Friday, July 6, 2012

Dr. Pigliucci against Fine Tuning

Today, Dr. Massimo Pigliucci continues his opening statement with two topics that are related to his prior "Argument from Design" segment - "God and Nature" & "Argument from Fine-Tuning". This is from the 1995 Dr. William Lane Craig - Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist?" I've previously discussed other portions of the opening statements starting here through Dr. P's argument against the Argument from Design.

Dr. Pigliucci resumes:

God and Nature

Furthermore, it seems to me that the more we know about the mechanisms of the world, that is, the more we understand the world, the more the realm of God is being pushed back. The reason for that is, if you think about it, that in ancient times people used to evoke God as an explanation for almost everything. There was a thunder or lightning striking--well, that was Zeus that got upset with someone. That's because they didn't know where lightning was coming from. Now we know better, and we don't fault God for that kind of thing. We can now seclude him and confine him to only those things that we don't understand, the big questions that we are still answering in science, like the origin of the universe or the origin of life. But otherwise we understand better and better how things are going. After all, science has been around only a couple of hundred years. Give us some time! The more we understand, the less room there seems to be for God to exist. Now if you extrapolate just a little bit, you'll see that you have no reason for God.

In fact, this argument was presented more than a century ago by the astronomer Laplace, who was the first to present a complete theory for the origin and evolution of the solar system, a theory, by the way, that it is still considered pretty much correct. He presented his theory to the National Academy of France, and Napoleon was there. At the end of his presentation, Napoleon asked Laplace, "Monsieur Laplace, what about God?" And Laplace looked at Napoleon, and he said, "I don't need that hypothesis anymore." And there lies the key. God is a hypothesis that we formulate, that we could come up with, when we don't understand what is really going on.

Dr. Pigliucci points out the God of the Gaps strategy being implicitly employed by Dr. Craig. I can imagine a more economical and well-sequenced presentation of this, which I'll suggest at the end of the post. As I read through this, I can see how my own (irrelevant-but-good-exercise) "Opening Statement" might unfold. I can also see that I'd have to do a little research on whether to stick strictly to my own positive construction, or to present it and a preliminary rebuttal in the opening statement, which raises the question of what order these should be presented for the best effect.

Here, Dr. P addresses the more specific Fine-tuning Argument:

Argument from Fine-Tuning

Now the current frontier of the design argument is, as Dr. Craig mentioned, the idea that the physical universe is highly improbable. The current physical universe, the one that supports life as we know it, is highly improbable. I will get into the specifics of Dr. Craig's argument probably during the my rebuttal because I want to make a few other points; but some of the main points that come to mind in responding to that kind of argument is: first of all, the fact that we don't know how something works, like we don't know how physical constants originated, is by no means a positive evidence for the existence of God. There is a non sequitur here; there is a leap in logic. The fact that we acknowledge that there are some things we don't understand does not imply at all that there was a creator. It just means that we don't know, and that's the position that any honest scientist should actually maintain.

Furthermore, how likely is the universe? Well, we don't know because this is the only universe that we have. We can speculate, it's very hard to come up with numbers--actually, it's very easy to come up with numbers, but it's hard to come up with reasonable numbers. We don't have experiments; we can't experiment with different kinds of universes that easily. So, for example, I made some calculations: I'm assuming that there are a little more than a thousand people here tonight, and I made some calculation on what was the probability that each one of these persons was going to be here tonight. Since there are about five billion people on Earth at this point, the probability is 1 in 10 raised to 1000 raised to 5 billion. That's a humongous number! So by that reasoning either somebody really conspired from the origin of our lives to get us here tonight or this event is so improbable that, I'm sorry, you have the illusion that we're here, but we're not. You see where I'm going with this.

Dr. P resumes attacking the God of the Gaps analogy, and points out the false dilemma inherent in assuming when we don't know something, the only answer is that Goddidit.

I'll admit right here that today's post and the prior one addressing the Argument from Design should have been combined. The section headings in the debate transcript were misleading, even though I'd read Dr. P's opening statement in its entirety prior to breaking it down here. Given that, let me remark that, as a hypothetical audience member, I would appreciate the following outline:

  • A positive construction for Dr. Pigliucci's case
  • A description of the fallacies and rhetorical tricks used by the opponent in his opener (bare assertion, false dilemma, cherry picking, conflation)
  • the beginnings of a point-by-point rebuttal of the opponent's positive construction
  • Close the segment with a recap of the positive case
A from-the-ground-up positive construction, followed by a from-the-ground-up deconstruction of the opponent's style and substance would make it coherent and potentially compelling for me.

It should be noted that a 20 minute opening statement - as is usually allowed in Dr. Craig's debates - gives a speaker 1200 seconds to say his piece. Dr. Pigliucci's opener is about 3600 words, so that's a pretty good clip. Dr. Craig spent 2600 words or so on his opener. That's a good target to use. It will be interesting - and probably humbling - to see what I can come up with in a few weeks.

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