The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

How the Evidence for God Screwed up My Paper

A colleague and I were writing a paper attempting to show than many formulations of the Fine-Tuning Argument (FTA) for the existence of God was seriously flawed. The idea was that biological design arguments (BDAs)--like Dembski's--needed the probability of life arising in this universe to be unimaginably small (which he admits) in order to infer God as cause. However, FTA advocates argue that the initial conditions and fundamental laws of the universe fall within a very narrow range to permit life--an improbability along the lines of the datum from which the BDA advocate begins. But far too few FTA advocates said whether they thought the fine-tuning was precise enough to make life a sure thing, or more probable than not, or not very unlikely, or what. The problem is that if the probability of life arising in this universe given its set up is as low as Dembski says, then there's no good reason to expect God to create a universe with that set-up, so no good reason to think theism has much explanatory power with respect to such a universe (why would God, wishing to make a universe with life, make a universe in which it's incredibly unlikely that that will occur?) You can jury-rig an ad hoc hypothesis about a "whimsical" God as Jay Richardson does (also of the Discovery Institute), but this complicates the hypothesis and lowers the prior probability and thus its posterioir probability. Our thesis was that any FTA compatible with the BDA would be so weak as to offer no significant support for theism. We stargted running the numbers using a Bayes's Theorem calculator I made and we were like, "Huh, the argument seems to work, maybe we made a mistake." So we messed with the numbers a little more and grew frustrated because it was almost impossible to find values of other variables for which the weak FTA or WFTA didn't work and work quite well. I literally wrote on one draft I sent to my colleague "Damn! This argument seems to work just fine! What are we going to do now?" I think I let Publish-or-Perish mania get the better of me. I mean, I'm glad there's better evidence for God than I thought there was, but it really screwed up my paper. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

4 Comments:

At Wednesday, May 28, 2008 2:14:00 AM, Anonymous jeremy said...

I know this is old, butt....

The probability that life forms in any given environment is pretty low. But given the precise environment (and enough time) the probability becomes very high. All you need is several hundred degrees Celsius, several atmospheres of pressure, CO2, NH3, and low oxygen tension. Through red-ox you get formaldehydes, and ketones, which then spontaneously form amino-acids in high temp/pressure. Through reduction you also form fatty-acids which under high temperature form into micelles (bi-membrane structures that resemble cell membranes of most forms of life). These conditions exist readily in places like volcanoes, or more widespread-ly the beginnings of a planet of the appoximate size, make-up and distance from a solar body as the earth. (See wikipedia address below for diagram of a simple micelle). In Hawaii they have found spontaneously forming micelles, with simple working proteins-- even some with working membrane transporters actively moving ions across the membranes. They also divide and grow independent of biochemical machinery. Another quick article I found describes how clay can serve as a substrate and catalyst for the formation of ribonucleotides, which are the basic building blocks for genetic code.

So really, the "god of the gaps" argument is obsolete, because most gaps in how evolution could have occured have possible, and fairly probably answers, with good data to back them up. So if you wish to keep evolution as a mechanism, it does not require divine intervention once put into motion. and different arguments about how God fits into creation would be more applicable. unless you want to scratch evolution....


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micelle
http://astrobio.net/news/article655.html
http://www.sbf.admin.ch/htm/dokumentation/publikationen/international/cost/cd2006/cost/C04.0268.html

 
At Thursday, May 29, 2008 11:56:00 AM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

So many assumptions, so little time. The fact is that a settled verdict on the relevant science just isn't in yet. What the logical philosopher can say, though, is what the paper--available here--ends up saying:

Either the universe is rigged from the beginning to produce life, or it is not.

If it is, then there's a good argument for the design of the initial world-ensemble. This view accords with such Catholic philosophers as Saint Augustine and Descartes. I favor it.

If it isn't, then there is a good argument for the direct design of certain organisms. This is the view which was defended by Paley.

So either way there's a good argument from desgin.

 
At Sunday, June 01, 2008 3:19:00 AM, Anonymous jeremy said...

Assumptions, assumptions....

I was talking about probability of the formation of life. The probability ranges from low to high. So low that it is impossible, to so high it is practically predictable. It just depends on the conditions. Conditions that are unknowable, but may be guessable, given some assumed constants. Now I'm not going to assume that I know what assumption you assume I am oblivious too, because I probably am, and yet I might not be....

Because, in some convoluted way I was arguing for St Augustines and Decartes favor, without realizing it. And somehow our own view points aligned in some bizarre fashion, for I was trying to argue for the "universe being rigged from the beginning"-- or not at all. And yet my assumptions were questioned. Now, I am by no means a positivist, but I would like to know the assumptions you assume that I assumed. At least the egregious ones- so I can more politely comment on a philosopher's blog the next time.

 
At Monday, June 02, 2008 1:44:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Being a philosopher by nature and by trade, I see assumptions all over the place, but I was mainly speaking about the ones you call "unknowable" so we seem to agree on that too.

 

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