Craig's Five Ways, Part One

Writing in the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas famously presented his “five ways” to prove that God exists. He relied largely on extrapolations from observable phenomena in our daily experience to grand claims about the origins of it all. Thus, he argued from the presence of motion in the natural world to an unmoved mover behind it all, or from the contingency of existence in the natural world to the presence of a necessary existent, and so on.

These arguments have received detailed philosophical development over the years, from Aquinas and from many others, but they have not fared well. Few philosophers nowadays defend them, and for good reason. All of them rest on dubious premises, and their conclusions are generally underwhelming. (For example, there might be a necessary existent, but why should we equate a necessary existent with God?)

Now we have philosopher William Lane Craig to pick up the mantle. In this short essay posted over at the Fox News website, he serves up five arguments of his own for why we should believe in God. You are probably familiar with Craig; he's a prominent debater and Christian apologist. One of his favorite rhetorical tricks is to bombard his opponent with rapid-fire arguments for God's existence. He then tells the audience that if his opponent fails to refute each and every one of them, in the short period of time he is allotted, then the audience should declare him the victor. You can consider this essay the written version of this tactic.

I've seen him use as many as eight different arguments for that purpose, so I'd say we're getting off easy here with just five. P.Z. Myers and Jerry Coyne (here and here respectively) have already addressed Craig's arguments, but why should they have all the fun?

So let's have a look. After a few paragraphs of chest-thumping, Craig gets down to business. He even helpfully numbers his arguments:

1. God provides the best explanation of the origin of the universe. Given the scientific evidence we have about our universe and its origins, and bolstered by arguments presented by philosophers for centuries, it is highly probable that the universe had an absolute beginning. Since the universe, like everything else, could not have merely popped into being without a cause, there must exist a transcendent reality beyond time and space that brought the universe into existence. This entity must therefore be enormously powerful. Only a transcendent, unembodied mind suitably fits that description.

This is all very muddled. Here are some words and phrases in that argument that need some serious clarification before we can make sense of what Craig is even claiming: “our universe”, “absolute beginning”, “cause”, “transcendent reality” and “beyond time and space.”

Science tells us that our universe came into being with a massive explosion called the Big Bang. It tells us almost nothing about what might have caused the Big Bang to occur. For that matter, since our notions of time and space also came into existence with the Big Bang, it is not so clear what it even means to talk about a cause for the universe. In our normal understanding of the terms, causes must come before effects. For that to be meaningful, you must have a notion of time with which to work.

It is one thing to say that our little corner of the universe had a beginning with the Big Bang, but we have little basis at all even for speculating about what might have come before. In some of his public presentations, Craig abuses a theorem due to Borde, Guth and Vilenkin regarding the origins of the universe to add a scientific gloss to his assertions, but he is simply wrong to do so.

There is no shortage of viable explanations for the origins of the cosmos that do not involve inventing an all-powerful deity to start it all off. There is no reason at all why there could not be an infinite regress of causes, nor is there any reason to think the universe could not have appeared uncaused. We have little basis even for speculating about what is plausible and what is not in pondering these scenarios. Whatever it was that brought our world into being is something that is not at all like anything with which we have actual experience. How can we judge the relative likelihoods of such naturalistic scenarios, as compared to the likelihood that there is a necessarily existent superbeing who can effortlessly bring universes into being with acts of his will?

In short, Craig is just making things up when he says that God is the most likely explanation for the existence of the universe. He has no solid basis at all for making such a claim.

2. God provides the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe. Contemporary physics has established that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent, interactive life. That is to say, in order for intelligent, interactive life to exist, the fundamental constants and quantities of nature must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range. There are three competing explanations of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design. The first two are highly implausible, given the independence of the fundamental constants and quantities from nature's laws and the desperate maneuvers needed to save the hypothesis of chance. That leaves design as the best explanation.

This is just more groundless assertion. Let us leave aside the question of just how-fine-tuned the universe really is. The fact remains that this is even more of an argument from ignorance than the first. To say the life-permitting range is “incomprehensibly narrow” implies both that we know precisely what the life-permitting range is and that we know the range of possible values of which that is a subset. Moreover, chance is an entirely plausible explanation for fine-tuning if our universe is just one part of a vast multiverse. That's probably what Craig has in mind in referring to “desperate maneuvers,” but in doing so he is just replacing argument with rhetoric.

The multiverse idea is speculative, but it receives considerable support from several lines of thought in modern astronomy and is a perfectly mainstream idea among physicists and cosmologists. In this it differs considerably from the invented-from-whole-cloth notion of a God to turn the dials. On what possible basis does Craig decide that the former idea is a desperate maneuver, while the latter is a plausible explanation?

Craig's first two arguments are of a sort that can only be compelling to simple-minded people. They are not arguments so much as they are dogmatic assertions resting on nothing but the misplaced confidence of the people making the argument.

And Craig is just getting started! We have three more claims to go, but this post has already gotten a bit long. So we shall save his others for another day.

More like this

His explanations are calculated to appeal to his audience, in this case the Fox News demographic. If we're going to suggest that rationalists wade into Fox News's comments section and engage, it helps to have realistic goals and expectations.

It's not realistic to seek to preach atheism on Fox, because then you get labeled as The Identified Enemy, and it's game over, you lose.

What _is_ realistic is to attempt to convince them that it's wrong, _according to values they either agree with or won't dispute,_ to attempt to impose _a specific religious denomination_ upon the general public in the form of _public policy_. One of the best ways to do that is by raising the issue of "whose denomination becomes Official Christianity?"

Toward that end, it helps to know enough about the Fox demographic religious denominations to be able to identify doctrinal differences that are significant enough to cause substantial disagreement among them.

For example, "deism," "intelligent design", "creationism," and "young-Earth creationism" are substantially different to one another. "Pre-tribulation rapture" vs. "post-tribulation rapture" is the source of fierce disagreement among different sects of Evangelicals.

On the progressive side of Christianity are Matthew Fox, Positive Force, Liberation Theology, the entire set of denominations involved in the Civil Rights Movement, Christian pacifism e.g. the Quakers, and let's not forget the new Pope's statements about social justice. (Few things piss off religious righties like religious lefties;-)

If you go on Fox preaching in favor of moderate or progressive religion, you'll draw fire from the most rabid right-wing religious extremists, which immediately gets into the "whose denomination becomes Official Christianity?" debate, (or even, "whose denomination is Real Christianity?") and you win over the moderates by showing the extremists as being completely intolerant of anything other than their own viewpoint.

Generalizations: in order to succeed at arguing something (including religion) _in any forum that represents a sizable portion of the population_, you have to know the subject matter. Merely saying "it's all a bunch of illusions" gets nowhere. Having a laundry-list of well-known examples gets nowhere because it's readily apparent that those examples are well-known and oft-used by atheists. But asking well-informed questions is powerful because it causes others to have to explain themselves. If they can't explain themselves adequately, it becomes painfully obvious to all involved.

Lastly, remember the Biblical story about casting seed, where some of it falls on hard ground and doesn't sprout, but some of it falls on fertile ground and does? Think of that in terms of "planting seeds of doubt."

Craig could really summarise his arguments under the slogan 'Nature - it's just not natural'.

'That is to say, in order for intelligent, interactive life to exist, the fundamental constants and quantities of nature must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range.'

Who created all these mechanisms which wipe out life if eg gravity becomes too strong, or the speed of light falls?

Why would any god create a world which kills everything in it if there are too many protons?

It is true that the particular combination of circumstances which produced us is remarkable and unique.

But then, every single universe is remarkable and unique.

Indeed, how could there be a universe which is not remarkable and unique?

If the world rested on the backs of four elephants, it would be a remarkable and unique universe and Craig would doubtless say that elephants of that size could not have been placed there except by God.

All universes with people in them would be remarkable, unique universes.

In fact, fine-tuning is another 'Heads-I-win, tails-you-lose' argument.

The fact that the Universe allows life is used to prove that there is a God, but you can be certain that if the Universe did not allow life, that would also be used to prove there was a God.

Indeed, if life in the universe was impossible and we were here anyway, that would be a very good proof of God. If the world did rest on the backs of four elephants , that could well be a proof of God.

By Steven Carr (not verified) on 17 Dec 2013 #permalink

I was unfamiliar with Craig's arguments before reading this, but it seems to me to be the same old, same old Christian apologist tripe. However, for the sake of argument, let's concede that these arguments are sound. That still does not really lead to the conclusion that Craig desperately wants to draw.

Craig's arguments, if sound, lead only to the conclusion that there is some being outside of the spacetime framework in which we ordinary beings live. The conclusion that Craig wishes to draw, obviously, is that this being must be equated with the Christian god. These arguments certainly do not necessarily demonstrate that the Christian god is necessary.

Consider, for instance, the idea that our universe is merely a small "bubble" created in a laboratory in some larger continuum. A creator of our universe in such a situation could be imagined to be merely a sufficiently advanced sentient being inhabiting this hypothetical continuum. He/she/it need not even be an actual deity to do so.

Obviously, other conceptions of "god" would fit these arguments as well. Many such conceptions would contradict the Christian conception of god, such as a deist god for instance. The Christian god concept typically entails omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and intervetionism. It seems to me that NONE of these attributes would be necessitated by the soundness of Craig's arguments.

If god has fine tuned the universe for intelligent life why haven't we found any? What, humans? Take a look around you, read the papers, watch tv. Not much intelligent life there I can see.

The Fine Tuning argument has always seemed absurd to me when you consider how inimical to life the universe is. Based on a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation, using both the volume of the earth just above its surface that is habitable and the volume of the observable universe, I estimate that the volume of the universe that is habitable by humans to be:


Given that, I don't see how anyone can keep a straight face while saying the universe is fine tuned for life. The universe is a vast emptiness at 2.7K, punctuated by gas balls at 1000s of K -- how is that "fine tuned" for life?

The philosopher John Hawthorne has an interesting take, from a Bayesian perspective, on the futility of fine-tuning arguments for theism . ( ) . I admit to having little patience for most philosophical discourse, but Hawthorne gave me the rare sensation of being in the presence of a metaphysician who actually makes sense. I won't try to reproduce Hawthorne's argument here. Check him out on youtube.

By Stan Polanski (not verified) on 18 Dec 2013 #permalink

Craig's first four points are just wrong. The last one cannot be disproved, but I've never heard from any deity myself.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 18 Dec 2013 #permalink

Essentially these are god of the gaps arguments. I do not think it is essential for Craig to succeed with the notion of "best explanation". He only needs to give believers room to continue see God as possible. His hyperbole, I think, is used to elbow more room for belief. And is later used to leverage other claims - cannot rule God out as the cause of the universe, so God also creates the mutations needed for humans - does not matter that we don't need God for that!

Ultimately these gaps will close too. The truly odd part to me is that this envisioned God - that is some sort of cause for the start of the universe - is a rather meaningless entity.

If there is a god, and which one is it, is what needs to be learned first.. Everything else is just conjecture and someone's opinion, ISTM.

Craig offers no indication that his idea can produce a prediction or even a hypothesis. Therefore, it is not science.

The religions of today offer moral codes to help unite groups and invoke a God, which helps the group focus. Craig offers little in this regard.

Einstein developed general relativity with the idea the universe was static (always existed). The Big Bang model resulted when Friedman and Lemaitre applied the first three words of the Bible to the math of general relativity. What entity created the God that created our universe? God is external to our universe. It’s turtles all the way down.

Another view is the universe always existed. This is also religion. The main contender to the Big Bang is the Steady State model that has morphed in cyclic universe models. These models derived from the Hindu idea of an eternal universe. These models also use general relativity to describe gravity. (Craig’s use of the word “only” is entirely wrong.) God(s) are powerful beings in our universe.

Science, religion (with moral codes), philosophy, aesthetics, etc. are useful because they help us deal with the universe and help us survive. I see no use for Craig’s ideas and he seems disinclined to discuss any.

in order for intelligent, interactive life to exist, the fundamental constants and quantities of nature must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range.

Ah, but for parasites on intelligent, interactive life to exist, the constraints must by nececessity be even narrower, because they must support intelligent interactive life AND the parasites.

Therefore, by Craig's reasoning, the universe is desgined for our head lice. And smallpox.

Actually, eric, when I follow Craig's logic to its obvious conclusion, I find that the constraints of both physics and contingency are even narrower and harder to account for regarding the existence Therefore, clearly the universe was designed solely to produce ME.

I call this the Tulseopic Principle (although I understand that a well-known thinker has made a similar argument.

(And of course Sb ate my link, so search for "calvin hobbes end of history".)

"He relied largely on extrapolations from observable phenomena in our daily experience to grand claims about the origins of it all."
That's why Feser's claim - repeated by his fans - that it's just (Aristotelian) metaphysics is incorrect and for a man of Feser's intelligence even insincere. As soon as you're grounding your arguments on observable phenomena you're in the realm of science. Thomas of Aquino could get away with it, because he couldn't know anything about Classical Mechanics yet, let alone Modern Physics. But physics has changed since then.
When philosophy and/or theology collide with physics the latter wins. Period.

OK. Here we go.
1. God explains everything hence nothing (Popper).

"Since the universe, like everything else, could not have merely popped into being without a cause,"
Could WLC be so friendly to tell us the cause of an instable atom decaying at moment X and not at any other possible moment? He will be awarded with the Nobel Price immediately.

2. Intelligent life like Homo Sapiens is fine-tuned for the Universe, not the other way round.

@3 Sean T: WLC's only original contribution is rephrasing the Kalam part of the Cosmological Argument, which does zilch to solve it's problems.

@4 ProgJohn: "What, humans?"
Intelligence here is defined as being capable of reflecting on oneself.

@5 Tulse: "when you consider how inimical to life the universe is"
That doesn't bother WLC; fine-tuning is teleological thinking and thus antiscientific (since 200 years). Herman Philipse phrased it in this manner: The fine-tuning argument is equivalent to a fly landing on the White House and concluding that it has been build with the specific goal to provide it with a resting place.

Even if we could prove that there is a cosmic christmas tree in the sky, we would have to hang ornaments on it...and here it the rub...we all have different preferences in ornaments.

Quantum mechanics allows for un-caused events. This means that the Big Bang does not necessarily need a cause if it is, well, a quantum mechanic type event. The quantum/probabilistic nature of this view also produces a multiverse, which would account for fine tuning.

Ethan over on Starts With a Bang! has a number of interesting posts on the origin of our universe.

'However, most atheists, in my experience, have no good reasons for their disbelief.'

Presumably this is Craig's roundabout way of claiming that there ARE good reasons for disbelief, but he is not going to tell his readers what they are.

Rather dishonest......

By Steven Carr (not verified) on 18 Dec 2013 #permalink

The reason for disbelief is there is that a person has no valid (scientific?) reason to believe. Belief is the positive statement and is the one that should be proven.

By John (not verified) on 19 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by Steven Carr (not verified)

Re. steven Carr @ 2: "Why would any god create a world which kills everything in it if there are too many protons?" Nice. Excellent.

Re. Tulse @ 5: One would have to come up with new physics on a grand scale to envision a universe that is more friendly to life than the one we presently live in. Ours may be the _most_ life-friendly type of universe that can be constructed with any set of internally consistent physical laws, constants, values for variables, etc. That still does not entail the necessity of a deity to bring it into existence.

The important distinction is the existence or non-existence of something (e.g. life, intelligence), rather than the relative quantity of it compared to something else (e.g. total volume and mass of organisms compared to total volume of space and mass of nonliving matter).

Tulse @5 The way we engineers achieve fine--tuning is with a negative feedback loop. Consider how a thermostat keeps a room at a set temperature. – a source of heat, a sink of heat, a measure of temperature, and a mechanism to activate the source or sink are required. Such mechanisms are suggested in science for some observed physical processes. I suggest each example of fine--tuning requires such a mechanism. The problem is these mechanisms remain unmodeled. Our models need improvement.

G @19 Existence of life. Current standard science models of the big and the small treat life as unusual and special or a random, low probability occurrence. Although low probability objects have been observed (especially in particle physics), they are short lived. Big bang and quantum mechanics are inconsistent. Many observations reject both hypotheses. The recognized needed new model has been named the “Theory of Everything” (TOE). I suggest the length of time biologic life has existed (some estimates exceed 6 billion years) means the TOE must explain why life is preferred and likely to exist. What purpose does life serve in our universe?

By John (not verified) on 19 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by G (not verified)

"This means that the Big Bang does not necessarily need a cause if it is, well, a quantum mechanic type event."
The Big Bang definitely was a QM type event with the extremely high density and such.

@ Tom

Can you provide an example of an "uncaused" event that is allowed for by quantum mechanics? I mean something that can actually be observed, perhaps we have different definitions of "caused".

One would have to come up with new physics on a grand scale to envision a universe that is more friendly to life than the one we presently live in.

"Grand scale"? Aren't we talking about the existence of an alleged omnipotent entity? This isn't an issue of twiddling constants of the existing laws, but of a being who can literally will into existence what it desires. It doesn't have any constraints at all about what it could create (if it did, that raises the rather interesting question of how those constraints themselves exist, and how an omnipotent being can be limited by them.)

The important distinction is the existence or non-existence of something (e.g. life, intelligence), rather than the relative quantity of it compared to something else

Not at all, since you have to give a reason for why that particular "something" is relevant. There are literally uncountable unique objects and events in the universe, things that would never have occurred in any other universe. So why are you choosing "life" as the quality that this one "fine tunes"? In any other universe, this peanut butter cookie that I am eating would be different, or perhaps not exist at all, so why isn't this universe fine tuned to produce this peanut butter cookie? In some far distant nebula, there is a cloud of hydrogen that is a very specific shape, and if the laws of this universe had been different, that cloud in that shape would never have occurred -- was the universe fine tuned to produce that cloud of gas in that shape?

The Fine Tuning argument is implicitly question-begging. It asserts that the only quality that can be fine tuned for that matters is life/intelligence/humanity, without answering why it is only that allegedly rare occurrence whose rarity is significant. The argument tries to smuggle in Judeo-Christian beliefs as an unexamined premise.

In any case, contrary to your argument, I think the infinitesimal volume we can live in in this universe is an extremely powerful counterargument against fine tuning, as I think it demonstrates exactly how unlikely the alleged significance of life is. In any other circumstance we would say that such a vastly tiny amount is no more than an afterthought, merely some contamination. If you placed a single molecule into the vastness of all of earth's oceans, that would still be huge orders of magnitude more presence than the habitable volume of the universe. How can you possibly think that the ocean was created for just that molecule, or that the universe was created just for us?

George @21

Atomic decay comes first to mind and is the example I remember from my classes. Vacuum energy is also an example un-caused events and can observed through the Casimir effect.

Reginald Selkirk @ 26
Phrases in the referenced document: “illogical, refuted, lousy arguments”, “astonishingly dishonest and irrational”, “delusional nonsense”, “dishonest or outright silly”, “ridiculous ignorance, contradictions, and vile teachings”, etc.

Arguments with personal insults and attacks mean to me the writer has already decided he has no argument and is attempting to convince others by pure hot air. Well, maybe cold air. These people have nothing to contribute.

By John (not verified) on 19 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by Reginald Selkirk (not verified)

So, John, you choose only to address the tone, and not the actual content of the arguments?

The tone says it all. It even implies stupidity in this case. (There how do you like it?)

By John (not verified) on 19 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by Tulse (not verified)

I've noted you have some interesting thoughts. You don't need to resort the the problem tactics.

The tone says it all.

It actually doesn't -- the piece makes some very strong arguments against Craig's claims. If you can't get past the language, then you are essentially arguing that civility is more important that truth.

Arguments with personal insults and attacks mean to me the writer has already decided he has no argument and is attempting to convince others by pure hot air. Well, maybe cold air. These people have nothing to contribute.

I just read Carrier's piece and this is so far from true, I have to think you either didn't read it or are intentionally tone trolling it.
Yeah, he uses provocative language. But to say he "has already decided he has no argument and is attempting to convince others by pure hot air" is to ignore the actual arguments he states. And the argument he cites. And the papers he cites. Basically, the 95% of Carrier's piece which is not provocative statements.

Carrier even mentions a reason for his use of this language: William Lane Craig doesn't correct or change his arguments after being told he's incorrect. This is no doubt extremely frustrating for someone like Carrier, an academic who is used to other academics who are intellectually honest. The annoyance at someone like Craig, who simply ignores the arguments of the atheists that he is claiming to speak to, comes through. But that annoyance isn't being presented as a substitute for good argument, it's very clearly being offered in addition to good argument.

TL:DR version - seriously dude, you claim to have read Carrier's piece and don't see any good arguments there? Really?

@25 Tom,

Thank you for your reply. I would not consider these "un-caused" events. Although your reply helps me understand your view. Atomic decay is a complex and probabilistic event that may be - at least in some case - be triggered by a quantum vacuum fluctuations. I also would not consider quantum fluctuation as un-caused, they are natural variations in the vacuum energy field.

Atomic decay is a complex and probabilistic event that may be – at least in some case – be triggered by a quantum vacuum fluctuations.

You can certainly cause a decay by using outside forces. But no, for "unforced" standard decay, the best available evidence the have is that there are no hidden variables associated with QM. None. We could be wrong about that, but be aware that claiming these things are caused because we could be wrong about hidden variables is somewhat akin to claiming we could be wrong about the loch ness monster. Yeah, possible. Probable? No.

Eric @34
There is lots of evidence that QM is incomplete. That is, data that falsifies QM. There is more to learn. The orthodox (super conservative) science doesn’t like to write about such things. The social goal of scientists is to be funded. Investment likes security.

But, we’re all heterodox here. Aren’t we?

Of course, there are hidden/unknown/unmodeled variables.

By John (not verified) on 20 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by eric (not verified)

@33 George

You seem to be conflating atomic decay with vacuum energy. These things are separate events.

Atomic decay is the emission of radiation (Alpha, Beta, Gamma) that transforms one element into another. This is probabilistic, meaning that we can calculate probabilities for decay (half life), but cannot predict the decay of a specific atom. This is because for all recent knowledge that atomic decay is un-caused. If one could demonstrate a cause for atomic decay, one would be worthy of a Nobel prize.

Vacuum energy involves the constant creation and annihilation of virtual particles and anti-particles in vacuum. This generates the Casimir effect, among others. This is entirely separate from atomic decay. Atomic decay is also apparent in non-vacuum environment where vacuum energy is negligible.

So unless you have some Nobel Prize worthy evidence that vacuum energy and atomic decay are not un-caused, then you are simply trying to blow smoke up my ass.

Re John @ #36

There is lots of evidence that QM is incomplete. That is, data that falsifies QM.

Citation needed. AFAIK there is no evidence, at least on the micro scale, that is inconsistent with QM. Now clearly, QM is currently incompatible with General Relativity; in particular, GR predicts that the interior of a black hole will collapse into a mathematical point, which would violate the Pauli Principle. Until there is a theory of quantum gravity, such questions will not be answerable.

By colnago80 (not verified) on 20 Dec 2013 #permalink


You mentioned the big two, most of the cosmology rejects QM and gravity. The need for hidden variables in QM is a problem.
What is light - particle or wave? The Copenhagen interpretations says both but not in the same experiment (means without collapsing the wave function). The Afshar experiment rejects that. The controversy about this experiment has been intense. But, the experiment has been verified. Suggestions to bring the results in line with QM (the complementary principle) have failed. The community seems to have fallen silent on the Afshar experiment. If ignored, it may go away.

QM has many different “interpretations” and a test to distinguish the better one has not been found.

By John (not verified) on 20 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by colnago80 (not verified)

The cosmological argument (#1) is simply an instance of the asparagus fallacy—I'm glad I don't like asparagus because if I liked it, I'd eat it and I can't stand it. Everything must have a cause, therefore there must be something that doesn't have a cause. The conclusion of Craig's argument is in direct contradiction to its main premise.

By Jim Harrison (not verified) on 20 Dec 2013 #permalink

Re John @ #38

A little searching indicates that the Afshar experiment is far from universally accepted in the physics community. I was unfamiliar with the experiment but a quick reading reminds me of a controversy that occurred back in the 1960s over an experiment performed by Prof. Robert Dicke which purported to show that the Sun had a quadrupole moment sufficient to contribute 3 seconds of arc per century to the precession rate of the major axis of the planet mercury, which would favor the Brans/Dicke theory of relativity over Einsteins theory. Unfortunately, other researchers failed to reproduce Dicke's supposed finding that the interior of the Sun was rotating 10 times as fast as its atmosphere.

By colnago80 (not verified) on 21 Dec 2013 #permalink

The experiment has been repeated and not discredited which is untrue of your references. I think the experiment must be accepted as stated. However, the argument is Afshar’s interpretation. The traditional “thinkers”argue from a standpoint of Ultra conservatives digging in their heels. To my knowledge there has been several attempts at a traditional physics explanation. All have failed. I am reminded of the continental drift proposal that traditional professionals resisted for several decades. Also, H. ARP for his data on QSOs. He wrote about the entrenched bureaucracy in his book “Seeing Red”.
As for Sagan’s comment: the definition of "extraordinary evidence" is so extreme that nothing the ulta-conservatives accept.
I’m sure the traditional guys who control the media and publishing grants would like experiments like this to just go away. Traditional science and those who control publishing do not want to rock the boat with uncomfortable observations. The most recent I read on this is Martin Lopez-Corredoira “Non-standard Models and the Sociology of Cosmology” .

Observations like Afshar’s are what advances physics.

By John (not verified) on 21 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by colnago80 (not verified)

Re John @ #38

A more recent example of a controversial finding that has since been discredited was the alleged observation that neutrinos appeared to be traveling faster then light. As it turned out, there was a problem with the electronics of the detection equipment that, apparently, was responsible for the discrepancy.

The bottom line is to remember the famous quote of Carl Sagan, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

By colnago80 (not verified) on 21 Dec 2013 #permalink

John, just so I'm clear on something: how old is the Earth?

Be careful to answer in a way that indicates provactive non-traditional thinking, not the same old dogma of authoritarian scientists.

Lenoxus @43
colnago80 @44
Very subtle.

I am an orthodox scientist. I publish papers. My research that is my interest is based on the acceptance of the current models as far as observation supports them and as far as prediction has confirmed them – which are far from many models. For example, string theory is not much different from religion. It has not produced a prediction and is unlikely to do so – like creationism. It explains only after the data is known. I think Dark matter is a speculation. Hypothesis to test it have had null results. It is, at best, an ad hoc addition to standard models. But, it has been ad hoc for too long that implies a dead end path of investigation.
General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics with the Standard particle model have had predictions confirmed. Notice I said General Relativity not the Big Bang model. As in all things in science, these are the basis for the next model – the Theory of Everything. Like General Relativity corresponded to Newtonian Mechanics, my next model must conform to General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. However, there are holes, unexplained observations and observations that reject current models. That is, these models are limited not wrong. A new model also must explain these.

Suppose a new model is presented. The majority of “professional scientists” would have to go back to undergraduate school. These are the people that determine funding. They are not going to fund, let alone accept for publication, a radically new (as the Theory of Everything is likely to be) model without a lot of harrumphing and rejection on the grounds that in their “professional opinion” they don’t agree while being unclear about their data. They like the status quo and have resisted changes. Therefore, assertions that a majority of scientists say “….” are vacuous.

I am retired so I do not need the funding from the entrenched social society.

Science likes to work with well--defined definitions. So, what do you mean by Earth. How big does a rock from a supernove have to be before this seed is called Earth. Does it have to have water (liquid) – many asteroids have water (ice)? The Earth is continually growing. Several tons of rocks are falling every year. Does it have to have a large moon? OK. A bit extreme but you get the idea. Also note the definition of a planet has changed recently. The geologic age of about 3 billion years seems OK. I understand some want it to be older. Few support the calculated biologic age of when life (DNA?) started of over 6 billion years (see Panspermia).

Do you support heterodox ideas? What is your idea for a Theory of Everything?

colnago80 @44
Does that mean you're familiar with Arp's issues?
certainly conservatism in the sense of verifyis warrented. However, may experiments and calculations that agree with current dogma are simply accepted without comfirmation.

By John (not verified) on 21 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by Lenoxus (not verified)

Re John @ #42

Excuse me, I never said that the Afshar's experimental results had been discredited, only that they were controversial. By the way, I was present at an APS meeting when Dicke made his presentation on his experimental result. I can state without fear of contradiction that it was received with great interest by the audience, which numbered several hundred. Nobody denounced him out of hand, merely said that an extraordinary finding such as he alleged must be subject to confirmation, to which Dicke agreed, stating that, as he was the co-developer of the Brans/Dicke theory (Brans was his graduate student), an experiment performed by someone pushing a theory must be taken with some measure of salt.

Incidentally, your over the top accusation that the reaction to Afshar's experiment is evidence for hide bound scientists refusing to accept a finding that appears in contradiction to a highly successful theory that has been around for
ninety years is unwarranted. Scientists are naturally conservative and require independent confirmation of results that seem not so support long held theories as there are numerous examples of one off results that are not confirmed. Dicke's experiments, the CERN neutrino result, Piltdown Man, and Fleishman/Pons cold fusion result are evidence that such conservatism is very much in order.

By colnago80 (not verified) on 21 Dec 2013 #permalink

What I read was "A little searching indicates that the Afshar experiment is far from universally accepted in the physics community." Later you said "finding" or "result". This indicates to me the experiment and the data itself, the readings of the instruments. The interpretation is controversial. I misunderstood your use of the term "experiment".

Let me also add - when I say "prediction" I mean prediction that no other model predicts. Better yet is a prediction other models calculate something differently.

By John (not verified) on 21 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by colnago80 (not verified)

All nice and well, John, but nothing you wrote contradicts the fact that no cause can be identified for an instable atom decaying at moment X and not at another moment (you will be familiar with the problems with Bohm's interpretation). Possibly some model will identify that cause in the future, but in the meantime WLC's cosmological argument has a problem to solve.
Just because it's conceivable that some consistent and coherent mathematical model assuming a Flat Earth covering all the known empirical data will be developed somewhere in the future doesn't mean we should give the Flat Earth Society any credibiliy for now, does it? In that case I don't see why I should accept the first fundamental assumption of the cosmological argument either.

I’m having a tough time understanding your point. I accept you’ve thought about this.
Probability is an experimenter’s calculation tool to organize data and test hypothesis. Humans like to find patterns to develop models. A model is a means to predict observations, which serves our survival. Humans also like to include in their models a cause and effect relationship that fits their everyday experience. Liebniz explored at length the sequence of events and the idea of cause. He got himself confused.
That “…probability explains many more empirical data than causality.” Is to be expected when we have more experimental data than can fit our models. That is, the use of probability is a measure of our ignorance compared to our ability to test.
Recently, probability in QM has been suggested as reality. I don’t subscribe to that. But, having said that I interpret the probability can be used for prediction when underling causes are unmodeled. I think what is “real” is a philosophical issue not a science issue. As such, the correctness of viewpoints is solved by the utility of the viewpoint in functioning.

Just because a model is incomplete is no reason to not use it where it applies. For example, people use a flat earth model every day. The road maps used in day—to—day living are a flat earth model. If you want to plot a course across the Pacific, a different model is more appropriate. That is where science always is. The models now and in the past are at least incomplete.

By John (not verified) on 21 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by MNb (not verified)

In addition: despite Modern Physics being far from perfect and even when granting your near-conspiracy theory regarding the conservatism of established science (which I don't) the fact remains that since several decades probability explains many more empirical data than causality. What's more, causality is a special case of probability. So my bet is that GUT will be probabilistic too.
Of course I could lose that bet, like I could lose the bet that Iran will become Worldchampion in Brasil, 2014. Still that's not much of an argument for stating that Iran has the strongest team of the tournament.

"that Iran will become Worldchampion"
will not become.

@ Tom 33

I am confusing anything, at least I do not think so. An atomic decay may well be triggered by a quantum fluctuation. I disagree that these are not caused. Unstable atoms enter different states and some these states result in decay. That is the nature of atomic structure. I consider that far from un-caused. It is the essence of their structure. Atoms are not static entities just sitting idly. They are in constant flux. Some of the states result in decay. The probability of such states depends on the specific atom.

You seem to also consider a quantum fluctuation as uncaused. I do not. I consider these fluctuations to be the nature of quantum fields. A non zero vacuum energy is the cause.

I my view, to consider these un-caused is not correct.

I will not argue with you further as you seem to have reached the point of irritation rather than discourse.

Re. John at 23, "what purpose does life serve in our universe?"

"Purpose" is a characteristic of living organisms, and "meaning" is a characteristic of minds.

All organisms seek to preserve their own existence, and the majority of members of every species seek to reproduce: exceptions such as altruistic self-sacrifice and non-reproductive pairings don't invalidate the generalizations. Self-preservation and reproduction are examples of elementary "purpose" or "purposive behavior" in organisms.

Conscious organisms exhibit behaviors that are indicative of a sense of meaning, and in humans we can correlate the behaviors with the subjective experience of meaning. The sense of meaning ranges from the most concrete uses of language, to the most developed sense of aesthetic and philosophical awe in relation to things much greater than the individual self.

Neither of the above are necessary in order for physics to work and the universe to exist. Our universe (and other possible universes) could exist without them. But the fact that both exist changes the character of the universe in a manner analogous to that which occurs in relation to the fact that any other aspect of nature exists. A universe with life is different to a universe without it. A universe with intelligent conscious life that has a sense of meaning and can reflect on its purposes and deliberately choose its purposes (such as to explore space and become an interstellar civilization) is different to a universe without these aspects.

By way of TOE, I would suggest that the existence of life and intelligence is inevitable in any universe with consistent physics, as an outcome of the existence of dissipative structures that naturally arise from complex chemistry.

Your exceptions are counterproductive and perhaps evil in the sense they are inefficient at furthering life. Altruism is ok to the extent of furnishing favor for favor. Altruism without return is evil – consumes resources with no profit. Even during Christmas the expectation is a return gift.

How do you know the existence of any other universe changes ours? Thinking of this seems to be useless waste of time to me.

By John (not verified) on 27 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by G (not verified)

@51 George: "An atomic decay may well be triggered by a quantum fluctuation. I disagree that these are not caused."
Identify a cause and I guarantee you the Nobel-price for Physics in no time. Speculations like "may well be triggered" will not do though. What's more, quantum fluctuations are by definition probabilistic.


I don’t know exactly what causes “atomic decay” but I agree with George that these events have a cause. The lack of knowledge about the cause is not proof that there is no cause.

Perhaps a Nobel Prize awaits the person who does identify the cause, but another awaits the person who can demonstrate that there is no cause.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 28 Dec 2013 #permalink

"another awaits the person who can demonstrate that there is no cause."
Well, first of all of course it's impossible to demonstrate that something is not there. Subsequently this comes as close as you may desire:

Indeed Heisenberg received several awards - many decades.
Take his principle out of Quantum Mechanics and the theory falls apart like Evolution Theory without natural selection. Reject it and you find yourself in the camp of creacrappers. Accept it and you have to accept that causality some way or another doesn't suffice.
Your only escape route is what I already wrote - develop a coherent theory that correctly describes all known empirical data, is causal and thus identifies a cause for atomic decay.
Modern physics is what it is. The recently found higgs-boson has been found thanks to probability, not to causality.

"The lack of knowledge about the cause is not proof that there is no cause."
The lack of knowledge about the Intelligent Designer is not proof that there is no Intelligent Designer.
The lack of knowledge about little invisible demons running your computer is not proof that there are no such demons.
Sounds all equally lame.


In #56 your comments about Heisenberg are irrelevant. Heisenberg’s uncertainty holds because we never actually “observe” quantum events; we can only detect subatomic particles with devices that introduce uncertainty; we can only “observe” quantum events using these same detectors to detect outcomes of those events. We are always uncertain because our interaction (detection) necessarily alters the state of the particles interacted with. We can capture some information about these particles, but only at the expense of destroying other information.

It is like trying to determine how jet engines work by smashing them into each other so violently that all we find are fragments. It’s no surprise that this method will always leave us with Uncertainty.

Since the Principle of Uncertainty does not exclude causality, no escape route is necessary, nor any abandonment of that essential principle.

The recently found higgs-boson has been found thanks to probability, not to causality.

This is correct, and also irrelevant. We know the probabilities of QM events, we don’t know about causality in QM; we use what we know.

Quantum causality remains an open question. It may be impossible to ever answer, but that is not even evidence that it does not exist, much less proof. We don’t know why specific subatomic particles do what they do when they do it; that ignorance does not preclude causality, or even argue against it.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 28 Dec 2013 #permalink


Regarding (in #57)

lack of knowledge about the Intelligent Designer is not proof that there is no Intelligent Designer.

That is almost correct. We have no knowledge OF any I.D., much less knowledge about any one I.D. But the basic point remains valid: we have no proof that there is no I.D.

The difference between causality and any I.D. is HUGE. We have comprehensive evidence of and about causality; we have ZERO evidence for an I.D. (or “little invisible demons” for that matter).

We have no reason to believe in any I.D. and every reason to believe in causality even at the quantum level. Why make QM an exception to causality when that exception would be both unique and unnecessary?

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 28 Dec 2013 #permalink

Re. John @ 53: "Altruism is ok to the extent of furnishing favor for favor. Altruism without return is evil – consumes resources with no profit. Even during Christmas the expectation is a return gift."

That gets a Not Even Wrong award.

You specified Christmas gifts as an example, which clearly demonstrates that you intend the preceding statement to apply to humans. You're asserting that altruistic behavior is only morally acceptable when it produces a return to the giver.

Per your assertion, multi-generational investments made by a society at the expense of short-term gains are evil. That would include "big physics" as well as space exploration. Are you so sure you want to go there?

I assert that one of the core types of evil is to inflict suffering upon defenseless others for one's own gain. "Cruelty without reciprocity (penalty)" is the inverse of "altruism with reciprocity (reward)" in that both are calculated with regard to the consequences to oneself, without regard for the intrinsic value of the other.

Reciprocity is the most elementary level of moral reasoning, outgrown by most children when they reach the stage of mental development where they have a "theory of (other people's) mind(s)," and are able to understand that others have thoughts, feelings, and existence just as they themselves do. The second stage of moral development is to obey rules purely to seek rewards and avoid punishments from the arbiters of the rule-systems.

Finally, moral maturity consists in acting in accord with a set of internalized principles that one can clearly articulate, that guide behavior regardless of the prospect of external reward or punishment whether directly (from the other participant in a transaction) or indirectly (from an arbiter of a rule-system). One doesn't need a deity for this, and I frequently urge my fellow rationalists to use this to rebut the claim that morality only arises in response to the prospect of divine reward or punishment.

If you've ever taken an exam on the honor system and not cheated, you've falsified your own position.


Re. "How do you know the existence of any other universe changes ours? Thinking of this seems to be useless waste of time to me."

I did not assert anything concerned with multiverses. I asserted that the character of our presently-observable universe changed each time a new aspect of nature developed. One can extend that process back to the Big Bang, for example that the character of our universe changed when cycles of stellar birth and death produced the higher elements on the periodic table. The same case of "universe before X as compared to universe after X" applies to galaxies, planets, complex nonbiological chemistry, life, consciousness, intelligence, and culture. This dynamic will occur again if/when we become an interstellar species with an interstellar culture (assuming "someone else" hasn't already done so and brought these things into existence).

This is hardly a useless waste of time any more than speculating about the climate systems on potentially habitable planets.

G @60
“Per your assertion, multi-generational investments made by a society at the expense of short-term gains are evil. That would include “big physics” as well as space exploration. Are you so sure you want to go there?”

No. If an investment is truly an investment (meaning a return and repayment is expected), then long term investment benefit my progeny. That’s good. However, incurring debt (a burden for my progeny) for short--term gains may be evil if the return is dodgy. Do the resources spent on the incurable and those that cannot support themselves have a return? Or, are these expenses for political votes an evil for my progeny?

Note the emphasis on progeny.

Your development of morality is OK by me up to the point where you say morality is doing for others without expectation of “… regardless of the prospect of external reward or punishment whether directly (from the other participant in a transaction) or indirectly (from an arbiter of a rule-system).” I join a society with the expectation that the group can provide some protection/return to my progeny and me. Does this mean spending resources on the incurable and those that cannot support themselves where the expectation of no return (or total loss) is moral. Such things are moral for the politician who gets votes, but by spending other peoples’ money/taxes. The politicians’ task is to convince others it is moral.

“If you’ve ever taken an exam on the honor system and not cheated, you’ve falsified your own position.” Interesting point. My experience has been either supervised exams or open book exams. However, if an exam was on the honor system and not an open book exam and if the probability of getting caught is low, I probability would “cheat”. In your world, do you ever break the law – even the idiotic ones?

Speculation is a part of the progress of humans’ science. However, there is a point where the speculation has no suggested hypothesis or test. This case is to gather more data and test the speculations that may have a hypothesis. Spending time on those with no hypothesis is taking time from the others that may produce a furtherenc of knowledge. Having said this, I agree with your assertion.

By John (not verified) on 30 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by G (not verified)


I do not want to get between you and G in your exchange; but I do want to say how thankful I am that most of humanity is not gullible enough to embrace your grotesque ideas of morality.

You appear to have fallen into the trap set by some theists who claim that non-believers have to reinvent “objective morality” because “all current moral systems were given by God”. This is foolishness that you should be able to see: if there are no gods, whence moral current systems? Obviously, if there are no gods, existing moral systems (religious and otherwise) are all man-made. There is no need for non-believers to reinvent the wheel; they can just cherry-pick religious moral systems for the parts that are valuable and leave the religious rubble behind.

Instead, you seem to believe that you can explore the shallow reefs of your own mind to go deeper than—literally—thousands of generations of wiser people than you or I who worked toward optimal moral standards. I would applaud your effort if you had not made such a hash of it.

You may object to traditional religious morality as being fatally flawed by religion, but that is incoherent. Reason, rationalism, and science where all born and advanced by religious persons; should we jettison them and re-invent that wheel too? I think not. If we were able to salvage reason from religious constraints (which we were), we can salvage morality from the same.

And, of course, the whole objective/subjective thing about morality is a bright, shiny distraction.

BTW, a point of idle curiosity: you sound like a Randian; are you a follower of Ayn Rand?

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 31 Dec 2013 #permalink

Sean s.
I think the definition of evil=moral system should be measurable. Measurability is the fundamental of the advance of science. However, you are correct that religions have been the purveyor of morality for a very long time. I note the current religions have evolved in competition with other religions. The survivors are here at horrendous cost in lives and destruction of property. After all, if a group has the one true religion, it’s his duty to instruct (impose forcibly) others.

So, here we are in a rapidly changing world brought on by technology. We must adjust. That requires growth of organization size. Current morals have and do help societies stay together. Our growth challenge, as in previous challenges from tribe to chiefdom to state requires a change of morals and organization. I’m trying to explore what those changes should be. To me, the fundamental issue is how can we have Jews, Christians, Moslems, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. living together without war. (I think it not necessary to say living in peace. Without war will do). What kind of a government can do that? Certainly a change of morals is required.

Lets see. A few hundred years ago it was moral to torture and burn people. Do you advocate the torture and killing of Jews and Moslems? Do you want another crusade that killed thousands of Jews in Europe and the Middle East? The pope blessed Hitler in his war in 1942. Is this the religion whose morals you suggest we follow?

I think you are projecting into my statement thoughts that aren’t there.

I do not classify myself as a follower of Rand. However, warning should be taken of her predictions that are coming true. Prediction is a very hard thing to ignore. Her philosophy will lead to the Tragedy of the Commons. But the overregulation of today is equally killing of society. The history of the last few hundred years seems to be going from Tragedy of the Commons to regulations to overregulation that is resulting in a breakdown of society and a return to Tragedy of the Commons.

I’m orthodox in the sense I think we should build on the past and current conditions.

I am seeking a means to determine which morals or moral systems are better. For that science says to find a measure. Do you have a measure? You haven’t said so. Please do more than attack and criticize without alternatives. Do something positive. Or, do you favor one religion over others? No religion has built a United States of Earth. The UN is looking like a failure, as was the League of Nations.

Perhaps your question about Rand can be answered by saying I am a follower of Milton Friedman. He also has seen his predictions come true while his opponent’s (Samuelson and several versions of Keynesian thought) predictions fail.

You seem to have your head stuck in the sand. Are you oblivious of the problems facing us.

By John (not verified) on 31 Dec 2013 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)


I think I see the problem. Science is just not the right tool to solve moral problems. Certainly, persons thinking about moral problems need to have the best knowledge available about the real world and how it works—and for those they should consult science—but at the end of the day, moral issues are not scientific issues. Science has no special standing on the topics of the proper relationship between persons and societies, or what is proper conduct. Reason is a vital tool, but reason and science are not the same things, and science (especially quantitative sciences) can only advise.

Evil, for instance, is not quantitative; it is a quality. There is no metric for it. Evil is—at the very least—an unnecessary, intentional act or negligence which inflicts or fails to prevent a reasonably foreseeable harm at little or no risk to the actor. There may be more to evil, but that definition probably covers the vast majority of evil acts. You will object that the terms need to be clarified; I agree. But clarification will be a qualitative effort, not quantitative. Science will occasionally advise—but rarely lead—the effort.

You wrote that you are “seeking a means to determine which morals or moral systems are better.” I applaud your intent, but you need a better tool. Your focus on quantitative techniques has blinded you to the fact that underneath religious layers are many agreements across religions and cultures on what constitutes moral conduct. Finding those nuggets of genuine morality under or within the dross of religious opinion is a qualitative effort; not quantitative.

We must adjust to the growing influence and pervasiveness of technology, but those adjustments are qualitative, not quantitative.

Based on your comments in past writing, you’re not making much progress using quantitative efforts. It’s past time to change your methods. One thing you can start with is to imagine your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) were a minority position; how then would you want to be treated? The principle of equity is a good guide toward sound moral thinking; much, much better than quantitative science.

I submit that we have already found the way to have “Jews, Christians, Moslems, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. living together without war”, it just needs to be implemented more broadly. Religious freedom must be regarded as a fundamental moral principle. By that I mean that any person must have the right to order their own conduct by their own religious opinions, and at the same time, no person or group has the right to make those decisions for other persons or groups, nor make others bear the burden of their religious opinions.

In principle, this is simple; in practice quite complex, and in a qualitative way, not in a quantitative way. We Americans (as well as others) have been trying to make this work for a long time. It works pretty well, but requires constant maintenance.

You wrote that “if a group has the one true religion, it’s his [sic] duty to instruct (impose forcibly) others.” Setting aside your apparent unfamiliarity with the term “instruct” it is quite obvious you are woefully ignorant of many religions and sects around the world. Perhaps you should investigate the Amish, Mennonites, Coptic Christians, and other minority religions. In India and in the Classical world religious pluralism was or is normal. And to save you from a blunder: Hindu is not a religion; Hindu is a category of religions. Likewise, Paganism was not a religion but a category of religions.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 01 Jan 2014 #permalink

sean s.
The idea that science is a method to address morality is new. The religious methods have been doing this for millennia. Mother nature already has a method to determine a better moral system – war. Religions have been following nature’s method for millennia. Note the killing of Christians –Jews-Moslems by each other. The ancient Greeks and others viewed war as competition of the Gods (moral systems). Mankind is at a technological position where war is not a viable method to decide moral issues.

What would you suggest as a method to decide the better morals other than the religions trial—and—error method?

The trick, as you suggested, is the application of science methods of measurement and tests are not yet ready for such a task. But, that shouldn’t stop us from trying. It certainly may be better than war as the deciding method.

I like to think I’ve started this with:

Survival is the only moral goal of life
Growth challenge of the United States

Please expand on your principle of equity and how it identifies better morality.

“Religious freedom must be regarded as a fundamental moral principle.” I think so, also. However, religions and people seem disinclined to allow this. Look at how the Mormons were treated before they ended in the wilderness. More recently, note the debate on contraception. If lack of contraception produces unwanted babies, who pays for the support the baby requires – “…nor make others bear the burden of their religious opinions.” I conclude that within a state organization this principle is unenforceable. This is why I suggest each state can have a state religion, but that war between states be disallowed by a military force superior to the state.

All the sects you mention have formal instruction of their religion in their child’s education - Amish, Mennonites, Coptic Christians, and other minority religions. What is the meaning of “instruct” do you have in mind? I wanted to use a word that encompassed more than education.

By John (not verified) on 01 Jan 2014 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)

OK, let's take this on:


Your original statement at 53 says "Altruism without return is evil." Your statement at 61 refers to "benefit (to your) progeny." Strictly speaking that is not a "return," it's a benefit to _others_. By analogy, the difference between throwing a Frisbee such that it comes back to oneself, and throwing a Frisbee to another person.

And, as a working scientist, you should certainly appreciate that (your) progeny are not in any significant manner genetically different to anyone else's, and share well over 99% of their DNA with chimpanzees. The moral privileging of one's own genes over those of others is a tactic normally associated with under-educated members of the general public. Is a benefit to others' progeny somehow less worthy? Do you really want to go there?

Societal investment in Big Science, whether by government or private corporations, produces its primary benefits not to "self" but to "other." While, for example, the shareholders of a corporation earn a profit on the company's R&D, the vast majority of the benefit is to the general public as a whole, for example through better treatments for diseases. Your life and health are worth more to you than your dividend check or share price increase.

What is the "return" on space defense R&D? Zero for the statistically-foreseeable period during which a large object does not threaten to hit Earth, where it might slam into a large city and cause mass casualties. Yet there are few who would argue that we should abandon space defense, particularly after the event in Russia last year. What is the "return" on space exploration generally? Where's the profit in charting extrasolar planets or analyzing rock formations on Mars? Those questions are asked with some cynicism by people who have no foresight, and in the end they are a category violation, like trying to judge a sculpture as if it's a symphony. Where's the melody, the counterpoint, the rhythm, in this mute hunk of bronze?

The fact that you would cheat the honor system speaks volumes about the contradictions in your moral philosophy. And I say this as someone who went through a "naughty hacker" phase in my youth, and got over it.

Speculation without testable hypotheses falls into the realms of philosophy, religion, and the arts notably fiction in writing and cinema. While many here dismiss the value of religion, few would dismiss the value of the arts, and fewer still could honestly say that exposure to various forms of fiction has never given them anything of lasting value.

As applied to human relationships, "mutual stimulation of heightened levels of dopamine and endorphins" is a wholly inadequate description for "falling in love."

Sean at 62: Feel free to jump in.

I don't think objective morality is a distraction at all. In fact I've been working for a while on the "ought from is" exercise and will eventually publish while hoping to not seem too much a fool. Start from here:

What's the core behavioral characteristic of every living organism with rare exceptions? Self-preservation. Life seeks to live, from the homeostasis of single-celled organisms, to the complex medical interventions of human civilization.

Further, in almost all plant species and most animal species, killing of others is limited to obtaining food, reproduction, and defense: rarely is it gratuitous.

From this we can derive a moral prohibition on murder, and moral legitimacy for eating other life forms and killing in defense. There are other examples I can go into if anyone wants to hear them.

John at 63:

"Morality should be measurable" is a useful goal toward which to strive, but does not justify abandoning moral principles that are not measurable. Shall we use our growing knowledge of genetics to adopt policies whereby all mating is arranged with the goal of "improving the species"...? If you can measure birth defects, strength and intelligence, etc., but can't measure love, why not do just that?

Measurement assumes an objective metric, a common denominator. There is no such metric for human societies. It is empirically true that some things are inherently qualitative rather than quantitative. How many micrograms of dopamine per liter of blood over what period of time, equate to being in love? How much romantic love equates to how much familial love or friendship love? How much love is tradable for how much creativity? How much creativity is tradable for how much honesty? And, having traded love for creativity and creativity for honesty, can we trade that honesty back for love again?

Milton Friedman's prescriptions have also failed, and the crash of 2008 is empirical proof. In any case, economics is at best a descriptive science and more often a rationalization for political ideologies of one kind or another, hardly to be compared with the hard sciences.

Sean at 64:

Science doesn't solve moral problems any more than civil engineering solves the aesthetic problems of architecture. The very nature of both is that they require humans to make choices as to which actions are good and right, and which designs of buildings are beautiful and useful. Making those choices entails exercising free will, something about which rationalists should rejoice rather than retreat.

But from the same premise, I'll disagree with you that "We must adjust to the growing influence and pervasiveness of technology." No, we mustn't. Speaking here as an engineer, we must make deliberate freely-willed choices about technology. It is not a deity or the weather, over which we have no control; it is our creation, and it is subject to our will and the exercise of our values.

Agreed, we must vigilantly and vigorously protect "freedom of religion" and more generally "freedom of conscience" in regard to intimate personal beliefs, and prohibit the imposition of any such beliefs upon unwilling persons. This isn't a matter of privileging theism, because it equally protects agnosticism and atheism.

John at 65:

Efforts to derive morality from objective metrics have a long history, going back at least to utilitarianism. I'll be posting my own contributions some time this year.

As for finding a better way than war: that's easy in theory though difficult in practice. Historically, whenever the destructive capacity of a given quantity of humans has reached the point where it could destroy their society, the scope of legal institutions has expanded to supersede that scale and create a larger scale of lawfulness that limits the use of force.

The most recent steps down this path occurred in response to thermonuclear weapons (the hydrogen bomb), where nation-states could destroy entire nation-states. The next steps will occur when subnational groups gain the means to destroy nations (terrorist bio-weaponry).

To say that the United Nations has been a failure, is equivalent to saying that vaccination or clean drinking water has been a failure. The absence of dramatic horrors hardly makes for a compelling narrative, but none the less it is better than the drama of heroic struggles at cost of much preventable death and suffering.

Re. contraception, the empirical data are quite clear that equal rights and equal education for women, enable women to make the choices that in turn reduce the birth rate to sustainable levels. Overpopulation is therefore direct evidence that there is much work needed to achieve global gender equality. That is one example of a moral proposition that can be operationalized to provide a measurable outcome.

We all die. Love is to contribute as much as we can to – what? I think the propagation of my genes (progeny), and the things I’ve learned is love. If my progeny can have progeny and be advantaged over others of different genetic background, that is contribution to me.

I have only to look at my progeny’s faces to see me. I don’t see me in other faces. I suppose this is a result of generations of stoning women who bore children that did not have the face of the husband. Faces got genetically connected to the male (the provider and protector in human species) gene contribution. Small changes in genes with each generation are evolution.

If others’ progeny may help my progeny, then help others’ progeny. What about the others who probably won’t have progeny – let them die without wasting my resources. What about others whose progeny will probability hurt my progeny? For example, the HHS debt in helping infirm or low contributing people is injuring my progeny.

I think the funding of advance in technology helps my progeny (therefore me). Technology drives economic and military power of those who compete against me. The return on the space program has been tremendous for my generation. First R, then D, then engineering then useful products. The R into atomic structure gave us power. Some scientist in speaking of the value of R asked: What is the value of a newborn baby?

I think my comment about cheating to advance me is totally in keeping with my survival philosophy. Today, getting that diploma helps get money. I do not dismiss the value of religion in keeping a society together for mutual benefit. Good fiction has some semblance of something to which the reader can relate or opens the mind to alternate ideas. This is valuable.

Your answer to Sean at 62 presents an example of my survival goal to morality – my point. Perhaps a bit more thought can derive more moralities.

Your answer of John at 63. I think my paper on philosophy went into this. The problem with our making choices and genetics is we don’t know what is better for survival. We may know some harmful genetics. Maybe strength and intelligence are not helpful at the expense of something else (say ability to cooperate-note Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory” TV). Before you can say we cannot measure love, you need a definition of love, which I provided in my paper or create one yourself.

I do not suggest we abandon current moral goals. Indeed, I suggest we should build on them. After all, they did get us to our current nation size. Advance in moral goals seems to result in larger political organizations (groups of people that exist without internal war).

When you ask “how much?”, I answer it is a balance between good opposites such as Justice and Mercy. Hope and Understanding. Love and Truth.

You may have looked into the crash of 2007-8 more than I. However, I thought keeping the low interest and political pressure for people to buy homes caused it. The 1960s saw inflation used as a stimulus. The Keynesian (Samuelson) had the Philips Law, which said an economy couldn’t have inflation and high unemployment at the same time. Remember stagflation, which showed Friedman correct and the Philips law (and Keynesian economics) false. Friedman also said the government should not keep stimulating the economy for long – some recovery period is necessary. So, inflation doesn’t work but the idea turned to the velocity of money. Keep low interest rates, buy houses, and keep the money moving (a tenant of the new Keynesian economics whatever it is called now). The continued use of stimulus is not Friedman. Friedman also said that an economy would naturally turn around in 3 years. Obama followed this idea when he said something to the effect in 2008 election that if the economy didn’t turn around in 3 years, he would be considered a failure. Friedman also thought government interference such as continued stimulus lengthens economic turmoil periods. No, the 2008 thing is along Friedman’s line of thought, I think.

I think tolerance is one of the biggies we should try to protect. However, the history of mankind shows periods of tolerance provide great advance but last only a short time such as the incident of Galileo and the Church.

I’ll be waiting for you contribution. When you say “posting”, does this mean a paper or blog on this site?

I’m not sure “gender equality” under current definitions is a moral goal. It is another example of the we--don’t--know category.

By John (not verified) on 01 Jan 2014 #permalink

In reply to by G (not verified)

John and G;

You are both busily trying to reinvent the wheel; please don’t let me distract you from your Important Work. Best of luck; see if you can harness fire too!

Whatever criticisms we may make of religiously-inspired moral systems, they are at least 5 millennia ahead of yours.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 02 Jan 2014 #permalink

sean s
totally false

By John (not verified) on 02 Jan 2014 #permalink

In reply to by sean samis (not verified)


If you can produce something workable that is acceptable to more than a fringe group, you will have proven me wrong. I predict neither you, G, nor any other person trying to create a morality from scratch will ever succeed.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 02 Jan 2014 #permalink