons for believing that stable, information-carrying, replicating entities are not possible in such a universe. We know what these simple elements (H, He, Li, Be, B) can do chemically, and it’s not very much. You could (and many have) fill textbooks with all the chemical possibilities of carbon. You would struggle to fill a page on the chemistry of the first 5 elements of the periodic table. Carbon can make DNA. Beryllium couldn’t make a mess. Given the extraordinary complexity of life in this universe, it is reasonable to conclude that life is rather hard to please when it comes to universes and their laws.”

          I agree that the fine-tuning argument, even if successful, doesn’t establish the christian God, but (1) at present we are only discussing the science, (2) it forms part of a cumulative argument that suggests (to me) the christian God, and (3) establishing a creator with some apparent purpose to allow intelligent life is a pretty good start!

          Thanks.

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      2. First, the cosmological constant, strong force, carbon production in stars, electromagnetic force, proton/neutron mass difference, and so forth are independent physical constants that exist within a very narrow range, and any variation in these values would have created a completely different universe. So it seems to me Carroll has missed something, namely, would this universe (with intelligent life) exist with variations in the physical constants? Nope, it would not.

        Second, fine-tuning does not presuppose some intentional fine-tuning. Fine-tuning could have come about by accident. The actual question presented by the fine-tuning argument is, given the evolution of intelligent life, what is more likely as an explanation of such exact values: chance or some creator/designer/what have you? I think anyone who looks at this question with any sort of objectivity will see that some sort of creator/designer (doesn’t get us God, properly understood, though) is orders of magnitude more likely than chance, even with the most convservative of estimates.

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        1. Hi No Man’s Land!

          Welcome. 🙂

          Which argument, specifically, are you saying Carroll made and was wrong about?

          Not all the forces are conclusively independent at all ranges.

          It seems that a universe could exist with life with changes in at least some of the constants.

          I don’t think anyone here is claiming that the fine-tuning argument presupposes intentionality. Just the name.

          Why assume that the only way one could doubt the conclusion you hold is due to bias? This doesn’t seem to be the best way to discuss differences in a receptive way that helps us all learn from each other.

          Thanks for the comments!

          Gentleness and respect,
          —Russell

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          1. 1) Where Carroll thinks he has some solution to the fine-tuning problem because another universe could exist if the values were different. Great, but the argument is about this universe, not some other unverse. Simply put, if the values were changed, perhaps, some other universe could exist, sure, but not this one. Again, it is the fine-tuning argument of this universe.

            2) Some seem opposed to the fine-tuning of the universe because it presupposes a Creator. All I was saying is that this is not, necessarily, the case. It could be chance–in fact, this is what most cosmologists think.

            3) What? I said, of the two choices (deity and chance), approached objectively, one proposition is probabilistically stronger, by a wide margin, than the other one.

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            1. Hi No Man’s Land,

              1) Where Carroll thinks he has some solution to the fine-tuning problem because another universe could exist if the values were different. Great, but the argument is about this universe, not some other unverse. Simply put, if the values were changed, perhaps, some other universe could exist, sure, but not this one. Again, it is the fine-tuning argument of this universe.

              This sounds like a misunderstanding of Carroll’s logic, or perhaps you’ve seen something I haven’t. Fine tuning makes the claim that the odds for life are very small if we imagine the laws being changed by some degree. It is the fine tuning argument itself that proposes other universes that don’t support life. Carroll is only pointing out that before you can say what the odds that this universe would exist with the ability to support life, you first have to provide justification for how those odds are calculated, or else the fine tuning argument isn’t an argument. When cosmologists do this, they are the ones who imagine other universes with different laws in order to demonstrate the the odds of life existing in such universes are small. Carroll is pointing out that we can’t know those odds to a high degree and provides some reasons why. He’s just not convinced fine tuning is an actual problem because we can’t demonstrate the odds accurately. Odds apply to a population, not to an individual instance. We can’t just look at the this universe as is and conclude anything about the odds without postulating other universes with slightly different odds. Without such a postulation, there is no fine tuning argument.

              2) Some seem opposed to the fine-tuning of the universe because it presupposes a Creator. All I was saying is that this is not, necessarily, the case. It could be chance–in fact, this is what most cosmologists think.

              Agreed. I don’t know anyone who opposes it for that reason, but there probably are some. Still, the name packs more baggage than it needs to.

              3) What? I said, of the two choices (deity and chance), approached objectively, one proposition is probabilistically stronger, by a wide margin, than the other one.

              I’ll assume by “What?” that I wasn’t clear in communicating my concern. I’ll try to clarify what I meant. You didn’t just state that you believed one to be stronger than the other. You stated it as a fact and then said anyone who disagrees isn’t being objective at all. You implied (based on the your earlier statement in the same paragraph about fine-tuning not implying intentionality) that they are letting their biases, probably do to their theistic beliefs, cloud their reasoning. It’s this type of statement that is stronger than I think it should be…

              anyone who looks at this question with any sort of objectivity will see that some sort of creator/designer (doesn’t get us God, properly understood, though) is orders of magnitude more likely than chance, even with the most conservative of estimates.

              In response I asked…

              Why assume that the only way one could doubt the conclusion you hold is due to bias? This doesn’t seem to be the best way to discuss differences in a receptive way that helps us all learn from each other.

              My question stands. Are you certain that one cannot be objective while rejecting the conclusion that a designer is orders of magnitude more likely than chance? I hope that’s a little more clear. Thanks for the comments. 🙂

              Gentleness and respect,
              –Russell

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              1. 1) I think we are talking past one another. Yes, the values of the constants themselves are changed, ceteris paribus, to determine within what range things begin to go awry. My point is that if those constants are altered, even slightly, but perhaps more than slightly depending on the law and the constant of that law, the Universe that would exist would not be this universe, for it couldn’t be–really this is just trivially true. In other words, when working on the probability of fine tuning, cosmologists do not postulate alternate universes, but merely change the constants within a certain range to determine to what extent life as we know it could arise. Again, it is not an argument about all possible universes, but within what range of values is this universe capable of being actualized.

                The fact that other universes are not logically impossible has no bearing on the problem as I see it. Now, the fact that the values of the constants could be changed and this universe arise is physically possible, I suppose, but given the data we possess our universe arising with changes in the constants is tremendously unlikely. Of course, it is, in a philosophical sense, logically impossible for the values of the constants to be changed and the universe be this universe. But that is a rather banal metaphysical point.

                2) Okay.

                3) But it is a statistical fact, at least insofar as that word has any meaning. Run the numbers. And use the most conservative numbers available for chance and the least conservative for deity. I am not stating my opinion here. I ran the numbers. In fact, I discovered that it was completely irrelevant, within reason–and this is a crucial point–what numbers for the probability of chance and deity were selected. Chance is always the least likely option, by a wide margin.

                Also, orders of magnitude is a mathematical expression about something being ten times more (quanity, likelihood, etc) than something else.

                Look, I am not trying to be a dick. I apologize if I come off that way. Just commenting in thrift, that is all. 🙂

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                1. Hi No Man’s Land!

                  My point is that if those constants are altered, even slightly, but perhaps more than slightly depending on the law and the constant of that law, the Universe that would exist would not be this universe, for it couldn’t be–really this is just trivially true.

                  Yes, I completely agree. I haven’t heard anyone argue that imagining different strengths for the fundamental forces would have anything to do with this universe.

                  In other words, when working on the probability of fine tuning, cosmologists do not postulate alternate universes, but merely change the constants within a certain range to determine to what extent life as we know it could arise.

                  This is the same thing as imagining other universes, using ours as a template but altering certain values.

                  Again, it is not an argument about all possible universes, but within what range of values is this universe capable of being actualized.

                  It’s not capable. It would be a different universe because the laws are different. This one is described by these laws. That one would be described by different laws (even if only slightly). I might be misunderstanding you.

                  The fact that other universes are not logically impossible has no bearing on the problem as I see it.

                  Cosmologists consider some other universes as logically impossible and others as logically possible. We can consider the anthropic principle to weed out impossible universes if that’s where your going. I’m not sure that’s appropriate, or to what degree those impossible universes should affect the odds, but the possible ones certainly should.

                  Now, the fact that the values of the constants could be changed and this universe arise is physically possible, I suppose, but given the data we possess our universe arising with changes in the constants is tremendously unlikely.

                  To clarify, some constants such as the amount of entropy in the early universe, would produce a similar state of reality that could support life as we know it. Any change would technically be a different universe because it’s all hypothetical of course.

                  Of course, it is, in a philosophical sense, logically impossible for the values of the constants to be changed and the universe be this universe. But that is a rather banal metaphysical point.

                  Yes.

                  I’m not sure that any of this actually clarifies what I see as a misaligned objection to any of Carroll’s points. You mentioned “Where Carroll thinks he has some solution to the fine-tuning problem because another universe could exist if the values were different.” That’s not what he’s positing. That’s what fine-tuning is positing and concluding the odds are likely. Carroll is questioning the derivations we use to come up with the factors that go into the equations. I’m still hoping for clarification here. Forgive me if I missed it.

                  2) Okay.

                  3) But it is a statistical fact, at least insofar as that word has any meaning. Run the numbers. And use the most conservative numbers available for chance and the least conservative for deity. I am not stating my opinion here. I ran the numbers. In fact, I discovered that it was completely irrelevant, within reason–and this is a crucial point–what numbers for the probability of chance and deity were selected. Chance is always the least likely option, by a wide margin.

                  Okay. The issue here is where you claim “I think anyone who looks at this question with any sort of objectivity will see that some sort of creator/designer (doesn’t get us God, properly understood, though) is orders of magnitude more likely than chance, even with the most convservative of estimates.”

                  I believe this is conflating two different arguments. Argument 1 is that if we assume the probabilities are correct, the odds of life arising in our universe by chance is very small. I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that. I certainly don’t. Argument 2 is that a designer is more likely than chance to be the cause of the universe, based on the probabilities from the equations. These are two different arguments because there’s a step missing between 1 and 2. You’re assuming that anyone who agrees with 1 must agree with 2 or they aren’t looking at it objectively. The problem is that the assumption made in one (that the probabilities are correct) is just taken as a given. People can justifiably doubt that the assumptions are correct. For an example, see this 9000 word response I made to unkleE. 🙂

                  Unless you reject the idea that one can doubt those assumptions for valid reasons, please consider separating the two arguments when discussing what one is justified in believing.

                  Also, orders of magnitude is a mathematical expression about something being ten times more (quanity, likelihood, etc) than something else.

                  Yes, I’m familiar.

                  Look, I am not trying to be a dick. I apologize if I come off that way. Just commenting in thrift, that is all. 🙂

                  Not at all! 🙂 I know I come across that way. I’m in a huge hurry and I regret not being able to speak so you can hear my tone of voice. I don’t like how I sound so critical in writing. 🙂

                  Gentleness and respect,
                  –Russell

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                  1. 1) I think I see your position a little better now.

                    First, this universe is the one that matters, not some other universe.

                    Second, altering the values of the constant to gauge within what range crazy things start happening is where we agree it seems. But where we part ways is in widening the range as far as possible, within reason, to see how it compares to the other range. I don’t see that this is problematic as a method, athough it is difficult problem mechanically–I just mean it is not as easy as “2+2=4”. So it doesn’t matter that we don’t have every possible value as long as we know that the range of values compared to the actual range is very wide, which makes the value falling in the range (the actual range) improbable. That’s it, although I could be missing something.

                    The fact is other possible universes are irrelevant as long as we know that the range of possible universes is large compared to the actual range. I don’t think I have been clear on this point, but it is what I was driving at above.

                    Simply put, this universe (its range of values) is what is important whereas the comparative range of values only has to be known to be really large, and, in truth, one could probably arrive at that insight via conceptual analysis.

                    As for the some other configuration of this universe being physically impossible, I was merely conceding a point to you that I would not rule out a priori the values of the constants being different but this universe (the actual universe) being actualized–I don’t know how that would work, but strictly in physical terms I wouldn’t rule it out. Of course, in a strict metaphysical and logical sense, the universe would certainly be different in that case. Indeed that was a related point I made in my first comment that the fine tuning argument could be coherently articulated without reference to other universes because, from a logical and metaphysical perspective, any change in the values of the constants gives us a different universe, so the fact that the values of the constants could create a different universe with intelligent life does not speak in any way to the actualization of this universe. It leaves it as a simple brute fact. But that line of reasoning shifts the conversation from cosmology to ontology–“Why does this universe exist and not some other universe or nothing?” So I attempted to avoid it as much as possible.

                    3) No that is not the argument. The skeleton argument follows:

                    1) The universe is fine-tuned for the evolution of intelligent life.

                    2) the fine tuning is the result of chance or some minimal deity (really smart, powerful, etc)

                    3) the likelihood that the fine tuning is the result of chance is really low something like 1 in 10^50

                    4) the likelihood that the fine tuning is the result of a deity is also really low but it is much higher than 1 in 10^50

                    5) therefore, the proposition “The fine tuning is the result of a deity” is probably true.

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                    1. May I just add that I think the odds in #3 are much longer than 1 in 10^50. Penrose calculated the odds of the low entropy universe that is required to be 1 in 10^10^123. Others have calculated the odds of other components, some of which would be included in Penrose’s low entropy universe, but, I think (I’m no cosmologist) others may not. So Penrose’s calculation, which other cosmologists (Davies, Barnes, even Carroll) seem to accept maybe still too low, or maybe the answer you want. The point is that 10^10^123 is way way higher than 10^50 (and any odds against God, I would say).

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Hi No Man’s Land,

                      First, this universe is the one that matters, not some other universe.

                      Yes, but again, you’re arguing the this universe is fine-tuned which can’t be done without calculating odds by examining other ways the universe might exist (some life-supporting, others not).

                      I said…

                      Argument 1 is that if we assume the probabilities are correct, the odds of life arising in our universe by chance is very small.

                      I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that. I certainly don’t.

                      Argument 2 is that a designer is more likely than chance to be the cause of the universe, based on the probabilities from the equations.

                      These are two different arguments because there’s a step missing between 1 and 2. You’re assuming that anyone who agrees with 1 must agree with 2 or they aren’t looking at it objectively. The problem is that the assumption made in one (that the probabilities are correct) is just taken as a given. People can justifiably doubt that the assumptions are correct. For an example, see this 9000 word response I made to unkleE. 🙂

                      Unless you reject the idea that one can doubt those assumptions for valid reasons, please consider separating the two arguments when discussing what one is justified in believing.

                      You said…

                      No that is not the argument. The skeleton argument follows:

                      1) The universe is fine-tuned for the evolution of intelligent life.

                      2) the fine tuning is the result of chance or some minimal deity (really smart, powerful, etc)

                      3) the likelihood that the fine tuning is the result of chance is really low something like 1 in 10^50

                      4) the likelihood that the fine tuning is the result of a deity is also really low but it is much higher than 1 in 10^50

                      5) therefore, the proposition “The fine tuning is the result of a deity” is probably true.

                      That’s a circular argument because the conclusion is embedded in the first premise. We can’t start with “The universe if fine-tuned for the evolution of intelligent life.” That must be demonstrated. There are problems with some of the other premises as well. A circular argument such as this, logically, shouldn’t be believed with confidence. Are you still claiming that anyone who doesn’t have high confidence in this argument isn’t being objective? I may be misunderstanding you.

                      Gentleness and respect,
                      –Russell

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                    3. It is not a circular argument. Whatever its flaws, it is not circular. Of course, you can disagree, but I’ll need you to show me how it is circular. I am not seeing circularity in this argument.

                      Well, of course, it must be demonstrated, but that is what I have been up to these last few comments. As I said, Carroll is confused, even if his point is only methodological, the derivations are not problematic, that is, we don’t have to be exact on that score or know exactly, within reason of course, what the actual range of values is, we just need to know that the range of values is really large compared to the actual range of values for life. This in itself makes the values falling in that range highly improbable. Of course, as unklee said, if 200+ peer-reviewed papers and the opinions of most working cosmologists doesn’t count for something, I don’t know what will.

                      I am claiming that to disagree with the conclusion you have to disagree with a premise or premises (what are the problems with them?) or some background assumption(s). And, again, the argument is not circular. It is a valid argument. I think you are confused.

                      Now, I am assuming 3 things in the argument that I should have made clear earlier:

                      1) Scientific realism-scientific theories tell us how the world is with some room for clarification and modification
                      2) That the universe is contingent, that is, it could have failed to exist or a different universe could have existed
                      3) Soft Atheism-I am assuming that people could be in principle persuaded that God exists.

                      Again, you must disagree with one of these background assumptions or one or more premises to legitimately disagree with the conclusion.

                      Also, again, the argument is not circular. Btw, this is an inductive argument, that is, the conclusion goes beyond what is in the premises, which is another reason I think you are confused about circularity, as opposed to a deductive argument where the conclusion does not go beyond the premises (anything the conclusion says is already in the premises). If you think the argument is circular, though, then I’ll need you to show me how it is. I don’t see it. I can reformulate it for you though, if that helps.

                      1) is the same as the premise above
                      2) the fine tuning is the result of either chance or basic theism (this means that a deity exists that is really smart, powerful, etc. This is a basic belief in all theistic faiths. We’ll call it basic theism)
                      3) same as premise above
                      4) same as premise above except plug in basic theism for deity
                      5) basic theism is probably true.

                      Perhaps, I should also add that I am borrowing this version of the fine tuning argument from a Philosophere friend.

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                    4. Hi No Man’s Land,

                      As I said, Carroll is confused, even if his point is only methodological, the derivations are not problematic, that is, we don’t have to be exact on that score or know exactly, within reason of course, what the actual range of values is, we just need to know that the range of values is really large compared to the actual range of values for life.

                      There are some problems with this. 🙂 First, as I mentioned, Carroll isn’t claiming we need to be exact, just that we need to admit that we could be way off, especially given the example he cites. Therefore, we should be cautious about over-confidence in the conclusions that are based on those odds. Why do you disagree here?

                      Second, we can’t “know exactly” what the actual range of values. Adding “within reason” nullifies the “know exactly” part.

                      Third, “we just need to know that the range of values is really large compared to the actual range of values for life” is exactly what we can’t know for the reasons we’ve discussed.

                      This in itself makes the values falling in that range highly improbable. Of course, as unklee said, if 200+ peer-reviewed papers and the opinions of most working cosmologists doesn’t count for something, I don’t know what will.

                      I feel like my point is going unrecognized here. It sounds like you and unkleE are implying that I don’t credit the scientific evidence. I’ve always accepted them. I will try again to be clear here. All those papers only support Argument 1 from my previous comment, not Argument 2, for the same reasons I’ve been repeating. They do not demonstrate that the assumptions in Argument 1 should be taken as a given. Some of the papers state explicitly that the assumptions I’m referring to do represent a problem and that the actual odds can’t be known with any confidence. Until you demonstrate some compelling reason that we shouldn’t think that the assumptions in Argument 1 really won’t affect the odds, we should reserve confidence in Argument 2 and all future arguments that rely upon Argument 1. If we’re claiming certainty that the assumptions in Argument 1 won’t affect the actual odds of a life-permitting universe, we’re doing so on faith.

                      I am claiming that to disagree with the conclusion you have to disagree with a premise or premises (what are the problems with them?) or some background assumption(s). And, again, the argument is not circular. It is a valid argument. I think you are confused. …

                      Also, again, the argument is not circular. Btw, this is an inductive argument…

                      I demonstrated how it’s circular if it’s intended to be a deductive argument. The conclusion, “therefore, the proposition ‘The fine tuning is the result of a deity’ is probably true”, is assumed in the first premise “The universe is fine-tuned for the evolution of intelligent life”.

                      You’re inductive approach did catch me off guard. You would benefit much more from a deductive argument if your goal is to justify your claim that those who disagree with the confidence you hold in your conclusion aren’t being objective, so a deductive argument is what I was expecting. However, even as an inductive argument, we still have several problems.

                      I have stated that I lack high confidence that the universe is fine-tuned for life. I did my best to explain why by illuminating the hidden assumptions in Argument 1. I cannot attain confidence that those assumptions do not affect the odds of life, and based on what I know about information theory, I’m inclined to believe they do affect the odds, and that claiming certainty about what the odds of  a life-permitting universe actually are (considering those assumptions, not the constraints that the papers work within) is unjustifiable.

                      Anything that assumes Argument 1 is true in it’s premise (without accounting for those assumptions that throw the calculated odds into deep question), must either resolve the problems in the assumptions or inherit the same margin of error that those assumptions warrant.

                      You have presented an argument that assumes as it’s first premise that the universe if fine-tuned for life (which is Argument 1). Until you explain why I should not consider the assumptions from Argument 1, nothing you add on via an inductive argument is going to demonstrate why I’m biased for not coming to you same conclusion and level of confidence.

                      The rest of your argument, beyond the first premise, is not very relevant to the topic. Inductive arguments are about probabilities of truth if you accept the premises as you follow them down the line. If you know we’re stuck at your first one, why are you adding a lot more on top of them and arguing that way. A deductive argument would make more sense if you’re trying to claim that anyone who disagrees with it is only doing so because they aren’t following the logic and being objective. But first you’d need to make some argument to get us to the first premise you used.

                      In summary, before we can get anywhere with this, you’ll need to demonstrate your first premise, “The universe is fine-tuned for the evolution of intelligent life,” (i.e. show that the assumptions from Argument 1 won’t adjust it’s odds).

                      Perhaps it will help if I rewrite it like this…

                      1. Altering the relative strengths of one or two of the fundamental forces at a time will very rarely yield a universe that will not support life as we know it (i.e. the universe is apparently fine-tuned for life). (I have always agreed with those papers).
                      2. We’re using all the right derivations to properly calculate the odds of each force we attempt to manipulate, or if we’re off, we’re not off to a degree that will make the odds of a life-permitting universe more likely. (Carroll questions this and provides an example).
                      3. We’re using the best model to determine how life can exist and there is no other form of life that can exist other than in the ways we know of. (My understanding of information theory makes this highly suspect)
                      4. Of the multiple forces we haven’t found and don’t understand, and the lack of a unifying theory of all the forces, and the lack of an ability to model changes to more than a few forces at once, and the lack of an understanding of how the interdependence of other forces might cause some to change in ways that would compensate, none of these factors would yield any form of life, known or unknown, that is of significantly higher odds than what we’ve found so far.
                      5. The infinite other completely unknown and unknowable potential universes that have consistencies (laws) wholly unlike ours will not yield life permitting values to significantly greater range, on average, than ours does.
                      6. The set of possible universes that could potentially have existed with different laws isn’t actually infinite, or if it is, we’re properly discussing odds given an infinite set in a way that keeps them meaningful in the way we intend.
                      7. Therefore, our universe actually is fine-tuned for life.

                      You’re starting your argument with 7 as a given. I’m saying the papers get you to 1. You want to argue that 2-6 do not raise enough questions to make you doubt certainty in 7. I’m saying that they do cause me to lack high confidence in 7, and that is justifiable.

                      You previously said that if someone doesn’t conclude that a creator/designer is orders of magnitude more likely than chance, they just aren’t using any sort of objectivity.

                      If you think someone (perhaps someone who’s seen different evidence than you and has a different understanding of information theory than you) can agree with the science of 1 but justifiably fail to assert high confidence in 7 (due to 2-6), will you consider reforming your views on the matter (e.g. perhaps they could be justified even if you aren’t)?

                      If you still think withholding high confidence in 7 isn’t justifiable, I’d like to understand why.

                      Does this make sense? 🙂

                      Gentleness and respect,
                      –Russell

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  10. Hi Russell, thanks for your response. I’m sorry if I misunderstood you at one point. I try to get it right but I’m far from perfect! 😦

    I’m not going to go over too much of the physics again, for I want to focus more on the more interesting question (which Peter has also raised) of why we differ so much. I think I have some useful examples here, but this will entail me analysing and criticising (maybe misunderstanding) some of the decision processes I see.

    I want to reassure you in advance that I mean none of this personally, I have a high regard for you based on our discussions, and I am certainly not accusing you of anything. But it is difficult to talk about how people make choices without being critical. Hope that’s OK.

    “I do not agree that this is a fact. Some people define it differently”

    It is the claim of Barnes that virtually all the big names in cosmology – Barrow, Carr, Carter, Davies, Deutsch, Ellis, Greene, Guth, Harrison, Hawking, Linde, Page, Penrose, Polkinghorne, Rees, Sandage, Smolin, Susskind, Tegmark, Tipler, Vilenkin, Weinberg, Wheeler, Wilczek (and he gives references) – hold this view.

    For example, these quotes:

    Wilcek: “life appears to depend upon delicate coincidences that we have not been able to explain.”
    Hawking: “Most of the fundamental constants in our theories appear fine-tuned in the sense that if they were altered by only modest amounts, the universe would be qualitatively different, and in many cases unsuitable for the development of life. … The emergence of the complex structures capable of supporting intelligent observers seems to be very fragile. The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned, and very little in physical law can be altered without destroying the possibility of the development of life as we know it.”
    Susskind: “[O]ur own universe is an extraordinary place that appears to be fantastically well designed for our own existence. This specialness is not something that we can attribute to lucky accidents, which is far too unlikely. The apparent coincidences cry out for an explanation.”

    Barnes reviews the issues and the literature in this paper and concludes:

    “We conclude that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of life. Of all the ways that the laws of nature, constants of physics and initial conditions of the universe could have been, only a very small subset permits the existence of intelligent life.”

    Richard Carrier contested this conclusion with Barnes, and the discussion was reviewed by atheist JJ Lowder, who concluded that Barnes had made his case, Carrier had not. Barnes’ had replied to Carrier at one point: “I’ve published a review of the scientific literature, 200+ papers, and I can only think of a handful that oppose this conclusion, and piles and piles that support it. …. If you disagree, start citing papers.” To which Lowder commented “This strikes me as a devastating reply. …. I think Dr. Carrier absolutely has to respond or else issue a retraction.”

    So I think the same response is appropriate. Barnes has cited 200 papers, you have cited one video by Carroll. I can’t see how you can draw the conclusion you do.

    “Rough, to me, in this case, is too rough. Our margin of error is too high to be meaningful. This statement… “the fact is that if the universe was produced by random processes, the odds are beyond possibility against our universe appearing.”… seems to me to be an unjustifiable claim. Please help me understand if you believe otherwise.”

    Barnes discusses this question here, pointing out that if the fine-tuning of the gravitational constant is 1 in 10^36. If two factors were each out by a factor of 1000, the fine tuning would be one part in 10^30, still large. I think you don’t realise how ginormous are the numbers we are talking about. And when you consider the Penrose calculation of the probability of a low entropy universe as 1 in 10^10^123 (and remember he was Professor of Mathematics at Oxford and he worked with Stephen Hawking on black holes, you’d think he would know what he was doing!) you divide the numbers by the number of baryons in the universe and they would hardly change (10^10^123 / 10^80 = 10^10^123).

    “You seem to be assuming traditional atoms here, in the way they currently exist (e.g. hydrogen and helium). Those are not essential for life. When you say they are amazing against one with any atoms other than Hydrogen or Helium, why do you believe those are a requirement for life?”

    Barnes answers this too, here:

    “If the strength of the strong force were decreased by 50%, all the atoms of all the elements used by living things would disintegrate. …. We have positive reasons for believing that stable, information-carrying, replicating entities are not possible in such a universe. We know what these simple elements (H, He, Li, Be, B) can do chemically, and it’s not very much. You could (and many have) fill textbooks with all the chemical possibilities of carbon. You would struggle to fill a page on the chemistry of the first 5 elements of the periodic table. Carbon can make DNA. Beryllium couldn’t make a mess. Given the extraordinary complexity of life in this universe, it is reasonable to conclude that life is rather hard to please when it comes to universes and their laws.”

    So I will move on to how this discussion suggests to me that you have made decisions on this matter.

    “So there is ambiguity in the definition.”
    “Even if most did think it was true, we’d have to know exactly what definition they’re arguing for when they say it’s true.”

    You say there is ambiguity and doubt, yet all these cosmologists seem to have no problems with it. They define fine-tuning in terms of specific ranges of specific parameters. It seems (and I mean no rudeness) like you are setting up an amazingly strong standard of knowledge, much stronger than all these scientists.

    ” I can’t count it as a fact until I see a decent sized random survey that clearly describes the terms.”

    Barnes has quoted 200+ papers and named 24 of the worlds most eminent cosmologists all in support of his conclusion. I can’t understand how you can say this. Again, it seems like you are setting up an amazingly strong standard of knowledge.

    “Were their multiple surveys that weeded out religious motivations, other biases, etc.?”

    Surveys are not required. These are scientific peer-reviewed papers.

    “But why limit the possible ways the universe could exist to allow life to just the subset with the fundamental laws we currently have? “

    I wonder what you mean here. Barnes considers “possible physical laws, parameters and initial conditions”. So to work as an objection, you have to be proposing something totally different, like a world not composed of atoms but of something else. Not just different laws, but a different type of reality. This would be a total imagination, not based on anything but speculation. Is that really what you mean? If I proposed a spiritual world as a possible option to avoid some problem (not material, not made of atoms) I think you’d strongly criticise the idea.

    “We don’t know enough to say what would emerge if these constants were changed in this way. I fundamentally agree with that”

    Barnes answers this also, here.

    “we can do theoretical physics. We don’t just measure the natural world, though this is crucial part of science. We can, with exquisite accuracy, predict the behaviour of the physical world by writing things on a sheet of paper. We propose models and explore their mathematical predictions. We find that there are parameters in these models that are not determined by the theory; they need to be measured in experiments. With these parameters in hand, the theory describes our universe beautifully. It follows that if these parameters (or the laws themselves, or the initial conditions of the universe) were different, then our universe would be different. Making theoretical predictions about these other universes is exactly the same process as making predictions about this universe. Experimental confirmation of our predictions in this universe makes us confident that the theory is correct, and thus we can predict what would happen in other universes.”

    Now here’s where I disagree with you fundamentally (I’m sorry). It seems to me that your approach to this question is characterised by the following factors, which I regard as inconsistent or mistaken.

    First, you seem not to be aware of the scientific case for fine-tuning, the amount of theoretical and experimental work that supports it, and the fact that most of the questions people pose have been answered (see for example this post). Yet your responses haven’t been (as I would expect in these circumstances, granted the original topic of removing preconceived opinion as bias) to simply state that you don’t know, or posing possible questions, you have rather expressed very definite opinions like “I don’t accept this.” I think you have strayed from a neutral view that would be appropriate until you do more reading.

    Second, you say you want hard evidence, yet some of your objections are based on wild speculation. It seems inconsistent.

    Third, you ask for hard evidence, mathematical precision, beyond what we would normally think is reasonable. 200 papers and 24 expert cosmologists isn’t enough.

    So I can’t help feeling, from this discussion as I have from earlier discussion, that you are asking for more certainty about God than you would in other areas of life. If you had a diagnosis for cancer from 24 specialists, I don’t doubt you’d believe them. (Probably two would be enough!) If we had 200+ peer reviewed papers on global warming, I doubt you suggest we need a survey to test for religious or other bias.

    I won’t say any more, I feel I have been a little more personal than I would like now. But I hope I have shown that (1) most if not all of your objections to fine tuning have been resolved by the science and (2) a major difference between you and I is that you appear to require a much higher level of demonstration than I do before you will accept something. I think that is the key conclusion I want to draw.

    Please forgive me if I have been harsh. I don’t wish to be. I just want to get to the bottom of these issues. Thanks. Eric

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    1. Hi UnkleE, there are some things for which we may never have an answer. This frustrates me because I do crave certainty.

      I think it was Stephen Hawking who said:

      The laws of physics are such that a universe can appear from nothing spontaneously. This therefore does away with the need for a god. But it does raise the question of who created the laws of physics.

      Though my personal favourite is:

      As we shall see, the concept of time has no meaning before the beginning of the universe. This was first pointed out by St. Augustine. When asked: What did God do before he created the universe? Augustine didn’t reply: He was preparing Hell for people who asked such questions. Instead, he said that time was a property of the universe that God created, and that time did not exist before the beginning of the universe.

      I am currently in the position of Dr David Eagleman in the Possibilianism camp. He argued that we don’t know enough to rule out there being a god and creator, but we know way too much to accept the deities of any of the known religions.

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      1. Hawking is confused. “From nothing, nothing comes.” He only arrives at the above conclusion via equivocation–he does not mean nothing, properly understood, that is, in the metaphysical sense, as not anything. Hawking’s version of nothing is always something.

        We know way too much to rule out the transcendent actuality and Logos immanent in all things, for that is the God of classical theism? I would need to see that argument, I’m afraid.

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      2. I agree with NML about this. If there are laws then there’s not “nothing”. Nothing means “not anything”. I think physicists get a little ambiguous here. They mean there is no matter (no “thing”) but there is still something – maybe a quantum field, or maybe just laws.

        Martin Rees says:

        “Cosmologists sometimes claim that the universe can arise ‘from nothing’. But they should watch their language, especially when addressing philosophers. We’ve realised ever since Einstein that empty space can have a structure such that it can be curved and distorted. Even if shrunk to a ‘point’ it is latent with particles and forces – still a far richer construct than the philosophers’ ‘nothing’.”

        I can understand the viewpoint you hold, and to some degree why you might hold it, but I disagree with your last statement, for I think the total evidence points to christianity. But as we have already agreed, it is interesting how much two thoughtful people (I hope that describes us!) can disagree.

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        1. Hi unkleE,

          Three questions.

          1) What is the justification for assuming the kind of nothing you’re referring to (e.g. what rocks dream about, or an empty set and take away the set) is the default state of some ultimate reality, rather than some kind of force(s)?

          2) Is God “nothing”?

          3) If you answered no to 2, why assume “nothing” is a necessary prior condition to the reality we experience (i.e. back to 1 again).

          Gentleness and respect,
          –Russell

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          1. Hi Rusell, multiple discussion now! Can we both multi-task!? 🙂

            I don’t assume that. The argument doesn’t assume nothing, it asks “why is there something rather than nothing?”
            When I formulate the argument, I would say either “Why is there something physical rather than nothing physical?” or “Why is there something contingent rather than nothing contingent?” God is certainly not nothing, but he is also certainly not physical or contingent.
            See 1.

            Whatever view we take, there will be mystery. But it seems to me that saying God is the mystery (not total mystery, but partial) that explains all the other mysteries is way more believable than saying the universe exists without reason or cause, that it is suitable for life against all the odds, etc. But that is a judgment, not a certainty.

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            1. Rats! I forgot your WP strips out paragraph numbers, sorry. DO you know why? And why didn’t it do that for you? Just as a test, I will try using the same format you did.

              1) I don’t assume that. The argument doesn’t assume nothing, it asks “why is there something rather than nothing?”

              2) When I formulate the argument, I would say either “Why is there something physical rather than nothing physical?” or “Why is there something contingent rather than nothing contingent?” God is certainly not nothing, but he is also certainly not physical or contingent.

              3) See 1.

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            2. Hi unkleE,

              I asked…

              1) What is the justification for assuming the kind of nothing you’re referring to (e.g. what rocks dream about, or an empty set and take away the set) is the default state of some ultimate reality, rather than some kind of force(s)?

              You said…

              I don’t assume that. The argument doesn’t assume nothing, it asks “why is there something rather than nothing?”

              This doesn’t seem to address the point. Why assume the “nothing” your comparing “something” to is a possible state? Why assume that there isn’t always a something?

              When I formulate the argument, I would say either “Why is there something physical rather than nothing physical?” or “Why is there something contingent rather than nothing contingent?”

              This doesn’t seem to be answer it either. I’ll try in the terminology you’re using here. Why assume the universe can ever have been in a non-physical state (using this loosely since we can’t technically call it physical now, but equating physical to what we think of as physical). Or, why assume the universe could have ever been non-contingent?

              I also asked…

              2) Is God “nothing”?

              You said no.

              I said…

              3) If you answered no to 2, why assume “nothing” is a necessary prior condition to the reality we experience (i.e. back to 1 again).

              You said…

              Whatever view we take, there will be mystery. But it seems to me that saying God is the mystery (not total mystery, but partial) that explains all the other mysteries is way more believable than saying the universe exists without reason or cause, that it is suitable for life against all the odds, etc. But that is a judgment, not a certainty.

              So there is no reason to assume “nothing” is a necessary prior condition to the reality we experience, correct?

              Gentleness and respect,
              –Russell

              Like

              1. Russell, we seem to be playing on different football fields here. I said right at the start I don’t think we should assume anything, and the argument doesn’t ASSUME anything. It simply asks why is there something rather than nothing? What are the reasons behind this universe?

                But your whole comment keeps asking me why I assume things.

                So I agree with you final comment. But that still doesn’t address the argument, which asks for an explanation. To repeat….

                1) Contingent things exist and other contingent things provide an explanation for their existence.
                2) If we ask what is the explanation for the whole mass of contingent things, there are only two possibilities – either there is no explanation or the explanation is non-contingent (because everything contingent is in the thing we are trying to explain).
                3) Therefore either a necessary (= non-contingent) thing explains all the contingent things or nothing can explain them.

                No assumptions there, just definitions of words.

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                1. Hi unkleE! 🙂

                  Russell, we seem to be playing on different football fields here. I said right at the start I don’t think we should assume anything, and the argument doesn’t ASSUME anything.

                  I agree that we should try to avoid assumptions, but it’s often not possible. Unfortunately, the assumption that there are no assumptions here is incorrect and it seems to be the central issue between us, so I’ll dive in. You said we disagree because I don’t understand the science and I’m bias towards my opinion. I think we disagree because we haven’t seen the same evidence and you’re accepting some assumptions that you might be missing (I miss some too). Let’s explore this a bit.

                  This is important to me because our entire discussion the past few weeks (taking a lot of time from both of us) seems, from my perspective, to be primarily based upon your continual assertion that your conclusion must be accepted with certainty by others. I’ve stated that I hold some uncertainty in your conclusion because of the unverifiable assumptions and fallacies in the premises. If you don’t see them, I fear you’ll continue asserting I (and other’s who hold my point of view) am unreasonable to not reach your confident conclusion as you do, and this will go on and on. If you would be willing to acknowledge that one can justifiably hold a belief on this point that is different from your own, or that isn’t as confident as you own, we can let this go. So the assumptions matter greatly. I’m always digging for them. Here’s a great reason why…

                  A quote from my post titled Why I Respect Pascal.

                  The following two excerpts are from the audio lectures called Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide To Critical Thinking Skills

                  “When two or more people disagree over a factual statement, what that means is that one side or both sides must be wrong in some way. Obviously, two mutually exclusive conclusions, by definition, can’t both be correct at the same time. So immediately when you and another person disagree over a factual statement, you know that one or both of you is wrong.

                  The goal should therefore be not to, again, martial whatever evidence you can to defend your side, but to examine both of your arguments to find where the assumptions are in the premises, where the false premises are, or where the errors in logic are. You know that there has to be one of more of those somewhere. If the two of you can work together in order to discover the errors in assumptions or logic then you should be able to resolve your differences and come to a better conclusion. That is a much more practical approach to a disagreement than simply defending whatever side you happen to take at the beginning, regardless of the validity of logic or the correctness of the premises.” – 6:58 – 8:13 in Chapter 7

                  “It is important to apply the rules of critical thinking to yourself most of all. The famous physicist, Richard Feynman, famously said, ‘The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.’ But there are barriers to being more critical thinking ourselves. Once you invest, for example, your ego into a conclusion, then motivated reasoning will kick in and distort and bias your critical thinking into that direction. In the end, your education, your knowledge, and your critical thinking skills will still lead you to the wrong answer, you will just be much more confident in your error because you have rationalized it in a much more sophisticated way. Unless, of course, you really apply that critical thinking to your own beliefs.

                  If, on the other hand, you invest your ego in the process of critical thinking and not in any particular conclusion, then you’ll be more free to follow the logic and evidence wherever it leads. You will, in fact, take pride in your ability to change your opinion as new information becomes available. Being called on using erroneous logic or biased reasoning or incomplete data, that will be what you will fear. And in order to seem consistent, and in order to meet the emotional needs of your ego, you will focus on getting the process correct, not on being correct in any conclusion that you have set your stakes into.” – 8:01 – 9:38 in Chapter 12

                  Certainty is galvanizing, but it can also be blinding. I think the most courageous and one of the most admirable qualities in an individual is their commitment to truly question their most invested beliefs.

                  I think you do this quite well. I try to. But, we can all miss assumptions. So, with that in mind, I’ll try to point out the assumptions I see in your argument.

                  It simply asks why is there something rather than nothing?

                  By framing the question with “rather than”, you’re assuming that “nothing” [philosophical nothing] is a possible state.

                  What are the reasons behind this universe?

                  By framing the question with “what are the”, you’re assuming that there are reasons behind the universe.

                  But your whole comment keeps asking me why I assume things.

                  Because many of the things we write do start with assumptions that aren’t always obvious. The assumptions in this case are in how your questions are framed. Let’s see how they impact the conclusions they generate.

                  So I agree with you final comment.

                  You agreed that “nothing” [philosophical nothing] may not be a potential state. Therefore, the entire question may inappropriate and randomness/information may provide equal explanation as something like a God.

                  But that still doesn’t address the argument, which asks for an explanation.

                  I think it does. It points out that the argument you’re referring to is asking for an explanation to an assumed problem which cannot be known to actually be a problem. It’s another assumption.

                  To repeat….

                  1) Contingent things exist and other contingent things provide an explanation for their existence.

                  2) If we ask what is the explanation for the whole mass of contingent things, there are only two possibilities – either there is no explanation or the explanation is non-contingent (because everything contingent is in the thing we are trying to explain).

                  3) Therefore either a necessary (= non-contingent) thing explains all the contingent things or nothing can explain them.

                  No assumptions there, just definitions of words.

                  But the definitions also contain some assumptions. For example, its assuming that what we think of as causality applies at the most fundamental levels in this universe (there are reasons to withhold confidence in that) and every possible prior or more ultimate state of reality. It could be that there are multiple non-contingent things or that everything is non-contingent and so there are no contingent things. It’s also assuming our logic developed based on consistencies in this universe would hold equally true when considering all potential prior states to this universe for which this universe may have been a result.

                  I don’t suggest any of these assumptions need to give you much pause or that they completely invalidate the arguments, but I would like you to acknowledge that there are assumptions when we argue about things we can’t know (logic in other universes, etc.). This is threading hairs a bit, but assumptions tend to pile up and progress to a point where they should be considered.

                  You agreed that there is no reason to assume “nothing” [philosophical sense] is a necessary prior condition to the reality we experience. In other words, even if we assume there must be a non-contingent thing, there’s no reason to assume that thing must be something like a God rather than some form of randomness itself (information, a force or forces of some kind, instability, etc.). So, there doesn’t have to be anything non-contingent, but if we assume non-contingency it could be randomness.

                  You also said that you believed that if a default, non-contingent state exists, it’s very likely not “nothing” [philosophical sense]. Therefore, you believe that “why is there something rather than nothing” is a likely a misleading question because you actually assume “nothing” never existed. The question poses a circular argument. God is neither “nothing” nor contingent.

                  When we talk about contingent, there’s also another assumption about context. There is really no way for us to know whether or not something we would reason to as non-contingent is ultimately non-contingent. There is an impossible logical gap between what might appear non-contingent to us, and would actually be contingent to in another prior reality. So this whole contingent/non-contingent line of reasoning has some severe limits that add to the mystery.

                  Let’s move on as far as we can take it. There must be at least one non-contingent thing (from the perspective of our universe) if we can call anything non-contingent. There could be more, but that seems less likely and definitely less demonstrable. We really only have two options when reasoning about it.

                  a. The contingent thing is a complex mind like a God.

                  b. The contingent thing is not a complex mind like a God.

                  If we get past all the assumptions (which reduce confidence to some degree, though it may be slight for you), we find that you believe there is likely something non-contingent that isn’t “nothing”. The two explanations we have considered are something like a God and something not like a God (e.g. information/randomness/instability/a force/etc.). If you’re asking which is both more simple and capable of leading to the other, information is the obvious choice. Information could exist without a complex mind (e.g. God), but a mind could not exist without information. God may be a contingent entity from information that was at some point causal to our reality, but stating a complex mind as the first or only non-contingent thing (rather than the simpler “information” itself, which is the substrate of our universe and the only concept logically applicable to any potential universe, including a God’s reality or spiritual realm) is committing the Cane Toad Solution fallacy that Luke mentions in his paper.

                  So, there are many assumptions in that argument (which is separate from fine-tuning), and many areas for doubt.

                  As for your fine-tuning argument, it contains even more assumptions (calculating odds without understanding all of the interdependencies between all the laws in our universe, much less other potential, non-chemical ways life could exist in our universe illuminated by information theory, much less in completely strange alternate universes with different laws) and several fallacies that should decrease our confidence a bit in the conclusions.

                  I suggested to No Man’s Land that he was conflating two arguments when discussing fine-tuning. I believe you might be doing the same.

                  Argument 1 is that if we assume the probabilities are correct, the odds of life arising in our universe by chance is very small.

                  I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that. I certainly don’t. Every time you mention a paper or a cosmologist or a set of odds, I hear this argument alone. I’ve always agreed with you hear, so your efforts aren’t productive because we’re on the same page.

                  Argument 2 is that a designer is more likely than chance to be the cause of the universe, based on the probabilities from the equations.

                  These are two different arguments because there’s a step missing between 1 and 2. The missing part that gets overlooked is the assumption in 1. The assumption that the probabilities are correct is just taken as a given, but it’s not a given. It’s where all my doubts rest, and these doubts are justifiable.  Assuming that anyone who agrees with 1 must agree with 2 or they aren’t looking at it objectively, is due to either missing the assumption or rejecting it as legitimate.

                  No Man’s Land focused more on God in his fine-tuning argument than you did. So let’s try this another way that’s more applicable to yours. Considering the areas for doubt I mentioned, I believe that people who see all the evidence I discussed above about – how we can’t know the probabilities with sufficient fidelity concerning what universes might support life (it goes back to the significant digits point I made in the last long comment) – are justified in not concluding with high confidence that

                  I) the fact that there are relatively few ways in which the constants can be manipulated and still get life “as we know it” of the constants necessarily means that

                  II) of all the possible ways the universe could exist (completely unknowable) in all possible realities, a life-supporting state is extremely unlikely.

                  I think you are very respectful and intelligent and just saw different evidence. However, I believe you’re pushing this too hard when concluding that people who think II must follow from I are either unknowledgeable or biased. The truth is, we shouldn’t believe something with more confidence than the strength of the weakest premise, and each fallacy and each assumption in a premise decreases it’s strength to some degree.

                  Let’s flip this around. If you recognize unknowns in some premises (areas you can’t say much about with confidence) and then conclude that you can’t hold high confidence in the conclusion, you are justified. If someone then tells you your just biased against the conclusions, then you review all your arguments looking for biases, find that they are in opposition to the doubts you hold, listen closely to the other persons arguments, examine their evidence, explain your reasons, and they continue to reject it using examples that don’t actually address the reasons you give, how long would you continue writing to explain yourself when your life is overwhelmed with other priorities?

                  I mean no offense my friend. I do enjoy our conversation, but I am far behind on work, I’m basically a single dad of two girls for the next few months, and I need to let this go. I’d really like to get to a place where you can acknowledge that other’s aren’t irrational for not holding your conclusions with the same level of confidence you hold them, not for my own sake, but because I think that’s an important place to be. I’ve seen much discussion about how non-believer’s are only non-believers because they’re rejecting the obvious evidence for personal reasons. That needs to stop, in my opinion, and if I can’t make it clear that there are logical reasons that people might not reach your conclusions with the same certainty you do, then all this time was less fruitful than I’d like. I hope you can understand.

                  I believe you’re an awesome person and I’d love to get to know you more, but offline. I just cannot keep this up. Can we get in touch via Skype or something?

                  Gentleness and respect,
                  –Russell

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      1. Hi, I think I’d express this thought a little differently. I think whenever we express a view, whether it be belief (“God exists”) or disbelief (“God doesn’t exist”), we should reasonably be able to give a justification for that view. But I think doubt (“I’m not sure if God exists or not”) is not a statement about God so much as about the state of our minds, and I don’t think we can be asked to give external reasons for that.

        I do note that sometimes it is difficult to tell if a person is disbelieving or doubting, and sometimes people use that difficult to avoid giving an explanation, but I don’t think that is happening here.

        Thanks.

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        1. Yes, the idea that doubt does not require justification is the most common fallacy on the Internet! 🙂 Doubt requires justification insofar as you must have reasons for doubting some proposition, especially, but not only, when the truth of the proposition is compellingly justified.

          The popular idea seems to be that we can just doubt anything for completely bizarre reasons and the doubt is justified. It amounts to no more than saying we don’t have deductive certainty for most propositions, and there is no proof for the proposition, so I am epistemically justified in doubting the truth of the proposition. Of course, this applies to false propositions as well.

          Simply put, there is no argument (what are the premises?) and there is vagueness about what would convince the skeptic of the truth or falsity of the proposition beyond deductive certainty. From this it is supposed to follow that knowledge is impossible or some logically equivalent conclusion, but that is inferentially poor and an epistemically dishonesty position as far as I am concerned.

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          1. Hi No Man’s Land,

            Well said. I don’t think it’s the most common fallacy, but I believe I’ve seen it a few times.

            The other caution to keep in mind is that we’re often tempted to think people are requiring too much evidence when they disagree with the evidence we accept. Sometimes, when they do have a justifiable reason to reject it, we assume it’s just their high standards for proof that are the problem – when in reality, the evidence they see isn’t stronger than the counter-evidence they also see, so they actually are justified in not believing our conclusion.

            We have a tendency to assume our own conclusions are correct and absolute. If we recognize that some of the beliefs we hold, statistically, must be false (even some of our closely held ones), it should give us enough humility to be cautious when assuming others have no justification for their rejection of a claim.

            Personally, my approach to all this is to assign (subconsciously by now) a probability for or against any premise, along with a confidence level and a margin of error. I think this helps me keep my confidences in my beliefs or doubts in check better than I would otherwise.

            Gentleness and respect,
            –Russell

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Hi NML, I’m sure you are right that doubting a compellingly justified proposition is “wrong”. But people differ in their judgment of what is compellingly justified. We may rightly criticise an intelligent person who doubted 1+1=2, but the question of the existence of God cannot be answered so easily. There are many, many propositions and arguments, and I cannot see that we can claim that the sum total of these is clearly compellingly justified, even though I am strongly committed to belief in the christian God.

            You say there is no argument, but the argument from evil (1. If God was good he’d stop gross evil. 2. There is gross evil. 3. Therefore there is no good God.) seems to me to have as much force as some of the theistic arguments. I believe in God because it is one strong anti-theistic argument, whereas there are maybe half a dozen strong theistic arguments. But I don’t think it is right to say that there are no reasons to doubt God’s existence.

            What would you say to that?

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                1. Fair enough. But I wasn’t talking about belief in God. I was just making a general point about doubt and justification. I suppose I could have been clearer though.

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    2. Hi unkleE,

      Wow. I have a lot to work with here. Please forgive me where I might be a little cheeky – because it’s late and I’m rushing to get through this while my blog window is open. I feel like there were several places where you were unnecessarily critical of my approach without providing helpful specifics, but I’m not bothered by your comment. I think it was very helpful because I have a clearer picture of where my arguments are missing you. 🙂 I feel like we’ve been talking long enough to have earned the right to a little banter and that will help this go faster. Please forgive me if I’m wrong. Also, this is probably going to be long and redundant (again) and I’m not going to be proof-reading. That’s your payback for the personal comments. Hahaha. 🙂

      “I do not agree that this is a fact. Some people define it differently”

      It is the claim of Barnes that virtually all the big names in cosmology – Barrow, Carr, Carter, Davies, Deutsch, Ellis, Greene, Guth, Harrison, Hawking, Linde, Page, Penrose, Polkinghorne, Rees, Sandage, Smolin, Susskind, Tegmark, Tipler, Vilenkin, Weinberg, Wheeler, Wilczek (and he gives references) – hold this view.

      I don’t believe you’re doing this intentionally, but I perceive a pattern that goes like this. You claim something is true. I state where the arguments within that assertion may be weak and where and why I hold the conclusion with less confidence than you. You respond by quoting someone else’s response to someone else who is making a different argument than I’m making. 🙂  In the end, my issue remains unaddressed and you assert that I’m being too critical by demanding extremely strong or hard evidence, all the while failing to address my actual concerns. Such is the case here, again, it seems. This is a difficult way to hold a discussion my friend.

      Let’s go over this again to demonstrate how it follows the same pattern. You wanted to see if we agreed on your three facts and this was the second fact you asserted.

      …the definition of fine-tuning is this: Of all the possible universes allowed by theoretical physics, a vanishingly small number would allow life to occur.

      I responded with the following reason for why I’m not convinced this is necessarily a fact.

      Some people define it differently, or have different things in mind when they consider fine-tuning. For example, some only consider what the currently known laws would allow if the constants were altered. Others consider possible states if the laws themselves might be altered (one abstraction higher, so to speak). So there is ambiguity in the definition.

      This is an important point because there is a missed step between what many cosmologist mean when they think of fine tuning and the conclusion that you’re drawing. It’s key to the argument actually. The ambiguity lies in what the physicist includes in theoretical physics. For example, if you assume “Of all the possible universes allowed by theoretical physics” means “all possible laws of physics” then you’re assumption of the certainties they give in the probabilities is different than what they’re actually saying. I’ve seen fine-tuning described in many ways, and even Luke Barnes conflates various definitions at times, even when those definitions have vastly different implications. So, when you ask me to agree that it’s a fact that the definition held by all the authors of the papers he referenced is the one you stated, I hope you understand why it’s clear that I cannot confirm it is a fact until I see all their definitions. That’s what I was driving towards.

      Instead of acknowledging this potential issue with differing definitions which could be relevant to each person’s conclusions about fine-tuning, you responded that Barnes claims that this specific set of cosmologists hold “this view.” Citing Barnes’ opinion of the views of some of his peers doesn’t establish as fact that each of those people hold exactly the same definition of fine tuning that you described. Are all these people considering the alteration of…

      a) the fundamental laws themselves?, or

      b) just the relative forces of the constants?

      Which version of fine-tuning are they talking about (because it makes a difference), how are they arriving at their conclusions, what are the odds they calculate, do they include a confidence level and a margin of error, and does the definition they’re working within actually match the one you’re going for? Most only run the numbers on b and I’ve mentioned several times why this approach has some flaws that keep me from high confidence in it.

      If they are just considering the b, they still can’t say what would emerge with certainty for at least the two reasons I previously outlined and you did not address. In brief:

      1) It’s not convincing that if you change some set of forces relative to others, that doing so wouldn’t alter other forces in ways we can’t model with any accuracy. This is the case since we don’t know how all the forces work together yet (so you can’t accurately say what the odds are). It’s not clear that you can always just tweak a force without impacting the behavior or strength of other forces because some may be interdependent, or may overlap at certain ranges. But the assumption of just a few forces changing in isolation to the rest is what almost all of the “fine-tuning of the constants” are modeled from. Do you agree with the problem I’m describing? Will you at least address it, directly? If I’m wrong, I’ll happily rescind this objection.

      2) Until we know precisely what all the laws are and the ranges in which they will produce what “physical” reality, we can’t accurately choose all the proper derivations to run the numbers which yield the probabilities. I listed an example that Carroll claims about the early expansion rate of the universe. Can you address this please? Are you confident science presently has all the correct derivations to use given the amount we don’t know? Do you acknowledge that this is a problem and should factor into our decision about the confidence level we assign to “fine tuning?” Please address this directly as well if you wish to pursue this argument.

      Finally, if some cosmologist are using the definition of fine-tuning that includes a, then there is ambiguity in your definition (all the possible universes allowed by theoretical physics) that you’re claiming is a fact and you’re drawing conclusions that aren’t backed by all the cosmologists mentioned. Please be clear if you think this is a valid point that could reasonably keep someone from agreeing that the definition is factually accurate.

      To be clear, I’m not saying any are working from different definitions, but rather I’m not sure that some aren’t. I was just pointing that out. I hope it makes sense. 🙂

      You then provided quotes to back up your claim that your definition was a fact.

      For example, these quotes:

      Wilcek: “life appears to depend upon delicate coincidences that we have not been able to explain.”

      This does not clarify which version Wilcek is using (a or b, and if b, whether or not Wilcek accounts for 1 or 2).

      Hawking: “Most of the fundamental constants in our theories appear fine-tuned in the sense that if they were altered by only modest amounts, the universe would be qualitatively different, and in many cases unsuitable for the development of life. The emergence of the complex structures capable of supporting intelligent observers seems to be very fragile.

      This quote implies Hawking is using the version b in this instance and doesn’t address whether he’s considering 1 or 2.

      The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned, and very little in physical law can be altered without destroying the possibility of the development of life as we know it.”

      Same problem here, though what he means by physical law is unclear (a or b) in this instance. Do you think I disagree with this? Life as we know it would be vastly different. Some kind of life? That’s harder to say. Remember the gambler’s fallacy.

      Susskind: “[O]ur own universe is an extraordinary place that appears to be fantastically well designed for our own existence. This specialness is not something that we can attribute to lucky accidents, which is far too unlikely. The apparent coincidences cry out for an explanation.

      Same, this quote does not indicate a or b (and 1 or 2).

      I’m not convinced we can know whether or not we can attribute it to an accident without knowing the actual odds of any kind of life in any universe, rather than the apparent odds of life given different potential constant values in this universe. See where the difference is?

      Barnes reviews the issues and the literature in this paper and concludes:

      “We conclude that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of life. Of all the ways that the laws of nature, constants of physics and initial conditions of the universe could have been, only a very small subset permits the existence of intelligent life.”

      This is a great example of the problem I’m highlighting and why I reserve high confidence that fine-tuning is a problem that needs a solution. Notice what Barnes says here. “Of all the ways that the laws of naturecould have been.” Can you explain why this isn’t fallacious reasoning? How can one assert that which is unknowable? He may have meant it a different way. The problem is that most who run the numbers (even some of the ones he’s quoting) are probably constraining the models to only account for adjusting the relative strength of each force to see what would emerge (life permitting or not). There’s no reason to think that’s a sound approach, since it doesn’t actually cover what he claims (e.g. the scope of how all possible laws of nature could have been). It would be much more accurate to include the whole scope, but since this isn’t possible, the models are done using the only methods we can say anything about (those that start with the laws as they are and then tweak their relative strengths, etc.). The major problem here is that he’s quoting papers that may not overtly discuss version a I mentioned above (which includes altering the laws themselves rather than just tweaking the constants), yet he’s conflating the two in his ultimate conclusion. In so doing, he’s going too far and stretching science beyond what it can know. It’s leading you to quote him as an authority while missing the fallacies.

      If a scientist is going to give us odds for b above, it’s intellectually honest to communicate that we can’t have high confidence in the odds (wide margin of error) due to 1 and 2 above. It’s even more dishonest when someone relates conclusions based on fine-tuning approach b without communicating that the odds were derived from a very small slice of the possible arrangements of laws for which our imagination is far too small. If this isn’t communicated, then we’re bring the weight and influence of science to bear on a conclusion and vastly overstating the odds and confidences in what the actual science can say. If you disagree, please help me understand where without citing a response given by someone else to someone else’s argument that doesn’t match my own. If you’re unconvinced that this is the pattern, let’s proceed. 🙂

      Next you said,

      Richard Carrier contested this conclusion with Barnes, and the discussion was reviewed by atheist JJ Lowder, who concluded that Barnes had made his case, Carrier had not. Barnes’ had replied to Carrier at one point: “I’ve published a review of the scientific literature, 200+ papers, and I can only think of a handful that oppose this conclusion, and piles and piles that support it. …. If you disagree, start citing papers.” To which Lowder commented “This strikes me as a devastating reply. …. I think Dr. Carrier absolutely has to respond or else issue a retraction.”

      This is not relevant, is it? I’ve seen Carrier’s exchange with Barnes from Lowder’s site and Barnes’. I agreed with Lowder’s conclusion there. Do you think my argument matches Carrier’s?

      So I think the same response is appropriate. Barnes has cited 200 papers, you have cited one video by Carroll. I can’t see how you can draw the conclusion you do.

      Why is the same response appropriate? I’m not Carrier and my argument is different than Carrier’s. Here’s his

      “[H]e claims “the fundamental constants and quantities of nature must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range,” but that claim has been refuted–by scientists–again and again.”

      That was a quote that Lowder made of Carrier for which Lowder (the atheist you’re quoting) thought Barnes’ had the upper hand. Are you equating my argument with Carriers? Why? I’m not saying anything like what Carrier is saying here. It seems like you’re still misunderstanding my arguments.

      You quoted me saying…

      “Rough, to me, in this case, is too rough. Our margin of error is too high to be meaningful. This statement… “the fact is that if the universe was produced by random processes, the odds are beyond possibility against our universe appearing.”… seems to me to be an unjustifiable claim. Please help me understand if you believe otherwise.”

      Barnes discusses this question here, pointing out that if the fine-tuning of the gravitational constant is 1 in 10^36. If two factors were each out by a factor of 1000, the fine tuning would be one part in 10^30, still large. I think you don’t realise how ginormous are the numbers we are talking about. And when you consider the Penrose calculation of the probability of a low entropy universe as 1 in 10^10^123 (and remember he was Professor of Mathematics at Oxford and he worked with Stephen Hawking on black holes, you’d think he would know what he was doing!) you divide the numbers by the number of baryons in the universe and they would hardly change (10^10^123 / 10^80 = 10^10^123).

      Maybe it would help if you could elaborate what you think I believe and why regarding fine tuning and I can clarify the misconceptions.

      This response is that pattern again. 🙂

      Do you understand that the evidence you’re supplying doesn’t match my argument? Do you think I disagree with those calculations? Why assume I don’t understand how big of a number that is just because I don’t agree with your conclusions. I don’t think the overall probabilities should be viewed with confidence for the reasons I’ve provided. That’s the gambler’s fallacy again. The odds it would be exactly what it was are very low, but what other entropy states of the early universe would actually support life? Low entropy may be evidence against your claim.

      Let’s go back a bit. When I said, “Rough, to me, in this case, is too rough,” it was in this context. I’d said…

      “Perhaps you can explain why you don’t accept that it’s going to far to say what the odds are?”

      You responded with…

      Because theoretical physics can calculate the odds roughly (in this case rough enough is good enough, because we could divide the odds Penrose calculates by a number bigger than the number of baryons in the universe and the answer would still be enormous). The Barnes paper shows graphs from which the area where life can occur can be shown as a small part of the possible area. So I have seen numerical statements by Penrose, Smolin and Susskind. But like I say, the odds don’t really matter, the fact is that if the universe was produced by random processes, the odds are beyond possibility against our universe appearing.

      I responded saying…

      I disagree with the approach used, as I’ve mentioned. Rough, to me, in this case, is too rough. Our margin of error is too high to be meaningful. This statement… “the fact is that if the universe was produced by random processes, the odds are beyond possibility against our universe appearing.”… seems to me to be an unjustifiable claim. Please help me understand if you believe otherwise. If we can’t talk about potential states that would have led to God, we can’t talk about potential states that would have led to any reality that could potentially exist prior to this universe (or in a place where the laws are different), including whether or not randomness was involved. We can say nothing about it for certain. We can speculate, but I think we should be clear to leave them as just that, speculations, not assertions of impossibility.

      To be clear, of course you’re going to get odds against life if you adjust the strengths of one or two constants at a time. Other constants will be fine for life within a wide range. My arguments against certainty are in a and b and 1 and 2 above. Do you think I disagree with the science in the articles (that life would likely not exist as we know it if the laws were altered in certain ways)? Your response is against that argument, which is not the argument I’ve been making. It’s following the same pattern I’ve been referring to.

      Back on point, can you please try to justify your statement, “the fact is that if the universe was produced by random processes, the odds are beyond possibility against our universe appearing” or clarify it in some way that makes it justifiable? If not, will you admit it is in error because we can’t know the odds?

      Next you said,

      “You seem to be assuming traditional atoms here, in the way they currently exist (e.g. hydrogen and helium). Those are not essential for life. When you say they are amazing against one with any atoms other than Hydrogen or Helium, why do you believe those are a requirement for life?”

      Barnes answers this too, here:

      “If the strength of the strong force were decreased by 50%, all the atoms of all the elements used by living things would disintegrate. …. We have positive reasons for believing that stable, information-carrying, replicating entities are not possible in such a universe. We know what these simple elements (H, He, Li, Be, B) can do chemically, and it’s not very much. You could (and many have) fill textbooks with all the chemical possibilities of carbon. You would struggle to fill a page on the chemistry of the first 5 elements of the periodic table. Carbon can make DNA. Beryllium couldn’t make a mess. Given the extraordinary complexity of life in this universe, it is reasonable to conclude that life is rather hard to please when it comes to universes and their laws.”

      This is another response that misses my argument. The rebuttal here operates under the assumption that I don’t understand chemistry. The rest of my quote you were responding to made my actual argument a little more clear. I said…

      You seem to be assuming traditional atoms here, in the way they currently exist (e.g. hydrogen and helium). Those are not essential for life. That’s why information theory has a huge advantage here, and many cosmologists don’t operate heavily within that framework (though some do). When you say the odds are amazingly against any universe forming, where does that claim come from? We don’t have a clue about what the causal forces might be. When you say they are amazing against one with any atoms other than Hydrogen or Helium, why do you believe those are a requirement for life? We’re not talking about life as it is, within the forces as they are, but as it might be given any arrangement of any forces (which may not need to make Hydrogen at all). All you’d need is a replicator. Randomness in large sets cannot exist without pockets of order. At the boundaries between the two is where replicators can emerge. There’s no requirement for hydrogen as we know it.

      With this context I hope it’s clear that I’m talking about life arising from information which can manifest given vastly different fundamental consistencies in a different universal model. Given that, your response of a chemistry lesson doesn’t address the point of life existing in a universe without what we would call a Hydrogen atom. To assume the periodic table is needed is to admit our own lack of imagination. We can’t possibly know all the forces that could allow for enough stability for life, which means we can’t calculate the odds with high confidence.

      Yes, our universe happens to have specific forces that work together to form what we’ve called atomic bonds, valence shells, affinities or varying charges, etc. But assuming a universe must be limited to these the forces we have is fallacious. Do you disagree? If not, why not? if so, does this affect your confidence in the odds? Why or why not?

      Yes, I’m familiar with chemistry and the chemistry of life as we know it, including carbon’s crucial role. As such, I largely agree with Barnes’ statement in your quote, with one exception. “We have positive reasons for believing that stable, information-carrying, replicating entities are not possible in such a universe.” There may be some positive reasons, but the truth is that there’s not much we can say. Life may exist within the fundamental forces themselves right now, for all we know. I don’t believe we can have confidence that things must progress to the level of physical laws where the first few elements of the periodic table are manifest in reality in order to get enough stability to maintain enough replication to reach life. We’re just guessing at that point, and this should be acknowledged in these arguments. Again, information theory is very useful here.

      Back to the original point. When you say the odds are amazingly against any universe forming, where does that claim come from? We don’t have a clue about what the causal forces might be. When you say they are amazingly against one with any atoms other than Hydrogen or Helium, why do you believe those are a requirement for life? This all goes back to point a way above.

      After missing each of my arguments you went on to conclude this.

      So I will move on to how this discussion suggests to me that you have made decisions on this matter.

      “So there is ambiguity in the definition.”
      “Even if most did think it was true, we’d have to know exactly what definition they’re arguing for when they say it’s true.”

      I believe I was referring to your claim that it’s a fact that the definition of fine-tuning means this. We can’t know concept someone holds and is responding to unless they state it explicitly. Fine-tuning is complex enough to have some ambiguity, so without more information, we can’t say that “dozen’s of people define fine-tuning exactly this way and wrote papers based on this concept” (paraphrasing your responses) is a fact.

      You say there is ambiguity and doubt, yet all these cosmologists seem to have no problems with it. They define fine-tuning in terms of specific ranges of specific parameters. It seems (and I mean no rudeness) like you are setting up an amazingly strong standard of knowledge, much stronger than all these scientists.

      Can you please clarify? Are you saying there is no ambiguity? I don’t know which cosmologist have a problem with it. I’m sure most explain what they mean when they discuss it formally. Yes they use specific ranges and parameters when defining it, but I don’t know that all of them use the definition you gave (which included “theoretic physics”), which is not necessarily always interpreted the same way as the definition you quoted from Barnes (which included “all the ways that the laws of nature … could have been“).

      I argue that I’m not setting up an amazing strong standard of knowledge by asking for clarity before agreeing that your definition is consistently the one that cosmologist all use, and that they are all coming to their conclusions within the limited scope of that definition. I explained why it’s relevant to my confidence level or else I wouldn’t mention it. I have no investment here. I’m not making an assertion one way or the other, only holding out some confidence until I see a response that clarifies the scope of their arguments about fine-tuning. I’m surprised that this would be seen as requiring an amazing strong standard of knowledge.

      I gave an example and you didn’t address it. Fine tuning is a successful meme so it gets used, but it isn’t the most accurate phrase. For example, here’s a statement. “If forces A and B were altered in ways X and Y, the odds of life forming when all other laws remain the same are extremely small.” Do you think I doubt there is a consensus on these matters or that I disagree with the consensus? Consider this second statement. “The probability of a universe being capable of life is vanishingly small.” Do you see how the two statements are not the same? I’ve explained why I lack high confidence in the second but I’ve never rejected high confidence in the first. The second statement does contain a conclusion based on odds we can’t know that are made possible because of ambiguity, reliance on limited imaginations and several layers of fallacies that are applied to other probability sets that we can’t know with great accuracy. I keep saying what these objections are (a and b and 1 and 2 above) are and you keep responding that they’ve been addressed. But the responses you link to don’t actually address them. They’re addressing someone else’s arguments – arguments that I would reject for the same reasons you do.

      ”I can’t count it as a fact until I see a decent sized random survey that clearly describes the terms.”

      Barnes has quoted 200+ papers and named 24 of the worlds most eminent cosmologists all in support of his conclusion. I can’t understand how you can say this. Again, it seems like you are setting up an amazingly strong standard of knowledge.

      I’m not. I think you may not understand how I can say it because I’m not successfully communicating my arguments to you. I don’t know if I’m writing improperly or your reading improperly or both. It’s the knowledge problem plaguing us. I’ve explained how Barnes’ quotes you mentioned don’t resolve the issue and why. It would be more helpful to ask for clarification about my objection rather than concluding that I’m being unreasonable by requiring too much evidence. 🙂

      “Were their multiple surveys that weeded out religious motivations, other biases, etc.?”

      Surveys are not required. These are scientific peer-reviewed papers.

      Here’s the wider context. This was in response to the third fact you wanted me to agree with you said:

      the majority of cosmologists draw this conclusion.

      I responded

      I don’t know if that’s the case or not. I think it’s likely from the data I’ve seen, but I can’t count it as a fact until I see a decent sized random survey that clearly describes the terms. I have seen that Paul Davis believes most cosmologists agree the universe is fine-tuned for the building blocks and environments that life requires. Even if most did think it was true, we’d have to know exactly what definition they’re arguing for when they say it’s true [see a and b and 1 and 2 above]. … Were their multiple surveys that weeded out religious motivations, other biases, etc.?

      I did not suggest surveys are required. I think you understand that my point is that I need some way to know if they are attacking the same problem. None of the quotes I’ve read from Barnes when he mentions other people’s view on fine tuning actually acknowledges whether or not each of them account for the flaws I see in holding confidence about the odds for life permitting universe states. They all agree that the universe would likely not support life in circumstances X and Y, but fail to use what I view as an acceptable method of coming to certainty about what the actual odds would be for life in any possible arrangement of the laws of nature.

      Let’s imagine fundamental forces are like vibrations in fields permeating spacetime. Picture them as spiderwebs of varying thicknesses, stickiness, tautness, etc. This is an extremely loose and inaccurate analogy but I hope it demonstrates the point. Let’s say you know enough to say that if web 4 was dramatically less tight it wouldn’t respond quickly enough to sustain life. And if web 2 was way tighter in it’s vibrations to compensate for 4, it would be too fast and would cause further problems with the same conclusion… it wouldn’t sustain life. So you conclude that life is highly unlikely. Well, first, we don’t know what all the webs are. How many are there? We don’t know. What are all their properties? We don’t know. Which of the multiple things we don’t know are placing constraints and dependencies on other things we don’t know? We don’t know. What would the odds for life be if it didn’t even use spider webs, but bouncing balls or 8-dimensional hoola-hoops? No clue at all. Information theory is abstract enough to at least talk about other realities we can’t imagine in a way to begin framing questions, but many physicists don’t operate heavily under that regime. They use thought experiments that tend to start with fields that exist in our reality. Our imagination is limited because we evolved in this reality with the laws as they are. It is wise to keep “puddle thinking” in mind when considering confidences in odds about such things. Am I making any sense yet? 🙂

      So, here we find ourselves making statements about the odds for life to exist. I’m fine with that. But when we start making the statements with certainty (life must be at least this unlikely because look what happens if we change X and Y in our known universe), we should exercise caution. That’s all I’m saying, in all of this. Do you really believe that is an extreme or unreasonable view?

      “But why limit the possible ways the universe could exist to allow life to just the subset with the fundamental laws we currently have? “

      I wonder what you mean here. Barnes considers “possible physical laws, parameters and initial conditions”. So to work as an objection, you have to be proposing something totally different, like a world not composed of atoms but of something else. Not just different laws, but a different type of reality. This would be a total imagination, not based on anything but speculation. Is that really what you mean? If I proposed a spiritual world as a possible option to avoid some problem (not material, not made of atoms) I think you’d strongly criticise the idea.

      The laws define the reality. I do mean different laws. Laws are just consistencies in nature. It’s induction. And yes, I do mean different laws, like I said. I would not object to the proposal of a spiritual world as a possible option. That IS a possible option. Anytime we imagine changing the laws through a thought experiment and model the outcomes, we’re performing speculation. It’s common and how we reason about these things. Why do we assume the universe would support life if the laws were as they are but the strengths of the forces tweaked relative to each other like this or that, but then stop right there? It’s not an accurate view of the true probability set. Barnes and all the others who argue for this are committing the Cheap Binoculars Fallacy by stopping there, which I found interesting because he mentions it in his paper. That’s my entire point for a above. Just because the possible set is too big for our imagination doesn’t mean it isn’t required knowledge before we can make an accurate estimation with any kind of certainty and low margin of error about the real odds of where life can exist.

      One of the reasons I mentioned reserving high confidence in fine tuning is because we can’t know the possible set of all universes that would and would not allow life, and part of the reason is that we can’t know what the odds would be given different consistencies (laws) in any universe. Physicists look at the standard model and say, what if we alter this boson or that force in these ways (b above, but usually without accounting for 1 and 2 above). What they don’t always say is, what if the universe had N new consistencies that operate at in this force range relative to those other force ranges. Since we can’t do this accurately, its hardly accurate to say what the odds are, right? Even if you say they are low in another universe by tweaking the laws in this universe by X amount, therefore the odds must be low in every possible universe that permits life if you adjust the parameters – that’s the Flippant Funambulist Fallacy (another one he mentions in the paper).

      Further this quote is from Barnes’ paper…

      We should be cautious, however. Whatever the problems of defining the possible range of a given parameter, we are in a significantly more nebulous realm when we try to consider the set of all possible physical laws. It is not clear how such a fine-tuning case could be formalised, whatever its intuitive appeal.

      Barnes is explicitly acknowledging my argument right here in his paper. Here’s his conclusion again, which you are working from.

      We conclude that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of life. Of all the ways that the laws of nature, constants of physics and initial conditions of the universe could have been, only a very small subset permits the existence of intelligent life.

      This definition implies he believes that the consensus argues from the perspective of a above, considering all possible ways the laws of nature could be. This is the only way one could have certainty about the odds. However, in the paper he says, “It is not clear how such a fine-tuning case could be formalised, whatever its intuitive appeal [when considering the set of all possible physical laws].” Also, in the quote you mentioned from here, Barnes says here

      The claim that the universe is fine-tuned for life can be formulated as follows: in the set of possible physical laws, fundamental parameters, and initial conditions of the universe, the set that permits the evolution of intelligent life is very small.

      Does this illuminate the discrepancy a little more? He’s conflating a and b above, which lends more weight to a scientific conclusion than actually exists by the data. And he’s not alone. In my opinion, anyone who promotes the idea that we must have certainty that fine tuning is a real problem is also failing to recognize the distinction here. We can’t know the odds without knowing all the sets, and we can’t know all the sets. Ergo, we can’t know all the odds with high confidence. That’s why I reserve high confidence.

      Next I you quoted me saying…

      “We don’t know enough to say what would emerge if these constants were changed in this way. I fundamentally agree with that”

      Barnes answers this also, here.

      This is once again a reference to Barnes’ response to someone else when the response doesn’t address my actual argument.

      For context, I was responding to your suggestion that I was placing to much weight on Carroll’s arguments over Barnes. I said,

      I think I’ve weighted it properly because Carroll is just pointing out that none of the arguments he’s seen, as I mentioned, are creating an equation with probabilities that we can accurately pin down. We don’t know enough to say what would emerge if these constants were changed in this way. I fundamentally agree with that. The reason is that we don’t even understand dark matter, dark energy, a universal theory, or many other things. There is a lot we do know well, but without a complete picture, we can’t reasonably say with confidence how things would look if this law were different here or there. It’s backwards. It’s going too far, in my opinion, to hold confidence in such reasoning. I’m not saying we can’t hold a belief, I’m saying we cannot say it is scientific fact.

      What I said here was that the arguments you’re referring to don’t refer to probabilities we can accurately pin down because there is a lot we don’t know well about the forces in our universe (I mentioned a few), or the interdependencies that might exist between them. Because of that, I can’t hold certainty in a conclusion about the odds. Your response was describing that theoretical physics works. Do you actually disagree with my conclusion that we can’t know the odds accurately if we don’t understand the forces in our universe, much less their dependencies and constraints (how far they can be changed and still manifest in reality or not merge into or manipulate another force, etc.)? Please respond to this.

      I followed that quote with this, which you did not address…

      Also, the post you mentioned doesn’t address all of Carroll’s arguments I mentioned. For example argument #3, 2:37 in the video, that demonstrates that what we’re tempted to think we know about the fine-tuning of the constants may not be correct. He explained how the possible expansion rates of the early universe would not have precluded life if we use the proper derivations. We don’t know what all the appropriate derivations are for the other constants because we don’t understand all of nature. It may be that none of them give the odds the cosmologists typically cite (simply because we don’t have all the information about the universe yet). We’re assuming a problem that might not exist. I’m not saying one way or the other, I’m just pointing out that this should restrict our confidence a bit. Do you disagree?

      This is part of argument b above, but I would still like an acknowledgment of it if you’re going to continue suggesting that the reason I don’t agree with your facts is because I’m ignorant of the physics or too biased to reason about them correctly (requiring way too much evidence). 🙂

      “we can do theoretical physics. We don’t just measure the natural world, though this is crucial part of science. We can, with exquisite accuracy, predict the behaviour of the physical world by writing things on a sheet of paper. We propose models and explore their mathematical predictions. We find that there are parameters in these models that are not determined by the theory; they need to be measured in experiments. With these parameters in hand, the theory describes our universe beautifully. It follows that if these parameters (or the laws themselves, or the initial conditions of the universe) were different, then our universe would be different. Making theoretical predictions about these other universes is exactly the same process as making predictions about this universe. Experimental confirmation of our predictions in this universe makes us confident that the theory is correct, and thus we can predict what would happen in other universes.”

      Do you think I disagree with this? I’m not sure why you thought I don’t understand this. I firmly agree with Barnes that we can know under what physical conditions life as we know it is unlikely to exist. I’m not asking if theoretical physics and mathematical modeling can answer questions within it’s constraints to a satisfactory degree. I know we provide forces X and Y into a model it will spit out Z with a probability of supporting life. What I’m saying is that we can’t see the possible set of all Xs and Ys and Ns that might be possible and lead to life. Therefore we can’t model them all. Therefore, we can’t have high confidence about Z. Sorry for all the repetition. It may not be helping but I feel the need to try something. Can you confirm that you understand my arguments?

      Now here’s where I disagree with you fundamentally (I’m sorry). It seems to me that your approach to this question is characterised by the following factors, which I regard as inconsistent or mistaken.

      First, you seem not to be aware of the scientific case for fine-tuning, the amount of theoretical and experimental work that supports it, and the fact that most of the questions people pose have been answered (see for example this post).

      I think this is a little unnecessary and unwarranted to suggest I’m not aware of the scientific case for fine-tuning, and to do so primarily because I disagree with your conclusions. I’ve been discussing this with you for thousands of words and several rounds or back and forth, noting some things I’ve read and seen, including many of the things you’ve mentioned. I’m not sure why you’d assume my differences must be because I’m ignorant of the arguments rather closely examining your rebuttals to see if they match my arguments. If you meant to say that I’m not aware of all the arguments for fine-tuning, that is almost certainly likely true. I’ve not claimed to be an expert, though I’m not new to the subject. I’m still learning and you’ve provided some resources I hadn’t yet seen that are valuable. Thank you for that.

      I’m curious which of those question in the post you just referenced that you think I have. I’m also curious if you think that just because I don’t agree with an answer means I haven’t seen the proposed answer, as you seem to be suggesting. To be clear, I am aware of much of the scientific case for fine-tuning (though not all). I’m also aware of much of the amount of theoretical and experiment work that supports it (though only within the framework of b above, without 1 and 2 being adequately addressed in most cases – and without a above, which is a problem). I’m also aware that many of the questions (I won’t say most) people pose have been answered. So, do you still believe my views on these specific topics are inconsistent or mistaken? If so, which ones and in what way? 🙂

      Yet your responses haven’t been (as I would expect in these circumstances, granted the original topic of removing preconceived opinion as bias) to simply state that you don’t know, or posing possible questions, you have rather expressed very definite opinions like “I don’t accept this.”

      Haha. Okay. You got me. I did laugh a bit. 🙂

      Do you believe that stating a belief in what’s not true (e.g. “I don’t accept this”) is equivalently strong to stating knowledge that a belief is true? Does stating I don’t accept something really indicate that my non-acceptance is so strong of an opinion that it is more likely derived from bias than from facts?

      It’s possible you stated a position which I do not accept. I’m curious now, though. Would you mind pointing me to the place where I said “I don’t accept this.” I do sometimes fail to accept claims I don’t find warranted. However, I searched the page for that and it didn’t come up. Can you please show me where you feel I took a position that was too strong and I’ll let you know if I agree?

      It doesn’t matter much either way, since I don’t follow your logic here. Perhaps you can help me understand. My position is that I’m reserving some confidence in a conclusion because I think some of it’s foundation is weak. I’ve explained why and you haven’t really responded to my objections as they stand. Instead, you’ve pointed me to someone else who responds in almost every case to yet someone else’s objections which aren’t the same as my own (or in a way that misses my point).

      Your suggestion that I’m falling prey to bias because I’ve stated a definite position seems both unnecessary and unhelpful for demonstrating your case. It’s the logic that matters, and this accusation falls flat to me. Could it be because I’m biased? Sure it could, but I need something more substantial to demonstrate my errors in logic than that I made a definite claim somewhere.

      The irony of you assertion and its implications is this. My entire position is that I don’t know. That’s what it means to reserve confidence. Let’s contrast this with the confidence in fine-tuning that you’re promoting as a scientific fact. Do you really believe I’m deviating far from the topic of attempting to remove bias? Have you considered that I strongly desire fine-tuning to be a fact, that I desire belief in a personal God, and that everything I’ve said is an argument against my own interest? I just don’t think the evidence for fine-tuning is as strong as you claim it is, despite my desire. Yes I’m biased. I watch out for it constantly. If you can point out a mistake I make in reasoning that is due to bias, I’ll be very grateful. I don’t take offense to that at all, but to be truly helpful the claim needs to be substantiated. Okay?

      I think you have strayed from a neutral view that would be appropriate until you do more reading.

      It is also unnecessary to assume that because someone disagrees with you it must be because they are uninformed and need to do more reading or are biased to the point of being unable to see the truth. I’m not sure why you feel this is helpful without giving examples. If you honestly believe I have strayed from the neutral view to take an extreme position not warranted by the evidence (or lack thereof), please tell me specifically where and in what way so I can correct my mistake or justify why I’ve moved. Otherwise, it’s just insulting. 🙂 Yes, I know I would benefit from more reading, but I know enough to say where my objections are until I learn more that removes them (which is why I have you). 🙂

      Second, you say you want hard evidence, yet some of your objections are based on wild speculation. It seems inconsistent.

      unkleE, under what context did I say I wanted hard evidence? Again, I need specifics or it’s an unhelpful opinion. Sure, it would be nice to have hard evidence of claim X because that’s better for everyone’s confidence levels, but I’m not holding our belief due to a lack of hard evidence. Your implications are misleading again. I think you are misrepresenting me again. Which objections are based on “wild speculation,” specifically? Are you talking about not considering other laws of nature? I explained how not considering them is fallacious which reduces my confidence level, and why it does so. That is a legitimate argument. It is not wild speculation because I’m not the one asserting a high confidence level in odds that are based on a set that can’t be measured, much less modeled or predicted. The speculation comes from those who make the assertion of such odds. My position is that we should state where the odds are relevant and where they aren’t (in these other potential universes with different laws), not that we should actually model them all. Is the difference clear?

      Third, you ask for hard evidence, mathematical precision, beyond what we would normally think is reasonable. 200 papers and 24 expert cosmologists isn’t enough.

      I can only think this is because you’re still missing my arguments. What quest for hard evidence, exactly, are you referring to? What mathematical precision beyond what we’d normally think is reasonable? And do you see how quoting 200 papers and 24 experts isn’t relevant until it can be demonstrated that they actual address my concerns?

      Maybe this weak analogy will help. If someone is saying to you, trust me, my numbers are accurate to at least 60 significant digits (conservative) but their margin of error in at least one spot is at most 1 significant digit, are you going to have confidence that their conclusion is right to within 60? By not considering the lack of a complete theory, the potential multiple overlapping interdependencies of the laws as they exist, and potential other ways the laws can come together, we’re greatly increasing our margin of error. Yet you call me unreasonable for pointing out that I’m reserving high confidence by citing all these experts whose papers for the most part, probably aren’t even disagreeing with me. Remember, I agree with their conclusions that life probably wouldn’t exist in the way we know if we change law X or Y to degree Z. You’re trying to get me to conclude with that low margin of error (60 significant digits, etc.) and I’m saying there’s a step or two that has a much wider margin so I can’t go that far. How, exactly, is this unreasonable?

      So I can’t help feeling, from this discussion as I have from earlier discussion, that you are asking for more certainty about God than you would in other areas of life.

      Wait, we’re not talking about God here. We’re talking about fine tuning. And again, you’re applying a bias to me unnecessarily without even knowing what my biases are. Also, when you accused me of this last time I responded that I apply the same reasoning to all areas of life and gave some examples. Then you said you didn’t think I was lying, yet now you still don’t believe me. I’m forced to think you believe I’m either lying or that my strong bias is blinding me. That’s unfortunate. Please make your criticisms instructive by including examples. Then I could learn something. As it is, the main thing I’m getting from all this is that, despite what you’ve said, you don’t have a high opinion of my reasoning skills because you believe I’m biased against God (insert grin). This makes further conversation difficult since I don’t know that you’re going to be focusing on the actual arguments rather than what you assume I must mean given my naturalist anti-God position. FYI: I’m not a metaphysical naturalist. 🙂

      If you had a diagnosis for cancer from 24 specialists, I don’t doubt you’d believe them. (Probably two would be enough!)

      I’d agree with the hematologists just like I agree with the cosmologists. If they went further than that to tell me odds that we based on something they can’t know and then failed to put a confidence level and margin of error around the resulting odds that accounted for the unknown, I wouldn’t be highly confident in those odds.

      If we had 200+ peer reviewed papers on global warming, I doubt you suggest we need a survey to test for religious or other bias.

      Survey? Oh, why are you holding this over me like I said something out of line? 🙂 You gave me a definition of fine-tuning and said that definition was a fact and you were pointing to papers where other people supported fine tuning. I was saying that I can’t have confidence that what they meant by fine-tuning includes exactly what you mean by fine-tuning (e.g. a fact). I gave reasons why (which I expanded upon in this comment). I was pointing out that a survey would help clarify what each cosmologist meant by fine-tuning (a, b, 1, 2 above, etc.), e.g. “When I measure the odds for the existence of life I consider: e) alterations of the strengths of up to two fundamental forces.” f) “alterations of the strengths of more than two but less than all fundament forces” g) “alterations of the strengths of all fundamental forces”, h) “g and potentially different fundamental laws”, i) “e including interdependencies between the forces”, j) “f including interdependencies between the forces”, etc., z) “I include a confidence level are margin of error around the probability results based on the unknowns.” I’m not actually suggesting we do such surveys. Just that having a meta-analysis study that reports the actual definitions that each paper is confining itself to would be more useful than not having it when it comes to deciding who meant what. By stating that what’s meant by the definition is factual you basically saying you think all 200 papers would review the literature the same way. That not likely given that Barnes himself disagrees in his own paper, and that he also mentions that there are at least a handful of others that disagree (so they may frame it differently).

      Surveys for global warming would be handy as well. a) “Human activity is contributing to it.” b) “Human activity is not contributing to is.” etc. Yes, surveys are helpful. I’m not implying that the scientists themselves would need to do this. Any meta-analysis study could comb through the papers and assemble such results. All I’m saying is that you citing Barnes who lists names of people who agree with fine-tuning does not make it a fact (as you posit) that they all mean the same thing by fine-tuning.

      I won’t say any more, I feel I have been a little more personal than I would like now.

      Good call! 🙂

      But I hope I have shown that (1) most if not all of your objections to fine tuning have been resolved by the science

      No, this is not clear. I haven’t seen any of my objections resolved. I’ve seen many misunderstandings of my rejections along with many resolutions that I agree with to problems that I don’t have.

      and (2) a major difference between you and I is that you appear to require a much higher level of demonstration than I do before you will accept something. I think that is the key conclusion I want to draw.

      Oh, I thought you were done with the insults without any specifics. 🙂

      First, I don’t agree with your conclusion. I doubt you’d require less evidence than I do to believe in anything else that neither of us have an invested interested in (e.g. aliens, an actual zombi virus, etc.). We probably require about the same. The fact that we’ve seen different evidence about fine-tuning (and the other arguments) is factually true and sufficient to explain our different conclusions. We may also have a different way of reasoning about evidence, but that will mostly be due to other areas where we’ve seen different evidence. It may be influencing our beliefs, but we can’t say how much. For now, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to posit that we conclude differently because I have an unreasonably high level of proof before I’ll believe anything. That’s just not true. I would not suggest that you don’t doubt the conclusions I doubt simply because you’re gullible. Never. I hope you can understand why this assertion of my flawed reasoning is unnecessary to explain our differences.

      Second, having said all that, I understand why you might conclude the way you do, but I think your conclusion here might be affected to what I’ve seen as a continual misunderstanding of my concerns. I take the blame for this. It must be hard to interpret my thoughts and I’m probably not a very clear writer. If you continue to pursue this argument seriously, it would really help me to see you respond with an outline of what you think my arguments are before you respond to them again. I think that will focus the discussion so we aren’t spinning our wheels while you continue to knock down straw men I’m unintentionally placing in your mind. 🙂

      What are you saying about fine-tuning? What is my stance regarding your claim? Why is that my stance? Where specifically, is my stance unreasonable?

      My feelings aren’t hurt, unkleE. This has been fun. I hope I didn’t attack you too much. And I hope you understand that I need specifics! Have a great week! Respond whenever (no rush, busy week). 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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  11. Hi Russell, thanks for your reply. I’m relieved I didn’t offend you or upset you, gratified and encouraged that you can say “This has been fun.”. As a christian I believe truth is very important, but like Paul I believe love is the greatest thing. So I’d rather lose an argument than lose a friend. Which makes internet discussions and maintaining my own websites something of a balancing act.

    I want to give what you say due consideration, so I will be a day or two in replying. Have a good week.

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  12. Hi Russell,

    I have been pondering all this, and I want to start by making a preliminary reply, to ask you a couple of questions and hopefully clarify a few basic matters. Then I’ll have a go at all you say.

    I want to clarify what you say about:

    “a) the fundamental laws themselves?, or
    b) just the relative forces of the constants?”

    My question is, what do you mean by changing the fundamental laws themselves?

    Here’s my take on it so we can see if we’re on the same page (recognising that I am not expert in this field, so I’m just doing the best I can and am willing to be corrected).

    Scientific fine-tuning is based on theoretical physics, which consists of all the equations and laws and constants we have discovered and tested and “proved”. As Barnes says (which I have quoted to you), we are confident they are basically right because they allow accurate predictions and explanations of the state of the universe. Therefore theoretical physics is capable of testing any change in those equations and laws and constants.

    But do you mean by a change in those laws? Physicists can easily test what happens if there’s no law of gravity by simply setting the gravitational constant to zero. They can, I think, test what happens if like charges attract and unlike charges repel.

    But obviously they can’t test for laws that we don’t know, but I’m struggling a bit to see what you mean here. Here’s a couple of ideas. (1) What if atoms had 4 electrons in the first energy level instead of 2, etc? Does theory explain why it must be 2, or could it be 4 and could they calculate what sort of universe that would be? (2) What if there were no atoms? What if there was nothing physical at all, but something immaterial?

    Is that the sort of thing you meant? Can you give any other examples so I can understand what you are suggesting?

    Thanks.

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    1. Hi unkleE,

      Yes, you’re on the right track. If you spend some time on this you’ll probably find that the possibilities soon become limited only by our imagination. I would say more, but I’m about to sleep and I probably won’t have any more blog time for a week or more. I want to get to the rest of the comments before I shut down in a few minutes.

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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  13. After reading Russell’s latest response to UnkleE I thought I would have a look a Luke Barnes’ site. I came the following cartoon that amply expressed where I am at:

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Russell, the argument is not circular. And, no, the conclusion is not in the first premise.

    1) Let us look at them. Premise 1 says “the universe is fine-tuned for the evolution of life” the conclusion says that “basic theism or “that the fine tuning of the universe is the result of a deity” is probably true”. Where is the conclusion in the premise? I don’t see it.

    It seems that the only way you could possibly think the conclusion is in the first premise is if you think fine tuning presupposes a creator or an intentional agent. It doesn’t, fine tuning could be an accident of the universe (chance). Indeed you said in a previous comment that you agreed with me on that. Of course, the argument is constructed in such a way that it should be obvious that chance is a live option for the fine tuing of life, seeing as that is the point of premise 2.

    2) The mechanics of the argument are deductive. That is, if you don’t reject, at least, a premise or an assumption the conclusion follows necessarily. In other words, if the premises are true the conclusion follows automatically as a matter of inference, but, seeing as it is an inductive argument, the conclusion does not follow as a matter of truth. That is a useful distinction for our discussion, because the conclusion could be false, even if the premises are true, which is what is left open in an inductive argument–note the probably true in the conclusion. Indeed it is no fault of an argument that it is inductive. Contrariwise, the fault seems to be that you have an unusually high standard of knowledge where only a few mathematical and logical truths could ever meet the criterion of deductive certainty that you have set up as the arbiter of knowledge, even science fails to meet it, for it is inductive after all.

    3) As for the rest of the comment, it seems you disagree with premise 1. Good. I could be wrong about it. But the argument I offered was not about demonstrating the truth of that premise but rather demonstrating that, assuming fine tuning is correct as a feature of the universe, then the best explanation for that fine tuning is something like God. Again, the argument was not designed to convince anyone the universe is fine tuned rather granting that it is fine tuned, then something like God is the most reasonable explanation of that fine tuning. And it is on this point that the remark of objectivity came in to play. And I stand by it. Assuming the fine tuning of the universe, something like God is, by orders of magnitude, the most reasonable explanation of that fine tuning.

    Also, I have no idea what you are talking about when you are talking about logic. In the way of commenter disclosure, I study logic at University, specifically, math logic and philosophical logic, and your comments on deductive logic seem incoherent at best. I am sorry to be blunt, but I have no idea how to charitably interpret your remarks on that score. Perhaps, I have some sort of reading comprehension problem, but the remarks really are incomprehensible to me.

    Last, in regards to Carroll’s argument:

    1) I don’t think we can be way off on this range of values of the constants. Can we be off? Sure. Can we be more off than we suspect on certain constants? Sure. But, taken as a whole, there is no good methodological reason to think we can be way off on most of the constants. Carroll’s doubt is noted, but too much emphasis is being placed on it.

    2) I said we don’t need to know exactly the range of values, although we need to have a good idea, which is what the within reason part emphasizes. The fact that we cannot know exactly does not mean we cannot have a good idea. And, in this case, we have a pretty good idea as 200+ papers and the beliefs of the majority of cosmologists can attest.

    3) Again, we don’t need to know exactly either the actual range of values of the constants or the other possiblities outside that range. We simply need to know that the actual range is very small compared to the other possible range of values. That is it. So the fact that one physical constant has a larger range of values for life or that the possible range of values is smaller than we thought is irrelevant as long as we know, comparatively, that the actual range is significantly smaller than the much larger possible range of values. Simply put, as long as the other range of values is really large compared to the actual range of values, then, we know the values falling there are highly improbable. So, some slight changes here or even slightly larger changes there only matters if they are signficant enough to decrease or increase the range of values in such a way that the comparisons are no longer between really small and really large. And nothing I have seen in the literature or in opinion pieces does that.

    I think I’ll take my leave. It seems the rhectoric may be starting to stir.

    Thanks for the talk! And God bless (and I do mean that)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi No Man’s Land,

      1) Let us look at them. Premise 1 says “the universe is fine-tuned for the evolution of life” the conclusion says that “basic theism or “that the fine tuning of the universe is the result of a deity” is probably true”. Where is the conclusion in the premise? I don’t see it.

      I said it was circular as a deductive argument because, remember, I though you were trying to demonstrate that the universe is fine-tuned for life. The conclusion, “the universe was fine-tuned for life”, is assumed in the first premise “the universe is fine-tuned for the evolution of life”, but it was the very thing I thought your argument was supposed to demonstrate because it’s what we’ve been discussing this whole time (I thought). It seems I read too fast and was mistaking the argument you actually wrote. 🙂 If you start with the assumption that fine-tuning is true and argue towards a God being the cause, that’s a completely different argument.

      It seems that the only way you could possibly think the conclusion is in the first premise is if you think fine tuning presupposes a creator or an intentional agent.

      I can see why you think that, but I was honest earlier when I said I did not presuppose that.

      It doesn’t, fine tuning could be an accident of the universe (chance). Indeed you said in a previous comment that you agreed with me on that.

      Yes. 🙂

      2) The mechanics of the argument are deductive. That is, if you don’t reject, at least, a premise or an assumption the conclusion follows necessarily. In other words, if the premises are true the conclusion follows automatically as a matter of inference, but, seeing as it is an inductive argument, the conclusion does not follow as a matter of truth. That is a useful distinction for our discussion, because the conclusion could be false, even if the premises are true, which is what is left open in an inductive argument–note the probably true in the conclusion. Indeed it is no fault of an argument that it is inductive.

      Yes, this is all correct. I only point out that it’s weaker than a deductive argument which would have been more beneficial for your claim because this one leaves more room for doubt. 🙂

      Contrariwise, the fault seems to be that you have an unusually high standard of knowledge where only a few mathematical and logical truths could ever meet the criterion of deductive certainty that you have set up as the arbiter of knowledge, even science fails to meet it, for it is inductive after all.

      Honestly, I’m trying to figure out how to reason about this. It’s just false, my friend. And it’s deeply insulting. Seriously. And you’re repeating it after I’ve explained my legitimate reasons. I’m a person over here. That’s okay. You’ve earned the right to be direct and tell me what you think, but I’m wondering why you don’t acknowledge my reasons for doubt and state explicitly why each one isn’t relevant to you rather than making general statements that I’m basically unreasonable. Why do you continue to insist that my standards are unusually high after I’ve pointed out the reasons for my doubt. Honestly, I don’t see how I’m holding any extreme views on this subject. You’re talking to a weak agnostic, weak atheistic possibilian. You’re claiming that I must hold your level of high confidence in the conclusion you’ve reached or I’m being unreasonable. At the same time, your claiming that my standard for evidence is too high because I point out reasons that make me less confidence in your conclusion about fine-tuning. Then you state repeatedly that the reason must be because I require deductive certainty before I’ll believe something. 😦 Does this sound like the only possible reason that I don’t agree with your certainty level?

      I’m a fallibilist, coherentist and I well understand the self-contradictions in much of formal logic and the problems with foundationalism. I trust science exactly as far as it takes us, I understand Popper, and I know where the demarcation lines are. I understand induction and deduction and have a decent grasp of formal logic and fallacies. I’m not a meta-physical naturalist and I do count subjective evidence as evidence. I’m not new to all this and I’m very willing to be wrong. I do try to examine claims and assign appropriate, justifiable levels of certainty to my beliefs.

      So when someone asserts that my claim is unjustifiable, I want to know. If I’m being biased, I want to find out and change my confidences. Before I can do that, though, I need it demonstrated where my current confidences are presently off. I’m really trying hard here to hear you, but I don’t see where you’ve done that yet.

      Your statement that I have set up a criterion of deductive certainty as the arbiter of knowledge and even science fails to meet it, is a complete misrepresentation. Since I addressed this before, is it best for me to conclude that you think it’s more likely that I’m lying or unaware of such a high standard, rather than that you are mistaken?

      Faith could lead someone to so much certainty in their conclusion that they assume anyone who disagrees must be doing so for illegitimate reasons. I don’t think you’re being biased on all this. I believe your views are legitimate, but I really does make me confused that you are saying things like that without actually acknowledging all my objections and addressing them one by one. I’d think a much more helpful response would be to go through 2-6 and list why you don’t think each should adjust your confidence any.

      3) As for the rest of the comment, it seems you disagree with premise 1. Good. I could be wrong about it. But the argument I offered was not about demonstrating the truth of that premise but rather demonstrating that, assuming fine tuning is correct as a feature of the universe, then the best explanation for that fine tuning is something like God. Again, the argument was not designed to convince anyone the universe is fine tuned rather granting that it is fine tuned, then something like God is the most reasonable explanation of that fine tuning. And it is on this point that the remark of objectivity came in to play. And I stand by it. Assuming the fine tuning of the universe, something like God is, by orders of magnitude, the most reasonable explanation of that fine tuning.

      But you using the argument that the universe is fine-tuned for life as a premise in your argument that a God is the cause of that fine-tuning. Do you agree that we aren’t justified in believing a conclusion with more weight than the strength of its weakest premise? Your very first one assumes something that you say you could be wrong about. Then you stack on a few more premises on top of it and conclude with certainty that only someone who only accepts deductive arguments will reject something so solid. This logic is flawed my friend. Please reconsider. 🙂

      Also, you didn’t start with “assuming the fine tuning of the universe.” You started with “the universe is fine-tuned.”

      The step between the conclusion that the universe is actually fine-tuned and God is the most likely cause is a separate argument and it has it’s own problems. We all see different evidence, and you are justified in your confidence level, but I may be justified in more doubt for various reasons that don’t mean my process of reasoning is flawed. We can talk about contingent and non-contingent things, but ultimately the argument that there is some ultimately necessary thing that is a complex mind like a God rather than a fundamental component of a God and all conceivable universes (e.g. something like information itself) isn’t very solid. You’d need evidence outside of that to argue for a complex mind as the ultimately necessary thing rather than “not a complex mind.” There are several logical steps involved in that line of reasoning, each with their own set of assumptions that needs to be acknowledged.

      Also, I have no idea what you are talking about when you are talking about logic. In the way of commenter disclosure, I study logic at University, specifically, math logic and philosophical logic, and your comments on deductive logic seem incoherent at best. I am sorry to be blunt, but I have no idea how to charitably interpret your remarks on that score. Perhaps, I have some sort of reading comprehension problem, but the remarks really are incomprehensible to me.

      Anything is possible, and I’m certainly fallible. More than likely it’s a writing problem. I’ve had very little sleep lately and didn’t take much time in my response. I know some of my thoughts have come out jumbled but I had to run out the door and I really wanted to get something to you. I didn’t carefully read through your argument once I noticed you started with something we hadn’t agreed upon yet. I hope you can understand that. So I didn’t notice that you were just misunderstanding where I was disagreeing with you and arguing for something else entirely. I apologize for the rushed responses, and I thank you for trying to interpret.

      With that said, “Your comments on deductive logic seem incoherent at best” and “I have no idea how to charitably interpret your remarks on that score” are a little harsh. I welcome your criticism, though. I explained that I stopped at the premise (with a quick peek at your conclusion), and that I do understand deductive logic. Criticizing me without citing the examples that haven’t already been clarified is of no great benefit to me. I could clarify what I meant where you didn’t follow something I said if it was still relevant and helpful. With just a critical response and no details to work from, there’s nothing I can do but say thanks for the insult. 🙂 It would be better to go through them one by one.

      I’ve studied both math logic and philosophical logic as well, but I have no need to compare our knowledge. You seem competent and I feel competent as well. I do claim to have lost focus a time or two while juggling all this back and forth with life. 🙂

      For the record, I haven’t made any deductive arguments to you anywhere in our conversation, at least not that I recall, but I could be wrong. Perhaps something I wrote seemed like I was proposing a formal deductive argument when I wasn’t intending it that way?

      Last, in regards to Carroll’s argument:

      1) I don’t think we can be way off on this range of values of the constants. Can we be off? Sure. Can we be more off than we suspect on certain constants? Sure. But, taken as a whole, there is no good methodological reason to think we can be way off on most of the constants. Carroll’s doubt is noted, but too much emphasis is being placed on it.

      I think you’re making a false assumption about how much emphasis I’m placing on it. We’ve discussed it multiple times and this is the first time you’ve even acknowledged it as something we should note. That’s all I’ve been after this whole time. To hear someone say it’s not nothing. It certainly doesn’t disqualify fine-tuning for me.

      2) I said we don’t need to know exactly the range of values, although we need to have a good idea, which is what the within reason part emphasizes. The fact that we cannot know exactly does not mean we cannot have a good idea. And, in this case, we have a pretty good idea as 200+ papers and the beliefs of the majority of cosmologists can attest.

      The fact that you keep mentioning that we don’t need to know exactly is strong evidence that you are still misunderstanding my argument. Again, those 200+ papers support the first premise in my example, not the conclusion which is where yours starts. We can’t make that jump until we acknowledge that hidden assumptions that are outside of the scope of those papers. An acknowledgement of those assumptions would really be great. 🙂

      3) Again, we don’t need to know exactly either the actual range of values of the constants or the other possiblities outside that range.

      Yes, we agree here! 🙂 Got one! But I’m struggling to understand why you think mentioning this is helpful.

      We simply need to know that the actual range is very small compared to the other possible range of values. That is it.

      Yes, and that is what the points 2-6 call into question.

      So the fact that one physical constant has a larger range of values for life or that the possible range of values is smaller than we thought is irrelevant as long as we know, comparatively, that the actual range is significantly smaller than the much larger possible range of values.

      Yes. This has been my understanding and my view for many years. None of this is addressing the fact that points 2-6 make should make us less certain that we can know whether the actual range is significantly smaller than possible range.

      Simply put, as long as the other range of values is really large compared to the actual range of values, then, we know the values falling there are highly improbable.

      I can understand if you feel like beating your head against a wall. If you thought this was my problem I can see why it would cause you dismay.

      So, some slight changes here or even slightly larger changes there only matters if they are signficant enough to decrease or increase the range of values in such a way that the comparisons are no longer between really small and really large.

      I must be really be failing to communicate what’s in my head. Did you notice that I already included this in each one of the points 2-6? It would have to be significant enough to make a difference. Maybe we should talk this out verbally sometime?

      And nothing I have seen in the literature or in opinion pieces does that.

      Because the literature is not tackling 2-6, because it can’t. For 2, we don’t know if we have all the right derivations so we can’t use them. For 3, we don’t have a good model. For 4, we don’t have a complete theory of the universe, so we can’t. For 5, our imagination is too limited and we don’t have a way to experimentally test, so we can’t. For 6, we can’t know this, so we can’t address it either. The papers, like I said, address what they can address and no more. When it comes to speculation, like the potential for completely different laws, they back off and don’t even try to give odds. it’s because of these unknowns and assumptions that many papers are careful to specify that it “appears to be” fine-tuned. Whenever we jump from “appears to be” to “is” as you’re doing in your first premise, we’re running the risk of taking what may seem likely from the evidence we have, and turning into fact without acknowledging the weaknesses or missing data that would be needed for a stronger conclusion. In that case, we’re taking the evidence beyond where it leads due to our own biases.

      The most appropriate way to reason about this would be to actually place some odds on whether or not the universe appears to be fine-tuned, along with a confidence level and a margin of error. Then walk through each of the assumptions I mentioned in 2-6 and ask yourself how much they each should affect your belief that fine-tuning actually is something we can say is true, adjusting your view of the odds along with your confidence level and margin of error with each step. When you reach 6, if you still retain very high odds and confidence with a fairly low margin of error, consider all your potential biases (motivated reasoning, etc.) and do another update. Whatever belief level you arrive at, you can know that it’s been deeply considered in light of the hidden assumptions, rather than without acknowledging them.

      When I’ve done all that, I try to have enough humility to say that someone else may have seen different evidence or have a different understanding of one or more of these points. That may lead them to a different belief with a different confidence level, etc. I don’t jump right to the conclusion that they must not be objectively looking at the facts. I’ve never said that you aren’t completely justified in holding a strong belief in fine-tuning or the things that follow it. I’ve only challenged your conclusion that everyone else must agree with your confidence or not be objective.

      Thanks for the talk! And God bless (and I do mean that)

      I appreciate that. I hope you stick around. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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    2. Hi No Man’s Land,

      I own you an apology for some direct responses that I should have taken the time to soften a bit. You are being very courteous and you deserve responses that demonstrate how much I respect you, which is immensely. I apologize for not responding in that manner, especially recently. Thanks for hearing me out and doing your best to respond in kind.

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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  15. Hi Russell,

    We have 2 conversations open (my fault), so I will try to close off the upper one and put all my eggs in the lower basket. So these comments refer to your comments of August 12, 2015 at 9:10 am.

    “your continual assertion that your conclusion must be accepted with certainty by others”

    I want to clarify this, and then hopefully move on. I tend to avoid arguing about God-belief. I am happy to share my beliefs and my reasons, but I try to make clear when I’m giving my opinions or beliefs and recognise and respect those who disagree. I’m not certain about my God-beliefs, in fact it has been my contention that you try to be more certain than we can be. I am more pushy about facts, but even here, my main emphasis is generally to get agreement on what the experts say. (If someone wants to disagree with the experts, I will argue back for a while, but not for long.)

    So I agree with your quote from your other post about not just continuing to marshall evidence, but rather to try to find why two people disagree. In fact, that is what I’ve mostly been trying to do for a while now. I’m trying to avoid arguing about fine-tuning, but trying to use it as a case study of why we disagree so much.

    “By framing the question with “rather than”, you’re assuming that “nothing” [philosophical nothing] is a possible state.”
    “By framing the question with “what are the”, you’re assuming that there are reasons behind the universe.”

    I don’t know if I’ve really thought about that. I suppose I am, at least provisionally. But it is equally possible I’m simply asking a question. And I can’t see what’s wrong with that. If someone is searching for the cause of abiogenesis, would we criticise them or say they were making assumptions that there was a cause? I don’t think we would, we’d just accept that people ask questions and science and philosophy try to answer them.

    Besides, I could re-phrase to “Why is there something?” and it would be the same question (to me at any rate).

    “the argument you’re referring to is asking for an explanation to an assumed problem which cannot be known to actually be a problem”

    No more than any scientific question, surely, for the reasons I’ve given. I think if we followed your cautious response we’d cut out a lot of science.

    “But the definitions also contain some assumptions. For example, its assuming that what we think of as causality applies at the most fundamental levels in this universe (there are reasons to withhold confidence in that) and every possible prior or more ultimate state of reality. It could be that there are multiple non-contingent things or that everything is non-contingent and so there are no contingent things. It’s also assuming our logic developed based on consistencies in this universe would hold equally true when considering all potential prior states to this universe for which this universe may have been a result.

    I don’t suggest any of these assumptions need to give you much pause or that they completely invalidate the arguments, but I would like you to acknowledge that there are assumptions when we argue about things we can’t know (logic in other universes, etc.).”

    I am happy to acknowledge that. There are other assumptions too, like that we are living in a real world (not a computer simulation) and you are a real person. That our senses tell us something reasonably real about that external world. That language means something. That our logic applies to the questions we are discussing. And so on. I just think it isn’t of much value to keep raising such questions. I’m sorry if I misunderstood you.

    But this is another example of where I find your approach much more theoretical and seeking much more certainty than I think is possible or necessary. And that is a major difference between us. I’ll try to be more aware of this in future though.

    I will leave the rest of what you say in that comment and incorporate it into my response to your comment just above this. Hopefully it will be easier to follow.

    Thanks

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    1. Hi unkleE,

      You quoted me saying…

      “your continual assertion that your conclusion must be accepted with certainty by others”

      I want to clarify this, and then hopefully move on. I tend to avoid arguing about God-belief. I am happy to share my beliefs and my reasons, but I try to make clear when I’m giving my opinions or beliefs and recognise and respect those who disagree. I’m not certain about my God-beliefs, in fact it has been my contention that you try to be more certain than we can be.

      I know. I appreciate that. I wasn’t talking about your God-belief, though.

      I am more pushy about facts, but even here, my main emphasis is generally to get agreement on what the experts say. (If someone wants to disagree with the experts, I will argue back for a while, but not for long.)

      I’ve never disagreed with the experts here. Not once that I can recall. But you’ve been pushing that I mush have certainty to the same degree you do or else I’m being bias and distrusting science too much. What I’ve been trying really hard to point out is that I filter the science by what it says and what is does not say, and the potential problems in what it does not say, and then I apply some uncertainty based on those problems. You seem to be ignoring the problems (or not agreeing that they are problems) so you come to certainty and then push hard insisting I join you or be labeled essentially irrational. When I mention them, you skip them as if they don’t exist and don’t say why. I’m trying to respond to everything relevant. You replies mainly mention trivial things, and very rarely the heart of my argument.

      So I agree with your quote from your other post about not just continuing to marshall evidence, but rather to try to find why two people disagree. In fact, that is what I’ve mostly been trying to do for a while now. I’m trying to avoid arguing about fine-tuning, but trying to use it as a case study of why we disagree so much.

      I’ve mentioned several times why I think we disagree. We see different evidence. That is sufficient to explain our differences. I’m acknowledging the counter-evidence as worth something which reduces my certainty. Your insisting that I’m just being unreasonable without discussing the counter-evidence, or that’s how it seems. 🙂

      “By framing the question with “rather than”, you’re assuming that “nothing” [philosophical nothing] is a possible state.”
      “By framing the question with “what are the”, you’re assuming that there are reasons behind the universe.”

      I don’t know if I’ve really thought about that. I suppose I am, at least provisionally. But it is equally possible I’m simply asking a question. And I can’t see what’s wrong with that. If someone is searching for the cause of abiogenesis, would we criticise them or say they were making assumptions that there was a cause? I don’t think we would, we’d just accept that people ask questions and science and philosophy try to answer them.

      Besides, I could re-phrase to “Why is there something?” and it would be the same question (to me at any rate).

      “the argument you’re referring to is asking for an explanation to an assumed problem which cannot be known to actually be a problem”

      No more than any scientific question, surely, for the reasons I’ve given. I think if we followed your cautious response we’d cut out a lot of science.

      “But the definitions also contain some assumptions. For example, its assuming that what we think of as causality applies at the most fundamental levels in this universe (there are reasons to withhold confidence in that) and every possible prior or more ultimate state of reality. It could be that there are multiple non-contingent things or that everything is non-contingent and so there are no contingent things. It’s also assuming our logic developed based on consistencies in this universe would hold equally true when considering all potential prior states to this universe for which this universe may have been a result.

      I’m not criticizing the assumptions. Please understand. I said it’s the assumptions in the questions that matter in this specific case on fine-tuning. You replied that your argument has no assumptions. All my response here was to point out that it indeed does have some. Besides that, you quoted me next explaining that these are just examples, but assumptions pile up on one another until eventually they are worthy of consideration.

      I don’t suggest any of these assumptions need to give you much pause or that they completely invalidate the arguments, but I would like you to acknowledge that there are assumptions when we argue about things we can’t know (logic in other universes, etc.).”

      You replied…

      I am happy to acknowledge that. There are other assumptions too, like that we are living in a real world (not a computer simulation) and you are a real person. That our senses tell us something reasonably real about that external world. That language means something. That our logic applies to the questions we are discussing. And so on. I just think it isn’t of much value to keep raising such questions. I’m sorry if I misunderstood you.

      I think you understand I wasn’t claiming that I listed all the assumptions (that there aren’t others).  My point was that there are assumptions, and then I moved on to the assumptions in the specific fine-tuning argument which are the only ones I was saying are worthy of addressing, because they are where we find our differences in this case. But your reply (and the your next reply) didn’t even acknowledge them. I’ve pointed them out quite a few times now, and they have yet to be acknowledged. Instead, you continue asserting that I’m requiring too much evidence. I’m finding this conversation extremely difficult, my friend.

      I do appreciate your attempts, and I’m not sure where the disconnect is. I think you aren’t aware how difficult it is for me to hear people claim I’m being unreasonable without acknowledging the arguments that lead me to a different conclusion.

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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  16. Hi Russell,

    When I cam to address the next matters, I started to become a little confused. You say:

    “Argument 1 is that if we assume the probabilities are correct, the odds of life arising in our universe by chance is very small.

    I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that. I certainly don’t.”

    That’s what I though we were disagreeing about. You were (I thought) expressing doubts about whether the numbers were known accurately enough (Sean Carroll’s argument) and whether there might be other forms of universes outside the laws and constants tested by theoretical physics.

    Then you say:

    “I believe you’re pushing this too hard when concluding that people who think II must follow from I are either unknowledgeable or biased.”

    But I have said nothing about that. I have continually said I’m NOT talking about the God conclusion (your ii), just talking about the science (your i) .

    Then I came across this:

    “I need to let this go. I’d really like to get to a place where you can acknowledge that other’s aren’t irrational for not holding your conclusions with the same level of confidence you hold them, not for my own sake, but because I think that’s an important place to be.”

    I’m sorry, but I have always acknowledged that, and I can’t understand how that wasn’t clear. I don’t think you’re irrational, and I’m quite troubled to think I gave that impression. I have been trying to point out where I think we use different standards of evidence, but keep getting drawn into other matters.

    But I was getting to the point of thinking I needed to let this go too. I think we have misunderstood each other, and I think this has taken heaps of your time.

    So I agree, let’s give it a break.

    Thanks for your continued “gentleness and respect”, I’m sorry for any misunderstanding and any difficulty I’ve caused you.

    Best wishes

    Eric

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi unkleE,

      “Argument 1 is that if we assume the probabilities are correct, the odds of life arising in our universe by chance is very small.

      I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that. I certainly don’t.”

      That’s what I though we were disagreeing about. You were (I thought) expressing doubts about whether the numbers were known accurately enough (Sean Carroll’s argument) and whether there might be other forms of universes outside the laws and constants tested by theoretical physics.

      Over and over before this I talked about the assumptions in that comment. I did this because you said your argument had no assumptions. Then when I pointed out that the very question has assumptions, you agreed that almost everything has assumptions, including your argument. That was a lead up to this argument. Here, in Argument 1 I pointed out the assumptions explicitly (if we assume the probabilities are correct). After this I spend the rest of the long comment explaining that while I agree with the papers, my entire hesitation in believing in fine tuning with high confidence is because of the assumption that the numbers are correct. I’ve given many examples of this in our discussion and few are acknowledged. I’ll point them out one more time in a moment.

      Then you say:

      “I believe you’re pushing this too hard when concluding that people who think II must follow from I are either unknowledgeable or biased.”

      But I have said nothing about that. I have continually said I’m NOT talking about the God conclusion (your ii), just talking about the science (your i).

      This was a misreading of the two separate arguments. I know there’s a lot of information, and I think it’s too much to read carefully which may be a large part of the problem. I said that Argument 1 and Argument 2 were copied from what I responded to No Man’s Land when he argued for God. Then I said immediately after that your argument doesn’t mention God, so this one is more applicable to you. Then I listed argument I and argument II. II doesn’t mention God. Here are the arguments again…

      I) the fact that there are relatively few ways in which the constants can be manipulated and still get life “as we know it” of the constants necessarily means that

      II) of all the possible ways the universe could exist (completely unknowable) in all possible realities, a life-supporting state is extremely unlikely.

      I explain why someone might reasonably doubt the II necessarily follows I. This is just another way of reframing the logical step you’re making easily and emphasizing caution, and I give reasons why I think it could be reasonable to pause here. Again, this time, you don’t address it, but rather insist that I’m being unreasonable. It’s difficult to have this conversation. 🙂

      Then I came across this:

      “I need to let this go. I’d really like to get to a place where you can acknowledge that other’s aren’t irrational for not holding your conclusions with the same level of confidence you hold them, not for my own sake, but because I think that’s an important place to be.”

      I’m sorry, but I have always acknowledged that, and I can’t understand how that wasn’t clear. I don’t think you’re irrational, and I’m quite troubled to think I gave that impression. I have been trying to point out where I think we use different standards of evidence, but keep getting drawn into other matters.

      unkleE, I think I can call you a friend by now. We’ve invested a lot of time on each other and we don’t often agree about this specific topic, but I’m sure we agree about most of life. I’d love to invest in you some more about other subjects. I don’t mean to suggest you’ve said directly that I’m irrational, but you’ve mentioned things, multiple times, that say as much. You don’t believe I hold a rational or appropriate standard for accepting claims. The difficulty here is that I believe that is a possibility and my goal in all this is to get you to show me where, specifically, my reservations aren’t justified. But if you don’t acknowledge them and address them directly, I can’t see my own error. I’ll continue this way, even if I’m wrong. I need your help.

      I want to try this one more time. I’ll copy and paste the last argument I sent to No Man’s Land. He did not address them in his response either, so it’s not just you that’s insisting I’m a little off and not acknowledging my actual argument. 🙂 This is my last attempt at getting you to acknowledge and directly address the issues. If you don’t, I’ll have no option but to conclude we’re still misunderstanding one another and that I’m not actually requiring more evidence that necessary. If you do address them, please actually address each of them and then tell me whether or not you think my failure to conclude with high-confidence that fine-tuning is a problem can be justified without needing to assume I’m requiring too much evidence. Here’s the comment it’s taken from. It’s a reply to No Man’s Land, but it’s yet another way of explaining what takes me to certainty in fine-tuning to a withholding certainty in fine tuning, so it should be helpful for you as well.

      In summary, before we can get anywhere with this, you’ll need to demonstrate your first premise, “The universe is fine-tuned for the evolution of intelligent life,” (i.e. show that the assumptions from Argument 1 won’t adjust it’s odds).

      Perhaps it will help if I rewrite it like this…

      1. Altering the relative strengths of one or two of the fundamental forces at a time will very rarely yield a universe that will not support life as we know it (i.e. the universe is apparently fine-tuned for life). (I have always agreed with those papers).
      2. We’re using all the right derivations to properly calculate the odds of each force we attempt to manipulate, or if we’re off, we’re not off to a degree that will make the odds of a life-permitting universe more likely. (Carroll questions this and provides an example).
      3. We’re using the best model to determine how life can exist and there is no other form of life that can exist other than in the ways we know of. (My understanding of information theory makes this highly suspect)
      4. Of the multiple forces we haven’t found and don’t understand, and the lack of a unifying theory of all the forces, and the lack of an ability to model changes to more than a few forces at once, and the lack of an understanding of how the interdependence of other forces might cause some to change in ways that would compensate, none of these factors would yield any form of life, known or unknown, that is of significantly higher odds than what we’ve found so far.
      5. The infinite other completely unknown and unknowable potential universes that have consistencies (laws) wholly unlike ours will not yield life permitting values to significantly greater range, on average, than ours does.
      6. The set of possible universes that could potentially have existed with different laws isn’t actually infinite, or if it is, we’re properly discussing odds given an infinite set in a way that keeps them meaningful in the way we intend.
      7. Therefore, our universe actually is fine-tuned for life.

      You’re starting your argument with 7 as a given. I’m saying the papers get you to 1. You want to argue that 2-6 do not raise enough questions to make you doubt certainty in 7. I’m saying that they do cause me to lack high confidence in 7, and that is justifiable.

      You previously said that if someone doesn’t conclude that a creator/designer is orders of magnitude more likely than chance, they just aren’t using any sort of objectivity.

      If you think someone (perhaps someone who’s seen different evidence than you and has a different understanding of information theory than you) can agree with the science of 1 but justifiably fail to assert high confidence in 7 (due to 2-6), will you consider reforming your views on the matter (e.g. perhaps they could be justified even if you aren’t)?

      If you still think withholding high confidence in 7 isn’t justifiable, I’d like to understand why.

      No Man’s Land didn’t address them much other than to point out the papers, which I’ve repeated over and over, only get us to the first argument (1).

      In a followup comment I explain some guesses as to why these aren’t in all the literature.

      Because the literature is not tackling 2-6, because it can’t. For 2, we don’t know if we have all the right derivations so we can’t use them. For 3, we don’t have a good model. For 4, we don’t have a complete theory of the universe, so we can’t. For 5, our imagination is too limited and we don’t have a way to experimentally test, so we can’t. For 6, we can’t know this, so we can’t address it either. The papers, like I said, address what they can address and no more. When it comes to speculation, like the potential for completely different laws, they back off and don’t even try to give odds. it’s because of these unknowns and assumptions that many papers are careful to specify that it “appears to be” fine-tuned. Whenever we jump from “appears to be” to “is” as you’re doing in your first premise, we’re running the risk of taking what may seem likely from the evidence we have, and turning into fact without acknowledging the weaknesses or missing data that would be needed for a stronger conclusion. In that case, we’re taking the evidence beyond where it leads due to our own biases.

      Then, in an effort to explain again why someone might reasonably let 2-6 affect their confidence at least a little, I said the following:

      The most appropriate way to reason about this would be to actually place some odds on whether or not the universe appears to be fine-tuned, along with a confidence level and a margin of error. Then walk through each of the assumptions I mentioned in 2-6 and ask yourself how much they each should affect your belief that fine-tuning actually is something we can say is true, adjusting your view of the odds along with your confidence level and margin of error with each step. When you reach 6, if you still retain very high odds and confidence with a fairly low margin of error, consider all your potential biases (motivated reasoning, etc.) and do another update. Whatever belief level you arrive at, you can know that it’s been deeply considered in light of the hidden assumptions, rather than without acknowledging them.

      When I’ve done all that, I try to have enough humility to say that someone else may have seen different evidence or have a different understanding of one or more of these points. That may lead them to a different belief with a different confidence level, etc. I don’t jump right to the conclusion that they must not be objectively looking at the facts (this is No Man’s Land’s claim, but in your case unkleE, assume they’re requiring too much evidence to reach certainty). I’ve never said that you aren’t completely justified in holding a strong belief in fine-tuning or the things that follow it. I’ve only challenged your conclusion that everyone else must agree with your confidence or not be objective.

      Please consider this and let me know if you think someone can go from high-confidence to not high-confidence without the requirement that they must be needing an excessive amount of evidence to convince them of something. I explained that I doubt I require more or less evidence than you about other things (aliens, zombie-virus, etc.), and that this just doesn’t feel true. You seem like a person who deeply considers and weighs beliefs. I don’t know why there’s a need to assume it’s due to a significantly different bar setting than just a difference in evidence we’ve seen.

      Thank you my friend. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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    2. Hi unkleE,

      I own you an apology for some direct responses that I should have taken the time to soften a bit. You are being very courteous and you deserve responses that demonstrate how much I respect you, which is immensely. I apologize for not responding in that manner, especially recently. Thanks for hearing me out and doing your best to respond in kind.

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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  17. Hi Russell

    I’m really in a quandary about this. We have both agreed that this has become very intense and time consuming, and it would be good to take a break. I want to avoid placing any further burden on you. But you have also asked me here to venture into the waters one more time, and you obviously have strong feelings about it all, and I don’t want to disrespect that.

    We have had a power outage all day (a rare event but it happened today) and I’m going out tonight, so time has been and is limited right now. So I’m going to only address the personal issues now. I will think further about the more specific matters you raised overnight and see what I think.

    Please believe me, you have absolutely nothing to apologise to me for. You have been a gracious host, you have always been courteous and encouraging, and I don’t feel you need to “soften” in any way. Compared to most believer-nonbeliever discussions I have had, this has been remarkably rancour-free. I agree there have been misunderstandings, but I don’t see them as your “fault”. I am upset that you have felt the need to apologise at all.
    I have tried to match your courtesy, but it is clear I have misunderstood you in places. I truly am sorry for this. I have genuinely tried to understand your viewpoints, but with such a large amount of information being discussed, I have felt it best to try to focus on what I thought were the main points and let much more go by, but it is quite possible that I missed something that was crucial for you. So I’m sorry about that.
    More than anything else, I am sorry about your feeling that I have called you “unreasonable” and “irrational”. But here there is clearly a misunderstanding. I have checked this entire post and comments, and “unreasonable” occurs 12 times, all of them by you, and while I used “irrational” twice out of 15 times, neither of them were directed at you. So I can only say again that I’m sorry you gained this impression, which isn’t what I think or what I said.

    In trying to understand how this misunderstanding has occurred, let’s look at a quote by each of us:

    In my previous comment I said: “I don’t think you’re irrational, and I’m quite troubled to think I gave that impression. I have been trying to point out where I think we use different standards of evidence”

    In your response you said: “I don’t mean to suggest you’ve said directly that I’m irrational, but you’ve mentioned things, multiple times, that say as much. You don’t believe I hold a rational or appropriate standard for accepting claims.”

    So it is clear the problem centres on my thought that you are using stronger and less appropriate standards of evidence than I think. But there is, in my mind, a big difference between “inappropriate” and “irrational”. Inappropriate choices can be caused by irrationality, but can, and most often are, caused by different judgments.

    That is how I intended my comments. I feel, on the basis of a long discussion, that you have require much more certainty than I do before you make decisions, at least about God. That doesn’t make you irrational, it may not even make you wrong, it just means I think your standard is inappropriate. My first purpose in making the comments was to try to identify our differences; suggesting you were mistaken was my second purpose.

    So I hope from that you can be a little more at peace. And I’m sorry again for upsetting you about this.

    I’ll leave it at that for now. I’m not sure how I’ll respond to the rest of your comment, but I’ll sleep on it. Thanks again, and best wishes to you. Eric

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    1. Hi unkleE,

      Thank you very much for the kind words and the attempt to soften. I can tell you genuinely care and take this matter seriously, and I’m very appreciative of that.

      I do think this is important to clarify. As advised early by the audio quote I provided, I invest my ego more in my process of reasoning than in any particular conclusion. I do this for many reasons which I can explain, but basically it’s the best way I know of to avoid motivated reasoning, which helps me avoid, as much as possible, being confident about something I’m wrong about (confidently wrong). I discovered in our dialogue that this topic is a trigger for me that I didn’t know I had. You say I’ve been respectful and have nothing to apologize for, but reviewing my words I can see that I obviously let out some frustration that I did not intend to. So I still apologize to you and No Man’s Land.

      Like you, I want to understand what happened and what I’ve learned. Here’s a quote from my last comment.

      You don’t believe I hold a rational or appropriate standard for accepting claims. The difficulty here is that I believe that is a possibility and my goal in all this is to get you to show me where, specifically, my reservations aren’t justified. But if you don’t acknowledge them and address them directly, I can’t see my own error. I’ll continue this way, even if I’m wrong. I need your help.

      You responded with this…

      More than anything else, I am sorry about your feeling that I have called you “unreasonable” and “irrational”. But here there is clearly a misunderstanding. I have checked this entire post and comments, and “unreasonable” occurs 12 times, all of them by you, and while I used “irrational” twice out of 15 times, neither of them were directed at you. So I can only say again that I’m sorry you gained this impression, which isn’t what I think or what I said.

      In trying to understand how this misunderstanding has occurred, let’s look at a quote by each of us:

      You search for unreasonable, but I mentioned you didn’t say that directly. These are the areas I was talking about across many comments where you reiterated the same basic concept I mentioned above (I do not hold an appropriate standard for accepting claims)…

      I feel you are still overstating the amount of bias in decision-making about religion …you set the bar impossibly high for religious belief … whereas in personal matters like marriage and career, I feel unsure how much you use even an “inclusive version of science” and whether you set the bar as high as you do for God.

      I responded to this in this comment.

      … think you have high filters on being for him, but not on being against him (or indifferent to him, which comes in the end to the same thing).

      I responded to this in this comment.

      You set the bar for evidence very high, but have you set the bar as high for unbelief?

      I responded to this in this comment.

      … you would default to some form of non-belief, even though it never satisfied its burden of proof. It sort of seems lop-sided to me.

      I responded to this in this comment.

      You say “all I’m looking for is evidence in favour of a God claim that outweighs evidence against it.” I want to completely agree with this. My problem is that I feel all the above matters suggest you have set the bar higher than that.

      I responded to this in this comment (same comment as above).

      … we have to want to be in that relationship. (If we eliminate all subjectivity, we will be biasing our conclusion against God.) … We may use analytical thinking for each component of the evidence, but the evidence is probably too complex for analytical thinking alone, and we will need to use intuitive thinking as well.

      I said previously that I suspect that our differences would be as much in how we approach evidence as in the evidence itself.

      I responded to this in this comment (same comment as above).

      … this leads me to the conclusion, again, that I think you are aiming for too much certainty about things on which we cannot have certainty. I am saying this is not good probability theory.

      I responded to this in this comment.

      The “fine-tuning” of the universe is a scientific fact

      I responded to this in this comment, and this one, and this one and few others.

      … perhaps you have given Carroll more weight than you should …

      I responded to this in this comment.

      I think you don’t realise how ginormous are the numbers we are talking about.

      First, you seem not to be aware of the scientific case for fine-tuning… the fact that most of the questions people pose have been answered… I think you have strayed from a neutral view that would be appropriate until you do more reading.

      you want hard evidence, yet some of your objections are based on wild speculation.

      … you ask for hard evidence, mathematical precision, beyond what we would normally think is reasonable. 200 papers and 24 expert cosmologists isn’t enough.

      you are asking for more certainty about God than you would in other areas of life.

      I responded to all of these in this comment.

      The biggest challenge for me was that in almost every case when I responded, I did not see a response back from you where you explained what, specifically, about my response that you disagree with or where my reasoning is off or misguided. You cited the papers, but I knew about them, and the science for fine-tuning, and understood large numbers, and probabilities, and logic – I already agreed with all those issues. So I felt like we were in a circle where you would point out a flaw in my approach, I would respond, and you would counter with something that wasn’t in dispute. What was in dispute, for me at least, was where the science stopped and the assumptions start, what the assumptions are, and how much they should reasonably reduce our confidence.

      Then, in your last comment you said…

      I don’t think you’re irrational, and I’m quite troubled to think I gave that impression.

      What I said was, “You don’t believe I hold a rational or appropriate standard for accepting claims.” You searched the page for irrational, and I appreciate the effort, but I said “rational or appropriate standard.” I hope the comments above illuminate the difficulty I’m having here. Then you said…

      So it is clear the problem centres on my thought that you are using stronger and less appropriate standards of evidence than I think. But there is, in my mind, a big difference between “inappropriate” and “irrational”. Inappropriate choices can be caused by irrationality, but can, and most often are, caused by different judgments.

      This amounts to the same thing, which is why I also said “inappropriate” last time. 🙂

      I feel, on the basis of a long discussion, that you have require much more certainty than I do before you make decisions, at least about God. That doesn’t make you irrational, it may not even make you wrong, it just means I think your standard is inappropriate.

      Yes. You think my reasoning is inappropriate. You’ll leave this discussion believing that Russell disbelieves because he has an unbalanced way of reasoning that requires more evidence for God-claims (essentially a bias against God). His way of reasoning is inappropriate. You’ve concluded that, in your opinion, my conclusions only differ from yours because, while we’ve seen the same evidence, you hold a much more appropriate (rational) method of reasoning about the evidence while I require an inappropriate amount. The hardest part is that I want to learn and be clear about my reasoning so, as you’ve noticed, I put great effort into responding to every point you make. You choose a few, which is good, I understand the need to do that. But I feel like what gets chosen for a response from you is rarely something that helps me address the central issue. You say I’m requiring too much evidence and then when I explain that I don’t think I am and why, you don’t tackle those issues very often, so it grows. I think you think you’re tackling them, but due to my verbose responses and poor communication, it’s difficult to get separate them from the noise and you seem to go for the low-hanging fruit. You think I’m unjustified or inappropriate in withholding confidence that science can adequately state whether the universe actually defies the odds (for supporting life) out of all possible universes, rather than just saying it appears to be fine-tuned for life (if we agree on assumptions X and Y). I know it can do the latter, but I can’t put confidence in the former once those assumptions have been illuminated. I don’t feel this is inappropriate and that conclusion is an argument against my interest.

      I do think there has been much misunderstanding in all this. You may have misunderstood me and though I was arguing against the papers, but that’s never been the case. I’m arguing against high confidence in the step between appears and is. What can the science actually tell us about what the odds actually are? There are some reservations there, so I acknowledge them and withhold high confidence. That’s it.

      I know you’ve softened all this well, and you’ve said what you felt you needed to say which is important, but I think it would be helpful feedback if I let you know that some of your criticism sounds unnecessarily condescending (see some of the quotes above)? I wouldn’t mind your claims at all if they could be explained in a way that I can have a chance to agree with and do something about. If I am requiring inappropriate evidence or unbalanced reasoning, I desperately want to know it. But if I take the time to explain why I think we differ many times, and that I think you are quite justified and reasonable in your beliefs, and why specifically I can’t reach your level of confidence in this (the counter-evidence and assumptions which I acknowledge) – and when almost every one of those comments falls into the aether without a response from you to tell me why, specifically, you feel it is inappropriate and where – that’s the part that feels the most condescending. You can probably understand that it’s painful for someone you respect to tell you you’re inappropriate as a general critique and then fail to follow-up with where specifically, or what you can or should be doing differently when you list out the steps of your reasoning for their audit. I know this isn’t your intent, but I’m asking for your help but I feel like I’m being more repeatedly criticized while having my explanations ignored

      I know you’re not ignoring me. Obviously. Haha. You’ve spent a great deal of time on me. But I still feel that when we part ways you’ll be fairly confident that we disagree for reasons that aren’t accurate. And that bothers me. You’ll give my thoughts less weight, judging them to be based on an inappropriate reliance on empirical evidence and not enough on the subjective, intuitive side.

      As an INTP I’m very in touch with my intuitive side. And I’m not an empiricist more than a rationalist. I do think there are other ways of knowing the repeatable experiments and I don’t require hard evidence for confidence. If there are competing lines of evidence I stack them against one another – and testable, repeatable, predictive evidence usually has a heavier weight – but surely that’s no different than how you reason about the world. I’m having difficulty actually discussing it with you for some reason.

      The truth is, honestly, in my heart, I disagree with every one of your statements in bold and I honestly tried to explain why. But I’m open to being shown where I’m wrong, and I’m desperate to know where because much of my life is about coming to the most appropriate for of reasoning to lead to more true beliefs and fewer false ones – and ultimately, fewer false beliefs that I hold with confidence. But to change a flaw in my reasoning, I need it pointed out directly, not in a general way that I can’t work with.

      This is most of what I wanted to say, but I feel it may help if you see the 4 very long text messages I sent to Pascal yesterday. He may quote from them in a future post, but I think it’s useful here since you’ll probably see and few others will. This is how I feel about this post, our relationship, and my answer to our key issue about why I come to different conclusions than you do. Apologies, again for the length.

      I think I’ve made a mess of things on The Problem. In my very rushed responses I’ve done a poor job of taking the time to be as gentle as I’d prefer to be while disagreeing. Sigh. This is a rough time for me for multiple reasons. I need to learn to deal with those who challenge and criticize my form of reasoning without helping me understand and improve it by explaining exactly where it’s wrong and why. When I feel criticized with nothing to back it up, apparently, I push to hard to delineate my steps and get them to explain, but the only thing that gets discussed are the irrelevant details that aren’t part of the reasoning. I write so much that it’s hard for anyone to focus and I usually make a mistake or two that gets us further off topic. Then I get behind on work and rush my comments even more and, without taking the time to polish them, they sound more confrontational than I’d like. I now have two people saying what you’ve said (I require too much evidence). It’s not lost on me that more than one should sound alarms. Evidently, this is a hot-button issue for me. Not being told that, but being told that without an example to help me learn from. When I list the steps in my reasoning and show where I doubt and why, those specifics are avoided as if I didn’t say them (at least so far). I’m really looking for the place, exactly where my folly resides, but nobody seems to be pointing to it. I’m really beginning to feel like I’m just a very poor communicator. Maybe I am just blind to it and they’ve been pointing all along. But that doesn’t help me. 😟 I fear this is the central issue of the blog. People in camp A think people in Camp B require too much evidence. People in Camp B think people in Camp A are failing to express that they been aware of and properly considered all the assumptions and counter-evidence (often, like you, they have considered it). I don’t think anyone is believing things that are unjustifiable to them, and very few are believing things that don’t make sense. It’s almost always a communication problem where we don’t see everyone else’s evidence. So when other people think my standards are too high rather than assuming, as I do, that I’ve just seen different evidence, I want to either see what they’re seeing and fix the holes in my reasoning or ask them to tone it down a bit. But getting to the point where they point out flaws that are actually there rather than ones they assume because I didn’t clearly state everything in my comment, or getting to the point where they are willing to say it’s just different evidence rather than a high bar for evidence – both seem equally unachievable. Thousands of words later I don’t feel much closer to a resolution and I’ve likely offended people, which is the opposite of what I want. I have learned how to better express my argument for why I don’t have high confidence in fine-tuning, but I don’t think it’s helped. I think I’ve learned a lot of things not to do. No argument or point is worth being anything less than gentle and respectful, even when I feel continually misrepresented and as though almost all my key arguments are ignored, and even when time is short. This was a great lesson. Sigh. Thanks for the advice here. This helped a lot! 😊

      I feel misunderstood when people think I only accept empirical evidence. Another sigh. I read interpreted his quote differently, as proportioning the level of certainty we hold to the level of evidence (pro and con). Non-empirical evidence counts, but empirical often should count more, so it’s a balance thing. I think most people agree with this, but we all tend to interpret things, at least initially, the way we’re primed for. That’s why I think the real difference tends to be that some people are comfortable staying in their beliefs if they seem right and feel good. Others have more of a tendency to actively seek out other potential explanations that could also account for the evidence (all kinds) and then hold back certainty a bit in the hopes that they don’t confidently believe false things. That’s why I try to learn about the assumptions and biases and examine them all for most claims. I can see that it’s unusual. But that seems to be the real difference. I don’t require empirical evidence or more evidence for confidence. But if I see other potentially equal or better explanations after actively examining everything, I’ll withhold certainly that my favored or initial explanation is definitely the right one. Does any of that make sense?

      Also, I think the more someone is aware of and understands other alternate explanations and is aware of and fearful of their own biases (fear they made lead them confidently away from truth), the more they tend to reserve certainty in more things.  If someone has a personality that isn’t interested in such things, or hasn’t been made aware of both the flaws in our reasoning and alternative explanations, they tend to see people like me as being too critical. They just don’t think the same way. So I completely get where they’re coming from, I just think that sometimes they assume I just require too much evidence so that science won’t even lead me to confidence. What I really do is balance my confidence against all the factors I see, which isn’t usually what everyone else sees, because more than wanting to be right, I really don’t want to be confidently wrong. I think you and unkleE are somewhere in the middle on that spectrum (believe what feels right vs actively search for better alternative explanations and the modifying weight of our own biases) and I’m just closer to one end. I don’t like being on the end. 😦 Making the bell curve taller is my goal in all of this.

      Wait, there are some people who do require empirical evidence and hold strong beliefs against the supernatural, etc., so am a little closer to the middle than I feared. 🙂 I need to be emphasizing caution to them more. We don’t see many. Instead I spend my time taunting biases and other possible explanations to well behaving believers in faith. Anytime I mention bias or MR I cringe. I really don’t like my position. There are very few situations one can feel like they’re being accused of bias and not feel criticized and defensive. It’s like you’re position of discussing sin. It has to start with us. I am biased too, etc. Everything on your side rests on our sin and need for a savior. Everything on mine rests on the flaws in our reasoning and alternative explanations that should keep us cautious of too much certainty. At the same time, you seem to get by just fine without talking about the points that offend people (sin) nearly as much as I talk about my offensive points. Of course, that’s largely because much of your audience doesn’t believe in it. 🙂 Some don’t believe bias applies to them either. Still, I need to learn from you. I feel my position is the more critical. 😦

      I hope this gives you more insight. I know you’re trying hard to explain your position without being critical. I’m sorry that you found a hot-button issue for me, but I thank you for revealing it to me. I hope some day you’ll find a way to agree about why we disagree. By the way, I’ve never not believed in fine-tuning, and I’ve always had high confidence in the appearance of fine-tuning. I’m still just not completely convinced we can or should ever claim science demonstrates that the universe actually is fine-tuned because it can’t know that without accounting for those assumptions (2-6), which it can’t do. I always want to be careful when using “scientific fact” to back my desired belief when the science can’t actually go is far as I’m trying to make it go. That’s just my opinion, flawed as it may be here. Thanks for taking the time. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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  18. Hi Russell

    I’m sorry, I can see this is distressing to you a little, and I find it difficult to know what to say. I didn’t realise when I started that you (to use your own words) invested so much in your process of reasoning – in fact “more in my process of reasoning than in any particular conclusion.” I am reluctant to take more of your time, and I feel you should only respond when you have time.

    I have decided I am going to write a post on my own blog about fine-tuning and the 7 points you have made that question scientific fine-tuning (without mentioning your name). I will post a link when I do it, maybe within a week, and you can check that out if you want. This will allow me to make my responses clearer, and will allow you space to decide if you want respond or not.

    So I won’t go into that now, but I will try to give a thoughtful response to your comments about how you approach these questions, which of course was the subject of this blog post. I have read right through your latest comment, checked out all the links to previous comments and tried to make sure I have registered every point. A have done quite a bit of reading on this topic, summarised in some pages from my blog, so I will be giving a few references that provide the basis for statements here. Here is what I think …..

    1) GK Chesterton once said: “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” To me an open mind is a means to an end of knowing truth. Similarly the object of a process of reasoning is to arrive at truth, so the truth must always be more important than the process. Yet your quote above suggests the opposite. I feel that is one difference between us.

    2) Our reasoning processes don’t take place in a vacuum. They are dependent on how our brains work, and they must be appropriate to the subject. I want to look at each of these before I respond to your particular comments.

    3) I have mentioned before the differences between analytic thinking and intuitive thinking. My reading indicates that both are necessary but different people may be predisposed to one or the other. In complex situations with insufficient information, intuitive is often better, because structured analytical thinking tends to focus on the bits it can address and ignore the bits it cannot address so well but which may be more important.

    I feel the question of God is a complex matter with less data than we’d like, so a degree of intuitive thinking will be necessary, yet you seem to want to apply almost totally analytic thinking, not very different to scientific thinking. I still think we need to be evidence based and rigorous if we can (many people cannot), but when I say I think you are setting the bar too high, this is a significant part of what I am saying – I think you are trying to use analytical thinking almost exclusively when the matter is (in my judgment) so complex that such thinking cannot achieve the result without more intuitive thinking than you allow.

    4) Neuroscience also tells us that the physical structure of our brains affects and controls our thinking, and in turn our brains are re-wired by our thinking. So Andy Newberg says that atheist and believer brains are wired differently. So it is inevitable that to some degree we become what we think. Arguably long drawn out decision processes wire our brains to be agnostic, a point I’ll come back to.

    5) We humans have developed ways to think based on these realities. One way is the use of heuristics, thinking shortcuts and rules of thumb that yield a better result than straight analytical thinking in some complex situations (see this reference again).

    6) Faced with all this, I think you have chosen to try to be even more rigorous in your analytical thinking, to try to overcome its weaknesses. I think that is inappropriate, given all the above. I think we need to be analytical about those things amenable to analytical thinking, but employ both types of thinking about the more complex choices we make. (Jonathon Haidt, in one of the above references, says we will inevitably employ intuitive thinking about religious/moral questions, and then use analytical thinking to rationalise our choice (not saying he’s right, just saying).

    7) Reasoning must also be appropriate to the subject. If we are testing a new drug called thalidomide, we want the testing to be rigorously analytical. But if we are discussing poetry, analytical thought is inappropriate (I am thinking of the scene in Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams as the teacher tells the class to tear out the textbook page that tries to use a scoring system to evaluate poetry). The question of God is obviously important, deserving our very best thinking, but it isn’t simply a scientific question because it is considering something not totally amenable to science, which deals with the physical world.

    I think it is really worthwhile considering what is the appropriate type of evidence, thinking and decision-making we need for God.

    8) Much of your latest comment goes back to a particular previous comment which outlines how you think we should “account for bias and logical fallacies [and] …. flaws in reasoning” I agree with this, but the difference between us seems to be in the degree in which we apply this and how much we allow it to determine our conclusions. For example, our previous discussion covered assumptions, and it was important to you to make the point that my arguments contained assumptions. Now I initially argued that they didn’t, but when pressed I agreed that there were assumptions, but that the assumptions affect everything we think, not just this argument, and were therefore part of the “noise” that we have to deal with all the time. Dealing with this noise was important to you, yet it seems to me that worrying about these somewhat “esoteric” assumptions is paralysing to our thought, and it isn’t sensible, perhaps not even possible, to worry about these assumptions every time we think. So I agree that we need to consider assumptions, but I think we have to be pragmatic about this. I think your approach is less pragmatic.

    9) This leads me to comparing how we decide about God to how we make decisions in the rest of life. I have said many times that I think it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to be highly rigorous, examining all assumptions, and accounts for bias and logical fallacies and the flaws in reasoning, understands them well, searches our beliefs to see which have been affected etc (to slightly re-phrase some of your words) when we make decisions about marriage (or long term commitment), career, ethics, how to raise children, how to vote, etc. I think in all these and other important decisions, people like you and I will and should always consider the evidence and try to think carefully and sensibly. But I think we would definitely use both analytical and intuitive thinking, I think we would accept a reasonable degree of uncertainty and we wouldn’t allow that to stop us making a decision. So I feel if that is how we make decisions on other matters, why not about God?

    10) You say at one point that you can’t reach my level of confidence, but I’m suggesting that it isn’t my level of confidence that is different necessarily, but the level of confidence you are setting as your criterion is higher than the level of confidence I am requiring. If you require a very high level of confidence to believe, and a similarly high level of confidence to disbelieve, then you are clearly most likely to stay an agnostic. I think, following GK Chesterton, that my aim in life is to decide what I think and live it. But this requires that I continually review.

    I used to work as an environmental manager of rivers and catchments (or watersheds), an area where it takes a long time to gather sufficient data to make fully scientific decisions because of the high variability of rainfall and runoff. So, rather than wait until we had enough data, by which time the degradation of the catchment may have been too far advanced to arrest, the best method was adaptive management, which required making the best possible decision today, and regularly reviewing it in the light of further data. This gives the best chance of getting it right.

    So I think the same with God. If we think it is most likely that he is there, then I think it best to begin with that probability and start to ask him to give us greater certainty. As we live in this way, we adjust or even reject our belief on that basis.

    11) You say: “You’ll leave this discussion believing that Russell disbelieves because he has an unbalanced way of reasoning that requires more evidence for God-claims (essentially a bias against God). His way of reasoning is inappropriate. You’ve concluded that, in your opinion, my conclusions only differ from yours because, while we’ve seen the same evidence, you hold a much more appropriate (rational) method of reasoning about the evidence while I require an inappropriate amount.”

    I think this is too black and white an assessment of how I feel. I wouldn’t use the word “unbalanced”, and I’m not saying that this is the “only” reason we have come to different conclusions. But I think it is significant. I don’t say this as a personal criticism either – I admire you and I appreciate your openness and friendliness. I just think you are seeking more certainty than we can get, and I think that tends to lead to “analysis paralysis”. I think you have the very best of motives.

    12) So I think our (yours and my) natural wish to be really rigorous in our analysis has to be tempered with some more intuitive factors, not because we want to give in to our biases but because (1) science and pragmatism suggest that is necessary for this type of choice, and (2) not to do so leads to analysis paralysis that ends up getting us nowhere. This is distressing and disorienting for you, and many scientific non-believers would criticise this conclusion, but that is what I think

    Just because I think it doesn’t make this conclusion right. You may be right and I may be wrong. But (1) I think at least we can see that this is a significant difference between our approaches, and (2) I think I am onto something.

    Now I think this response is long enough, so I won’t at this stage try to suggest a possible methodology to apply all this – I need to do some more thinking on that.

    May I suggest you resist the impulse to respond straight away, but rather give yourself a few days to think all this through. If you think there is something obvious I have missed, then please say so, but let’s leave the main issues to gel for a few days. That is what I have been trying to do lately, that is why my responses are taking a couple of days. I try to think for a day or so, then write and let it sit for a few hours at least before I review and finally send.

    I truly hope this response is helpful and reassuring. Best wishes, Eric

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    1. Hi unkleE,

      1) GK Chesterton once said: “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” To me an open mind is a means to an end of knowing truth. Similarly the object of a process of reasoning is to arrive at truth, so the truth must always be more important than the process. Yet your quote above suggests the opposite. I feel that is one difference between us.

      Truth is the ultimate point for me. I do not think this is a difference between us. The process of reasoning is not more important than the truth, it is more important than any particular conclusions. The reason is that if we invest our egos in a conclusion, we don’t have any good way to avoid motivated reasoning. If we invest our egos in the process of reasoning that is concerned with removing biases, fallacies, and motivated reasoning – and clarifying assumptions and other flaws – we will be more able to adapt to new information that may challenge our conclusions. The end-point is truth, but with a wary eye on the avoidance of being confident in an untrue conclusion. We all seek truth, but if we do so without a processes to remove as many of our flaws in reasoning as possible, we’ll find a conclusion we believe to be true and dig in due to motivated reasoning. Things will reaffirm our intuitions and we’ll be stuck in a belief that may be at war with reality (because we know, but wrongly).

      2) Our reasoning processes don’t take place in a vacuum. They are dependent on how our brains work, and they must be appropriate to the subject. I want to look at each of these before I respond to your particular comments.

      I completely agree with this.

      3) I have mentioned before the differences between analytic thinking and intuitive thinking. My reading indicates that both are necessary but different people may be predisposed to one or the other. In complex situations with insufficient information, intuitive is often better, because structured analytical thinking tends to focus on the bits it can address and ignore the bits it cannot address so well but which may be more important.

      I completely agree here as well.

      I feel the question of God is a complex matter with less data than we’d like, so a degree of intuitive thinking will be necessary, yet you seem to want to apply almost totally analytic thinking, not very different to scientific thinking.

      This is difficult, unkleE. I’m not sure why this is happening. I’m really hoping that you can avoid saying the words “you seem to reasoning or think like this or that.” Please, please stop analyzing me because I strongly disagree with your assessment as I’ve tried very hard to emphasize that every time you’ve done this, which is in almost every comment. Please stop. Let me be clear. Please stop. Since it is in this comment, I will address it one last time.

      I do not “want to apply almost totally analytical thinking.” Sure, I think that way, but I only use it when I feel its appropriate. When analytical thinking helps, I used it. I just tend to see more areas where it helps than most people because my mind picks up those things. It is a mischaracterization to say I “want to apply almost total analytical thinking.” I really don’t understand your need to try to explain why you think anyone who disagrees must have a problem with their process of reasoning. You’ll need to demonstrate your assessment with specifics cases rather than general statements that are in most cases misrepresentations of my position. If you can’t respect that, we really shouldn’t continue this conversation. I hope this makes sense and you don’t feel offended by this request.

      I still think we need to be evidence based and rigorous if we can (many people cannot), but when I say I think you are setting the bar too high, this is a significant part of what I am saying – I think you are trying to use analytical thinking almost exclusively when the matter is (in my judgment) so complex that such thinking cannot achieve the result without more intuitive thinking than you allow.

      I disagree with your conclusion that where my bar is placed is wrong because it’s in a different spot than yours. Honestly, a) how do you know it’s in a better place, b) can you demonstrate that with an actual example that actually represents my opinion, and c) if you could do that, why do you need to say it’s too high rather than different? And why assume that I must be using analytical thinking almost exclusively? I’ve repeatedly explained why I question all the parts of your argument that I’ve questioned and you aren’t telling me why each place I question is wrong. You aren’t backing these generalizations up, so I can’t learn from any mistakes in reasoning that I’m making. Yet you keep making these statements. I’m growing weary of this. 😦

      4) Neuroscience also tells us that the physical structure of our brains affects and controls our thinking, and in turn our brains are re-wired by our thinking. So Andy Newberg says that atheist and believer brains are wired differently. So it is inevitable that to some degree we become what we think. Arguably long drawn out decision processes wire our brains to be agnostic, a point I’ll come back to.

      We always are what we think. 🙂 And yes, our brains are rewired with every though and experience. Every brain is wired differently and we can group people in many ways. As for drawn out processes wiring agnosticism, does that mean no thought processes wires a brain for theism? No. I see it the other way around in this sense. Logical inconsistencies between scripture and science, or experience, or other parts of scripture, may cause long drawn-out thought processes which cause one to question one’s own ingrained beliefs over a long time – which leads to agnosticism. I’m not saying that is how it normally works. I’m just saying that you can’t claim the opposite.

      5) We humans have developed ways to think based on these realities. One way is the use of heuristics, thinking shortcuts and rules of thumb that yield a better result than straight analytical thinking in some complex situations (see this reference again).

      I agree that we all reason this way. However, unless the heuristic accounts for the flaws in our reasoning, it is no more likely, on average, to lead to more true beliefs and few false beliefs (especially confidently false beliefs) than using processes that do account for them without the heuristic. I use intuition when analysis is not appropriate. Saying when is or isn’t appropriate for another person is rarely our place.

      6) Faced with all this, I think you have chosen to try to be even more rigorous in your analytical thinking, to try to overcome its weaknesses. I think that is inappropriate, given all the above. I think we need to be analytical about those things amenable to analytical thinking, but employ both types of thinking about the more complex choices we make. (Jonathon Haidt, in one of the above references, says we will inevitably employ intuitive thinking about religious/moral questions, and then use analytical thinking to rationalise our choice (not saying he’s right, just saying).

      Why do you think the level of analysis I use is inappropriate? Yes, we’ll use analytical thinking to rationalize any choice we make. That’s exactly the point. That’s what motivated reasoning is. The best way I know of to avoid that as much as possible is to seek truth by investing the process of reasoning more than we invest in any particular conclusion.

      7) Reasoning must also be appropriate to the subject. If we are testing a new drug called thalidomide, we want the testing to be rigorously analytical. But if we are discussing poetry, analytical thought is inappropriate (I am thinking of the scene inDead Poets Society where Robin Williams as the teacher tells the class to tear out the textbook page that tries to use a scoring system to evaluate poetry). The question of God is obviously important, deserving our very best thinking, but it isn’t simply a scientific question because it is considering something not totally amenable to science, which deals with the physical world.

      Yes, we have to use each in proportion to the level it is appropriate. However, why do you feel like you should be setting the standard for the point at which one is more appropriate than another for someone else? Much of good intuition is grounded in theory which comes from previous experience and evidence (everyone’s is different than yours). So this is both an oversimplification, and an area you should be very cautious to enter into. When you say that God isn’t simply a scientific question, I wonder what your thinking. Do you feel that by reasserting over and over that I’m only using scientific reasoning that will make it true? I’m curious if you might be justifying your own beliefs by thinking this way. Remember, I’m not challenging your reasoning at all. Nor am I challenging any of your conclusions except in one place – where you say that fine-tuning of the universe is a fact. If you’re putting it up as a scientific fact, I’m going to use science and analytical thinking to demonstrate where I found assumptions worth considering. Taking that response and turning it what feels like a mission to say that I’m only ever using analytic thinking is the only think I see here that seems inappropriate.

      I think it is really worthwhile considering what is the appropriate type of evidence, thinking and decision-making we need for God.

      God is supernatural (beyond nature). Science doesn’t test things that don’t interact with nature. It can say nothing of what God is, but can say some things about what God likely is not. Where do you think I stand in all of this? Yes, we need intuition in conclusions about God. I’m wondering if we’re carrying on a conversation with each other or if you’re talking to someone else. I just feel grossly misunderstood and misrepresented, again. 😦

      8) Much of your latest comment goes back to a particular previous comment which outlines how you think we should “account for bias and logical fallacies [and] …. flaws in reasoning” I agree with this, but the difference between us seems to be in the degree in which we apply this and how much we allow it to determine our conclusions. For example, our previous discussion covered assumptions, and it was important to you to make the point that my arguments contained assumptions. Now I initially argued that they didn’t, but when pressed I agreed that there wereassumptions, but that the assumptions affect everything we think, not just this argument, and were therefore part of the “noise” that we have to deal with all the time. Dealing with this noise was important to you, yet it seems to me that worrying about these somewhat “esoteric” assumptions is paralysing to our thought, and it isn’t sensible, perhaps not even possible, to worry about these assumptions every time we think. So I agree that we need to consider assumptions, but I think we have to be pragmatic about this. I think your approach is less pragmatic.

      UnkleE, please listen. This is the third time in recent comments we’ve discussed this part. I mentioned those assumptions as an example and said they weren’t the ones I was talking about. Yes, they are the noise. Once you agreed, I mentioned the 5 I was concerned with in the actual argument we were discussing. No, they aren’t nothing. No, I don’t worry about that esoteric ones before making every decision. Yes, I am pragmatic about it. Why do you misread me on almost every point and then assume my approach is less pragmatic? That’s not my approach. It’s the version of me that exists in your mind, but it isn’t me. So when you say what’s wrong with the version of me you think exists, you’re just misrepresenting me. Perhaps it would be best if you stop every attempt to try to say what’s wrong with my reasoning until you confirm my processes and I verify you have them right. Maybe it would help to ask more questions and make less pronouncements about me.

      9) This leads me to comparing how we decide about God to how we make decisions in the rest of life. I have said many times that I think it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to be highly rigorous, examining all assumptions, and accounts for bias and logical fallacies and the flaws in reasoning, understands them well, searches our beliefs to see which have been affected etc (to slightly re-phrase some of your words) when we make decisions about marriage (or long term commitment), career, ethics, how to raise children, how to vote, etc. I think in all these and other important decisions, people like you and I will and should always consider the evidence and try to think carefully and sensibly. But I think we would definitely use both analytical and intuitive thinking, I think we would accept a reasonable degree of uncertainty and we wouldn’t allow that to stop us making a decision. So I feel if that is how we make decisions on other matters, why not about God?

      Again, do you think I don’t use both ways of thinking? I do use both ways. Do you think I don’t accept a reasonable degree of uncertainty? I do accept it, but when pressed I will tell you how much confidence I have. I think this is quite sound. Do you think I fail to make decisions unless I have certainty? No, I don’t. I decide things every day and take action based on odds that are right at 50/50 in my mind, and the decision is easier as the odds get nearer to 100/0, or 0/100. We all do this. Why do you think it stops me from making a decision if I’m not highly confident in something? Do you think I avoid making decisions about God due to a lack of certainty? No, I don’t. If some claim about God doesn’t make sense I reduce my confidence in that one claim. If it conflicts with logic or science I decrease it some more. Eventually I might doubt that enough to disbelieve it. If you think I require confidence to believe something about God, you’re imagining a Russell that doesn’t match the real Russell you’re talking to.

      10) You say at one point that you can’t reach my level of confidence, but I’m suggesting that it isn’t my level of confidence that is different necessarily, but the level of confidence you are setting as your criterion is higher than the level of confidence I am requiring. If you require a very high level of confidence to believe, and a similarly high level of confidence to disbelieve, then you are clearly most likely to stay an agnostic. I think, following GK Chesterton, that my aim in life is to decide what I think and live it. But this requires that I continually review.

      I confused about why you think I need a higher level of confidence than you do to believe or disbelieve, or why you think saying things like this will help with not examples to make the case? How can I learn from this even if you’re right. Here’s why I think you’re wrong. I believe something if the odds are 51/49 in my mind. My confidence level is low at that point, but I still have belief. There’s not a certain number threshold that I must reach to then say I believe. It’s just above 50/50. But the degree to which it is above 50/50 is the degree to which I have confidence in that belief. That is what we all do, which just don’t always consciously think about it all the time, and neither do I. I’m agnostic because my belief is right around 50/50, not because it’s 60/40 and I don’t want to call that belief. So I just disagree with your conclusion here and I really hope you stop with these guesses about why we come to different conclusions. I feel like I answered that question in my last comment and in several previous ones, and my answer had nothing to do with a flaw in the way you reason. But you haven’t address my explanations. Instead, you keep pressing your versions which I’ve mentioned many times might be helpful if you can demonstrate with an example that I confirm. But it is both offensive to me and unhelpful if you don’t.

      I used to work as an environmental manager of rivers and catchments (or watersheds), an area where it takes a long time to gather sufficient data to make fully scientific decisions because of the high variability of rainfall and runoff. So, rather than wait until we had enough data, by which time the degradation of the catchment may have been too far advanced to arrest, the best method was adaptive management, which required making the best possible decision today, and regularly reviewing it in the light of further data. This gives the best chance of getting it right.

      Yes, you mentioned this. When we need to act, we employ one of many models we each have for coming to a decision. Sometimes we have more time to analyze data before committing to increase our odds of getting it right, sometimes we don’t. That scenario is not black and white.

      So I think the same with God. If we think it is most likely that he is there, then I think it best to begin with that probability and start to ask him to give us greater certainty. As we live in this way, we adjust or even reject our belief on that basis.

      This is how we reason by default and its plagued by confirmation bias, pattern matching and motivated reasoning. Without a framework to watch out for these and other flaws, we’ll soon reach confidence in any dogma we start with to any degree based on the texts we accept. Almost everyone has some awareness of how to avoid certain flaws, but we’re all somewhere on that spectrum at any given moment with any given belief.

      Second, I think you’re suggesting that I haven’t done this. I have tried assuming he’s there and asking for greater certainty and lived that way. As I learned more about my biases, what the assumptions were, and the alternative explanations, that certainty slipped.

      11) You say: “You’ll leave this discussion believing that Russell disbelieves because he has an unbalanced way of reasoning that requires more evidence for God-claims (essentially a bias against God). His way of reasoning is inappropriate. You’ve concluded that, in your opinion, my conclusions only differ from yours because, while we’ve seen the same evidence, you hold a much more appropriate (rational) method of reasoning about the evidence while I require an inappropriate amount.”

      I think this is too black and white an assessment of how I feel. I wouldn’t use the word “unbalanced”, and I’m not saying that this is the “only” reason we have come to different conclusions. But I think it is significant. I don’t say this as a personal criticism either – I admire you and I appreciate your openness and friendliness. I just think you are seeking more certainty than we can get, and I think that tends to lead to “analysis paralysis”. I think you have the very best of motives.

      You actually said it was lop-sided and inappropriate, so I think unbalanced is a fair representation of your opinion of me here. You’ve said as much about 10 times (that I’m seeking more certainty than we can get), and I’ve responded as many times with a request for you to show many specifically where this is happening. None of the responses I’ve seen have addressed my actual reasoning process or the points of your argument I find unconvincing. Also, the generate assumption you have that I require more certainty than we can get hasn’t be justified, and I’ve asked you to stop. I do not have analysis paralysis for any but a few things for a limited time. I do not have analysis paralysis about the fine-tuning argument. I’m not convinced that it is a fact because of the flaws I mentioned, and that doesn’t mean I have analysis paralysis. It just means I’m unconvinced by your specific argument. I accept the science without accepting your conclusion.

      12) So I think our (yours and my) natural wish to be really rigorous in our analysis has to be tempered with some more intuitive factors, not because we want to give in to our biases but because (1) science and pragmatism suggest that is necessary for this type of choice, and (2) not to do so leads to analysis paralysis that ends up getting us nowhere. This is distressing and disorienting for you, and many scientific non-believers would criticise this conclusion, but that is what I think

      Why do you think I don’t temper my analysis with intuition? I operate strongly on intuition. Do you assume I must not because I don’t agree with you about fine-tuning? It seems like a better approach would be to address the issues I mentioned rather than to repeatedly accuse me of inappropriate reasoning without explaining where or why. What is “distressing and disorienting” for me is your method of ignoring me and attacking straw-men versions of me. 😦

      Just because I think it doesn’t make this conclusion right. You may be right and I may be wrong. But (1) I think at least we can see that this is a significant difference between our approaches, and (2) I think I am onto something.

      I can’t see how 1 is true because I do use intuition a great deal, especially when logic or analysis isn’t relevant, and you haven’t demonstrated how this arbitrary bar placement is different between us. So I’m highly suspect of 2.

      I know you asked me to wait to respond and I think that would be good advice, but I just can’t. I can’t wait for the work-week and I’ll be traveling after church tomorrow. I can not do this anymore. I have far too much work that needs to be done and all my blog time from now on needs to be on generating a post every few weeks. I really need to be done here, unkleE. I don’t think we are able to successfully communicate. I take the blame for that. I genuinely appreciate your effort.

      I have nothing against the fine-tuning argument, I’m just not convinced that you can claim it’s scientific fact that the universe is fine-tuned for life just because it appears to be fine-tuned, since the science clearly stops at some major assumptions that prevent us from taking the conclusion as far as a fact. I listed some of the reasons why I’m not convinced in your conclusion that it is a fact, and if you can stick to explaining why we can say with high confidence that it’s a fact despite those assumptions, I believe things will go much more smoothly.

      Thank you for taking the time to engage me, and good luck with whatever you plan to do. I hope you get to do at least some traveling across Australia. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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      1. Hi Russell, I am fine to stop here. I suggested we stop a few comments ago, and only made my last two comments because you asked me to. But it seems I have made things worse, not better, which I was afraid of. I am sorry that’s how it worked out, and I’ll definitely stop now. Thanks for your time and courtesy. Eric

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Hello Eric,

          I’ve been reading this stream with much interest. You’ve been on my mind as I run and pray as well. You haven’t gone too far. I also asked Russell to stop and wait before responding, but this is clearly an issue near bedrock for him.

          I have his permission to share some of his offline musings, and I’ll do so soon. I am very grateful for an older man who understands how my friend thinks better than I do. It has been a journey for me, but one well worth the taking. Since I live in the same zip code rather than a different continent, it is a journey that I’m committed to over the long haul. Then again, technology and compassion can bridge oceans.

          By responding to my friend in a thoughtful and thorough manner, you’ve reached a healthy point of disagreement. Healthy. One of my main reasons for being here is to understand one agnostic man and perhaps to better understand skepticism in general. Another reason I’m here is to love my friend better. I think you’ve pulled in the direction of those goals and I’m deeply thankful.

          Best regards,
          Pascal

          Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi Pascal, thanks for your positive comments. I appreciate the encouragement though I don’t understand all that you are referring to. However I’m reluctant to be involved in any more discussion on this post, I think it is probably time to take a break. If you think there are important things still to say, I wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to do it by email – there is an email page on my blog. Thanks, Eric.

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  20. Nice post! I just found this blog yesterday and have enjoyed perusing the pages. My friend Antipas and I created a similar blog last year, convergingmatters.com, and it’s great to see another blog out there that discusses difficult matters from religious / non-religious perspectives with an emphasis on gentleness and respect. I look forward to frequenting this blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi and welcome Aurelius!

      I really enjoy the format you’re using on your site. I may chime in there some time.

      I apologize for the delay in responding to this comment. I’m struggling to maintain a timely response time, but I do read everything and will eventually respond. I tend to not see it for a while then write a lot at once. 🙂

      Let me know if you have any questions or want to discuss anything. I’m going to try to read through Pascal’s recent posts and comments real quick and then think of something to post about in a short time (behind on work at the moment).

      Thanks for saying hi! 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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