Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Is this the sort of a universe that looks like it was designed by a God?

Just listened to last Saturday's Unbelievable show. It was a debate between 'young apologist' Calum Miller and 'humanist community leader' James Croft on the subject of "Is our universe more likely on atheism than theism?". I think, by any standard of marking debates, that Croft won on this occasion as he more than adequately took apart every one of Miller's arguments and offered strong alternative views that Miller was unable to rebut.

I've listened to debates and arguments on this theme before and I have always found them unsatisfying. The problem is generally that both sides seem to have a concept of 'what the universe would look like' if the other person's view was correct, and that concept doesn't match with what they see in reality, so therefore it can't be right. (I have to say that Croft wasn't using this kind of reasoning here, but Miller clearly was.)

The thing is, we have no way of knowing what a universe other than the one we are in would look like. Either this universe was created by a god, or it wasn't. The probability is either 1 or 0.

Suppose, for a moment, that there is no creator god. This universe is therefore the product of naturalistic processes. So the universe as we observe it is what a naturalistic universe looks like. Now at some point in time inside this naturalistic universe, someone conceived the notion of a god. What would the inventor of the god concept make their god like? Well, they'd make that god concept more or less compatible with their concept of the world. In other words, the god concept would be developed to fit with the observed world. In this supposed universe, a god believer asking whether or not the universe looks likely given the existence of a god would almost inevitably come to the conclusion that it is likely - because their god concept meshes so well with their experience and philosophy of the universe. But remember, all this is under the supposition of no god. In this reality, there is no god, but it just seems like there is good reason to believe in one. But it is because god was honed to fit reality, not that god honed reality.

The opposite works too. Suppose, for a moment, that there is a creator god. The universe is the product of design. Yet in this framework, someone devises a system of scientific method which is consistent in its handling of reality without the need for a god concept. Does that mean there is no god? No. The atheistic scientific method is a product of the created order, so of course it is fully consistent with it. And so on.

The problem with this is that, therefore, no observation of the universe can help us to decide either way on the god question. Either hypothesis is equally likely given any observation.

Unless God reveals himself in some obvious way, of course.

And another thing that niggled me about this debate, once again, was somebody with no training in probability trying to use it as part of their argument. Calum Miller is a medical student with an amateur interest in philosophy and apologetics. He clearly doesn't understand probability and inference adequately...