Wednesday, June 18, 2008


We've Got a Little List

PZ Mxyzptlk has a list and he's not even checking it once. Dana swipes disdainfully at it. It is another of those "arguments against atheism" screeds that do so much to lower respect for the intellect of at least a certain segment of Christians. There are some totally undigested bits of respectable (if not convincing) arguments in this woman's list but most are pathetically embarrassing. These interested me for historical reasons:

17. What/who knew that had Earth been set nearer to the sun, we would burn up?

18. What/who knew that had Earth been set any further from the sun, we would freeze up?

19. What/who knew that had Earth been built larger or smaller, its atmosphere would be one where it would not be possible for us to breathe?

20. What/who knew that we require the oxygen of plants, just as plants require the carbon dioxide of us?

These are variations on arguments that Darwin himself commented on in his notebooks:

Mayo (Philosoph. of Living) quotes Whewell as profound because he says length of days adapted to duration of sleep of man!!! whole universe so adapted!!! & not man to Planets. — instance of arrogance!!

As Sir Gavin de Beer, in his commentary to Darwin's Notebooks, describes the argument Darwin makes fun of:

William Whewell. "The Length of the Day", The Bridgewater Treatises on the Power Wisdom and Goodness of God as manifested in the Creation, Treatise III, On Astronomy and General Physics, p. 38. On p. 39:—" … Man, in like manner, in all nations and ages, takes his principal rest once in twentyfour hours; and the regularity of this practice seems most suitable to his health, though the duration of the time allotted to repose is extremely different in different cases. So far as we can judge, this period is of a length beneficial to the human frame, independent of the effect of external agents. In the voyages recently made into the high northern latitudes, where the sun did not rise for three months, the crews of ships were made to adhere, with the utmost punctuality to the habit of retiring to rest at nine, and rising a quarter before six; and they enjoyed, under circumstances apparently the most trying, a state of salubrity quite remarkable. This shows, that according to the common constitution of such men, the cycle of twenty-four hours is very commodious, though not imposed on them by external circumstances.

Similarly, Whewell pointed to the adaptation of the length of the seasons to the life cycles of plants. Whewell was a bit more nuanced than Darwin gave him credit for, arguing that the direction of adaptation -- seasons to plants or plants to seasons -- could not be determined by science and thus were evidence of the Providence of God either way. Darwin ended that by giving a mechanism by which the direction of the adaptation became clear and the need for Providence became superfluous.

As always, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

What interests me is how the "fine tuning" argument is an argument against the existence of an omnipotent God.

After all, an omnipotent God could do whatever He wanted to, and wouldn't have to finagle things to get around the restrictions of the laws of nature.

If life existed under physically impossible conditions, then that would be an argument for the existence of an omnipotent God.

Tom S.
That's an interesting point. I'm not sure how far you could push it because of the difficulty of defining what "natural" is. If, say, an oxygen breather (to use one of the woman's examples) somehow survived on an airless world, how could we tell it wasn't "natural" somehow? Still, it's a good way to demonstrate that the underlying fact of adaptation is no certain argument for design.
Did she also mention how my legs are EXACTLY the proper length to reach from my torso to the ground? Any longer and I'd be rooted, any shorter and I'd be floating. Ah, the marvels of divine providence!

Something that has always bugged me about the nearer/farther argument is that I can never get a straight answer out of the creationist in the situation when I ask "how much nearer/farther?"

It's not like our orbit is perfectly circular, after all. We're around 3 million miles closer in January than we are in July, so we're looking at 1.5 million miles from the average twice a year.

Guess the magic number must be 3.1 million miles, tops ;)
... "how much nearer/farther?"

That's easy ... too close is when it's too hot for Satan and too far is when it's too cold for Ymir.
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