arguments for God’s existence

I’m starting to think about a debate I am lining up with a leading NZ sceptic, on whether or not the Christian God in fact exists. More info on this eventually, no doubt.

Thinking about four fairly prominent arguments for God’s existence, I realise that I could spend my whole opening speech presenting just one of them, even in broad outline, because there are numerous aspects to them – it seems to me that there are a number of independent arguments within each class (though those within a class will generally stand or fall on at least some shared claims).  Some of the bullet points here aren’t really separate arguments; I intend to work on teasing some of these out and sorting them more clearly.

Cosmological argument(s):
*first an argument from contingency (Leibnizian)
*second, an argument from the fact that the universe had a beginning (Kalam)
*third, perhaps – the ‘contingent’ nature of the universe might be further evidenced by its law-like form
*other cosmological arguments, to be explored
Eutaxiological / arguments from ‘law and order’
*the existence of regularities is expected on theism but not naturalism (Swinburne)
*problem of induction as a problem for naturalism (to be explored!)
*no God, no laws (Nancy Cartwright – note that she has a non-law alternative regarding natural regularities!)
*mathematics fits best within theism (to be explored!)
– a subset of this is the ‘efficacy’ of mathematics in the physical world
*the scientific criterion of elegance/beauty is expected on theism, but not naturalism
*comprehensibility and/or mathematical nature of the laws points to a mind (in terms of IBE? or perhaps just confirmation theory again)

Design argument(s):
*from physical (cosmological) fine-tuning
*from astronomical fine-tuning (I’m less keen on this part)
*from biochemical fine tuning (I’m interested to develop this into a concise and clear argument)
*from biological fine-tuning regarding the origin of life
*biological fine-tuning, based on analysis of the later development of life (perhaps the most controversial part)

Argument(s) from consciousness:
*consciousness as evidence for God (expected on theism, but not naturalism – Swinburne)
*the general incompatibility of naturalism with qualia, intentionality, & understanding (developed in more detail in some of the following arguments)
*argument from reason (Victor Reppert / Plantinga)
*argument from consciousness, considered as irreducible (JP Moreland) – I need to investigate this argument’s link with the AFR further
*argument from the consistent, law-like link between mental content and brain states (related to some of Plantinga’s work on the EAAN – explore how this ties in to other forms of the AFC)

Gender equality – on what basis?

This is a famous essay by Schopenhauer, and the most absurdly sexist piece of writing I have ever read. [Essay here]

I may write more on this some other time, but there were some interesting things in it anyway. Schopenhauer’s extreme dislike for elements of the Christian tradition that had influenced western society is very evident in the essay. In general, it got me wondering about what the best basis for gender equality is, and whether Christianity’s version thereof is merely a slight improvement on Schopenhauer’s ideology, or something much better – noting too that there is dissent within the Christian tradition, of course.

“the Kingdom of God is like yeast …” – Jesus

I like this, given that I work with yeast cells every few days or so.

Luke 13: 20-21: Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

And the parallel,

Matthew 13: 33: He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”


Big Dan on science and philosophy

I don’t often like what Daniel Dennett says, but when I do … I post in on my blog.

“The history of philosophy is the history of very tempting mistakes made by very smart people, and if you don’t learn that history you’ll make those mistakes again and again and again. One of the ignoble joys of my life is watching very smart scientists just reinvent all the second-rate philosophical ideas because they’re very tempting until you pause, take a deep breath and take them apart.”

From this article: [link]

Of course, what he considers a second-rate philosophical idea and what I do probably differs somewhat, but that’s life.

assorted quotes relating to evolution

Some stuff I found in my readings today that I may return to at a later stage. This stuff is pretty fascinating, but I haven’t thought about it properly yet.  What I have listed here isn’t too coherent, but I think it’s worth putting here so I can come back to it later if I ever decide to collect my biology-related ramblings together into something that makes sense.

The first quote concerns a distinction between convergent evolution and parallel evolution – I had assumed the terms were synonymous – shows what I know!  The next three quotes discuss constraints on adaptive evolution and whether there really is a sharp ‘convergent’ vs ‘parallel’ split.

Jan 2008    Convergence and parallelism reconsidered: what have we learned about the genetics of adaptation?   Arendt et al.

“Biologists often distinguish ‘convergent’ from ‘parallel’ evolution. This distinction usually assumes that when a given phenotype evolves, the underlying genetic mechanisms are different in distantly related species (convergent) but similar in closely related species (parallel). However, several examples show that the same phenotype might evolve among populations within a species by changes in different genes. Conversely, similar phenotypes might evolve in distantly related species by changes in the same gene. We thus argue that the distinction between ‘convergent’ and ‘parallel’ evolution is a false dichotomy, at best representing ends of a continuum. We can simplify our vocabulary; all instances of the independent evolution of a given phenotype can be described with a single term – convergent.”

Dec 2012:  The probability of genetic parallelism and convergence in natural populations. Conte et al. 

“the high probabilities of gene reuse estimated from published data indicate that the effective number of genes used in parallel and convergent phenotypic adaptation is typically small. If the causes of this low number can be elucidated, then genetic evolution may indeed be somewhat predictable”

“… the number of genes used and reused in adaptive evolution is a small subset of available genes.”

“… there is no sudden break in the probability of gene reuse between parallel and convergent evolution (figure 2). The distinction is one of degree rather than of kind. ”

Now, these quotes are as I read them, crudely, about microevolution vs macroevolution.

Feb 2009. Stern and Orgogozo. Is genetic evolution predictable?

“The Frigida example is not unique. In many plants and animals, evolution over long periods (variation between species) appears to differ in several ways from evolution over shorter periods (variation between domesticated races and between individuals within a species). Here are three general ways in which long-term and short-term genetic evolution differ.

First, epistasis is commonly found for the mutations that contribute to phenotypic variation within species, whereas it is rarely observed for the mutations that cause differences between species.

Second, null mutations, which arise frequently and often cause pleiotropic and epistatic effects, seem to contribute more to phenotypic variation within species than to phenotypic differences between species. About 55% of the 99 mutations known to cause domestication traits are null-coding mutations, whereas only 7% of the 75 mutations known to cause interspecific differences are null-coding mutations

Third, the frequency of cis-regulatory mutations causing morphological variation differs between taxonomic levels. Morphological changes may occur either through coding changes or through cis-regulatory changes. Because mutations in cis-regulatory regions often have fewer pleiotropic effects than mutations in coding regions, morphological changes are expected to involve mainly cis-regulatory mutations. Within species, most mutations that cause morphological variation have been found in protein-coding regions. In contrast, between species most mutations that cause morphological differences have been found in cis-regulatory regions. Presumably, many of the coding mutations found within species fail to spread through populations, perhaps because of pleiotropic deleterious effects. ”


Idealists hiding out in laboratories

This table is taken from a survey report on the attitudes of NZ scientists, available here [link] – it’s a few years old, but interesting to see how idealistic scientists in this country seem to be. The first two (i.e. most popular) items on the list particularly struck me – “the search for truth and knowledge”, and the “improvement of the … conditions of humanity” are both quite noble ideals; interesting anyway.
Table 15: Reasons to become a scientist.
                                                                                                                  1996                      2008
Intrigue with the search for truth and knowledge             32.9%                    34.9%
Desire to contribute to the improvement of the                18.7%                    23.8%
material and intellectual conditions of humanity
Expectation of a sense of accomplishment                           17.4%                    16.0%
Influence of an older scientist                                                    8.5%                        8.7%
My chosen field was easier and more fun for me                14.4%                       7.8%
Desire to achieve a comfortable lifestyle                               2.7%                          3.4%
Other                                                                                                      1.7%                          1.7%
Desire to follow in the footsteps of great thinkers               0.9%                         1.4%
Expectations of other persons                                                      1.4%                         1.0%
Potential to become famous for my research                         0.6%                        0.9%
Potential to achieve greater wealth                                             0.6%                       0.7%

Isaac Newton would approve.


I’m considering going to a conference in Brisbane for biology stuff. It’d be a cool opportunity, but probably a little bit too financially stretching.   [Update: no longer seriously considering going to Brisbane, as there looks like there will be a FREE short course on similar things in Auckland instead. Yay!]

Here’s a related image, about philosophy conferences. It has a ring of truth to it!

Philosophers. People with beards who can’t make jokes. Heh.