Barnes Still Not Listening on the Bayesian Analysis of Fine Tuning Arguments

Cover of Christian physicist reference guide to multiverse arguments, entitled Who's Afraid of the Multiverse, by Jeffrey Zweerink, showing a bunch of bubbles full of stars lined and stacked in black space.Last month I caught up on an old thread with On the Bayesian Reversal of the Fine Tuning Argument by Sober, Ikeda, & Jefferys (against Barnes & Lowder). Luke Barnes has now thrown up a bunch of responses that are even more bizarre. One of the things I observed is how he never addresses any of my actual arguments. And now he keeps doing this yet again. And I think he sincerely doesn’t even know this is what he is doing. It looks like he delusionally believes I argued things that I didn’t, and delusionally doesn’t see the things I did argue, even when I explain them to him. I don’t know how to interact with someone like that. And on top of that, now he seems to be contradicting himself and isn’t aware he is. This is genuinely strange.

Because continuing this looks impossible—Barnes has so consistently ignored what I actually say, that I do not see the likelihood of his ever actually responding to me, making any further engagement a waste of my time—this might be the last time I bother addressing him. I’m giving him one more shot only because he’s supposed to be an actual cosmologist and not some rando. But be aware, yet again, he is already refuted by everything I already actually wrote in the original TEC article and in my latest reply to him (with one exception I’ll get to below). So honestly, you could just go back and read those. That’s all you need to see how irrelevant or wrong everything he keeps saying is. But I’ll survey it anyway.

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On the Bayesian Reversal of the Fine Tuning Argument by Sober, Ikeda, & Jefferys (against Barnes & Lowder)

Computer map of the known universe in oval form with spectral and other key items indicated, on a black background, with the text beneath saying Christianity, the belief that a god created a universe 13.75 billion lightyears across containing 200 billion galaxies, each of which contains an average of more than 200 billion stars, just so he could have a personal relationship with you. Someone has crossed out the 13.75 and relaced it with 93, writing a note at the bottom that 13.75 billion is the age of the universe, not the size. In fact the size is determined by the distance the farthest known stars have traveled in the 13.75 billion years since the light we now see reached us. Which is between 91 and 93 billion lightyears. And that's not the size either, just the size of the visible part.Clearing the dusty shelves of old unanswered things. One such is the Lowder-Barnes critique of my application of Bayesian reasoning to reverse the fine tuning argument into a case against God, rather than an argument for God. Actually this is not my argument. It is the argument of three prominent mathematicians in two independent studies. My popularization of it (in conjunction with more data from other physical scientists I cited) appeared in my chapter “Neither Life Nor the Universe Appear Intelligently Designed” in The End of Christianity (ed. John Loftus 2011).

The original versions of the argument appeared as cited therein: Michael Ikeda and Bill Jefferys, “The Anthropic Principle Does Not Support Supernaturalism” (an earlier version of which appeared in Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier, eds., The Improbability of God in 2006) and Elliott Sober, “The Design Argument” (an earlier version of which appeared in W. Mann, ed., The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion in 2004; which corrects my footnote in TEC).

Cosmologist Luke Barnes critiqued this in a series of posts, and Jeff Lowder concurred somewhat in The Carrier-Barnes Exchange on Fine-Tuning (which also rounds up all the links in the debate, including my contributions). My principal point then was that Barnes wasn’t even responding to my actual argument (and thus neither to any of the mathematicians, one of whom also an astrophysicist, who originated it). He still hasn’t. Barnes had also tried the same tactics against Victor Stenger on much the same point. In my comments debate with Barnes it became increasingly clear he was a kook who simply never understood or addressed what I actually said in my chapter, and continued to refuse to after repeated requests that he do so. A debate with such a person is impossible. One would make more progress arguing with a wall. So I have nothing further to say to him. My chapter as actually written already refutes him. Since he has never responded to its actual content.

But Jeff Lowder is not a kook. He is a responsible philosopher who listens, takes considerable caution, and will strive to get an opponent’s arguments correct. So I am writing this entry today in response to his take on our debate (a take which wisely avoided even discussing most of Barnes’s weird and irrelevant arguments). [Read more…]

The Moral Bankruptcy of Divine Command Theory: Matthew Flannagan’s Failed Defense

Cover of Doctor Hector Avalos's book Bad Jesus: The Ethics of the New Testament, yellow background, with a frame including the key focus of a painting depicting Jesus whipping people in the temple square.Theology has no salvageable theory of morality. Theists complain atheists have no reason to be moral. But in fact theists have no reason to actually be moral, as in: to elevate compassion, honesty, and reasonableness above all authority, even the authority of their own gods. Unless they covertly adopt a naturalistic moral theory (and most do), they are not actually moral people. They are minions. Theists are essentially the unquestioning gestapo of whatever monster manufactured the universe. Or rather, whatever monster some men made up and duped them into thinking it made the universe. Which means, they are essentially the gestapo of whatever random ignorant madmen wrote their scriptures and now thumps their pulpits with sufficiently fiery claims of special divine communications at bedtime.

I’m sorry to say, but that’s the truth. Theism actually has no moral theory.

This is why.

Hannibal Lecter created the universe? He escaped from a future holodeck simulation and then used a stolen TARDIS to Make the Universe after evaporating God by discovering the Babel Fish? Oh crap. Well, I guess we better get down with murder and elegant cannibalism or else he’ll be angry with us and send us to hell. Because he is now eternal and the supreme being and made the universe. So we can’t deny, his will and character is now the ground of all morality. And, oh yeah. This all totally makes sense.

Is that any more sensible than…?

A cosmic Jewish zombie named Jesus who telekinetically fathered himself by a virgin and now resides in outer space, is possessed by the spirit of a supernal ghost that is in some sort of parallel-dimensioning identical with but distinct from himself and an ancient Canaanite storm god, and promises to make you live forever in an alternate dimension if you symbolically eat his flesh and drink his blood, and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that has eternally tainted our mammalian flesh ever since a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree. So you better do what he says.

And lest we forget, that’s the Jesus who has nothing to say against slavery or the subjugation and disenfranchisement of women or the execution of homosexuals, other than, at best, that you shouldn’t invite sluts and homos to legally murder the sluts and homos because that would be hypocritical (John 7:52-8:11, a forgery). Oh no, you are supposed to wait for Jesus to murder them (Matthew 3:12). This Jesus is actually a morally dubious person.

You can always invent any Jesus you want, of course. A Jesus who fought for abolition and women’s suffrage and the decriminalization of homosexuality—and, oh, let’s say, promoted democracy and human rights and universal education (also not things Jesus ever says one word for in the Bible). But that’s just a guy you are making up in your head. Because you don’t like the guy on paper. Except… That you have to invent a better Jesus than the one that’s in the Book, really says all that needs saying here.

Matthew Flannagan & My Article for Philo

Several years ago (though it entered print only a couple years ago) I published a paper in the philosophy journal Philo, responding to Christian fundamentalist Matthew Flannagan on behalf of noted atheist philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, whom Flannagan had written an article against, defending William Lane Craig’s Divine Command Theory against Sinnott-Armstrong’s rather scathing destruction of it. Sinnott-Armstrong was probably bored at this point. I was recruited to write the rebuttal. The result is Richard Carrier, “On the Facts as We Know Them, Ethical Naturalism Is All There Is: A Reply to Matthew Flannagan,” Philo 15.2 (Fall-Winter 2012), pp. 200-11, I think so far my favorite paper for a peer reviewed philosophy journal.

The abstract reads:

In responding to Matthew Flannagan’s rebuttal to Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s argument that ethical naturalism is more plausible than William Lane Craig’s Divine Command Theory of moral obligation (DCT), this author finds Flannagan incorrect on almost every point. Any defense of DCT is fallaciously circular and empirically untestable, whereas neither is the case for ethical naturalism. Accordingly, all four of Armstrong’s objections stand against Flannagan’s attempts to rebut them, and Flannagan’s case is impotent against a properly-formed naturalist metaethic.

In this paper I found Sinnott-Armstrong indisputably correct on every point but one, and even on that one he was correct, he just didn’t adequately prove it. My other peer reviewed paper on normative ethics, the chapter “Moral Facts Naturally Exist (and Science Could Find Them)” in The End of Christianity (ed. by John Loftus: Prometheus, 2011: pp. 333-64, 420-29), is an example of proving the point he intended, which is that grounds for morality not only do, but necessarily must exist independently of any gods, because in no other way can moral claims be sufficiently motivating so as to be true.

Flannagan has since published replies to my critique of him on his website (“Richard Carrier and the Arbitrariness Objection,” 5 September 2014, and “Richard Carrier and the Abhorrent Commands Objection,” 5 October 2014, and “Ethical Supernaturalism Is Still More Plausible Than Naturalism: Carrier’s Preliminary Objections,” 20 August 2014). Below I will summarize my paper in Philo, which summary already refutes most of what Flannagan now says—since what he now says pretty much ignores what I said, so restating what I said is a more than adequate rebuttal. And then I’ll address the remainder of Flannagan’s new rebuttals. The end result is not any different from where we started…

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Rare Fine Bound Editions of My Books: Special Auction!

Photograph of the three fine bound volumes in dark brown artificial leather with gold lettering and decoration, standing on Dr. Carrier's desk..Yep. You might want. These are fabulous. And presently unique. But even if duplicated, they will remain extremely rare. I’m giddy at the craftsman’s work on them. They are an aesthetic achievement that harkens back to the old days of leather-bound books in private libraries. And I’m auctioning them off to help support my continuing enterprise as an independent scholar. So I have just two simple questions. Do you want an elegant fine bound hardcover edition of my most popular books? And at the same time to help support my continuing work, research, and activism? Then get in on this rare opportunity!

Summer is always slow for paying gigs. So I need to make up a $2000 shortfall in projected revenue for this quarter if I am to hit my target to get through the year. I have several special things in the works to do that. And this is the first: I have commissioned a local master craftsman and bookbinder to convert three of my books into what you see depicted. I have taken one copy each of Sense and Goodness without God, On the Historicity of Jesus, and Hitler Homer Bible Christ, and had them hand-bound in high quality artificial leather by an expert European craftsman, with gold lettering and styling, and stitched pages. Each will be inscribed personally, by me, in pen, to the auction-winner’s specifications (reasonable requests only, of course).

Any of these lovely books will adorn a library in prestigious fashion, old school, reminiscent of the days when monographs were elegantly crafted. It’s why I made them. Aesthetically, this is what books should always look like. But alas, few publishers produce books that look like this anymore.

Same as before, only the books are scattered and at different angles to see their binding and fronts.Four things to note: [Read more…]

Next Weekend: Appearing in Missouri for the Mid Rivers Ethical Society!

Cover of Richard Carrier's book Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Image on cover is Carrier's One and Only Oil painting, of a spaceman on the ladder of a planetary lander somewhere with alien plant growth.I’m honored to be delivering a platform presentation next Sunday (June 14, 2015) for the Ethical Society of Mid Rivers, Missouri, at 10:30 a.m. The meeting is at the University of Missouri Extension Center (260 Brown Road) in Saint Peters, Missouri.

I’ll be speaking on “Naturalism as a Worldview and Its Connection to Social Justice.” My book Sense and Goodness without God defends a complete philosophy of life called Naturalism, the view that nature is all there is, with no supernatural powers or beings. This was written ten years ago. Now I will summarize its aims and contribution, and how it still relates to advancing the cause of humanism today. Learn how to defend a benevolent atheism not just as what we don’t believe in, but what we do believe in (scientifically and evidentially), and how that should inform the construction and pursuit of our humanist values, especially in light of current events. I’ll be selling and signing copies of Sense and Goodness without God, and possibly some copies of On the Historicity of Jesus and Why I Am Not a Christian.

For a whole week after that I’ll be in St. Louis. Anyone who might want to meet for lunch or a drink somewhere during the week, feel free to email or message me on Facebook (my message reception is open to the public). I’ll consider all requests, although my plans are building, so I will have to decline most, I expect. Group meets will get priority (so if you have a bunch of people who want to get together and hang out, that will certainly get my attention). And I won’t have transportation, so that’s a complication to overcome. In any case, if you will be emailing or messaging me about this, do please open with a convincing discourse on why and when you want to meet and how I can be sure you are not evil. That will be greatly appreciated!

Defining the Supernatural vs. Logical Positivism

In working slowly through a gigantic backlog of blog comments, I met with one that goes back to an old school question, about my project to demarcate the natural and the supernatural. The comment by Enlightenment Liberal is here. He is asking questions about the conclusion I argued here and in print here (with a followup here). The first, Defining the Supernatural, supports the others, Defining Naturalism I and II. His perspective can be summarized as “If we grant your definitions of ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’, I think that all hypotheses of the form ‘X is supernatural’ entail absolutely zero observable predictions about the world,” in particular because “I think that I have absolutely no basis to conclude that there is any relation or correlation at all between the fundamental nature of things and the observable nature of things,” in accordance with Logical Positivism.

So, is he right? Let’s explore… [Read more…]

Appearing All Over Southern California Next Week

Photograph of a building fronted by a beautiful waterfall backed by palm trees on the campus of the College of the Desert in Palm Desert California.I will be appearing to speak at numerous venues in Southern California next week and the following week. And of course selling and signing my books. I might also be available for hanging out with nice folk over drinks now and again while I’m around there. Here is the breakdown…

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Join My New Course This March: Naturalism as a Worldview

Logo for Partners for Secular Activism. The letters PSA in blue, in an art decco font, over a light grey watermark of a compass pointing near to north, all on a white backround.My most popular courses I now offer yearly, and this is one of them. Back by popular demand, I am teaching my online course on naturalism as a philosophy and worldview this March (just a few weeks away): Naturalism as a Worldview: How to Build a Sound Philosophy of Life.

Learn about all aspects of naturalism as a philosophy of life, and how to use it in practical ways, and improve on it, to develop a better personal philosophy of life, the world, and everything. In the process you will learn many of the basics of college-level philosophy, and how to think like a philosopher, an important skill for those who know religion is bunk, but that we still need a better way of understanding ourselves and the world.

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Online Course on Naturalism in May

Back by popular demand, I am teaching my online course on naturalism as a philosophy and worldview this May (just a few weeks away). Learn about all aspects of naturalism as a philosophy of life, and how to use it in practical ways and improve on it. In the process you will learn many of the basics of college-level philosophy.

The course begins May 1 and ends May 31. You study and participate at your own pace, as much or as little as you like, and you get to ask me any questions you want about the course topics all month long, and read and participate in online discussions with me and other students. I will direct and comment on readings each week and give weekly course assignments which consist of answering questions about what you’ve learned and what you think about it. The course text you have to buy is Sense and Goodness without God. All other readings and media will be provided to students free of charge (all you have to provide is access to the internet).

Course Description: This one-month course builds the foundations for practical philosophy. Learn how to develop and defend your own naturalistic worldview from studying a model example, and how to employ it in your daily lives and your understanding of the world. Learn the basics of how to develop and test a philosophy of epistemology (theory of knowledge), metaphysics (theory of existence), ethics (theory of morality), aesthetics (theory of beauty), and politics (theory of government), using logical, evidence-based reasoning. Based on assigned readings, lectures, and weekly class discussion online with Dr. Carrier (Ph.D. in the history of philosophy).

Tuition: $59

Must register by April 30
. And the course could fill quickly so register sooner rather than later. It may be a year before I offer it again.

More details here.

This time I’ve signed up with a new educational project, SecularActivism.org. As a growing consortium of teachers and experts, we will be offering an increasing array of college-quality mini-courses in many diverse subjects for the benefit of the secularist, skeptic, humanist, and atheist communities. We aren’t offering this for college credit (so it’s not for pursuing a career). We are offering this for the mere benefit of making this kind of knowledge and learning accessible to more people, in an age when college is becoming prohibitively expensive and inaccessible to a hard working public, and yet precisely when sophisticated knowledge needs to be more widely available.

SecularActivism.org lists several other courses of interest taught by other experts this May (and soon for June and so on), and those offerings will increase in coming months. The site link also contains an option to join a dedicated mailing list that will notify you of new course offerings as they are announced. My own courses I will announce on my blog here.

Participating is not only a good way to add to your learning and exploration of philosophy (and naturalism in particular), it is also a way to help support my continued work in all fields. If we can keep this educational project successful, it may finally bring me some income security. And do our community some valuable good in the process, by making courses of all kinds available to more and more people who most want to keep learning, for their own good and the good of the world.