24 November 2008

Anthropic

Dinesh D'Souza, partisan pundit, has written a recent column at townhall.com that got me sufficiently irritated as to demand a response. Called "When Science Points to God," it is a case study of fallacious theist reasoning.
Contemporary atheism marches behind the banner of science. It is perhaps no surprise that several leading atheists—from biologist Richard Dawkins to cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker to physicist Victor Stenger—are also leading scientists. The central argument of these scientific atheists is that modern science has refuted traditional religious conceptions of a divine creator.

But of late atheism seems to be losing its scientific confidence. One sign of this is the public advertisements that are appearing in billboards from London to Washington DC. Dawkins helped pay for a London campaign to put signs on city buses saying, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
Starting off with his narrative, D'Souza appears to be pushing the notion that the increasing visibility of atheism means that it is somehow losing traction. Following this, he attacks some recent atheism advertising campaigns by smugly noting that their slogans do not mention scientific evidence against the existence of God or anything similar. The notion that a slogan should be catchy rather than a solid rational argument appears to escape D'Souza. It's odd for a Republican to miss the point of bumper stickers - five-word phrases on bumper stickers are the basis for so many of their policies, after all. Haha, snark!

As an aside, one can be a perfectly reasonable scientist and still be a theist; the two are not mutually exclusive, for all Richard Dawkins' priggish insistence otherwise. And this is not to subscribe to Gould's non-overlapping magisteria theory, but rather a simple admission that religion is based in faith, a non-rational foundation and accordingly not one that can be addressed with reason.
If you want to know why atheists seem to have given up the scientific card, the current issue of Discover magazine provides part of the answer. The magazine has an interesting story by Tim Folger which is titled “Science’s Alternative to an Intelligent Creator.” The article begins by noting “an extraordinary fact about the universe: its basic properties are uncannily suited for life.” As physicist Andrei Linde puts it, “We have a lot of really, really strange coincidences, and all of these coincidences are such that they make life possible.”
My goodness! That old chestnut, the anthropic principle... from Discover?

Checking out the article he referenced reveals that D'Souza wasn't fibbing. Alas for Discover, it does not go much into the philosophy of the matter. I suppose it's not really their purview (nor should this particular bit of sensationalism be, ideally).

It's true that if any one of a billion little universal laws were changed, the universe would be incredibly hostile to life as we know it. This notion of "fine-tuning" is very old, and some people still argue that it implies that the universe must therefore have been made for us. This is not so much a real argument as it is a devastating lack of imagination.

Consider the icicle on a hanging roof. If the density of water were slightly different, or the temperature not exact, or many other things were any different, the icicle would not exist. It would be melted and gone. But was the universe created for that icicle? Of course not. For the icicle to feel that the universe had been crafted just to meet its needs would be absurd: the icicle came to be, but it could just as easily not have come to be. And if it had not, then it could not wonder about the matter in the first place.

In the same way, it's a farce to claim that our fit into our niche is so perfect that it means the niche must have been made for us, when the much simpler and more obvious solution is that we fit the niche, not the other way around! If anything had been different, then we couldn't be asking the question at all. Instead, some other form of life would be asking it - or no life at all. Just because a coin lands on heads doesn't mean that it only has one side.
No wonder atheists are sporting billboards asking us to “imagine…no religion.” When science, far from disproving God, seems to be pointing with ever-greater precision toward transcendence, imagination and wishful thinking seem all that is left for the atheists to count on.
Yeah... it's atheists with the "wishful thinking" in this article. Sure.

1 comment:

  1. D'Souza wanders into unintentional self-parody way too often to be taken seriously as a political pundit. It is kind of a shame he didn't marry Ann Coulter.

    ReplyDelete