Monday, April 16, 2012

IDHEF - Chapter 4: Divine Design

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

   Chapter 4 involves the authors trying to show that the universe must be designed. I'm not going to spend as much time going through page by page as I have done in the past because, first, much of the first half of the chapter talks about the Apollo 13 mission in order to hammer home their points; second, their arguments tend to have similar flaws, so I can group many of them together; and, third, one section isn't much more than preaching about how awe inspiring the universe is.

   But let me start with some objections to their teleological argument. First, they say that the argument itself is evidence. It's high time I get out my Dave Silverman face!

   Arguments do not count as evidence themselves. Rather, arguments need to be supported by evidence to be considered true. (Based on this, I'm having second thoughts on Chapter 3 as well as later chapters in the book where they claim or imply evidence they don't actually have. If they are counting things that are not evidence as evidence, then no wonder!) Second, they say the universe has "highly complex design" (p95). Now, as this is what they are out to demonstrate in this chapter, I will say no more for now other than that I disagree. Why I disagree will be explained throughout this post.

   The next big thing I want to address is this watchmaker argument. The argument has a flaw and the authors actually give the correct reasoning behind this argument! ...In Chapter 5, about 20 pages later. And they bring it up for other examples, not this watch example. So, let's take a journey into Chapter 5, where on page 117, they talk about the Principle of Uniformity.
We assume that the world worked in the past just like it works today, especially when it comes to causes. If "Take out the garbage—Mom" requires an intelligent cause today, then any similar messages from the past must also require an intelligent cause. Conversely, if natural laws can do the job today, then the Principle of Uniformity would lead us to conclude natural laws could do the job in the past. (p117)
While this principle is basically intended for natural processes, the same ideas can be applied to the works of human. This is why if "you're walking along in the woods and you find a diamond-studded Rolex on the ground" (p95) that you are going to think "that some intelligent being made the watch" (p96). It is because you know people make watches (and occasionally lose them), but you don't know of any natural processes that do. Therefore you assume that a person was involved in the process. It has nothing to do with seeing "design" in the watch (which is the point of the argument, which the authors don't state directly).

   Another thing that the authors do not mention is that this watchmaker argument is often used to show that complex things (like a watch) must be designed. And since the universe is complex, it, too, must be designed. Since the authors are partially making a design argument, though not exactly by means of complexity, I find an idea proposed by PZ Myers worth mentioning.
I have been giving a similar talk lately, and in that I have added another slide that might help clarify the logic he's missing. I show this:


Recognize it? It's only one of the most well known corporate logos in the world, the Nike swoosh. It's very, very simple, and it's also most definitely designed. No getting around it; a graphic designer sat down and designed that simple swooshing logo.

Is it clearer now? We have complicated things that are not designed, and we have simple things that are designed. We also have complicated things that are designed, and simple things that are not. The message you should take away from these examples is that complexity and design are independent properties of an object. One does not imply the other. You cannot determine whether something was designed by looking at whether it is complicated or not.
   To correct PZ, I think it was a 4th grader that created the logo, not really a "graphic designer," but the point that it is designed remains the same. Myers also includes a pile of driftwood in his talk to show something that is complex, but not designed. (That is one of the "complicated things that are not designed" to which he refers.)

   One way in which I put my own personal spin on the argument is to change "watch" to "widget." Or, perhaps even better (though it steps away from using a word beginning with 'w'), we could simply use "unknown object." The idea being that if you stumbled upon something you've never seen before, you may or may not recognize it to be "designed," and thus not necessarily in need of a "designer." Though, I think this is likely to lead people to incorrect conclusions, on which I will elaborate further later in this post.

Precision and Probablity

   You'll notice that this header does not reference any part of Chapter 4. As I said, I'm changing things a bit for this chapter compared to the format I've been using. I wanted to highlight this part because this is where I want to go over some of the repeated flaws in this chapter. I want to first start with a video from YouTuber DarkAntics. Please watch the video in its entirety.

   The point in the video is that arguments about probability, which are found in this chapter, are not all that impressive after an event occurs. The video producer uses a leaf as an example. It was quite improbable for the leaf to fall when and where it did. What was not as improbable was the idea that it would fall sometime and someplace.

   The example I came up with myself for this chapter is with the probabilities of 1,000,000 sided die with values incrementing from 1 to 1,000,000. Let's say you get to roll the die a second time if the first roll lands on a number divisible by 100. What, then, are the odds that the die will land on 335,487 the second roll? Well, there is a 1/100 chance that you will get a second roll and then a 1/1,000,000 chance it will land on that number on that second roll. So the odds are 1/100,000,000. (That's one in one hundred million.) But what if we just want to know the odds of getting a second roll? Then it's a 1/100 chance. Those aren't too bad of odds in comparison.

   This brings me to the first major flaw in this chapter. Some of these anthropic constants are looked at in terms of human life. Take, for example, their comments on the first one, oxygen: "If it were less than 15 percent, human being would suffocate" (p98). That's interesting and all, but why are they concerned about humans specifically? If, say, oxygen levels were 15 percent, could earth support some other type of life form?

   The other problem is that they also look at things specifically with the earth. This is problematic because, remember, they are supposed to be demonstrating their claim as to how precise the universe is. Earth is not the only planet in this universe. In that case, these first five anthropic principles can all be tossed out. Let's say the earth did have an atmosphere that would not support life (1, 2, and 4) or that the gravitational forces were different (3 and 5). Are there other planets in the universe that can support life?

   Let's suppose I had that 1,000,000 sided die and I got to roll it a second time and got 335,487. Would you be impressed if I started making claims that I would not have gotten that 335,487 had the atmosphere or the moon's gravity had been different? I would probably be correct, but what's so special about getting that 335,487? If it would not have been 335,487, it would have been some other number (assuming I still had that second roll). The important part is getting a second roll, not the result.

   One way that my die analogy is flawed is that we aren't necessarily a roll of that die. The point I want to make clear, though, is that we don't know if there is anything particularly special about our planet (and certainly not about ourselves). And suggesting that if things were different on our planet that life could not be supported says absolutely nothing about any other planet in the universe. Likewise, in that video above, if the conditions had been different at the time that leaf fell, it could have landed in a different location. But the important thing is that it still would have landed somewhere. The one exception from these anthropic constants is the case of the 5th constant; a different gravitational force would impact the entire universe. But the authors don't claim it would prevent stars and planets from forming in general; they just say it about the earth. Our universe may have a much different configuration, but would there still be someplace that could support life?

   The second major flaw, as indirectly pointed out in the video above, is the problem of figuring out the probability. This becomes most important when looking at the anthropic principles they do mention that impact the entire universe. (These can be found on pages 105 - 106 and are only #2 and #3; the other eight are earth-centric.) What if I had asked what the probability of rolling a 335,487 ten times in a row was on that die? If you understand probabilities, it is pretty easy to calculate. (It is 1/1,000,000 times itself 10 times, by the way. It's a quite small number. That would be 1 over 10 to the 60th power. Or 1/1E60.) Now what if I asked that, but you didn't know the size of the die? You wouldn't be able to figure it out. You might try guessing, but any error in your guess is going to increase exponentially. Sorry to those who aren't good at math, but the idea is that even small errors can build up rapidly in such calculations. So let me give you an example. Let's say you guessed that the die was 1,010,010 sided. That is 1.001% off. That's not too bad of an error. But then that leads to a probability of hitting 335,487 ten times in a row to 1 over 1.10473 times 10 to the 60th power. Or 1/1.10473E60. The error is now over 10%. If we wanted to know the probability of hitting that 335,487 122 times in a row, then our error gets to be over 237%! That's from starting out with a 1% error. If we had started out with a 2% error, the error would now be about 1020%!

   This brings me to the first point—when this Hugh Ross that is mentioned on page 106 is determining the probability of these constants, he's just guessing. He has no idea what those probabilities really are. When he's looking at things that impact the entire universe, he only has this one universe to look at. As for these constants that are earth-centric, he'd have to know about the properties of other planets in the universe. There is just no way he knows enough to not be making mostly blind guesses. In other words, he's bound to have lots of error, which is the second point—when they are taking into consideration 122 factors for their probability calculations, they are likely to get an enormous amount of error. In other words, there is no reason to think the number they give is even accurate. This holds true even if they are really calculating probability of life anywhere in the universe as opposed to the probability of humans on earth.

   Now the probabilities calculated in the video are likely to be more accurate because they are based on things we know, such as the average length of the fall season and the average winds speeds in that area. There is much less guessing involved in those calculations. But for Hugh Ross's calculations, what is the average rate at which a planet, for example, has 21% oxygen content? We just don't know enough about the rest of our universe to have an accurate number. It is also worth noting that, in the video, if that particular fall season was shorter or longer than average or, likewise, if the wind speeds were faster or slower than usual, error will accumulate in those probabilities. So even when we have good data to work with, probabilities can be, well, problematic!

   This leads me to the third problem, which is that, when they are looking at probabilities, they are operating off of the opinion of a scientist as opposed to something that is demonstrable fact. How many scientists actually agree with Ross on his probabilities? Is it peer reviewed? Probably not! Do I really need to say that the opinion of a single scientist does not count as evidence?

  UPDATE: There is a forth problem that I forgot to address. That is about the probability of God. Though it's a fairly short point, I created a separate post that can be found here.

Inconstant Constants

   Another thing with all of these anthropic constants is that they aren't all even constant!
  • Oxygen level — This does fluctuate. It sits around 21% today, but it likely has not always been that way. On another point, if there would be all these fires from having 25% oxygen, those fires would end up lowering those oxygen levels (and likewise increase carbon dioxide levels).
  • Carbon dioxide and water vapor level — The funny thing is, we have increasing carbon dioxide and are having a problem with a runaway greenhouse effect. That's part of the whole "global warming" problem. On the flip side, it is my understanding that water vapor levels actually went down for a while last decade. So we didn't actually have this runaway greenhouse effect scientists thought we were. Which, I think makes a point as to why these "principles" should be called into question. Many, such as these two, are operating on predicted outcomes if things were different. But many of these aren't, and probably really can't, be tested. And some, like with water vapor, appear to not hold entirely true.
  • Universe expansion rate — As the authors mentioned in Chapter 3, "astronomers are now finding that the universe's expansion speed is actually accelerating" (p86). In other words, we've learned that the expansion rate is faster than previously thought. This is yet another point that should really bring this whole argument into serious question. This is because scientists used to think the universe was expanding more slowly. And guess what? They weren't worried about the universe "collapsing on itself before any stars had formed" (p105). Obviously not since we are here! And when Hugh Ross calculated his probabilities, was he using the old expansion rate or the new one? As with the last bullet, the point is that there is little reason to think these doomsday-like situations would occur the way they are claimed in the book. That is primarily because these claims are not backed up by any evidence!
  • 23-degree tilt — Actually, the degree of tilt does vary slightly. From Wikipedia, it seems the minimum tilt is about 22 degrees and the maximum tilt is about 24.5 degrees, and it takes about 40,000 years for the earth to complete a cycle through this variation. (I've seen numbers close to this cited elsewhere, so I suspect Wikipedia to be reliable here.)

In Summary....

   Overall, the problem with this chapter is that the arguments are primarily speculation over "What if...?" questions. There is no actual evidence to back up the majority of their claims. Perhaps the best way to phrase this, in the spirit of the book's theme, is that they have faith that their answers are correct. Sorry, but I don't have enough faith.

And now back to our regular programming...


   I may need to break out my Dave Silverman face again when I did some reading up on Fred Hoyle, the former atheist who they say "had his atheism shaken by...the complexity he saw in life" (p106). It sounds perhaps a bit impressive until you read up on Mr. Hoyle. Apparently he had rejected the big bang know, that one even these authors say there is loads of evidence for. And he did so at least up to 1993, if not up till his death, based on what I see on Wikipedia. It seems he's also part of this group that believes life came to earth via comet. (Where's the evidence for that? And where would these comments have come from?) I think this statement on Wikipedia actually sums up all that needs to be said about Fred Hoyle: "His career was largely dominated by the controversial positions he held on a wide range of scientific issues, often in direct opposition to the opinions and evidence supported by the majority of the scientific community." Is this really the guy these authors want to put on display as a convert? (And not even a convert to Christianity, per se. Just a convert to some sort of theism.)

   This also happens to be the section where they bring up the idea of a multiverse (or should that be "multiverses"?), which I discussed in my breakdown of Chapter 3. I am totally on board with the authors when they say, "there's no evidence for it" (p107). I said as much before. But then they don't have any evidence, either. They can call what they have "evidence" or "proof of God" as much as they want (and they can use as many examples of scientists saying that as they want), but it doesn't make it true.

   Yet, I find myself compelled to correct them on a few ideas about the multiverse. First, I don't think the idea is that there is* an infinite number of universes, but rather that there is a very large number of them (said to be approaching infinity). Second, as I said last chapter, one of the ideas of the multiverse is to get rid of fine-tuning. You would have universes that are not fine-tuned. I'm not entirely sure why the authors are not getting this as they themselves say, "According to the Multiple Universe Theory**...we just happen to be lucky enough to be in the universe with the right conditions" (p107). But I suspect it is because, third, they seem to be getting things confused with the idea of a parallel universe. That's not quite the same thing as far as I'm aware. (I could see ideas of a multiverse supporting a parallel universe idea, but I don't think it is required.) This becomes apparent when they start making absurd notions about "planes...actually hit the buildings by accident" or "the Holocaust appeared to be murder, but actually the Jews secretly conspired with the Germans and sent themselves to the ovens" (p108). Wow! I don't even know if those who fantasize about the notion of parallel universes would think such things! This leads me to suspect that they are making a deliberate straw man argument.

   Lastly, they have to repeat this idea of "the implications of design," and how the "Multiple Universe Theory is simply a desperate attempt to avoid" (p108) those implications. And then they use absurdities to make it look like they are right. They use pretty much the flawed watchmaker argument again (only this time it's a spacecraft instead) to drive their point, making anyone sound foolish who denies the argument. On that foolish part, they'd be right! But they'd be right for the reason the argument is flawed, which is that we know and have maybe even seen people build spaceships rather than because we saw "design." (And even if we haven't seen humans build a spaceship, we've probably seen pictures from assembly lines of other types of vehicles like cars and/or airplanes.) This again comes from applying the concepts of the "Principle of Uniformity" that the authors themselves know about since they cite it in the next chapter to the doings of humans. Now, who has ever seen a god build a universe? Is it really all that hard to understand why someone would deny their supposed "extreme evidence" (p108)?

   I find a lot of this actually comes back to the old idea that lightning was supernatural. (I gave this a mention in the breakdown of Chapter 3.) It seems that human beings have a tendency to claim things that they know of no natural cause to be the cause of a god. If you could hypothetically bring someone from 2000 years ago to this time period and showed them a spaceship, they would, because of the Principle of Uniformity, not recognize it as a product of nature. But nor would they recognize it as a product of human. I would suspect they would claim a spaceship as being supernatural and a product of a god. (This is one reason why I suspect my own "widget argument" could lead to incorrect conclusions.) Much the same was probably applied to lightning. People probably didn't see it as being a product of natural processes and they knew other people weren't responsible! Therefore, god. Unfortunately, I fear many of the same thought processes go into this idea of the universe. We don't know of any natural processes, and we know humans are not responsible! Therefore, god. The reason then that we have books such as this is likely because people know that would be a lousy argument. (It is in fact an argument from ignorance.) So they need to come up with what they think sound like legitimate arguments to ensure themselves. That's how we get all the "evidence" in this chapter. It's pretty much all guess work, but they try to call it "extreme evidence." And scientists who think the things in this chapter actually are evidence are just fooling themselves.

   Here's a modern example that I think really demonstrates my point: Egyptian pyramids. People don't know of any natural processes that would create them, but there are many people who don't think humans could have built them, either. Therefore, aliens! And if you look at the website I linked to, you'll find that some of their "evidence" includes the precision of the design of the pyramids. Sound familiar to anything in this book's 4th chapter?

   Now, I'm not trying to suggest that the pyramids were indeed built by humans, nor am I ruling out the possibility of aliens. However, there are additional problems when one suggests aliens: Where are these aliens now and/or where did they come from and how did they build the pyramids? An answer one could be given (for the how) is that the aliens are "unimaginably powerful" (p93). But does that really answer the question? For many people, they'll want to see the aliens. As for the universe, let's see the god!

* I should make it clear that I use the word "is" rather loosely. Let's be certain we understand that I'm talking about what the idea states, not anything about reality itself.

** I really hate that they call this idea a "theory." It's not, at least not in the scientific sense of the word. The same goes for String Theory. Scientific theories are supported by evidence. Yet, calling these ideas, which are not supported by evidence, "theories" can, I think, really confuse people. And it harms other fields of science that have to deal with political battles over actual evidence-supported theories due to anti-science propaganda that promotes ideas such as "it's just a theory." If actual scientists can't keep away from abusing the term, how can one expect the general public to not do the same?


   As mentioned before, I'm mostly skipping over the preachy section, which leads us to the conclusion. Much of this conclusion is just continuing to repeat (feels like they are beating a dead horse) this idea that the universe is awesome; therefore, design. I'm not trying to make a straw man argument of my own, but that really seems to sum up what they are saying. Why else would this idea of "ordinary" matter? Do I need to remind people to turn to the first page of Chapter 2? (That's page 51, by the way.) Remember that they have a table there and they say that psychological reasons are not good reasons to believe something to be true? Calling the universe "beautiful" (p110) and beating at this idea that it is "anything but ordinary" (p110) seems to me to be pushing a psychological reason to believe the universe is designed. What if the universe were ordinary? What if it were extraordinary? Why does that matter as far as truth goes?

   Psychology seems to be much the idea behind that preachy section, too, including this idea that "the same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today" (p110). First, as always, where's the evidence for this? Second, it seems to be an attempt to comfort the reader on the topic of death. "Comfort" falls in that psychological category. As the authors suggested then, "comfort is not a test for truth" (p52).

   The authors also successfully deliver a clear argument from ignorance when they say, "There's no plausible explanation for the Anthropic Principle other than a Cosmic Designer" (p111). Even if we didn't know of any other plausible explanation, that doesn't mean the actual explanation just isn't something we haven't thought of yet. Once again—lightning. Before anyone even thought of anything resembling the concept of electricity, people probably thought they had no other plausible explanation for that other than a god. Likewise, not knowing how humans could have built the Egyptian pyramids is not a reason to claim aliens did it.

   Unfortunately, this is one of those chapters that makes me feel like banging my head against the wall. They say something that is true when they talk about "hypothetical theories that are not supported by evidence" (p111), but they don't have evidence for theirs, either. The frustrating part is they actually think they have evidence. But then they pile on claiming that "atheists push a religion of blind faith" (p111). We "push"? Really?!? Lastly, they claim "what we have here is a will problem" (p112) because atheists like myself deny their "impressive evidence" (p112). They can call it "impressive" all they want, but it's not. Nothing in this chapter was impressive. Little in this chapter was what one could call "evidence," and what one could call evidence does nothing to support a god claim.

   I realize this is a harsh way to end the chapter, but I must admit I get a bit frustrated with this sort of thing. It has little to do with the authors of this book. The main problem is I have seen people who I know to be reasonably intelligent do or believe in stupid things. It is quite scarey in many ways. In some ways, it makes me slightly paranoid. Could I fall or have I fallen for bad evidence? It is something that keeps me on my guard. But this makes things much more insulting when people call me closed minded or say I have "a will problem" (p112). Nothing could be further from the truth. Worse, it seems like I'm in a lose-lose situation. If I don't study religion, my laziness is proof I have a will problem. If I do study religion and/or spend hours writing rebuttals to books like this, my devotion to disproving a god is proof I have a will problem because, it would be claimed, that I am really trying to convince myself that there is no god.

   On the flip side, I try not to be insulting of the people who buy into such garbage as was presented in this chapter. This, I find, can be caused by at least three problems: (1) being taught a god exists from a young, impressionable age; (2) a natural inclination to seek for reason and meaning in things, even if there is none to be found; and (3) lack of education on critical thinking (or what qualifies as good evidence), none of which are necessarily the fault of the believer. The exceptions are the likes of the authors of this book, who have likely had the opportunity to correct the third problem, but have not. Is it a will problem? I'd rather not accuse, but I've been prepping for Chapter 5, and I do not like what I see thus far. Stay tuned!

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