Simon Conway Morris Links with Application to the Fine-Tuning Argument
July 18, 2010 — 23:39

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism Books of Interest Concept of God Existence of God Religious Belief  Comments: 4

Sometimes I wish I lived in the UK. I can’t imagine such a rational and fair discussion airing in the states, not even on NPR maybe.
Interview on Australian ABC affiliate.
Article in the Guardian on the old “New Atheists.”
Morris’s cool book _Inevitable Humans_.
A summary of some of his ideas from Wikipedia.
Simon Conway Morris’s homepage in the Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge U.
He’s well known for his work on evolutionary convergence, the fact that certain features seem to evolve independently and almost inevitably. This has lead him to make the controversial claim–for which he however makes a good case based on the convergence data he’s famous for in his field–that if there were life on other planets, it wold likely resemble life on Earth to a remarkable degree.
There are two potential applications of his work (at least) concerning the design argument. One is that it would settle a dilemma posed in this paper by Dougherty and Poston: “A User’s Guide to Design Arguments.” I.e. it would show that there is possibly a good fine-tuning argument for God’s existence, but not a good biological design argument.
Second, it would go some way toward defeating the “strange alternative forms of life” objection to the fine-tuning argument.
I welcome both these results.

Comments:
  • Jason

    Trent,
    Nice post!
    If the application to the fine-tuning argument works, couldn’t you say, given a good-fine tuning argument, that this increases the likelihood the biological design on Earth is from the same guy who fine-tuned the Universe? That is, a good fine-tuning argument seems to make the biological design argument more plausible. Thoughts?
    JJ

    July 19, 2010 — 12:16
  • Donald

    I’m not sure if I’ll be able to type all this clearly and unfortunately I’m going out of town for the rest of the week. But here goes. In the notation used by your paper, I think you can compare the probability of theism to the probability of atheism this way–
    T means theism, -T means atheism, C means constants allowing life to exist, B means life exists
    P(T/CB) divided by P(-T/CB) =
    P(B/CT) P(C/T) P(T) divided by P(B/C,-T) P(C/-T) P(-T)
    P(T) and P(-T) are the probabilities you’d assign to theism and atheism without looking at the evidence of B and C.
    P(C/T) is the probability that the physical constants would allow life if God exists and P(C/-T) is the probability if He didn’t. The fine tuners argue that the first is much higher than the second.
    P(B/CT) is the probability that life would come into existence given that the physical constants allow it and that God exists. P(B/C-T) is the probability that life would exist if God doesn’t exist, but the physical constants would allow it. People like Behe agree that the constants allow life to exist, but that there is still further intervention necessary for it to actually come into existence. So they argue P(B/CT) is high but P(B/C-T) is low.
    I think one could consistently argue that P(C/T) is much greater than P(C/-T) and also think that God would still need to do some extra work, so that P(B/CT) is much larger than P(B/C-T).
    Not that I believe this myself. I lean towards Conway Morris’s position. But I don’t think that what Ross and his ilk are trying to show logically conflicts with what Behe and their ilk argue–they are just looking at different parts of what is necessary for life to exist and one claims that in a purely naturalistic universe, the constants probably wouldn’t be life-allowing and the other says if they were, the chance of life appearing would still be slight.
    Incidentally, what do people think of the Ikeda/Jefferys’ paper criticizing the fine tuning argument? (Google for it–I have to go to bed soon). In their notation, B is L and they claim you can never write equations like P(B/X), because you already know you exist. They also claim that the biological design argument is in conflict with the fine tuning argument, like you, but I think you and they are wrong.
    I probably won’t see your reply though until the weekend, unless it comes quick.

    July 19, 2010 — 23:54
  • Donald

    Okay, this is weird. I just typed in a long response, thought I saw it appear, went somewhere else for a second, and it has vanished. Sorry if this appears twice. It gives me a chance to correct something below
    ‘m not sure if I’ll be able to type all this clearly and unfortunately I’m going out of town for the rest of the week. But here goes. In the notation used by your paper, I think you can compare the probability of theism to the probability of atheism this way–
    T means theism, -T means atheism, C means constants allowing life to exist, B means life exists
    P(T/CB) divided by P(-T/CB) =
    P(B/CT) P(C/T) P(T) divided by P(B/C,-T) P(C/-T) P(-T)
    P(T) and P(-T) are the probabilities you’d assign to theism and atheism without looking at the evidence of B and C.
    P(C/T) is the probability that the physical constants would allow life if God exists and P(C/-T) is the probability if He didn’t. The fine tuners argue that the first is much higher than the second.
    P(B/CT) is the probability that life would come into existence given that the physical constants allow it and that God exists. P(B/C-T) is the probability that life would exist if God doesn’t exist, but the physical constants would allow it. People like Behe agree that the constants allow life to exist, but that there is still further intervention necessary for it to actually come into existence. So they argue P(B/CT) is high but P(B/C-T) is low.
    I think one could consistently argue that P(C/T) is much greater than P(C/-T) and also think that God would still need to do some extra work, so that P(B/CT) is much larger than P(B/C-T).
    Not that I believe this myself. I lean towards Conway Morris’s position. But I don’t think that what Ross and his ilk are trying to show logically conflicts with what Behe and their ilk argue–they are just looking at different parts of what is necessary for life to exist and one claims that in a purely naturalistic universe, the constants probably wouldn’t be life-allowing and the other says if they were, the chance of life appearing would still be slight.
    Incidentally, what do people think of the Ikeda/Jefferys’ paper criticizing the fine tuning argument? (Google for it–I have to go to bed soon). In their notation, B is L and they claim that when you write equations like P(B/X) where X is anything, the probability is one because you already know you exist. (That may not be quite what they say–it’s been awhile since I read it.) They also claim that the biological design argument is in conflict with the fine tuning argument, like you, but I think you and they are wrong.
    I probably won’t see your reply though until the weekend, unless it comes quick.

    July 20, 2010 — 0:00
  • Jeremy Pierce

    Wait, does that mean we have to stop criticizing Star Trek because of how close all the aliens look to humans?

    August 5, 2010 — 13:13