Thursday, July 8, 2010

We're Being Picketed By Agnostics!

Hey, look. More evidence that the New Atheism is fizzling out like the wet broccoli fart in the intellectual community pool that it always has been.

I'll give you a moment to recover from the sheer awe of my literary skills.

Anyway, it's an interesting article. Oh, it makes the usual mistakes - unreflectively decries centuries of wrongs done by religion, mangles Aquinas with the 'Well if God created the world, who created God?' schtick, and he doesn't seem to understand just how much of the world his agnosticism slices out if his standard is a "logical justification of certainty".

But you know what? This is actually refreshing. Vox Day once said words to the effect that you could have a beer with an agnostic, while an atheist was bound to be an insufferable asshole. Well, here's more evidence for Vox's claim. Faults aside, skepticism aside, Rosenbaum is actually likable. He even refers approvingly to David Berlinski, another refreshing agnostic who was willing to throw in with the Discovery Institute for reasons I truly think added up to "Well, they balance out the other extreme".

The important difference, for me, between a true agnostic (and not a strong atheist who is camouflaging himself for debate tactics reasons) and an atheist is that you can not only have a beer with an agnostic, but a conversation. An actual conversation! You can lay out the evidences for God, you can lay out the arguments for design, and they may listen because they really are just undecided, and think that deciding with utter certainty is impossible. You can even be an agnostic theist (And really, isn't Pascal's Wager precisely addressing that possibility?)

Of course, at the end of the day I'm a theist. Admittedly a much broader theist than most (a post for another time), but I wanted to point out how refreshing it is to see this sort of agnostic pop up. It's actually close to what 'true' skepticism would look like. Naturally, the New Atheists catching wind of the article will be outraged.

But hey, that can be amusing too!

19 comments:

The Phantom Blogger said...

There's a discussion of this here:

http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2010/07/elsewhere-on-th.html

This is from the Prosblogion blog, on the Philosophy of Religion.

Neil B said...

Crude, did you think I had a decent start at an argument for God in my post Marcelo Gleiser Has a Point? I know the issue of comparing infinities muddies the whole thing, but it seems to me we just can't be riding on some random modal realist wave. In any case, I think "what just fundamentally exists" is God - whatever exactly that means - not any of this stuff.

Crude said...

I'll have a look and give it some proper thought before commenting. But I'll comment in this thread, so, heads up.

Crude said...

Alright, this is a bit fast, but I realized now I read this post.

I'd need some clarification. Are you arguing that there must be a thing which exists necessarily, and that this would be God?

Maybe I should ask for more detail from you if you want my view - from what I read, it sounds like your argument is coming close to Plotinus' argument for The One, at least from what I've read of it. Oddly, I sometimes wonder if Tegmark's crazy-ass MWI isn't related to that too, given that he himself sees the whole thing as platonism on steroids.

Neil B said...

Yeah, Plotinus is IMHO basically right. And that "One" contains all essences and their relationships, it is a plenum and not a silly abstraction of pure existence per se. So, It knows all knowledge, and even what is good etc. But I'm not sure just why this phenomenal universe is here, and like it is ...

In any case it isn't enough to present a theistic style argument. You have to defeat that Tegmark piecemeal-cornucopean stuff by showing it leads to an absurd expectation of what world you'd likely end up in. That is the part that gets bogged down in infinities. Read Alexander Pruss's post on that, where I have some pushback too. Pruss is interesting and writes about theology too, not being a hollow reductionist type.
(BTW, the Tegmarkian pan-multiverse is a sort of unholistsic supreme being as goulash, like an "all" with no "soul" tying it all together,so to speak.)

Crude said...

Alexander Pruss is a committed theist philosopher at Baylor, I think. I believe he's a big advocate of the Principle of Sufficient Reason / Liebnizian argument for God, among others. He'll now and then give out fresh potential arguments for defeating naturalism on his blog (I check it out now and then.)

My own thought is that, once we're hitting the point where an idea like Tegmark's (Which, as per Paul Davies, practically guarantees that multitudes of 'gods' exist, and seems to make it vastly more likely that we ourselves live in a designed universe) is considered a rational possibility, we are done. As in, the idea that science can lead us to truth, much less stand in opposition to God or religion, is over. It kicks the table over as far as probabilities and expectations go, there's no rational way to sort it all out, and so on.

Have you ever heard of Ed Feser, or read up on Aristotileanism much? It may be up your alley. His blog was the one I referred you to re: Plotinus, and he gives the Aristotilean arguments as well. Stuff you may find interesting.

I will say: Why do you have to "defeat" Tegmark's stuff? I don't see why Tegmark's view isn't out and out compatible with 'The One', among other ideas. Especially given that for Tegmark, all of reality "is math" (I always wondered, is he serious? Is he really a damn Pythagorean?), and that to me seems to scream something like conceptualism or idealism. It certainly leaves materialism in shambles - but then again, it is anyway.

Neil B said...

Well, like I said Tegmark is a weird "soulless" alter ego of the neoPlatonic ideas. It may be compatible, but:
1. No real "God" in the midst of it all, like a human being with no self. (Tegmarkism is to Platonism roughly what Dennett is to classical personhood.
2. Every possible world exist, period, and no one is offering any management.

I can understand why he believes in it: the idea that one particular possible world is materialized "just because" is indeed absurd. (And how ironic, that was the common rationalist position for so long ...) But it leads to all, I mean all, PWs in "existence" and that mess just can't correlate to our ordered existence.

Crude said...

I suppose what I'm saying is - Sure, Tegmark may insist "There's no God, no 'One' underlying all this". But why accept Tegmark's reasoning on that? Especially since it seems, on Tegmark's view, we must and can eventually ask what it is that grounds all this math.

I also would disagree that there's no real "God" given Tegmark's view, with some qualification. I think there is a difference between the God of western theism and the gods of pagans, etc. But, gods are gods. And when someone like Tegmark comes up with an idea that basically guarantees that such gods (and infinitely many more like them) exist with certainty, I'm not about to call it atheistic or naturalistic. If someone wants to embrace an infinity of zeuses and a cosmology that almost certainly slaps us down in the middle of a created, designed universe, they're welcome to it. But why should I cast a blind eye towards the absurdity?

Not that I buy Tegmark's idea, mind you. But let's face it - his is as mystical and wild and crazy as anything anyone else thought up, and with less to support it. We may as well have fun with it all.

Neil B said...

Yeah, fun indeed! I want to believe that the Road Runner cartoons are literally happening, and all my favorite sci-fi ... but then all the awfullest things too. Basically, not having an ultimate "One" is the whole issue for me in that version of modal realism. Any of the "gods" that would exist in such a mess aren't - consider again that argument of Plotinus - the ultimate One above all. Of course if "everything" exists then so does it anyway ... but thinkers like Tegmark want to confine their bounty to mathematical models. IOW, each PW is a specific structure, even if they have infinite contents. The difference is sort of like, having all integers but "infinity" itself hovering over it in one case (One true God), and not the other case.

Also, I argue that an unregulated mess wouldn't let us have this world anyway, since it would diverge and/or show signs of imperfection (like all the possible almost-perfect sets of pixels, all those blemished shots of pinup girls - so many more than the good ones. But if "infinity" of all, then it's hard to compare and argue.)

Crude said...

Oh, I know those 'gods' that exist in it aren't 'The One'. But, gods are gods. I take serious issue with the sort of atheists (And I am surprised at how many there are) who want to believe we live in a simulated universe, while still claiming to be atheists. That just wreaks havoc with the word, and all those Thor- and Zeus-worshipers suddenly turn out to have just been mistaken naturalists. (And that's assuming they're mistaken. Maybe Olympus is the location of the server simulating this universe.)

What do you mean by 'this world would diverse/show signs of imperfection'? And remember Paul Davies' response to Tegmark (You've heard of Davies, yes?): What happens once we start talking about nested simulations? As in, someone creates a simulation, and within that simulation is a simulation, and within that one... etc, etc, onto infinity. Given that, how likely are we to be on 'the top' of any simulated or created world? Hell, is there a top?

But if our world isn't the actual world, but a simulated one.. then why should we take our findings within it to represent what lies 'beyond'?

As I said, part of the reason I find Tegmark's thoughts so amusing is because it signals the end of science being able to answer, comprehensively and empirically, our questions about our world and universe. Back to Marcelo Gleiser.

Me, I'll stick with God. The Ultimate, the God of classical theism, and the God of Catholicism. Said God may be creating a lot of different universes for all I know, but to me there are too many strong indications that there's a manager at top, as you said.

Ilíon said...

I don't know.

Most of the self-described agnostics I've encountered have been even more intellectually detestable than the typical village-atheist-with-DSL.

Crude said...

Ilion,

Well, most of the ones I've run into have given off a tremendous whiff of "I'm a strong atheist, but defending that position is downright nightmarish, so I'm going to say I'm an agnostic".

Ilíon said...

"But, gods are gods. I take serious issue with the sort of atheists (And I am surprised at how many there are) who want to believe we live in a simulated universe, while still claiming to be atheists. That just wreaks havoc with the word, and all those Thor- and Zeus-worshipers suddenly turn out to have just been mistaken naturalists."

I think this quote is covering two quite different things, but I’ll comment on the one -- all those Thor- and Zeus-worshipers *do* “turn out to have just been mistaken naturalists.” I thought we’d covered this and you understood why it is so.

Crude said...

Ilion,

That gets into a whole other subject that I'm not seriously addressing here, but I'm waiting for you to toss up your new post on your blog so we can get into that. (You still plan on that, right?)

By the way, here's Tegmark on consciousness:

I believe that consciousness is, essentially, the way information feels when being processed. Since matter can be arranged to process information in numerous ways of vastly varying complexity, this implies a rich variety of levels and types of consciousness. The particular type of consciousness that we subjectively know is then a phenomenon that arises in certain highly complex physical systems that input, process, store and output information. Clearly, if atoms can be assembled to make humans, the laws of physics also permit the construction of vastly more advanced forms of sentient life. Yet such advanced beings can probably only come about in a two-step process: first intelligent beings evolve through natural selection, then they choose to pass on the torch of life by building more advanced consciousness that can further improve itself.

A few comments.

1) So wait, Tegmark is a panpsychist? If consciousness = "Information being processed", it sure sounds like it. He's certainly into some kind of odd dualism, because that 'information processing' line is straight out of Chalmers' playbook.

2) Why only 'building more advanced'? Clearly they'd be able to build less advanced consciousness' too. Even through evolution. Ah, but then, natural selection, she ain't so natural anymore.

3) "Matter can be arranged to process information"? How does this square with Tegmark claiming nothing BUT math exists? We are math. The matter is math.

Neil B said...

OK, what I meant by 'this world would diverge [my typo before]/show signs of imperfection' is the Bayesian expectation based on proportionally how many more possible worlds resemble ours but are "blemished" by various quirks and inconsistencies. Like I said about pictures: Suppose "there is no God" then you simply find yourself "at random" in one of the universes that allow you to come into existence. (I'm not even counting fiat cartoon worlds where everything is "just there" with no specific causal history behind it.) That's sort of like, you are in one of the set of possible pixel arrangements that look like people in the long view (before studying up close.) But many more of those arrangements have little oddities like wrong-color patches, tiny extra eyes on hands etc. (the most common, just bits of junk blemishing the images.)

If we add time development, there are more sequences of pictures that start to break up even after they were the ones that stayed normal-looking up to any given point. (IOW, the number of card games that are all good hands up to a given point is a small subset of the total number of possible games. The number of those, that keep coming up all good hands, is even smaller.)

So even if I was "lucky enough" to be in an anthropically tuned universe, it would likely be filled with little imperfections and a tendency to quit being lawful after any point to which I had been "lucky" so far (just like with good hands in a card game.) I would find particles not being quite identical, laws being messy, changing properties and unruliness, etc. For example: if we find forces close to 1/r^2, it would almost certainly turn out upon finer examination to be 1/r^1.99997 or 1/r^2.000023 etc. That's because there are infinitely more such values very near the integer two, than that one number, two. Also, the laws would change. We might find G slowly changing around, etc. even if it had been stable to this point.

You might say, but "laws" are some property the universe has instrinsically - however, per Hume they are just the description of the regularities. Remember, a description is any way to specify what happens. The very fact I can describe "changing laws" or particle movements that weren't simply lawful shows such worlds exist as possible worlds/mathematical descriptions (or else, what are they?)

And if "all is math" and all mathematical descriptions existed with no "virtus" (as from "the mind of God") to give law and pick out some possible worlds to actualize, then all the description worlds with changing or inconsistent laws would "exist" too and be dwelled in by someone. We would more likely be one of those poor folks. But we aren't, and we see a truly lawful universe. Hence, "God" the lawgiver.

Neil B said...

...
You might say, but "laws" are some property the universe has instrinsically - however, per Hume they are just the description of the regularities. Remember, a description is any way to specify what happens. The very fact I can describe "changing laws" or particle movements that weren't simply lawful shows such worlds exist as possible worlds/mathematical descriptions (or else, what are they?)

And if "all is math" and all mathematical descriptions existed with no "virtus" (as from "the mind of God") to give law and pick out some possible worlds to actualize, then all the description worlds with changing or inconsistent laws would "exist" too and be dwelled in by someone. We would more likely be one of those poor folks. But we aren't, and we see a truly lawful universe. Hence, "God" the lawgiver.

Neil B said...

[my original submission may have been too large, so here in parts:]
K, what I meant by 'this world would diverge [my typo before]/show signs of imperfection' is the Bayesian expectation based on proportionally how many more possible worlds resemble ours but are "blemished" by various quirks and inconsistencies. Like I said about pictures: Suppose "there is no God" then you simply find yourself "at random" in one of the universes that allow you to come into existence. (I'm not even counting fiat cartoon worlds where everything is "just there" with no specific causal history behind it.) That's sort of like, you are in one of the set of possible pixel arrangements that look like people in the long view (before studying up close.) But many more of those arrangements have little oddities like wrong-color patches, tiny extra eyes on hands etc. (the most common, just bits of junk blemishing the images.)

If we add time development, there are more sequences of pictures that start to break up even after they were the ones that stayed normal-looking up to any given point. (IOW, the number of card games that are all good hands up to a given point is a small subset of the total number of possible games. The number of those, that keep on being all good hands, is even smaller.)

So even if I was "lucky enough" to be in an anthropically tuned universe, it would likely be filled with little imperfections and a tendency to quit being lawful after any point to which I had been "lucky" so far (just like with good hands in a card game.) I would find particles not being quite identical, laws being messy, changing properties and unruliness, etc. For example: if we find forces close to 1/r^2, it would almost certainly turn out upon finer examination to be 1/r^1.99997 or 1/r^2.000023 etc. That's because there are infinitely more such values very near the integer two, than that one number, two. Also, the laws would change. We might find G slowly changing around, etc. even if it had been stable to this point.
...

Crude said...

That does make sense. I think Keith Ward made a similar point, though he focused on the universe's size or similar. And I think Paul Davies' points about recursion carry too.

Really, I find most 'multiple worlds' talk to lead to absurdity, with Tegmark's in particular just being the worst. Not to mention, I don't think Tegmark has really thought through his idea (the consciousness stuff, to me, just advertises that he's stumbling there.) I'm more amused that, as usual, flat out mystical/supernatural ideas are apparently okay and thoughtful science so long as the right person makes the observations.

Ilíon said...

"... I'm more amused that, as usual, flat out mystical/supernatural ideas are apparently okay and thoughtful science so long as the right person makes the observations."

And so long as he's scrupulous to baptize it as "natural" and punctilious to insist that in no wise does it even whisper an implication of difficulty for God-denial.