Jelly Donut

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A designer too complex to be probable
« on: July 30, 2008, 01:08:19 am »
 

I am not a philosopher or intellectual giant; however I do have an idea that I would like to throw out and see if anyone else thinks it is worthwhile.

 


I have been listening to quite a few debates and noticed that Richard Dawkins hinges his arguments on the belief that the existence of a designer is improbable as a designer must contain at least as much information as what it creates or designs, and information is inversely related to probability.  By his reasoning, God would have to be monumentally complex, hence astronomically improbable.

I reason that this can not be true as humans can design material objects that are far more complex than themselves.  Does this mean that humans can not exist since our creations are more complex than ourselves?

According to Dawkin's definition (set out in The Blind Watchmaker), something is complex if it has parts that are "arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone."

Suppose a human constructed a machine that took more parts than it would take to construct a human being wouldn't that prove Dawkin's argument false?

Some might say that human designs are not as complex as humans themselves as we do not yet have machines that can "think" or bodies that can heal themselves.  I disagree many computer engineers believe that A.I. programs are only about 20 years away and I already have a self-cleaning stove.

I am not sure if my ideas bring anything new to the table.  I would appreciate any feedback.


(My summary of Dawkin's position was gleaned from an article by Alvin Plantinga)


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Harvey

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« Reply #1 on: July 30, 2008, 07:06:19 am »
Dawkins provides a very good argument here, and I'm not sure why more Christian philosophers have not acknowledged it. In any case, Dawkins is able to account for human intelligence by billions of years of gradual evolution which includes a lot of trial and error over this time. His argument is that God is much, much more complex than anything we've encountered (including us), and therefore why is it reasonable or probable that this complex thing (God) exists in spite of not having evolved or been put together by a blind trial and error process which natural selection is.

I don't think your argument addresses that since there are lower life forms on earth that evolved billions of years ago which are more complex than today's machines and equipment. If we compare the complexity of those things, we can pretty much say that natural processes over billions of years (e.g., the cell) are able to out perform human ingenuity over our 300,000 years on this planet (or 4-5 million if you consider the technology of the hominid population).

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Jelly Donut

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« Reply #2 on: July 30, 2008, 01:25:28 pm »
harvey1,


[His argument is that God is much, much more complex than anything we've encountered (including us)]

 

 

I believe that Dawkins' has a very good argument if taken at face value; however I don't.  Why does God have to be "more complex than anything we've encountered including us?"  I guess what I am trying to say is that a designer need not be more complex than it's design if it has a mind with creative ingenuity.

 

 

According to Dawkins' own definition in the Blind Watchmaker, "something is complex if it has parts that are "arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone."  We know presently that humans can or in the near future design objects much more complex than themselves.  If this is true then we know that a designer can design something that is more complex than itself.

 

 

It is important to note that Dawkins' argument is not based on a certainty that God does not exist, but rather the possibility that God does not exist. If the argument that the designer would need to be more complex than its design is false than the probability of the existence of God increases therefore his conclusion is weakened.

 

 

[If we compare the complexity of those things, we can pretty much say that natural processes over billions of years (e.g., the cell) are able to out perform human ingenuity over our 300,000 years on this planet]

 

 

I disagree with your assertion that natural processes can out perform a designer's ingenuity.  In what way can a natural organism outperform a present or future machine built by humans? Machines are stronger, faster, more durable, more efficient, and can self-replicate (replication machines can nearly built an entire car via automation.)


Thanks for your thoughts, I appreciate them.


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nanderson

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« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2008, 03:12:06 pm »
harvey1 wrote:
In any case, Dawkins is able to account for human intelligence by billions of years of gradual evolution which includes a lot of trial and error over this time. His argument is that God is much, much more complex than anything we've encountered (including us), and therefore why is it reasonable or probable that this complex thing (God) exists in spite of not having evolved or been put together by a blind trial and error process which natural selection is.


I just don't see this as a good argument at all.  First of all, why does it have to be the case that God would have had to have evolved?  Just because we evolved why does that automatically mean that whatever created us would have had to evolve as well?  Furthermore, this seems obviously false as that which created the universe could have nothing "prior" to it as the Big Bang is the first event...the point at which time begins.  So there couldn't have been any evolutionary process that brought about the cause of the Big Bang (e.g. God) as an evolutionary process requires time and genetic mutation operating on natural selection...none of which existed sans the universe.

Also, Dawkins just assumes that God is "complex", when I don't see that as the case at all.  As Alvin Plantinga pointed out:

First, is God complex? According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like. Some of the discussions of divine simplicity get pretty complicated, not to say arcane.3 (It isn't only Catholic theology that declares God simple; according to the Belgic Confession, a splendid expression of Reformed Christianity, God is "a single and simple spiritual being.") So first, according to classical theology, God is simple, not complex.4 More remarkable, perhaps, is that according to Dawkins' own definition of complexity, God is not complex. According to his definition (set out in The Blind Watchmaker), something is complex if it has parts that are "arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone." But of course God is a spirit, not a material object at all, and hence has no parts.5 A fortiori (as philosophers like to say) God doesn't have parts arranged in ways unlikely to have arisen by chance. Therefore, given the definition of complexity Dawkins himself proposes, God is not complex.
Lastly, why would it be at all unreasonable to assume or think that something vastly more complex than us actually created us?  If all human life on Earth was destroyed and hundreds of years from now aliens visited our planet and discovered a computer, do you think they'd be irrational if they concluded that humans (something vastly more complex than the computer itself) created it?


Dawkins provides a very good argument here, and I'm not sure why more Christian philosophers have not acknowledged it.


William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, Alistair Mcgrath and many others have addressed "The God Delusion" in general and the above argument in particular.  Who else were you looking for to acknowledge it?

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jbejon

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« Reply #4 on: July 30, 2008, 04:43:52 pm »
WLC addresses some of these issues here in case anyone's missed it:  http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5493

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Jelly Donut

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« Reply #5 on: July 30, 2008, 07:24:34 pm »
jbejon,

Thanks jbejon.  I guess I was just saying what Dr. Craig had already said, except in a different way.  I wonder if the example of humans being able to create something more complex than themselves would be helpful to his ministry?

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Harvey

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« Reply #6 on: July 30, 2008, 10:27:03 pm »

Jelly_Donut wrote: I disagree with your assertion that natural processes can out perform a designer's ingenuity.  In what way can a natural organism outperform a present or future machine built by humans? Machines are stronger, faster, more durable, more efficient, and can self-replicate (replication machines can nearly built an entire car via automation.)

JD, this is just biological evolutionary theory. It's science.

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Harvey

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« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2008, 10:50:28 pm »
nanderson wrote: I just don't see this as a good argument at all.  First of all, why does it have to be the case that God would have had to have evolved?  Just because we evolved why does that automatically mean that whatever created us would have had to evolve as well?


It's an issue of likelihood. What is more likely, a universe that begins with a few rules, or one that begins with consciousness that on earth took billions of years with much trial and error to evolve? If there are a few rules, then this explanation is apparently more parsimonious than an explanation that requires an intelligent designer. Had this designer evolved on earth, we would still need to wait maybe thousands or millions of years of further evolution of intelligence before we see a mind having this kind of cognitive capability.

I think these are reasonable assumptions.

nanderson wrote: Furthermore, this seems obviously false as that which created the universe could have nothing "prior" to it as the Big Bang is the first event...the point at which time begins.  So there couldn't have been any evolutionary process that brought about the cause of the Big Bang (e.g. God) as an evolutionary process requires time and genetic mutation operating on natural selection...none of which existed sans the universe.


Well, that relates to Dawkins point that an evolved designer explains nothing, so temporal evolution of a designer should be ruled out card blanche.

nanderson wrote: Also, Dawkins just assumes that God is "complex", when I don't see that as the case at all.  As Alvin Plantinga pointed out:


First, is God complex? According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like. Some of the discussions of divine simplicity get pretty complicated, not to say arcane.3 (It isn't only Catholic theology that declares God simple; according to the Belgic Confession, a splendid expression of Reformed Christianity, God is "a single and simple spiritual being.") So first, according to classical theology, God is simple, not complex.4 More remarkable, perhaps, is that according to Dawkins' own definition of complexity, God is not complex. According to his definition (set out in The Blind Watchmaker), something is complex if it has parts that are "arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone." But of course God is a spirit, not a material object at all, and hence has no parts.5 A fortiori (as philosophers like to say) God doesn't have parts arranged in ways unlikely to have arisen by chance. Therefore, given the definition of complexity Dawkins himself proposes, God is not complex.

The problem with this kind of reasoning is that a God explanation becomes a "black box" which is spirit (i.e., not complex by definition), but the black box in this case can and does everything conveniently necessary to bring about a universe without explanation as to how the black box is justified when we could just as well assume the black box is anything we can possibly imagine (e.g., Satan, Zeus, Allah, a ghostly robot such as the one from "Lost in Space," a ghostly scientist in a heavenly lab that finds herself suddenly in time creating universes in a test tube, etc.). There has to be some justification as to why we can rule out these other candidate gods as legitimate "black box" spirit entities.

nanderson wrote: Lastly, why would it be at all unreasonable to assume or think that something vastly more complex than us actually created us?  If all human life on Earth was destroyed and hundreds of years from now aliens visited our planet and discovered a computer, do you think they'd be irrational if they concluded that humans (something vastly more complex than the computer itself) created it?


Well, everything is probability and reasonable assumption when trying to determine a historical fact. We should try to determine what is reasonable based on observation of existing structures in the universe, and then think in terms of what probably happened.

Our experience in this universe (and undoubtedly the experience of any alien life) is that the universe soon started off as mostly hydrogen and helium atoms, which gravitational forces brought together to begin fusion in stars, eventually creating all the heavier elements in the universe, which led eventually to the mature formation of galaxies, and hence planets, etc.

In the case of computers, it has a certain kind of structure that would violate known laws of physics had it just assembled itself through known natural processes (e.g., chemical or biological evolution). Thus, the aliens would not be irrational in believing that something more complex than the computer made the machines. That, however, is based on these above assumptions.

In the case of the origin of the universe, there are apparently no simple processes that can account for a designer--especially if there is no infinite temporal past for one to have evolved (and if there was there would be no reason to argue for a designer since no creator would be needed for an infinite past). Which leaves open the question, why a mind smarter than 4 billion years of chemical and biological evolution existed for no reason. Why not the "Lost in Space" robot? Why not a ghostly Mark Twain? Why not Bugs Bunny?

nanderson wrote: William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, Alistair Mcgrath and many others have addressed "The God Delusion" in general and the above argument in particular.  Who else were you looking for to acknowledge it?


I haven't read of anyone who acknowledges that Dawkins has a good argument on this point. It is a very good argument, but the arguments against it don't really address the full gravity of this argument. Simply stated: minds are complex, and complexity at the beginning is less probable than a simple set of brute facts or laws.

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Jelly Donut

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« Reply #8 on: July 30, 2008, 11:15:07 pm »
harvey1,

[JD, this is just biological evolutionary theory. It's science.]

Could you please answer my question as your response was a little vague.  Do you think that humans can or will in the future be able to design something that is more complex than themselves? If no, why not?

If you say yes, then you would agree with me that it is not necessary for a designer to be more complex than its design.

If you say no, then I believe there is ample evidence available to convince you otherwise.


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Jelly Donut

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« Reply #9 on: July 30, 2008, 11:29:07 pm »
harvey1,

[What is more likely, a universe that begins with a few rules, or one that begins with consciousness that on earth took billions of years with much trial and error to evolve?]

Am I mistaken or do you believe that rules created the universe?  Certainly no science book that I have read  has ever made the statement that rules created the universe.

[If there are a few rules, then this explanation is apparently more parsimonious than an explanation that requires an intelligent designer.]

This view creates more question than answers.  Who created the rules?  Why are they rational? How can they create the universe? .etc





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Harvey

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« Reply #10 on: July 30, 2008, 11:55:29 pm »

Jelly_Donut wrote: Am I mistaken or do you believe that rules created the universe?  Certainly no science book that I have read  has ever made the statement that rules created the universe.

I think most cosmologists believe that the laws of physics (or rules) are responsible for the universe being here. As for my view, remember I'm a theist so I don't purely hold to that atheistic cosmology.

JD wrote: This view creates more question than answers.  Who created the rules?  Why are they rational? How can they create the universe? .etc


Well, any view requires a certain set of assumptions. The hope is that with very minimal assumptions and very plausible assumptions, that we can explain the universe. In the case of simple symmetry relations, we can explain almost all known physics. The atheist physicist, Vic Stenger, has an excellent book called "The Comprehensible Cosmos" that explains how simple symmetry laws can mathematically necessitate all the major laws of physics (e.g., quantum mechanics, relativity theories, etc.).

Which is simpler, basic mathematical symmetries existing or an advanced intelligent designer who first acts in time creating a universe with all kinds of pain and suffering?

(Btw, I ask the question this way so that the power of these arguments are better seen from that point of view.)

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jbejon

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« Reply #11 on: July 31, 2008, 02:32:59 am »
I think some of the following points may be worth considering here, though I haven't quite thought all of them through as yet:

   

   1.  This discussion is fairly difficult to have without a working definition of simplicity.  The assumption behind Dawkins' argument seems to be that possessing knowledge requires lots of interacting parts and thus is a complex property.  However, this is true only if naturalism is true, so it's a fairly self-serving definition.

   

   2.  I don't quite understand the link Dawkins is making between something's simplicity and the likelihood of its existing, since when we say that complex things are "improbable", what we tend to mean is that their arising by chance is improbable, not their existence per se.  However, no-one thinks God arose by chance.  So, I don't see how Dawkins' argument works here.  Perhaps he's just saying that complex explanations are less likely to be true than simpler ones.  And he's probably right.  But a preference for simple explanations can't be hardened into an inviolable rule.  After all, some things might have complex explanations.  And the fact of the matter is that we do routinely infer the existence of complex things (e.g. human beings) to explain more simple things (e.g. letters we read on computer screens, pots we find buried in the ground, etc) and we seem perfectly rational in doing so.

   

   3.  In any case, a consequence of the ontological argument (see http://www.doxazotheos.com/?p=38 perhaps) seems to be that the probability of God's existence is either 1 or 0.  That is, either it's impossible for God to exist or God does in fact exist, since plugging the key premise "It's possible that God exists" into the OA gets us to the conclusion "God necessarily exists" whilst plugging in "It's possible that God doesn't exist" gets us to the conclusion "God necessarily doesn't exist".  And, if this is so, then God is either the ultimate in simplicity (in which case Dawkins' argument fails) or it's impossible for him to exist (in which case Dawkins' argument is redundant -- however, Dawkins gives no arguments that show God's existence to be impossible).

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Harvey

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« Reply #12 on: July 31, 2008, 07:16:08 am »

jbejon wrote: This discussion is fairly difficult to have without a working definition of simplicity. The assumption behind Dawkins' argument seems to be that possessing knowledge requires lots of interacting parts and thus is a complex property. However, this is true only if naturalism is true, so it's a fairly self-serving definition.

Well, I see your point in terms of biology, but even spirit minds without parts have many possibilities (e.g., Satan, Zeus, Aphrodite, goblins, etc.). Complexity could apply for spirit entities in terms of the number things that has to be true about them in order for them to exist. So, for example, three gods is more complex than one god since three entities require more things to be true of a brute reality. Similarly, a morally perfect God is more complex than a morally ambivalent God since that's just another fact that must be true of a brute reality. That is, not only is there a God, this God is morally perfect.

When we consider all of the things that have to be true of the Christian God, we see a large number of brute facts that must be true of a brute reality. Now, compare that to a few symmetry laws that must be true...

James wrote: Perhaps he's just saying that complex explanations are less likely to be true than simpler ones. And he's probably right. But a preference for simple explanations can't be hardened into an inviolable rule. After all, some things might have complex explanations.


Sure, but complex structures are understood in terms of the simpler structures that compose them. Stars, which humans used to regard as gods, are now mixture of basic chemistries found on earth--albeit in a state of fusion. We naturally look for cause in everything that exists. By cause we often mean what simpler elements explains the complex element. If there is no simpler elements or processes to explain the complex element or process, then we say there is no cause. For example, "why does radioactive decay happen without cause?" Another way of saying that is that why does this complex thing (radioactive decay) not have simpler processes (e.g., particle-like microbes that bring about decay)?

James wrote: In any case, a consequence of the ontological argument (see http://www.doxazotheos.com/?p=38 perhaps) seems to be that the probability of God's existence is either 1 or 0. That is, either it's impossible for God to exist, or God does exist, since plugging the key premise "It's possible that God exists" into the OA gets us to the conclusion "God necessarily exists" whilst plugging in "It's possible that God doesn't exist" gets us to the conclusion "God necessarily doesn't exist". And, if this is so, then God -- if he exists -- is the ultimate in simplicity. Thus, trying to weigh-up whether God's existence is more or less improbable than, say, a bunch of brute facts seems misguided.


This argument is just one being fooled by their own language games. It's like "Who's on First." Abbott and Costello made a fortune by playing that game.

Besides, even if it were a true argument, then as we talked before, it suggests that God exists because of logic caused God to exist, and logic is what is eternal. However, if that's the case, then why do we need a super intelligent mind at all. Why not just say that logic (e.g., symmetry principles) caused the universe to exist? In the case of symmetry principles, we can already derive the laws of physics from these principles--which means that we are cutting to the chase big time.

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jbejon

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« Reply #13 on: July 31, 2008, 07:47:14 am »
Well, I see your point in terms of biology, but even spirit minds without parts have many possibilities (e.g., Satan, Zeus, Aphrodite, goblins, etc.). Complexity could apply for spirit entities in terms of the number things that has to be true about them in order for them to exist. So, for example, three gods is more complex than one god since three entities require more things to be true of a brute reality. Similarly, a morally perfect God is more complex than a morally ambivalent God since that's just another fact that must be true of a brute reality. That is, not only is there a God, this God is morally perfect.

   

   When we consider all of the things that have to be true of the Christian God, we see a large number of brute facts that must be true of a brute reality. Now, compare that to a few symmetry laws that must be true...

   

   So you're suggesting complexity can be measured by the number of properties something has?

   

   
Sure, but complex structures are understood in terms of the simpler structures that compose them. Stars, which humans used to regard as gods, are now mixture of basic chemistries found on earth--albeit in a state of fusion. We naturally look for cause in everything that exists. By cause we often mean what simpler elements explains the complex element. If there is no simpler elements or processes to explain the complex element or process, then we say there is no cause. For example, "why does radioactive decay happen without cause?" Another way of saying that is that why does this complex thing (radioactive decay) not have simpler processes (e.g., particle-like microbes that bring about decay)?

   

   I don't think this uses the word cause in the way we use it when we ask the question "What is the cause of, say, the universe's fine-tuning?".  We mean "Why is it this way (i.e. life-permitting) as opposed to some other way?" not "What does it consist of?".  When archeologists find a pot in the ground and ask "What is the cause of this pot?" they're not asking for a chemical breakdown of its composition; they're asking why it is the way it is as opposed to some other way (i.e. a random useless lump of clay).   And the fact remains that complex things do "cause" simpler things in this sense.

   

   
This argument is just one being fooled by their own language games. It's like "Who's on First." Abbott and Costello made a fortune by playing that game.

   

   Besides, even if it were a true argument, then as we talked before, it suggests that God exists because of logic caused God to exist, and logic is what is eternal. However, if that's the case, then why do we need a super intelligent mind at all. Why not just say that logic (e.g., symmetry principles) caused the universe to exist? In the case of symmetry principles, we can already derive the laws of physics from these principles--which means that we are cutting to the chase big time.

   

   I don't see why the OA reduces to language games.  I know we talked about your issues with this argument before.  However, as I see it, all the OA claims is that God's existence is deducible by means of logical inferences, which is very different from saying that God's existence is caused by logic.  Our difference on this issue might be a result of your being a (neo) Platonist (or something very similar), since I can see, I think, how what you're saying could follow given Platonism.  But, for my part, I'm still looking into this issue.  I think I'm a nominalist of some form, but I still need to do a lot more thinking/reading on the subject.

   

   James.

   

   P.S.  Sorry, I must have edited what I'd written after you responded.  I think I was still mulling over some of it.  Though I don't think it makes any difference to what you've said.

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Harvey

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« Reply #14 on: July 31, 2008, 11:05:01 am »

jbejon wrote: So you're suggesting complexity can be measured by the number of properties something has?

"Measured" is too technical a concept. I would say that complexity can be gauged by the number and sophistication of the properties.

James wrote: I don't think this uses the word cause in the way we use it when we ask the question "What is the cause of, say, the universe's fine-tuning?". We mean "Why is it this way (i.e. life-permitting) as opposed to some other way?" not "What does it consist of?". When archeologists find a pot in the ground and ask "What is the cause of this pot?" they're not asking for a chemical breakdown of its composition; they're asking why it is the way it is as opposed to some other way (i.e. a random useless lump of clay). And the fact remains that complex things "cause" simpler things in this sense.


It's not just in terms of substance, it is also in terms of process. So, for example, another way to ask what is the cause of the universe's fine-tuning is to ask what processes brought it about (e.g., cognitive processes, or natural processes, etc.). The reason that we theists think that a cognitive process is a better explanation over a fine-tuned brute fact universe is that cognitive processes are simpler than the explanandum (i.e., assuming cognitive processes can precede the universe). Why is that? Well, random luck requires many iterations to get a fine-tuned value, and to arrive at a specific value on the first try is a highly complex occurrence (given all the other possible values that it might have been). In the case of intentional fine-tuning, the cognitive process is not near as complex since if a highly intelligent designer is present then only one highly intelligent designer is needed to explain the fine-tuned universe. This is why this explanation is more appealing to us.

James wrote: I don't see why the OA reduces to language games. I know we talked about your issues with this argument before. However, as I see it, all the OA claims is that God's existence is deducible by means of logical inferences, which is very different from saying that God's existence is caused by logic. Our difference on this issue might be a result of your being a (neo) Platonist (or something very similar), since I can see, I think, how what you're saying could follow given Platonism. But, for my part, I'm still looking into this issue. I think I'm a nominalist of some form, but I still need to do a lot more thinking/reading on the subject.


But in the case that God is not caused by logic (i.e., God is contingent), then it is a coincidence that God exists as a logically necessitated being. Does that make any sense to you?