In which a Twitter exchange exposes the blind faith of an anti-theist.
Here’s a person I think we can reasonably assume is an anti-theist. Last month, he pinged me on Twitter with the following:
@sarahsalviander Always amazed when educated people fall for the FT argument. That it’s still in use seems a triumph of faith over reason.
— Joe’s World (@joesw0rld) May 21, 2015
By “FT” he means fine-tuning. What followed was an exchange that was more coherent than the one I had with “OpenMind” (see here and here), but no less demonstrative of the main problem many non-scientist anti-theists have, which is blind faith in their beliefs and unquestioned assumptions.
Before we continue, note that the reasoning I described in my testimony doesn’t really fall under what’s called the fine-tuning argument. This argument says that the improbability of our universe having precisely the right values for the many parameters and constants that permit human life to exist — the strengths of the fundamental forces, the masses of subatomic particles, the number of physical dimensions, etc. — is so high as to strongly imply the universe was designed by a personal being. However, in my testimony, I explained that I logically inferred the existence of a rational, transcendental being (God) who created the universe based on the fact that the universe is comprehensible. Not the same thing as fine-tuning. But no matter, I was game to see how exactly the fine-tuning argument for God constituted faith over reason, so I asked.
I don’t know if Joe’s World (JW) thinks the many, many atheist scientists who’ve embraced the multiverse idea on this basis are fools or what, but I suspected he didn’t understand the implications of fine tuning, so I asked him why he made his assertion.
His response surprised me a little, because it differs from the common anti-theist argument that God is merely superfluous to the workings of the universe. JW, on the other hand, believes that order arises spontaneously only in a godless universe and that a God-created universe would be nonsensical. I pointed out to him that this is the opposite of what Christians and even most atheists believe.
There are a number of problems with his assertion, the first of which is the origin of a “clockwork” universe in which complexity just arises. He’s begging the question. The problem is underscored by his metaphorical comparison of the universe to a clock — most of us are reasonably certain that precision instruments like clocks don’t just spring into being on their own, but are rather carefully designed and deliberately constructed by conscious beings.
Another problem is that he presupposes that the God of the Bible is a capricious being who would not create a rational universe with unchangeable laws. Sure, a supernatural being could in principle create anything he wants, but that’s not what’s important here. Since JW is talking to a Christian (me), that means we’re talking specifically about the God of the Bible. It doesn’t matter what anyone personally thinks about the God of the Bible, what matters is what scripture says about God and whether that’s contradicted or corroborated by reason and evidence. When we read the Bible, we see that God is not at all a capricious being, but rather a rational being. We are told throughout the Bible that God didn’t just slap together a whimsical universe, but by wisdom created a lawful universe:
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made (Psalm 33:6)
The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;
by understanding he established the heavens;
Do you know the laws of the heavens? (Job 38:33)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
Note that the Greek word translated in John 1:1 as “word” is logos, which also means logic, intellect, and wisdom. Putting all this together, Gerald Schroeder makes the argument that Genesis 1:1, properly translated, reads as follows: “With a first cause of wisdom, God created the universe.” (See Chapter Two of Schroeder’s book, God According to God.)
The heavens declare his righteousness (Psalm 50:6)
In other words, nature reveals the character of God. We see that nature operates according to knowable laws; God is not capricious.
As for corroboration, there’s a reason the Bible begins with Genesis. It first of all establishes the sovereignty of God as the creator of all things, but it also gives us a testable account of God’s creation. (See here for a discussion of Genesis 1 and modern science.)
What I found even more interesting than the backwards reasoning of JW was the tenacious way in which he clung to one particular belief in spite of the evidence, or rather the lack of it. I reminded him that there are only three options to explain why the universe is the way it is: necessity, luck, or God. I told him there’s no support for necessity, but he really, really wanted to believe it anyway.
.@joesw0rld Because the parameters, constants, etc. we observe are not predicted from physical theory or any extension of physical theory.
— Sarah Salviander (@sarahsalviander) May 24, 2015
It’s not difficult to define chance. The parameters, constants, all the things that make the universe fit for human life, can span a range of values. If there’s no physical theory requiring the universe to have three physical dimensions, the particular strengths of the various fundamental forces, the particular masses of subatomic particles, and so on, and no God to purposefully choose these values, then how did we end up with all of the “right” values? The answer is, a very, very lucky roll of the dice. In the multiverse, there is a mind-bogglingly huge number of universes, all with different parameters, and we just happen to inhabit one that hit the cosmic jackpot. (Incidentally, most physicists don’t seem to delight in this option. I get the impression most atheist physicists would prefer the necessity option, but as there’s no evidence for that, they grudgingly accept the multiverse.)
JW seemed to reject this notion, and he obviously wasn’t big on the God idea, so I challenged him, repeatedly, to show me which physical theories predict / require / necessitate the universe to be the way it is.
.@joesw0rld Where are the physical theories that require the universe to be exactly the way it is? Show me.
— Sarah Salviander (@sarahsalviander) June 1, 2015
After a lot of back and forth, I finally got an answer out of him.
@sarahsalviander Yes of course. We’re still investigating that.
— Joe’s World (@joesw0rld) June 8, 2015
He admits he doesn’t know. The truth is, no one knows, and it’s deeply troubling to a lot of people, because it leaves as the only alternatives luck and God. Yet JW persists in his belief.
JW’s initial statement to me was that the fine-tuning argument was a triumph of faith over reason. But who’s exhibiting faith here? If you accept an explanation for why the universe is the way it is, then you must have evidence in favor of it or at least evidence ruling out the alternatives. Joe’s World has no scientific evidence, no physical theories predicting that the universe must be the way it is. Everything we know about the physical nature of the universe says that its various properties did not arise due to necessity. JW rejects God; I don’t know for certain if he rejects the multiverse, but I suspect he does. If so, then persisting in his belief in necessity is beyond faith — it’s blind faith.
Remember, having faith means holding onto a belief you once accepted through reason in spite of your transitory emotions. Blind faith means holding onto a belief without evidence or in spite of contradictory evidence. If you engage anti-theists long enough, you’ll find that a lot of them are the blind faithful. Christians, on the other hand, have good reasons to believe. If you’re a Christian, just make sure you can articulate what those reasons are.