Sunday, January 22, 2012

The universe as evidence for God.

There is evidence that elves exists.

Consider these facts:

1) There is a perfectly cubical grain of sand on the beach.
2) It rains.
3) Sand exists.

Therefore elves.


My analogy here is carefully chosen, it's not solely intended to poke fun at this argument but to show an analogy. While we might well just accept that life exists or that the universe exists because it demonstratively is true in that we exist to see such. We are then asked to weigh the need for a real explanation against Drew ad hoc supposing God exists, and that God should make the universe, as we have a universe it is therefore evidence of God. This is at the core what Drew is arguing.

Our existence is not contingent upon a perfectly cubical grain of sand on the beach. So we cannot say that because we exist, it necessarily must follow that there is a perfectly cubical grain of sand on the beach. But, this is true of life and the universe. We can only exist in universes which life can exist within, and we can only exist on planets which life can exists on, and given that a our parents met, their parents met, and they did exactly what they did. Any difference could well have resulted in different people rather than us. That we exist rather than one of any of those unborn ghosts, sisters and brothers, our half sisters and half brothers if our parents never met, or our cousins if our parents were never born. These odds against us are stupefying, if one pretends they are meaningful.

Why that exact series of events should occur rather than another, is not a question with an answer. It just did. It was hugely unlikely, as would be any specific set of events, but if it didn't something else would have, and it would be equally unlikely. This is the power of the anthropic principle, since we are contingent on everything that lead to us existing, the odds seem amazing, but since we are here they necessarily had to happen.

So claiming that elves made it so that I was born, rather than any of the other combinations of sperm and eggs of my parents, would seem dizzying. Because what are the odds? Well, really the odds are 100%. I can only exist as I do. If somebody else existed, they would only exist as they did. And any of the people who could be here (yet aren't) would be here, and be. They would exist as they did. So really, we need to get around this. It actually pointless to ask about any events that could only be what they are, because our asking is contingent upon them. Elves should want me to exist. If they existed they should make me exist. Since I exist, that is strong evidence for elves. This is actually meaningless. If somebody else existed they could ask the same thing. If Earth were a lifeless hunk of rock, aliens on another planet could well ask the same sorts of questions.

If you think that elves cause it to rain, every time it rains you'll see evidence of elves. We can only look backwards and ask ourselves, how we got here. Which theory is the best to explain the everything we have? We do not suppose that everything we have is evidence of elves, because you believe things about elves would give us everything we have.

We should not be blinded by the odds that life should exist elsewhere in the universe, nor should we be blinded by the odds that there exists a perfectly cubical grain of sand on the beach. Because we are not directly contingent on these existing. We can be objective about this idea, without supposing they are necessarily true. But, should we suppose that there is such a grain of sand?

We know that elves are expert craftsmen and want to make perfectly cubical things, and they made all the grains of sand, and a grain of sand would be so small as to be a marked feat of a great craftsman. Such a grain of sand would be strong evidence for elves, or some highly intelligent supernatural craftsmen with all the same properties as elves. Without elves, you would need to explain how such a grain of sand could exist. You would seemingly have nothing but natural forces to rely upon to make this case. Now, let us suppose I have located (regardless of the odds for it's existence) a perfectly cubical grain of sand on the beach. Is this evidence for elves? Should one accept it as evidence? -- Well, perhaps. But, it's still blindingly bad evidence.

What are the odds against elves? What are the odds that such a grain of sand could form by mindless natural forces? Much like abiogenesis there's a lot of good speculation here but not not a complete understanding of everything. We generally know how sand forms. We understand that it's silica crystals and crystals tend to have sharp edges due to the way crystals are. That we aren't dealing with randomly placing atoms but that the atoms by necessity are fairly uniform and the cleaving of these crystals will actually form sharp edges. In theory this reduces the odds from blindingly close to nothing to something somewhat reasonable. You need to run into parallel sides and right angles. And due to the way crystals form the parallel sides might well also be more likely than we should suppose by otherwise. Much as lipid formation into cell like structures or the the ease at which amino acids form, seems harder on first glance. One could argue that this grain of sand is more likely than it initially seemed, but it would still seem quite perfect. And still, one might assume, be good evidence for elves.

Well, the problem actually tends to go away when we consider how many grains of sand are on all the beaches of the planet. There are ~ 20 sextillion grains of sand on all the beaches of the world. If elves actually made all the sand and they love cubical things, why aren't they all cubical? Why didn't they just make one grain of sand? Why should there be ~20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 grains of sand on the beaches of Earth if these elves just wanted to make one perfectly cubical grain of sand to show off their skill. But, if there were just one grain, then the odds would be staggeringly low that it could be formed by random mindless forces. The only way to get that mindless forces could be responsible is if there were so many grains of sand that one could just break just right to be. There would need to be forces such as crystallization which could allow for perfectly arrayed atoms in the sand, and some manner of sheering that allows for sharp corners. And amazingly all of these exist. Perhaps if elves wanted to carve a grain of sand to look like Mount Rushmore one could not have explained these things as easily. But, the overwhelming evidence is that it can just happened by chance. And there likely are a great many perfectly cubical grains of sand on the beach.

"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour." - William Blake

And ultimately, this is the case with gods as well. As Carl Sagan noted, "The total number of stars in the Universe is larger than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth." (70 vs 20 sextillion) -- While the conditions needed for life, may be strange and they may be rare, to show how it could have happened I do only have a smattering of good scientific theories. But, to say that one is only taking facts and I am talking in theories is like saying that you need something to hammer in a nail, and when a hammer is offered, it is declined because one only wants to use atoms. Theories are made of facts. That's what decides the very quality of a theory. And whatever you end up using would equally just be a theory. The difference is that a theory that elves carve perfectly cubic grains of sand, seems so bad one typically wouldn't call it a theory. And supposing that it is the case and just using sand as evidence, because elves make sand. Is actually as firmly established as Drew's claim is.

Many of our theories for abiogenesis deal with healthy bit with stuff we're not sure about, but many things we are. We know there are basic ways to replicate and basic biochemistry that works, there are balls of lipids that could protect an early organism and there are many. We know all of the basic stuff we need to happen are entirely possible and we know a lot of facts like the property of crystals to form sharp edges which suggest that far from being an impossibility it's actually nudged significantly towards being likely. The universe is exactly as it should look if there were no God. That's a fact. It's built on other facts and other theories and even educated guesses and reasonable inferences. The universe is vast and old with time and chemicals aplenty to kick up life here and there, and maybe a perfect cube of sand or two. Whether it's in the waves of Hawaii, off up near some rocks in Indonesia, unnoticed in the waters of the Florida Keys, or on some atoll largely ignored. There is more sand on these beaches than there are stars in the sky, we don't know if it's only a one in a million chance or one in a billion. Or if it's one in a hundred sextillion and we should count our lucky stars that life exists at all (as there'd only be a 70% chance for 1 and we'd likely still then be that one and have gotten lucky). If there was an all powerful being who created us, why should there be an uncountably number of pointless planets revolving around pointless stars in pointless galaxies we can barely see with billion dollar telescopes. And galaxies we can't because they formed so far away that they don't yet exist to us yet. A god would only need to create one planet, wouldn't even need a star and certainly not one that only gives us 2 out of every billion photons. A God could create any manner of universe, so why create one that looks exactly like one that could happen by way of mindless natural forces? Why create a universe where solar genesis happens? Where nebula create stars? Where life evolves? Where life can evolve? Where only the tiniest fraction of a long 13.75 billion years where in 0.0001 billion is of any relevance to our species? Unless you talk about the 2 billion years it took for our species to evolve from tiny nothing of bacteria into highly impressive species with 7 billion people each made up of 50-75 trillion cells. Which is a lot of work for nothing. Though if there were no gods then this is the only way to be here. And since we can only look into the past and ask for the best explanation of it, it's actually remarkably damning for theism. Everything that needs to be true for atheism to be true, is true.

Why should every question we've ever really answered always come down to mindless natural forces? Why is it that when theists claimed that lightning was caused by the gods, that disease was caused by demons, that heredity was the domain of God, that the sun was a fiery chariot across the sky, why should they always be wrong? Well, they don't have to be. They just are. It turns out that that supernatural answers of gods and elves and spirits and ghosts turn out to be wrong. We understand this reality because we've looked a lot of claims made over the years, and we know what sorts of answers are likely correct. So if we care about our answers and we like to guess correctly when we only have guesses we can make, we should guess at unknown natural forces because after all those are the only answers that have ever been right. When somebody guesses at gods for the million-and-first time, we should be unsurprised when those claims turn out to be wrong and it turns out that again it was mindless natural forces. In fact, since that is always what has happened throughout all of history, we should expect it!

For atheism to be right, stars should form naturally. Planets should form naturally. Life should form naturally. Elements should form naturally. A process by which simple forms can become progressively more complex must exist. Everything should be made of pretty much the same stuff. You need to a lot of time to get anything as strange as life to kick up, by chance. There needs to be an enormous amount of universe to exist to allow life to kick up, because it like cuboid grains of sand should be rare. There needs to be an enormous amount of time for life to kick up in. It would take real work to go from a simple form to a complicated form, and it would take real time to do that work. And everything from Human parasites, to human food animals, to humans would have had to have come about by this process. Everything from the tides to the seasons need to be the result of mindless natural forces. And every time a theist says that we can't explain that, they need to be wrong. Wrong about the tides, wrong about the seasons, and wrong about every explanation that says a creative superbeing is making puppets of us. And all of this is true. Everything that needs to be the case, for the universe to exist as it does without a God, exists exactly in that way it needs to. Everything. And everything is a whole lot of facts. So many in fact, that you'd be hard pressed to keep any of them straight without modeling those facts and drawing conclusions. And hence the need for theories.

You wish to oppose all this evidence. Everything we know about the universe, such that it's exactly what it needs to be for there to be no God. And do so by assuming God in the first place, and using the existence of the universe as evidence. I am at a loss as to how you cannot see through this as obviously hollow. We can only exist in universes where we exist. Such is no more convincing that elves that arranged for our parents to meet, so that we could exist. Because it's seems such a rare set of events.

If elves would make grains of sand to be a perfect cube, that such sand is evidence for elves. If you believe that elves cause it to rain, then everytime it rains you'd see evidence of elves. This doesn't work. Because you never established the first bit, that there are elves, that this is their intent. And that there aren't better answers out there. You are trying to use, what must be the case, as evidence for something that people made up without any good reason to do so.

After all, if there are no gods, then we need to understand why people keep inventing them. And coincidentally they invent thousands of them, and none of them agree with each other, but all of them agree with the person making the god claims. We know a lot about the gods of men, and they don't reside on Olympus or Sinai, they are in the heads of men. Who look at the complicated world, the happenstance nature of reality, all those cogs and bits that gave rise to them and think that it could happen no other way that the universe intended it for you. That the elves arranged those cogs and bits so that you might be. But, really, if it wasn't you, it would be something else. And isn't it that much more odd that you're making a claim that most people are wrong about. Theists know that other theists are wrong, they can see all too clearly that what others propose is absurd, and should see that those propositions are believed just as clearly and just as strongly as their beliefs. You are supposing an answer that we know human beings make up out of the blue for no reason. From the cargo cults of the John From to the God who needs blood to fix the universe, these are beliefs that humans invent and there's no good reason to suppose that it's true, or to suppose that a perfect God should want for a universe, or that a universe is what an all powerful God should want.

The universe doesn't care about us. The solar system formation process bombarded Earth with massive impacts over and over again, and still can to this day, though there are far fewer rocks, they can wipe out the dinosaurs for no reason leaving the birds as their only survivors. Life has to evolve through a process that amounts to torture, that necessarily as a consequence of geometric population growth kept in check only by mindless natural forces causes most life forms to live terrible lives of pain, suffering, illness and death, and the best of them may breed more before succumbing. If there were a creative God, who made evolution, who guided evolution, we should spit in his face for being a sadistic bastard. But, if there are only mindless natural forces, evolution would be the only way to get at complicated organisms through the struggle for survival.

Surely, everybody should see that the entire universe being made exactly in such a way to happen by mindless natural forces, is strong evidence against a God. One could suppose there is a trickster God who wants to hide, but there no reason to suppose this either, and good reasons to suppose against it. And so few gods are trickster gods. Humans tend to only invent gods who love them and planned for them and made them happen. But, such a God could do far better than this universe. Mindless natural forces could only do this universe. But, looking at the universe that we have, we find a universe such that God is unnecessary. But, more than unnecessary such a God shouldn't create a universe like this at all. And this is very strong evidence indeed. Everything atheists need for the universe to exist without God existing does exist, and on the opposite claim, the God of theism is bending over backwards spitting out pointless planets for no reason at all, torturing animals needlessly, and giving us 13.74 billion years of pointless time.

Can a universe be evidence for God? Yes. Is this universe good evidence for God? No. This universe is good evidence for atheism.

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