Monday, December 9, 2013

God Argument Power Rankings

The following is my personal assessment of the validity of popular apologetic arguments. The list goes from most valid to least valid.

The Fine Tuning of the Universe: Could be valid, currently based on assumptions.
  1. There are a vast number of physically possible universes.
  2. A universe that would be hospitable to the appearance of life must conform to some very strict conditions. Everything from the mass ratios of atomic particles and the number of dimensions of space to the cosmological parameters that rule the expansion of the universe must be just right for stable galaxies, solar systems, planets, and complex life to evolve.
  3. The percentage of possible universes that would support life is infinitesimally small (from 2).
  4. Our universe is one of those infinitesimally improbable universes.
  5. Our universe has been fine-tuned to support life (from 3 and 4).
  6. There is a Fine-Tuner (from 5).
  7. Only God could have the power and the purpose to be the Fine- Tuner.
  8. God exists.
This argument, had we just a little more supporting knowledge, could make me deist. It says that the physical laws and constants that allow for a life-sustaining universe lie in a very small fraction of the possible spectrum of values and the fact that our universe is within that unlikely range is evidence that it was designed with us in mind. Many atheists argue the anthropic principle here, which says that we can only come to this conclusion because we are, in fact, here. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t. Obvious, I know. The anthropic principle is worthwhile when arguing against the fine tuning of earth specifically, but we don't have enough information for it to be meaningful in terms of the fine tuning of the universe.

The difference is that the variables that can vary widely and affect the possibility of life on a planet (such as distance from a star, having a moon/asteroid belt to deflect impacts with space objects, the presence of water, etc.) are most likely all fulfilled throughout the universe. There are enough planets that one can say, “sure, we are alive on this planet because we couldn’t be alive elsewhere.” However, we can only account for one universe. If this universe is all there has ever been, and if the aforementioned laws and constants can vary to the degree apologists claim, then I agree that we are such a coincidence that a designer is a better explanation than chance. I’m just not convinced because those "if"s are not answered. I tend to think that the laws and constants can vary, but that enough other universes either have, will or currently exist to make the anthropic principle meaningful--but that’s just personal speculation.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument: Invalid, only replaces one mystery with another.
  1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence;
  2. The universe has a beginning of its existence;
  3. Therefore: The universe has a cause of its existence.
  4. (Implied) God is that cause.
This argument is at least based on something that is most likely true--the Big Bang Theory. So, I won't argue premise 2. As much as they like the Big Bang, apologists stop paying attention to the science after it can be used to support their beliefs. Traditional causation could very well not apply in general at the quantum level in which we find the singularity, and especially in the case of the universe with no prior time or space for a cause to occur or God to exist. The Big Bang, after all, isn't just the beginning of our universe, but also space and time as we understand it. To posit otherwise is merely an "of the gaps" argument. The implication of 4 is hasty now that there are more hypotheses than ever for possible causes of the universe and likely others that haven't occurred to us. In the end, the biggest weakness is that the argument establishes a rule because a lack of counter examples and then arbitrarily makes what they want to believe an exception. If we say that everything that begins to exist has a cause because we have no examples of things that exist without a cause, then we can also say everything that exists is within time and space because we have no examples of things that exist outside time and space. Since apologists require their God to be outside time and space for this argument to work, they would have to explain why the first statement is legitimate while the second it not.

The Ontological Argument: Invalid, basically it's just wordplay.
  1. Nothing greater than God can be conceived (this is stipulated as part of the definition of “God”).
  2. It is greater to exist than not to exist.
  3. If we conceive of God as not existing, then we can conceive of some-thing greater than God (from 2).
  4. To conceive of God as not existing is not to conceive of God (from 1 and 3).
  5. It is inconceivable that God not exist (from 4).
  6. God exists.
"Greater" is a value judgement that can vary from person to person, which is problematic to this argument. However, the real problem is that the argument works for any concept that includes the linguistic trick of including "must exist" in it's definition. For example, if one said the Fly Spaghetti Monster exists, by definition, then it exists. Somehow I doubt many Christian apologists would accept that definition. Nor should they, because existence isn't a property one can prescribe conceptually. Neither is "greatness" for that matter.

The Argument from Moral Truth. Invalid for a variety of reasons.
  1. There exist objective moral truths. (Slavery and torture and genocide are not just distasteful to us, but are actually wrong.)
  2. These objective moral truths are not grounded in the way the world is but, rather, in the way the world ought to be.
  3. The world itself—the way it is, the laws of science that explain why it is that way—cannot account for the way the world ought to be.
  4. The only way to account for morality is that God established morality (from 2 and 3).
  5. God exists.
I don’t know if this is the worst argument for God in my book, but it is certainly the worst of those still popular in the apologetic community. Why? Because it has so many points of failure. There is Euthyphro’ Dilemma that shows that God is a redundant factor if objective morality is valid. There is the impossibility of ascertaining exactly what the objective morals are if they exist, unless. of course, they are defined by humans in relation to social interactions which would discount a need of a supernatural law giver. There is the question if morality is objective at all (I see morality as a broad concept including the possibility for a variety of moral codes--which may be applied objectively but are hardly transcendent.) There is evolutionary biology that suggests moral instincts are selected traits which are passed down genetically. I feel apologists over estimate the argument’s power because the opposition can seem scatter brained when refuting it because the number of ways to refute it makes one’s mind spin out. That, and it’s the one argument that allows them to both claim there is a god and take the moral high ground in one fallacious move.


  1. The modal ontological is awesome, it introduces a concept, "Maximally Great Being"... but then it goes on to demonstrate that the actual meaning employed is a very particular one:
    1) It is not "the greatest being". "Greatest" is an empirical notion, take a set of beings, find the one that is in fact greatest. That meaning would do absolutely nothing for the ontological argument, it would get nowhere.
    2) It is not in fact "the maximally great being", either. Maximally X is a projection, an extrapolation: Analyze the beings in the system, find the constraints on the properties involved, then calculate the maximal value of property X. This is how astronomers have calculated the maximal brightness of stable stars, and this would do nothing for the ontological argument. There is no way to ascertain that "omnipotence" is possible, and all estimates point to it being in fact impossible.
    3) What Maximally Great Being actually refers to is this: "The greatest being _*Imaginable*_. This is the only meaning that allows the argument to proceed. And it clearly and irrevocably stamps the MGB as an imaginary being. One cannot argue an imagined being into existence... but the argument actually holds true: God is imaginary. It is imaginary in a possible world (in the mind of the believer) and it is imaginary in the real world as well.

  2. I dislike the fine tuning argument, as it assumes things that could not be different. We know life as requiring the constants in our universe do not to change (i.e. speed of light, gravity) However if another universes had to exist and the constants were different, then life could exist and be different just not what we would expect.

    The constants are after all made up values that rely on other made up values. So its just that we think we are special that these values hold meaning for us.

    1. I kinda agree. There are too many unknowns to make sense of it.

  3. I'd think the ontological argument should be last since it's the stupidest.

    1. It's the stupidest is one way, but the moral argument is bad in multiple--and taking into account the specific God the arguers eventually point to, it is actually counter productive. If anything, the moral argument argues against Yahweh, Allah and the like.

  4. I have to say, I love reading your blog. I've been following you for some time. Keep up the great work! Bringing knowledge to the world is a very difficult station, but we must persist. Your format for bringing that knowledge is enlightening and refreshing. I could take a few lessons from you.

  5. The multi-verse, which is a non-falsifiable idea with zero evidence, only moves the fine-tuning question back a level. The laws of physics have to be in place 'prior' to the universe forming in order for anything to form at all, so if there are multiple universes with different physical laws, you need a law scrambler (cosmic slot machine, let’s call it God) to set the conditions of each universe. The other option is that the multi-verse has the same laws of physics as our universe, but then you still have the fine-tuning problem and the Laws of Thermodynamics to deal with. Either one is an intellectual leap without warrant, but if true, is still better explained by a designer.

    1. But the constants are in place in the quantum vacuum (or the nothing), and still you do not need a designer.

    2. @Christian – One (maybe more) of the constants is related to the ‘the nothing’ (Cosmological Constant), but many are not. Some are fundamental forces that allow for nuclear decay or the total density of the universe or atomic properties that allow stars to form carbon and oxygen or early universe conditions that allowed stars (or the universe) to form at all. A lot of these constants and early universe conditions are not related to each other, so changing one does not impact the others.

    3. @The Rational Zealot: That means then that the constants can change and are not reliant upon one another. Then there is no way they are tuned, which is fine I agree with the fact that they can change.

    4. @Christian – Correct, the constants and early universe conditions are independent of one another, so changing one does not result in changing the others. This means they must each be tuned individually.

    5. @ Rational Zealot: No changing one does result in changing another to compensate for a Universe, and this does still not mean they are dependent. As for us to know this, the universes must exist and as such they have to compensate each other. It does not mean they have to be tuned.