The opposite of discovery

Via AnswerTheSkeptic.com comes this report, from Dr. Hugo Ross, on what Martian ice ages teach us about God.

Schorghofer demonstrated that the mid-latitude subsurface ice was well explained by large intermittent increases in the tilt of Mars’ rotation axis. His explanation implied that, unlike Earth, the main driving force behind Mars’ ice ages was changes in the tilt of its rotation axis…

What makes Earth so extraordinary is that the variation in the tilt of its rotation axis is virtually nil and changes in the eccentricity and inclination of its orbit are very small compared to the other solar system planets. Evidently, Earth’s orbital and rotational features have been exquisitely fine-tuned to allow for the long-term survival of advanced life on its surface.

Notice Ross’s use of the passive voice in the last sentence above. “Earth’s orbital and rotational features have been exquisitely fine-tuned…” In other words, we don’t have any evidence linking any particular “fine-tuner” to the characteristics of Earth’s rotation and orbit. It’s passive; the characteristics “have been fine-tuned,” by some unknown agency or agencies.

Ross goes on to the conclusion that this way of looking at things gives people reason to believe in God.

The degree of fine-tuning design in Earth’s orbital and rotational characteristics has become increasingly apparent and contributes to the conclusion that Earth and the solar system have been supernaturally and superintelligently manufactured to make human life and human civilization possible. Thanks to Schorghofer’s work, it should not be too long before scientists uncover even more evidence of God’s handiwork in the design of Earth and the solar system.

The only problem with that conclusion (or at least one of the problems) is that it is essentially superstition: assigning credit to some supposed supernatural force, without any actual evidence or explanation linking that particular force to the observed effects. Contrast this superstitious approach with a scientific one: the scientific approach is to describe the operation of the cause in sufficient detail that you can predict what detectable real-world consequences would result, and how they would be different from alternative possibilities. Ross has to use the passive voice to claim that the Earth has been fine-tuned because the evidence gives him absolutely no information about who or what would have conducted this fine-tuning, nor about how this tuning was accomplished.

Obviously, the superstitious technique of arbitrarily assigning credit to supernatural agencies is an exercise in ignorance: it gives you no new insights, and in fact discourages further exploration of the question. If God used His magical, or excuse me, His miraculous powers to poof the earth into precisely the forms and functions He desired, science has no hope of reconstructing His techniques or predicting the expected consequences that ought to result. And without this sort of specific functional description of the process, science can never produce any experimental or observational tests that one could use to scientifically verify whether or not the God hypothesis was really true, so you end up having to take the conclusion on faith alone.

Even if it were true, knowing that God “tuned” the Earth’s orbit would not tell us anything about how nature works, because all superstition is doing is declaring that such things are done by magic, and thus don’t make use of natural processes in the first place. We were ignorant when we started, and appealing to superstition only enshrines the ignorance, and makes it holy. That’s the opposite of discovery.

 
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Posted in Unapologetics. 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “The opposite of discovery”

  1. B8ovin Says:

    This argument is entirely analogous to Lewis’ trilemma. Ross offers no rebuttal or alternative to the “conclusion” that the Earth is fine tuned by divine fiat. It may well be fine tuned but that can not simply be attributed solely to supernatural force(s). By limiting the possibilities Ross negates any relevance to his statements.

    I know, as does Ross, that certain plants can only grow in certain conditions. It could well be that more intricate life can only live on planets with particular conditions. It may also well be that evolution would be able to develop humans on a planet with different conditions, and has. It is also worth noting that we have a solar system of eight planets, while the size of the universe is great enough to have billions of planets, and that rotational anomalies, universally, are a) common, b) rare or c) distributed somewhat evenly. To use Mars and Earth as indications of “design” is disingenuous.

    Granted, Ross passively asserts only an “evidential” argument, but by aggressively ignoring dissenting or counter evidence, or even logical hypotheses, he ends up creating the epitome of ignorant conclusions.

  2. John Fernandez Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post and the comment above, but I’m not sure I fully understand your position. Are you saying that it is unreasonable to even speculate the existence of a Fine Tuner? If so, I strongly disagree.

    Dr. Ross does not say that the apparent fine-tuning in our universe proves the existence of a Fine Tuner (though, like myself, he clearly believes in one), but only that it provides evidence of such a possibility.

    It is clearly not unreasonable to postulate the existence of a Fine Tuner (God), given the extraordinarily complex and elegant apparent design features we see all around us.

    I don’t expect you embrace this viewpoint, but I would hope that you at least see the weakness in your own view (presumably atheistic). For you to categorically deny even the possibility of a Fine Tuner is, I think, a big mistake.

  3. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Hi, John, thanks for writing. No, I’m not saying that we cannot speculate about things. What I’m trying to do is emphasize the difference between speculation and genuine evidence. For example, I might speculate that high tech sneakers are made by magical elves, but this would not mean that the sneakers themselves are evidence for the existence of magical elves. Or I might speculate that the remarkable order we find in the universe was the result of Spontaneous Magical Entropy-Reversal Fields, but this would not mean that “fine tuning” is evidence for SMERFs.

    The difference between science and superstition is that superstition does not show any verifiable connection between its proposed cause and the observed effect, and in most cases could not even describe what such a connection would look like if it did exist.

    Science, on the other hand, proposes mechanisms in sufficient detail that one can reasonably predict what consequences would result from these mechanisms in operation. In fact, we can even tell how these consequences would be different if the proposed mechanism did not operate in the real world. Evidence, in such cases, consists of examining the real world data to see if it is consistent with the consequences predicted by the mechanism.

    Dr. Ross’s argument does not provide genuine evidence for a Fine Tuner, it merely appeals to our natural, superstitious tendency to ascribe poorly understood phenomena to some invisible, intelligent force. It’s the same part of human psychology that gives rise to animism and other primitive superstitions.

    In order for “fine tuning” to serve as evidence for a Fine Tuner, one must first of all prove that different “tunings” are possible—not just imaginable, but genuinely possible in the real world. Next, one must propose a mechanism whose consequences can be determined by a rational analysis even without referring to the real-world data. Then one must use experimentation and/or observation to determine whether or not real-world conditions are indeed consistent with the expected consequences. Finally, one would need to compare one’s proposed mechanism to other proposed mechanisms, to see which mechanism is most consistent with the greatest body of relevant data.

    Mere superstitious attribution does not accomplish any of these tasks. It might seem like the cosmos contains some unlikely combinations of characteristics, but I can suggest an explanation that is even simpler than the Fine Tuner, and is much more abundantly documented. My explanation is that humans are fallible, and are prone to misjudge the odds, to misunderstand the forces involved, and to leap to conclusions that owe more to their own psychology than to the way reality actually works.

    Given how often we find demonstrations of human fallibility and superstition, isn’t that a more reasonable explanation than the animistic expectation that some invisible intelligence must be behind everything we do not understand?

  4. John Fernandez Says:

    Good points.

    What exactly do you mean when you say that in order for “fine tuning” to serve as evidence for a Fine Tuner, one must first prove that different “tunings” are possible, not just imaginable? Are you requiring proof of possibility? It seems to me that imagination is one of the most important tools in the scientific arsenal. Not all imagined ideas can be proven, but that doesn’t seem to stop great scientists from imagining those things nevertheless, i.e. string and multiverse theories.

    I anticipate that you will say these theories are different from the God theory because they offer potential mathematical mechanisms as support, but the God theory also has support in such things as the Kalam Argument, and what we know about cause and effect.

    Why are scientists allowed to speculate and imagine things that can’t be proven, while theists are regularly ridiculed as wishful thinkers?

    For me, the clincher is the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. I find nothing in history to match Him (Zoroastrianism doesn’t come close if you examine it carefully), nor do I get the sense of conspiracy or delusion when I read the Gospel accounts.

    Finally, have you ever considered that our existence as conscious, intelligent, and emotionally dynamic beings capable of love, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice, sets a universal precedent that might very well derive from a much greater Being with similar, but fully realized, traits? If we are beings with tose traits, why is it so unreasonable to think that there may be other beings in our universe with such traits, and perhaps even one Being that transcends our universe and all other beings in existence?

    This is a very real possibility, no?

  5. Deacon Duncan Says:

    The reason I say that one must first prove that different tunings are possible is because the Fine Tuning argument is essentially a probability argument. “What are the odds of all these different constants having just the values we find today?” Well, if no other tunings are possible, those odds are 1:1. You don’t need to invoke intelligent design to explain why things worked out the way it was 100% certain they would.

    Scientists and theists are equally welcome to speculate and imagine things that cannot be proven. Where some theists get into trouble is that they stop there, and treat their speculations as “evidence” or even “proof.” As I mentioned before, if you want the grade, you have to actually do the homework: you have to develop a workable mechanism in sufficient detail that one can work out, analytically, what consequences should result from that mechanism operating in the real world. The Fine Tuning argument does not do this, nor do any of the other Intelligent Design arguments, or any of the Creationist arguments. Yet they claim to have completed the entire journey, and to have produced a scientific theory comparable to evolutionary theory, Big Bang theory, and other scientific theories, when in fact they have yet to take the first scientific step. It is for this that they are (rightly) ridiculed.

    By the way, since you mention cause and effect, have you considered the temporal relationship between cause and effect? The cause must occur before the effect, because if the effect happens first, it can hardly have been caused by the supposed cause, and if they happen simultaneously, who’s to say which is cause and which is effect? So the law of cause and effect requires that time must already exist, so that the cause can occur chronologically earlier than the effect. This means that the beginning of space and time cannot have had a cause, since there was no time before the beginning of time in which a cause could have occurred.

    Your other points seem to be straying somewhat from the topic of the original post, so I’ll pass on those for now. If you browse through some of my earlier posts, I’m sure you’ll find earlier discussions that would be more appropriate places for the things you’d like to say. You might even find that I’ve already addressed your points.

    Cheers.

  6. John Fernandez Says:

    Fair enough, but do you honestly believe this universe came into existence by unguided natural causes? If so, you must have a tremendous amount of faith in unguided natural process, not just in terms of them being able to give rise to this universe, but also with respect to abiogenesis, self-awareness/consciousness, and many other things that modern science has no explanation for (and certainly no empirical proof).

    We both have faith, but in opposite things.

    Thanks for the interesting and enlightening dialogue. I will be back to visit from time to time.

  7. Deacon Duncan Says:

    The problem with asking how this universe came into being is that it assumes there was a time when the universe did not exist. This does not appear to be the case, since the evidence indicates that time and space both originated at the Big Bang. The universe thus has existed for all of time, and there has never been a time when it did not exist. Because of this, it has no cause, since there was never a time when anything could have happened to cause it.

    As for abiogenesis, I have evidence-based faith that unguided natural processes did produce it: such an origin is consistent with what we can observe, particularly with regard to organic structures that are what you might call transitional between life and non-life (viruses and prions, for instance). Likewise, we observe a wide spectrum of levels of consciousness and self-awareness in natural organisms, so it’s evidence-based faith to conclude that these also had natural, evolutionary origins.

    This sort of evidence-based faith is quite different from merely jumping to superstitious conclusions based on arbitrary things men say about magical creators and what not. My belief that things have natural origins is a logical consequence of believing in the principle that truth is consistent with itself: my conclusions are based on the assumption that the truth about the past is going to be consistent with the truth about the present.

    Superstitious “explanations,” by contrast, not only fail to actually explain anything, but they end up having to appeal to some kind of magic—something, in other words, to justify believing that the past was not just different from what we see today, but that things happened that aren’t even consistent with the fundamental physical laws we see today.

    So I’m afraid that the phrase “we both have faith” doesn’t really capture the true essence of the situation. My faith is the natural consequence of agreeing that truth is consistent with itself; if we don’t have that kind of faith, then our only alternative is superstition and taking man’s word for things that are not consistent with what we see in real life. And the latter alternative, sorry to say, is not really faith, but is the practical definition of what “gullibility” means. You can’t have genuine faith without truth, and truth must be consistent with itself.