Sunday, September 21, 2008

BOOK CLUB: The God Delusion, chpt 4.

This chapter contains Dawkins's central argument, summarized in pages 188-9.

The first time I read this chapter, I liked it, but I also mentally totted up all the various theistic manoeuvres that might be made in response that Dawkins didn't cover (how could he, in a single book?)

On a second reading, I am rather more impressed. Dawkins does actually cover a remarkable number of possible rejoinders, and he does deal with them pretty effectively (though the knock-about style will convince some that Dawkins is not being rigorous, close reading reveals that Dawkins's treatment of objections is pretty well thought through).

The central idea is, of course, that while theists appeal to a cosmic person or intelligence to account for features of the world that, they insist, are otherwise inexplicable, such as "irreducible complexity" - the bacterial flagellum, say, or the seemingly fine-tuned character of the universe as a whole - the appeal to God is, inevitably, an appeal to something that is itself highly complex. A God capable of designing a universe would have to be an immensely complicated being - his mind would have to be far more complex than our own, for example.

We have a here a regress-or-turtle- type objection of course. If complexity requires a designer, then God's complexity will require a designer, and so on to infinity. Or the theist can say "God (like the ancient Hindu's turtle, which was deemed the exception to the rule that unsupported things fall) is the exception to the rule that complexity requires a designer". But why play the exception to the rule card here, rather than at the right at the beginning, with the first complexity to be explained?

Note, by the way, that Dawkins is not just finding fault with this kind of teleological argument for the existence of God. After all, to fault an argument for x is not to show that x is not, or is probably not, true.

Dawkins is also making the point that God's complexity itself makes him a very unlikely, improbable being.

A possible theistic response

I suspect the point at which most theists will want to attack is the claim that God must be complex. Swinburne suggests that the values zero and infinity are the simplest values. If you are giving, say, a subatomic particle a property of value n, and deciding what n should be, infinity is a simpler suggestion than, say, some very, very large value.

If that's correct, then perhaps, by suggesting that God's mind and intelligence is infinite, the theist can maintain that God's mind is actually simpler than, say, our own. So appealing to God's mind to account for, say, the complexity of our own is to to explain a more complex thing by reference to a less complex thing. In which case, Dawkins's objection fails here. More generally, if God is of infinite intelligence, wisdom and power, that makes him a really rather simple thing. In which case, appealing to him to explain complexity in the world does not raise the problem Dawkins thinks it does.

Is this a good response to Dawkins, though?

106 comments:

wombat said...

"A God capable of designing a universe would have to be an immensely complicated being - his mind would have to be far more complex than our own, for example."

When I thought about this I seemed to come up with several possible objections.

(i) Given what we now know about how evolution etc. works it seems possible either that some primitive level of the Universe was designed but that the complexity arises unintentionally or at least unpredictably out of this. That seems hardly likely to really satisfy a theist since God can't really claim credit. But hand on isn't this a continuum? A one end we have creation of whatever the LHC is looking for and everything after the big bang is accident and at the other we have say getting the universe to a point where it can support self replication (life).
It does not seem to defeat the view that God needs to be more complex that his creation though because He still appears more complex than that part of the end result for which he can claim credit.

(ii) Are we mistaking complexity for sheer quantity? As a sometime designer myself I often go about the using strategies such as partitioning the problem, refining my solution in stages and so on. Each of these tends to reduce the complexity which my mind is trying to encompass at any one time so does this mean that God could be simpler than his creation?

While objections to RD's assertion might remain they don't seem to lead to the sort of thing that would satisfy theists. Desists and pantheists possibly but RD is not arguing against them.

Swinburne's infinity ploy surely can't work. Just because you can give something a simple name doesn't make it simple in that sense does it? It's a good bet that there are more mathematicians working on aspects of infinity than on say "one million and seven". Beside which zero and infinity are often used to create the sort of singularity which seemingly can "prove" anything and is actually proof of nothing.

Kosh3 said...

How is one to go about assessing the relative complexity of the composition of a disembodied mind in relation to the complexity of the universe? Dawkins says god must be complex in this regard, Swinburne says god is simple, to both my reply is "??". I don't know how to do the calculations being asked of me.

wombat said...

Kosh3

One approach might be something like entropy or number of possible states.

(That would have to be taking into account compression or certain sorts of purely mechanical simplification. e.g. a picture of a black cat in a coal cellar might take up megabytes on your digital camera but it could be compressed to a very small file which simply expressed "all black".)

Billy said...

I dont think how complex god is is relevant.

He still has to exist to create, so it is still valid to ask how he came into being.

Billy said...

Also, if god was simple, then could his creator not also be simple?

However, as Kosh3 says, how can you possibly know - all the theist is trying to do is set rules for his argument, it does not have to reflect a real situation. Therefore, does it have any weight at all?

Paul P. Mealing said...

I thought the best part of this chapter was Dawkins explaining how God stops science. This is the part that creationists and ID proponents don't get.

Once you bring God into explain something that you don't understand or comprehend, you are effectively saying you've reached the end of science. This is why God has no place in science education and why science is an atheistic pursuit by necessity. Even though some scientists are theists, science is not about God, it's about nature.

I'm unsure why this argument is not used more often in the US, because it's all about maintaining the integrity of science and making sure that science doesn't stop at our current level of knowledge.

Of course creationism would actually take science backwards, but that's what they really advocate - back before Darwin, which is a lot of science to roll back.

Regards, Paul.

wombat said...

paul - "Once you bring God into explain something that you don't understand or comprehend, you are effectively saying you've reached the end of science."

Very true.

Even more fundamental is that the very use of God as an explanation for anything at all is admitting that an explanation is needed, and that the project of trying to explain things is valid. Use of "God" to explain contains the seed of its own destruction.

Incidentally I am always a little surprised that poor old Darwin takes all the flack. Theres absolutely tons of non-evolutionary evidence lying about to nail the Biblical creation myth. Geology, thermodynamics (e.g. Lord Kelvin's work), study of radioactive decay, astronomy and so on.

(What if I am marsupial? I thought Stephen did the whole species-ist thing a while back.)

Paul C said...

According to Antony Flew,

Swinburne's definition of the word ‘God’, a definition which has become the agreed starting point for most philosophical discussion of God’s existence, not only in the United kingdom but also more generally throughout the English-speaking world, reads: ‘A person without a body (i.e. a spirit), present everywhere, the creator and sustainer of the universe, able to do everything (i.e. omnipotent), knowing all things, perfectly good, a source of moral obligation, immutable, eternal, a necessary being, holy and worthy of worship.

Now I'm no philosopher, but that doesn't sound very simple to me. It sounds - once again - like a case of theists wanting to have their cake and eat it.

The quote is of course from Flew's piece in Think magazine, available for free download...

The Barefoot Bum said...

To the extent that Swinburne's god is "simpler" than nature, it's not explanatory. To the extent that it's explanatory, it's not simpler.

Paul Power said...

How many of these gods can dance on a pinhead?

Sorry, couldn't resist.

I do not see the point of this simple versus complex god discussion. Is this a question to be decided by logic? Or by biology? or by physics ? Or by what? What sort of question is it, that we can apply what we know to it?

anticant said...

It's no different to any other "theological" conundrum.

We do waste an awful lot of time here jousting with straw men.

Pointless, if you ask me.

Rayndeon said...

How about epistemic complexity, as I mention here?

anticant said...

Well, how about it? Just loads more straw men.

tinkerbell4672 said...

God is often thought to be simple in the sense that a disembodied mind would be simple. A disembodied mind would have no parts, and its fundamental capacities and dispositions would be essential to it (in the sense that we wouldn't call it a mind without them). The content of such a mind might be complex (where 'complex' is considered in terms of difficulty to understand), but the mind itself wouldn't be complex(where 'complex' is understood in terms of the arrangement and function of parts; this is the definition Dawkins gives in 'The Blind Watchmaker').

Eric said...

Sorry about that last comment. I forgot to change from my fiancee's name to mine.

anticant said...

Has anyone ever met a disembodied mind? The very notion is a load of hocus-pocus.

Kosh3 said...

Incidentally, I think that while infinity and 0 may be simpler than any finite number, that the disjunctive set of all finite numbers is probably equivalent in terms of simplicity. Thus, while any one finite number in particular is less simple than infinity, the answer to some question falling within a finite range is not more complex than 0 / infinity.

Thoughts?

Paul P. Mealing said...

Gregory Chaitin actually has a mathematical definition of complexity given in a logarithmic expression. He explains it in his book, 'Thinking about Godel and Turing', and bases it on a conceptual idea originally proposed by Leibniz.

The complexity is effectively the ratio of a result to its algorithm (in bits) expressed logarithmically. A number that can't be calculated by an algorithm is infinitely complex by this definition. If I understand him correctly, he claims that most real numbers are incomputable, which, by this definition, makes mathematics irreducibly complex. I haven't explained it very well, but then Chaitin did write a book on the subject.

According to Chaitin, human DNA, with its 4 bases, contains 6 trillion bits of information. As he says, it's the most extraordinary piece of software in the world, and, obviously, very complex by any definition.

By the way Wombat, I didn't intend any offence. I was trying to work out if you were an Aussie.

Regards, Paul.

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric said...

"Has anyone ever met a disembodied mind? The very notion is a load of hocus-pocus."

I wasn't addressing the question of god's existence, but of his supposed complexity.

Also, it obviously doesn't follow from the fact that no one has ever 'met' x (whether understood as seen, encountered, experienced, etc.) that x therefore doesn't exist (which is what I take you to be saying by referring to it as 'hocus pocus').

anticant said...

If you don't have a view on whether or not God exists, why bother discussing he/she/it's complexity?

Either there are gods, and disembodied minds, or there aren't. If you believe that there are, please produce the evidence and let us assess its probability.

Otherwise, it's a complete waste of time discussing such presumed entities' supposed attributes. No more or less useful than pondering the supposed attributes of Russell's Celestial Teapot or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Surely there are more useful things to talk about on philosophy blogs?

Geert Arys said...

Is it a good response though?

No, because complexity to understand the thingy is not the same as the complexity itself.

0 and infinity are not any more less or more complex then other numbers. They are just easier to work with.

It is easy to 'reason' with an all-powerful god. You can explain anything with "Him" (or Her): and actually theists do this at any time. How was the stone created? By God. How was man created? By God. And go on.

That's the same as: anything x infinite = infinite or anything x 0 = 0. Easy to work with.

But that does not say anything about the complexity of infinite or god itself. Yes, more likely, both are not a part of nature due to their inherent impossibility (read: complexity).

Paul P. Mealing said...

I revisited Chaitin because I didn't want to misrepresent him. In fact, he talks about complexity as effectively the opposite of randomness, where he says 'Randomness = Incompressibility'. Therefore complexity actually equates to elegance because it's about identifying the shortest algorithm one can find to generate a solution, as with the 4 bases of DNA.

Chaitin picks up on an idea by von Neumann that there may be 'a general mathematical theory of the evolution of life...' so far undiscovered of course.

But if complexity relates to elegance then maybe God is an algorithm or set of laws. Chaitin calls himself a neo-Pythagorean, where 'God is not a mathematician' but 'a computer programmer'.

Actually I think Pythagoreans would have said that God is not a mathematician, God is the mathematics. After all Pythagoras believed in the transmigration of the soul (reincarnation).

Regards, Paul.

Paul Power said...

As I commented before, I find this talk of "simplicity" and "complexity" too vague. However this point can be made with little fear of being gainsaid:

"Intelligent Design" claims that you cannot get "complexity" from "simplicity". So to argue that the universe could have been created by a "simple" being is to say the ID is wrong for this reason.

Paul Power said...

One further thought:

The argument Dawkins is tackling is not that god could exist or does exist, but rather than god MUST exist. That there is some quality of the universe that the universe could not provide for itself.

Could not the same argument be used against the idea of a "simple" god, that it could not provide "complexity" to the universe? And that if there is nothing to prevent a "simple" god producing the required "complexity" then why is there something to prevent the universe providing itself with the quality theists think we need god to provide ?

I know these thoughts are not conclusive, but then this "necessity" the theists insist upon is hard to pin down. and so they give themselves great freedom in talking about this god while putting enormous burdens on those who disagree with them.

anticant said...

Of course theists' waffly twaddle is hard to pin down. Why bother? At the hard-nosed [TA] end of the psychology trade, it's vulgarly known as "mind-f***ing".

wombat said...

eric - This is distinguishing the software from the hardware. Not sure this helps since it is the software thats supposed to be doing the designing not the thing it's running on.

Kyle S said...

Stephen you are assuming that the exception to the rule card is being played arbitrarily. The question that really needs to be asked is why play it there?

With the turtle example, there doesn't seem to be any good reason, but that doesn't mean there is never a good reason.

The whole issue arises when we ask for a explanation of everything. You can talk about physical laws, and matter and the Big Bang, and all that stuff, but at the end you can still ask why?

If we are to avoid the infinite regress, we need something that is self explaining. Things that are necessary don't require explanation, for example the number 7 is necessary. If someone asks why the number 7 exists, then they clearly have not understood what it is. However, being necessary is not enough for us, because we our looking for the explanation of everything that there is. We can't simply explain it by reference to a necessary object, for example, saying that the number 7 explains the universe wouldn't be a good explanation.

We need something more that is self-explaining. If you believe in free-will then the actions of free beings can be self-explaining. This does not mean that there is never an explanation but only that some actions are self-explaining because they are freely chosen.

What the theist is claiming is that God is a good place to play the exception to the rule card because it is the freely chosen act of a necessary being, which is the sort of thing that does not require explanation. The Big Bang, or physical laws or whatever RD wants to point to is not the sort of thing that is self-explaining.

So, it is really Dawkins and not the theists who is being arbitrary in their playing of the exception to the rule card.

Paul Power said...

"What the theist is claiming is that God is a good place to play the exception to the rule card because it is the freely chosen act of a necessary being, which is the sort of thing that does not require explanation. "

I want an explanation, therefore this claim is not valid.

Kyle S said...

Hi Paul Power,

Why do you think this is not self-explaining?

Paul Power said...

Kyle:


Why do you think it is?

anticant said...

The existence of the universe is self-explaining. To deny it is perverse. End of story.

Rayndeon said...

"Why do you think this is not self-explaining?"

Because free acts are contingent. Naturally, one asks why the state of affairs consisting of "God chose to do X" exists. Theists typically try to avoid Peter van Inwagen's devastating argument against the Principle of Sufficient Reason by appealing to libertarian free acts, but at the cost of abandoning the PSR and hence invalidating their own arguments.

The actuality of a particular possible world is ultimately brute and there is no getting around that.

anticant said...

I don't think actuality is a very popular concept with some of those posting here!

Spherical said...

I agree with Kyle, in that often many of the arguments of atheists are often just a modification of the theists.

Haven't read Chapter 4, but in the realm of self-defeating arguments, isn't this one:

Dawkins is also making the point that God's complexity makes him a very unlikely, improbable being.

Aren't we a complex being? If we can exist as a complex being without being created, cannot a higher being also exist without being created? Or are we the exception?

Perhaps his argument is that we exist within the bounds of the universe as we know it, and the God doesn't. But our knowledge is limited to what we currently understand.

Sorry, I don't think I am a turtle.

Anonymous said...

You guys HAVE to check out this article Sam Harris wrote for Newsweek. It's called "When Atheists Attack", and mostly centers on Sarah Palin's continuing display of ignorance.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/160080/page/1

Eric said...

I wonder if Harris has written an article similarly denouncing Obama's lack of readiness. It's fascinating that experience is everything when considering the bottom of the Republican ticket, and nothing when considering the top of the Democratic ticket.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anticant's terse dismissals. The only interesting issue arising for me is:

How do we decide what counts as a good explanation? Outside statistics, I don't know the answer to this question, and so far have been unable to find anything in the local library in regard to science.

Kosh3 said...

How do we decide what counts as a good explanation? Outside statistics, I don't know the answer to this question, and so far have been unable to find anything in the local library in regard to science.

I will interpret your question to be 'when is a scientific theory acceptable?', rather than a more technical question relating to the nature of scientific explanation itself ('what is it for something to be explained?').

One way to assess a scientific theory is against various standards or values that are sought-for in good theories by scientists. This often includes measures like the simplicity of theory, the predictive accuracy of a theory, the logical and evidential coherence of a theory, the fruitfulness of the theory in terms of its predicting novel phenomenon, and the scope of the theory, in terms of the range of phenomenon it attempts to deal with.

Other things being equal, the simpler, more expansive, more coherent, more fruitful, and more accurate a theory is over its rivals, the better it is.

Difficulties of course arise in how different scientists rank those criteria, and the list there does not exhaust all possible standards, and others may have addition ones (e.g. is the theory socially harmless?).

If you were asking the more technical question, I'm afraid I do not know of any uniformly or widely accepted account of what scientists explanation is.

anticant said...

The only thing that interests me in this debate is what is actual, and what is mere abstract speculation?

While all scientific theories start as abstract speculation, their truth or probability are tested and verified or disproved by rigorously disciplined observation.

Theists' assertions about the actual existence of God fail to stand up against such scientific method. They dissolve into empty hot air [without even an underpinning turtle].

After months of debate with various theists here, we are still waiting for credible evidence that God actually exists.

I suspect that we shall go on waiting for a very long time.

Paul Power said...

spherical:

Your argument refutes not Dawkins but those he is arguing against.

You should read the post Stephen wrote, to which these comments are a reaction.

anticant said...

Yes, it would be nice if Spherical [and others] read and considered the relevant Dawkins chapter, and also Stephen's post about it, before commenting on this thread. Otherwise, their observations amount to so much blather.

I do find this airy insouciance irritating on a philosophy blog - or anywhere, for that matter.

Enigman said...

Theories of evolution show how complexity (in some obvious sense) can arise from simplicity in a simple, mechanical way. You start with lots of simple bits, and a few simple rules for their interactions and you get relatively complex continuants, as in the Game of life. If God was complex in such a way, he would be a bit unlikely, and would seem to stand in need of something like an evolutionary explanation. The theists respond to Dawkins by saying that they never conceived of God as being complex in that way.

The singularity at the start of the Big Bang, the unbroken symmetry of its physics then, such things are simple. Science itself explains complex things (like life on Earth) in terms of simple things (like a GUT and a singularity), or it wants to, and moves towards such explanations, finding useful theories on the way, much as space science led to velcrose and teflon. But that is why good theology is not the end of science. If Dawkins is attacking Zeus he's got a point. But lots of great scientists moved from private metaphysical speculations about simplicity to their successful theories (e.g. Newton and Einstein), from which lots of good scientific stuff flowed (e.g. aeroplanes and microchips).

anticant - We are still waiting for a proof that the axiom of infinity in set theory (the foundation of scientifically applied maths) corresponds to anything in reality, and for a proof that awareness could possibly arise from complexity of matter, let alone that it actually does. Lots of scientists just work within such assumptions, quite successfully. Some suppose theism. The former deduce things from such axioms and promises, and then test those things. Their results appear to be always inconclusive about those assumptions, but often useful (according to their peers, at least). But similarly with theists (who produce less because there are less of them).

Paul Power said...

enigman:

Again, you need to look at the argunent that Dawkins in tackling, which is that the complexity of the universe cannot just have occurred by itself. If you accept that complexity can arise from simplicity then there is no requirement for the existence of god to explain the universe's complexity.

wombat said...

paul power, enigman


More strictly complexity can arise from simplicity without the need for a mind to be involved in the process.

Anonymous said...

Anticant said...

The existence of the universe is self-explaining. To deny it is perverse. End of story.

So what are we here philosophizing about, apparently he has all of the answers. Although I don't see much difference between this and a theist who states that the existence of God is self-explaining and to deny that is perverse.

But since it is Anticant, it must be true.

Kyle S said...

I'm not sure which of the comments here are responses to me and which are3 just general comments, but they don't seem very directed. They are mostly name calling, or just re-iterating the question.

Paul Power:

I have explained my position, if you don't find it satisfying can you point out where you disagree with me?

anticant said...

I don't claim to have all the answers. But I do think it's sensible to enquire whether all the queations are meaningful.

"Self-evident" would have been a better word than "self-explanatory" - presumably no-one posting here denies the existence of the universe?

The existence of God, however, is not self-evident.

Anonymous said...

I know this is pointless and I'm not being flippant or sarcastic or anything but anticant you're really cool- seriously mate keep up the good work, you're a genius!

anticant said...

No, I'm just a grumpy old man who gets irritated by hifalutin' nonsense posing as "philosophy" or "profundity".

'Common sense' doesn't explain everything - but its opposite doesn't explain anything.

Kosh3 said...

The existence of God, however, is not self-evident.

Not many things are. The existence of a world-like thing may be self-evident, but the world itself as *really* existent? Berkeley thought not.

anticant said...

Do you take your own existence for granted, Kosh3? If, like Chuang Tse, you are uncertain whether you are a man dreaming you are a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming you are a man, I would suggest that you are a trifle confused.

Paul Power said...

kyle:

why do you think that "freely chosen act of a necessary being" does not require explanation?

All you ever did was make this claim. It looks very wrong to me, so kindly justify it.

anticant said...

Berkeley's views on the non-existence of matter are solipsism as near as dammit, and strike me as being a prototype for Mrs Eddy's Christian Science, which in my churchgoing days our local vicar said was neither Christian nor scientific.

Kyle S said...

Hi Anticant,

I don't think the universe is self-evident. I mean, there doesn't seem to be anything contradictory about the statement 'the universe does not exist'.

If you mean that it is obvious, then I agree with you. But lots of things are obvious. Like 'the sky is blue' and 'I'm sitting at a computer' but that does not mean they are self-explaining.

What I'm trying to point out is that it makes sense to ask 'Why is the universe here?', but that does not mean that it is an easy question. On the other hand, if God exists, then it does not make sense to ask the question 'Why God?'.

Kyle S said...

Hi Paul Power,

I claim that a freely chosen act doe not require explanation because otherwise it would not be free.

If you had to appeal to something else (something other than the act itself) in order to explain it, then that reason would have to determine that the act came about, and so the act would not be free.

Maybe you don't believe in free will, in which case you can say that my explanation doesn't work simply because I am appealing to something that doesn't exist, but if it does exist then it is self-explaining.

Furthermore, although an act may be self-explaining one can still ask why the 'acter' exists. Yet again, in the case of God, this question does not make sense. God, if he exists, is a necessary being, so he does not need explaining. This is because, if he exists, then things could be no other way. You cannot ask Why the state of affairs 'God exists' rather than 'God does not exist' because one of these is necessary and the other impossible (this is what the ontological argument shows).

This is why 'the freely chosen act of a necessary being' could be a self-explaining explanation of the universe, and why it is better to play the exception to the rule card here, not at the level of the universe.

Kosh3 said...

I am fairly secure in my belief that I exist.

Paul P. Mealing said...

I’m currently reading Paul Davies’ book, 'God and the New Physics', published in 1983 (25 years ago now). It covers much of the same territory and more, with many of the same arguments, but, if anything, in more depth. Relevant to Dawkins Chapter 4 and the discussion on complexity, Davies explains the relationship between complexity and entropy and gravity. Roger Penrose also discusses this in 'The Emperor’s New Mind'.

I just want to say that I thought Dawkins' attack on Freeman Dyson was loathsome. Dyson has made significant contributions to science and is a formidable intellect by any standards.

Regards, Paul.

Paul Power said...

"I claim that a freely chosen act does not require explanation because otherwise it would not be free."


So if someone freely chooses to break a window, the mere act of someone else asking why means it was not a freely chosen act ?

Kyle S said...

I understand your objection a bit better now.

There is a difference in asking for an explanation and a justification.

Let's imagine that Bob broke the window, and Susan asks Why?

Bob could talk about the signals send from his brain to his arm, and the muscle contractions that followed that caused his arm to reach out and grab the rock, and about the arm movements that caused the rock to fly through the air and hit the window with a certain force etc...

However, Susan clearly wouldn't be satisfied with this explanation, although it is a perfectly good explanation. What she is looking for is something like. Bob: "I broke the wondow because Mr. Smith upset, and this is his window".

Whether or not Susan accepts this justification will depend on a number of other things. However, it is not a good explanation, not in the sense we mean explanation. It does not explain why this event (the breaking of the window) occurred and not some other. You can imagine that all the things leading up to Bob's decision to break the window were the same, and Bob decided not to break the window. That is because he is offering a justification, not an explanation.

How would we find an explanation for this event, well, we could talk about the movements in Bob's arm, but eventually it would come back to Bob's decision, and although there may be contributing factors, you cannot fully explain Bob's decision except by reference to the decision itself.

Enigman said...

Paul Power said... enigman: Again, you need to look at the argunent that Dawkins in tackling, which is that the complexity of the universe cannot just have occurred by itself. If you accept that complexity can arise from simplicity then there is no requirement for the existence of god to explain the universe's complexity.

I agree that the cosmological argument is not a lot stronger than the ontological argument. But Dawkin's counter-argument was no good, that was my point. Dawkins failed to give a good reason (whereas plenty of other authors have). E.g. Dawkins claims that God must be complex and that such complexity could only arise by evolution, so far as we know. But complexity can arise by symmetry-breaking, for another example from modern science (one that does not so obviously rule out a fairly traditional God, who is originally simple and then chooses to create a complex world)...

Also, the cosmological argument is not usually framed in terms of combinatorial complexity but in terms of a first cause, or the need for a sufficient reason, given the world as we know it to be, full of awareness and meaning, and even with asymmetrical physical constants in the most fundamental scientific theory of matter. A brute fact stands in need of some sort of explanation (that is one of the principles behind science) and an asymmetric brute fact especially so. (So I also agree with you about the relevance and importance of our notion of explanatory power, etc.)

The fine-tuning of the physical constants does not imply unlikeliness in the sense of a low probability, as though there was some known probability distribution in the multiverse. But it is asymmetric, and (for some reason) a symmetric state of affairs seems not to require so much explanation. It just seems more natural, or something. I suspect that bad states need more explaining than good ones (for some reason) too, which might break the symmetry of Stephen's antitheodical argument (although maybe not).

In short, the universe seems to need a symmetric origin, one that can yield galaxies, awareness, evil and so forth. Dawkins did not go very far towards showing that that did not have to be (or that it could not be) a God of some sort. (For sure the doctrinal details could not come directly from such an argument, but that is why most theists don't think much of such arguments.)

Rayndeon said...

Kyle S: If you had to appeal to something else (something other than the act itself) in order to explain it, then that reason would have to determine that the act came about, and so the act would not be free.

Eh, no. If anything, you've given us an indication that the PSR straightforwardly disproves libertarian freedom - which it does. Can you say "question-begging?" Anyway, free acts are not self-explaining, because free acts are modally contingent, so naturally, one asks as why the state of affairs consisting of an agent S exists. If you think that they do not have an explanation, then they are not self-explaining, but brute facts over and above, and the PSR doesn't actually apply. From a different forum, I say:

"Of course, some problems arise with this. If the explanation is necessary, it follows that the explanation holds/exists in all logically/metaphysically possible worlds. However, in any world at which the explanation exists, the explanandum (this particular conjunction/aggregate of all contingent facts/objects) holds/exists. Yet, if the explanation exists in all possible worlds, it follows that the explanandum exists in all possible worlds. Hence, the explanandum is necessary. But, the explanandum is contingent. Hence, the explanandum is both contingent and necessary - a contradiction. Hence, there cannot be an explanation of all contingent facts/objects.

Now, could it be that the explanation does not imply the explanandum's existence in all possible worlds i.e. perhaps the explanation does not explain the explanandum in all possible worlds? No. For if so, then it is a contingent fact of whether or not the explanation explains the explanandum and hence, there is a contingent fact over and above the "explanation"; therefore, not all contingent facts are explained, there are contingent brute facts (contrary to PSR), and the explanation isn't actually necessary.

Presumably, a free choice (per libertarian free will) does away with this. Yet, the same reasoning above eschews the relevance of LFW (ignoring that LFW is arguably incoherent in the first place). If an agent S explains the explanandum here, then it does so by virtue of its free choice to explain the explanandum - it is not the mere existence of the agent which explains the explanandum. Yet, if so, it follows that the explanation of the explanandum is the free choice of the agent S to explain the explanandum - yet, the conclusion of the cosmological argument is that such an explanation is necessary. Yet, clearly, the free choice of an agent S to explain the explanandum entails the explanandum - and since such an explanation is necessary, it follows that S's free choice to explain the explanandum holds in all possible worlds and given entailment, the explanandum holds in all possible worlds - reestablishing our previous problem. Moreover, if the explanation does not explain the explanandum in all possible worlds, then that means that the free choice to explain the explanandum is a contingent fact over and above it, hence a brute fact (contrary to PSR), and moreover, not actually a necessary explanation. Hence, even under such a scenario, the PSR does not hold.

You should read the section of my post here where I deal with the two frequent objections to Peter van Inwagen's objection to the PSR (which I presented above)."

anticant said...

Kyle S,

While I agree [of course] that much about the universe remains to be explained, the EXISTENCE of the universe seems to me to be self-evident. While there may be nothing contradictory about the statement “the universe does not exist” as a merely verbal statement, the assertion that “the universe does not exist” obviously isn’t true, and therefore of no interest.

Unlike you, I don’t think that it is “obvious” that the sky is blue. Your sensory experience of the sky may be that you perceive it as being a colour you designate “blue”, but it does not follow that the sky IS blue or that I see it as such. And why does the fact that I am sitting at a computer require explanation? It simply happens to be the case.

And please tell me what sense there is in the question “why is the universe here?” It is not a NECESSARY question – the universe just IS. And even if it is a question worth asking – which I don’t believe – there are likely to be as many different answers as there are human beings on this planet.

As for your “if God exists….”, please provide some credible proof that there is any such being – other than “if he didn’t, it would be necessary to invent him”.

Paul Power said...

kyle:

I just don't get it. You are claiming that acts of free will "require" no explanation, not that they have no explanation. Even if they have no explanation they require one if someone asks the question why.

It is always possible to ask what explains something. If you are willing to accept the existence of something that has no explanation, why not accept that the existence of the universe may be such a thing?

Kyle S said...

To rayndeon:

It is your last but one paragraph where I mainly disagree with you.

If an explanation is self-explaining then it can be contingent and explain everything because it can explain everything and itself.

If God exists and is necessary, then his free choice explains whatever is contingent in every world, that is, he freely brings about whatever happens to be the case.

This free choice is not necessary, and it needn't be in order to explain. Of course it then needs explanation, but free choices are their own explanation, not just brute facts. The paradox that you describe is not generated because there is a self-explaining contingent fact of all contingent facts, so it can be complete and different in each world.

Also, there is some ambiguity in your post about the difference being there being a necessity for an explanation and the thing that is doing the explanation being necessary.

Kyle s said...

To Anticant:

I agree that it is very obvious that the universe exists. In fact it is madness to suggest otherwise. However, it seems very reasonable to suppose that it could have been otherwise. That means we can sensibly ask the question 'Why it is the case that the universe exists?'.

You say that you don't think the question is worth asking, but why don't you think it is worth asking? It seems arbitrary for you to say that this question is pointless.

You then ask for me to argue for God's existence. That is not what this thread is about.

This thread is about whether Theists are being arbitrary when they say that God is the exception to the rule when it comes to explanation.

I'm suer ther'll be a thread soon enough about arguing for God's existence.

Kyle S said...

To Paul Power:

I might have been a bit careless with my use of language when I was explaining my position.

It is not that free choices don't require explanation, it is that they don't require any explanation by appealing to other facts. They provide their own explanation.

My position is that everything contingent fact has an explanation, however, not that every contingent fact is explained by something else.

Paul Power said...

kyle:

We generally assume people have free will and ask them to explain their choices. If there is nothing in reference to which a choice can be explained we generally think the choice inexplicable, not that it is self-explaining.

Kyle S said...

To Paul Power:

I think your comments are simply appealing to ambiguities with the word explain. What I mean by the word explain is why one thing happened as opposed to something else. Whereas you seem to mean justification.

People do act without justification, but that does not mean that their actions are without explanation.

anticant said...

Much exercise of free will is entirely insignificant and requires no explanation.

I do not see any need to explain why I get up in the morning.

If I chose to stay in bed all day and ignore an important business meeting, that would require explanation.

Whether we realise it or not, we are all making thousands of choices every day.

I have chosen to go away tomorrow for a week's holiday. I now choose to wish you all Happy Snark Hunting in my absence.

Paul Power said...

kyle:

I mean explanation, not justification.

Kyle S said...

Anticant said:

I do not see any need to explain why I get up in the morning.

To Anticant:

The reason you see no need to explain this is because it explains itself.

Also, most of your posts seem to be statements rather than arguments. You don't seem to be engaging with my comments.

To Paul Power:

Can you give me an example of an explanation (just a rough one) for a free action?

Paul Power said...

kyle:

"Why did you eat ice-cream?"

"I like ice-cream"

Kyle S said...

To Paul Power:

This works as a justification, but it does not work as an explanation.

You can easily imagine that person being in the exact same situation and yet not eating the ice-cream.

The desire for ice-cream does not bring about the eating of the ice-cream (unless you deny free-will). It is the decision/choice to act on that desire that brings it about.

Liking ice-cream is not a complete explanation of the eating of the ice cream.

anticant said...

Kyle,

I see no need to justify my statements.

It is your assertions that require justification.

Kyle S said...

To Anticant:

I'm not sure why you think you don't need to justify your statements.

Anyway, I have offered justification for what I have said, and you seem to be simply stating the opposite.

Couldn't you at least point out to me where I'm going wrong?

Paul Power said...

kyle :

My doing something because I like it is an explanation. It may not be a complete explanation but it is an explanation.

Paul Power said...

kyle:

It seems to me you are saying that anything that can be explained cannot be the result of free will.

Therefore no human being has free will.

anticant said...

Kyle,

"Why" is an overused question. It is often more enlightening to ask "what is going on?", because the answer may lead you to a degree of enlightenment.

What seems to me to be going on here is that some people [I am not pointing at you in particular!] use dense verbal smokescreens to obscure the issues.

In particular, theists appear to believe that assertion equals proof.

After months of posting on various threads on Stephen's blog, I have not yet seen anything which convinces me that the existence of a "supernatural" being - the Christian God or any other - is more probable than improbable.

Until you, or someone else, produces concrete evidence - as distinct from mere assertion - that such a being exists or is even probable, I see no need to justify my statements to the contrary.

I suppose my position might be characterised as "naive realist". I think that common-or-garden common sense has a larger role to play in explaining the universe, our place in it, and everyday life, than the mental castles-in-the-air of more sophisticated philosophers and theologians.

I am not trained in philosophy - just an intelligent [I hope] consumer - though I sometimes wonder whether I am wasting my time.

Rayndeon said...

Kyle:

Less question-begging, more explication. I already told you that you have not defended that "free acts" are self-explaining - except that if the PSR were true, then there would be no libertarian free acts. Right, so what? As I said earlier, can you say "question-begging?" Anyway, I see nothing self-explanatory of the existence of a libertarian free decision. Sure, explanation terminates at that, but how is it supposed to be *self*-explaining? If it were really "self-explaining" as necessary propositions are self-explaining, I doubt that I wouldn't be able to see it, just as you cannot really find a (sane) person who can really doubt that bachelors are not married.

How do you explain that if I have some initial world segment w leading up to a person's libertarian "free choice", one world contains him doing X and the other world has him refraining from X? All you can say is that "well, that person chose to/refrained from X" but all you're telling me is that there is *no* explanation. Which is to say that it is a brute fact. The state of affairs consisting of "agent S actualizing A" did not have to exist and one asks why it is the case that it exists. If you merely assert that, well S chose to actualize A, then all you are saying is that there is no explanation for S actualizing A, not that S actualizing A is self-explanatory. Let alone that libertarian freedom is arguably incoherent in the first place. Should I say "Well, quantum-mechanical events in the Copenhagen interpretation are really self-explaining since you can't say anything beyond such and such pion decayed when asking for an explanation of it - it just goes back to that pion decay. Hence, pion decay is self-explaining." Wow, we can make any contingent fact whatsoever "self-explaining" now, can't we? If we trace back any contingent series of explanation to their terminus, be it the existence of an infinite regress itself or some initial fact, we can always just take your route and say "Well, we've just got to go back to this and can't say more beyond 'This event is actual' - hence, it is self-explaining." Eh, no. Not going to fly.

Secondly, it doesn't make one whit of a difference with respect to the above. People take the PSR, recognize that the Big Conjunctive Contingent Fact of the world (the conjunction of all contingent propositions) is after all contingent - hence, there is a necessary cause. Now, even supposing that this necessary cause is an agent, the cause is not the mere *existence* of the agent, but the agent's *free action*. Unfortunately, the agent's free action entails the BCCF and is necessary - hence, the BCCF is necessary, which is incoherent and leads to modal collapse.

There are, of course, additional arguments beyond Peter van Inwagen's fatal argument from modal collapse i.e. there *cannot* be any necessary concrete events, explanations, etc since there is a possible world at which no concrete objects, events, explanations exist. That certainly is modally possible - but that straightforwardly disproves the PSR.

Andrew Louis said...

Kyle S,
lets make this simple; back in the beginning you stated:
".....the number 7 is necessary"

What do you mean by necessary? Or more importantly, what is the number 7?

Finally, if something is necessary, does that mean it's also absolute? If that's true, prove that "the number 7" is absolute.

Cheers,

Andrew

Kyle S said...

rayndeon said:

Secondly, it doesn't make one whit of a difference with respect to the above. People take the PSR, recognize that the Big Conjunctive Contingent Fact of the world (the conjunction of all contingent propositions) is after all contingent - hence, there is a necessary cause. Now, even supposing that this necessary cause is an agent, the cause is not the mere *existence* of the agent, but the agent's *free action*. Unfortunately, the agent's free action entails the BCCF and is necessary - hence, the BCCF is necessary, which is incoherent and leads to modal collapse.

To rayndeon:

This is precisely what I am arguing against.

The free action is part of the BCCF because it is contingent, so there is no modal collapse. This is possible because the free action is self-explaining.

Also, you claim that I have not shown that free actions are self-explaining.

Let's assume that free will exists (my argument will not convince anyone who denies free will), then there are three options:

1. A free action is explained by some other fact or facts

2. A free action has no explanation

3. A free action is self-explaining

If you opt for 1, then the action is not free because it is determined by the facts that explain it.

What about 2? As you point out we don't talk about self-explaining event in quantum mechanics just because there is no explanation. However, if you believe that there is free will, and so the agent is acting when they make their choice then you wouldn't say that there is no explanation. That would be like saying that free will is really a random event, and this would amount to a denial of free will.

The only option left is 3. If you want to be a realist about free will then you have to say that they are self-explaining events.

They are also contingent events, so a free act could explain the BCCF without modal collapse.

Kyle S said...

Hi Andrew,

The number 7 is an abstract object, and being necessary means that it exists in every possible world.

I don't know what 'the number 7 is absolute' means.

wombat said...

rayndeon - Does the van Iwagen argument imply that there can never be any "real" necessary beings only abstract ones? (or have I missed something?)

wombat said...

kyle s -

(Bear with me - this may be rubbish but I'll try it anyway)

What if the "free action"is in fact a composite of (1) and (2)?

The sort of thing I am thinking of is that a decision is influenced by (determined) the state of affairs immediately before it was made, but the actual decision or lack of it is decided at random as in the case of the decaying particle. For example as a result of my state of mind and body (hungry, sweet toothed) and the environment (warm) I form the desire to at ice-cream. Whether I actually order ice-cream may be determined by the (purely chance) fact that it is on the menu. If you like you could suppose a restaurant that used quantum mechanics to fix that days menu.

In this case the action looks free and is indeed influenced by the working of my mind but is at some level essentially random.

Kyle S said...

To Wombat:

I'm sure what you are saying is possible, however, I think it would be a denial of free will. The agent would not be performing an action in any way other than we would consider a rock to be performing an action when it is thrown at a window.

Paul Power said...

kyle:

it seems to me that by "free-will" you mean "having no cause".


I ask: can human beings have your idea of "free will" ?

Andrew Louis said...

Kyle S,
You said:
"The number 7 is an abstract object, and being necessary means that it exists in every possible world.

I don't know what 'the number 7 is absolute' means."

-----

1.) What do you mean then by abstract? Of course this can mean, "only existing in the mind."
A.) But then, in what way is this an object?
B.) Further, how does that make it necessary?
C.) Are you saying that where there is mind there will be the number 7?

2.) You don't know what I mean by absolute.
A.) If you say the number 7 is necessary, is that also to suggest that it is absolute?
B.) Or again, are you saying it's only necessary in the case of mind?

3.) In this way, if in your example you're suggestion is that 7 is necessary (but not absolute), then it would seem this goes to your theory of God. Which is, God is necessary but not absolute. Which is also to say, he's just a necessary abstract figment of one's imagination and exists only when mind exists.

Rayndeon said...


This is precisely what I am arguing against.

The free action is part of the BCCF because it is contingent, so there is no modal collapse. This is possible because the free action is self-explaining.


It is *not* part of the BCCF - if the PSR holds, then there is an explanation for the BCCF which is *necessary*. Since the explanation is allegedly the free action of some agent, it follows that the free action is necessary. Please stop begging the question.

Let's assume that free will exists (my argument will not convince anyone who denies free will), then there are three options:

You mean "let's assume libertarian free will." If the PSR is strictly incompatible with libertarian freedom (which it is), so be it. Please stop begging the question. It is plainly obvious that not even libertarian free acts are "self-explaining" at all, as I explicated in detail earlier. A question-begging trilemma isn't going to cut that Gordian knot. I mean, by the same reasoning, quantum-mechanical events by the Copenhagen interpretation and other such indeterministic interpretations are strictly incompatible with the PSR. Wow, I never knew that quantum-mechanical events are "self-explaining" too! The same applies to virtually any contingent state of affairs whatsoever; either it has a determinate explanation or not; if the former, then its explanation is subject to the same bifurcation - if the latter, then that state of affairs is "self-explaining" since, after all, if we wish to be a realist about indeterminate events and the PSR, we must hold that they are "self-explaining."

Lee Randolph said...

this probably would have been more appropriate on the 22nd, but I just got here today.

I'm working on a little something that I'd to get your opinion on.

I think I've come up with a heuristic based on weighted ranking scale for scoring the plausibility of claims. The same criteria could be used for the bible, other literature, science, history, news articles etc... and we could compare them. I suspect that the score for a history book would be much higher than the bible and I suspect that the average historical fiction would be about the same as the bible.

here's how it goes.
the number by the metric is its relative value.

0. an unsupported claim.
1. a claim has witness testimony
2. a claim that has a verifiable precedent
2. a claim has support of physical evidence
2. a claim that can be reproduced

for example lets take the simple claim that
"Yesterday, the ice in Jans drink melted before she finished it"
- I have seen this happen
- I can put ice in a drink and let it set till it all melts, therefore it has a verifiable precedent, it has support of physical evidence, and it can be reproduced.
So it gets a score of 7.

Now lets take the claim
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
- I have not seen this happen
- there is no physical evidence that this happened.
- There is no evidence that this has ever been reproduced
- there is a witness
therefore it gets a score of 1.

Therefore the more plausible claim of these two is that Jans Ice Melted.

I think it works. What do you think? If you don't think it works maybe you could add some criteria and some values and lets try them out.

Rayndeon said...

Wombat:

rayndeon - Does the van Iwagen argument imply that there can never be any "real" necessary beings only abstract ones? (or have I missed something?)

I think it can be extended that way. Frankly, I'm strongly inclined to accept the Humean notion that any concrete state of affairs whatsoever is contingent.

wombat said...

rayndeon. - Yes, It seems a consistent position as far as I can see. Mind you it does seem to be encouraging anyone using modal logic into a sort of Platonism.

Anyhow from that it follows that if God is a necessary being then he can have no concrete existence. So whatever arguments use God to explain the existence of things or events in the real universe either fail outright or can only be using an imperfect, concrete instantiation of a God. That is to say, with regard to creation and so on, someone who may be really powerful and really intelligent might have done it. Well be that was always the case, but arguments which rely on supposed abilities/properties of God are no longer shielded from the criticism that such beings are, like Russell's teapot, massively improbable.

Kyle S. "The agent would not be performing an action in any way other than we would consider a rock to be performing an action when it is thrown at a window."

Perhaps my example was a bit rough and ready but I think its pretty close to the sort of freedom that Dennet argues for in "Freedom Evolves" (must check my copy...).

Lets try another picture - suppose you are playing a hand of cards (say bridge or whist). At any point when it is your turn to play your choices are limited (a) by the rule which says when it is not your lead you must follow suit if you can (b) the cards you were dealt (determined randomly) that remain in your hand. The card that you actually select will be determined also by (c) how good you are at remembering what other cards have already played and (d) by how good a player you are.

If you were "free" in the sense I think you mean you could just decide to play the ace of whatever suit you liked irrespective of (a) or (b) rendering (c) and (d) irrelevant. You'd justly be thrown out of the card school!

In this case you are "free" in the sense that another person in the same situation (same cards etc.) could possibly have acted differently. Indeed you, under other personal circumstances could have acted differently. Maybe you were a bit tired and forgot the number of clubs that had been played. Or you wanted to hustle the other players by appearing less skillful. Your choice is determined by something that is internal to you rather than just the disposition of the cards.

Actually this is not entirely always the case since there may arise situations where in order to comply with the rules you have no legal choice and there is always the case of the last card in the hand, but I still think its a reasonable analogy.

wombat said...

lee randolph

"I suspect that the score for a history book would be much higher than the bible and I suspect that the average historical fiction would be about the same as the bible."

Nope. Most historic fiction is way better researched and has its own internal logic else it doesn't get published.

That aside you might be interested in Stephens example of an unlikely claim.
The Bert Case

It suggest you should find some sort of weighting (possibly ranging into the negative) relating to the reliability of the witness.

Lee Randolph said...

thanks wombat,
I read through the bert case. I agree with it in principle, and I agree that my algorithm needs a few more criteria before using it (for example) in a court of law, but for the sake of assessing the plausibility of a given claim it seems sufficient even without the negative raking of individual witnesses.

in any case, plausibility is not certainty, and since sometimes decisions need to be made using plausibility as a consideration (for example legislation related to homosexuality or stem cell research or abortion, etc) a plausibility ranking such as this would come in handy.

Psiomniac said...

Rayndeon,

What if it is argued this way: we read PSR in terms not of a sufficient condition for the BCCF, but as a sufficient explanation?

According to this version, god, the necessary being, freely chose this BCCF. We have explained the BCCF because we have given an account of the cause. Although in this account god is necessary and necessarily had free choice of what to create, god's choice itself wasn't necessary if it was freely chosen. Doesn't this sidestep the modal collapse problem?

Rayndeon said...

Hi psiomniac,

I make the objection from explanation here. Namely, if one assumes that there is a necessary explanation of the cosmos, and that God's free choice to actualize the cosmos is the explanation, it follows that His free choice to do so is necessary - that is, after all, how one must derive His necessary existence - from His necessary choice. Moreover, choosing that God's choice is contingent just generates the problem I'm discussing with Kyle S - namely that such a choice is a brute fact and hence contradicts the PSR. So, if the choice is necessary, then the PSR is incoherent. It is contingent, then it is false.

kyle s said...

I don't have much time to write at the moment, so this will be brief.

rayndeon said:

It is *not* part of the BCCF - if the PSR holds, then there is an explanation for the BCCF which is *necessary*.

Kyle says:

That is not true. The PSR only states that all contingent facts have an explanation. If there are self-explaining contingent facts then the BCCF can be explained by a contingent fact.

rayndeon said:

Since the explanation is allegedly the free action of some agent, it follows that the free action is necessary.

Kyle says:

I don't see how that follows, please explain.

Psiomniac said...

Thanks for the reply rayndeon.

I read your argument and objection but I wonder whether a counter argument which distinguishes between process and product is available to the theist.

According to this, it is necessary that god made a free choice to create a cosmos. This explains why there is a cosmos and so satisfies PSR. The fact that god chose this cosmos is the contingent part, but the fact that the choice is necessary does not entail that what is chosen is necessary. Otherwise you just deny free will.

Kyle S said...

Thanks psiomniac, you've helped me to understand what rayndeon is saying.

To rayndeon:

I agree that the PSR shows that the BCCF must be explained by a necessarily existing being who necessarily made a free choice to create the world, but that does not mean that the content of the choice is necessary.

In one possible world the choice will be to create a green ball, in another possible world it will be to create a blue ball, etc...

That there necessarily had to be a choice does not create modal collapse because the content of the choice can be different in each possible world.

Kyle S said...

To Andrew:

Are you saying that absolute means does not exist merely in the mind.

Here would be my definition of absolute, but you may disagree with it.

Absolute: x exists absoltuely iff x's existence is independent of human existence.

Would you agree? Or do you want to alter it?

wombat said...

kyle s. Re - Red ball/green ball choice.

If the choice is necessary then how is it made? If it is made by reference to the character or disposition of the being making it then the outcome will be necessary if the being is necessary won't it? The alternative is that the being makes a decision between alternatives based on some random criteria, presumably by utilising some sort of external source of randomness (dice, quantum mechanics etc).
How else would one decide between equally good alternatives (judged by the being's own criteria)? If there were any other basis of decision the being would necessarily decide that way.

So what made the choice of blue or green- the necessary being or the dice?

Kyle S said...

Hi Wombat,

This is an interesting issue.

It is similar to Buridan's Ass. This is the example of a hungry ass sitting equally between two equal piles of grain. The question is: How can the ass chose one?

Those who believe in free choice will say that the ass will just pick one, those who don't say the ass will starve to death.

I'm not sure how we would decide who is right, it just comes down to what intuition you have.

wombat said...

"Those who believe in free choice will say that the ass will just pick one, those who don't say the ass will starve to death."

Ive had times in restaurants like that.

Levity aside, like the ass I am faced with a seemingly impossible choice between alternatives but I do recognize that my more important choice is this - do I eat or spend more time trying to make some sort of distinction between what is available? In practical terms, once I recognize that any decision between what's on offer is much more likely to lead to a good outcome for me than waiting for more information or cogitating further I will have made my decision -"Lets eat NOW!"

The question then is what would I use as a source of arbitrariness? I could choose something by closing my yes and putting my finger on the menu or somesuch (external) or it may be my habit to always choose whatever is first on the menu (internal). Is that free? I decided it ahead of time. It's a sort of policy. A cunning waiter who knew my habits could swap the order of stuff on the menu and choose for me.

What if I simply try to relax and think of a random number and use that as a decider. Do you think that counts as a free choice? Dont forget I have decided that there is no way rationally or emotionally to choose between the options so I really have no conscious bias. Maybe I have an unconscious bias.
But that would mean that the alternatives were not equal wouldn't it?

Psiomniac said...

kyle s,

You are welcome.

wombat,

I'm a compatibilist and think that free will is a method for connecting our desires to our actions in the context of planning and evaluation. From my perspective in your scenario there is simply no part for free will to play. One might as well flip a coin.

Judy said...

Going back a bit. Dawkins argued that however much creationists might wish for it, it was evolution not chance that was the opposite of intelligent design. However Stephen Jay Gould in his book 'Wonderful Life' argues that this is not necessarily so, for according to Gould the chance happenings of history can influence change in ways that evolution might not have done.

Whilst I am not for one moment suggesting that those changes are in any way caused by divine intervention, I can well imagine that others just might.

ConcernedAbout said...

Hi Stephen,

In this post you wrote:
"But why play the exception to the rule card here, rather than at the right at the beginning, with the first complexity to be explained?"

I think you failed to point out that the failure of reasoning is that proponents of the complex designer are insisting that complexity be explained by greater complexity, which is as you mention infinite regress, which ultimately results in no explanation at all. therefore they have no explanation only a hideously poor conjecture that is contrary in mechanism to all successful explanations of anything i.e. simplicity.