Difficulty Level: Advanced
This post gets a bit technical at points. Be prepared to encounter terms and concepts you might not have seen before.
Counter Apologist (CA), a contributor to the Real Atheology Facebook Page, responded to a post of mine on Facebook. For the full context, here’s what my original post said:
Counter Apologist responded to this post at the link below:
The following is my response to the above link.
In reading his post carefully, there’s very little I can agree with. Most of what he says strikes me as obviously false. For instance, his first critique says this (emphasis added):
Like all good apologetics, some of what Cameron says here is quite sensible: Even if it’s possible that doesn’t mean we have enough justification to think it’s probable or likely.
However, this doesn’t support his idea that just because there are some answers to the Kalam or Fine Tuning arguments that rely on “it’s possible that X premise is false” that doesn’t mean that there are not better, stronger objections – or that the appeals to possibility in that context is analogous to believing far reaching possibilities in mundane situations.
He starts off by attributing an idea to me I did not articulate. It’s not “my idea that” there are not better objections to the Kalam or Fine-Tuning arguments. The point I was making was that some people confuse possible alternatives with probable alternatives. That isn’t to say that all people do this or that there aren’t probable alternatives. I wasn’t making that claim in this Facebook post.
The remainder of the article goes on to provide supposed counterexamples to the claim he ascribes to me. Now, I agree that at least some of his arguments would constitute counterexamples if I were making that claim. But I wasn’t. Spending an entire post responding to claims I did not make is a textbook case of the strawman fallacy.
This is why I am a huge proponent of asking for clarification. You’ll often see me ask, “What do you mean by that?” This can be frustrating for some people–and I get that–but it’s an honest attempt at understanding the actual claims of my interlocutor. I don’t want to respond to a claim they aren’t making.
That said, let’s analyze his alleged counterexamples in depth, as I’m convinced they are all false.
Next he offers two critiques of the Kalam Cosmological Argument: (a) Science gives strong evidence that A-theory is false, and (b) Science doesn’t tell us the universe began to exist. These, he claims, are good reasons to think the Kalam is unsound. Now, I could argue that both claims are dubious (which they are), but instead of arguing that, I’ll take a much simpler approach. I will argue that even if both claims are true, it doesn’t follow that the Kalam is unsound.
Regarding (a), assuming he’s right that science gives strong evidence against A-theory (which again is dubious), I agree with Calum Miller and others that one could simply forward an A-theory-independent version of the Kalam (e.g.: “one could simply take as one’s datum a universe with an ‘early’ temporal boundary”). That’s easy. Regarding (b), assuming he’s right that science doesn’t tell us the universe began (which again is dubious), Craig is explicit that the evidence from science merely confirms what his two philosophical arguments already establish re: the beginning of the universe. So even if the science is out on the beginning of the universe (which again is dubious), he’s only dealt with a third of Craig’s arguments in defense of the finitude of the past.
So, even if (a) and (b) are true, it doesn’t follow that the Kalam (or something very similar) is unsound. Much more work is needed to reach that conclusion.
The Fine-Tuning Argument
He then turns to the Fine-Tuning Argument (FTA). What’s ironic is that he falls into the trap I warned against in the paragraph he critiques. At least two of his objections to the FTA are based on possibilities rather than probabilities.
First, CA says that (emphasis added):
Notice that he says it could be the case there is a Theory of Everything that explains fine-tuning. This is an explicit appeal to possibility, not to probability. And that’s just the beginning of what’s wrong with this statement. To quote Luke Barnes, “A ToE won’t explain literally everything. In particular, the initial conditions (or, more generally, boundary conditions) of the universe are a worry.” In other words, a Theory of Everything won’t explain something like the initial distribution of mass-energy and hence won’t explain the most impressive case of fine-tuning. Moreover, a ToE would not explain why our set of laws of nature exist rather than some other set (e.g.: the set that includes a universal attractive force (like gravity), a force that binds protons and neutrons together in the nucleus (like the strong nuclear force), something like the electromagnetic force, and so on). So not only is he appealing to an unmotivated possibility, he’s appealing to a possibility that doesn’t do what it needs to.
Secondly, he says that (emphasis added):
Here again he’s not arguing that other kinds of life are probable given different values of the constants, rather he’s saying for all we know life could arise under different conditions. In other words, he’s making an appeal to an unmotivated possibility. I suppose it’s only appropriate to let CA rebut himself; earlier on in the article he agreed: “Even if it’s possible that doesn’t mean we have enough justification to think it’s probable or likely.”
CA then says:
This objection is easily dispelled. Let’s start by defining fine-tuning. According to Barnes, fine-tuning is the claim that, “In the set of possible physics, the subset that permit the evolution of life is very small.” That definition is compatible with the overwhelming majority of our universe being inhospitable to life. Consider the following argument:
(1) Most of our universe is hostile to life.
(2) If most of our universe is hostile to life, we shouldn’t assume that, in the set of possible physics, the subset that permit the evolution of life is very small.
(3) Therefore, we shouldn’t assume that, in the set of possible physics, the subset that permit the evolution of life is very small.
When put in the form of a syllogism, it’s obvious that the consequent of (2) doesn’t follow from the antecedent. These are unrelated propositions. Thus, the idea that we ought to conclude that our universe is not fine-tuned for life given that our universe contains very little life is, to put it gently, wrong-headed .
The last argument CA forwards against the Fine-Tuning Argument is the Normalization Problem (NP). Here’s what he says:
Let me respond to this with three points. First, this is a well-known problem, and one that Robin Collins explicitly addresses in his work on fine-tuning. His response involves limiting the comparison range. Here’s what he says, “My proposal is that the primary comparison range is the set of values for which we can make determinations of whether the values are life-permitting or not. I will call this range the “epistemically illuminated” (EI) range.” Given that the EI range is finite, any fine-tuning argument that utilizes it is not subject to the Normalization problem . For anyone that’s interested in learning more on this, check out Collins’ paper in the Blackwell Companion.
The second point is that Barnes has recently published a paper on the subject as well (click here). There he argues that the NP is a problem not just for fine-tuning but for physics more generally. Any theory that has a free parameter (e.g.: Newton’s theory of gravity and it’s free parameter G) will run into the NP. Here is his response: “The standard models of particle physics and cosmology avoid these problems as follows. Dimensional parameters do not vary over an infinite range; they are bounded by the Planck scale. Dimensionless parameters might not vary over an infinite range, and common practice in the physical sciences assumes that parameters of order unity are more probable, so a uniform probability distribution is not forced upon us by the principle of indifference.”
Third, I agree with Alvin Plantinga (surprise, surprise) that the NP proves too much. If successful, it would undermine some of the most obvious design inferences (see section 2.2 of this paper).
The Normalization Problem is a technical puzzle, no doubt, but it is not one that seriously challenges the Fine-Tuning Argument.
Fortunately, I can agree with at least part of what CA concludes at the end of his post. He says:
Let me clarify the dialectical situation. There are at least two versions of the Problem of Evil: The Logical Version and the Evidential (or probabilistic) Version. The logical version says that God and evil are logically incompatible; there is no possible world where (i) God exists and (ii) Evil exists. By contrast, the probabilistic version says that, given all the evil and suffering in the world, God’s existence is highly unlikely. The former is a claim of impossibility, while the latter is a claim of improbability.
Here’s the point: To rebut a claim of impossibility, all one has to do is show possibility (for example, show is that there is a possible world where (i) and (ii) are true). That’s it. So at least in the case of the logical version of the problem of evil, possibility is all that’s required.
Where I agree with CA is that possibility is not sufficient as a response to evidential or probabilistic versions of the problem of evil. There we require something more robust than possibility. For my approach to the probabilistic problem of evil, see this blog post or, for a more rigorous treatment, my debate with Justin Schieber.
In summary, Counter Apologist’s entire blog post is a response to a claim that I never actually made. And on top of that, nearly everything he says is false. If I had more time, I would deconstruct his claims even further, but alas, it’s time to get back to work.