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“No God Needed” CalTech physicist responds to Uncommon Descent’s questions

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Sean Carroll

Recently, Uncommon Descent’s vjtorley posed seven questions to physicist Sean Carroll, Senior Research Associate in Physics at the California Institute of Technology. Carroll had written an article, “Does the Universe need God?” for The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity. Now Carroll has answered the questions, and given us permission to post his response here:

1. In your article, you’ve argued that the ultimate explanation of why events happen is that things are simply obeying the laws of nature – in particular, the laws of physics. What do you mean by the term “law of nature”? Specifically, are the laws of nature (a) rules which prescribe the behavior of objects, or (b) mere regularities which describe the behavior of objects?

To this and the other questions, Carroll responds:

I wanted to thank Vincent Torley and Denyse O’Leary for the opportunity to write a guest blog post, and apologize for how long it’s taken me to do so. I’ve written an article for the forthcoming Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, entitled Does the Universe Need God?, in which I argued that the answer is “no.” Vincent posed a list of questions in response. After thinking about it, I decided that my answers would be more clear if I simply wrote a coherent argument, rather than addressing the questions individually.

My goal is to try to explain my own thinking to an audience that is not predisposed to agree. We can roughly break people up into two groups: naturalists such as myself, who think that the best explanation we have for the universe involves physical quantities obeying laws of Nature and nothing else; and those who believe that a better explanation can be found by invoking a powerful being/designer/creator/God. (For the sake of simplicity I’m going to use “God” to refer to this notion, but feel free to substitute the more accurate description of your choice.) Obviously there are many nuances that are being passed over by this simple distinction, but hopefully it will suffice for this moment.

The dispute between these two camps isn’t one where people often change their minds at the drop of an argument. Minds do change, in either direction — but typically after extended periods of reflection, not suddenly in response to a single killer blog post. So persuasion is not my goal here; only explanation. I’ve succeeded if an open-minded person who disagrees with me reads the post and still disagrees, but at least understands why I hold my positions. (After giving an earlier talk, one of the theologians in the audience told me that I had persuaded him — not that God didn’t exist, but that the argument from design wasn’t the way to get to Him. That sort of real-time response is more than one can generally hope for.)

What I want to do is to elaborate on some crucial aspects of how science is done that bear directly on the issues raised by my article and some of the responses to it that I’ve seen. In particular, I want to talk about simplicity, laws, openness, explanation, and clarity. This isn’t supposed to be a comprehensive treatise on the philosophy of science, nor is it especially rigorous, or anything really new — just some thoughts on issues relevant to this conversation.

I will be taking one thing for granted: that what we’re interested in doing here is science. There are many kinds of consideration that may lead people to theism or atheism that have nothing whatsoever to do with science; likewise, one may believe that there are ways of understanding the natural world that go beyond the methods of science. I have nothing to say about that right now; that’s a higher-level discussion. I’m just going to presume that we all agree that we’re trying to be the best scientists we can possibly be, and ask what that means.

With all that throat-clearing out of the way, here’s what I have to say about these five issues.

Simplicity.

Science tries to capture the world in the simplest possible description. We are fortunate that such an endeavor is sensible, in that the world we observe exhibits various regularities. If the contents and behavior of the world were completely different from point to point and moment to moment, science would be impossible. But the regularities of the world offer a tremendous simplification of description, making science possible. We don’t need to talk separately about the charge of this electron, and the charge of that electron; all electrons have the same charge.

Simplicity can be quantified by the concept of Kolmogorov complexity — roughly, the length of the shortest possible complete description of a system. It takes longer to specify some particular list of 1,000 random numbers than it does to specify “the integers from 1 to one million,” even though the latter contains more elements. The list of integers therefore has a lower Kolmogorov complexity, and we say that it’s simpler. Scientists are trying to come up with the simplest description of nature that accounts for all the data.

Note that a theory that invokes God (or any other extra-physical categories) is, all else being equal, less simple than a theory that does not. “God + the natural world” is less simple than “the natural world.” This doesn’t mean that the idea of God is automatically wrong; only that it starts out at a disadvantage as far as simplicity is concerned. A conscientious scientist could nevertheless be led to the conclusion that God plays a role in the best possible scientific description of the world. For example, it could (in some hypothetical world) turn out to be impossible to fit the data without invoking God. As Einstein put it: “It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.” Alternatively, you could imagine deriving all of the physical laws from the simpler assumption that God exists. While these strategies are conceivable, in practice I don’t think they work, as should become clear.

Laws.

A “law of nature” is simply a regularity we observe in the universe. All electrons have the same charge; energy and momentum are conserved in particle interactions. A law doesn’t necessarily have to be absolute or deterministic; the Born rule of quantum mechanics states that the probability of obtaining a certain observational result is the square of the amplitude of the corresponding branch of the wave function. A law is simply a pattern we observe in nature.

As far as science is concerned, it makes no difference whether we refer to these regularities as “laws” or “patterns” or anything else. It also doesn’t matter whether we think of them as “fundamental and irreducible features of the cosmos.” They simply are; science looks for them, and finds them. Vincent asks “How can rules exist in the absence of a mind?” That is simply not a question that science is concerned with. Science wants to know how we can boil the behavior of nature down to the simplest possible rules. You might want more than that; but then you’re not doing science. He also asks why we should believe that the rules should continue to hold tomorrow, simply because they have held in the past. Again, that’s what science does. Imagining that the same basic laws will continue to hold provides a simpler fit to the data we have than imagining (for no good reason) that they will change. If you are personally unsatisfied with that attitude, that’s fine; but your dissatisfaction is not a scientific matter.

Openness.

This is probably the most important point I have to make, and follows directly on the issue of “laws” just addressed. There is a way of trying to understand the world that might roughly be called “scholastic,” which sits down and tries to reason about how the world should be. The great success of science over the last five hundred years has been made possible by throwing out that kind of thinking in favor of a different model. Namely: we think of every possible way the world could be, and then we go out and look at the world to see which is the simplest description that fits the data. Science insists that we be open to all possibilities, and let the data decide which is true.

Suppose that you are convinced that laws of nature could not exist without a guiding intelligence that formulated them and sustains them. That’s fine for you, but it’s a deeply unscientific attitude. The scientific attitude is: “We observe that there are regularities in nature. We might imagine that they are formulated and sustained by a guiding intelligence, or that they simply exist on their own. Let’s go collect data to determine which idea is a more parsimonious fit to reality.”

The primary sin a scientist can commit is to decide ahead of time that the universe must behave in certain ways. We can certainly have intuitions about what kind of behavior “makes sense” to us as scientists — theorists are guided by their intuition all the time. But the use of that intuition is to help us develop hypotheses, not to decide which hypothesis is correct. Only confrontation with data can do that.

Explanation.

Science has a complicated relationship with “Why?” questions. Sometimes it provides direct answers: Why do all electrons have the same charge? Because they are all excitations of a single underlying quantum field. But sometimes it does not: Why is there a quantum field with the properties of electrons? Well, that’s just the way it is. Which questions have sensible answers is dependent on context, and can even change as we learn new things about the universe. To Kepler, understanding why exactly five planets orbit the Sun was a question of paramount importance. These days we think of the number of planets (eight, according to the International Astronomical Union) as something of an accident.

The point, once again, is that we can’t decide ahead of time what kinds of explanations science is going to provide for us. Science looks for the simplest possible description of the world. It might be that we will eventually understand the inner workings of nature so well that we will be able to answer every conceivable “Why?” question — we will ultimately see that things simply could not have been any other way. But it is also perfectly possible that the best possible description of the world involves some number of brute facts that have no deeper explanation. This is an issue that will ultimately be decided by the conventional progress of science, not by a priori demands that the universe must explain itself to anyone’s individual satisfaction.

Clarity.

The final point I wanted to make involves the clarity of scientific hypotheses. Perhaps “unambiguity” would have been a more precise word, but it is so ugly I couldn’t bring myself to use it.

The point is that a respectable scientific theory should be formulated in terms that are so unambiguously clear that any two people, both of whom understand the theory and have the technical competence to elucidate its consequences, will always come to the same conclusion about what the theory says. This is why the best theories we have are very often cast in the form of mathematics; the rules for manipulating equations are absolutely free of ambiguity. You tell me the initial conditions of some classical mechanical system, as well as the Hamiltonian, and I will come up with the same predictions for its future evolution as absolutely anyone else wit the same information.

Earlier I mentioned that the God hypothesis could actually be simpler than a purely naturalistic theory, if one could use the idea of God to derive the observed laws of nature (or at least some other features of the universe). This isn’t idle speculation, of course; many people have taken this road. The fundamental problem, however, is that the idea of God is utterly unclear and ambiguous, as far as conventional scientific thinking is concerned.

One might object: God is simply the most perfect being conceivable, and what could be more unambiguous than that? (One possible response, not the only one.) That sounds like a clear statement, but it’s not in any sense a clear scientific theory. For that, there would have to be a set of unambiguous rules that let you go from “the most perfect being” to the laws of nature that we see around us. As I argued in my paper, this is very far from what we actually have. It is sometimes argued, for example, that God explains the small value of the vacuum energy (cosmological constant), because without that fine-tuning life would be impossible. But why does God choose this particular value? Actually it could be quite a bit larger and life would still be very possible. Why are there 100 billion galaxies in addition to the one we live in? Why are there three generations of elementary particles, when life is only constructed from the first one? Why was the entropy of the early universe enormously smaller than it needed to be to support life?

Obviously these are perfectly good questions for naturalistic theories as well as for God. The problem is that we can imagine coming up with naturalistic theories that do provide clear answers, while it’s very hard to see how God could ever do that. The problem is simple: God isn’t expressed in the form of equations. There is no clear and unambiguous map from God to a particular set of laws of physics, or a particular configuration of the universe. If there were, we would be using that map to make predictions. What does God have to say about supersymmetry, or the mass of the Higgs boson, or the amplitude of gravitational-wave perturbations of the cosmic microwave background? If we claim that God “explains” the known laws of physics, the same method of explanation should work for the unknown laws. It’s not going to happen.

It’s not clear to me that anyone who believes in God should actually want it to happen. There is a very strong tension between what scientists look for in a theory — clear and unambiguous connections between premises and predictions — and the way that religious believers typically conceive of God, as a conscious being that is irreducibly free to make choices. Does anyone really want to reduce God to a simple set of rules that can be manipulated by anyone to make clear predictions, like we can in theories of modern physics? If not, God will always remain as a theoretical option of last resort — something to be invoked only after we are absolutely convinced that no possible naturalist option can explain the universe we see.

————

Obviously these very simple points don’t come anywhere near addressing all the possible issues in this area. In particular, I haven’t made any real attempt to argue that a purely naturalistic explanation actually is a better fit to the observed universe than God or similar ideas. Instead I’ve just tried to explain the mindset of someone like me who does end up coming to that conclusion. In my paper I’ve tried to lay out why invoking God doesn’t seem to provide an especially promising explanation of the world around us. Others may disagree, but I hope this has made things more clear.

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64 Responses to “No God Needed” CalTech physicist responds to Uncommon Descent’s questions

  1. …naturalists such as myself, who think that the best explanation we have for the universe involves physical quantities obeying laws of Nature and nothing else…

    My first request of Mr. Carrol, who I thank for his post, would be that he clarify his language.

    Does he mean by “the universe” the existence of the universe or does he mean everything in the universe or does he mean the existence of the universe and everything in it?

    Now surely he does not think that the “best explanation” of his blog post here at UD consists of an appeal to physical quantities obeying laws of Nature and nothing else. Or does he?

    If he can grasp the point of that question, he will be closer to understanding Intelligent Design.

  2. Grr… apologise for the spelling mistake. Mr. Carroll. I should proofread BEFORE I hit submit.

  3. Sean Carrol wrote,

    God will always remain as a theoretical option of last resort — something to be invoked only after we are absolutely convinced that no possible naturalist option can explain the universe we see.

    I want to briefly argue that there is no possible naturalist option to explain nature where, by ‘nature’, I refer to physical reality. I use the term ‘physical reality’ to allow for both the case where this universe is a one-off deal, as well as the possibility of an 11-dimensional M-theory system which could, in theory, produce the universe we see, where the M-theory system contains the ‘fundamental’ laws of nature (to use Hawking’s and Mlodinow’s terminology) and this universe has its own subset of apparant laws of nature.

    Can nature, understood as all of physical reality, explain itself? A circular argument assumes the conclusion in its opening premise and then proceeds to prove the conclusion, which is logically invalid. In the same way, we cannot assume the existence of natural processes to explain how natural processes came into existence. So my argument would be summarized as follows:

    1. Either there is a natural or non-natural explanation for the origin of nature.
    2. A natural explanation is logically impossible (due to the circular fallacy)
    3. Therefore, there is a non-natural (i.e., supernatural) explanation for the origin of nature.

    We must assume the existence of nature to do science in the same way we must assume the axioms to do mathematics, or the principles of logical deduction to do logic. Just as we cannot logically prove the principles of logic without assuming the very principles we are trying to prove, so we cannot prove the axioms of mathematics without assuming the very axioms we are trying to prove. In the same way, we cannot derive a scientific explanation for the origin of nature without assuming the very nature we are trying to explain.

    So, in the end, we can logically prove that nature has a non-natural/supernatural origin, although we would still have some thinking to do to further resolve the nature of this non-natural/supernatural God.

  4. 4
    CannuckianYankee

    “Note that a theory that invokes God (or any other extra-physical categories) is, all else being equal, less simple than a theory that does not. “God + the natural world” is less simple than ‘the natural world.’”

    Dr Carrol,

    Thanks for an excellent blog post. I have one observation. One could read this, and the materialists would say “see, I told you so, God makes things more complicated.

    I pretty much agree with everything you stated including the above quote. But there’s an issue involved here that I don’t think materialists consider. Darwinian evolution is the materialist answer to theism. Yet Darwinian evolution also invokes an entity that makes things more complicated, and less simple, and that’s the entity of chance and necessity. That makes things so much more complicated than simply to observe that things happen in nature and we’re not going to speculate on what is behind it all.

    That’s what I think is the problem with all of science. If you want the simplest answer it is going to be complicated by three possibilities – a designer, chance and necessity, or a combination of the two. I don’t think anybody looks at the evidence without one of these three positions, and neither can be proven by the data. Each is itself an addition to the equation, not just God.

  5. Dear Dr. Carroll,

    I disagree with much of what you said, but here are two particular things I’d especially like to respond to:

    FIRST (Sean Carroll on simplicity and science): “Science wants to know how we can boil the behavior of nature down to the simplest possible rules. [...] He also asks why we should believe that the rules should continue to hold tomorrow, simply because they have held in the past. Again, that’s what science does. Imagining that the same basic laws will continue to hold provides a simpler fit to the data” [...] “we think of every possible way the world could be, and then we go out and look at the world to see which is the simplest description that fits the data.”
    I think this is a rephrasing of the very thing vjtorley was asking for (and the heart of the problem of induction). “Why seek simplicity?” Why should a scientist do that rather than [insert something you think a scientist shouldn't do]? If you ask an archaeologist why he looks for multiple attestation when considering the authenticity of a quote, he wouldn’t say “Because that’s history! That’s what historians do!” — he gives reasons WHY historians do that, and why it works. In a nutshell, the challenge you’re suppose to responding to is this: “If you’re a theist, then you DO have a reason to seek simplicity. If you’re an atheist, you DON’T have a reason; you have blind faith.”

    Consider:

    Paul Davies (Writing as an Agnostic Physicist; Prof. at 6 Universities [Cambridge, London etc.]): Let us accept, then, that nature really is ordered in a mathematical way-that “the book of nature,” as Galileo said, “is written in mathematical language.” Even so, it is easy to imagine an ordered universe that nevertheless remains utterly beyond human comprehension, due to its complexity and subtlety. For me, the magic of science is that we can understand at least part of nature-perhaps in principle all of it-using the scientific method of enquiry. It is utterly astonishing that we human beings can do this-why should the rules on which the universe runs be accessible to humans? [...] People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature-the laws of physics-are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they come from; at least they do not do so in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is rational basis to physical existence manifested as law-like order in nature that is at least part comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview. [...] All the early scientists, like Newton, were religious in one way or another. They saw their science as a means of uncovering traces of God’s handiwork in the universe. What we now call the laws of physics they regarded as God’s abstract creation: thoughts, so to speak, in the mind of God. So in doing science, they supposed, one might be able to glimpse the mind of God – an exhilarating and audacious claim.[Physics and the Mind of God, Templeton prize address]

    Loren Eiseley (Prof. of Anthropology & History of Science; 36 honorary degrees): It is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear articulated fashion to the experimental method of science itself . . . It began its discoveries and made use of its method in the faith, not the knowledge, that it was dealing with a rational universe controlled by a Creator who did not act upon whim nor inference with the forces He had set in operation. The experimental method succeeded beyond man’s wildest dreams but the faith that brought it into being owes something to the Christian conception of the nature of God. It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of history that science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes its origins to an act of faith that the universe can be rationally interpreted, and that science today is sustained by that assumption. [Darwin's Centenary: Evolution and the Men who Discovered it (Doubleday: 1961) 62.]

    To explore the relation of simplicity, God, and the problem of induction, I recommend Robin Collins’s “God and the Laws of Nature” (http://home.messiah.edu/~rcoll.....re.doc.doc).

    SECOND (Sean Carroll on natural necessity): “It might be that we will eventually understand the inner workings of nature so well that we will be able to answer every conceivable “Why?” question — we will ultimately see that things simply could not have been any other way. ”
    [Technical terms are in quotes]. I assume you are only referring to “natural necessity” (i.e. you aren’t suggesting it is “broadly ontologically impossible” for the most fundamental physics to have been different). When it comes to the most fundamental laws of physics, you answer in the same way you do to (and I quote) “Why is there a quantum field with the properties of electrons? Well, that’s just the way it is.” It’s a “brute fact” (things that explain other things but do not themselves have an explanation).
    Now, consider asking a Young Earth Creationist “How do you explain this red shift data (if the Universe isn’t expanding)?” What would you think if he chalked up the evidence to a brute fact? I feel the same about what you’re doing. I think you’re attempting to answer a leibnizian-ish cosmological argument. On your naturalism, the most fundamental laws/constants/initial-conditions exhaustively explain everything else that goes on in the universe. But, if they are truly fundamental, then they cannot themselves be explained by anything within your ontology (which is exhausted by the laws and all that falls out of them). You have no sufficient reason for their existence. You are reduced to saying they are a “brute fact”. I think someone like you or the hypothetical Young Earth Creationist who has no possible explanation for a phenomena is always at the mercy of someone who does have the resources to explain it. Don’t you agree? (btw, I think this is interesting in light of your closing comment which suggests we are AT LEAST justified in “invoking God” “after we are absolutely convinced that no possible naturalist option can explain”.)

    If you find time to respond, I’d enjoy your thoughts.

    Blake G.

  6. Why did I say archaeologist? I meant an historian* (thought I suppose archaeologists use the criterion as well).

  7. 7
    CannuckianYankee

    Dr. Carrol, just one more thing; in case you doubt me, your criteria is “any extra-physical category,” which obviously chance and necessity fit into. They are not physical. So by your own criteria, not only does invoking God limit our ability to do science, but invoking anything other than what we observe nature do. BTW, this would also include invoking the laws of physics. They are not physical categories either. They only describe physical categories. So they’re out the window too.

  8. The primary sin a scientist can commit is to decide ahead of time that the universe must behave in certain ways.

    The problem is that this is precisely what most prominent Darwinists and militant atheists appear to do. I’ve personally had a tenured professor, in charge of a $0.5 million tax-funded public high school curriculum about abiogenesis tell me that even though we don’t know how the laws of physics can produce life, “it must have happened”. The only reasoning behind that is his personal, pre-determined vision of how he thinks the universe must be explained. I personally think Darwin’s theory was initially very believable and I don’t condone its initial acceptance. But as we learned about the complexity of biology, Darwinism/neo-Darwinism should have at least been seriously questioned regarding its functional complexity creation abilities, but it never has. Every new discovery of how much more complex biology is than we previously thought is almost immediately accommodated by conjecture, accepted forcefully and nearly unanimously by like-minded scientists. From the Darwinist’s perspective, it has never been about determining the best explanation for the origin and evolution of life, but the best natural explanation. This is quite obvious from the thousands of books, blog posts, interviews, articles, etc that I have personally read from this establishment.

    Science looks for the simplest possible description of the world.

    Hence the Explanatory Filter… LAW-CHANCE-DESIGN. Clearly some things are designed (Large Hadron Collider), impossible of being explained via simply law and/or chance. So why can’t the same principle be applied to biology? Prove ID wrong instead of saying that it is unscientific, etc.

    And personally, I don’t think ID says anything about God or any specific religion. It simply says that some aspects of biology are best explained by intelligence. It is not a simpler explanation than law or chance, but it is better because it is the only one that can account for what we see. As for how God or aliens or whoever went about creating biology, or who He/it/they is/are, that lies beyond the aims of ID.

  9. 9

    A materialist who assumes his conclusions?

    There’s something you don’t see every day.

    /cheek

  10. First of all, my thanks to Sean Carroll for his excellent post. It is refreshing to see a thoughtful response to the kinds of questions being posed by ID proponents.

    I do have problems with some of what Carroll writes, especially on his notion of simplicity. It is clear from the way he argues the point that when he says “Science tries to capture the world in the simplest possible description”, he really means “Science tries to capture the world in the simplist possible naturalistic description. This is made clear when he later writes in that section that “Note that a theory that invokes God (or any other extra-physical categories) is, all else being equal, less simple than a theory that does not. “God + the natural world” is less simple than “the natural world.” That strikes me as begging the question, among other things. I’m not sure I agree that science must always seek the simplest explanation. It might be that science seeks the truest explanation…that is the explanation that not only fits all the available data, but also is what actually happens. In other words, the explanation conforms to the way things really are. That may not always be the simplest explanation. Any forensic scientist could tell you that. In a given crime scene there may be all sorts of possible explanations that fit the available data, and some will be more simple than others. But only 1 explanation corresponds to what actually took place…and that is the one that is sought…and it may not always be the simplest explanation.

    Secondly, I don’t accept that “nature + God” is somehow more complex than nature alone. The very notion assumes that nature alone actually does have all the necessary resources to account for whatever is being examined. But whether or not it does is part of the issue. If it doesn’t…and that may well be the case…than nature alone is not, indeed cannot, be the simpler explanation, because the explanation itself would need explanation.

    Carroll circumvents this point by declaring later that “But it is also perfectly possible that the best possible description of the world involves some number of brute facts that have no deeper explanation. This is an issue that will ultimately be decided by the conventional progress of science, not by a priori demands that the universe must explain itself to anyone’s individual satisfaction.” Again, Carroll seems to mean the “best possible naturalistic explanation of the world…”would leave us with some unexplained brute facts. Maybe…but why ought science accept that?

    There are other points to be made, but I’ll close out this response with but one more, and that is that I think Carroll misses the point of ID as science altogether. ID does not require invoking a deity into the explanatory chain. ID only seeks to distinguish between unguided, unintelligent causes, from intelligent causes. Carroll’s entire post seems to fail to appreciate that point.

  11. @KD While circular reasoning cannot be used to prove a proposition, it does not disprove a proposition, which is how you seemed to use it in your ‘proof.’

    A natural world does not necessitate a supernatural creator. A supernatural creator simply creates an infinite regress of creators and creations.

    @uoflcard = Hoyle’s fallacy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoyle%27s_fallacy

    @DonaldM – Please explain.

    “ID only seeks to distinguish between unguided, unintelligent causes, from intelligent causes. Carroll’s entire post seems to fail to appreciate that point.”

    What is the intelligent cause?

  12. Some comments.

    Regarding Simplicity

    Note that a theory that invokes God (or any other extra-physical categories) is, all else being equal, less simple than a theory that does not. “God + the natural world” is less simple than “the natural world.

    In one sense. In a similar sense, solipsism (self) is vastly simpler than the alternative (self + external world). Now, you can argue that various factors about an individual’s experience should lead them to conclude the existence of an external world in spite of this complexity, or even lead them to claim that ‘self + external world’ ends up being less complex than just ‘self’. But that would mean that, contrary to Carroll’s claim, that either God does not start out with an immediate disadvantage, or if He does He does so arguably in the same way an external world does.

    Further, Kolmogorov complexity is referenced, and it’s implied that God has a greater Kolmogorov complexity (or at least God + universe has a greater complexity than just the universe). But look at the definition of the complexity: “In algorithmic information theory (a subfield of computer science), the Kolmogorov complexity of an object, such as a piece of text, is a measure of the computational resources needed to specify the object.” I think it’s clear that, under far and away most orthodox concepts of God, KC would not apply.

    Regarding Laws

    As far as science is concerned, it makes no difference whether we refer to these regularities as “laws” or “patterns” or anything else. It also doesn’t matter whether we think of them as “fundamental and irreducible features of the cosmos.” They simply are; science looks for them, and finds them.

    To say this is to say that science is not in the business of explaining the origin and nature of laws/’regularity’ – science just takes them as given. I’m more than fine with that. But the question of their nature and origin remains to be explained, whether or not we call it science – and inferences to a mind as playing a role in the origin, upkeep, or intervention in our universe likewise remain, given particular arguments.

    Likewise, I’m not sure this attitude is thoroughgoing. What about multiverse theories that try to explain, at least partly, the laws in our universe in terms of metalaws? Now, I agree that ‘metalaws’ themselves would need to be explained in this case (as Davies points out), and so on and so on. However, is it ‘science’ to postulate a “mother universe” or the like to explain our universe and its laws? And if so, on what grounds is a mind being responsible for laws ruled out? It couldn’t be, if the ‘mother universe’ is granted, due to a claim that it’s outside of science to explain the origin of laws.

    If you are personally unsatisfied with that attitude, that’s fine; but your dissatisfaction is not a scientific matter.

    At the same time, if you’re satisfied with that attitude, your satisfaction is likewise not a scientific manner. Science doesn’t need our satisfaction or dissatisfaction – it just requires us to go along with certain assumptions about things it is otherwise unable to account for. Again, it’s fine: It’s a limit of science. But that science has this limit should be stressed.

    Regarding Openness

    The claim is that, unlike ‘scholastics’ (how ‘scholastics’ differ from ‘metaphysicians’ on this point is not made clear), science does not describe the world as it “should be”, but as it is. Hence,

    Namely: we think of every possible way the world could be, and then we go out and look at the world to see which is the simplest description that fits the data. Science insists that we be open to all possibilities, and let the data decide which is true.

    The problem is, this isn’t true. And not just because we have those famous quotes from other scientists like Lewontin about “not allowing a divine foot in the door” or having a commitment to materialism. It’s not true based on Carroll’s own standards: Science operates with certain ground-level assumptions. We assume that the laws we understand held in the past, even the distant past. We assume that laws which seem to hold in our region of the universe hold elsewhere in the universe. “Let’s go gather data” requires presuppositions that determine methodology, what counts as data, how that data will be read.

    Science’s openness is, in other words, limited.

    There’s another sense in which science isn’t open, and which Carroll doesn’t directly touch on – but I offer it up all the same. He writes:

    The scientific attitude is: “We observe that there are regularities in nature. We might imagine that they are formulated and sustained by a guiding intelligence, or that they simply exist on their own. Let’s go collect data to determine which idea is a more parsimonious fit to reality.”

    Here’s the problem: Under this formulation, the only thing missing from the scholastic’s claim is this: Going out and gathering data. The moment that is done, the entire process becomes scientific – even if they take their data to corroborate the claim that the universe is the work of a mind, whether or not this mind is divine.

    Another way of putting it is this: If Carroll is serious and did not miscommunicate here, then Intelligent Design science after all – at least by his standards. It may be unpopular science, of course: Particular ID claims may be falsified, or weak – or strong. But if ID proponents formulate a hypothesis and back it up with data, the endeavor is scientific.

    I don’t think Carroll meant this, of course – I think he’d claim ID is unscientific after all. But if he were to do so, he’d have to throw more and more stipulations on what does and does not count as science – and every stipulation will further impact this ‘openness’.

    Regarding Explanation

    But it is also perfectly possible that the best possible description of the world involves some number of brute facts that have no deeper explanation. This is an issue that will ultimately be decided by the conventional progress of science, not by a priori demands that the universe must explain itself to anyone’s individual satisfaction.

    But science is not in the business of determining what is or is not a ‘brute fact’, any more than it’s in the business – by Carroll’s admission – of explaining the ultimate origin and nature of laws. There are no ‘brute facts’ in science – there’s simply that which science cannot explain. And if “the best science can do” involves such walls – and given what science needs to get off the ground, I think it’s clear (as other posters have implied) that there will always be things science as science is unable to explain – this does not thereupon translate into a brute fact. That is, like it or not, for philosophers, metaphysicians, and yes – theologians to discuss (as well as anyone else who cares to.)

    So again, I think Carroll is clearly wrong here in his estimation of what science does and does not do.

    Regarding Clarity

    This last point relates to the previous. Carroll complains that God, as a scientific hypothesis, cannot be given in the form of a mathematical equation or the like.

    First of all, I think Carroll may be overdoing it with the ‘mathematical’ standard of science. Would he consider archaeology, psychology, evolutionary biology and the like to be scientific? Are they only scientific insofar as they involve math?

    But there’s another problem: Carroll just finished talking about how brute facts can be part of a scientific explanation. I’ve pointed out problems with that, but the question becomes: What is the mathematical formula for bruteness? What is the mathematical formula which shows, “And here we shall find a brute fact”? So again, I think Carroll is ending up in a muddle here.

    Likewise, there’s an additional problem. Carroll suggests that the only way God could play a role in science is if God were somehow reducible to a set of equations. The problem isn’t just that we have no “God equation” – it’s that we have no “man equation” either. Note that this is not an argument that human agency transcends physical cause (though I’d claim that too) – it’s pointing out that we have no mathematical formula in place for human minds. Not in a particular sense (“Here’s the formula for Abraham Lincoln”) or a general sense (“Here’s the formula for humanity”). This list could be expanded greatly, but humanity is the most clear example.

    In fact, let’s go back to what Carroll had to say about simplicity:

    If the contents and behavior of the world were completely different from point to point and moment to moment, science would be impossible. But the regularities of the world offer a tremendous simplification of description, making science possible. We don’t need to talk separately about the charge of this electron, and the charge of that electron; all electrons have the same charge.

    But in many ways, we do need to talk separately about this person and that person – again, note that this holds even without endorsing non-naturalism or non-materialism about human minds. A reply here may be that ‘Well, if you accept materialism and reductionism, then all of humanity reduces to physics’ – ignoring the problems with that claim, this would be tantamount to claiming that the only science around is physics. But if we loosen up the definition of science and start to accept that no, just because you lack a scientific formula for this or that thing does not in and of itself mean you’re no longer doing science, then Carroll’s definition of science takes on more water. Now the inability to give a rapt mathematical definition of God merits a shrug and a “so what?” re: Science, because said definitions aren’t necessary anyway.

    What this adds up to is that Carroll’s take on clarity in science is itself unclear. If predictive mathematical formula are essential, then quite a lot of what we think is ‘science’, actually isn’t after all. If predictive mathematical formula aren’t essential, then his grounds for ruling out God on this front goes away. And so would grounds for ruling out ID.

    Concluding Remarks

    Yes, I know. I’ve been a bit formal here – pardon that.

    I also want to make it clear where I’m coming from: I don’t think God is a scientific hypothesis, or that science as science is capable of positing God as an explanation. The problem is that, likewise, ‘God didn’t do this’ is not a scientific hypothesis or explanation either. Likewise, to give a scientific explanation of this or that phenomena is not to say ‘and therefore God didn’t do it’ – anymore than to give a thorough physical description of my hard drive is to provide a complete description of that copy of Spore I have, such that Will Wright played no role in its explanation.

    Nor do I think that God is a theoretical option of last resort — something to be invoked only after we are absolutely convinced that no possible naturalist option can explain the universe we see. In fact, please notice what Carroll is doing by putting it this way: He’s treating ‘God’ as a scientific theory, only for the sake of being able to put it up against “any possible naturalist option, including declaring that some things are just brute facts”. This is a little like saying that God is an acceptable theory when all other alternatives are exhausted, and ‘magic’ is an acceptable alternative.

    Even in this lengthy post, I’ve only touched on a few problems with Carroll’s reasoning – I’m leaving out other questions, like the problem of defining ‘naturalistic’, the question of defining ‘god’ given multiverse speculations, etc. But what I want to focus on here is a key problem I have with Carroll’s approach.

    The way I see it, Carroll wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants talk about the nature of physical laws to be off the table as far as science goes – unless you call them brute facts. He wants God to not be treated as a topic science as science can meaningfully talk about… unless a natural theory for this or that thing is offered, in which case he wants to bring God out as a scientific possibility that was just damaged. He wants rapt mathematical predictability from God, but elsewhere he’s apparently willing to let things slide. He wants science to be thought of as open, so long as we redefine openness to include various assumptions and methodologies that rule out any inference to God (or presumably, to minds). He wants to keep philosophy and metaphysics (those ‘scholastic’ views) distinct from science – unless he ends up liking them (brute facts, the assumptions which ground science, etc.) He decries God as being too vague of a concept to meaningfully provide evidence for – but apparently, God is plenty meaningful enough to provide evidence against.

    My own preference would be for Carroll to say this: Science doesn’t deal with God’s existence or non-existence, because the question is not one which science is methodologically or practically set up to explore, and any inferences we take about God from science – whether atheistic or theistic – are themselves extra-scientific inferences. The fact is, science has far more modest goals than these, and far more rigid limits as well in terms of what topics or questions it as a method is able to explore.

    The problem, of course, is that recognizing this removes (abuse of) science from an evangelical atheist’s arsenal – and suddenly the tale of ‘science as gaining ground against God over the past few centuries’ turns out to be bunk, replaced with ‘science is simply gaining ground, and whether this adds up to evidence for God, against God, or neutral with respect to God is a non-scientific question’.

  13. Sean:

    Here are some quick, little reactions. I’m trying to keep everything short for ease of discussion (ease on your part, assuming you’ll

    have lots of people talking back to you)

    SIMPLICITY:

    Science tries to capture the world in the simplest possible description. . . . .
    Simplicity can be quantified by the concept of Kolmogorov complexity — roughly, the length of the shortest possible complete

    description of a system. It takes longer to specify some particular list of 1,000 random numbers than it does to specify “the integers

    from 1 to one million,” even though the latter contains more elements.

    Let’s say the “system” we want to describe is the Universe is the “system”. Well, I would think the scientific description of the

    Universe would involve quite a lot of describing; but the Chrisian and Jew could say that the ‘Universe is composed of all that God

    made and brought into being, both visible and invisible’. It seems to me that this would be a vastly ‘shorter’ description than

    anything a scientist might come up with.

    IOW, if you reduce everything down to the words, “natural world”, how is that doing science?

    Of course, God + “natural world” is ‘longer’ than just “natural world”; but this doesn’t seem to be any kind of scientific description of

    the Universe at all.

    LAWS:

    Vincent asks “How can rules exist in the absence of a mind?” That is simply not a question that science is

    concerned with. Science wants to know how we can boil the behavior of nature down to the simplest possible rules.

    The word “science” comes from the latin, “to know”. And you say that “science wants to know . . . “. Not to seem impertinent, but

    how can “science” exist, then, in the absence of a mind? Only minds can know. Wouldn’t any “rules” you discover have to reside in

    the mind of scientists? I wouldn’t think “electrons” are aware of Maxwell’s Laws, e.g.

    OPENNESS:

    The scientific attitude is: “We observe that there are regularities in nature. We might imagine that they are formulated

    and sustained by a guiding intelligence, or that they simply exist on their own. Let’s go collect data to determine which idea is a more

    parsimonious fit to reality.”

    Don’t we already have the data? We know about the Big Bang. We have the Anthropic Principle. Why isn’t an electron a thousand

    times larger, or a thousand times smaller than it is? What about the mass relationship it has to the proton/neutron, etc.? The

    incredible impossibility of all of these constants assuming just their right values is staggering. And the only “natural” explanation for

    this staggering fine-tuning is multi-worlds, and multi-universes, etc. Don’t these explanations violate your rule of ‘simplicity’?

    EXPLANATION:

    It might be that we will eventually understand the inner workings of nature so well that we will be able to answer every

    conceivable “Why?” question — we will ultimately see that things simply could not have been any other way. But it is also perfectly

    possible that the best possible description of the world involves some number of brute facts that have no deeper

    explanation.

    I would think this would be one of the “brute facts” that will never be explained: the fact that ice is less dense than liquid water.

    And what about the resonances of oxygen and carbon? Fred Hoyle said that it was pondering these exceptional values that made

    him change from being an atheist to believing that the world was the result of a super intellect.

    CLARITY:

    This is why the best theories we have are very often cast in the form of mathematics; the rules for manipulating

    equations are absolutely free of ambiguity.

    Well, I see problems with this statement: what about the Dirac Delta Function? It’s sort of an invention. What about “renormalization” in QFT? No ambiguity? Most would agree that “renormalization” is a

    mathematical “sleight of hand”. There are also special, made-up integrals. These seem to work. But their mathematical foundation is slippery. It’s sort of like backing into things: i.e., we know how things work, so let’s now come up with a way of describing it mathematically. While this might not be outrightly ambiguous, it certainly is lacking in rigor. And we end up with mathematical procedures that are simply agreed upon and accepted. So things, from my point view, seem quite tenuous in places.

    As to your area of expertise, when it comes to Einstein’s field equations, there are all kinds of ways of solving them. So, is there an absolutely correct one?

    Doesn’t this lack of certainty create a kind of ambiguity?

    You tell me the initial conditions of some classical mechanical system, as well as the Hamiltonian, and I will come up

    with the same predictions for its future evolution as absolutely anyone else wit the same information.

    Earlier I mentioned that the God hypothesis could actually be simpler than a purely naturalistic theory, if one could use

    the idea of God to derive the observed laws of nature (or at least some other features of the universe).

    The Hamiltonian is related to the LaGrangian, which itself makes us of the principal of ‘least action’. Least action is attributed to

    Maupertuis found in his paper of 1744.

    In that paper, Maupertuis wrote this:

    “Finally, the third class consists of explanations derived from purely metaphysical principles, i.e., from laws to which Nature

    herself seems subjugated by a superior Intelligence that always produces an effect in the simplest possible manner.”

    William Cropper, in Great Physicists, writes of Michael Faraday: “He believed that the unvierse was a divinely inspired edifice. It was less than that if it did not manifest patterns of unity and symmetry.” Kepler was a priest. Mendel was a priest. Science arises in the Christian West precisely because Christian thinkers were convinced that the “logos” had ordered all things, etc. You see where I’m going with this.

    For that, there would have to be a set of unambiguous rules that let you go from “the most perfect being” to the laws of nature that we see around us.

    Genesis: “God said, let there be light; and there was light.”

    But why does God choose this particular value? Actually it could be quite a bit larger and life would still be very possible. Why are there 100 billion galaxies in addition to the one we live in? Why are there three generations of elementary particles, when life is only constructed from the first one? Why was the entropy of the early universe enormously smaller than it needed to be to support life?

    Sean, here at UD, we are very sensitive to the fact that Darwin argued his theory based more on theological objections, than raw evidence. What you state here seems along the lines of a theological argument.

    As to the “why” questions you pose, will science ever come up with an answer?

    Obviously these are perfectly good questions for naturalistic theories as well as for God. The problem is that we can imagine coming up with naturalistic theories that do provide clear answers, while it’s very hard to see how God could ever do that.

    You’ve done it. This sounds just like Darwin’s mode of argumentation. He tells us that we have to develop our “imagination”.

    You can’t “explain” GR to your three-year-old son, using all of the mathematical formulism involved, true? So how can God explain that which is infinitely beyond what our feeble minds can ascertain?

    But, again, this becomes a theological discussion.

    If we claim that God “explains” the known laws of physics, the same method of explanation should work for the unknown laws. It’s not going to happen.

    But who says this? We can say that God is the “source” of the givenness of nature. And we do. But how is that a problem? In fact, I would argue, that’s exactly how science (modern science) got its beginnings.

    Does anyone really want to reduce God to a simple set of rules that can be manipulated by anyone to make clear predictions, like we can in theories of modern physics?

    First of all, I’m a Catholic, and each and every Sunday the Son of God comes to us under the appearance/form of bread and wine. Under those appearances, he’s manipulated by priest and parishioner alike. God is very humble. This isn’t a problem.

    Second, if God were no more than a set of rules, then He would be, for all intents and purposes, a part of the natural order, and not supernatural whatsoever. If that were the case, then I might as well be a pantheist.

    Third, when Michaelangelo sculpted the statue of David, would we be right to say that moving the statue of David from one museum to another is an offense against Michaelangelo? Michaelangelo is much more than simply the works of his hand.

    These are some of the things I react to in your presentation. I hope you’ll be able to respond to some of them.

    But, let me conclude by thanking you for coming to this forum and presenting your views on why you see things the way you do. It’s very much appreciated—even though, obviously, we might see things differently.

  14. 14
    Norwegian Shooter

    I’m going to address #10, because it seems to me to have the best combination of thoughtfulness and brevity. Experience with comments has shown me that that combination produces the best discussions between people with differing views. (Also, this is an modified example of the principle of simplicity. In its case, simplicity is a somewhat ambiguous criteria, but vast experience has shown it works. Nature again and again has been shown to work in simple underlying rules to produce stunning complexity.)

    Yes, Carroll means naturalistic simplicity. He openly deals with that commitment both here and in the original material. It does not beg the question. And yes, Carroll would wholehearted agree that science seeks the truest explanation. It is a fact of scientific history that the truest explanation often involves simplicity, especially the ability to describe nature in mathematical formulas. As the tee-shirt says, “Science. It works, bitches.” A quote:

    We can’t be sure that a fully naturalist understanding of cosmology is forthcoming, but at the same time there is no reason to doubt it. Two thousand years ago, it was perfectly reasonable to invoke God as an explanation for natural phenomena; now, we can do much better.

    None of this amounts to a “proof” that God doesn’t exist, of course. Such a proof is not forthcoming; science isn’t in the business of proving things. Rather, science judges the merits of competing models in terms of their simplicity, clarity, comprehensiveness, and fit to the data. Unsuccessful theories are never disproven, as we can always concoct elaborate schemes to save the phenomena; they just fade away as better theories gain acceptance. Attempting to explain the natural world by appealing to God is, by scientific standards, not a very successful theory.

    Forensic science is a historical science, like evolution and cosmology, so yes it can be complicated. But the difference is that a crime scene is driven by human behavior, a very chaotic phenomenon, evolution by reproduction, gene recombination and environmental changes, pretty chaotic, and cosmology by the laws of physics, sometimes confusing, but not chaotic.

    Sorry, I couldn’t be as brief as I would have liked, but if I come back and edit and then edit and then edit some more, I’d eventually come up with a pretty simple reply.

    SCIENCE!

  15. 15

    “How can rules exist in the absence of a mind?” That is simply not a question that science is concerned with.

    This is arrogance. “Science is not concerned with…” means science has nothing to say about…

    Science is a nested parameter, completely ignorant of what it is nested within. The scientific method was constructed by a mind within space-time, and the minds that apply it know that it has no bearing on anything that exists outside of space-time. So they pretend they are not concerned with it.

  16. It’s nice to see a materialist/naturalist engage ID arguments in a civil and substantive way – may Carroll’s tribe increase. That said, he seems to have some problems with consistency. A couple leaped off the page immediately:

    Sean Carroll writes:

    Laws

    Vincent…also asks why we should believe that the rules should continue to hold tomorrow, simply because they have held in the past. Again, that’s what science does. Imagining that the same basic laws will continue to hold provides a simpler fit to the data we have than imagining (for no good reason) that they will change. If you are personally unsatisfied with that attitude, that’s fine; but your dissatisfaction is not a scientific matter.

    But then he writes:

    Openness

    […]

    The primary sin a scientist can commit is to decide ahead of time that the universe must behave in certain ways. We can certainly have intuitions about what kind of behavior “makes sense” to us as scientists — theorists are guided by their intuition all the time. But the use of that intuition is to help us develop hypotheses, not to decide which hypothesis is correct. Only confrontation with data can do that.

    So let me see if I have this straight:

    To decide ahead of time that the universe must behave in a certain way is to commit the primary scientific sin. Nevertheless, in regard to the hypothesis that ‘the rules should continue to hold tomorrow, simply because they have held in the past’ is simply ‘what science does’.

    In other words at the most fundamental level – the axiom of uniformity/regularity that makes science possible in the first place – science is in the business of committing the cardinal sin against itself because that is simply ‘what science does’.

    Carroll might wish to relegate this hypothesis to the level of a ‘guiding intuition’ that helps ‘us to develop [other] hypotheses’, but this will not do. Why should one hypotheses – that of uniforimity/regularity – be exempt from ‘confrontation with data’? It is not enough to say ‘otherwise science wouldn’t be possible’ or ‘that’s just what science does’; appealing to the preservation (or establishment) of the viability of the scientific enterprise to justify this hypothesis is to beg the question. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily false, but it still fails Carroll’s test of ‘confrontation with data’.

    Carroll’s appeal to simplicity is from the same neighborhood. Has science demonstrated, via ‘confrontation with data’ the validity of this hypothesis? Again, it is not enough to appeal to the fact that the simplicity hypothesis makes science tractable. So what? Where does he get the idea that the universe should be so constituted as to not only make science theoretically possible, but practicable or easy [relative to a non-simple universe]? What was that about the primary sin a scientist can make? It all seems a bit self-serving to me. Don’t like it? Too bad; to quote one wag, ‘If you are personally unsatisfied with that attitude, that’s fine; but your dissatisfaction is not a scientific matter.

    Explanation

    […]

    The point, once again, is that we can’t decide ahead of time what kinds of explanations science is going to provide for us. Science looks for the simplest possible description of the world. It might be that we will eventually understand the inner workings of nature so well that we will be able to answer every conceivable “Why?” question — we will ultimately see that things simply could not have been any other way. But it is also perfectly possible that the best possible description of the world involves some number of brute facts that have no deeper explanation. This is an issue that will ultimately be decided by the conventional progress of science, not by a priori demands that the universe must explain itself to anyone’s individual satisfaction.

    Translation: ‘We cannot decide ahead of time what kinds of explanations science will provide, expect to say they will be – per the demands of scientists and for their professional satisfaction – of the simplest kind possible.’

    If a simple and elegant explanation objectively differs from the actual state of reality, how would science, as put forward by Carroll, know it? Would ‘science’ even care? If we’ve found a ‘simple’ explanation, why look further? It might not be true, but it is simple!

    There’s more, but that’s enough. I appreciate Dr. Carroll for his time and consideration as well as his civility, but this is weak tea. He wants to exempt from ‘confrontation with data’ the very hypotheses that make science possible – apparently so we can do science. As many historians (Whitehead, Stark, Hooykaas, Jaki, etc.) acknowledge, it was the paradigm of rational monotheism (a rational God) in old Chriatian Europe that provided the only soil fertile enough to give birth to science. It was fertile enough precisely because the notion of God provided a consistent rationale for the hypotheses/axions that Carroll wants to take for granted.

  17. @d_ducktive: The logical necessity of avoiding a circular fallacy can be used to disprove a proposition if that proposition entails circularity (i.e., ‘there is a natural explanation for nature’).

    A supernatural creator does not necessarily create an infinite regress. My argument could be summarized as follows:

    1. The cause of time is either temporal or non-temporal (timeless)
    2. One cannot assume the existence of time to explain how time came into existence (due to the circular fallacy)
    3. Therefore, the cause of time must be timeless
    4. It is logically impossible to cause X if X is timeless (to ask ‘what caused X’ is to imply that there was a time when X did not exist which is impossible if X is timeless)
    5. Therefore, for any timeless X, X cannot itself have a cause.
    6. Therefore, an infinite regress is logically impossible for all timeless X.

  18. Note that a theory that invokes God (or any other extra-physical categories) is, all else being equal, less simple than a theory that does not. “God + the natural world” is less simple than ‘the natural world.’

    OR –

    Note that the theory which assumes that Mr Carroll is honestly mistaken in his reasoning and conclusions is, all else being equal, less simple than a theory which assumes that he is not. “Carroll + ‘honest’ error of assumption and/or reasoning = erroneous conclusion” is less simple than “Carroll + question-begging = willful refusal to critically examine his position.

    ===
    I’m sorry (as the phrase goes), but I just don’t have the patience, nor the desire for it, to be “kind” with the sort of pseudo-reasoning every ‘atheist’ I’ve ever encountered constantly employs.

  19. #11 d_ducktive

    I don’t see the relevance of Hoyle’s fallacy, as I’m not saying that Darwinists claim that biological complexity arises in a single step.

    But the refutation in that wiki article to Hoyle’s junkyard tornado proves my point…it is just a hypothetical refutation…(emphasis added to the quote)

    Myoglobin function is in fact a property of the folded protein, not the amino acid sequence, per se. Protein folding is indeed determined by its amino acids, but activity is determined within a three-dimensional space. Certain key functional groups require suspension in a tightly-specified spatial orientation, but many different sequences MAY perform the scaffolding task of holding these in place. Even an imperfect arrangement MAY be superior to its predecessor, while adaptive evolution has the capacity to channel random processes along paths of optimization.

    …what path of optimization? This would be Earth-shaking if actually demonstrated, not that neo-Darwinian evolution can accomplish this, but that such a path exists for ANY known functionally specified, complex biological system. Wiki quote continued…

    IF multiple functional sequences and adaptive gradients exist, then the total size of a sequence space delimited by a single modern instance does not set an upper bound on the probability of achieving a functional arrangement.

    So IF these numerous, flexible, smooth function/fitness gradients exist, then ID is defeated, Darwinism is correct? YES! ID is dead if this is the case. Unfortunately what is missing is a mildly significant amount of evidence that this is the case. As Behe demonstrated in Edge of Evolution, realistically, natural evolution cannot proceed more than one “step” at a time.

    Also, that wikipedia entry claims that Hoyle’s tornado is a “mainstay” of ID…please point me to the relevant ID proponent that claims that Darwinism is false because extremely complex systems cannot be created in a single step. …Don’t waste your time because no one is saying that. So, more unabashed ID strawman destruction on wikipedia – on a related note, the sun just set and will rise again in a few hours!

  20. KD @ 3Can nature, understood as all of physical reality, explain itself? A circular argument assumes the conclusion in its opening premise and then proceeds to prove the conclusion, which is logically invalid. In the same way, we cannot assume the existence of natural processes to explain how natural processes came into existence. So my argument would be summarized as follows:
    .
    1. Either there is a natural or non-natural explanation for the origin of nature.
    2. A natural explanation is logically impossible (due to the circular fallacy)
    3. Therefore, there is a non-natural (i.e., supernatural) explanation for the origin of nature.

    d_ducktive @ 11@KD While circular reasoning cannot be used to prove a proposition, it does not disprove a proposition, which is how you seemed to use it in your ‘proof.’

    A materialist misrepresenting an anti-materialist position or argument? Whodda thunk it? A materialist combining a true statement with a false one so as to say, in effect, “that you’re right just goes to show how totally wrong you are”? Whodda thunk it?

    But, in fact, a “natural” explanation for “the origin of nature” *is* logically impossible. That’s why “naturalismists” generally try to invoke the “nature has no origin” gambit.

    d_ducktive @ 11… A supernatural creator simply creates an infinite regress of creators and creations.

    The falsehood of this assertion has been explicated many times … and one knows better than ever to expect the typical materialist to admit it.

    It is, in fact, the materialists’ silly and vain attempts at “natural” explanations for “nature” which creates infinite regresses. Has no one ever hear of the amusing conceit called “the multiverse”?

  21. Wombatty @ 15:It’s nice to see a materialist/naturalist engage ID arguments in a civil and substantive way – may Carroll’s tribe increase …

    [Please, don't take this as a personal rebuke, it's meant as a general statement not directed at anyone.]

    Personally, I much prefer open (and honest) hostility to the sort of intellectually dishonest “engagement” that is frequently called “civility” … and which then demands that no one may call attention to the intellectual dishonesty, as that would be “uncivil.”

    ===
    To put it another way, just because a man isn’t insulting you to your face doesn’t mean he’s being civil. If he is engaging in intellectual dishonesty — if he is lying about the very nature of truth and reason — and then compounding it with the insistence that you may not call him on his dishonesty, he is doing far worse than being “uncivil.”

    And the worshippers of “civility” will never see this, for they refuse to see it.

  22. KD said…

    Can nature, understood as all of physical reality, explain itself? A circular argument assumes the conclusion in its opening premise and then proceeds to prove the conclusion, which is logically invalid.

    “Explain itself,” hmm? First of all, that wording right there belies the completely unsubstantiated belief that an omniscient agent is required since non-sentience certainly can’t do any explaining, not literally anyway. But that aside and giving you the benefit of the doubt you more judiciously meant it figuratively, saying SC committed circular reasoning was nevertheless a false accusation because he didn’t claim naturalism can definitely fully explain all of physical reality. He indicated as much right there in the quote of his you culled.

    In order to have a productive argument, one should at least get the other side’s argument right instead of mischaracterizing it and creating straw man fallacies.

  23. Oops… not “belies” but, um… make it “shows.” I keep misusing that word, dammit.

    Must go sleep now.

  24. Onlookers:

    A few notes on the OP:

    1] SC: all else being equal, less simple than a theory that does not. “God + the natural world” is less simple than “the natural world.” This doesn’t mean that the idea of God is automatically wrong; only that it starts out at a disadvantage as far as simplicity is concerned.

    This ducks the force of the argument from an empirically credible beginning. On abundant and good argument, that which has a beginning is credibly contingent; i.e is not causally self-sufficient, it depends on at least one external necessary — notice, I have not said, “sufficient” — causal factor such that until/unless it was turned on, the thing which had a beginning would not exist. That which has no external causal dependency like that is eternal, and so would have neither beginning nor end.

    We need not trouble ourselves on the beginning of the observed cosmos beyond pointing out the general acceptance of a Big Bang based cosmology (however one may try to reason onwards to a causal root of it).

    So, the thing to be explained is not merely “nature,” but nature with a beginning. It is therefore immediately credible that we have had something beyond the observed cosmos, the begin-ner for the beginning. What that is may be debated, but it is a credible start point for identifying which explanation is most reasonable relative to the credible facts.

    To that, we add that the further evidence is that the observed cosmos is finely tuned to support C-chemistry, cell based, intelligent life. This points to there being a complex event E that comes form a special, specific zone T in the space of the plausibly possible.

    In short, we see a good reason to infer to purpose and configuration towards purpose, i.e design.

    2] Science wants to know how we can boil the behavior of nature down to the simplest possible rules. You might want more than that; but then you’re not doing science. He also asks why we should believe that the rules should continue to hold tomorrow, simply because they have held in the past. Again, that’s what science does. Imagining that the same basic laws will continue to hold provides a simpler fit to the data we have than imagining (for no good reason) that they will change.

    This is in effect an attempted definition of science, and it fails, for it does not address the proper range of what science tries to do, and/or has historically tried to do. In addition, it falls intothe naturalistic trap, of imposing naturalis5tic explanations in a context where — if ti is to preserve its integrity — science needs to be sufficiently open-ended to seek the truth about our world, wherever the evidence may lead.

    I therefore suggest, a better answer for what science is or tries to do is:

    science, at its best, is the unfettered — but ethically and intellectually responsible — progressive, observational evidence-led pursuit of the truth about our world (i.e. an accurate and reliable description and explanation of it), based on:

    a: collecting, recording, indexing, collating and reporting accurate, reliable (and where feasible, repeatable) empirical — real-world, on the ground — observations and measurements,

    b: inference to best current — thus, always provisional — abductive explanation of the observed facts,

    c: thus producing hypotheses, laws, theories and models, using logical-mathematical analysis, intuition and creative, rational imagination [[including Einstein's favourite gedankenexperiment, i.e thought experiments],

    d: continual empirical testing through further experiments, observations and measurement; and,

    e: uncensored but mutually respectful discussion on the merits of fact, alternative assumptions and logic among the informed. (And, especially in wide-ranging areas that cut across traditional dividing lines between fields of study, or on controversial subjects, “the informed” is not to be confused with the eminent members of the guild of scholars and their publicists or popularisers who dominate a particular field at any given time.)

    As a result, science enables us to ever more effectively (albeit provisionally) describe, explain, understand, predict and influence or control objects, phenomena and processes in our world. [cf links and onward context]

    If science is held captive to naturalistic explanation on law, it cannot properly explain on the modelled history of the past, nor can it strictly invoke initial conditions that are brute givens. This would turn science into ideology, not an objective pursuit of the truth of our world based on evidence and leading to accurate and useful explanations.

    3] There is a way of trying to understand the world that might roughly be called “scholastic,” which sits down and tries to reason about how the world should be. The great success of science over the last five hundred years has been made possible by throwing out that kind of thinking in favor of a different model. Namely: we think of every possible way the world could be, and then we go out and look at the world to see which is the simplest description that fits the data. Science insists that we be open to all possibilities, and let the data decide which is true.

    Strawman.

    the relevsant process of warrant is inference tothe best explanation, in light of empirical evidence. And, when a particular class of explanations is in effect ruled out a priori (as for instance we see in Lewontin [and Sagan et al], Coyne, US NAS and US NSTA, here) that cripples the process of warrant, turning it into ideology.

    In addition, the scholasticism suggestion is a caricature, hence the strawman comment.

    4] The scientific attitude is: “We observe that there are regularities in nature. We might imagine that they are formulated and sustained by a guiding intelligence, or that they simply exist on their own. Let’s go collect data to determine which idea is a more parsimonious fit to reality.” The primary sin a scientist can commit is to decide ahead of time that the universe must behave in certain ways.

    And so, what are we to make of, say, this from Lewontin (and notice the similar remarks by Coyne, NAS and NSTA as already linked):

    To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists, it is self-evident that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality, and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test . . . .

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

    [[From: “Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997.]

    5] The point, once again, is that we can’t decide ahead of time what kinds of explanations science is going to provide for us. Science looks for the simplest possible description of the world. It might be that we will eventually understand the inner workings of nature so well that we will be able to answer every conceivable “Why?” question — we will ultimately see that things simply could not have been any other way. But it is also perfectly possible that the best possible description of the world involves some number of brute facts that have no deeper explanation. This is an issue that will ultimately be decided by the conventional progress of science, not by a priori demands that the universe must explain itself to anyone’s individual satisfaction.

    See the problem? And, why therefore Johnson’s rebuke is so apt:

    For scientific materialists the materialism comes first; the science comes thereafter. [[Emphasis original] We might more accurately term them “materialists employing science.” And if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence. That theory will necessarily be at least roughly like neo-Darwinism, in that it will have to involve some combination of random changes and law-like processes capable of producing complicated organisms that (in Dawkins’ words) “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”

    . . . . The debate about creation and evolution is not deadlocked . . . Biblical literalism is not the issue. The issue is whether materialism and rationality are the same thing. Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses. [[Emphasis added.] [[The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism, First Things, 77 (Nov. 1997), pp. 22 – 25.]

    In addition, explanatory simplicity is not the sole criterion of a best explanation in science or elsewhere: factual adequacy, coherence and a balance of elegance where the simplicity does not degrade into simplistic-ness are relevant issues.

    6] there would have to be a set of unambiguous rules that let you go from “the most perfect being” to the laws of nature that we see around us. As I argued in my paper, this is very far from what we actually have. It is sometimes argued, for example, that God explains the small value of the vacuum energy (cosmological constant), because without that fine-tuning life would be impossible. But why does God choose this particular value?

    This is a classic illustration of failing to accept the reality — and empirical reality that is foundational to having minded people who can think for themselves enough to do science — of persons who think, purpose and decide for themselves.

    Once we accept that such persons exist the concept of a personal God as creator is inherenly not unreasonable and it is a strawman argument and a point of inconsistency to then demand that God should be constrained by necessity.

    If we can choose and tghink reasonably towards goals, we should leave that much room for God, in whose image we are said to be made.

    And, if you think we ourselves are in the iron grip of forces of chance and necessity, that reduces mind (and morality too) to delusion.

    Haldane said this in very useful summary long ago now:

    “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” [["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209.]

    That is, a priori imposed evolutionary materialism entails reductio ad absurdum and is irrational.

    GEM of TKI

  25. Well, that wasn’t much sleep, but it helped.

    Anyway, after another slightly less bleary-eyed look at the def. of “belies” I see that I was right the first time. It can mean “reveals” or “negates” which is weirdly contradictory and confusing. Anyway, I meant the former and not the latter.

    Moderator: Feel free to delete this comment and my previous one (#22) to tidy things up here.

  26. lion(20) writes:

    Personally, I much prefer open (and honest) hostility to the sort of intellectually dishonest “engagement” that is frequently called “civility” … and which then demands that no one may call attention to the intellectual dishonesty, as that would be “uncivil.”

    ===
    To put it another way, just because a man isn’t insulting you to your face doesn’t mean he’s being civil. If he is engaging in intellectual dishonesty — if he is lying about the very nature of truth and reason — and then compounding it with the insistence that you may not call him on his dishonesty, he is doing far worse than being “uncivil.”
    And the worshippers of “civility” will never see this, for they refuse to see it.

    No offense taken. I get your point about preferring open hostility to faux civility. My main point is it’s nice to see a materialist make their arguments – as poor as they might be – without resorting to name-calling, ad hominem, motive-mongering and all other such claptrap.

    Frankly, I don’t much care if such ‘civility’ is only due to the materialist successfully restraining himself and keeping his invective to himself. As Dr. Carroll has shown in his post here, materialist arguments, when stripped of their typical invective, are quite weak. The vocal incivility of materialists can easily distract from the weakness of their arguments, leaving an impression that they are more forceful than they really are. Materialist civility therefore, even if only a pretense, serves an important service in this debate.

    That said, the typical incivility and irrational hostility of the likes of P.Z. Meyers also serves an important purpose – it shows everyone who and what these people really are and what they represent.

    Having both around, I think, is helpful for the debate. Juxtaposing Carroll and Meyers, for instance, makes it easier to show that the force of materialist arguments lies primarily in the passion and/or hatred with which they are propounded. Take that away and you have Carroll’s post – a weak, circular, self-serving argument shot through with special pleading and inconsistency.

  27. 27
    Norwegian Shooter

    Assuming my comment from yesterday afternoon is still waiting for moderation because of the links, I’m reposting it now without them:

    I’m going to address #10, because it seems to me to have the best combination of thoughtfulness and brevity. Experience with comments has shown me that that combination produces the best discussions between people with differing views. (Also, this is an modified example of the principle of simplicity. In its case, simplicity is a somewhat ambiguous criteria, but vast experience has shown it works. Nature again and again has been shown to work in simple underlying rules to produce stunning complexity.)

    Yes, Carroll means naturalistic simplicity. He openly deals with that commitment both here and in the original material. It does not beg the question. And yes, Carroll would wholehearted agree that science seeks the truest explanation. It is a fact of scientific history that the truest explanation often involves simplicity, especially the ability to describe nature in mathematical formulas. As the tee-shirt says, “Science. It works, bitches.” A quote:

    We can’t be sure that a fully naturalist understanding of cosmology is forthcoming, but at the same time there is no reason to doubt it. Two thousand years ago, it was perfectly reasonable to invoke God as an explanation for natural phenomena; now, we can do much better.

    None of this amounts to a “proof” that God doesn’t exist, of course. Such a proof is not forthcoming; science isn’t in the business of proving things. Rather, science judges the merits of competing models in terms of their simplicity, clarity, comprehensiveness, and fit to the data. Unsuccessful theories are never disproven, as we can always concoct elaborate schemes to save the phenomena; they just fade away as better theories gain acceptance. Attempting to explain the natural world by appealing to God is, by scientific standards, not a very successful theory.

    Forensic science is a historical science, like evolution and cosmology, so yes it can be complicated. But the difference is that a crime scene is driven by human behavior, a very chaotic phenomenon, evolution by reproduction, gene recombination and environmental changes, pretty chaotic, and cosmology by the laws of physics, sometimes confusing, but not chaotic.

    Sorry, I couldn’t be as brief as I would have liked, but if I come back and edit and then edit and then edit some more, I’d eventually come up with a pretty simple reply.

    SCIENCE!

  28. d_ducktive

    @DonaldM – Please explain.

    “ID only seeks to distinguish between unguided, unintelligent causes, from intelligent causes. Carroll’s entire post seems to fail to appreciate that point.”

    What is the intelligent cause?

    For purposes of ID it does not matter. If SETI one successfully identifies an intelligently caused signal from space, they will most likely ask who or what is the intelligent cause. But not knowing the answer will not negate the fact that an intelligently caused signal has been identified. The question suggests one must know the answer a priori, and that is not the case.

    I also want to address d-Ducktive’s claim that a supernatural creator implies an infinite regression of creators. That is not necessarily the case, and even if it were, what does that amount to with respect to what such an intelligence may have caused to be in our cosmos? Not much. We need know the cause of the cause to infer actual cause by that cause…if you follow.

  29. Wombatty @ 22, agreed.

  30. Mr. Carroll’s argument is really quite simple:

    [A] Let’s limit the discussion to science (an insurance policy to protect against the danger that there might be philosophical arguments indicating a need for God).

    [B] Science must study nature as if nature is all there is (an insurance policy to protect against the danger that there might be scientific arguments indicating a need for God).

    [C] Therefore, the universe doesn’t need God.

  31. F/N: As shown at 24, the problem to be explained is not “nature” but nature with a beginning, so the issue int eh end is the begin-ner of the world we live in. All else hangs on that. And so to beg the question of the beginning is to beg the whole question, counter-factually presuming in effect that nature which credibly had a beginning is causally self-sufficient. the same holds for the circle of “science must explain naturalistically, which is another way of saying the same circle of begged questions, and as SB pointed out to confine the issue to a conveniently naturalistically redefined “science” in a context where the warrant for scientific knowledge and truth claims is on the table is to further beg the question. This is plainly ill advised.

  32. @Mikio

    I’m not sure how you managed to arrive at the conclusion that I was ‘accusing’ SC of circular reasoning. You may want to read my original post. My opening quote from SC is used because he lays out a concession that God could be invoked to explain the universe ‘after we are absolutely convinced that no possible naturalist option can explain the universe we see.’

    I then proceed to show that logic dictates that ‘no possible naturalist option can explain the universe we see.’ Even if the universe ‘we see’ is a product of an ultimate physical reality such as a fundamental M-theory system as proposed by Hawking and Mlodinow, the fundamental M-theory system still requires an explanation. The problem has simply been moved back one notch.

    Your misunderstanding of my original post, however, is a red herring and cannot be used to evade the argument I presented (the three-statement syllogism). You would need to address one of the first two propositions in my syllogism if you wish to deny the conclusion.

  33. KD,

    The reason I thought you were including SC as being guilty of circular reasoning along with all the atheists your syllogism is aimed at is because, well, he happens to be an atheist, too.

    But seeing now that you exempted him can only mean you consider anyone who concedes the possibility there is a God can’t be an atheist. But you’d be wrong. And that’s okay. Most people don’t understand what atheism is. I didn’t either until about five years ago. Most of my life I thought I was just an agnostic, but it took seeing an atheist convention on C-SPAN for me to realize the more accurate definition and discover I’d been an atheist all along.

    Simply put, an atheist is someone who lives under the assumption there is no God. They allow for the remote possibility there is one (like Carroll does, like I do, and even like Dawkins does — ch. 4 of his book The God Delusion is titled, “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God” — key word there: “almost”; so are you going to say Dawkins isn’t a true atheist?) but see no convincing evidence for one (or more), so don’t believe. Now, yes, “one who flat-out denies the possible existence of any and all interpretations of God” is a legitimate definition of an atheist, but I’ve only met maybe two of this extreme type. The vast majority of atheists I’m familiar with are of the former type.

    Having hopefully clarified that, as for your argument + syllogism, there are 3 major flaws in it I see.

    Flaw #1 – It includes a straw man fallacy because it mischaracterizes the mainstream naturalist/atheist stance as ruling out with absolute certainty the possibility of God.

    Flaw #2 – It’s hypocritical because it omits the fact that the same circular reasoning can be made with supernaturalism. To wit:

    Can [non-]nature, understood as [beyond] physical reality, explain itself? A circular argument assumes the conclusion in its opening premise and then proceeds to prove the conclusion, which is logically invalid. In the same way, we cannot assume the existence of [non-]natural processes to explain how [non-]natural processes came into existence. So my argument would be summarized as follows:

    1. Either there is a natural or non-natural explanation for the origin of nature.
    2. A [non-]natural explanation is logically impossible (due to the circular fallacy)
    3. Therefore, there is a [non-]non-natural (i.e., natural) explanation for the origin of nature.

    Flaw #3 – You conclude that the presence of a logical fallacy renders an argument’s conclusion false which is simply not true. It only renders it logically invalid or unsound. But the conclusion can still, in and of itself, be true.

    Here’s an example of an argument containing a logical fallacy (although I don’t recall the name of it) which renders it logically invalid, but the premises and conclusion are true:

    All bachelors are men.
    George Clooney is a man.
    Therefore, George Clooney is a bachelor.

    And here’s a logically invalid argument with false premises and a true conclusion:

    All mammals have wings.
    All whales have wings.
    Therefore, all whales are mammals.

    And here’s an argument where the premises and conclusion are all false, but it’s logically valid (sound, flows correctly, what have you):

    All cars are caramel vehicles.
    All caramel vehicles can go Mach 2.
    Therefore, all cars can go Mach 2.

    And so on and so forth with many other variations.

  34. @nullasalus (#12)

    This premise of yours —

    …or even lead them to claim that ‘self + external world’ ends up being less complex than just ‘self’

    – strikes me as utterly impossible for anyone to pull off a coherent argument for. Let’s see you do it. If you fail, so does your argument. Well, it fails anyway because you’re ignoring Carroll’s “all else being equal,” but go ahead and take a stab at that first challenge.

  35. @nullasalu

    Addendum: Keep in mind that the external world can’t just be anything; it has to be the one we’re in which includes computers and such like we’re communicating on now otherwise it’s totally irrelevant.

  36. @KD

    Oops, missed one set of brackets.

    Here, mentally paste this in as a replacement if you don’t mind:

    1. Either there is a natural or non-natural explanation for the origin of [non-]nature.

  37. The problem with that syllogism is that it assumes a first cause (of nature). It is just as wrong as the Cosmological Argument.

    If you assume that nature had a cause then what caused the thing that caused nature?

    It is special pleading to say that God needs no cause but nature does. There is no logical reason why that would be so.

  38. @Mikio

    Your suggested Flaw #1 is irrelevant to my syllogism, for it does not depend at all on whether SC, or anyone else, is an atheist. Furthermore, your assumption of my notion of atheism is incorrect. Nowhere have I suggested that, if P allows that, (if X is true, then maybe God exists), then P is not an atheist. I am happy to grant your informal explanation of atheism.

    For Flaw #3, I assume you are referring to my statement in post #17 where I state that a proposition is false if it entails a circularity. Your proposed Flaw #3, however, is the result of a confusion between a proposition that entails a circularity, and a circularity that is used to ‘prove’ a proposition. A circular argument says nothing about the truth value of the ‘resulting’ proposition, as you have quite rightly argued. However, a proposition that entails a circularity is necessarily false. Thus, it is necessarily false that there is a natural explanation for nature.

    Your Flaw #2 is the most interesting, but it only applies if we grant the premise that everything, both natural and supernatural, requires a cause. I do not grant that premise, however. My underlying premise is that only whatever has a beginning to its existence must have been caused by something. I showed in my argument in post #17 that for any timeless X, it is logically impossible for X to have a beginning or a cause.

    In summary, your Flaws #1 & 2 do not stand and are both irrelevant to my argument. Flaw #3 does not stick, as it assumed a false premise. Thus, my syllogism still stands. Your only way out is to attempt to argue that physical reality did not have a beginning to its existence, but I will show that such an attempt fails.

  39. KD, you said –

    However, a proposition that entails a circularity is necessarily false.

    So you’re saying that this (more or less) is the circularity and thereby necessarily false –

    Naturalism is a belief/proposition whose premise and conclusion are that only natural laws and forces (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the world and that nothing exists beyond the natural world.

    …but this somehow isn’t –

    Supernaturalism is a belief/proposition whose premise and conclusion are that NOT only natural laws and forces (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the world and that SOMETHING exists beyond the natural world.

    …? How can that be? What’s the crucial difference? And saying your syllogism points it out is a cop-out. You should be able to work with just those two statements.

    Moving on, you also said –

    Your suggested Flaw #1 is irrelevant to my syllogism, for it does not depend at all on whether SC, or anyone else, is an atheist.

    Well, I understand that atheism and naturalism, while overlapping to a great extent, are not exactly the same thing. An atheist could believe in ghosts, for instance, which would make him not much of a naturalist. And going the other direction I suppose it’s possible for a pure, absolutist naturalist to be a theist, but only if his deity/deities were bound by natural laws and couldn’t manipulate them. Highly intelligent aliens come to mind. They could conceivably have created the universe as well using purely naturalistic means. But I digress.

    Anyway, out of all the sentences Carroll wrote above, the one you culled and focused on happened to include both God and naturalism and he was connecting the two…

    God will always remain as a theoretical option of last resort — something to be invoked only after we are absolutely convinced that no possible naturalist option can explain the universe we see.

    …so it looked to me like you were talking about the connection as well. This is why I coupled them as such — “naturalist/atheist” — with the and/or slash mark. But, apparently you were merely focusing on his phrase no possible naturalist option so you could launch into your syllogism “disproving” naturalism. Still, it was confusing to me how you could exempt Carroll of being guilty of committing naturalism’s so-called circular fallacy when he described himself as a naturalist:

    We can roughly break people up into two groups: naturalists such as myself…

    This is why I went through the trouble of pointing out how Carroll, Dawkins and indeed most atheists & naturalists are not usually absolutists on either -ism; thus, you were making a straw man attack. But I understand now that you weren’t making any claims about anyone’s level of adherency to naturalism; you were only focused on naturalism itself. So fair enough, I was wrong about Flaw #1 and withdraw it.

    As for your responses to Flaws #2 and #3, I’ll wait and see how you deal with the challenge in the top portion of this post first.

  40. KD –

    Addendum:

    If you’re saying that the only two possible options for the Origin of the Universe, ex nihilo and infinity, are each by definition non-natural, and thus, supernatural, then you haven’t proven naturalism false whatsoever. You’ve only arbitrarily hogged those concepts like a pile of poker chips into the Supernatural camp by your baseless, semantic choosing. Just because concepts are incomprehensible to the human mind doesn’t automatically make them unnatural. By that reasoning, you might as well claim Pi is proof of the supernatural.

  41. @Mikio

    In your post #37, I’m not saying that at all. I am saying that the proposition ‘there is a natural explanation for nature’ entails a circularity, therefore it is false. Also, it is not the case that all naturalists are guilty of circularity. If, however, a naturalist attempts a natural explanation for nature, at that point he/she is assuming a circularity. Whether SC has ever done this or not would be irrelevant to my syllogism.

    In your post #38, I’m not saying that the only two possible options for the origin of the universe are ex nihilo and infinity. I would see neither of them as a cause of anything. I am saying that the cause of nature is, necessarily, supernatural and timeless. Those are two attributes that logically follow from my arguments. Those are not the only two attributes, however, more could be derived if one wished.

  42. KD -
    I’m not saying that at all. I am saying that the proposition ‘there is a natural explanation for nature’ entails a circularity, therefore it is false.

    Well, if you’re not saying it, then you should be able to point out the errors in the lengthier translation I gave for it. But, forget it, I don’t want to beat a dead horse. The fact of the matter is you’re clearly trapped by this hypocrisy question, naturally, because it’s a fatal flaw in your argument and I’ve seen it all along. Here, I’ll pose it, in yet another rephrasing, so you can fail to answer it one final time:

    Your argument is that “there is a natural explanation for nature” entails a circularity and is therefore false.

    So can you give me one good reason why “there is a supernatural explanation for the supernatural” isn’t also a circularity and therefore false?

    Also, it is not the case that all naturalists are guilty of circularity. If, however, a naturalist attempts a natural explanation for nature, at that point he/she is assuming a circularity.

    That makes no logical sense whatsoever. So only naturalists who express their naturalism are guilty? So they can apparently think privately as much as they want how awesome and true naturalism is without ever violating logic via the circular fallacy? Wow. So by that reasoning I guess I can think privately and be completely convinced that I’m Zoltar, King of the Lava People from the year 2212 and not actually be delusional, but once I tell somebody, then I will be. Hmm, okay.

    I’m not saying that the only two possible options for the origin of the universe are ex nihilo and infinity.

    What other option is there?

    I am saying that the cause of nature is, necessarily, supernatural and timeless.

    I know. That’s why I said you’re only arbitrarily claiming the concept for supernaturalism for no good reason and I laid out why: because by that reasoning one could just as well claim pi is proof of the supernatural because it’s also infinite. And you had no refutation for that either. That’s okay, I understand.

  43. 43

    Driver,

    The problem with that syllogism is that it assumes a first cause (of nature). It is just as wrong as the Cosmological Argument.

    If you assume that nature had a cause then what caused the thing that caused nature?

    It is special pleading to say that God needs no cause but nature does. There is no logical reason why that would be so.

    It is logical to claim that something supernatural is not bound by the constraints of nature, it is not logical to claim that God would have the same difficulty as nature.

  44. Clive,

    I am not claiming that nature had a difficulty. Rather that the assumption that nature had a cause is a faulty premise. Yes, you can hold that to be a matter of faith, but it doesn’t belong in a logical syllogism. This is why the syllogism fails.

  45. If the universe has no cause, then it is in even greater need of an explanation.

  46. Who needs the explanation – the universe or you?

  47. @Mikio

    With regard to your question, ‘… can you give me one good reason why “there is a supernatural explanation for the supernatural” isn’t also a circularity and therefore false?’, the answer is that such a proposition would also entail a circularity and, therefore, be false. Fortunately, I invoke no such proposition in my two syllogisms; my reasoning is perfectly linear.

    With regard to what other option is there besides ‘nothing’ and ‘infinity’, one option is a supernatural mind that exists timelessly and is the ultimate reference frame within which our physical reality can exist. There is more to the argument that this, but I will wait for you to go there.

    @Driver

    Since there is a time component in both this universe, and the theoretical M-theory system, there is necessarily a beginning to physical reality. David Hilbert argued in On the Infinite, that an actual countable infinite cannot exist in reality. Hilbert’s Hotel is a famous illustration of the logical contradictions that follow from an actual countable infinite. It follows from this that past history cannot be infinite (or consist of an actual countable infinite number of constant time intervals); it must have a beginning so any space-time continuum will always have a beginning, though the beginning does not necessarily need to be a singularity; it can be extended (think of history converging to the surface of a sphere rather than a point). There is also a preponderance of evidence that the universe had a beginning. So the argument is this:

    1. Whatever has a beginning to its existence must have been caused by something.
    2. Nature had a beginning to existence
    3. Therefore, nature was caused by something.

    If you want to argue that nature did not have a cause, then you will have to do the work to defend that, for your position is irrational. I say ‘irrational’ because rationality logically works from premises to a conclusion. Saying that ‘nothing’ caused the universe is simply the conclusion without any supporting premises (i.e., no rational justification whatsoever … it is to throw ones mind out the window and abandon critical thought entirely). I’m setting you up, by the way, to invoke Lawrence Krauss’s ‘universe from nothing’. Also, saying ‘nothing’ did it is not only irrational, it is a science stopper, for if it was indeed ‘nothing’ then science has absolutely ‘nothing’ to say about the origin of nature. But if you say that, you may find yourself deriving a true conclusion from a false premise and hoist with your own petard.

  48. If you want to argue that nature did not have a cause, then you will have to do the work to defend that, for your position is irrational.

    Nature is not the same thing as the universe. Pre-existing nature might have been many things that gave rise to the universe. Hypotheses include cyclic models and the ekpyrotic universe.

  49. Dr. Carroll, thank you in advance for answering my question, if you do, and also, welcome to UD.

    If there is nothing natural independent of the universe and the so-called laws of nature upon which the universe’s continued existence depends, than what, other than an extra-dimensional, non-natural, disembodied Mind, would be capable of bringing into existence of a universe that depends on such laws for its order, complexity and comprehensibility?

  50. Nullasalus #12

    Excellent rejoinder, that is.

  51. 51

    The issue of an infinite regression of causes is just as great on both sides of the debate and therefore favors neither.

  52. SA:

    Nope.

    The evidence is that we live in a contingent cosmos, which can be further analysed as I just did over in the Lewontin quote thread, no 133:

    we need to recognise that the scientific, observational evidence points to a cosmos that credibly had a beginning, and so is contingent. In turn that points on logic to a begin-ner that at root must be without external causal dependence, i.e has no beginning and will have no end as it does not depend on an external factor for its existence. That underlying necessary being is eternal in a very literal sense.

    And since we are dealing with the origin of the material, natural universe, the necessary being at its root is beyond that order of nature, as was pointed out previously but — as is now usual — ignored b the ever so triumphalistic adherents of the vicious circle of materialist thought as just exposed. In short, in a very literal sense, it is super-natural. Beyond nature.

    The fine-tuning of our observed cosmos for C-chemistry, cell based intelligent life then points — on inference to best explanation — to properties of that necessary being: powerful and intelligent enough to design and effect a cosmos.

    Such a necessary being sounds a lot like the God of theism. Yes.

    All that means is that theism is not at all the absurdly silly believe anythong in a demonic chaos irrationality in the mockingly dismissive words Lewontin so unfortunately resorted to. And in addition, the concept of a God of order making an orderly and organised cosmos is immediately deeply consistent with a cosmos that has in it lawlike regularities to the point where even random processes are generally lawlike up to some distribution or other.

    What happens is that in our day, we seem to be increasingly unfamiliar with the power of logic in analysing cause and effect and contingency vs necessity of being.

    GEM of TKI

  53. Driver @48

    You said

    “Nature is not the same thing as the universe. Pre-existing nature might have been many things that gave rise to the universe. Hypotheses include cyclic models and the ekpyrotic universe.”

    How do you know there is something about nature that is not the same thing as the universe? That seems to me to be a relatively blind faith position, if not a proverbial back door to escape from the implications of what good science has been increasingly supporting of, that the universe actually had a finite beginning, from nothing natural.

    FYI, the hot big bang creation model happens to enjoy increasingly abundant support from numerous lines of evidence from astronomy and astrophysics, and the Gord-Vuth-Vilenken formulation decisively demonstrates that any expanding body (like the universe) must have a finite boundary condition, a singularity beginning…more good evidence that the universe began from nothing natural.

    The same cannot be said for so-called ekpyrotic and cyclic models. Your mention of “pre-existing nature” has some sense of forlorn hopefulness about it, as if you are hoping that science will someday show that there was or is something “natural” causally before the beginning of the universe. It is at this point that one departs from good science, and began an ambitious, but misguided trek into science fiction.

  54. @Driver

    With regard to your concept of nature and ‘pre-existing nature’, please see my definition of nature in post #3.

    @ScottAndrews

    The issue of an infinite regression is not just as great on both sides. Please see my semi-formal, numbered argument in post #17.

  55. KD, I’ve read your post 3 and there is nothing there that miraculously makes the premise that nature necessarily had a cause suddenly true. If you still think your argument carries the day, then you have proven that the supernatural exists and caused our reality.

    This would be earth-shattering news, so you should either contact the TV and newspapers with the amazing proof, or accept that there is nothing in logic or experience that justifies the premise that nature necessarily had a cause.

  56. Here is a copy of what I have blogged at:

    http://www.focusonlinecommunit.....-community

    Carroll argues “God did it” is a poor explanation of the universe because “God” is not a simple or clear idea. Simplicity and clarity are two traits (among a dozen or so) that help us to recognize a good theory in science and in many other disciplines. Carroll seems to be unaware of the formidable Christian theological tradition that recognizes God himself as simple (and awesome) in his attributes, while also recognizing the inexhaustible complexity of God’s thoughts and actions. Similarly, the concept of “me” (consider your own experience here), a person who persists through time despite changes in the material constitution of my body and the mental flow of thoughts in my mind-brain, is remarkably simple. I am agent, which is (as philosopher Angus Menuge writes) “an individual with reasons for its behavior. Agents have goals (things they desire), and produce behavior which they believe will achieve those goals.” I desired to give an example of what Menuge wrote above, so I moved my fingers so as to write this sentence on my Mac.

    Carroll, the scientist, is also an agent. He conceives of goals and chooses means to achieve those goals, including the goal of explaining nature through the practice of science. In fact Angus Menuge’s book Agents Under Fire is a book length treatment that ably answers many of Carroll’s objections to intelligent design as a legitimate science. Or see Menuge’s brief essay The Role of Agency in Science, which I quote in this blog.

    In his essay Menuge writes: “Although scientific materialists claim that science provides the reasons to be a materialist, materialism undermines the very idea of having a reason for anything. Any worldview capable of defending the rationality of science must be one that allows scientists to have identifiable reasons. Since it allows intelligent and goal-directed causes as part of nature, Intelligent Design is in the right position to do this.” I urge you to read this brief pithy essay to see how he draws this conclusion. In so doing, you will have good reasons to reject many of Carroll’s arguments.

    I will discuss one way Menuge rebuts Carroll. Reflect on the simplicity and clarity of your own continued self-identity as an agent (following Menuge’s analysis of agency). Although you cannot move inferentially (rationally) from your identity as an agent to any specific conclusions about the natural world, your status as an agent is a necessary prerequisite to grasp the content of science, which consists of finding reasons for why certain explanations of nature are better than alternative theories.

    We can say something similar about God, but in this case God is the ultimate agent from which both the universe, and agents that interpret the universe, derive their being. By choosing to create this specific universe, as opposed to many other possible worlds, God self-limited himself in ways that (when properly understood and embraced) evokes praise from rational agents such as humans. Many intellectuals since the late Middle Ages have drawn on this theological insight to underwrite the experimental method in science. They realized that we cannot deduce the structure of the natural world from God’s own eternal character, but we can imagine (hypothesize) many different ways that a rational God may have made things, and then test those ideas against observations. The very practice of experimental science assumes true “agency” on the part of humans, which is completely unsupported by a materialistic worldview (read Menuge’s essay to see the support for this conclusion).

    If our bodies and brains-minds were the product of an unguided material process, then we would have no good reason to trust our mental capabilities to discover the secrets of the cosmos. All our brains would be selected to do (if the materialist account is correct) is to get our bodies to move in such a way as to avoid death and have many offspring. Science goes much deeper. Christianity has historically been a friend of science, and atheists like Carroll are (in practicing science today) living off of borrowed cultural capital that came from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

    Dr. Mike Keas
    Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science
    The College at Southwestern

  57. It’s really sad when those who would be the first to accuse theists of committing a “god of the gaps” kind of argument are also the first to make a “nature of the gaps” kind of argument.

  58. It’s really sad when those who would be the first to accuse theists of committing a “god of the gaps” kind of argument are also the first to make a “nature of the gaps” kind of argument.

    A “god of the gaps” argument is assertion of a positive claim of the existence of a god where there is a gap in our empirical understanding.

    A “nature of the gaps” argument would be an assertion of the positive claim of the existence of nature where there is a gap in our empirical understanding. That doesn’t even make sense. The existence of nature is a given.

  59. The existence of nature is a given but it is also a given that natural processes cannot account for the origin of nature (which science said it had) because natural processes only exist in nature.

  60. Driver:

    Try Lewontin et al on a priori evolutionary materialism, and the commonly met notion that to draw a design inference on empirically tested signs of design is to “give up” on scientific explanation.

    That is, it is being implicitly assumed that events — even where [after many years of trying] we have no current naturalistic explanation and an otherwise plausible explanation on choice contingency aka design — MUST have an explanation that reduces to blind chance and mechanical necessity, ac ting on matter and energy in space and time.

    The utter breakdown of materialistic attempts to account for the origin of cell based life, is a capital example in point. So is that of the origin of an evidently fine tuned cosmos, and arguably that of the origin of body plan level biodiveristy.

    A priori materialism/naturalism of the gaps, again and again.

    GEM of TKI

  61. Well! This thread was resurrected after three days, I see, just like… well, you know.

    @KD

    You’re kidding me with this, right?

    You think the following is true…

    A. “There is a natural explanation for nature” is a circular fallacy, thus false. Therefore, it follows that naturalism is false.

    …but you claim the following is false…

    B. “There is a supernatural explanation for supernature” is a circular fallacy, thus false. Therefore, it follows that supernaturalism is false.

    …even though it has the exact same logical structure.

    And what’s your reason it’s false? Simply because YOU didn’t assert it! Ha! Well, isn’t that handy dandy! Let me ask you, do you think B would be true if someone else asserted it? I’m going to go out on a limb and say no. Your reason? You don’t actually have one. All you have is your logic-breaking double-standard you’re using which you either
    a) still can’t see after my showing it to you four times now and I can’t make it any plainer
    b) you CAN see it, but won’t let on because you’re intellectually dishonest and you know it, but you’ve rationalized that it’s not so bad because even God would agree letting an atheist like me having the satisfaction of winning an argument would be worse
    c) you can see the double-standard, but don’t think you’re being intellectually dishonest because you think supernaturalists/theists having a double standard is perfectly legitimate

    Now if it’s “a” or “b” then we might as well call it quits right now because further effort on my part is futile.

    However, if it’s “c” then it gets interesting because that means you’re smarter than “a” and potentially more honest and therefore more interesting than “b”.

    The reasoning for “c” goes something like this:

    “Of course there’s a double standard because the supernatural is by definition beyond the standard of nature. So, logical fallacies don’t apply to the supernatural because the supernatural is by definition beyond earthly logic.”

    That ring true to you at all? Yes or no? Do you believe arguments for the supernatural are bound or unbound by the rules of logic?

    Regarding the third option you gave for the “origin” of the universe besides ex nihilo and infinity, I have a response for it, but I can’t tell you what it is yet because it could make you decide you don’t like the answers you had in mind for the previous set of questions and I don’t want to influence them.

  62. @Driver

    In my post #3 I define nature as all of physical reality. That includes the dimension of time. In post #17, I deal with the origin of time and I show that the problem of an infinite regression does not occur in my argument. It appears that you have not thought about the problem of an infinite regression of past events. If time is a component of nature, which it is (even in M-theory), then it is impossible to have an actual countable infinite of past events, or of anything, for that matter. It follows, therefore, that nature must have a beginning to its existence and, therefore, must have been caused by something. If you are unfamiliar with the problem of actual countable infinite sets, read David Hilbert’s On the Infinite, then google Hilbert’s Hotel. You will then be in a position to understand why George Ellis mentions David Hilbert’s work in refuting the possibility of an actual infinite number of universes (see Nature, Vol. 469, 2011, page 294). I will leave it up to you to contact the TV networks, as you had suggested.

    @Mikio

    You could save yourself a lot of work if you would refrain from making stuff up, presenting it as if it is something I said, and then writing a lengthy refutation of the straw man. Here is what I agree to:

    1. ‘There is a natural explanation for nature’ entails a circular argument, therefore it is false.

    2. ‘There is a supernatural explanation for the supernatural’ entails a circular argument, therefore it is false.

    It does not necessarily follow from (1) or (2) that naturalism or the supernatural are false, as you seem to think. For (1) it depends upon how naturalism is defined. If the definition of naturalism includes the proposition that nature caused itself, then that form of naturalism is logically false due to circularity. If, however, one holds a view of naturalism that only speaks to what occurs in this universe once it exists, and does not speak to how it began to exist, then that more restricted form of naturalism could survive the circular fallacy. However, what we are discussing here is the naturalistic view that nature, itself, has a natural explanation. That form of naturalism is necessarily false, due to circularity. Surely this is not difficult to grasp.

    The falsity of (2) does not entail that the supernatural is false if the supernatural cause of the universe does not, itself, have a cause. See my post #17.

    You also seem to be falling into the trap of contending that whatever must exist must have a cause. I addressed this in post #38, and that post was addressed to you. Read the second last paragraph in post #38 so that, in the future you can distinguish between these two propositions:

    a) everything that exists must be caused by something (false: see post #17 & 38)
    b) everything that has a beginning to its existence must be caused by something (true)

  63. Note that a theory that invokes God (or any other extra-physical categories) is, all else being equal, less simple than a theory that does not. “God + the natural world” is less simple than “the natural world.”

    Is this necessarily true? What if the simple concept of God, should one fully grasp it, explains the world quite succinctly and naturally? What if God is akin to “the integers from 1 to one million” and the natural world is like 758,349?

    I suspect that when you start with the physical and add God as extra-physical, you will always end up with the physical being simpler, but might that not be a function of where you started?

  64. First of all Mr Carroll, I’m not going to flannel you with all that tosh about how privileged we are, etc, etc. It’s a two-way street, isn’t it?

    Also, I’m not convinced you’ve made up your mind yet to go to Confession before Trinity Sunday. And I know your old Irish grandmother from Tralee, i.e on your father’ side, will be desolate. Shame on you!

    Now to the less serious matter of wrestling with the imponderables of the universe. I’ve forgotten what I was going to say. Wait a moment… hang on…

    Oh yes. If the world only appeared to be designed, but it suddenly ceased to appear to be designed, its workings concealed and presumably not measurable, would it lend itself better to the empirical studies characteristic of our narrow definition of science?

    I mean, should the appearances of things in nature be considered as a kind of ‘red flag’ for scientists? On no account, indulge any thought of subjecting anything measurable to empirical scientific study.

    Would you say that appearances, measurable features of things, are a kind of fool’s gold, to be avoided by all serious scientists? I think we should be told. There was something else, but I’ve forgotten. I’ll try to come back.

    Good day to you, Sir.

    PS: I think it would be an excellent idea for no one EVER to claim some argument or point adduced in support of an argument may be brilliant, but is not scientific! Is not Science!

    Everyone with any sense knows science is about common-sense testing, while straining out all extraneous considerations, having no bearing on the empirical OR the metaphysical, philosophical, or aesthetic, etc. Underlying assumptions will always bear on the latter, so materialist reductionism ad absurdum should be ‘knocked on the head’ once and for all.

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