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PZ Myers, Jennifer Michael Hecht, and Chris Mooney - New Atheism or Accommodation?
Posted: 27 October 2010 07:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 136 ]
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Hilbert - 26 October 2010 07:36 PM
hamax - 25 October 2010 08:27 PM

And how is this a mistake?
I agree with you that the multiverse is a poor argument against Goldilocks argument, but if this is the worst “mistake” in all of his books, he has done a pretty good job.

1) Dawkins is widely regarded as an intellectual leader of atheism. If his arguments are weak then many readers, naturally assuming this is the cream of atheistic argumentation, will infer that these are weaknesses in the case for atheistism.

2) Dawkins’s specific mistake, repeatedly made in his book, involves using even fairly marginal scientific theories as important components of his arguments. This undermines the central thrust of the case for atheism, which is that extraordinary claims (like the multiverse) require extraordinarily strong evidence. Dawkins’s approach unfortunately gives ammunition to those who would like to argue that atheism is just another faith system, following from an arbitrarily adopted “naturalistic worldview” which is credulous about science.

As I mentioned before, there are other places where he makes this mistake, e.g.  in the argument from personal experience, where he invokes recent cogsci speculation about the brain’s “simulation software”. Obviously the “personal experience” argument for theism has deeper weaknesses, and a good counter-argument should focus on those.

1. By the logic of your first paragraph, theism argued via the Goldilocks Theory is just as weak.  The assumptions required for such an idea are enormous, not the least of which is the idea that humans are to be the standard of measurement, and that the universe must have been geared towards our emergence.  If there is a more arrogant viewpoint, I can’t conceive of it.  In addition, this is but one argument in his book, and he has several other arguments from a biological standpoint which hold far more credibility.

2. He did not have to use solid arguments to offer alternatives to a weak argument.  He offered a weak argument and that was all that was required.  He, and all other scientists, readily admit their ignorance on many subjects, this included.  Your standards for what is required to argue AGAINST theism is far higher than what is required to argue FOR it.  “I made a bad argument, and he didn’t refute it well enough, therefore atheism is not a sound position.”

Certainly conceding your third point, however.

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Posted: 27 October 2010 08:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 137 ]
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GdB - 27 October 2010 01:18 AM

That multiverse idea is not a notion invented by the miracle of fine-tuning. It is a consequence of the no-boundary condition as well as many other theories of modern cosmology… in the same way that the environmental coincidences of our solar system were rendered unremarkable by the realization that billions of such systems exist, the fine-tuning in the laws of nature can be explained by the existence of multiple universes.

Italic by me.

If there is a ‘not’ somewhere in the ellipsis it could make sense, otherwise Hawking seems to contradict himself. George, do you have the complete sentence at hand?

GdB

GdB,

I don’t have the book with me, but basically what Hawking is doing here, he is comparing the strong anthropic principle (the laws of our universe) with the weak anthropic principle (our place within our universe) and saying that many different types of universes might give you one with our laws of physics just like many different types of solar systems might give you one with a life in it. I am not sure why you feel he is contradicting himself.

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Posted: 27 October 2010 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 138 ]
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George - 27 October 2010 08:55 AM

I don’t have the book with me, but basically what Hawking is doing here, he is comparing the strong anthropic principle (the laws of our universe) with the weak anthropic principle (our place within our universe) and saying that many different types of universes might give you one with our laws of physics just like many different types of solar systems might give you one with a life in it. I am not sure why you feel he is contradicting himself.

It is in explaining away of the goldilock’s solar system: when there are many billion stellar systems, then of course there is one solar system that has such a rare planet as earth. And given many universes, of course there is one with the correct parameters to produce stable structures.

Your interpretation differs from mine, but without the full context it is difficult to see what Hawkins really means.

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Posted: 27 October 2010 07:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 139 ]
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George - 26 October 2010 08:55 PM

Dawkins presents the idea of the multiverse in his book as a possible explanation, which is far from making an extraordinary claim, as Hilbert seems to suggest….As far as I can tell, that’s exactly what both Dawkins and Hawking are doing, not being afraid to speculate. None of them has ever claimed that the multiverse was a certainty.

And I never said they said it was a certainty.
However, in the passages I quoted, Dawkins clearly offers the multiverse as his main counterargument to the argument for design. And it is not an adequate counterargument because it is speculation (interesting speculation, I agree) with negligible evidence to support it. There are proper, strong, arguments against the argument from design that he should have put forward instead. Some form of Occam’s razor, for example. Moreover, I think one can make an argument that it is not even clear that there is fine-tuning. But we can discuss that in a separate thread, perhaps.

Reerr - 27 October 2010 07:40 AM

1. By the logic of your first paragraph, theism argued via the Goldilocks Theory is just as weak.  The assumptions required for such an idea are enormous, not the least of which is the idea that humans are to be the standard of measurement, and that the universe must have been geared towards our emergence.  If there is a more arrogant viewpoint, I can’t conceive of it.

You are already doing better than Dawkins, which amplifies my point. He should have focused on the inherent weaknesses of the Goldilocks argument, instead of focusing on a non-theistic speculative explanation for fine-tuning, which shares the same weaknesses as the theistic one.

I agree that in the proper argument against Goldilocks, the multiverse could play a role as an example (God is not the only mechanism, see, it could be this…) but by focusing exclusively on the multiverse Dawkins gives the impression that if the theist can cast doubt on the multiverse (which is not difficult!) then he has neutralized the atheist counterargument, and forced a draw. Dawkins should have made it clear that fine-tuning does not supply strong evidence for any detailed speculative scenario.

Reerr - 27 October 2010 07:40 AM

In addition, this is but one argument in his book, and he has several other arguments from a biological standpoint which hold far more credibility.

I think this is the only place where he addresses the Goldilocks argument (fine-tuning of the constants of nature). If there are others, please point them out to me.

Reerr - 27 October 2010 07:40 AM

2. He did not have to use solid arguments to offer alternatives to a weak argument.  He offered a weak argument and that was all that was required.  He, and all other scientists, readily admit their ignorance on many subjects, this included.  Your standards for what is required to argue AGAINST theism is far higher than what is required to argue FOR it.  “I made a bad argument, and he didn’t refute it well enough, therefore atheism is not a sound position.”

Weak counterargument vs weak argument is a draw. I think that’s a pretty lame performance by a supposed master of the subject, especially when proper strong counterarguments are available.

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Posted: 27 October 2010 09:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 140 ]
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Hilbert - 27 October 2010 07:45 PM
George - 26 October 2010 08:55 PM

Dawkins presents the idea of the multiverse in his book as a possible explanation, which is far from making an extraordinary claim, as Hilbert seems to suggest….As far as I can tell, that’s exactly what both Dawkins and Hawking are doing, not being afraid to speculate. None of them has ever claimed that the multiverse was a certainty.

And I never said they said it was a certainty.
However, in the passages I quoted, Dawkins clearly offers the multiverse as his main counterargument to the argument for design. And it is not an adequate counterargument because it is speculation (interesting speculation, I agree) with negligible evidence to support it. There are proper, strong, arguments against the argument from design that he should have put forward instead. Some form of Occam’s razor, for example. Moreover, I think one can make an argument that it is not even clear that there is fine-tuning. But we can discuss that in a separate thread, perhaps.

Reerr - 27 October 2010 07:40 AM

1. By the logic of your first paragraph, theism argued via the Goldilocks Theory is just as weak.  The assumptions required for such an idea are enormous, not the least of which is the idea that humans are to be the standard of measurement, and that the universe must have been geared towards our emergence.  If there is a more arrogant viewpoint, I can’t conceive of it.

You are already doing better than Dawkins, which amplifies my point. He should have focused on the inherent weaknesses of the Goldilocks argument, instead of focusing on a non-theistic speculative explanation for fine-tuning, which shares the same weaknesses as the theistic one.

I agree that in the proper argument against Goldilocks, the multiverse could play a role as an example (God is not the only mechanism, see, it could be this…) but by focusing exclusively on the multiverse Dawkins gives the impression that if the theist can cast doubt on the multiverse (which is not difficult!) then he has neutralized the atheist counterargument, and forced a draw. Dawkins should have made it clear that fine-tuning does not supply strong evidence for any detailed speculative scenario.

Reerr - 27 October 2010 07:40 AM

In addition, this is but one argument in his book, and he has several other arguments from a biological standpoint which hold far more credibility.

I think this is the only place where he addresses the Goldilocks argument (fine-tuning of the constants of nature). If there are others, please point them out to me.

Reerr - 27 October 2010 07:40 AM

2. He did not have to use solid arguments to offer alternatives to a weak argument.  He offered a weak argument and that was all that was required.  He, and all other scientists, readily admit their ignorance on many subjects, this included.  Your standards for what is required to argue AGAINST theism is far higher than what is required to argue FOR it.  “I made a bad argument, and he didn’t refute it well enough, therefore atheism is not a sound position.”

Weak counterargument vs weak argument is a draw. I think that’s a pretty lame performance by a supposed master of the subject, especially when proper strong counterarguments are available.

In response to your last sentence, I would again assert that a draw is all that is required.  He is a master of evolutionary biology, not cosmology, physics, astrophysics, astronomy, etc, etc(there are other experts for these subjects).  I think perhaps our disagreement is a function of preference; I am satisfied with his treatment of the GT, while you wish he had articulated a forceful argument from a field unfamiliar to his main studies.  I can understand this request, generally, though I disagree with the reasoning behind the request in this instance.  He addresses the main arguments for theism in an attempt to be thorough in his book.  Failure to do so on the part of other authors has resulted in sweeping criticism of the cowardice of the pen to bend to a particular reason or other.  That he has not escaped that criticism on the whole is indicative of just how many bad reasons are employed, and that he has received your brand of criticism (ie: not a “strong” enough counter) when addressing a rather arrogant argument with as much humility of knowledge as he has, is rather frustrating for both the author and those in agreement.

While a .308 is a very efficient weapon in deer hunting, a bow and arrow achieves the very same result: a dead deer.

I believe, in response to your request for the biological arguments against GT, that he offers them not in direct comparison.  In fact, they may not even be present in that particular book.  The emergence of humans out of the universe, instead of the universe in conformity to human comfort, is one such argument that I was delighted to receive from the professor(though I readily admit he may not have ‘coined’ the concept).  I haven’t read TGD in probably a year (last I recall a co-worker was borrowing it), so I could very well be wrong about this, and will have to search the copies of his other books.  In this context, is it unreasonable to cite his other works when discussing a point within a specific book?  I’m not entirely certain of the etiquette in this situation, and I voluntarily withdraw this point if necessary.

Thanks!

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Posted: 28 October 2010 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 141 ]
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Hilbert - 27 October 2010 07:45 PM

However, in the passages I quoted, Dawkins clearly offers the multiverse as his main counterargument to the argument for design.

No, he clearly offers a possible explanation.

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Posted: 28 October 2010 01:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 142 ]
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Hilbert - 27 October 2010 07:45 PM

And I never said they said it was a certainty.
However, in the passages I quoted, Dawkins clearly offers the multiverse as his main counterargument to the argument for design. And it is not an adequate counterargument because it is speculation (interesting speculation, I agree) with negligible evidence to support it. There are proper, strong, arguments against the argument from design that he should have put forward instead. Some form of Occam’s razor, for example. Moreover, I think one can make an argument that it is not even clear that there is fine-tuning. But we can discuss that in a separate thread, perhaps.

Reerr - 27 October 2010 07:40 AM

1. By the logic of your first paragraph, theism argued via the Goldilocks Theory is just as weak.  The assumptions required for such an idea are enormous, not the least of which is the idea that humans are to be the standard of measurement, and that the universe must have been geared towards our emergence.  If there is a more arrogant viewpoint, I can’t conceive of it.

You are already doing better than Dawkins, which amplifies my point. He should have focused on the inherent weaknesses of the Goldilocks argument, instead of focusing on a non-theistic speculative explanation for fine-tuning, which shares the same weaknesses as the theistic one.

I agree that in the proper argument against Goldilocks, the multiverse could play a role as an example (God is not the only mechanism, see, it could be this…) but by focusing exclusively on the multiverse Dawkins gives the impression that if the theist can cast doubt on the multiverse (which is not difficult!) then he has neutralized the atheist counterargument, and forced a draw. Dawkins should have made it clear that fine-tuning does not supply strong evidence for any detailed speculative scenario.

Reerr - 27 October 2010 07:40 AM

In addition, this is but one argument in his book, and he has several other arguments from a biological standpoint which hold far more credibility.

I think this is the only place where he addresses the Goldilocks argument (fine-tuning of the constants of nature). If there are others, please point them out to me.

Reerr - 27 October 2010 07:40 AM

2. He did not have to use solid arguments to offer alternatives to a weak argument.  He offered a weak argument and that was all that was required.  He, and all other scientists, readily admit their ignorance on many subjects, this included.  Your standards for what is required to argue AGAINST theism is far higher than what is required to argue FOR it.  “I made a bad argument, and he didn’t refute it well enough, therefore atheism is not a sound position.”

Weak counterargument vs weak argument is a draw. I think that’s a pretty lame performance by a supposed master of the subject, especially when proper strong counterarguments are available.

If you don’t like Dawkins don’t read his books. Who cares.

The world is certainly wide open for people who think they can make a better argument.

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Posted: 28 October 2010 01:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 143 ]
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I don’t think that’s a fair judgement of Hilbert’s post, Gnostikosis. Hilbert simply feels that Dakwins has made a mistake and there’s nothing wrong with presenting his opinion. FWIW, as much as I enjoy Dawkins’s books, I find some of his ideas excessively inflated. I think Dawkins almost needs to decide if he wants to be remembered as a science author, or an activist. He must know, for example, that he is wrong on blaming the parents for the religious indoctrination of their children, and he clearly knows that his new slogan, “We Are All Africans,” is in fact a very misleading message.

[ Edited: 28 October 2010 01:49 PM by George ]
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Posted: 28 October 2010 02:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 144 ]
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He has written probably a dozen other books, all related to his field: Evolutionary Biology.  They stand, alone, as significant contributions to the field.  TGD was not his “to be remembered by” book, his mark has been made.

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Posted: 28 October 2010 04:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 145 ]
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George - 28 October 2010 01:41 PM

I don’t think that’s a fair judgement of Hilbert’s post, Gnostikosis. Hilbert simply feels that Dakwins has made a mistake and there’s nothing wrong with presenting his opinion. FWIW, as much as I enjoy Dawkins’s books, I find some of his ideas excessively inflated. I think Dawkins almost needs to decide if he wants to be remembered as a science author, or an activist. He must know, for example, that he is wrong on blaming the parents for the religious indoctrination of their children, and he clearly knows that his new slogan, “We Are All Africans,” is in fact a very misleading message.

Well, two things, I wasn’t trying to be judgmental, except for I see people drop Dawkins name like he has the final word in any creation/evolutionary debate. IMO Dawkins uses his activism to drive attention to his books. I don’t really find the books themselves that controversial. He has his field of expertise, but I don’t think the evolutionary debate lives or dies by his argument.

If someone can provide a better argument, fine, put it on the table and let it be judge on it’s own merits. Just seems little need to worry about one weak argument from a well known author who’s expertise is from a different field.

Other thing is a question, what misleading about saying we are all Africans?

Oh and BTW I’m really not that enthusiastic about the multi-universe theory myself.

[ Edited: 28 October 2010 04:04 PM by Gnostikosis ]
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Posted: 28 October 2010 05:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 146 ]
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Just finished this podcast today.
Have to say as a strong and vocal atheist I’m not terribly pleased with either Chris or PZ.

As to PZ, I’m entirely in agreement with him that honesty and facts should not be compromised in order to placate the thin skins of anyone.  NO, NO, A THOUSAND TIMES NO!
However, that’s not the end of the story.  Is our goal to high-five each other or to make progress for humanity?  If the former, we can speak our truth as crudely and as bluntly as we please.  If the latter, we have to be smarter than that and realize, among other things, that our most inflammatory remarks will be the ones that define us among a large number of people who might be on the fence listening to both “sides.”  Hearing such remarks, those people will very often then be, to continue the metaphor, blown over to the wrong side of that fence.  Tact and skillful speaking and writing need not be the same thing as pandering.

I’ve read a good number of PZ’s blog posts and heard him speak on several programs. Some of what he says speaks the unvarnished truth yet is beautiful and insightful and inspiring and even poetic, to use Jennifer’s preferred term.  But other things he’s said and written, in my opinion, are puerile and simply obnoxious.  So on balance, PZ, from this corner it looks like your public square activities aren’t really doing us any favors.

About Chris Mooney, I have a question.  Has anyone ever heard him refer to the consequences of deity beliefs and religion except as they might effect science related matters like education and funding?  It seems as though his views on how religion and the religious ought be treated are informed solely on the basis of science related things.

But all the harms done to science taken together by and on behalf of religion are only a VERY SMALL fraction of the damage god beliefs and religions do to humanity.  Do I even need to start a list to illustrate?
I’ll admit I haven’t read any of his books, but I’ve listened to every word Chris has ever spoken on POI as well as interviews of him on other programs. I don’t recall having ever heard him acknowledge at all, much less in any serious or comprehensive way, the horrors, public and private, wrought around the world every single day owing to religion that have absolutely nothing to do with science but everything to do with inexcusable violations of basic human dignity and decency.  It’s as though he has a Grand Canyon-size blind spot that is nurtured and protected by his profound inclination to “be nice.” 

I suppose if I could only focus my attention on matters relating to science, I’d be more of an “accommodationist,” too.  But I’ve lived too long and traveled and seen too much.  Living in NYC and being in Manhattan on 9/11 and thereafter, for example, was just one event in a long and horrific train of “religious experience.”
Accordingly, while I do my best to carefully choose language and to avoid the sort of obnoxiousness that PZ sometimes displays (it’s not easy!), I’m a lot less inclined to “look the other way” regarding superstition and religious insanity just to avoid ruffling the feathers of someone who might not be a completely wacko fundamentalist and who might possess sufficient brain power to say, “Hey, maybe there is something to that evolution thing!”

Pardon if all this has been said above.  I’m not able at the moment to read all the previous entries.

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Posted: 28 October 2010 06:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 147 ]
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Thank you, everybody, for your responses.
It seems we roughly agree. But…

Reerr - 27 October 2010 09:23 PM

That he has not escaped that criticism on the whole is indicative of just how many bad reasons are employed, and that he has received your brand of criticism (ie: not a “strong” enough counter) when addressing a rather arrogant argument with as much humility of knowledge as he has, is rather frustrating for both the author and those in agreement.

I don’t think there is much humility on display in The God Delusion. Have you read it? Dawkins is condenscending and even arrogant towards theists throughout. Here is one example out of many: in the preface he says

Dawkins: If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down. What presumptious optimism! Of course dyed-in the wool faith-heads are immune to argument…

He is being almost gleefully rude. Even though I agree with the conclusions he argues for, I don’t like that attitude, and I don’t think it is productive.

As for his other books, I enjoyed the ones about evolution, and agree that he’s a master at explaining it. My concern is what happens when he tries to be an apostle of atheism (as he clearly claims to be, see the quotation above). If he does a better job elsewhere on these questions I would be happy to hear of it. However, like any book, The God Delusion should be able to stand on its own.

George - 28 October 2010 06:31 AM
Hilbert - 27 October 2010 07:45 PM

However, in the passages I quoted, Dawkins clearly offers the multiverse as his main counterargument to the argument for design.

No, he clearly offers a possible explanation.

He offers a possible explanation, but it is a weak counterargument and it’s the only counterargument he seriously offers. He doesn’t even mentions the better stronger arguments against Goldilocks, e.g. that an omnipotent God is not at explanation of anything because it is equally consistent with all possibilities. He seems to fall straight in to the trap of thinking he needs his own explanation of the “fine-tuning” in order to counter the theistic argument.

Gnostikosis - 28 October 2010 04:01 PM

Just seems little need to worry about one weak argument from a well known author who’s expertise is from a different field.

If it was just one weak argument then I would agree that it is not a big deal.
But this all started with my original point that Dawkins consistently makes the same mistake in many contexts: using even fairly marginal scientific theories as major components of his arguments. This gives ammunition to those who would like to argue that atheism is just another faith system, following from an arbitrarily adopted “naturalistic worldview” which is credulous about science.

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Posted: 28 October 2010 07:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 148 ]
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You seem to be trying awful hard to not admit that your original condemnation of his book was ill-conceived.  I make mistakes all the time, and I sometimes admit them smile

“I don’t think there is much humility on display in The God Delusion”

He doesn’t claim to know things he manifestly cannot know.

“He is being almost gleefully rude”

Like PZ said in the podcast, truth begets arrogance (paraphrase).  This method works, as Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennett, PZ, and a myriad others can attest.  If you don’t like him, don’t read the book, there are thousands of others from the deistic point of view (perhaps Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason) that are a little less black and white, a little more fluff and flutter.

“But this all started with my original point that Dawkins consistently makes the same mistake in many contexts”

You only gave one example, we have summarily dealt with it.  Next example, please.

“This gives ammunition to those who would like to argue that atheism is just another faith system, following from an arbitrarily adopted “naturalistic worldview” which is credulous about science.”

This is going to persist ad infinitum as long as there are credulous people, piously greedy clergy, and gaps in human knowledge.  Atheists have high hopes of eradicating religion, and while I agree this is probably necessary given what most religion is about, I’m not that hopeful.  However, presenting good science, even when incomplete, does not damn his arguments.  If you want absolutes, your best bet right now is religion, just don’t forget your blinders.

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Posted: 29 October 2010 12:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 149 ]
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Hilbert - 28 October 2010 06:49 PM

He offers a possible explanation, but it is a weak counterargument and it’s the only counterargument he seriously offers. He doesn’t even mentions the better stronger arguments against Goldilocks, e.g. that an omnipotent God is not at explanation of anything because it is equally consistent with all possibilities. He seems to fall straight in to the trap of thinking he needs his own explanation of the “fine-tuning” in order to counter the theistic argument.

lolwat?

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Posted: 29 October 2010 06:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 150 ]
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Reerr - 28 October 2010 07:26 PM

You seem to be trying awful hard to not admit that your original condemnation of his book was ill-conceived.  I make mistakes all the time, and I sometimes admit them

I made my points and, when requested, gave quotes to back them up. You haven’t given any arguments against anything I said. Perhaps you can be more specific about what you want…

Reerr - 28 October 2010 07:26 PM

You only gave one example, we have summarily dealt with it.  Next example, please.

“summarily dealt with”?! I’m waiting for any counter-argument you may have.
The post you are responding to contained a link to my original point, where I gave some other instances. Here it is again: link. If you want I’ll give you quotations to back those up to. Just ask.

This is going to persist ad infinitum as long as there are credulous people, piously greedy clergy, and gaps in human knowledge.  Atheists have high hopes of eradicating religion, and while I agree this is probably necessary given what most religion is about, I’m not that hopeful.  However, presenting good science, even when incomplete, does not damn his arguments.  If you want absolutes, your best bet right now is religion, just don’t forget your blinders.

Is there an argument here? I can’t find anything that responds to what I said. Perhaps someone else can decode this for me…?

Bruce Gorton - 29 October 2010 12:49 AM
Hilbert - 28 October 2010 06:49 PM

He offers a possible explanation, but it is a weak counterargument and it’s the only counterargument he seriously offers. He doesn’t even mentions the better stronger arguments against Goldilocks, e.g. that an omnipotent God is not at explanation of anything because it is equally consistent with all possibilities. He seems to fall straight in to the trap of thinking he needs his own explanation of the “fine-tuning” in order to counter the theistic argument.

lolwat?

I’m not sure what you are asking for here, I’ll have to guess.
I meant “explanation” in the sense of “theory that accounts for”. I’m just making the fairly standard point that God is not falsifiable, since (according to the theist at least) there is no experimental test that would indicate his nonexistence. So God is not an explanation of (theory that accounts for) any particular state of affairs, since his existence is equally compatible with all states of affairs. This point is often made about intelligent design (see eg this blog posting), but it applies equally to God.

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