How to Fine-Tune Arguments for God’s Existence

You are probably right, but it is a very important point to understand.

You were missing my point earlier.

The only reason this came up is because I was explaining why MaxEnt is a bad way to set priors. There are cases MaxEnt is obviously wrong. This is just one case where it is obviously wrong. Also using MaxEnt is mathematically irregular in many cases, which can lead to divide by zero problems before the model encounters data. Also using MaxEnt as a prior in important practical situations (e.g. high parameters, low data) is virtually guaranteed to produce wrong results even after looking at the data.

Also, I will point out that in the bold text you are taking is idiosyncratic notion of repeatability (at least as far as the theory here is concerned). Using theory to predict what a new entity will do is NOT repetition. That is a theoretical construct by which you can arrive at a prior belief. In frequentism, there no way to incorporate this in, because there is no concept of a prior. You start (implicitly and always) with a MaxEnt prior anywhere entities are not directly comparable in frequentism, and are not allowed to transfer knowledge in this way between related problems. It insists, essentially, on math that assumes theory-free empiricism.

And to be clear, there are other ways (distinct from problem specific theory) of setting priors. It almost never makes sense to use MaxEnt. Almost never. Usually when doing any sort of serious modeling you must impose some sort of “regularization” which is (in almost all cases) directly mappable to a bayesian prior that encourages simplicity over complexity in the model.

Have you heard of bayesian information criteria, ridge regression, sparse fitting, dropout, pseudocounts, and weight decay? These are mappable to priors totally different than MaxEnt, and demonstrably better. In the frequentist approach, these “tricks” are just ad hoc tweaks to algorithms to handle boundary conditions and singularities and overfitting. A

Bayesian approach gives a clear theoretical framework that (1) explains all these “ad hoc” fixes, (2) can explain why the work, (3) guess when they are unnecessary, and (4) demonstrate failure cases. And all this is because it explicitly rejects to construct of “repeatability” and embraces the ambiguity of priors.

Regardless, outside these specific domains, in philosophical debates, there is no way to systematically set priors. And priors can dramatically affect your results. Moreover, we know that human minds do NOT work with bayesian inference. In fact, we are hardwired to think in a non-Bayesian way. So even if you could demonstrate the “correct” way to set the priors for this problem and the right way to process the evidence to come to a conclusion, it is almost certainly not going to be intuitive or convincing. Even experts in Bayesian Inference are biologically hardwired to think differently than the formulas, and are likely to find the result non-intuitive.

And here in lies the confusion for physics.

Physics (because of the 2nd law) actually has a good reason to use MaxEnt in its theory. In the right contexts, the MaxEnt prior (or assuming MaxEnt under constraints) is actually how you derive key things. For example, MaxEnt with specific constraints is a way to analytically derive Maxwel-Boltzman’s distribution https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell–Boltzmann_distribution.

So it is common for physicists (for good reason) to focus on MaxEnt, without even knowing why it is used here. There is very strong theoretical justification in physics for using MaxEnt because of the 2nd law. So you can actually use MaxEnt as way to derive global properties from microstates.

There are some other more idiosyncratic reasons this happens too. You usually have massive massive amounts of data and are fitting simple models that arise from very well developed theory. In these situations, priors are unimportant.

I will say, however, that is changing in quantum chemistry. But this is bleading edge innovative stuff, that only a few people even know about at the moment…

Hi Casper,

I didn’t mean for this to be a back and forth and will gladly cede you the final word. Just wanted to clarify a couple of things, but our point of disagreement is in the strength of the evidence for a multiverse.

I don’t know what I wrote that could have been interpreted as labeling string theorists as, " religious loons". I’m sure most string theorists are interested in it for its scientific value, but multiverse advocates, many of them physicists, aren’t being honest with the level of speculation, and therefore faith, that is required to hold to that theory. ST is characterized by it’s internal consistency, it can’t be tested, since it would require a particle-collider the size of earth, it has any number of main branches, it’s produced no predictions, yet the Richard Dawkins and Neil degrasse Tysons of the world carry on as if the multiverse, which depends on ST, is a done deal. That may not affect anyone here, but the vast majority of believers are intimidated by things like the multiverse. and quantum fluctuations, as theories for the existence of the universe - and the New Atheists know it. As an example of a wrong but popular conclusion based on the evidence, here is Dawkins commenting on Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing:

“Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?,’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If ‘On the Origin of Species’ was biology’s deadliest blow to super­naturalism, we may come to see ‘A Universe From Nothing’ as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is ­devastating.” Dawkins’ musings on the multiverse are almost as optimistic.

You and I know better, but not most of our Christian brethren and searchers out there. Since some, if not many, people come to Biologos looking for answers, let’s at least give them an honest assessment of facts. And that is that the multiverse can never be experimentally proven, is built upon a theory which also can’t be tested and thus far, aside from producing nice math, is a failure for explaining the physical world. Presented as such, potential believers might see the hype, and therefore the deceit, of many multiverse advocates. Again, I’m not saying there is no multiverse, only that the level of optimism in it doesn’t match the evidence for it (or against it) at this point, which hides the faith level required.

A quick final word, I don’t think funding for ST is tied to any philosophical strings, but to defend Jon, some serious physicists have claimed that many go into ST simply because that is where the money is.

When I was studying music theory back in high school, I learned quite a few rules of harmony, which I later had to follow in the composition course. These rules, I had learned, were first laid down in the 18th century, especially as related to the music of JS. Bach. I was first under the impression that Bach had himself written down these rules (eg, one shall not allow parallel fifths, but parallel thirds are fine). I eventually discovered that Bach had nothing to do with the rules of harmony. He simply created beautiful music, and later, musicians and scholars found these rules by discovering harmonic patterns in his creations, and codifed them.

The analogy with the physical laws is plain. God did not write down some mathematical laws or choose just the right constants. God created a beautiful cosmos, one of elegant complexity, and one that could sustain creatures made in His image. And those creatures, us, made the universe come alive and have a relationship with the Creator. We discovered the laws (and the constants) by seeking and finding the patterns of how this cosmos works, and we, not God wrote them down and studied them.

So, I agree with Caspar when he says it isn’t the numbers of the physical constants that give us a glimpse into the reality of God, but the fact that our universe is beautiful and wondrously created. Is this a pointer to God? It is for a Christian, as is everything that is true about nature. It might not be for an atheist who holds a particular philosophical position. If you love the music of Bach, the rules of harmony are a fascinating, but non-essential addendum to his genius. If you don’t believe in Bach’s creative genius, well, all I can say is let’s change the subject, because there is no point in speaking about music any further with me.

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I like the analogy, and like you @Sy_Garte, I had the good fortune to study music under talented people (alas for only a couple of years). If we were to ask musicians if Bach could have created beautiful music without the keys, melodies, and many aspects that make his music possible, I think the answer would be no - and Bach is another human being and not God.

The point that I have emphasised is that we cannot do science without these constants and mathematical proofs - but that takes us to the accessibility of the Creation by us. The analogy is that Bach would not create beautiful music without the arrangement of notes, the key, the rules as you call them.

It needs to be said that this is central to the argument. If we must talk in ambiguous terms, we may say that God could have made the creation inaccessible to human intellect/spirit, and we would be none the wiser.

The argument for the constants and subsequent reasoning of fine tuning rests on discussions on the accessibility of Nature, and how we as reasoning human beings can come up with science. That activity is human derived. The theology is that God breathed into humanity the spirit and mankind became a living, reasoning, spiritual being, and if he is so inclined, a human may comprehend the Glory of God proclaimed by His creation. - this capability is given to us by the grace of God.

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Thanks for the reply Casper. I’ve been reading and learning a lot from both sides since we’ve talked, and I think the ID science is far more sound and philosophically honest than the theories proposed by naturalists and evolutionary creationists.

I don’t know what you’re talking about. The logic is largely positive - they point out how the presence of information in nature points to a designer. There are alternative models as well, so your claim seems to either be ill-informed or disingenuous. The researchers working on these models have extremely viable credentials, and have even already responded to criticism of their work from scientists such as @DennisVenema, who I’m assuming you work with. Article here: https://www.evolutionnews.org/2016/11/on_new_model_fo/

@Dpiiiius

Are you familiar with the logic behind why @DennisVenema can be relatively confident that the human population was never as small as 2?

If you start with 1 mating pair (2 people) and during the time span of 6000 years create a population 6 billion people based on the intrinsic chromosomal/genetic diversity “locked into” the 2 sets of Chromosomes … there is virtually no way to arrive at the measurable and extreme diversity of the human genome we find today.

I notice that the article really made no effort to try to argue against this logic. And this does not surprise me; after all, what could the writer say to refute the obvious problems with a starting population of just 2?!

But it does surprise me to see you attempt to leverage a non-discussion into some kind of evidence that Evolution is a faulty model.

3 posts were split to a new topic: Glipsnort responds to a critical article

Yeah, I’m not sure about the viability of either sides’ models, which is undoubtedly a personal problem. I kind of ignorantly, over-confidently, and unnecessarily came for @Casper_Hesp’s (and by extension BioLogos’s) neck after digesting a lot of ID material. That was admittedly the wrong move, primarily because I’m not a scientist or mathematician by any stretch of the imagination. By analogy it’s a lot like being a medieval peasant in a Western European parish - I’m basically illiterate and have to trust that the priest is reading, teaching, and preaching the Word of God to me and my fellow parishioners faithfully. How do I know if the priest in the neighboring parish is more or less correct than my own? Well, to bring this analogy back, I’m going to “learn how to read” the science to the best of my ability. Then I’m going to try and read it on my own. I’m going to hear from a variety of experts and objectively weigh the evidence. And in 2017 with the internet, there is so much information and there are so many resources available, including being connected to a worldwide community like this one, where I can hear from other non-scientists. Nevertheless, it’s a journey for someone like me.

I can honestly say though that I’ve been challenged by the evidence presented here, and I’m currently going through the process of objectively weighing what’s presented by both sides. I have dealt with the arguments of the ID side to a fairly large degree, and am now reading EC material recommended (and written) by @DennisVenema. My initial reflections are that it’s clearly and logically written, makes complete sense, and is already enormously compelling (esp. the Lenski group experiment on lambda phage evolution). I’m at my school library and I just picked up Francis Collins’s The Language of God, which hopefully I can find the time to start reading soon (steadily approaching finals season and the workload is piling up). I also ordered Venema’s book this morning after reading a number of his articles. They are so well formulated that I’m really looking forward to learning more.

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@Dpiiiius,

That’s a great metaphor!

Something to keep in mind as you are reading, is to look at the broad sweeps of information and evidence. We have storm-troopers parachuting onto these pages saying things like “. . . the probability of a specific enzyme evolving is practically zero!” . . . and yet the likelihood that a land-dwelling pre-Hippo creature has to have a new enzyme to become a water-dwelling Hippo seems pretty unlikely.

When pre-whale species grow webbing on their appendages to improve their swimming … that doesn’t require a new enzyme either.

What are the broad strokes to look for? Here’s a short list I would recommend:

  1. If meat-eating dinosaurs fed off of larger creatures, it would make sense that large mammals couldn’t co-exist with dinosaurs. This is why it makes sense that bears, elephants, giraffes and even whales aren’t found mixed in with any of the dinosaur layers. They, in fact, “erupt”, “from out of nowhere in the fossil record”, derived from the tinier mammals that were able to scratch out an existence while Dinosaurs ruled. If Evolution is not the reason, why would these large mammals be so neatly organized above all the large dinosaurs? And why would marine whales only be found with terrestrial mammals, and not with marine dinosaurs?

  2. If all these animals lived together (before or after the flood) we would expect to find large mammal bones mixed in with SOME kind of dinosaurs, whether it be herbivores with herbivores, or marine mammals with marine dinosaurs. But we don’t; because they didn’t share the same time periods.

  3. Another broad stroke can be made by analyzing the nature of the surviving animals released from the Ark. Creationists usually say that the “kinds” of animals released from the Ark are the predecessors to the terrestrial animals we find on Earth today. But there are multiple million terrestrial species alive on the Earth today. For the survivors of the Ark to produce that many species would require a giant burst of speciation multiple times greater than anything Evolutionists have ever proposed.

  4. Then there is my favorite “broad stroke”… except for Humans, rabbits and the dingo, Australia’s wild mammals are all marsupials, suggesting that only a few kinds of marsupial mammals had access to Australia before it broke off of the other continents and drifted into the middle of the ocean. Placental mammals were not close enough to wander onto the Australian land mass.

Australia then had millions of years to allow proliferation of marsupial mammals into various and different ecological niches. If, in fact, there were not millions of years to allow for all this, it would mean that the marsupials (fast and slow) all made a mad dash from the Ark to Australia, ahead of the hungry placental mammals like lions, tigers and hyena (all of which are faster than virtually all of the marsupials), to jump onto Australia just before it lurched into the middle of the ocean - - making it impossible for the placental mammals to follow. Even a cursory review of these factors reveals there is no flood scenario that can explain Australia’s unique constellation of marsupials with no placental mammals until the arrival of humans.

  1. I will save the fifth broad stroke for later. It involves something known as Ring Species. It’s a more advanced topic. But I’ll be sure to bring it up again!

In his review of my book Signposts to God, Casper Hesp makes a number of points which
suggest that his approach to natural theology and what it can achieve is very different from my own. Although he entitles his piece “How to fine-tune arguments”, he himself does not fine-tune any arguments at all! Rather, he finally seems to indicate that he is at bottom a fideist who
simply wishes to respond to God saying “I am”. That will not convince an unbeliever.

It will not do to “avoid making definite statements about something we do not understand completely”. This is an unrealistic perfectionism, and would mean that we can never really discuss anything at all! We have to proceed on the basis of our best present understandings of the science, knowing that the situation may change. All the scientific argument in the book is mainstream, although in the case of cosmology the stream is rather wide! These understandings, right now, suggest that the First Cause argument holds. However, as I say in the final section of that chapter, which addresses most of Hesp’s concerns about the subject, a First Cause argument does not in itself tell us about the nature of God and needs to be supplemented by other considerations. Also, I do not claim that the matter is “proved”, merely that this is where the arguments lead right now. Somehow Hesp ignores this.

Hesp says he is “sceptical” about fine-tuning parameters but he seems to rely in the end on vagueness. A hypothetical different race on a hypothetical other universe might have a different fine-tuning argument. Where does that get us? The details of our universe are not so important but rather the “entire structure and pattern”. Fine, but what does this actually mean? Surely, a structure and pattern need to be composed of details that are right. In fact, I explicitly decline to work out mathematical probabilities, something that Hesp acknowledges and then promptly forgets. How can he complain that I tend to turn fine-tuning into a negative story when my emphasis is on how amazing it all is and he himself is so negative? Time after time, Hesp half-heartedly grants that I do discuss the points he makes, and then promptly ignores that. He thinks that it is “pedantic” to ask for rigor in defining an infinite physical system. As an astrophysicist, he ought to know better!

I could go into more detail – one does not necessarily need a precise understanding of time at the start of the universe to apply a First Cause argument, and I examine various cosmologies that have been proposed. This is the only way to proceed. Anyone who disagrees is free to propose a new cosmology of their own, but vagueness gets us nowhere. Hesp prefers an universe that is continuously and causally upheld by God. This is a complementary perspective, but it involves a non-physical notion of causation that will not convince an unbeliever and, of course, you do have to believe in causation.

Had he considered more of the chapters of the book, Hess would have realised that I discuss
in some depth the nature of mentality, laws of nature, the limitations of rationalism and the importance of a sense of mystery. I try to go beyond the physics. I discuss the nature of causation in time in some detail, and provide a “shopping-list” of necessary factors for life in order to exhibit how important these details are. Maybe a “theory of everything” would be nice – but no one knows how to achieve this, and if it existed, would it be unique? Why these equations? Why these physical constants? In some way or other, we have a right to see intelligence behind the universe.

The arguments for natural theology are based on the notion that one can judge something about the worker from the nature of the work, namely the universe in this case. To refer simply to God as “ultimate explanation” is too vague. The danger in detaching God from science is that one ends up with an alternative kind of “God of the gaps” - a scientific system that is self-subsistent, and some kind of “wow” factor that is purely subjective and where God can be seen if you like But perhaps there is a genetic or neurological reason why some people see God in a “wow” factor – there are plenty of scientists who would argue this way. Don’t be so sure that you remove the “God of the Gaps” by resorting to subjectivity or fideism! This is why these subjects need considering in depth, which has been my aim. To argue for a Transcendent God is not about a “God of the Gaps” because God now exists in an important way both beyond and in causal contact with science; the danger in the “God of the Gaps” argument is that it appears to remove God from the science. This, emphatically, I do not advocate, and in implying otherwise Hesp has seriously misrepresented my position.

Finally, may I stress that I do not believe that physical arguments can take us more than a certain distance along the road. To get further we need something like a revealed religion. I say this clearly, and in ignoring this Hesp has again chosen to misunderstand the balance of the book.

Dear Peter,
I am thankful (I would even say, honored) that you have taken the time to write up a response to my article. I have read your book entirely and enjoyed it, even though I disagree with some of the things you wrote.

First of all, allow me to clarify my intention for this blog post. The goal was to use an accessible book by a respectable writer (e.g., you) as a kickstarter for discussions on science and faith. To that end, I’ve zoomed in on particular topics of your book to discuss (fine-tuning and the First Cause). I was addressing mostly the topics themselves such that anyone who would (fine-)tune in would be able to follow along. This explains why I often acknowledged your statements and then went on to make my points anyway. This post was not meant to be taken to represent the full “balance of the book.” I aimed to write it in a spirit of clarity on this particular topic, not as a “traditional” exhaustive review.

Next, I want to emphasize that I found many reasons for common ground in your book. I titled my post “how to fine-tune arguments for God’s existence”, because I often found myself agreeing with the gist of your argument but had my reasons for wanting to “fine-tune” them. Also, you already included brief comments in your book addressing some of my points. I have expanded on them simply because I find them important. This does not mean I wanted to “ignore”, “half-heartedly grant”, or “misrepresent” the points you made.

My focus on our differences might have given you a skewed impression of my attitude towards your book. For example, I enjoyed your discussion of how the laws of nature express an underlying rationality that reflects God’s mind. That’s the kind of positive argument I like to see. When I talk about “the entire structure and pattern”, I am echoing the words you used when you considered the so-called “God particle”:

If we are looking for God in the world of elementary particles, then it is in the entire structure and pattern that a divine intelligence should be perceived and held in admiration.” (p.23 of your book)

I want to put a huge sticker of approval on this statement. It also reflects the way I think about fine-tuning and even about the First Cause.

I hope these general points take away some of what provoked the feelings of indignation expressed in your response. I am sorry my post has given you the impression of being given an unfair treatment. It was my intention to represent you as fairly as possible, while still remaining honest about the points on which I disagree. That being said, I’ll now respond more specifically to your reply.

I certainly do not consider myself a “fideist” because I believe faith and reason are interdependent in important ways. On the one hand, there are solid rational grounds for belief in God. You might consider the “wow factor” to be subjective, but I don’t. As far as I can discern, the “wow” of Creation is universally perceived by mankind. This means it is as objective as humanly possible. The question of what is ultimately the most rational explanation of this “wow”, I would answer with: God. Makes me think about what Paul said in Romans 1:20:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

This verse intrigued me already before I became a Christian at age 19. But as you have indicated, the natural world is not enough. We still need the person of Jesus Christ to actually come to know God Himself. It was His love that compelled me to follow Him. On top of that, our beliefs shape what qualifies as rational. There’s a two-way interaction going on between faith and reason. I think we can both agree on that.

I think this is not true. We can always discuss things that we do not understand completely, as long as we do not make our statements “definite”. I’m pushing back on some parts of your arguments because I consider it unwise for Christians to hang their hats on ideas that are both (1) debatable or not completely understood and (2) not essential to Christian faith.

I take issue there, as would most cosmologists who would read your argument on pinpointing the First Cause “in time.” I could give other examples of things I haven’t addressed here, but there’s another blog post coming up so I won’t spoil.

Actually, your version that hinges on pinpointing the First Cause “in time” does not hold. It cannot be defended because it appeals to something that we do not understand. Something we do know for sure is that we don’t understand the earliest eras of the Big Bang. In the final analysis, I find reliance on that unconvincing.

I didn’t think you claimed the matter to be “proved.” It’s just that I disagree when you rely on shaky/debatable claims to “lead” you anywhere.

No, as I said in the article, I am sceptical about “reliance on the narrow range of these physical constants.” My comment was about where to place the emphasis of the argument. It’s okay to work out the specific values, as long as the argument works towards the overall picture to which they contribute. As you say:

I agree. My thought experiment of aliens in a parallel universe was meant to illustrate in a light-hearted way that, even if those details would be “right” in a completely different way, the structure and pattern would elicit the same “wow”! It would be a different, but equally praiseworthy, symphony from the same master composer, so to speak.

The problem I pointed out was that, after you decline to calculate a precise probability (so far, so good), you go on to conclude that “it would appear to be extremely small” by any considerations. There is no rational basis for that conclusion, as I explain both in the article and in the lengthy comment thread here. I’m a big fan of correct formal arguments for God’s existence, but arguments based on probabilities are misguided (whether quantified precisely or intuitively).

As I explained in the article, you tended towards negative reasoning when you stated that the cosmological parameter could be small for a “non-theoretical, anthropic reason”. With “negative” I mean you are basing your argument on something we don’t know (e.g., why the cosmological parameter has such a low value). For comparison, “positive” arguments are based on something we do know (e.g., that there is rationality expressed in the laws of nature). I like the parts of your book where you use positive logic.

Why? You have not provided any counterargument. Besides, if I would ask any other astrophysicist, they would most likely agree with me here: it is pedantic to demand “a rigorously well-defined description” as a precondition for taking the possibility of an eternal physical system seriously.

My preference goes out to arguments that are logically sound, whether or not they will convince an unbeliever should be secondary to the actual truth of the matter. The practice of pinpointing the First Cause “in time” is very questionable.

I know, because I’ve read all chapters of your book thoroughly. I would not write something about your book without reading it in its entirety. However, this particular blog post only addressed fine-tuning and the First Cause.

Amen to that. I completely agree there. The difference between us appears to lie in what we view as the most constructive ways to belabor those points.

I don’t see any vagueness in the notion that God is the most fundamental (or primary) cause of everything that happens every moment. It’s very clear and theologically justifiable. Besides, we both agree that arguments from nature are at best only “pointers” to God.

Who says I want to detach God from science? For me, science is the study of His creative work and therefore intimately dependent on God. At the same time, the scientific method is only applicable to natural cause-and-effect relationships, which limits its scope of usefulness (something you fittingly address in your book).

As I have argued in this post, a natural system can’t be fundamentally self-subsistent unless it has the attributes of a deity (“I AM”). Also, it may be worth repeating that the wow factor is universal, making it the opposite of subjective! We humans do seem to have a predisposition to see agency behind nature. That can be seen as part of God’s providence, something that helps us to perceive Him. So genetic and neurological arguments don’t detract from the belief in a Creator, but add even more fuel to the wow factor :slight_smile: .

Happy Easter!
Casper

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Casper - thank you for your clarifying comments. I’ll try to answer fairly briefly for now.

There are certainly cosmologists who consider that time has some kind of beginning - take Vilenkin for example. My statement was that the Kalam argument appears to hold for a wide range of proposed cosmological schemes, as discussed at some length in the book. You say that there might be others where it doesn’t hold? True in principle, but it would be good to specify a few of these. This is why I objected to “vagueness”. Note that if causal time emerged from some other preexisting structure, one would have the right to ask what was the cause of this. Such a cause would then have to be from outside causal time. This suggests God, but if there is an alternative idea, one could put it forward. I don’t think that quantizing time affects the argument, but one needs a clear proposal.

Maybe you’re demanding one perfectly-understood cosmology on which we can all argue with total certainty? That’s asking a lot - and so I presented the argument in terms of a wide range of existing proposals. I think this is reasonable.

Of course, one has to believe in causation. A true Humean skeptic would reject this, perhaps, but scientists in my experience do not normally fall in this category.

Regarding the fine-tuning argument, I do not see how one can fail to be impressed by the widely acknowledged fact that we seem to exist in an “island of life-giving possibility” in an ocean of possibilities that would not generate life as we know it. (Of course, in a hypothetical parallel universe, a different island might exist.) This is why many unbelievers hang their hats on a multiverse. (I do indeed say that God might possibly have created a multiverse.)

Please may I make it clear that I don’t think that there are any knock-down absolute proofs at all about these things. I wonder, would you say that comology as a whole is a futile enterprise, because we can never really fully prove or understand it all? Some would! The best we can do is argue correctly from defined assumptions, which can usually be questioned. This is where the limits of “rigour” lie. So I doubt if there are any truly hat-hanging proofs about God at all - all arguments are “suggestive pointers” that make belief in God’s existence more reasonable than the opposite. To say “I won’t believe unless you prove it” is a mistake that makes unbelief the default position. We should not fall for that.

Unfortunately, while lots of people say “wow”, not all of them think that this leads anywhere near to God.

I wouldn’t agree with you about Cosmology. Cosmology is really just physics plus astronomy.

Now if you want to say Metaphysics is a futile enterprise, that I would agree with!

George - you have misunderstood my sentence. I myself
would not say that cosmology is futile, but rather that we don’t have a full understanding here, and anyone who really demands this will not find it at present in cosmology. There are those who consider cosmology at its more ambitious levels to be “philosophy” and not science, because of its present lack of testability. Nevertheless, we should do the best that we can and not give up because of a lack of full understanding. How does that strike you?

I hope this posting comes out properly this time!

@Peter_Bussey,

I appreciate your effort to clarify your comments. But I am left with the vague feeling that you and I are talking about two different kinds of Cosmology.

Perhaps you are more interested in what some call Religious Cosmology? Or maybe “Cosmogony” ?

While I am more interested in “Physical Cosmology”:

“Physical Cosmology was shaped through both mathematics and observation in an analysis of the whole universe. The universe is generally understood to have begun with the Big Bang, followed almost instantaneously by cosmic inflation; an expansion of space from which the universe is thought to have emerged 13.799 ± 0.021 billion years ago.”

"Cosmogony studies the origin of the Universe, and Cosmography maps the features of the Universe."
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Thank you George, I think we are making progress and it is
largely about words and definitions as usual. Within the realm
of academic physics and astronomy, all of this would come under the heading of “cosmology”. Note the provocative words of Nobel particle physicist Leon Lederman on p1 of his best-selling “The God Particle”: “When you read or hear anything about the birth of the universe, someone is making it up. We are in the realm of philosophy”.

Myself, I would say that if it is testable experimentally it’s science - physics and astronomy - and beyond that it’s philosophy. So he has a point, although sometimes philosophy can turn into science. That does not mean it’s otherwise useless, though; we just have to take the hypothetical proposals that are made, and consider them with due care.

Metaphysics is a branch of basic philosophy, and I’m not against that at all. Philosophy itself includes “thinking about thinking”… Philosophers tell us that there is a lot of implied philosophy in almost any discourse, but we just don’t realise that. I would say that clear definitions are always a good place to start!

@Peter_Bussey,

Let’s not forget that only a short while ago, the “status quo” was that the Universe never had a beginning! And that people used to reject the Big Bang theory because it smacked of too much Biblical content!

I agree with what you say about the “beginning” of the Cosmos. But if you just wait a minute or two, suddenly there is an awful lot of perfectly sound science that comes along, right?

Hi Peter, thanks for your reply.

Such a cause would indeed lie outside of time as we know it in our universe. For a non-believer, however, a physical system (one that is by its very nature difficult to specify) is not by default a less convincing “cause” than God (who is also by His very nature difficult to specify).

Moreover, even if a physical system were specified, you would (as you indicated in your book) retract your argument one step and ask “what caused that physical system to exist?” So demanding the precise formulation of a physical system to explain the first cause in time is actually somewhat of a red herring in the whole discussion. It would not change the strength of either side’s case.

The problem I have tried to point out is more fundamental than that. Suppose a “perfectly-understood” cosmology would make a beginning in time inevitable. That wouldn’t change a thing, because we still would not understand what led to that beginning. Such a cosmology would always be unable to establish the difference between the following three possibilities:

  1. God caused the beginning and there’s nothing more to it.
  2. God caused the beginning by means of some (unspecified, pre-existing) physical structure which He created.
  3. The beginning was caused by some (unspecified, pre-existing) physical structure and there’s nothing more to it.

Options 1 and 2 are compatible with Christianity, although option 1 has the downside of being a stopgap for scientific exploration. Although options 2 and 3 can in principle be explored within the realm of theoretical physics, it is impossible for science to establish the difference between them. The kind of explanation provided by God is fundamentally different from that of physical systems.

I’m okay with that as an illustration of the creativity exhibited in our complexity-sustaining universe, and that’s what makes it worthwhile to discuss the physical constants. But there is no fool-proof way of knowing what the landscape of possibilities really looks like. In the end, we only have one outcome to deal with: our universe. Unless a robust universe-generating mechanism is established that can tell us the outcome distribution, there is no “ocean of possibilities” to consider.

Moreover, suppose that this particular outcome (the setup of our universe) would be an inevitable outcome in some (yet to be defined) all-encompassing cosmological framework. That would not tilt the evidence away from a Creator. As you described in your book, you would then again retract your argument one step and ask “Why this particular cosmological framework?” If you argue like that, it does not matter whether the emergence of conscious life is deemed inevitable or highly unlikely. In the first case, you could say “wow, God made life inevitable!” and in the second case you could say “wow, God made life against all odds!” We cannot have it both ways, which is part of the reason why arguments based on probability don’t work. What all cases have in common is the “wow factor”, which is why I suggested to think of it like that.

Yes, this has been the case for ages. What I would suggest is that they are not taking this “wow” to its most logical conclusion. Our ability to perceive the elegance of the created world is in itself truly amazing. Still, it remains at best a “signpost to God”. People have the freedom to ignore a signpost, no matter how clear it may be.

Casper

Thank you, Casper. Well, I have not said and do not say that there is any single
100% proof for God. You are arguing as if there ought to be. Rather there is a collection
of arguments that can be seen as pointing in God’s direction. It is rather like a law court - no one argument proves the guilt of the accused, but together the arguments and evidences may build up to a strong case.
It’s always possible to say that some “unknown science” gives rise to everything, but that is rather facile (“Your honour, an unknown person could have committed the crime!”) Taking God as “ultimate reason” for everything (a better term than “ultimate explanation”, which implies that we understand the matter) is the same again. Someone could always propose an “unknown” alternative! One has to argue in more depth - I try to address these matters in my book.
The “wow” factor as such is seen by skeptics (e.g. Richard Dawkins) as having no real significance, just emotional. So one has to base it on something. In real life, as you say, there may be alternative possibilities. But If two different possibilities point in the same direction, that makes the argument more complex, but we may still be able to say that God is indicated in either case. Yes, we can have it both ways, and in the absence of 100% proofs, we may have to keep several approaches open.
So, to repeat, it does not help to try to shoot down all the arguments individually, as not being absolutely 100%, and then say “wow” anyway. Wrong approach. It must be a judgment based on a number of factors.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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