Anthony Grayling vs. Rabbi Rowe on God’s existence

June 5, 2016 • 10:00 am

This video, a recent debate in London between philosopher Anthony Grayling and Rabbi Daniel Rowe, was sent to me by reader Mark, who made this comment:

I have to admit to finding the prospect of an orthodox rabbi holding his own in a debate with Dr. Grayling on God’s existence rather disheartening, but I’m afraid that’s exactly what went down the other night in London.

Knowing Anthony, I was dubious, but I have to say that having watched the debate, I see that Mark is right.

First, a bit about the debate from the YouTube description:

J-TV: The Global Jewish Channel hosted its very first live event with a debate on the existence of God between Professor AC Grayling and Rabbi Daniel Rowe. AC Grayling is known as the “fifth horseman of atheism”, having written many books and articles on the atheism. Rabbi Daniel Rowe completed a postgraduate in the philosophy of mathematics. The two went head-to-head amidst a packed hall.

And here it is. The Q&A from the audience begins about 55 minutes in, so you can skip the last 20 minutes if you’re pressed for time.

The reason that Grayling didn’t crush Rowe was based on one thing: Anthony wasn’t up on the responses of physicists to the “fine tuning” and “first cause” arguments for God.  The rabbi made three arguments:

  • You can’t get a universe from nothing; there is a “law” that everything that begins has a cause. Ergo, God. In response to Krauss’s book about how you can get a universe from a quantum vacuum, Rowe responded, as do many theologians, that “nothing” is not a quantum vacuum—it’s just “nothing.”

I’ve heard this many times, and what strikes me is that theologians never define what they mean by “nothing”. Empty space, the quantum vacuum, isn’t nothing, they say so what is? In the end, I’ve realized that by “nothing,” theologians mean “that from which only God could have produced something.” At any rate, the “law of causation” doesn’t appear to hold in modern physics, and is not even part of modern physics, which has no such law. Some events really do seem uncaused.

Also, Rowe didn’t explain how one can get a god from nothing. Theologians like him always punt at this point, saying that God is the Cause that Didn’t Require a Cause, because He Made Everything. But that is bogus. What was God doing before he made something? Hanging around eternally, bored out of his mind?

The next two contentions of Rowe are basically appeals to ignorance: God of the gaps arguments. Grayling did note this, but should have given a fuller response. Rowe:

  • We don’t understand why the Universe is orderly and why the laws of physics are the same everywhere. Clearly the only answer is that those laws were made by God to create a designed universe in which life could exist.
  • The “fine-tuning” argument shows that the parameters of the Universe are such that only slight deviations from some of the constants of physics would have made the existence of life impossible. Therefore the Creator was the Fine Tuner.

In response to the third argument, Grayling’s response is weak: the chances that his grandparents would have met, calculated a priori, were also very low. But it happened, and he is here.

That’s not a great response because it’s not addressing the fine-tuning argument but asserting the Weak Anthropic Principle. The former argument asks the harder question: why are the parameters of physics such that only a slight alteration of some of them would make life impossible? And why are the physical constants as they are?

We don’t know the answer to this, though religionists, taking advantage of scientific ignorance, say, “See, there must have been a God!” But physicists have grappled with this problem, and I discuss their responses in Faith versus Fact. One response is that the physical constants may not, if varied, be as rigid as we think in permitting life: we just don’t know. Another may be that there is a deeper reason for these physical constants to take their values, and we don’t know that deeper reason. Finally, the constants may vary in different universes if there is a multiverse system, and we live in one of those lucky universes.

It’s useful for everyone who encounters these arguments—and they are now the default argument of the Sophisticated Theologians™ because they sound so daunting—to know how physicists respond to them. If you don’t have FvF on hand, I suggest Sean Carrolls’ fine essay, “Does the Universe need God?“, also published in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity.

Near the end of the debate, Grayling asks the important question: “If there was a creator, how do you know that it was the creator described by the Abrahamic religions?” I’d add, “How do you know that your creator was beneficent rather than malicious?” “And how do you know that God, after making the laws of physics, didn’t abscond and become a deistic god rather than a theistic one who still interacts with his creation?” The rabbi has no answer.

The Q&A session had one interesting question: when Rabbi Rowe is asked, at 1:05:00, how he knows that his religion, Judaism, is the “correct” religion. His answer is lame, in fact, he ducks answering completely (to be fair, he had only 90 seconds to answer). But his response is basically this: “Well, I’ve proved that there was a creator, and it would be stupid to think it was a rabbit, wouldn’t it?” But how one goes from Not a Rabbit to Yahweh and Moses defies me!

At any rate, it’s time to bone up on the fine tuning argument, and the argument for God from the constancy of the “laws” of physics.

120 thoughts on “Anthony Grayling vs. Rabbi Rowe on God’s existence

  1. I’d be more open minded about fine tuning if I didn’t have to rely on pseudoephedrine to compensate for the weather in Tennessee. Nonetheless, the divine calibration of terrestrial parameters seems especially accomodating for ticks and mosquitoes.

    1. I’ve heard several clerics say that gays cause floods. Perhaps we can move the gays around to create a climate system that combats clobal warming and makes Tennessee a bit cooler in the summer.

      1. Please stop bringing testable hypotheses into the theological darkness. We’ve done very well without the blinding light of reason for millennia, and see no need for it now.
        [Signed] Liars For Jeebus, Discovery Institute and 55 other varieties of tinned goods.

      2. There’s no need to even test such a theory since it’s already been done. Over here in Scandinavia we have a lot of openly homosexual people and pretty much no natural disasters (the closest we get is avalanches).

        Clearly gays are preventive against natural disasters. 🙂

  2. At any rate, it’s time to bone up on the fine tuning argument, and the argument for God from the constancy of the “laws” of physics.

    Sean Carroll addresses these issues in his new book. It is good place to start, and perhaps to end.

    1. The best argument against Fine Tuning is also the simplest (thanks Occam!) and requires no understanding of physics:

      Our planet, the majority of which is ocean or desert or mountain, is mostly uninhabitable for humans. Only a very small proportion of Earth’s surface supports human life with ease which is mostly confined to coastal areas and river basins.

      None of us live in the ocean, very few in the desert and hardly anyone above 3,500m.

      And this says nothing about the vast expanse of our Solar System of which only an unfathomably small portion is habitable. The unimaginably huge distance between our sun and the nearest star is also devoid of intelligent life as is, as far as we know, the rest of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy. A galaxy which is only one of several hundred billion galaxies.

      An astronomically huge universe that is fine tuned so that intelligent life is possible almost nowhere within it.

      As Hitch might have exclaimed, “That’s some fine tuning!”

      1. I don’t think that answers the fine tuning argument. Many, many of the top cosmologists would agree (and they are mostly atheists): fine tuning is real and is difficult to explain. Absurdly delicate fine tuning is required to make a long lasting, stable universe of atoms and molecules. A universe that lasts a few nano seconds won’t do it. An expanding universe of sun atomic particles won’t do it.

        1. We don’t know that any of the supposedly “fine-tuned” properties could be any different than they are. In addition, it is simply not true that any deviation in the constants at issue would preclude the existence of some other form of life. Lastly, this is just another example of the classical theological gambit, where they claim that by defeating a naturalistic position/theory (say, evolution), they have necessarily established the existence of god — which is not the case. Let’s assume for a moment that the constants at issue COULD have been different than what they are, and that it is fantastically improbable that they could have turned out to be exactly what were necessary for the creation of the universe (and life). That’s obviously not the end of the analysis. Clearly, you then need to calculate the probability of the existence an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, eternal being who loves us, so we can compare those two probabilities and determine which is more likely. Remember to show your work.

          1. Good response. When theists invoke “fine tuning” all they are really saying is “improbable events require a god”. So what if the constants are improbable? Grayling’s analogy was actually quite apt. Given everything that could’ve happened instead, it’s highly improbable that his grandparents would’ve met and produced offspring. What are the odds an atom of carbon in my body is in that exact place at this exact time, given everywhere else it could’ve been in the universe? Well, Grayling’s grandparents met, and my atom is where it is, against astronomical odds. But this is not remarkable or in need of any supernatural agentic explanation. *Everything* is overwhelmingly improbable in this way. I just poured myself a glass full of 10.34527600812004780030084326500035 oz of water (approximately). Well, we’d better posit a god because the improbability of hitting just that amount out of all possible amounts makes my beverage impossible.

            1. I absolutely agree. In my view, the “fine tuning” argument is no different than the bacteria on a apple core declaring (if they were sentient) that this apple core must have been created solely for their benefit. And, last but not least, even if we were to concede that the improbability of life is evidence of purpose, there would still be an infinite number of possible “purposes” that would preclude the conclusion that the purpose was the creation of human beings. Who knows? Maybe the purpose was to create beetles or dolphins or sequoias, or maybe evolution hasn’t fully played out yet (which is, of course, the case), and the actual purpose of the “fine tuning” hasn’t even come to fruition yet.

              1. Now that I’ve listened to it, the rabbi didn’t strike me as having made good points at all. In addition to simply assuming we should expect nothing rather than something, he also simply assumed we should expect completely random chaos rather than physical regularities. “Look! Physical regularity! There must be a god!” Why should we expect one more than the other? He also asses the universe must be finite, that is, that it must’ve had a beginning. That is not an established fact at all, and even if it were, he simply assumed a god would be needed to explain it. Finally, I really lost respect for him when he pulled the “that’s not the topic of this debate” card. That is what theists do when they want to avoid rebutting a good point.

              2. “In addition to simply assuming we should expect nothing rather than something”

                I think this is the fundamental problem. As I’ve said before, and will likely say again, all our experience is that stuff exists, so why should we think that was ever not the case?


        2. I think you miss the point. The Fine Tuning argument is just theological mumbo-jumbo god-of-the-gaps nonsense. There is no fine-tuning argument. At least, not in that it is evidence for a creator.

          Parsimony says that this god that theists postulate who was so precise with his calculations that he could create a habitable universe would NOT have created the universe in which we live. He would have created a fully inhabitable place. Not a place that is 99.999… inhospitable to life. Saying that god also needed to create several hundred billion stars to make the Milky Way just so that we could exist in our humble corner asks more questions than it answers.

          If the question remains whether or not the constants are actually free to vary and still make habitable universes the answers range from the anthropic to we’ll probably never know. That’s all just brain candy.

        3. Sean carroll answers the fine tuning argument beautifully in his Greer Heard forum debate on God and Cosmology 2014 with William Lane Craig

      2. As I see it, there are two competing principles at work here. The Copernican principle, that says we occupy no special place in the universe, and the anthropic principle, that says yes we do–one conducive to the the evolution of organisms like us. How to reconcile? I don’t know exactly, but with respect to the anthropic principle I know that Pluto, hostile to our evolution, exists. But I do not know that an alternative universe, hostile to our existence, does exist. So we cannot apply the anthropic principle in the same way to the multiverse as we do to life on earth.

  3. If it’s logically impossible for something to come from nothing, then even God cannot create something from nothing.

    Furthermore, to counter the question, Why is there something rather than nothing? One can simply extend it to God: Why is there a God rather than nothing?

    1. I’ve tried, for years, to get people to become aware of the fact that “there is no such thing as ‘nothing'”. There’s a WORD, “nothing”, of course, but that doesn’t make what the word stands for any more real than the word “Unicorn” does: the “nothing” that Krauss used was indeed a “quantum vacuum”, not really “nothing” at all (I kind of wished that he’d clarified this), as “nothing”, like I said, does not exist. The word; the concept, exist in order to satisfy the dualistic nature of our thought processes, a “place-holder”, as it were, much as zero in a column of numbers shows that something COULD be there, but isn’t. Most people confuse empty space with “nothing”, but space is measurable (as in relation to material objects, and vice/versa) and has characteristics (small spaces, hot spaces, empty spaces, etc.).
      I like to say that “The reason the universe exists is that there is no such thing as nothing”- in other words, existence is the “default” state and there is no reason for this to contradict science. This answers the “Why does anything exist?” question; the “How”- well, science is still working on that.

      Here’s a little “thought-experiment”: what if our universe is simply an area in an endless sea of “infinitely-compressed potential reality stuff” (for lack of a better term) in which the phenomenon of expanding space (which is “something”, not nothing) has allowed enough “distance” to manifest for atomic particles to be perceived as “separate” entities. Why the space expanded in the first place is, of course, part of the “How?” question, but this scenario might show that, were we able to get “outside” our universe, we’d just find- more stuff!

  4. An annoying feature of fine-tuning arguments is the habit of tweaking only one dial at a time.

    Vary all of them.

  5. My response to the idea that the universe is fine-tuned for life is this: “Let’s ask what the dinosaurs think of that.”

    Most of our planet is either too hot or too cold and our greatest source of energy and light also gives us skin cancer. So much for fine-tuning. The universe hasn’t been adapted to humans; humans have adapted to the universe through the proces of natural selection. 99% of all species are stone-cold dead because of the universe they lived in. This should be common knowledge to everyone who finished high school. *mic drop*

    1. The universe hasn’t been adapted to humans; humans have adapted to the universe through the process of natural selection.

      This is the point I always try to make when theologians bring up this silly argument. To paraphrase Douglas Adams: someone admiring how “fine-tuned” the universe is (for us) is rather like a sentient puddle admiring how well its pothole fits it.

      Plus, even if we were to grant the argument, it’s merely a deistic one. As the Hitch said, the theist still has all his work ahead of him to prove that the original mover intervenes in history.

      1. I think it’s also the best response to the fine-tuning argument. The argument is basically a rejection of evolution and denies that humans are another species of mammals.

        It’s also covered in Faith vs Fact, page 160-166. “Rather than assuming that the world was created for humans, the more reasonable hypothesis is that humans evolved to adapt to the world they confronted.” (p. 165).

      2. Well put! For the original mover to intervene in history, it has to be the equivalent of a super multi-tasking computer with capabilities conceived thousands of years ago by the Abrahamic faiths. Not only does this entity simultaneously keep track of every action that a human has ever taken (and possibly animals) but constantly records every thought these humans had (I think this latter ability was part of a George Carlin bit). And if there are human-like beings on other planets, there may be trillions more people it has to keep track of. So, the entity is forever on alert, observing and judging humans like scientists monitor rats in a maze, answering supplications apparently by whim. Unlike a computer, however, the entity requires all its subjects to tell it how great it is. Celestial tyrant, indeed!

      3. Actually, as the Ikeda-Jeffreys argument shows, it can be made even stronger. I put it in Bayesian terms to avoid cluttering with hedges (which I would do if I were more rigorous)

        On naturalism, the probability that the constants of life support life, given that there is life, is 1.

        Therefore on supernaturalism, the probability is *no* better, because probabilities cannot exceed 1.

        All the arguments do not take into account that one always (again, in Bayesian terms) need to condition!

    2. My response to the idea that the universe is fine-tuned for life is this: “Let’s ask what the dinosaurs think of that.”

      “Polly wanna cracker.
      Pieces of Eight! Pieces of Eight!”

      1. I observe that contemporary dinosaurs do not have a well-rounded opinion on the extinction of their cousins yet. Perhaps it’s best to ask again after a few million years of evolution. 😛

        1. To paraphrase Douglas Adams (via Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz), they’ve had long enough to answer. Pathetic little creatures, take no interest in local matters. 65 million years and not a blog post nor a single Tw**t.

  6. “it’s time to bone up on the fine tuning argument, …”

    May I make a quick book suggestion?
    (I’m about 60% into reading it, according to my Kindle, and I’m currently at the part where the fine tuning argument is being discussed):

    Sean Carroll’s excellent “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself”

    1. Sean Carroll is so lucid. I love this “God and Cosmology” debate he did with William Lane Craig in 2014. They took turns for long blocs addressing points so – I skipped Craig droning on for Carrolls brilliant answers (also its 2 hours with each taking turns several times)

      https://www.[separated to prevent embedding]

  7. Even if we are in a simulation program, the superior creature or creatures are still not the God that the Abrahamic religion refers to.

  8. The creation from nothing debate is very premature. It brings to mind two cavemen debating were the heat of a fire comes from. Just as the cavemen created gods to explain fire we have created god to explain creation. We’ve dispelled the gods of fire with knowledge, hopefully someday the same will be true of the god of creation.

  9. The question of nothing has always fascinated me. If there was nothing, where would it be? Or, to put it another way, what would be there instead of space if say God took it back a step and undid his creation of space? If there was nothing, would there be more than one place in it?

    1. Kant, as his very first move in his Critique of Pure Reason, posits space and time a priori. Given the advantage of modern physics, we have a less absolute sense of space and time. Once one accepts that space can be distorted (bent by gravity, expand or contract) it seems more like an object we can imagine subtracting, and less like an eternal framework in which all things transpire. Nevertheless, we can only “subtract” space in our minds, not in reality. And since space and time are famously combined in a single dimension since Einstein, talking about a “time before there was space” is logical non-sense. There is no time without space and visa versa, so there cannot be “a time before space”.

      I am talking here simply about the way our language works; not so much about the nature of reality, but about what we can logically say about that nature. I don’t grasp the advanced mathematics of modern physics… and I make no claim to understand how the “big bang” could have been the beginning of space-time itself… I merely restrict myself to a logically consistent use of language when posing the “deep” questions.

      1. Okay, forgive me. I could be wrong, but I think I heard this, in the form of a song, on Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion”:

        “Why does Time exist? So that everything does not happen at once.”

        “Why does Space exist? So that everything does not happen to you.”

      2. The big bang is the origin of the *local hubble volume*. Until recently (read: sometime during the 20th century) it was thought that all of spacetime had to be connected. It doesn’t.

    2. If there was nothing, would there be more than one place in it?

      That sounds like a very Cantorian can of worms that you’re opening there.
      [Gets popcorn.]

    3. I think this is fundamentally Krauss’s point. The idea of nothing is hard to define and can really only be understood in terms of what is. It does not make sense for creationists to make an argument based on a colloquial notion of “nothing” as if it was self-evident.

  10. As I’ve said here before, you can’t have “nothing” without “something”, so the question of how you get something from nothing is meaningless.

    And if God already existed, isn’t he something?

    1. Yes, indeed. Krauss is criticized for cheating by including the laws of physics in his concept of nothing, but it’s OK for theists to include an omnipotent god the laws of logic, notions of causality in their concept of nothing.

      1. I’ve seen that criticism. Odd really, as Krauss is talking about “real nothing” rather than “imaginary nothing that is even more nothingy than any nothing observed in nature”.

  11. Judaism responds to atheism by inviting debate. It would be a great leap forward for humanity if all religions did the same.

    1. But here, as is the habit of skillful goddy debaters, the subject goes right to the gaps to say ‘goddidit’ and to the weakest spot of whoever is on the pro-science side. If it were Sean Carroll on that side of the stage the outcome would have been different, and I would expect the Rabbi would instead want to talk about the origin of life or the nature of the human mind instead.

      1. I would have been done in after five minutes by being expected to stand for all that time. If I’m ever asked to debate, the first criteria will be a comfy chair to do it from!

  12. Quantum mechanics established the illusory nature of the “nothing” concept. Theologians invoke an illusion (the “nothing” concept) to demonstrate the existence of God. Illusion in, delusion out.

  13. The most fundamental property of the universe is is its net energy. That is zero today, and there is no reason why it might ever have been other than that; the “how did something come from nothing” argument is therefore meaningless.

    As for so-called fine tuning, the claimants never seem to show their working. For example, proponents of the claim that the strong nuclear force cannot be weaker that a few parts in a hundred for nuclei to be stable ignore that fact that it is the ratio between that and the electromagnetic force that is relevant, not the absolute value of one or the other. Thus these two forces are not independent: one cannot multiply the arguably small probability of either having the value that it is and obtain an even smaller probability. Furthermore, the reason that I would like to see the calculations for this claim is that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle means that a weaker strong force would mean that the nucleus would be larger, and the consequent increased separation of the positive charge of the protons would therefore allow for stability despite a wider range of the values of the two forces.

    I could rant on about this more than is appropriate here. I am currently writing a book in which a long chapter deals with fine tuning at some length. My conclusion: show your working theists, and therefore expose your fine tuning claims to critical examination; otherwise I will not accord them any credibility.

    1. Fine that the potential energy content of the existing universe arose ex nihilo by understandable processes; those processes occurred in a particular context of physical orderliness. Here it’s not a question of fine-tuning as why should there be any such notion of consistent orderliness at all? And apparently there were initial conditions that lead to the minute assymetry that means so much to us today.

      Krauss has just solved the next turtle down. This doesn’t prove god of course, just that the discussion can’t be closed.

      1. If you mean by“consistent orderliness” that the laws of physics are always the same, then a strong counterargument comes from the work of the great and vastly underestimated mathematician Emmy Noether. She showed that conservation laws, which dominate modern physics, follow inevitably from symmetries. In simple terms, unless there is some external influence, many of the laws that we see are the inevitable consequence of no external influence.

        1. I also have heard tell of some great and vastly underrated human beings. They live in an inaccessable valley in the Himalayas, or maybe Colorado?

          Never mind, I thought we were sticking to peer-reviewed science.

          1. Follow the mathematics. If you are not capable of that: shut up! If you think (can you?) that Emmy Noether’s work has not been peer reviewed, and is also not highly respected, then you are unfit to comment on this thread.

          2. I was so angry at your stupidity that my suggestions might have been more constructive. So here is one such: search for “gauge invariance” on the internet.

            1. If you can’t have a principled discussion without getting angry at criticism, maybe you should look at what your actual motives might be.

              People who are vastly underrated often are so for good reason, was my point.

              Gauge theories are just another kind of orderliness. If they are relevant here – speculative, I assume you would admit – it is because of a deep connection to the physical universe which has not been explained – the next turtle. And I don’t believe mathematical tautology can explain the necessary asymmetry.

              1. Good: you seem to have some understanding of the physics involved. In which case, please can you explain your implications that Noether’s work was neither peer reviewed nor influential?

              2. There’s no tautology- the Noether theorems have physical content – namely they tell you what the conservation laws are, as stated. One can claim (with some wrongness, but more plausibility) that pure mathematics is tautological. But factual sciences which *use* mathematics are not, because they have physical, chemical, social, etc. content. (The way this works is complicated, but a “naïve” theory of reference gets the gist.)

      2. I think my response is in the moderation queue. Unless I found the much vaunted ‘nothing’. If so this will look haughty:

        To stave off a possible followup on why we would expect to see the infinite resource of order used, we can always rely on the weak anthropic principle. *mic drop*

    2. This reminds me of the argument by Victor Stenger that the mistake in fine tuning was to vary one parameter without changing another. If I recall (not sure if I am right here) he said that actually the parameters are coupled so that the setting of one effects other parameters, rather like you suggest.
      According to Stenger, the # of possible universes that could support life is not a singular kind of universe, but more like a broad swath of possible universes with different physical constants. Our universe is rather average in this range of such universes.
      I do not know how his argument has fared, since I have heard there are rebuttals to it.

      1. Victor Stenger’s criticisms of fine tuning were excellent, but I think that he was keeping them simple for a popular audience.

        1. That would include me on this topic. I do what I can to understand the issues. I look forward to hearing about your book.

          1. Victor Stengers’ argument against fine tuning is to be found in his book: The Fallacy of Fine Tuning. He makes the very argument alluded to by Sturtevant above and using Noether’s theorem. He goes through all this in very great detail. In fact, he has or had (I haven’t checked out his website lately to see if this is still there) an app on his site titled Monkey God. The app allows one to simultaneously vary a number of variables any number of times to see how many one might come up with in a universe that would support life. Now the “life” the app comes up with might not be exactly what we have here on earth but it is still life. Thus, he destroys the fine tuning argument.

      2. I was convinced by Stenger when I read his arguments a few years ago. I’ve seen nothing from any cosmologist that supports his views.
        Alan Guth (in a different league from Stenger as a cosmologist)commenting directly on Stenger’s arguments: “I consider the cosmological constant problem much more compelling than the other instances of fine-tunings that are discussed, since the strikingly small value of the cosmological constant (compared to the Planck scale or the supersymmetry-breaking scale) is rather shocking, and does not require any assumptions about the nature of life to appreciate.
        I would add that I find the explanations that you mention in your chapter on the subject, other than the multiverse explanation, to be very unconvincing. None of them comes close to having a solid mathematical formulation.”

  14. Along the lines of “who made god”, what, in a theologian’s answer, rules out that yet another god made their god? And how do they know then that god is not malicious?

    I think that’s a stronger way of putting the “where did god come from” question…

      1. “Man made god in his own image.”

        Then, because he was rather proud of his achievement, he went on and did it many times more ensuring there are hundreds of fictional gods to choose from.

        1. Many men ; many gods ; many opinions on what “god” looks like – all adding up to “like ME!”

  15. I haven’t watched the video yet but it is a continued source of frustration that atheists so often have lackluster performances in debates with the religious.
    It always feels somewhat shocking given how clearly untenable the theist position is…and yet it happens over and over. You watch the debates, groan “how are you letting your opponent get away with that? Why aren’t you point out X, Y and Z?”

    But it’s clear that debating is a skill in of itself, and since religion is literally MADE of rhetoric, and much of the world practices it, then it’s not surprising that they have a large pool from which to cull
    good rhetoricians for debates.


    1. Yes I agree – so many prominent atheists seem to perform poorly in debates with believers.
      Which particular debates, with videos available on-line, would other readers recommend, where the atheist arguments have been best made, and/or where the best sophisticated theological arguments have been best refuted?
      We should build a top-ten list, to ensure we’re all familiar with the best debate arguments and the strongest counter-arguments,
      Chris G.

        1. Thanks Nell, a really useful succinct 9 minutes of Sean Carroll making a lot of sense,
          Chris G

    2. If conventions of debates are followed, the side who is wrong on the facts can still ‘win’ the debate by bringing up claims that the other side does not rebut. They can do this if the other side does not know the answer or b/c they do not have time to counter all the claims in their allotted period. Grayling got suckered into thinking he could handle an opponent.
      It is like a boxing match. The stronger fighter can still lose by being worn down by a quicker opponent who is ready to capitalize on any opening.

    3. Matt Dillahunty seems to do quite well. He wisely avoids the science as that seems to be his weakest area.

  16. I’d add, “How do you know that your creator was beneficent rather than malicious?” “And how do you know that God, after making the laws of physics, didn’t abscond and become a deistic god rather than a theistic one who still interacts with his creation?” The rabbi has no answer.

    I’m not sure that theists think much of this first question, since their god is usually defined as omnibenevolent, or the source of good, or some such, that makes their doing evil incomprehensible to them. Stephen Law, however, takes this point one step further and observes that monotheists discount the existence of an evil god, when there is almost as much evidence and almost the same arguments in favour of that god as for theirs; why so? I’ve not seen a convincing response to this yet.

    The second question is a good one, and theists must think that God makes a difference in the physical world. If that’s so, that difference will be measurable. Physicists do have some mysteries to solve, but I understand they’ve measured enough to know that there aren’t any great differences unaccounted for (see Carroll, for instance –

    The concept of a person is a complex thing, and is grounded in the behaviour and history of individuals. It’s notable that in these debates theists defend a rather minimal ‘person’ of God, while the ‘person’ of the Biblical God has more behaviour and history that need to be defended. Unfortunately in debates it’s quite easy to establish some plausible arguments for vague notions of god, without the need to address the hard arguments for their *actual* concept of god.

    1. “Stephen Law, however, takes this point one step further and observes that monotheists discount the existence of an evil god, when there is almost as much evidence and almost the same arguments in favour of that god as for theirs; why so? I’ve not seen a convincing response to this yet.”

      Well, they have a (logical!) response: Satan

      Don’t eat while you read this stuff, you might choke to death!

  17. The theistic “explanation” needs to be hammered home first and foremost. Atheist debaters, tend to leave this at something like “And even if we don’t know the answer, that doesn’t justify jumping to conclude a God Did It.”

    But I think times needs to be spent on WHY exactly this is the case – explaining the specific liabilities of the types of explanations offered by theism, which boils down to asserting magic of some sort, and these types of “explanations” are problematic.

    And you don’t need to be a scientist to at least show the problematic nature of magic explanations and special pleading.

    For instance, take a scenario where there is a fire in a sky-scraper, some people are trapped up high, and the probabilities of getting them all down alive is exceedingly slim.

    In a meeting among firefighters and rescuers about producing a plan of action, let’s say one person suggests that the best plan of actin would obviously be calling upon Superman to save the people. After all, if superman is real, he would have the power to save everyone.

    This is clearly an unhelpful solution. There’s no reason to think such a being as superman exists and positing him BECAUSE it would solve the problem at hand is unprincipled insofar as it opens the doors to any number of similarly unevidenced, absurd “solutions.” One could just as well posit the Fantastic Four will save them, or Iron Man, or The Avengers, or any other superheros, for for that matter any ones we may dream up.

    That’s not to say there could be no evidence for such superheros; if superman suddenly showed his existence THEN we could start appealing to his super powers for a solution to saving the people. But before that, positing a person with superpowers as a solution to the problem is ridiculous, unhelpful, and the adults in the room should ignore such solutions and get to work on plausible solutions based on what we know to be true.

    It’s the same thing for theists looking at purported puzzles such as fine tuning and positing a God as the answer. How did God cause the fine tuning? Uh…it’s just a power attributed to God, it’s God’s magic.
    Once you allow this level of “explanation” you open the doors to any similarly magical explanations. A magic immaterial bunny causes universes when it twitches it’s nose.
    Gee, does that could implausible? Are you going to ask me “how” it does that? It’s magic, just like how you’ve posited an immaterial mind that has the magic power of causing universes. When you tell me HOW an immaterial mind causes universes, then I’ll tell you how the immaterial bunny causes it. The logical possibilities of “magic” causes are limitless…and ultimately useless for explaining things.

    This is why Sean Carroll was so effective in
    debating William L. Craig. It wasn’t JUST because he was a scientist who could offer plausible scientific accounts of the universe. It was because he was also philosophically astute enough to make his attack centered the very nature of theistic explanations as against scientific explanations – that the “ill-defined” nature of theistic magic makes it a fruitless area for answers, in contrast to how scientists now speak about physics, the universe and it’s possible origins.

    1. ^^First sentence meant to be: The PROBLEM with theistic “explanation” needs to be hammered home first and foremost.

    2. You’ve pretty much described my impressions of the debate and some of these issues. I think Grayling made the far stronger case, but some refinements could have been made using arguments from Krauss and Carroll.

    3. God as superman yes. I like your argument. 🙂
      It’s interesting how most religious people are able to use their brains and find solutions without god in everyday problems, but they’re unable to think of rational explanations when it comes to the bigger issues.

      I think it’s because religious people wouldn’t survive for long if they always thought of God as a cause and solution. Imagine someone waiting for god to cook their meat instead of lighting a fire and hanging the meat over it.
      They would simply die out. But there was no disadvantage to believing God cause thunder or earthquakes because no one was able to prevent it anyway.

      In modern times, we know the cause of earthquakes and thunder, so the theists are only left with the universe itself as something that is not completely explained.
      I feel kinda sorry for them. Their god has shrunk into the size of a raisin.

  18. As usual, theists respond to the question “Does God exist” by answering a completely different question, “Does the universe have a cause,” and then produce their God out of nowhere. The freethinker Chapman Cohen referred to this as the “hat and omelet” trick. (“Theism or Atheism, the Great Alternative,” 1921)

    Also as usual, the atheist fails to notice the complete irrelevance of the theist approach, rendering the atheist responses as irrelevant as the theist. I can’t tell which of the two irritates me more.

  19. If “God” created the universe, how did she do it, and why? What makes some of us think that the universe we’re in was intelligently designed specifically for us and, probably, the only universe there is? If one looks at the formation of our planet over millions of years through enumerable physical forces, it’s hard to imagine that process being called “design” by religionists. (But, then “God” had plenty of time. Er! No she didn’t since she precedes time supposedly).

    The same goes for “design” of human beings. Richard Dawkins and others have made it very clear how opportunistic evolution was/is in repurposing certain physical attributes for some other use: eyes, ears and unmentionables, for example. What in the blank do they do about humanities’ symbiotic relationship with bacteria, mitochondria (hope I remembered the right one!), etc.? We can’t live without each other, apparently. Is “God” bacteria or mitochondria?

    When these discussions or debates take place, an assumption seems to be made that there are no other universes and that the only life forms are carbon-based, as we are. I would like to hear the Rabbi deal with a “God” of multiple universes and numerous differently composed life forms. If we are formed in “God’s” image, if “God” isn’t bacteria, she must be a gigantic chameleon.

    1. Rowena,

      Note that to the Rabbi this god he believes exists, can exist even before a universe exists. (Which is odd because universe means the set of all things, so to me at least, even if all that exists is this god thingy, then there is a universe existing, albeit it consists solely of said god thingy.)

  20. > And how do you know that God, after making the laws of physics, didn’t abscond and become a deistic god …

    Or even emulate a salmon and expire immediately after the creative act.

  21. “Nothingness” is not really a thing. It is a product of our minds and belong into a conceptual class of “absent reference”. We have a sign or symbol that points to some idea, or mental representation, which itself is derived from perceptions (or absence of them). It is linked to the way we conceive of anything: things have properties and you can dial them up, or dial them down, or even turn them negative. As such there is not just the knight who is filled with valour and bravery, but also Sir Robin who misses these qualities, and is a coward; a coward who lacks certain qualities. We can conceive of it by contrast. When we can imagine the thing, we can also imagine it missing and leaving and empty place (up to minds without a body, or bodies without minds, which give rise to various spook ideas).

    One way to see this is with the imagery of death. Even in the relatively straightforward cultural circle of Europe, people struggled with what death really is. Sometimes they gotten around this problem by personification, which is known to virtually every tribe and culture. They were varios deity-like figures; sometimes death was depicted by how dead bodies look like, maggots and all. In Christian Europe, death later took the shape of the skeleton, often cheerful and dancing, as a musician, as an archer and of course (later) as the Grim Reaper. But ultimately, the symbol is arbitrary, since nothing can adequately capture something that isn’t there (in this case the Absence of Life). In english we simply accept that, in this case, the letter combination N-O-T-H-I-N-G shall represent that something isn’t there.

    Our minds can produce and work with such ideas, once captured in a symbolic wrapper – such as the piece of cloth that captures a humanoid void in later depictions of death. But just because we can imagine these things, doesn’t mean reality itself features such “not things”. And what would that be, anyway?

    Alas, philosophers and theologians often times give off the impression they don’t care about human cognition, and struggle with “the ding an sich”, essences of objects or, in this case, nothingness.

    1. Ultimately I think this confusion around ‘nothing’ is a distraction. The real question appears to be how things started, and the real rebuttal is ‘okay, so where did your god come from?’, and the rebuttal to the theist answer of god not needing an explanation is ‘that is special pleading’.

      I actually find it rather problematic if people latch onto a discussion of what is meant with nothing because it leaves the real point unaddressed and comes across as trying to move goal-posts. (Oh, that atheist is stumped by the something from nothing problem, so now he tries to define it away.)

      1. Alex SL,

        Not to be a pest, but as I’ve argued here before, while theists are guilty of special pleading, it’s often not exactly in the form many atheists say it is.

        For instance you feel asking “ok where did your God come from?” will result in immediate special pleading – that God “does not need an explanation.”

        But that’s not the stance of any apologist or Christian philosopher worth his salt. They DO think God needs an explanation – that is an explanation for why God is necessary. This is why they don’t just assert God exists and doesn’t require a cause. They have arguments for why God is a necessary cause. They aren’t dismissed simply by invoking “special pleading.”

        (And going into a debate thinking they are is one reason lots of atheists don’t come off as well as we’d hope. They tend to think that people defending an imaginary friend must do so on such obviously fallacious grounds that it takes little to counter the arguments. But they’ve had thousands of years to develop arguments for God. They ultimately fail, but it takes more work and care to show how lots of them fail than many atheists prepare for (it seems) in debates.

  22. Never mind that religion is getting further pushed away from nature… Well then:

    #1: “You can’t get a universe from nothing; there is a “law” that everything that begins has a cause. Ergo, God. In response toKrauss’s book about how you can get a universe from a quantum vacuum, Rowe responded, as do many theologians, that “nothing” is not a quantum vacuum—it’s just “nothing.””

    Krauss argues that physics is getting closer to “nothing”. Jerry argues that religion can’t answer the question they pose.

    But the question is not even wrong. “Cause” is a philosophic idea. Physics obeys causality. In a causal system it is quite all right to have not only non-caused events but also that zero energy systems like the eternal inflationary multiverse can be … well, eternal.

    In fact, the shoe is on the other foot. When we look forward or backward in time, all we see is the putative multiverse or at least an inflationary cosmology that extends indefinitely back beyond the Hot Big Bang. The religious claim is an extraordinary one, but they have not even ordinary evidence.

    In this area religion has bupkiss.

    #2: “We don’t understand why the Universe is orderly and why the laws of physics are the same everywhere. Clearly the only answer is that those laws were made by God to create a designed universe in which life could exist.”

    We don’t understand why the abrahamistic God is orderly and why he is omnipotent. Clearly the only answer is that those ideas were made by the Universe’s humans to create a designed god in which religious ideas could be projected.

    #3: “The “fine-tuning” argument shows that the parameters of the Universe are such that only slight deviations from some of the constants of physics would have made the existence of life impossible. Therefore the Creator was the Fine Tuner.”

    The religious fine tuning argument is mistaking prior probability with posterior likelihood.

    I like Grayling’s argument myself. He is addressing the religious argument head on what I can see.

    As for the weak anthropic principle, it asserts a statistical distribution for habitability. Our universe is 99.9999+ % inhabitable. Why would we expect the general distribution to be anything but narrow?

  23. The default argument of the sophisticated theologians may require extra work to brush aside but it is not relevant to the masses of believers out there who understand none of it. So the sophisticated theologians are mostly wasting their time arguing with Atheists. Probably not the best use of their time but then, they have nothing but time to waste. That would be nothing from nothing…

  24. Another thing to add. Theologians and apologists aren’t entirely honest. They argue First Mover (or some variation thereof), and of course try to imply this supports their specific faiths, but actually, their faith has no leg to stand on.

    They cannot start the argument at the onset of space-time, since their own faith doesn’t begin there. Their faith’s story begins two to three thousand years ago in a mytholgically rich area. And they have to show why similar mythologies are invented by other peoples, but their own – strikingly similar story – is somehow the Divine Word of God. Which is of course something they can’t show.

    They thus work with the trick to build themselves invisible stilts by invoking first movers, and divine gap-fillers so that they can make their Leap of Faith safely.

    Charlatans (!) are very fond of what is now named the Motte-and-Bailey-Doctrine, first described as a principle by Alan Sokal and more recently furnished with this nice metaphor by Nikolas Shackel: some idea has two different sides that sit within one body of text. One that is profitable but hard to defend (the bailey), and one that is more easily defensible but trivial (the motte).

    Apologists, but also certain other charlatans switch around the meanings (similar to an equivocation, but this one isn’t merely a wordplay). For example, they would proselytize with a specific version of belief, with a deity with distinct features and rather precise claims about reality (features an afterlive), human nature (has a soul), the nature of the deity (cares about what you do in the bedroom) and so forth. But when challenged, they retreat into the dank motte and it’s all about First Movers and elusive general claims, far in the distant past, between the cracks of knowledge.

  25. There is a fundamental problem with the formulation that there exist “laws” of physics.

    If you say this, you are making an analogy with legislation, and if you insist on “laws” then logically you need a law-giver.

    Further, we don’t discover physical “laws”–we describe empirical regularities. In other words, the “laws” of physics are not railroad tracks that things travel down. An example is lets say that we observe a man wake up every morning at 6:30 am and make coffee. We have a physical regularity, and we can make empirical predictions about the behavior of the man.

    We know nothing further about the physical universe than we do about the man. We have worked out some regularities, and when they don’t work, we chalk it up as an anomaly, or perhaps the irregularity becomes the basis for a new theory.

    In any event, why is there order and regularity, and not randomness? Obviously, this question cannot be answered empirically. Perhaps someone can come up with some mathematical “theories” but they won’t be falsifiable. You have hit bedrock, and you turn the spade over.

    If I had to define the nature of God, God (or gods) are invoked to signal the meaningful end of questioning. There are simply some brute facts underlying human existence (such as empirical regularities), and whether you want to say they manifest “God’s Will” or are simply some accidental structure, it comes down to one’s preference for a certain kind of linguistic convention. Hume’s empiricism more or less comes from William of Ockham’s theology and metaphysics (or anti-metaphysics), redacting out the concept of God.

    1. The answer to why there are objective patterns is anthropic. In a naturalistic universe (or multiverse, if one prefers – I don’t), given that we are here, *there have to be*, because that’s what life (or consciousness, or even ham sandwiches) is (an instance of).

  26. I haven’t watched the debate, but the “rabbit” response that Jerry quotes is something I would actually love to see the rabbi pressed on. In all seriousness, why is it any more stupid to believe that the universe was created by a rabbit-like god with rabbits in mind, than by a human-like god with humans in mind?

    Even if we grant that the universe must have a divine creator, what (other than human vanity) justifies the assumption that the universe was created with human beings in mind? Why assume that we are any more important to this creator than rabbits are?

    I would love to see more debates that start from the point of “prove your religion is true,” rather than “is there a god?” because, pragmatically, the former question is of far greater importance. I will happily concede, for the sake of argument, that the universe must have a creator: now, believer, proceed to show why we should believe that the specific claims you make about the identity of this creator are true.

    Pragmatically, there is little difference between the atheist and the mere deist. The differences that are really consequential come when people make specific claims about the identity of a creator and the relationship and obligations that human beings have to it.

    1. As Lenin said “Who and Whom”–as important in theology as in politics.

      On the other hand, whether you are an atheist or a deist or whatever, specific religious traditions emerge and are transmitted across generations. If we are willing to agree that rules matter, in the sense that the rules have consequences for the society that adopts them, then these traditions have some role in forming the cultures/societies that adopt them. Dawkins has indicated a preference for a fundamentalist Christian cultural influence over a fundamentalist Muslim influence, for example. If we consider the role of war and conquest in shaping culture and civilization, then the consequences of bad rules can sometimes prove fatal.

      If you are willing to postulate cultural evolution (e.g. the discipline of history), then there is a question (and this was raised by Hayek) over a choice of morals based these traditional moral systems which more or less evolved over time and novel moral systems invented by intellectuals. Certainly, most major religious traditions which have survived are either moderately to strongly pro-natalist, and this is more-or-less the great battle with secular ethics (contraception, abortion, sodomy, pornography, etc.). I understand the pros and cons of natalism, and it is clear that there is little consensus these days on the good and the bad of natalism, so there is no reason why secular ethics may be superior given the current state of the planet. On the other hand, I suspect that an ideology hostile to natalism (while more fun in many ways) may not be capable of surviving over multiple generations.

      The other great strength or weakness of traditional systems is that they are exclusive, whereas the secular systems tend to be maximally inclusive (for example, Peter Singer’s work). Clearly, given the large social networks involved in modern capitalism, excessive exclusivity is not desirable. On the other hand, it is unclear whether humanitarians can hold their own against more ethnocentric forms of organization, in that humanitarians help ethnocentric groups, but the reverse is not true (in fact, ethnocentric groups may actually harm humanitarians if they have sufficient strength). So humanitarianism (or transhumanism) has a free rider problem.

      To lay the cards on the table, my views derive more from the relatively secular tradition of Real Politik than anything else.

  27. It might be worth pointing out the overlap between traditional Theism and Buddhist philosophy. If we look at anything that exists in the physical universe, it has some kind of conditions that bring it about, the absence of which result in its termination. From a Catholic perspective, you call this contingency, from a Buddhist perspective, impermanence (as well as suffering, not-self).

    The Western tradition views God as a “First Cause” or “Uncaused Cause” whereas the Buddhist tradition defines Nirvana as the “Unconditioned”. You get the personalism in the Western tradition on account of the Biblical narrative (God talks to People) and not so much in the Buddhist tradition. However, philosophically, basically equivalent concepts, both really defined negatively.

    The point is that just as any thing can be explained (in part) as the result of the conditions that brings it about, obviously, the Universe in its totality (consisting of an aggregation of condition things) constitutes a conditioned thing. Atheists don’t generally understand Thomistic arguments because they start from a reductionist metaphysics that ignores wholes (even though concepts like herd immunity in public health science necessitate considering wholes as well as parts). Obviously, this would be true even if the Universe were eternal (Aristotle believed that the Universe was eternal but still came up with his arguments for God).

    The laws of physics can’t really save you here, because they aren’t really true laws (they are generalization based on descriptions of empirical things, not rail road tracks), just empirical regularities that happen to hold, and if they were truly laws and not just metaphorically, they would necessitate a law giver.

    I find it ironic that atheists like Sam Harris are looking at the Buddhist tradition, when Buddhist philosophy in essence makes similar metaphysical claims to the Christian medieval philosophers. Sure, Buddhism postulates a non-personal absolute (or should I say ‘non-absolute’ consistent with apophatic language) but that non-personal non-absolute is only realized through the vehicle of a person.

    I think the ultimate stumbling ground comes from probing the foundations (or lack thereof) of mathematics, and the role of mathematics in science, in the sense that all empirical science ultimately requires mathematical formalism. Empirical “explanations” of mathematics have been rejected (as much as any viewpoint can be in philosophy), psychological “explanations” don’t actually tell us why mathematics is useful in describing the universe (and evolutionary explanations based on a fractal analogy duck the question). Finally, “Platonism”, in terms of the eternal realm of numbers, doesn’t give us a principle of agency between the eternal realm and the actual world we live in. (You can’t explain why I live a materially rich life by claiming I have 1 billion dollars in a bank account that I know nothing about and have no way of accessing.)

  28. Fine tuning argument:
    We have no idea if the constants can be anything other than what they are. Perhaps if the universe was started a billion billion times it would always end up with with current constants because that is the only way they can be.

    The reality is we simply don’t know. To assert fine tuning is an assertion without evidence.

    As many others have stated, we don’t know that the universe came from nothing. Perhaps it’s always existed in some form or another, just like their supposed God.
    The big bang theory only covers up to just after the very earliest beginning of the expansion. Contrary to what many people believe it says nothing about before then, the time before then is simply an unknown, a big question mark. There are many who propose hypothesis, but that is all they are.
    Anyone who proposes a solution, be it multiverse, branes, God or something else, need to provide some sort of evidence.
    So far they have not.

  29. Maybe the eventual discovery of intelligent, self-aware, philosophizing beings made of self-organized regions of plasma inside stars will finally lay to rest the fine tuning argument as carbon-oxygen-hydrogen based organic life in the relatively infrequently “just right” environments around some stars is seen to be a tiny accidental residue from the main thrust of mechanisms creating self-awareness. If the last vestige of the centrality of Humanity in God’s Plan is definitively refuted, maybe deep thinkers like Rabbi Rowe will finally give the project of “rationally believing” in an extra-natural creator up as a bad job. 🙂 Ultimately, his arguments, while interesting, are all based on the postulate that there is an extra-natural realm and that it contains an intelligence. This postulate brings us no closer to a final answer than postulating that the nature of the natural world is such that fundamental laws (not all of which have yet been discovered) evolve in such a way as to very rarely produce self-aware beings without reference to anything outside of nature and those laws. The “nothing” theists speak of to refute Krauss has never been observed, just as the extra-natural uncaused creator has never been observed.

  30. None of these arguments for god(s) existence matter – ontological, teleological etc – they are just rhetorical dead ends devised in futile attempts to obscure the fact that there is no evidence of supernatural beings in the cosmos (the one we all live in). Finito.

    If one wants to sample rhetorical arguments and their futility Postmodernism seems to have an endless supply.

  31. I don’t think we should dismiss the fine tuning argument. If you think it’s not a profound mystery then the top cosmologists would disagree. The best answer from the a-listers is a multiverse – and possibly a bit of string theory mixed in. Apologies for the lengthy post but I think we should know how the top guys view this.

    Alan Guth (in a response to Victor Stenger):

    “I certainly agree with you that the fine-tuning of the universe does not imply any form of supernatural intelligent design. I agree with your two statements,

    1. The universe is not fine-tuned to us; we are fine-tuned to the universe.

    2. Based on existing knowledge, we cannot demonstrate that a natural explanation for the apparent fine-tuning is so unlikely as to provide a strong case for the existence of supernatural intelligent design in the universe.

    But I would expand a bit to mention that

    I consider the cosmological constant problem to be very real.

    It needs some explanation, although the intelligent design solution does not make much sense to me. I consider the cosmological constant problem much more compelling than the other instances of fine-tunings that are discussed, since the strikingly small value of the cosmological constant (compared to the Planck scale or the supersymmetry-breaking scale) is rather shocking, and does not require any assumptions about the nature of life to appreciate.
    I would add that I find the explanations that you mention in your chapter on the subject, other than the multiverse explanation, to be very unconvincing. None of them comes close to having a solid mathematical formulation.

    Thus, I consider the cosmological constant problem to be a significant piece of evidence for the multiverse.

    “Concerning the need for a deity, I may differ slightly from you on one related point. (I’m not really sure what you would say about this, so maybe we agree.) I would say that we know essentially nothing about where the laws of physics came from. I would therefore say that anyone who wants to attribute the laws of physics to God is certainly welcome to do so, without any fear of contradicting anything I know about science. I might add, however, that I don’t see that this hypothesis helps in any way to explain where the laws of physics come from. One can simply define ‘God’ to be the entity responsible for the laws of physics, but then one is still at a loss to learn what other properties ‘God’ might have, or what origin ‘God’ has. So, the problem of the origin of the laws of physics seems to just be pushed back one level, with no advantage.”
    Alexander Vilinken
    “This picture of the universe, or multiverse, as it is called, explains the long-standing mystery of why the constants of nature appear to be fine-tuned for the emergence of life. The reason is that intelligent observers exist only in those rare bubbles in which, by pure chance, the constants happen to be just right for life to evolve. The rest of the multiverse remains barren, but no one is there to complain about that.
    Some of my physicist colleagues find the multiverse theory alarming. Any theory in physics stands or falls depending on whether its predictions agree with the data. But how can we verify the existence of other bubble universes? Paul Steinhardt and George Ellis have argued, for example, that the multiverse theory is unscientific, because it cannot be tested, even in principle.”
    Max Tegmark:
    “Some of the fine-tuning appears extreme enough to be quite embarrassing—for example, we need to tune the dark energy to about 123 decimal places to make habitable galaxies. To me, an unexplained coincidence can be a tell-tale sign of a gap in our scientific understanding. Dismissing it by saying ‘We just got lucky—now stop looking for an explanation!’ is not only unsatisfactory, but is also tantamount to ignoring a potentially crucial clue.”
    Leonard Susskind:
    “…. it is certain that some features of what we ordinarily call the laws of physics will turn out to be local environmental facts contingent on our particular region. If this is so, then the explanation of why a certain constant—the cosmological constant, for example—has its value, will be the following: The CC has one value in this patch, some other value in that patch and yet another value in some other patch. Our kind of life can only form in a narrow range of values, and so we find ourselves in such a region.
    That’s it. That’s all it means. I hope that’s brief enough.”
    Steven Weinberg
    “Finally, I have heard the objection that, in trying to explain why the laws of nature are so well suited for the appearance and evolution of life, anthropic arguments take on some of the flavor of religion. I think that just the opposite is the case. Just as Darwin and Wallace explained how the wonderful adaptations of living forms could arise without supernatural intervention, so the string landscape may explain how the constants of nature that we observe can take values suitable for life without being fine-tuned by a benevolent creator”

  32. “why are the parameters of physics such that only a slight alteration of some of them would make life impossible?”

    This is referring ONLY to life on Earth. We don’t know that this is true for any other planet because life on Earth is adapted to the specific parameters of Earth. Be it noted that the general laws of physics are identical on Earth and on the Sun where, I am told, life is impossible.

  33. Looking further at this it is obvious that there is great confusion or ignorance about the physical parameters (specific values) of Earth and the general universal laws of physics. The specific values on Earth are due to the size and mass of Earth. For instance the law of gravity is universal, its particular value on Earth is determined by the mass of Earth. We need to get over ourselves and stop thinking that life has to look and be like us. We have no idea what other life forms may or may not develop under different conditions anywhere in the Universe.

    1. Astrobiology (a very young science)doesn’t assume that life has to have the same basis as the life we see on Earth. e.g. methane (rather than water) as a general solvent has been considered. Silicon has been proposed as an alternative to carbon in constructing the molecules of living organisms.

  34. For those of you who are interested and care to devote the time to it, there is a theory that explains how a universe might arise from nothing (no god required). It is called the “zero energy universe” (one of the commenters above mentions this name). Try a Google search of the above and you will find a whole slew of posts on the subject. I recommend looking first at the site by The Astronomical Society of the Pacific for a clear statement of it in terms a lay person can understand. Second, Wikipedia has a site about this theory which is short in itself but contains a detailed link to the “flat” universe concept in which evidence is detailed that may support a zero energy universe. Beyond that, there are other links by other scientists discussing the theory, including Michio Kaku. You’ll even find some links by creationists trying to refute this theory with their “god of the gaps” arguments. Happy reading.

  35. Very late to the game, haven’t even pretended to read the comments.

    But I just finished listening to the debate, and I don’t think anybody’s addressed the blindingly-obvious fatal flaw in the Rabbi’s reasoning.

    He keeps harping on again and again about how the finite cannot “cross the barrier” or whatever and become infinite. And that’s quite true.

    But the opposite is also true; the infinite can no more be transformed into the finite than the finite into the infinite.

    As such, all his arguments are at best a non-sequitur if not an unabashed red herring.



  36. When I first heard the fine tuning argument, it struck me as obvious question begging. Before you can conclude anything based on the universe being fine tuned, you must demonstrate that the universe is fine tuned.

    After years of following the topic, looking for a more compelling approach to the argument, my position on the matter hasn’t moved much.

    Not nearly enough people in debates or in print emphasize nearly enough that fine tuning cannot be assumed merely because it is conceivable.

    I will mention two other points with some trepidation, because really it is my firm belief that my first point stands alone in answering the fine tuning argument.

    Its wonderful if theoretical physics or cosmology or string theory leads to a greater understanding of the universe, and that turns out to entail in some shape or form multiple universes. But that is not necessary for answering the fine tuning argument. You draw a card off the top of a deck of cards. Was the deck shuffled, or stacked so you would draw that card? Without additional insights, and without quibbling over odds/percentages, we must acknowledge that either is possible. We cannot conclude one or the other. With the universe, we can’t identify any being/entity/methodology for fine tuning it like we can with a stack of cards being set in a certain order, so we can’t even go so far as to say both (fine tuned, or not fine tuned) conditions are possible, because we don’t know; it could be that there is no way to have fine tuned the universe. We don’t know, and therefore cannot assume one is true and proceed to make some argument which leans on it, or uses it as supporting evidence.

    And then there is the math. The math supposedly showing how many possible tunings the universe has, and the declarations that life (or stars, or particles) are not possible in the vast majority of them, are just a side show. The current state of science does not equip anyone today to tell us what the universe would be like if it were not like it is, or how many ways it could be different than it is. Who is qualified to peer review that journal submission? Anyone with a high school physics textbook in front of them is equally qualified to cook up those figures, and that should be kept in mind when considering how persuasive they are.

    Thanks for reading!

  37. A great debate and Dialogue. Featuring great people, A.C. Grayling, a professor of Philosophy, and Rabbi Daniel Rowe

    Go back to a part of Rabbi Rowe’s opening statement at 0:25:59

    That is where camp religion has lost. It’s like Rabbi Rowe didn’t even pay attention to Mr Grayling’s explanation of Carl Sagan’s “Dragon in a garage”.

    1st Problem: If you say that everything “must” have a beginning; then how did your God began?

    2nd problem: The Rabbi does not know modern Physics theory; Energy CAN EXIST without anything creating it, and it is a plausible theory that it has existed before every matter in our universe even began. Ergo, ENERGY IS ETERNAL So, while it is essentially true that it is impossible that something came out of nothing, what Rabbi lacked in knowledge is The first law of Thermodynamics that supports an eternally existent energy.

    3rd Problem: Even if we were wrong or we didn’t know how Energy (E) works and supposed that it was actually a cosmic divine being out there, how do you know what religion it supports? Does it even care about what we do or what we think?

  38. There are many problems with your analysis and critique (as well as in the comments). There’s a lot of nonsense that people are writing here.

    1. the argument about God needing a cause
    2. how do you show that God is benevolent
    3. crazy ideas about how the universe could come from nothing
    4. claiming that it’s just “God of the Gaps” coming into play again and again

    I don’t have time to elaborate on these or refute them, but anyone who has a smidgeon of objectivity and an understanding of logic and reasoning should be able to figure these out. These are not difficult things to figure out.

    More difficult questions would be how to prove theism vs deism (as someone pointed out in the comments), or establishing what purpose the creator had in creating a universe and life.

    1. There are many problems with your comments, including your listing supposed problems with the analysis and then saying you don’t have time to discuss or refute them. I would argue that anyone with a smidgen of objectivity and an understanding of logic and reasoning wouldn’t be able to believe in supernatural deities.

      And your comment is incredibly arrogant and condescending. I suggest you stay over at the Intelligent Design sites where you belong.

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