Posts tagged ‘abduction’

March 25, 2012

What if God Commanded You to do Something Wrong?

by Max Andrews

While at the VT Debate on the existence of God one of the atheists’, in passing, briefly mentioned the Euthyphro dilemma. Does God command something because it’s good or is it good because God commands it?  The first horn makes goodness apart from God and the second makes goodness arbitrary. This came up in the Q&A as well.  What if God commanded you to strap a bomb to your chest and blow other people up or rape others?  As an advocate of divine command theory the response to this question is a bit more nuanced then any prima facie answer. (Also, see my moral argument I presented at this debate).

The proponent of divine command theory (DCT) claims that whatever God commands to any moral agent becomes a moral obligation.  Formulations of the commands are given symbolic form by David Efird as:[1]

(RIGHT)                      ∀ϕ☐(Rϕ ≣ Cgϕ)

(WRONG)                   ∀ϕ☐(Wϕ ≣ Cg~ϕ)

(PERMITTED 1)            ☐(~Eg ⊃ ∀ϕ~Wϕ)[2]

(PERMITTED 2)            [(∃ϕ☐Cgϕ ∙ ∃ϕ☐Cg~ϕ)] ∙ [(∃ϕ☐~Cgϕ ∙ ∃ϕ☐~Cg~ϕ)]

*∀= for all…, ☐=necessarily, ◊=possibly.  For instance, RIGHT is read as for all actions, ϕ, ϕ is right if and only if God commands ϕ.

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March 24, 2012

The Fine-Tuning Argument and Random Sampling

by Max Andrews

One of the objections raised by an audience member at the VT debate on the existence of God was against the fine-tuning argument and probability (for my method of argumentation please see: VT Debate-My Method of Argumentation).  In statistics a random sample drawn must have the same chance of being sampled as all the other samples.  The objection was based on this problem.  Since we know of only one universe we don’t know what the range of values for the constants and physics could be.  This was also brought up in conversation with both atheists after the debate.  Since we don’t know how narrow or broad these ranges could be there’s no way of drawing out any probability based argument from fine-tuning.  The thing is that we can know what other universes would be like if the values were different.  If our natural laws have counterfactuals that are in any way incoherent then this is an appropriate sampling.  Also, to make this objection and advocate that we just so happen to live in a life permitting universe in the multiverse then this objection cannot be made since the claim that we happen to life in a life-permitting one amongst countless others suggest we can know what the other samplings are.  For instance, here are a few examples:

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March 24, 2012

VT Debate–The Moral Argument

by Max Andrews

The following is David Baggett’s moral argument* for the existence of a perfectly moral person I used in the VT debate on the existence of God. (I highly recommend Baggett’s book co-authored with Jerry Walls Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality.) This version of the moral argument is an abductive version. I believe this argument, when used in an abductive form, is the strongest form of the argument. You’ll usually see it in a deductive form, a la William Lane Craig. For my method of argumentation please see: VT–My Method of Argumentation.

  1. There are objective axiological/moral facts that obtain.
  2. Either the world alone or the world and a perfectly moral person best explain these facts.
  3. It is the case that the world and a perfectly moral person best explain these facts.
  4. Therefore, the world and a perfectly moral person best explain these facts.

In essence, it seems that there are objective moral facts and this asks the question, “What’s the best explanation for these facts?”

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March 24, 2012

VT Debate–The Fine-Tuning Argument

by Max Andrews

The following is Robin Collins’ fine-tuning argument for the existence of a fine-tuner I used in the VT debate on the existence of God.  This version of the fine-tuning argument is an abductive version.  I believe this argument, when used in an abductive form, is the strongest form of the argument.  You’ll usually see it in a deductive form, a la William Lane Craig.  For my method of argumentation please see: VT–My Method of Argumentation.

The fine-tuning argument argues that when the physics and the laws of nature are expressed mathematically their values are ever so balanced in a way that permits the existence of life.  This claim is made on the basis that existence of vital substances such as carbon, and the properties of objects such as stable long-lived stars, depend rather sensitively on the values of certain physical parameters, and on the cosmological initial conditions.[1]  I’m merely arguing that the universe/multiverse is fine-tuned for the essential building blocks and environments that life requires for cosmic and biological evolution to even occur.

  1. Given the fine-tuning evidence, a life permitting universe/multiverse (LPM) is very, very epistemically unlikely under the non-existence of a fine-tuner (~FT): that is, P(LPM|~FT & k’) ≪ 1.
  2. Given the fine-tuning evidence, LPM is not unlikely under FT (Fine-Tuner): that is, ~P(LPM|FT & k’) ≪ 1.
  3. Therefore, LPM strongly supports FT over ~FT. [2]
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March 23, 2012

VT Debate–The Thomistic Cosmological Argument

by Max Andrews

The following is Thomas Aquinas’ cosmological argument from contingency I used in the VT debate on the existence of God.  This version of the cosmological argument can be traced back to antiquity originally advocated by Plato and Aristotle.  For my method of argumentation please see: VT–My Method of Argumentation.

  1. What we observe and experience in our universe is contingent.
  2. A network of causally dependent contingent things cannot be infinite.
  3. A network of causally dependent contingent things must be finite.
  4. Therefore, There must be a first cause in the network of contingent causes.

In this context, what I mean by contingent is that if X is contingent then X owes its existence to something else. For a thing that has the potentiality of movement cannot actualize its own potential; some other thing must cause it to move.  The universe consists of a network of causes. A was caused by B, but only because B is caused by C, and so on. We know of nothing that spontaneously initiates its own causal activity. (Even supposed quantum indeterminacy requires a state of affairs, or preceding causal conditions, such as the governance of the laws of nature, for the event to occur).  This is a hierarchical network of causation and not temporal.  Note that nothing here turns on our having to know about everything.

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March 23, 2012

VT Debate–My Method of Argumentation

by Max Andrews

The topic of the VT debate was “Does God Probably Exist, or Not?”  I used a cumulative case approach for my arguments.  Below is my opening statement:

This evening we will be defending the proposition “God probably exists.”  We will present three different arguments for theism. To defend our case we will be using the prime principle of confirmation: Whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses, an observation counts as evidence in favor of the hypothesis under which the observation has the highest probability. This principle is sound under all interpretations of probability.  Each argument must be taken on its own grounds and one cannot arrive at “God” at the end of each argument.  The conjunction of arguments is what is needed to make a cumulative case for the existence of God.

The Likelihood Principle of Confirmation theory states as follows.  Let h1 and h2 be two be competing hypothesis (in this case the existence of X and ~X, with X being a first cause, fine-tuner, etc.).  According to the Likelihood Principle, an observation e counts as evidence in favor of hypothesis h1 over h2 if the observation is more probable under h1 than h2.  Thus, e counts in favor of h1 over h2 if P(e|h1) > P(e|h2), where P(e|h1) and P(e|h2) depict a conditional probability of e on h1 and h2, respectively.  The degree to which the evidence counts in favor of one hypothesis over another is proportional to the degree to which e is more probable under h1 than h2: particularly, it is proportional to P(e|h1)/P(e|h2) .  The Likelihood Principle seems to be sound under all interpretations of probability.  This form is concerned with epistemic probability.

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March 23, 2012

Student Testimonial on Philosophy and the VT Debate

by Max Andrews

Last night, the day after my VT debate on the existence of God, I received an email from one of the students in the Intro. to Philosophy course I assist teaching.  I was very encouraged by this email.  The email was addressed to me and the professor I work for. (Used with permission from the student).

Dear sirs,

I just wanted to express my gratitude to you for teaching our Philosophy class. It is such an enormous blessing to be learning this subject from a Christian perspective. As I do the assigned homework, I realize that there are many others elsewhere that are required to naively or perhaps unwillingly read many things averse to the theistic belief. Especially after hearing the “God Debate” at Virginia Tech, I am so excited to be at Liberty where I am learning how to defend my beliefs. It was an honour to hear Max present such a clear, well-reasoned case.
Blessings to you both!

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March 23, 2012

Reflections on My Virginia Tech Debate on the Existence of God

by Max Andrews

This past Wednesday (March 21, 2012) I participated in a debate titled “Does God Probably Exist, or Not?” at Virginia Tech.  My debate partner was a very loving fellow who was an undergraduate in International Relations.  My two atheist opponents were a PhD student in Physics and the other was an undergraduate in biology.  I was thoroughly pleased and impressed with the university and the love and kindness that the organizers and participants extended to me.  I certainly felt like I was in a friendly atmosphere and sensed no hint of hostility.

I thought the debate went very well.  My only criticism was that I was under the impression that there was going to be a twenty or twenty-five minute cross-examination period but that never came to fruition.  I present three arguments for the existence of God: the argument from contingency, the fine-tuning argument, and the moral argument.  For the contingency argument I used Thomas Aquinas’ argument.  The fine-tuning argument was an abductive form and a slightly modified version of Robin Collins argument.  The moral argument was an abductive argument modeled after David Baggett’s version.  In a few following posts I’ll share my arguments and methodology in more detail but here are the forms of my arguments I used:

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October 2, 2011

The Method Behind the Design Argument

by Max Andrews

The argument from design is modest in what it purports.  The final claim and conclusion is that there is an extremely intelligent and personal mind, which is responsible for the design in the universe.[1]  The Greek word, telos, is an end goal or purpose.  The design argument was first developed by the ancient Greeks and popularized by William Paley (1743-1805).  The objections to Paley, which served as a catalyst for the arguments popularity among science and philosophy, were purported by David Hume (1711-1776).

The current state of the argument has gained considerable advances in interest in philosophy, theology, science, and even culture.  Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking purported in his recent [paradoxically titled] book, The Grand Design, that the universe no longer needs intervention or a supernatural being to account for the design and creation of the universe.[2]  Most of the interests in the design argument are advances in the scientific account for the beginning of the universe, which are used to argue against the fine-tuning, which will be evaluated.

It is paramount to explicate from the beginning that this is philosophy of science.  This practice is not theological.[3]  The argument is a posteriori gathered from the natural sciences.  The method by which design will be inferred is a historical science.  There are four differences between a historical science and a laboratory science.  First, repeatability is not applicable in the historical sciences; it is a metacriterion for laboratory science.  Second, historical science assumes uniformitarianism, that is, there are presently known causes to phenomena, which can be inferred by perceived effects.[4]  Third, the theories and explanatory hypotheses must lay in empirical harms way.  The conclusions must be falsifiable.  It should be noted that the type of scientific inquiry will be that of an Augustinian science as opposed to a Duhemian science.  Augustinian science permits and carries open metaphysical presuppositions with science.  Duhemian science strips science of all metaphysical imports.  This point yields to the final distinction, which is the understanding that historical science must use non-controversial reasoning.  The controversial claim for the design proponent is simply the introduction of intelligent causation.  However, this is not as controversial as much of the scientific community makes it out to be.  Agency is publicly accepted evidence by experience.[5]

Such methods are derived from the use of abductive reasoning.  The American philosopher and logician Charles Sanders Peirce first described abduction.  He noted that, unlike inductive reasoning, in which a universal law or principle is established from repeated observations of the same phenomena, and unlike deductive reasoning, in which a particular fact is deduced by applying a general law to another particular fact or case, abductive reasoning infers unseen facts, events, or causes in the past from clues or facts in the present.[6] Consider the following syllogism:

If it rains, the streets will get wet.

The streets are wet.

Therefore, it rained.

The use of abductive reasoning may seem fallacious at first take.  This syllogism commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent.  One cannot deduce from the data, that the streets are wet, that it rained because there are many other explanations for why the streets are wet.  It could have been the case that a fire hydrant was allowed to flow, a street cleaner came through, a concerned citizen who wanted to clean the chalk off of the streets from the little children drawing pictures or writing words, there are many possibilities that could explain why the road was wet.  This was the problem that posed Peirce:  How was it that despite the logical problem of affirming the consequent, one nevertheless frequently makes conclusive inferences about the past?  The key point is the explanatory scope and power of the explanation.  Abductive reasoning does not derive a certain conclusion (for one would then be guilty of affirming the consequent), but it makes an inference to the best explanation.  Peirce’s example was whether anyone should believe in the existence of Napoleon.  He claimed that the past may be inferred from the study of present effects, namely, artifacts and records.  Peirce concluded, “Though we have not seen the man [Napoleon], yet we cannot explain what we have seen without the hypothesis of his existence.”[7]  Despite the apparent fallacy, W.P. Alston, W.B. Gallie, and Michael Scriven have observed, such arguments can be restated in a logically acceptable form if it can be shown that Y has only one cause (i.e. X) or that X is a necessary condition (or cause) of Y.  Thus, arguments of the form:

X is antecedently necessary to Y,

Y exists,

Therefore, X existed

are logically valid by philosophers and persuasive by historical and forensic scientists.[8]

The suggestion was that a particular abductive hypothesis can be firmly established if it can be shown that it represents the best or only explanation of the “manifest effects” in question.[9]  The only causally adequate explanation of the life-permitting data is intelligent causation.  Minds, by experience, are capable of presenting and originating specified complex information.


            [1] The most modest claims of the argument are for an intelligent cause.  I choose to add a “personal mind” to the argument due to metaphysical implications of an intelligent causation that will be examined later.  I will be using design, teleology, and fine-tuning interchangeably.

            [2] Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York:  Random House, 2010), 8.  Hawking and Mlodinow base their positions on a model-dependent realism approach.  This ultimately voids all objective claims and their objections to design, primarily their confidence in M-Theory, will be covered with the multiverse objection.

            [3] The argument, when combined with a cumulative case, may then be exported as philosophy of religion, but for now, the methods and data that will be examined will be done so from a scientific and philosophical perspective.

            [4] The method of uniformitarianism is currently understood in the scientific community as an assumption of the regular course of events as well as catastrophism (which would be implied by the presently known cause and effect relationships).

            [5] This is not based on religious explanations or religious experience.

            [6] In the words of Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell (New York:  Harper Collins, 2009), 153.  Charles Peirce, Collected Papers, 2:375; “Abduction and Induction.”

            [7] Peirce, Collected Papers, 2:375.

            [8] Stephen C. Meyer, “A Scientific History—and Philosophical Defense—of the Theory of Intelligent Design.” W. P. Alston, “The Place of the Explanation of Particular Facts in Science,” Philosophy of Science 38 (1971):  13-34.  W. B. Gallie, “Explanations in History and the Genetic Sciences” in Theories of History:  Readings from Classical and Contemporary Sources (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1959), 386-402. Michael Scriven, “Explanation and Prediction in Evolutionary Theory,” Science 130 (1959):  477-482.

             [9] Meyer, Signature in the Cell, 154.

August 2, 2011

Inferring Design From Data

by Max Andrews

The data presented must be evaluated as either being the result of necessity, chance, a combination thereof, or design (intelligent causation).  How may one infer design?  As William Dembski advocates in his work, The Design Inference, there must be a relay of specified complex information.[1]  In the 1940’s, Claude Shannon at Bell Laboratories developed a mathematical theory of information.  The information-carrying capacity of a sequence of a specific length can then be calculated using the expression I=-log2p.[2]  When this formula is applied to genetic sequence probability formulas the information being conveyed is more than mere Shannon information.  The word information in this theory is used in a special mathematical sense that must not be confused with its ordinary usage.  In particular, information must not be confused with meaning.[3]

Since the late 1950’s, biologists have equated the “precise determination of sequence” with the property “specificity” or “specification.”  Biologists have defined specificity tacitly as “necessary to achieving or maintaining function.”  They have determined that DNA base sequences are specified, not by applying information theory, but my making experimental assessments of the function of those sequences within the overall apparatus of gene expression.[4]  The same application of specificity would be applied to complexity.  Given the complexity of the components need for and to sustain life, the complexity is that which maintains function, a specified complexity.[5]

When arguing for design, the argument cannot take one to Christianity or even God.  All one can purport is an intelligent cause.[6]  The evidence cannot identify who or what the cause is.  This is constructive empiricism.  Constructive empiricism states that one can only refer to the aspects of that being, in this case, the intelligence of the cause, respective to the issue and evidence at hand.  It is only be a cumulative case argument can one infer that the intelligent cause is God.

By experience, it can be deduced that mind originates information (as previously described) and that the other competing hypotheses do not have the explanatory scope and power as design does.  It is by the means of abduction one can infer that design, or intelligent causation, is the best explanation for the data.  Chance and randomness cannot substantially account for the data.  The improbability alone is infinitesimally improbable.  The necessity explanation has no support and the physical variations of the cosmic landscape place the explanation at implausible.


            [1] William A. Dembski, The Design Inference (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1998).

            [2] This equated the amount of information transmitted with the amount of uncertainty reduced or eliminated by a series of symbols or characters.  Claude Shannon, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” Bell System Technical Journal 27 (1948):  379-423; 623-656.

            [3] Claude Shannon, W. Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (Champaign, IL:  University of Illinois Press, 1998), 8.

            [4] Stephen C. Meyer, “ A Scientific History—and Philosophical Defense—of the Theory of Intelligent Design.”

            [5] Ibid. To avoid equivocation, it is necessary to distinguish “information content” from mere “information carrying capacity,” “specified information” from mere “Shannon information,” “specified complexity” form mere “complexity.”

            [6] Intelligent causation is entirely consistent with the scientific method.  For example:  The design inference begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex specified information.  The hypothesis would follow with predictions of design.  For experiments, one would one need to test whether scientific data has complex specified information.  The conclusion may follow as:  Because X exhibits high levels of complex specified information, a quality known to be a product of intelligence, therefore, life was designed.