Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Crude Cosmological Argument

In honor of RD Miksa's recent Crude Cosmological Argument which has nothing to do with yours truly, I've decided to give my own personal cosmological argument.

It is as follows:

It is possible the universe is designed.
The universe sure looks designed to me.

ergo

It's reasonable to believe the universe is designed.

And there you have it - the Crude Cosmological Argument, in all its simplicity. While I enjoy and have considerable confidence in all manner of other arguments - the Five Ways, etc - I have to admit, this is my standard cosmological argument, and the first one that comes to mind when I'm asked to present my reasoning for belief in design.

Now, obviously, there are some weaknesses to the CCA. It's not iron-clad, for one - this is not, like the Five Ways, a conclusion that one can arrive at with certainty given these or those premises. It's also very subjective - I appeal to my personal estimation of the universe, scientific knowledge and discovery, etc. Nor is it a very 'weaponizable' argument, since in principle someone could give the !CCA:

It is possible the universe is not designed.
The universe doesn't look designed to me.

ergo

It's reasonable to believe the universe is not designed.

All other things being equal, and with no other arguments at the ready, I can't very well dispute the !CCA. Which is fine, since I don't care to. Likewise, the !CCA proponent can't dispute the CCA, all things being equal. This results in a messy, unfortunate situation where (once again, not considering any other arguments, features of the universe, etc) two people holding distinct views are justified in their beliefs.

Rather, this is messy and unfortunate to a lot of people. Me? I don't particularly care. Life is messy, as is reason. People can disagree and still be reasonable.

Now, this isn't going to be a very useful argument to most people, but I think it contains an important point: you really, in my view, don't need more than the CCA to justifiably believe the universe is designed. Does the universe look designed? It does? Great, you've got your justification for belief in design immediately. If this upsets someone - if someone insists that no, I need a far more developed, airtight, powerful, must-rationally-compel argument in order to believe in cosmological design - I have a stock response: "Screw off, you pissant." I encourage you to make use of it.

Later, I'll give a more 'useful' version of the CCA - which I'll tentatively call the CCA+. But for now, consider the possibility that the universe seeming designed at a glance may really and truly be all you need to rationally accept the (admittedly, very broad, very open-ended, and potentially fallible) belief that the universe is designed.

22 comments:

BenYachov said...

When I saw that I did think of you guy.

Acatus Bensley said...

So basically if they're impervious to reason disregard them?

Crude said...

So basically if they're impervious to reason disregard them?

It's more that I think the fundamental, broad, vague inference of cosmological design requires vastly - and I mean vastly - less argument and big-gun argumentative support that a lot of people, theist and not, tend to imply.

I think theists tend to miss sight of this, because there are so many arguments for theism around that have merit to them, and there's a strong temptation to dive into those and really slug it out. But really, as much merit as there are to those arguments, for individual belief, I don't think they're strictly necessary. You don't have to be walking around in full rhetorical body armor, intellectually armed to the teeth, just in case someone expresses skepticism at your belief in a designer. Does the universe look designed? Well, there you go. Do they disagree? Sucks to be them, then.

As far as it goes, it really is that simple. The situation changes once you want to convince someone else that design exists, or provide a good argument, etc. That's where the Five Ways, etc, really DO come into their own. But for your own belief and day to day life, I think the bar is (rightly) vastly lower.

Gyan said...

But is CCA an argument in the first place?

The minor premise "The universe sure looks designed to me." is an explicitly subjective assertion.

Crude said...

But is CCA an argument in the first place?

Sure is.

The minor premise "The universe sure looks designed to me." is an explicitly subjective assertion.

Sure is. Explicitly subjective assertions are kosher.

The argument only works for me, and I suppose for anyone else who has the same subjective impression(s) that I do. But that's what I have, and that - as far as this goes - is all I need.

Acatus Bensley said...

I think it's important that you make readers aware that people will believe what they want to believe and deny what they want to deny regardless of your rhetoric. It's true that you don't need to always articulate an entirely bulletproof argument, but based off of my observations the only reason you would need to is because your opponent isn't interested in believing in a God in the first place. I don't think it's a secret that nonbelievers are basically criminals claiming they can't find cops. It's also very easy to claim there's no evidence for him when you don't consider anything evidence for God. My main point is that I believe everyone is aware of how finely tuned the universe is, but only a nonbeliever grasping at straws in desperation would insist that that's not a good reason to believe in a designer.

Acatus Bensley said...

"The universe sure looks designed to me." is an explicitly subjective assertion.

So we're going to sit here and pretend you don't know what he's talking about. You're going to have a different perception of finely tuned for the sake of argument.

Crude said...

Acatus,

Well, I think there's a variety of nonbelievers. There's people who just plain don't have a religious impulse, there's people who think that 'science shows God doesn't exist', there are people who are anti-theist and are obsessed with denying God, there are people who are probably closet deists but who hate Christianity for social/political reasons...

But I agree with a chunk of what you say. One thing I discovered a while back is that aggressive atheists try to make the standard for reasonable believe in God or design to be 'Convince them personally that it's right, and if you can't convince them, you're wrong'. That's inane.

Acatus Bensley said...

They also define proof very restrictively. Almost like "I wasn't there so it didn't happen" . In my opinion the typical atheist definition of proof won't even allow you to prove the holocaust happened. I'm willing to bet when it comes to everything else in life this so called skepticism doesn't even cross their mind. Only when it comes to God will they try their hardest to be skeptical just for the sake of being skeptical, and deny what is universally known to be true. That thinking for yourself only applies to God. If I'm not mistaken you even posted about it.

Crude said...

Acatus,

I agree. In fact, at least with a certain class of atheist (the Cult of Gnu), my standing response is that there's little point in engaging them as equals, and in fact it's a bad idea to do so. They are people who must be talked at, not talked with.

Water into Whine said...

Enjoyable.

The first premise is an interesting one on its own, though, because it's implicit in any arguments from evidence and so on as well. When these are reduced to the universe not looking designed to oneself, it at least weakens the palaver. People can only really take issue with the second statement, generally speaking, and that comes down to simply asserting one's own feeling against another's, which would perhaps suggest that they can't assert absolute truth outside of God in any case. Nobody's a practical agnostic, however, so in the end people would have to make a choice along this axis practically whether or not it might be logically solid.

And the use of 'Crude' at idgada (?) was quite apposite, yes.

Gyan said...

"The argument only works for me,"

A valid or true argument works for everybody. If it only works for me, it is not an argument but a mere assertion.

Reason is supposed to deliver us from solipsism, not to lead us into it.

RD Miksa said...

Dear Crude,

You said:

In honor of RD Miksa's recent Crude Cosmological Argument which has nothing to do with yours truly…

Well, while it is true that the primary reason that I called it the “Crude” Cosmological Argument was to convey the fact that it is essentially an unsophisticated and commonsensical cosmological argument, I would be lying if I did not concede that your online moniker did not provide me with at least some inspiration. So thank you!


You said:

Now, this [Crude’s CCA] isn't going to be a very useful argument to most people, but I think it contains an important point: you really, in my view, don't need more than the CCA to justifiably believe the universe is designed. Does the universe look designed? It does? Great, you've got your justification for belief in design immediately.

Crude, the interesting thing is that the idea that you raise here is something that I have been thinking about for some time, and it concerns the way in which most religious believers justify their theistic / supernaturalist beliefs. In my view, the vast majority of humanity practices what I call “Intuitive Inference Epistemology.” In essence, what this idea articulates is precisely what you are saying in your post: that all that is needed to justify theistic / supernaturalist beliefs are the most basic and intuitive arguments which are actually so basic that religious believers literally instinctively intuit them rather than think them out in a systematic fashion. And thus my Cosmological Argument, and yours, and such arguments like “There is an absolute moral law, and laws require a Law-Giver, therefore there is a Law-Giver” are such basic arguments that the religious believers does not even really realize that these are the types of arguments which rationally justify his beliefs. And at the same time, the fact that these things are intuitively inferred would also put, in my view, the burden of proof on the opponent of the inference, not on its proponent, which also raises a new twist to the argument.

Think of it like this: if I saw Mount Rushmore, I would immediately intuit that the mountain was designed by a designer. This inference would be immediate and essentially unconscious. And yet, if I thought through the matter for a moment, I would be able to draw the actual argument that my mind intuitively used to reach this conclusion. Furthermore, it is clear—at least to me—that the burden of proof would be on the person denying the rationality of my inference concerning Mount Rushmore rather than on me. And so this is why I think of it as “Intuitive Inference Epistemology.”

Furthermore, I think that this idea is a Catholic answer to Reformed Epistemology. Like Reformed Epistemology, it provides a reason for how and why religious believers are justified in holding to their beliefs, but unlike Reformed Epistemology, the “Intuitive Inference Epistemology” is more evidentialist in flavor, and thus is more in tune with Catholic theology.

Anyway, this is an idea that I hope to develop further in due time.

Take care, and I look forward to seeing your CCA+!

RD Miksa

Crude said...

Gyan,

A valid or true argument works for everybody. If it only works for me, it is not an argument but a mere assertion.

Then as near as I can tell there exist practically nothing but assertions out there. People encounter arguments and they withhold judgment, they find arguments non-compelling but can't find the flaw, they find the conclusions of another competing argument which arrives at a distinct conclusion more persuasive, etc.

Reason is supposed to deliver us from solipsism, not to lead us into it.

It's not solipsism to embrace a simple argument that follows from one's own observations and even intuitions.

Crude said...

RD Miksa,

Interesting, I wasn't sure you'd appreciate where I was going with this. I want to mention I think there's considerable value in the Five Ways, Kalam, and other cosmological arguments. But I think it's important to truly recognize what that value is.

To get justified belief in God's existence, or the design in the universe, etc, I think far lower of a bar is really in play - and I think there's a constant attempt to raise this bar to absurd heights, along the lines of 'Either come up with an argument that every person is forced to say works and converts them to theism, or your reasoning fails'. I won't even take that sort of thing seriously anymore.

Mr. Green said...

Crude: It is possible the universe is not designed.
The universe doesn't look designed to me.


The problem with this argument is that the second premise isn't true. (Nor the first, given the Five Ways, etc. but in the spirit of this piece, we're accepting it for the sake of argument.) It's just that unless there's something wrong with you, the universe does indeed look designed — that's why all the fuss about Darwin and "evolution" and such, to give some defence for why all those things that look designed really aren't. Except even if we accept the possibilities, that still doesn't show that they in fact weren't designed, only that maybe it's possible they weren't.

So even being generous to the opposing argument, it's not as though they were equally matched — one side is a conspiracy theory, and if that side wants to demand a much stricter standard of proof, well, maybe first they should have to "prove" that solipsism is false, so you're not wasting your time talking to hallucinations!

Anyway, I agree that messiness is a fact of life, and that full body-armour is not a 24/7 requirement. But it is a sign of how far our culture has gone that you would even have to say, "Hey, believing in the obvious is not a sign of insanity."

Does the universe look designed? Well, there you go. Do they disagree? Sucks to be them, then.

Yeah, that's a really good response. I think there is in a lot of ways too much emphasis on "fighting atheists" — there is a place for that, but the much bigger problem with society is getting the majority of ordinary people to understand — as they once did, even if only vaguely — that a lot of obvious, common-sense ideas are in fact true, and do have solid intellectual underpinnings. Everyone doesn't need to become an expert philosopher, just to recognise that the foundation is there (pretty much as they do with regard to science).

(As for design, someone at Feser's just reminded me of Bostrom's Simulation argument. It's clever, and at the same time has an appealing streak of common sense itself: Design, even miracles? Sure, why not! Suddenly those become entirely plausible even assuming a Sciencey™ materialist universe!)

Mr. Green said...

Gyan: A valid or true argument works for everybody. If it only works for me, it is not an argument but a mere assertion.

Well, if an argument is sound, then it's true for everyone, whether he recognises it or not. But "works" is a practical word, and while in theory, practice and theory are the same, in practice they ain't.

But I take it that it is in fact Crude's point that the argument works for everyone, if we phrase it so that the subjective practical part is baked inside:

"It is possible the universe is designed. The universe looks designed to Crude.
Therefore, it is reasonable for Crude to believe it is designed."

This argument "works" for everyone — even if I somehow don't think the universe seems designed, that doesn't stop Crude from seeing it that way. And given that he does, then it is reasonable for him to draw the conclusion he does. I may disagree, and we may argue the point, but what I can't [reasonably!] do is accuse Crude of being unreasonable.

Gyan said...

"Therefore, it is reasonable for Crude to believe it is designed."

This statement is merely a fact about Crude and says nothing about universe.

Crude said...

This statement is merely a fact about Crude and says nothing about universe.

Actually, it does say something about the universe: it looks designed. To Crude, or to whoever happens to be offering up their impressions and reasoning. And that's quite good enough for the purposes being discussed.

'But you may be wrong!' you can say. Yep, it's possible. It simply doesn't matter in this context, since I'm not going for an airtight demonstration anyway.

Crude said...

Green,

So even being generous to the opposing argument, it's not as though they were equally matched

I actually agree with that, which I'll go into more once I talk about the CCA+.

But it is a sign of how far our culture has gone that you would even have to say, "Hey, believing in the obvious is not a sign of insanity."

Well, I don't think you necessarily have to say that even in our culture - and I think our culture is in a problematic state in part because of 'our' actions as well as others. I've written before about how very few people seem to be willing to argue for God or even A Designer, disconnected from religion. Even the people who do argue this - Craig in particular - seem to want to get on to the subject of Christ as fast as possible, complete with all the doctrines connected to Christianity. Important, sure, but I think simply 'belief in God / in design' is neglected to an extreme.

(As for design, someone at Feser's just reminded me of Bostrom's Simulation argument. It's clever, and at the same time has an appealing streak of common sense itself: Design, even miracles? Sure, why not! Suddenly those become entirely plausible even assuming a Sciencey™ materialist universe!)

I recall that there's a decent number of atheists who will snarl with anger at the prospect of God existing, but who believe that it's reasonable to think we live in a simulated universe. Which always, frankly, struck me as yet another form of theism - it's Zeus all over again.

This argument "works" for everyone — even if I somehow don't think the universe seems designed, that doesn't stop Crude from seeing it that way. And given that he does, then it is reasonable for him to draw the conclusion he does. I may disagree, and we may argue the point, but what I can't [reasonably!] do is accuse Crude of being unreasonable.

And that's pretty well the point I'm going for here, yes. I think it's alien to some ears, who see these discussions as necessarily involving a knock-down drag-out weighty metaphysical bare-knuckle brawl of rapt logical argument and fighting over axioms and... etc, etc. There's a place for that, but we have to stop thinking of it as necessary just to be a theist.

Craig said...

Gyan, here's how we can turn (Green's restatement of) the CCA into something impersonal:

1. It is possible the universe is designed.
2. The universe looks designed to Crude.
ergo
3. It is reasonable for Crude to believe it is designed.

ergo

4. It is reasonable for someone to believe it is designed.

Or, in (ridiculously precise) analytic language

4A. There exists at least one person for whom it is reasonable to believe that the universe is designed.

4A is not a very strong result, but it is enough to be incompatible with:

5. It is not reasonable to believe that the universe is designed.

5 is very often offered as the conclusion of some argument or other. I am pretty sure what Crude is saying is that it's going to be hard to find an argument ending in 5 that's more plausible than the CCA.

After all, the CCA is a very simple argument, and 4A is a very weak conclusion.

Acatus Bensley said...

The entire point of the post is that the argument just works for Crude himself. It's really that simple. Besides even if it was meant for everyone you'd have to explain how your perception of design worked if this argument doesn't work for you. Everyone knows what a designed universe is like. Let's not say otherwise just for the sake argument.