Monday, March 19, 2007

A Reply to Andrea Weisberger: Supplement on Burden of Proof

Before we move on to theodicies, a last word on burden of proof might be helpful. While it seems quite obvious to nearly everyone that the burden of proof rests on the person making an argument, some atheists are still resisting the idea that they bear the burden of proof when they claim that the Argument from Evil proves the non-existence of God. As a final point, I would add the following to my previous arguments.

Consider a dialogue between a hypothetical atheist and his theist opponent.

ATHEIST: I can prove that God doesn’t exist! I’ve got the “Argument from Babies”!

THEIST: I’m not quite familiar with that one.

ATHEIST: It’s simple. Babies are gross and annoying. They throw up all the time. They fill up their diapers with all sorts of disgusting substances. They scream and cry while people are trying to sleep. They can’t take care of themselves or anyone else, so they’re completely useless. It’s obvious that God would never have created babies or a world that has babies in it. Hence, God doesn’t exist.

THEIST: I have to confess that I like babies. But even if I didn’t, I still wouldn’t think that you can defend this argument. If you want me to agree with you, you’ll have to show me that your argument actually proves what you say it proves. Let’s see your case.

ATHEIST: No problem! Here’s my argument:

1. If God exists, babies would not exist.

2. Babies exist.

3. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

That’s straightforward Modus Tollens. What could be simpler?

THEIST: Well, now you’ll have to show that your first premise is true. And you’ll need to defend your claims against my criticisms.

ATHEIST: Not at all! Andrea Weisberger and John Loftus say that the theist always bears the burden of proof. Since you’re the one saying that God exists, which is like saying that there are invisible green gremlins in microchips, you have to show that my argument doesn’t work!

The difficulty here should be obvious. According to Weisberger, arguments for atheism get a free pass. That is, we should simply assume that they prove their conclusion until the theist proves otherwise. But this is just silly. Would we say that the onus of proof lies with the theist when an atheist presents his Argument from Babies? Would the theist also bear the burden of proof if the atheist makes an "Argument from Twinkies"? This would be absurd, yet it follows from Weisberger's claim.

The point here is a simple one. Unless the atheist shows that a certain argument has true premises and valid logic, that it is free from ambiguous terms and unproven assumptions, and that it successfully resists criticism, why should anyone assume that the argument proves anything?

The only reasonable position to take on the matter seems to be the one I’ve advocated all along, but which atheists so adamantly resist. The person making the argument bears the burden of proof. If the proponent of an argument happens to be an atheist, the world can hardly be expected to grant him special epistemological privileges on that account. (Note: The significance of this fact will become apparent as we discuss theodicies.)

12 comments:

Stunney said...

I would like to offer a theodicy that would perhaps help us to see the Argument from Babies is too precipitate in its implicit presumption that God can have no adequate reason for allowing the existence of babies.

God may allow babies because they're sometimes a necessary by-product of a higher good. Namely, sex.

Are there any atheists willing to try to shoot me down?

Marvels of the Mind said...

Lame. God could have created spawning pools that people came out of into life starting at age ten. Or can God not do that??? Thus, the Argument from Babies holds.

Stunney said...

God could have created spawning pools that people came out of into life starting at age ten. Or can God not do that???

Only if one defines omnipotence to inlude the ability to perform logical impossibilties, such as creating a being which came into existence 2 minutes ago and which is 10 years old.

And if omnipotence includes the ability to do the logically impossible, then God can make it the case that any valid Argument from Babies is also invalid.

So the Sex Theodicy remains intact.

Marvels of the Mind said...

[Only if one defines omnipotence to inlude the ability to perform logical impossibilties, such as creating a being which came into existence 2 minutes ago and which is 10 years old.]

Well, I did not mean 10 years old in the sense that they had already lived ten years, but in the sense that they are not still babies. A baby is a small, undeveloped human. God could have made a spawning pool so that the humans still developed through all necessary stages and only emerged once sufficiently in a non-baby state. So the point is not that they are 10 year olds, but that they are not babies, which I think is entirely logical and possible.

Thus, it is completely logically coherent to assume that spawning pools would have done a better job than the current sex-to-babies method.

Rich said...

So what you are saying then marvels is that we come out of this pool with the body the size of a ten year old and the mind of a baby. I don't see otherwise where there is development of the mind in your model. While this may leave suffering of the mother nulified what of the child? Is this pool 100% free of pain and suffering? then part of the bond some feel during sex is the creation of life they are participating in, so now we have pain of childbirth gone but also we loose pleasure of parenthood in this sense. I'm not sold that it is a better job than sex-to-babies.

stunney said...

God could have made a spawning pool so that the humans still developed through all necessary stages and only emerged once sufficiently in a non-baby state.

How do you know that this is something God could have done? You are relying on an unfounded modal inuition that such a world is indeed logically possible.

But is it?

To support your modal intuition, please specify the supposedly logically possible alternative physics that would be necessary to generate your better spawning pool world.

Please keep in mind that even tiny changes from our actual physical laws and constants are logically incompatible with the emergence of life, given everything we know about physics and biology.

Please also keep in mind that mathematically impossible equations are not allowed.

Please also keep in mind that whatever alternative comprehensive natural laws that would govern your imagined world that you manage to come up with, they must generate no worse consequences overall than the actual world contains.

It will be most interesting to see if, in pitting your wits against a putatively omniscient mind, you manage to demonstrate the logical possibility of a better physical world than the one a putatively omniscient mind putatively created.

Good luck. And I look forward to reading your article in a refereed physics journal. Please let us all know when it's published.

Marvels of the Mind said...

Stunney, you had a good point last time, but this time you are completely off-base.

In your first rebuttal you called me out on the fact that God could not have a spawning pool produce a human being so that the person starts life at age 10. This was a fair point: you said what I was suggesting was logically impossible. I clarified what I meant by 10 years old, and that cleared up the point.

Now you are again trying to show that my idea of a spawning pool is logically inconsistent, without actually showing that it is. I don't think there is any reason to assume such a spawning pool isn't possible. Why wouldn't it be?

But on top of that, you use two words coterminously that shouldn't be use as such. "Logically" possible is something of course the spawning pool would have to be. But it does not have to be in accordance with the laws of physics. Logic applies anywhere (there cannot be a world where there the Law of Non-Contradiction is not true), but the laws of physics in this universe do not have to apply everywhere.

God created phsyics. They come after. Logic, however, is more abstract, and its silly to talk about when it existed. Thus, when discussing the possibility of the laws of physics in a possible universe, we are allowed to assume that God was not already obliged to follow them. He has the ability when creating to adjust the variables of creation so that they work internally.

Therefore, it is nonsensical to show that the spawning pool would have to be consistent with the laws of physics of this universe when in fact the laws of physics are not perforce.

But on top of that, you ask me to give you the new physics that would govern the spawning pool universe. However, I've already answered this. You state that the spawning pool would have to be 1) logically possible 2) possible in terms of the scientific interworkings of such a system. I don't think that there are any logical violations by suggesting a spawning pool of life. And that 2 is true follows from your definition from God being omnipotent and the fact that the laws of physics did not exist for God to follow before he created the universe. They are subservient to him, not He to them. Thus, it would follow that such a spawning pool is possible.

David Wood said...

Marvels of the Mind and Stunney,

You guys crack me up.

stunney said...

this time you are completely off-base.

I see. And....,oh really?

Now you are again trying to show that my idea of a spawning pool is logically inconsistent, without actually showing that it is.

Buddy, I don't have to. You're the one asserting its logical consistency. I never said it was logically inconsistent. I merely asked you to demonstrate that it is logically consistent. The onus of proof is on you. You say it's consistent. I say, show me. What's wrong with that?
Zilch wrong with that.

You're confident of your modal intuition, so I assume it must be pretty easy to demonstrate
that it does indeed describe a logically possible world. I mean, what's the problem?

But so far, you haven't done so. And you know what, unless you do, your argument rests on an unfounded modal intuition.

Why should anyone trust your modal intuition?

Suppose you have a modal intuition that human beings made entirely of wood and 9 light years tall inhabit a possible world, and hence God could create such beings. Why on earth should anyone believe that that putative world is logically possible?

If something is physical, it has a physical nature. And it's just as logically impossible for something with physical nature F to exist but undergo physical events or processes logically incompatible with the essential properties specified by F, as it is for 50% of triangles to be circles.

So.... I'm asking you to specify the alternative physical natures necessary for the realization of your spawning pool world. If you can't, I shall assume that it's quite possible such a world is logically incoherent, for you will have given me no reason to believe otherwise.


But on top of that, you use two words coterminously that shouldn't be use as such. "Logically" possible is something of course the spawning pool would have to be. But it does not have to be in accordance with the laws of physics. Logic applies anywhere (there cannot be a world where there the Law of Non-Contradiction is not true), but the laws of physics in this universe do not have to apply everywhere.


Logically possible physics is determined by logically possible mathematics. There are indeed alternative logically possible physical laws and constants, which have been mathematically described and, as it were, tested by physicists in computer models.

What this splendid endeavor has shown is that the overwhelming majority (as in almost, but not quite 100%) of such computer model universes are incompatible with the emergence of life. This is why atheist scientists are scrambling to come up with a Multiverse, so severe are the fine-tuning problems for their worldview.

Here's a link to a comment I posted on another forum, which I think is relevant:

http://telicthoughts.com/evidence-id-and-god/#comment-73801

And another:

http://www.dailykos.com/comments/2006/9/28/101812/970/189#189

Btw, have you heard that it is not logically posible for 2+2 to equal 27?

All I'm asking you to do is to specify the physics of your alternative and allegedly superior world by writing up for us all the equations etc that completely specify the physical interactions of all physical things in that world, in a mathematically coherent way; and then to calculate the total overall consequences of that alternative physics for sentient beings in that world, if your alternative physics is indeed compatible with sentient life; and then, to compare all those consequences with the relevant consequences obtaining in the actual world.

Come on, it can't be that, difficult, otherwise you wouldn't be so confident about your modal intuition that such a world is logically possible.

We are talking physical worlds here, right?

Oh, and don't forget, when you're doing the interworld well-being comparison calculations, to rule out the possibility that the actual universe contains billions of planets inhabited by hundreds of trillions of deliriously happy beings (the Earth being an exception in this regard).

Let us know when you're done.

Marvels of the Mind said...

Well, Stunney, I suggest you start the twin blog to this one, problemofbabies.blogspot.com.

Lol. I lose.

stunney said...

Marvels, read this and you will have a better understanding of where I'm coming from....


"A major outstanding problem is that most quantum field theories predict a huge cosmological constant from the energy of the quantum vacuum. This would need to be cancelled almost, but not exactly, by an equally large term of the opposite sign. Some supersymmetric theories require a cosmological constant that is exactly zero, which further complicates things. This is the cosmological constant problem, the worst problem of fine-tuning in physics: there is no known natural way to derive the infinitesimal cosmological constant observed in cosmology from particle physics.

One possible explanation for the small but non-zero value was noted by Steven Weinberg in 1987[2]. Weinberg explains that if the vacuum energy took different values in different domains of the universe, then observers would necessarily measure values similar to that which is observed: the formation of life-supporting structures would be suppressed in domains where the vacuum energy is much larger, and domains where the vacuum energy is much smaller would be comparatively rare. This argument depends crucially on the reality of a spatial distribution in the vacuum energy density. There is no evidence that the vacuum energy does vary, but it may be the case if, for example, the vacuum energy is (even in part) the potential of a scalar field such as the residual inflaton (also see quintessence). Critics argue that anthropic explanations like this (including multiverse theories) commit the inverse gamblers fallacy.

As was only recently seen, by works of 't Hooft, Susskind[3] and others, a positive cosmological constant has surprising consequences, such as a finite maximum entropy of the observable universe. (See the holographic principle.) According to the authors (like many astrophysicists [4]), such a low entropy state would require “an external agent” (external to matter, energy, space, and time) that “intervened…for reasons of its own” in some miraculous way. [5]

More recent work has suggested the problem may be indirect evidence of a cyclic universe predicted by string theory. With every cycle of the universe (Big Bang then eventually a Big Crunch) taking about a trillion (1012) years, "the amount of matter and radiation in the universe is reset, but the cosmological constant is not. Instead, the cosmological constant gradually diminishes over many cycles to the small value observed today."[6] Critics respond that, as the authors acknowledge in their paper, the model “entails tuning” to “the same degree of tuning required in any cosmological model.” [7]"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_constant#Cosmological_constant_problem

Amy Sayers said...

About that spawning pool and the "nullification" of pain to the mother. . .I'm not trying to pull rank here as one who's actually given birth (twice), and whose current vocation is being an at-home mother, but whatever the negatives we might add up of childbirth and child-rearing through both the physical AND mental infancy of a child pale fiercely to all that is counted towards its pleasure.

I know this conversation about the spawning pool spawned from Stunney's Sexodicy, so I don't suspect anyone here really needs a lecture on the beautiful merits of parenthood. Suffice it to say: If God had denied parents the experience of birth and all that is required to bring a child up from birth to age 10, He would have denied parents the second-most valued experience we can have on this side of eternity. (The first, I would argue, is marriage.)