Cosmological Fine-Tuning: The Bad

What exactly is the argument here from fine-tuning to the existence of God? If one of the premises is “we could have lived in a universe that does not support life,” then it’s clearly false. In a non-life supporting universe we would not exist.

This perversion can be escaped if we postulate an angel somewhere in the high heavens observing our universe and wondering why it exists.

Now in my book I use a simple argument in favor of God’s existence as follows:

… the problem of particularity: why is the world this and not something else? Either it was designed for a purpose, such that the purpose (or end) constrained the universe (or means) to a single thing or at least a finite set; or its essence was randomly pulled somehow out of an infinity of possible worlds. But not the latter, because the probability of this world’s being chosen in such a way is exactly zero. It is impossible to consider for selection every member of an infinite set. So, it was designed. But purposive design entails choosing between possibilities and suggests an intelligence at work behind the scenes. Hence, another conclusion: God is smart. (I, 29)

The fine-tuning argument can work only if the total number of life-supporting possible worlds is finite. Then the problem of particularity will be felt pointedly. If it is rather infinite, then the probability of its coming to exist randomly cannot be evaluated, and the argument fails.

Unless one is willing to go so far as to assert that “any world that would not at some point support intelligent life cannot for such-and-such reasons possibly exist.”

Cosmological Fine-Tuning: The Good

Says Wikipedia:

Gould compared the claim that the universe is fine-tuned for the benefit of our kind of life to saying that sausages were made long and narrow so that they could fit into modern hotdog buns, or saying that ships had been invented to house barnacles. These critics cite the vast physical, fossil, genetic, and other biological evidence consistent with life having been fine-tuned through natural selection to adapt to the physical and geophysical environment in which life exists. Life appears to have adapted to physics, and not vice versa.

If life-forms have changed over the billions of years of evolution and intelligent design, then this change had to have proceeded according to the laws of nature.

(Intelligent design does no violence to nature, either.)

But all life-forms, even the earliest ones, are “adapted to physics.” Our argument tries to say that if the universe were badly tuned, then there would be no life, even complex structures as such, at all. There would be no “physical, fossil, genetic, and other biological evidence” of natural selection, because there would be no natural selection in the first place.

The “physics” would be such that no living creatures would be able to adapt to it.

So, this is not a good way of arguing against the theistic implications of fine-tuning.

Cosmological Fine-Tuning: The Ugly

Let P be the total number of possible worlds. Let F be the total number of possible worlds that support and help produce intelligent life.

If both P and F are infinite, then, as before, nothing can be said about the probability of an F getting actualized, and the fine-tuning argument fails.

If both P and F are finite, then it is open to an atheist to propose that all P worlds actually exist, and we are in one of them. Again, the fine-tuning argument goes nowhere.

If P is infinite, and F is finite, then a much simpler argument is available, namely, from the problem of particularity.

Nor can fine-tuning help us to gain any insight into the creator’s ends. First, it is probably a fact that humans are physically the most complex and spiritually the most noble of all creatures in the universe. Perhaps, some theistic conclusions, such as that the world was made for our benefit, can be drawn from that. But the derivation of such conclusions does not require any extra information about how well or poorly the actual world is tuned.

Second, even if humans are the best sort of creatures, there is something that far exceeds them in goodness, and that is the universe as a whole that, among many other things, contains humans. Presumably, God (the Father, at least, in His capacity as Creator) loves the universe more than any item within the universe. For example, the conjunction of “the life-supporting properties of the universe” and “the planet Earth” and “the biosphere” and “the human society” may be loved more than any individual human, staying in the realm of pure reason and not taking into account redemption and sanctification.

There is certainly a sense in which the human mind commands and even owns matter, but theistic implications of this must be outlined very carefully.

In short, the fine-tuning argument is worthless.

Other Scientism

Paul Copan falls victim to a nowadays unusual error. He realizes clearly that the nature or essence of a human being is fundamentally different from the nature of rock, a merely material object.

Natural sciences have acquired such prestige that they have almost entirely eclipsed the contributions of moral and social sciences. It is considered a manifestation of the philosophical virtue of “tough-mindedness” to be a champion of exact quantitative sciences. Studying man has degenerated into a pissing contest of which philosopher is more thereby tough-minded. Human sciences have all but disappeared; those that have not have tried to imitate physics at least in their methodology if not always conclusions. The fallacy of reducing humans to inanimate nature or plants (in the extreme, humans are “really” “just” bags of chemicals or “just” colonies of fungus) or at best, to animals is known as “scientism.”

This is an infelicitous term, to be sure, because economics, ethics are sciences, too — as in, theoretical edifices, but we’re stuck with it, and that’s what I’ll be using.

Mises, on the contrary, as a preamble to economic reasoning recommends if not metaphysical than at least methodological dualism:

In the present state of our knowledge the fundamental statements of positivism, monism, and panphysicalism are mere metaphysical postulates devoid of any scientific foundation and both meaningless and useless for scientific research. Reason and experience show us two separate realms: the external world of physical, chemical, and physiological phenomena and the internal world of thought, feeling, valuation, and purposeful action. No bridge connects — as far as we can see today — these two spheres. (Human Action, 18)

Copan’s objections to scientism are different: they center not on what humans beings somewhat obviously are but on how they apparently came to be. Our author keeps hammering on that point throughout his paper:

affirmation of human dignity, rights, and duties is something we would readily expect if God exists — but not if humans have emerged from valueless, mindless processes. (143)

Why think impersonal/physical, valueless processes will produce valuable, rights-bearing persons? (146)

So anyone can know that humans have rights and dignity and obligations. But, more crucially, how did they come to be that way — particularly if they are the result of valueless, cause-and-effect physical processes from the big bang until now? Theism offers the requisite foundations. (146)

In the case of morality, we are still left wondering how value and obligation came to be thrust upon a valueless context of unguided matter in motion to have a context for the truth of “Murder is wrong.” (148)

How then do we best account for the existence of valuable, morally responsible, self-aware, reasoning, truth-seeking, living human beings who inhabit a finely tuned, beautiful universe that came to exist a finite time ago? Is this best explained naturalistically — namely, the result of disparate valueless, mindless, lifeless physical processes in a universe that came into existence from nothing? (149)

Thomas Nagel puts it candidly: “There is no room for agency in a world of neural impulses, chemical reactions, and bone and muscle movements.” (155)

If humans are simply more developed animals, why think there are moral duties to which they must subscribe — or that they are even morally responsible? (156)

I think these quotes are sufficient to bring to light Copan’s argument. He is obsessed with the problem of “where we came from.” Unfortunately, since little is known about it, Copan’s case is built upon sand as judged by his own standards. Theism, for him, is little more than inference to best explanation: if man could not have arisen by blind evolution, then he must have been created. Hence, God. QED, apparently.

We shall deal with this line of reasoning shortly; I, at any rate, agree with the atheist philosopher David Stove that “Such questions strike me, in fact, as overwhelmingly uninteresting: like the questions (say) where the Toltecs came from, or the Hittites, and how they came. They came, like our species itself, from somewhere, and they came somehow. The details do not matter, except to specialists. What does matter is, to see our species rightly, as it now is, and as it is known historically to have been: and in particular, not to be imposed upon by the ludicrously false portrayals which Darwinians give of the past, and even of the present, of our species.” (Darwinian Fairytales, vii, emphasis mine)

Not only is the question of our origins uninteresting, it is supremely irrelevant for theology.

For example, when challenged with an argument that the world must have began and was therefore created by something or someone, a skeptic may reply that for all he knows, the universe has existed forever. Recent empirical evidence from physics is inconclusive and is of little philosophical value. Leave physics to the physicists. The kalam argument, too, is unsatisfactory: it tries to show that it is impossible to traverse an actual infinite year by year or second by second. But, since time is neither infinite multitude (of real objects) nor magnitude — which I admit cannot exist — perhaps the infinitude of time was traversed in some other way. If there was no such way, then unfortunately, Copan (and Craig) would prove too much: that God, who is actually infinite, is also impossible. The argument is that if eternal existence is possible, then a fortiori, something much less amazing and spectacular that it, viz., everlasting existence, is possible, as well. Modus tollens.

That the universe has a beginning is not a deliverance of reason but an article of faith.

Now let’s take a further step. I hereby claim (purely philosophically) that humans, too, have existed forever. There is an endless cycle of deaths and rebirths. Each individual upon death goes to some sort of afterlife where he might linger for a few years or a few billion years, until he is reborn unto this world anew. Then Copan’s argument is immediately undone. The “impersonal/physical, valueless processes” have gone on forever, but so have the “personal value-laden” processes. Both will perhaps continue to do so.

It can no longer be said that a valueless world has mysteriously yielded values; for according to this particular skeptic, values have always been around, since human souls are naturally immortal and have been subject to this cycle from all eternity. Whence, then, God?

For example, the Nagel quote above assumes in a grotesque reduction that humans are “really” “nothing more than” neural impulses, chemical reactions, and bone and muscle movements. This assumption is false, but theism has no influence on refuting it.

Let’s continue to “objective moral values” (OMVs). I would use the term “metaphysical” values, reserving “moral” for personal character traits (whether virtuous or vicious) one might cultivate (perhaps at the expense of other traits) to make his soul lovely, rather than natural law like “You shall not kill.” And that’s what OMVs are: they are propositions of natural law as elucidated by, say, Rothbard in The Ethics of Liberty.

On the one hand, to say that God, as conceived by classical theism, is the cause of OMVs is to do God injustice: God is the source not only of those fine things but in fact of everything, whether of objective moral values or of subjective metaphysical ideas.

Consider that level 1 creatures such as rocks, have their material and efficient causes deep inside of them. A rock is made of this-and-that and functions so-and-so.

Level 2 creatures, humans especially, have in addition their final cause inside: they live for the sake of their happiness. “What a man is for” is his own happiness. A 1st-level machine, on the other hand, has no purpose of existing other than to serve man in pursuit of this man’s happiness. A machine is a perfect slave; a man has no external to him purpose, and ethics rightly recognizes that “using” a person without giving proper consideration to that person’s own values is very wrong. A human being is (or has) an (or his) “end in himself.”

There are other differences between man and machine, such as than man has unique intelligence and a genuine personality or “traits of character.” Mises points out:

It is arbitrary to consider only the satisfaction of the body’s physiological needs as “natural” and therefore “rational” and everything else as “artificial” and therefore “irrational.” It is the characteristic feature of human nature that man seeks not only food, shelter, and cohabitation like all other animals, but that he aims also at other kinds of satisfaction. Man has specifically human desires and needs which we may call “higher” than those which he has in common with the other mammals. (HA, 20)

… reason, man’s most characteristic feature, is also a biological phenomenon. It is neither more nor less natural than any other feature of the species Homo sapiens, for instance, the upright gait or the hairless skin. (176)

But an exploration of these would take us too far afield.

As anyone can see, I have figured all this out without engaging in any theological reasoning. If we want, we can continue by saying that level 3 “Goodness” has at last the formal cause inside it, too. God is what He is, and His essence is uncaused. Yet humans are made by God, and God ultimately decides who shall become what. But only if we want.

If moral values are objective, then they must have a ground in something that is objective, too. I have suggested that it is human nature. Moral facts are part of our human nature and are inseparable from it. Hence, there is no “unexplained huge cosmic coincidence between the existence of these moral facts and the eventual emergence of morally responsible agents who are obligated to them.” (148) Moral facts come into existence with humans and go out of existence with them. This is a proximate cause. An ultimate cause may well be God, though that’s not saying much, because God is the ultimate First cause of everything. Why though go that far? At any rate, having gone that far, Copan produces no interesting attributes of God that his theologizing has revealed.

His output is that “humans have been made in the image of a faithful, truthful, rational, morally excellent, worship-worthy Being.” But humans, too, can be faithful, truthful, rational, etc. How does this description differentiate between humans and God?

Is God “really” “just” an unusually saintly person, according to Copan?

In a strange diversion, Copan shifts away from physics to psychology, declaring even it beyond the pale! A psychologist, he argues, would say that “Hitler, being bitter and angry, held many false beliefs about the Jews (for example, that they were responsible for Germany’s defeat in WWI). Hitler sought to destroy the Jews as a way of releasing his hostilities.” (156) Doesn’t he see that this explanation, though not involving OMVs, is already human, not material? Hitler’s bitterness is not the bitterness of caffeine. Anger is an immaterial subjective mental state. Moreover, this explanation actually seems enlightening. “Hitler was morally depraved” merely condemns Hitler without understanding him, though I’m sure there is room for both of these.

Even if humans are not “simply more developed animals,” and even if we properly reject scientism, I still do not see any reason in order to do ethics to wax theological. I might want to at some point, but the human and divine sciences are separate and distinct. Contributing to one science need not involve using the other.

Copan concludes: “If, however, we have been created in the image of a good, supremely valuable, and free being and have been endowed with moral value and ‘certain unalienable rights,’ then the theist is able to offer a much more plausible context for affirming human dignity, rights, and responsibility than the naturalist who wants to be a realist but doesn’t quite know how.” (157) That we are so created needs to be proven not just asserted as self-evident. “The idea that God could be evil or command evil is utterly contrary to the very definition of God (who is intrinsically morally excellent, maximally great, and worthy of worship).” (160) But we are not supposed to define God but to unfold His attributes one adequate argument after another and in such a way as to draw undeniable conclusions about the difference between Creator and creatures.

God is as much above me as I am above rocks. Nothing like this follows from Copan’s flawed theology and “reverse scientism,” wherein he confuses ethics with theology.

Divine Eternity Permits Infinite Past

I saw Paul Copan write something on Facebook about my alleged failure to grasp the kalam argument for the existence of God in my essay on reductionism, ethics, and theism, but I can’t find it anymore. IIRC, he accused me of imagining that the infinitude of time stretching back is “qualitative not quantitative infinity.”

I assure him that I did not make a mistake so outrageous. Here is the argument, slightly expanded.

Whatever a “moment in time” is — and I’m not sure I know what it is exactly — it is definitely not a real object, like an atom, a chair, or a human being. I admit that an infinite multitude of real objects cannot exist. Consider now numbers or possible worlds. They are not real but ideal, as in, existing in the mind, and there are surely an infinity of them. Again, I disclaim any knowledge of whether a “moment” is real, ideal, or anything in between. Unless Paul is better informed, the conclusion that an infinite succession of past seconds or moments or whatever cannot exist cannot be reached so easily.

But there is a reason to think that it can exist. For, according to Catholic theology at least, God is eternal. Now I don’t know if Paul believes that or, if he does, exactly how he understands it. So, let’s go with the time-honored definition of eternity as “simultaneously-whole and perfect possession of interminable life.” What does that mean?

Experience teaches that our lives are fragmented into four parts: the past, the present, the future, and timelessness, such as enjoyed by abstracta like “2 + 2 = 4.” Our past is gone, our future is not yet, timelessness is accessed only when we do math or philosophy (with propositions apparently outlasting our own lives), and our present is fleeting and evanescent.

Far be it from God to suffer from so many imperfections. But He neither abolishes time nor keeps it unchanged but rather transcends and perfects it. For God those 4 time periods are folded up, unified as if in a package and present themselves as single eternal Moment of boiling divine life. It cannot be doubted that such a life is superior in intensity, poignancy, and happiness it can generate to our human experience.

In addition, it is another aspect of God’s simplicity, His not being composed of real parts that are prior to God and interact according to natural laws that define God. The union of the “tenses” is “seamless” and cannot be analyzed or dissected like a frog.

God’s eternity subsumes merely everlasting existence, including time stretching back into the past infinitely. So then if eternity as I have described it is how God lives, then surely, everlasting time is possible, too. God could be “co-eternal” or “co-everlasting” with the universe.

That He actually is not we know not from reason (and don’t give me these mutually contradictory fantasies from physicists) but from faith.

A Problem with the Kalam Argument

William Lane Craig has build a huge case for the existence of God based on it. The argument is:

(1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being.
(2) The universe began to exist.
(3) Therefore, the universe has a cause for its coming into being.

Craig needs to shore up the minor. He thinks it can be proven by reason alone. His main argument is that you cannot traverse an actual infinite. If the universe had no beginning, than an infinite number of days or seconds must have elapsed in order to arrive at the present moment. And this is impossible. Hence the universe had a beginning.

Unfortunately for Craig, the situation is not as if there was a moment in time at which the universe began which is infinitely far away from the present moment. If there was such a moment, then indeed it would take an actually infinite number of days to get from it to the present moment. But there was no such moment! According to the objector, the universe never began to exist; hence there is no moment at which it did begin to exist which just happens to lie at an infinite distance from today in terms of time. St. Thomas counters in a coup de grace in (ST, I, 46, 2, reply 6) that “Passage is always understood as being from term to term. Whatever bygone day we choose, from it to the present day there is a finite number of days which can be passed through.”

In this way there is no actual infinite but only a potential infinite, such that no matter how deeply we regress into the past, the distance between that point and now is finite. But that is not sufficient for kalam which is supposed to be natural and not revealed theology.

Look, the point is simple. I ask Craig, in order to accumulate the actual infinite, from what are we counting forward? I submit he can’t answer this quesion, and therefore, no actual infinite can be built. He can’t say “from -∞,” because that symbol can indeed mean “actual infinity,” which begs the question. I mean, -∞ is not a date.

The only way out for Craig in light of this argument is to assert that infinite past is unintelligible. But this escape was destroyed in the previous post.

In short, if atheists see the sort of arguments Craig and Copan use to prove God’s existence, they’ll laugh at them and be perfectly justified in so doing.

Toward a Decent Cosmological Argument

The essence of a thing is a full description of it in its particularity. It is complete information, exhaustive dossier on it. Now information is first and foremost in the mind. For the cup on my desk, for example, the cup’s essence existed in its crafter’s mind before he fashioned it out of matter. He imprinted matter with form with the help of his labor, causing the form to come to reside in “solid reality.”

The cause of essence then is the mind of an intellectual creature. But the essence itself, as an idea or an ideal entity, content of a thought, is fundamentally helpless: it’s causally inefficacious. It cannot on its own accord jump out of my mind and shape matter according to itself.

An uninstantiated essence can be said to be in potentiality; a real object is essence brought into the act of existing.

Thus, essence + existence = concrete object, a suppositum. The suppositum can itself certainly be in numerous acts by “doing various things” proper to it: it can be getting hotter, or expand, or be building a bridge, or be enjoying a cut of coffee. It can initiate and maintain its acts. But the suppositum itself is its essence in act.

Concrete objects exhibit a measure of stability. Once an essence is united with existence, the resulting thing is more-or-less permanent. It resists being destroyed. A baseball can hit a window but fail to break it if its speed is low enough. Now the reason why glass is sturdy is in virtue of the bonds or forces between its molecules and atoms and so forth. However, I am talking about union not between molecules here but rather between the essence of glass and its existence. The forces are of no account; for example, an electron is an elementary particle and cannot be destroyed by being taken apart. But the question of what unites the essence of a particular concrete electron and the electron’s existence remains vital.

We may even suppose that concrete objects have existed forever and were never brought into existence. Assume that no mind equipped with creative power reduced the ideal entities it was contemplating to actual existence. Our argument does not depend on any such event actually occurring. Regardless, a suppositum, being a real thing, can cause and act (be warming up, etc.). But an essence, being an ideal thing, cannot. But an act is something that must be continuously performed by a thing. If an essence cannot perform the act of its own existing, then something else, some real suppositum, must.

Call that thing G1. If it’s real, then it itself is a union of essence and existence. G1‘s essence must in turn be activated by some G2. The problem is merely pushed back. To avoid infinite regress, we need to postulate some G whose essence and existence are not at all distinct but in fact are numerically identical to each other, self-same. G is such that its essence is existence. It is by its very nature in act; moreover, it is perfectly strong, indestructible; its essence, being identical with existence, cannot be cleaved from this existence, and therefore G cannot corrupt or die. It is a thought thinking itself into reality.

That G is what we call God.

Meaning of Divine Eternity

God is eternal, understood as a seamless union of infinite past, present, infinite future, and timelessness.

God is not “outside of time”; He is the perfection of temporal existence, both improving upon and transcending it.

This unity is fractured in all created things including angels.

It does not seem that there are beings other than God whose life extends infinitely into the past. In other words, the amount of life experiences of all non-divine things is actually finite and perhaps potentially infinite, as in holding the certainty of everlasting future life.

But not actually infinite; all creatures had a beginning.

This conclusion bothers me a little, since the universe now appears to have a gap in it, a curious omission. But the idea of a being situated in time who has already lived forever or whose life started an infinitude of days ago seems unintelligible.

Divine Eternity vs. Infinite Past

I wonder if infinite past is precisely a way of conceptualizing God’s infinity: God has “been everywhere and seen everything”; He’s “lived forever and experienced it all”; while infinite future for God (again, united perfectly with past, present, and timelessness into a kind of single Moment) entails His contentment, peace, and reconciliation with His entire infinite life — and through it, infinite self — which He is willing to contemplate forevermore.

As a result, there is no gap in the world: infinite past belongs to God only for a reason.

Bayes’ Theorem and the Argument from Desire

Bayes’s Theorem tells us how to revise our beliefs in light of new evidence. It looks like this:

           P(B|A) x P(C|A.B)
P(B|A.C) = -----------------

This theorem can be used to test how the probability of a hypothesis H is affected given some evidence E for it. In this case we reformulate it thusly (K which stands for “background knowledge” is omitted for the sake of simplicity):

P(H|E) = P(H) x ------

P(H) is called prior probability or probability without taking E into account. We don’t care what it is exactly; the theorem merely reports whether learning of E makes H more or less probable than before. P(E|H) is called likelihood or the probability that E would obtain given H; P(E) is called expectedness; and P(H|E) is called posterior probability or the probability after the evidence has come in. The less we expect E or, put differently, the more we are surprised by E, the greater the chance that H|E will hold. Since we tailor the hypothesis to fit the evidence, P(E|H) is often 1 or close to 1.

Let in our case H = theism, and E = desire for God. We are interested in finding out whether E is a good argument for H. It seems that P(desire for God | theism) is fairly high, because it is not unreasonable to expect that we would long for heaven if the Christian God exists. At the same time P(desire) is low, because God and heaven are certainly hidden from view, so much so that not everyone is convinced of their very existence. It is quite surprising that we long to transcend this world and ourselves. Surely, no non-human animal does so. Why on earth would we discover such a phenomenon within ourselves? One could try to develop some kind of an evolutionary story of how a desire for God has arisen in us, but any such attempt would be forced, in my view. Hence, P(H|E) > P(H), and thus E (desire) provides evidence or supports the case for theism.

Note again the limited ambition of this argument. It does not try to prove theism. Even if E is in fact excellent evidence for H, the prior P(H) can, for all we know, be very low, and even with the help of E, P(H|E) would still be low. Desire for God appears to be evidence in favor of theism; but there may be other arguments that weigh rather against it.