Monday, June 27, 2016

A Debate on the Existence of God

There was an interesting debate in London recently between a rabbi, Daniel Rowe, and one of the premier atheist philosophers in the world, A.C. Grayling, on the topic of the existence of God.

Grayling's performance deeply disappointed at least some of his fellow atheists. Jerry Coyne offers a sympathetic critique at his blog where he records the dismay expressed by one of his readers:
[R]eader Mark...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 [Grayling], I was dubious, but I have to say that having watched the debate, I see that Mark is right.
Coyne goes on to observe that the argument that gave Grayling the most difficulty was the argument from cosmic fine-tuning, to which Coyne acknowledges at the end that atheists have to find a better answer. His own suggested counters to Rowe's arguments don't seem to me to be much better than Grayling's, but readers can judge for themselves.

Here's the debate:
Much of Grayling's response to the arguments with which Rowe confronts him was quite irrelevant to the topic, and his rather blithe dismissal of Rowe's claim that the exquisitely precise calibration of the cosmic forces and parameters is prohibitively improbable just doesn't work. Grayling argued (37:45) that, like the existence of the universe, his own existence is also incredibly improbable since it's based on highly improbable fortuitous events such as the unions of all of his ancestors, yet here he is. Likewise, the high improbability of a universe like ours is no reason to think that God must have created it.

Rowe replied (43:15) with a good illustration of why Grayling's analogy fails which you might wish to check out.

Here's another way of looking at the problem with Grayling's analogy:

Almost all of the universes that could possibly exist are life-prohibiting universes, universes in which there is no carbon, or no stars, or in which gravity is too strong, etc. The number of possible life-prohibiting universes is nearly infinite. On the other hand, only a relative few possible universes have the necessary conditions to allow for the emergence of life, especially conscious life. Thus, it's far more likely that chance would produce a universe that's life-prohibiting than that it would produce one that's life-permitting. The fact that the odds against a life-permitting universe existing are so unimaginably high (see video below), yet nevertheless such a world exists, demands an explanation.

A more apposite analogy than the one Grayling employs might go like this: Imagine a large barrel filled with a million dice which are then poured out over the floor of an airplane hangar. There would be six to the millionth power possible patterns of numbers the dice could show, each of which is equally likely (or unlikely).

Suppose now we specify before doing the experiment that the pattern of every single die showing a six will represent a life-permitting universe and every other pattern represents some form of life-prohibiting universe. It's unimaginably more likely that, when the barrel is emptied, we would get some pattern other than all sixes from this experiment than that we would get all sixes. Getting all sixes is no less probable than any other specific outcome would be, but the point is that getting all sixes is extraordinarily less likely than getting some pattern that is other than all sixes.

Likewise, it's far more likely that chance would produce a universe that's life-prohibiting than that it would produce one that's life-permitting.

Since we obviously live in a life-permitting universe, one which is far less probable than even the all-sixes result of the dice experiment, we're justified in believing that something more intentional than chance was at work in producing it.

Indeed, since a life-permitting universe could actually be expected if the universe were intelligently designed, the astronomical improbability of our life-permitting universe existing counts as evidence that it is in fact intentionally designed.
Coyne is right. this is a very compelling argument, and naturalists need to come up with a more convincing way to address it, if indeed there is such a way, than they have heretofore.