Wednesday, December 22, 2010

God's Quality Control 3.15

Here I continue my review of the discussion guide published by the Prestonwood Christian Academy as a companion to the Hitchens-Dembski debate on November 18, 2010. In this video we'll finish up our examination of the essay entitled, "Three Reasons to Believe God Exists." The purported author of this essay is Mr J. Steve Lee, whom we met in video 13 of this series. As it turns out, although his name is on the essay, it seems that much of it is a cut-and-paste job from a few different sources: an online pamphlet at Ultimate Questions.org, an online article published April 13, 2010, called "Proof of God - Anthropic Constants," by Mr Jay Gheen, and an essay published July 19, 2005, called "God has Spoken in Creation: Look Up," by Mr Joel Joyce. So I guess we can't hold Mr Lee responsible for all the preposterous claims and tortured non-reasoning. Mr Lee, once again I must apologize for attributing work to you that was created by someone else. Special thanks to YouTuber justintempler for catching my second mistake of attribution, and my sincere apologies to everyone viewing these videos for spreading misinformation. I will endeavor to be more careful in the future.

The honorary author for this final section of the essay will be Ms Celeste Cordon, Prestonwood's Director of Annual Giving and Alumni Relations. I invite you to share this video with Ms Cordon, on behalf of all those kids who are being deliberately misled for the sake of filling Ms Cordon's pockets. Join me in telling these people that their predations on children are unacceptable. This final section of the essay is entitled "Design of the Universe." Two primary points are mentioned: the appearance of design and the improbability of our existence. Closely related points that are refuted by a single, simple fact: we have experience with exactly one universe.
  • Ms Cordon begins by dredging up William Paley's famous "watchmaker analogy." We've heard it all before: you find a pocket watch on a beach. (For you young people, a pocket watch is a device sort of like a cell phone but all it does is tell you the time--weird, huh?) You automatically know that this object is the result of a conscious mind with intention, as opposed to all of the parts coming together as a result of natural processes. Ms Cordon, do you not realize that Paley's analogy is over 200 years old? Do you not realize that even if Paley had a point, which he didn't, we've managed to squeeze a couple of tiny drops of knowledge out of the world since then? Rather than appealing to authority as Ms Cordon wants to do, I'll spell out why the watchmaker analogy is garbage. It's not complicated.
  • Imagine that you've grown up in a broom closet and have never experienced the outside world. You escape one day and find yourself on a beach. You see all sorts of amazing creatures, plants, the sand, the ocean, and a pocket watch. You have no way of knowing that this pocket watch is fundamentally different from anything else here. You might assume that all of this stuff was designed, or you might assume that it all got there by accident, but you don't make any special assumption about the watch. You can't. You have no experience with the world. Paley's analogy assumes that you've lived a normal life: after years of observing countless natural and manufactured things, you have some skill at discerning the difference between the natural and the manufactured.
  • This is why the analogy is garbage: we're in a broom closet. We know of only one universe. We do not have the advantage of having observed countless universes coming into existence. We don't know how universes work in general. There was a time, when we knew less than we do now, that we could be forgiven for trusting our everyday intuitions about causality and the nature of reality. Ever since Galileo discovered that objects fall at the same speed regardless of their weight, we've been finding that our intuitions are rather suspect, and in many cases counter-productive. To paraphrase Richard Feynman, the sole test of the validity of any idea is repeatable observation. Given that we observe exactly one universe, there is no basis at all for making any claims about design.
  • p.23 Ms Cordon goes on to point out all of the apparently improbable attributes of the universe that enable us to be here, all of the so-called fine-tuning. But how do we measure probability? If you want to get some idea of who's going to win the city council elections in your town, what do you do? You go ask a bunch of people, and the more people you ask, the more accurate your estimate is. But what if you ask only one person? Does that give you a good idea of who will be elected? No. We know about only one universe. There aren't enough universes for us to be able to measure the probability. It's true that we don't know what we are. We don't know what existence is. But we can't say anything meaningful about probabilities. Now if you say that existence is spooky, I'll agree with you fully. Not a day goes by when I don't look around at least once and go, "What the hell?" But you can't say that existence is improbable.
  • p.24 Ms Cordon concludes the essay with, "We don’t have to check our brains in at the door of the church in order to believe in God." Ms Cordon, your third argument, your attempt to use the appearance of design or the improbability of our existence even to suggest that your god (or any other god, or even anything supernatural) exists, is garbage, as were the first two arguments, so the entire essay is garbage. It might indeed be true that one needn't check one's brain at the door, but you have utterly failed to demonstrate that claim.
That's 3.15. Thanks for watching.

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