Possibly the Worst New York Times Op-Ed in the History of New York Times Op-Eds

Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times, brings us a truly head-scratching opinion piece today, entitled, “Why I Am Pro-Life”.

Thomas Friedman

I have this thing about letting ridiculous statements go unchallenged. This piece has enough ridiculous statements to warrant its own blog post.

{SPOILER WARNING…Friedman isn’t actually pro-life}

Friedman begins:

Hard-line conservatives have gone to new extremes lately in opposing abortion. Last week, Richard Mourdock, the Tea Party-backed Republican Senate candidate in Indiana, declared during a debate that he was against abortion even in the event of rape because after much thought he “came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

New extremes? It’s hardly “new” for a pro-life politician to believe that all unborn children are equally valuable in the eyes of God – regardless of the circumstances of their conception.

If it’s offensive to even suggest that a fetus conceived through rape is valuable and intended by God, then what kind of message is this sending to the children and adults living among us who were also conceived through rape? As I observed recently on Facebook, the hostile reactions to Mourock’s comments bring to mind a time in the not-so-distant past when “bastards” were socially stigmatized as adults for the circumstances of their birth. For more on this controversy, I urge you to read this outstanding article from GetReligion.

Friedman goes on to educate us on the “mainstream consensus in America” on the issue of abortion:

That consensus says that those who choose to oppose abortion in their own lives for reasons of faith or philosophy should be respected, but those women who want to make a different personal choice over what happens with their own bodies should be respected, and have the legal protection to do so, as well.

Actually, it turns out that pro-life Americans now outnumber pro-choice Americans by a nine-point margin. So I’m really not sure where he’s getting this “mainstream consensus”. No sources were provided.

He continues:

You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.”

The effectiveness of the Head Start program has been called into question by a number of conflicting studies. At the very least, it should be recognized that opposition to this federal program shouldn’t be equated with opposition to helping disadvantaged children.

As to the implication that pro-lifers only care about children before they’re born…I defer to a recent Facebook status from a friend of mine: “Was told today that Pro-Life people are monsters because we don’t care about children after they’re born. So I got my phone out and went through my contacts one by one and pointed out which folks were adoptive parents to children in America, which ones were adoptive parents to children from overseas, which ones were social workers, which ones work as detectives for crimes against children, which ones ran orphanages overseas, which ones are highly involved in ending human trafficking and sex-slavery, which ones are currently digging water wells and striving to improve sanitation in africa….come to think of it…I think almost every pro-life person in my entire life is committed to the welfare and health and happiness of children in this country and around the world. Then I threw a chair at her. lol just kidding, it was a bar stool.”

Friedman’s only getting warmed up, though:

“Pro-life” can mean only one thing: “respect for the sanctity of life.” And there is no way that respect for the sanctity life can mean we are obligated to protect every fertilized egg in a woman’s ovary, no matter how that egg got fertilized…

I have to stop this one mid-sentence. And no, it isn’t because of the innocent “sanctity life” typo. I’m much more disturbed by the complete lack of understanding Friedman reveals about human reproduction. For those who remember from high school biology, fertilized eggs aren’t located in a woman’s ovary. The haploid female egg cell is actually ejected from the ovary (a process called “ovulation“) into the Fallopian tube, where it sits around waiting to be fertilized.

This mistake is pretty egregious, considering the entire article is dedicated to issues involving fertilization. I’m not going to claim that it automatically invalidates everything else Friedman has to say…but doesn’t it, kind of?

…but we are not obligated to protect every living person from being shot with a concealed automatic weapon.

Wait, a concealed AUTOMATIC weapon?

“Hold on, let me just slip this under my jacket.”

But in all seriousness…is Friedman honestly trying to equate the killing of 1.2 million unborn children each year in the United States with the relatively rare cases in which a psychopath gets his hands on an AR-15 (which is semiautomatic, FYI)? I’m all in favor of having a discussion about the availability of certain types of firearms…but this just isn’t a valid comparison. Also: automatic weapons have been illegal for decades.

I have no respect for someone who relies on voodoo science to declare that a woman’s body can distinguish a “legitimate” rape, but then declares — when 99 percent of all climate scientists conclude that climate change poses a danger to the sanctity of all life on the planet — that global warming is just a hoax.

I think Friedman disqualified himself from talking about “voodoo science” when he mentioned “every fertilized egg in a woman’s ovary” in the previous sentence.

Also, a source for the 99 percent figure would be really cool.

Friedman closes by holding up New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a shining example of the kind of “pro-life” politician he would like to see more of. The kind of politician who respects the sanctity of life by banning the sale of “giant sugary drinks”, and by requiring restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus.

Not to be cliché…but I seriously couldn’t make this stuff up.

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107 thoughts on “Possibly the Worst New York Times Op-Ed in the History of New York Times Op-Eds

  1. Why is it these folks are always “Pulitzer prize winners…” REBLOGGING NOW!!!

  2. Well-said, Matt. Much could also be said about the “right to do what she wants with her body” comment. I would support that, but what about the infant’s body? Does a woman (or a man) have a right to do what he/she wants with someone else’s body? Obviously not….

  3. I have been utterly shocked by how many supposedly-Christian politicians have gone after Mourdock for expressing a very common Christian belief. (And why does no one ask them – do you think children conceived in rapes are mistakes in the opinion of the deity? That’s the other option, right?)

  4. Good analysis. Thanks. I used this in response to a friend on FB, who posted this NYT Op-ed. I hope my response, and the use of this blog, goes across with a spirit of humility. Tough issue, of which many on both sides throw out straw man arguments or lob flame-thrower comments.

  5. The comparison with gun owners was crazy, like a lot else in the article. Like you said, there are 1.2 million abortions each year. There about 80 million gun owners in America. I don’t need a statistic to tell me there are not 80 million deaths from guns each year (or even close).

  6. “If it’s offensive to even suggest that a fetus conceived through rape is valuable and intended by God, then what kind of message is this sending to the children and adults living among us who were also conceived through rape?”

    Please allow me to send the message:

    Hear me, children and adults who were conceived through rape: you were unfortunately brought into a world filled to the brim with primitive, uneducated people who were forcefully coerced — during their earliest, most vulnerable years, to believe without one shred of evidence, in supernatural poppycock (aka “God”).

    Welcome! There is inherent value in your humanity, regardless of what circumstances resulted in your birth, and regardless of what religious people would have you believe.

    Please learn to use evidence-based reasoning in your worldly affairs. The truth is very important, and scientific inquiry is the path to our future. Try to find peace in knowing that you are made of star-stuff; you are literally a child of the stars, and you have every right to be here.

    Although plenty will try, let no man tell you what your purpose is here on Earth, for no man knows the answer to this question. Enjoy your journey, for it is the only one you will have.

  7. Thanks for pointing out this article and some of Friedman’s flaws. Only when both sides are talking about the same thing will there be some reasonable discussion, and by that I mean, if the fetus is a person who should then have rights as any minor would, then how can the woman kill it? They bring up the right of the woman to do with her body as she will, but her’s is not the only body in question – LOL. So, it’s a matter of talking about the same thing. Otherwise, I wish Murdock would’ve said what he meant (I think) differently. To make it sound like God approves of rape and evil acts is just giving atheists fuel for their fire. God is not evil and does not condone evil. However, God DOES make good things spring out of evil. All good is from God, and I think all would agree that a new human life is good, even if the method of its conception was wrong and twisted.

    • Indeed, “God” is not evil because there is not one shred of evidence for “His” existence. The case for “God” would not stand up in any court of law, due to lack of evidence.

      This is the common ground you are seeking, and yes, only when both sides are on the same page will we be able to have a reasonable discussion.

      The concept of an anthropomorphic “God” who monitors female pregnancies is inherently unreasonable, and thus discussions of abortion are in this context are useless and tragic.

      The burden of proof remains, as it has for centuries, with “faithful” religious people who assert this biblical “God’s” existence a priori.

      Unless a scrap of evidence can be provided (and an ancient book of goat-herder morality written by men I’m afraid doesn’t qualify as evidence — it wouldn’t stand up in a U.S. court as evidence), there is no reason to accept the argument for “God,” and therefore we must by necessity turn our attention to the question of who, in the absence of fictional deities, should control a woman’s body.

      That answer is obvious, and The Golden Rule supports it. No man would want his body to be controlled by another, and the same moral principle of course applies to women.

  8. Correction: my 3rd paragraph should read:

    “The concept of an anthropomorphic “God” who monitors female pregnancies is inherently unreasonable, and thus any discussions of abortion in this context are useless and tragic.”

    • I’ve collected a very small fraction of the available evidence for Christianity in a tab at the top of this blog. Several of the points apply to God (generally), while others apply to Christianity (specifically). Your comment includes some pretty bold claims, but they boil down to proof by assertion fallacies (“The case for “God” would not stand up in any court of law, due to lack of evidence”) or cheap insults (“ancient book of goat-herder morality”).

      As to your point about women controlling their own bodies, *of course* pro-life individuals don’t have an interest in controlling what women do with their own bodies. The issue is with what they do to the body within them. This essay nails it:

      http://www.shenvi.org/Essays/BadProChoiceArguments.htm

      “The fundamental problem with this objection is that it assumes that laws against abortion are primarily concerned with what a woman can and cannot do to her own body. But they are not. Why? Ask yourself a simple question: how many brains does a woman have? One. But how many brains does a pregnant woman have? Still one. The woman’s body is not the issue in abortion: the baby’s body is. The developing fetus has a complete set of human DNA different than the mother’s. It has its own circulatory system, its own brain, its own fingers and toes and arms and legs. If it is a male, it even has a different gender than the mother. Therefore, the fetus is clearly not just ‘part of the woman’s body’. Laws against abortion aren’t telling a woman what she can and cannot do with her own body; they are telling a woman what she can and cannot do with someone else’s body.”

  9. Since when is the term “goat-herder” an insult? Goats were sacrificed to “God” by Christians in biblical times.

    The “evidence” listed on your blog tab has been thoroughly refuted, time and time again, and it’s not my intention (or responsibility) to keep you up-to-date on these matters. At best, you may be able to make a weak, a priori case for Deism, but jumping from there to a biblical and personal “God” is simply illogical and dishonest.

    There is no point in going any further on the subject of abortion, or for that matter any subject regarding human affairs, unless we can agree on this important point. Otherwise, we will simply be building a house of cards, and I have neither the time nor interest to do that.

    But I do thank you for your response!

    • And I thank you for yours!

      I may have been reading it wrong – and if so, I apologize. Usually when I encounter phrases like “ancient book of goat-herder morality”, the intention is to belittle a person’s Holy Book by making it appear ridiculous.

      Also, goats were never sacrificed by Christians. One of the central claims of Christianity is that Jesus’s death made animal sacrifice obsolete. Sacrifices *were* made by the Israelites in the pre-Christ era…which is probably what you meant.

      ___

      “The “evidence” listed on your blog tab has been thoroughly refuted, time and time again…”

      You’re doing the proof-by-assertion thing again. I’ve read dozens of books and listened to scores of lectures and debates from the world’s leading atheists and Christian apologists. Maybe the problem is with my own intelligence…but I honestly don’t see how one can conclude that these issues have been “thoroughly refuted”.

  10. 1. Fine-tuning: at best, it gets you to Deism, not to a biblical god.

    2. The argument from morality: asserts without evidence that a personal god exists. Fail. Who cares what Craig piles on top of that error in logic.

    3. Religious experience: asserts a personal “god” as the cause of good feelings in humans. There are many other possible answers rooted in neuroscience. Fail.

    4. Historical case for Jesus: bogus, wishful thinking. Read this very thorough demolition, for example: http://celsus.blog.com/2012/10/14/ten-reasons-to-reject-the-apologetic-1042-source-slogan/

    5. Mathematics: Deism. Einstein’s god. No personal, biblical god is supported whatsoever.

    6. Ridiculous special pleading.

    7 and 8: Question-begging. Jesus existed therefore He is the son of god? Fail.

    Weak Deism. Next.

    • 1. That’s the intention. As I mentioned: “Several of the points apply to God (generally), while others apply to Christianity (specifically).”

      2. Without evidence? It’s…well, “evident”…that you haven’t given this argument much serious attention.

      3. Yes, there are other possible answers rooted in neuroscience. There are a number of specific near-death experiences that violate these “natural” explanations, however (knowledge of distant and ongoing events while the patient is comatose). Obviously we can’t call these accounts “proof” of God…but I don’t think we can just handwave them away, either.

      4. I haven’t had a chance to read the entire contents of the link you posted, but it appears to be a “demolition” of a source that I didn’t actually use. What’s your take on the sources I did use?

      5. (See point #1)

      6. Would you consider all forms of fulfilled prophecy to be special pleading, then?

      7 and 8. “Jesus existed therefore He is the son of god? Fail.”

      Rather: “Jesus existed and made specific claims. Therefore, he was either a liar, or a lunatic, or he was telling the truth.” The best evidence, in my view, indicates that he was telling the truth. This isn’t question-begging. It’s deduction.

  11. Pingback: Flotsam & Jetsam (10/30) | the Ink Slinger

  12. Let’s start with #1: Fine-Tuning.

    How does this relate to Christianity? And please, if you’re going to quote “prophecy” from a book written by ancient (goat-herding?) philosophers — who knew nothing about the scientifically-measured parameters of modern physics, you’ll be seriously begging the question, and therefore your argument will be trivial (and therefore unacceptable to me).

    Thanks in advance for your time!

    • Fine tuning doesn’t relate to Christianity, specifically. It does imply the existence of a Creator – the first step in establishing the plausibility of Christianity.

  13. Now we’re getting somewhere. You say:

    “It does imply the existence of a Creator – the first step in establishing the plausibility of Christianity.”

    Okay. So by the exact same token, why isn’t it the first step in establishing the plausibility of Islam?

    • It is!

      As I’ve been saying, several of the arguments I referenced (#1, #2, #3, #5) are supportive of Theism and/or Deism, *generally*. This includes Islam.

      Others (#4, #7, #8) are more specific to Christianity.

  14. Alright then… why are you a Christian, and not a Muslim?

    I have plenty of other things to say about your latest response, but please answer this question first.

    • Partly for reasons that I get to in the later points (which you don’t want me to assert yet, it looks like).

      Also, from personal experience. I’ve already had God speak to me through various means – utterly confirming my own Christian faith.

  15. We’re still talking about Number 1 — Fine Tuning. Please don’t assert your other “evidence” before we can close out this topic.

    Thanks!

    • What I mean is, if you can’t justify choosing Christianity over Islam merely by virtue of your Number One source of evidence (Fine-Tuning), then simply admit it, and then we’ll move on to Number Two (Craig’s stuff).

    • “…if you can’t justify choosing Christianity over Islam merely by virtue of your Number One source of evidence (Fine-Tuning), then simply admit it…”

      That’s exactly what I’ve been saying all along. Point #1 is a general argument for God. Later points address Christianity specifically.

  16. So Point #1 doesn’t support Christianity. We agree on that. Excellent. We’re making progress!

    I would suggest, with no disrespect intended, that an honest man with integrity would now remove this item from the list entitled “Evidence For Christianity” because (as you’ve agreed) it is NOT evidence for Christianity at all.

    Fine-tuning could indeed imply some kind of intelligent creator, but it would be a giant, illogical leap to use the fine-tuning argument to assign any defining characteristics whatsoever to this creator.

    Furthermore, fine-tuning could simply be the result of a mindless, evolutionary process.

    I’ll move on to Point #2 tomorrow, but Point #1 is now off-the-table completely as evidence for the Christian god.

    • “So Point #1 doesn’t support Christianity. We agree on that. Excellent. We’re making progress!”

      No, we don’t agree on that. Point #1 provides good support for Theism, which *includes* Christianity.

      “I would suggest, with no disrespect intended, that an honest man with integrity would now remove this item from the list entitled “Evidence For Christianity” because (as you’ve agreed) it is NOT evidence for Christianity at all.”

      I would also suggest, with no disrespect intended, that an honest man with integrity would refrain from putting words in my mouth. What I said was that Point #1 doesn’t provide evidence for Christianity *specifically*. It DOES provide evidence for Theism *generally*, which includes Christianity.

      For example, I could make a list describing evidence that “the object I’m holding is a square”. Some of the points might provide evidence that the object is rectangular (generally), while others might provide evidence that the object is squarish (specifically). Since a square is also a rectangle, even the former, broader type of evidence – when taken together with the more specific evidence – is useful in establishing the truthfulness of my claim that the object is a square.

  17. One comment about Lee Smolin and the “odds” of fine-tuning occurring.

    If you had literally ALL OF ETERNITY to play the lottery, you would very likely win. There would also be occasions where you would win twice in a row on successive draws. Indeed, there would also be occasions where you would win ONE HUNDRED TIMES in a row, etc.

    Infinity is a very, VERY long time, and unlikely things are LIKELY when given an infinite amount of time to occur.

    Just food for thought.

    • What evidence do you have for an infinite period of time prior to the creation of the universe? All physical evidence points to the fact that time began when the universe began.

  18. I’ll get back to you on your comments, but first please explain how fine-tuning supports “Theism,” when you’ve already stated that it only supports Deism.

    You’re being inconsistent already, so let’s back up a step and you can tell me what I’ve missed.

    Thanks!

    • Sure thing. Here’s what I said:

      “As I’ve been saying, several of the arguments I referenced (#1, #2, #3, #5) are supportive of Theism and/or Deism, *generally*.”

      Fine tuning implies a Creator, but I don’t see any reason why it should favor Deism over Theism. It’s concerned with the fundamental physical parameters of the universe being fixed in such a way to allow for the formation of stars, planets, and life…but it says nothing at all about the *characteristics* of God. It’s consistent with a Clockmaker God, sure…but it’s also consistent with a God who intervenes in His creation.

  19. “Since a square is also a rectangle…”

    This is question-begging, at its finest. If you’re going to use this analogy to show that Deism supports Theism, you’ll have to do a lot better than that.

    Please go ahead and explain further, however. I would like to continue restricting our discussion to Fine-Tuning, and how, in your mind, it somehow provides support for Theism.

    Thanks again.

    • I wasn’t using this analogy to show that Deism supports Theism, but to show that Christianity falls within the domain of Theism. I think that might be where we’re misunderstanding each other.

  20. One more thing. You say:

    “All physical evidence points to the fact that time began when the universe began.”

    Did your “God” exist before time began? How is that possible?

    Oh wait, I know… “he” is “beyond” time and space, right?

    LOL

    Nice try. Of course there were things before the Big Bang. Time is a mathematical convenience. Neil Turok, a highly respected physicist at The Perimeter Institute, has some very interesting ideas you may want to rread about.

  21. Simply put, even if Fine-Tuning provides evidence for some kind of “God”, it doesn’t provide one whit of evidence for YOUR brand of “God”. There is no logical connection — it’s merely a giant, illogical leap of faith.

    Please spend your response explaining how my statement above is erroneous.

    • Is this Chris C., by chance? Sorry if this seems random…you just sound a lot like someone I know. 🙂

      But anyway:

      Fine tuning provides evidence for God, which is an important first step in establishing the credibility of my own “brand” of God (a strange way of putting it, but I’ll roll with your terminology).

      If my evidence for Christianity were limited to fine tuning *exclusively*, then it WOULD be a giant, illogical leap of faith to arrive at the Christian idea of God. But this isn’t the case. To continue with my square analogy, fine tuning is like establishing that “the object has four sides”. With this information alone, *of course* we can’t immediately say that the object must be a square.

      But in order to eventually show that the object is a square, it’s extremely useful to establish that it has four sides.

  22. “It’s consistent with a Clockmaker God, sure…but it’s also consistent with a God who intervenes in His creation.”

    I’m not sure I agree. I can create a painting, but am I also “intervening” in the creation of my painting? I think you’re playing a clever semantic game. I created the painting, period. Similarly, a “Deist” god may have created the universe.

    Furthermore, your Christian “God” intervened in a much more specific (and highly dubious) way, such as talking to Abraham, showing himself to Moses, inpregnating Mary, and placing “His” son on the planet to “save” us from “original sin”.

    Surely you can’t imply that these things are inherent qualities of a deist god.

    (The comment window is acting erratic, and that’s why I use multiple posts… sorry about that.)

    • No problem; I probably need to tinker with the comment settings, to be honest.

      “I can create a painting, but am I also “intervening” in the creation of my painting? I think you’re playing a clever semantic game. I created the painting, period. Similarly, a “Deist” god may have created the universe.”

      One explanation of fine tuning is that a Deist God created the universe. Another explanation is that a Theist God created the universe, and continues to interact with said universe. Fine tuning alone doesn’t really point us one way or the other. It says that the painting had a Painter, but it doesn’t say whether or not the Painter occasionally comes back to the painting to add a brushstroke here, or change a color there.

      The specific interventions that Christianity claims to have occurred cannot be deduced from fine tuning alone. You’re absolutely correct about this. That’s where some of the other arguments come in. 🙂

  23. No, I’m not Chris C… he sounds like a smart cookie.

    😉

    Moving on:

    “But in order to eventually show that the object is a square, it’s extremely useful to establish that it has four sides.”

    But you simply cannot beg the question in this manner. It has four sides, PERIOD. There are many, many shapes with four sides. You cannot jump from there to asserting that it’s a square, without committing the question-begging fallacy.

    Is it possible it’s a square? Certtainly. But how likely is it? Not very likely, given how many four-sided things exist.

    • “You cannot jump from there to asserting that it’s a square, without committing the question-begging fallacy.”

      I agree! This is why I haven’t been arguing that fine tuning – taken in isolation – can lead us immediately to Christianity.

      If I were to cite the fine tuning argument, then say, “Aha! Now I’ve proven Christianity.” THEN I would be begging the question. Begging the question occurs when someone takes a premise and narrows it in order to fulfill a particular conclusion, *without providing additional evidence* for that particular conclusion. But I am providing additional evidence, which is where the other arguments in the list come in.

    • In other words, I don’t intend for each of the items on my list to be unique, individual, self-contained arguments for Christianity (specifically). Rather, the list is designed to provide a cumulative case for Christianity, by mixing arguments for Theism (generally) with arguments for Christianity (specifically).

  24. “I agree! This is why I haven’t been arguing that fine tuning – taken in isolation – can lead us immediately to Christianity.”

    But Fine-Tuning doesn’t necessarily imply a “God” either, and this is the part you are missing. A completely godless, evolutionary process could also explain fine-tuning. Many other godless explanations are possible, also.

    You must eliminate these other possibilities, or at least show that they are more unlikely than the “god” options, otherwise you can be accused of jumping to conclusions.

    Please explain how, with regard to fine-tuning, a “god” explanation is better than a “no god” explanation.

    You won’t be able to, I guarantee it. But I’ll give you the chance right now.

    😉

    • Fine tuning doesn’t prove God definitively, but it does imply His existence as the (overwhelmingly) most likely explanation. So we can’t eliminate the other possibilities, I don’t think…but we can show that they are far less likely than Theist/Deist explanations.

      Let’s say we have a hypothetical, super-powerful telescope that allows us to directly observe the surface of a single remote planet in a single remote galaxy. On the surface of this planet, we observe roads, bridges, skyscrapers, radio towers, and other signs of civilization.

      Now, given enough time and enough planets, it’s possible that these roads, bridges, and skyscrapers arose by strictly random processes. It’s far more likely, however, that these apparent signs of intelligence are the product of intelligent entities.

      This is the same kind of induction that SETI uses in its search for intelligent life. It’s *assumed* that certain kinds of mathematical patterns – if detected – can be used as a basis for determining intelligence.

      Similarly, the finely tuned nature of our universe’s physical constants demand a source of intelligence: a Fine Tuner.

  25. “On the surface of this planet, we observe roads, bridges, skyscrapers, radio towers, and other signs of civilization.”

    See? You just begged the question again. “Signs of civilization” ? C’mon, man!

    Let me get this straight. You found “signs of civilization” and therefore there must be civilians?

    Wow! What a concept!

    Do you believe that geometric patterns left in the sand by wave-action indicate a higher intelligence at work?

    Fail.

    • It wasn’t begging the question, because I conceded that these objects *could* have arisen from natural processes (in other words, they might only be *apparent* signs of civilization).

      The most likely explanation, however, is that these objects were created.

      Geometric patterns in the sand don’t indicate a higher intelligence at work, because there are known natural reasons why they form. This can’t be said of skyscrapers. A series of skyscrapers forming randomly would be incredibly improbable…though still not as improbable as the Lee Smolin figure would suggest for our universe’s finely tuned constants.

  26. “The most likely explanation, however, is that these objects were created.”

    False equivalence fallacy. The mathematical parameters of physics IN NO WAY resemble skyscrapers, or anything related to the products of human civilization.

    You’re seriously begging the question by using “skyscrapers” in your reasoning. These are human-created objects. It’s circular reasoning, at its worst.

  27. Skyscrapers don’t form randomly — they are created by men.

    The parameters of physics, such as the Fine-Structure Constant, or the mass of the electron, could have evolved via a mindless, evolutionary process.

    There is no way you can show, other than using the question-begging technique you are currently employing, that the parameters of physics are more likely to be the products of an intelligent creator.

    You can try again, if you like. Skyscrapers won’t cut the mustard.

    • If you know much about physics or quantum mechanics, it should be evident that the probability of a skyscraper forming spontaneously – from the random motion of atoms – is much better than 1 in 10^229.

  28. It’s a false equivalence. You are asserting, without evidence, that the parameters of physics are analogous to human-made skyscrapers.

    Anything you pile on top of this fallacy is automatically bogus.

    • “It’s a false equivalence.”

      Is it? In both cases, we’re observing something that has all the appearances of design. In both cases, we’re recognizing that this design *could* be the result of a random, mindless process. But it both cases, I would argue that the evidence overwhelmingly favors a Designer hypothesis.

  29. “But it both cases, I would argue that the evidence overwhelmingly favors a Designer hypothesis.”

    Well then, make your case! What evidence? We’re still talking about Fine-Tuning, aren’t we?

    What evidence leads you to believe the parameters of physics were designed?

    • “What evidence leads you to believe the parameters of physics were designed?”

      The sheer improbability of these parameters being fixed in such a way as to allow for the existence of stars, planets, and life. The very fact that they allow for us to exist is a hallmark of design. It’s an inductive argument.

      The articles I link to under Point #1 provide a fuller description, and better explain why alternative explanations are less satisfying.

  30. And please don’t say because the parameters of physics are like skyscrapers…

    😉

    • Lol.

      I’d still be much less surprised to find a mindlessly, spontaneously-forming skyscraper than I would be to find a mindlessly, spontaneously-forming universe like ours. 🙂

  31. “The sheer improbability of these parameters being fixed in such a way as to allow for the existence of stars, planets, and life. The very fact that they allow for us to exist is a hallmark of design.”

    This would be the famous Argument from Incredulity fallacy.

    We’ve sort of covered this, because in my view, all of eternity (yes, I’m asserting that there was virtually an infinite amount of “time” before the Big Bang for the “cosmic soup” to cook) is plenty of time for extremely unlikely, incredible things to happen. Unlikely things can happen when given enough time to occur.

    Your personal incredulity doesn’t logically bolster your case, in other words.

    • I honestly don’t mind people pointing out logical fallacies…if I’m actually committing them. Unfortunately, I think your record is about 0-8 so far.

      I would only be committing an argument from ignorance if I were relying *merely* on the fact that “God hasn’t been disproven as an explanation for fine tuning”. That’s not what I’m doing. Heck, I’m not even asserting that fine tuning proves God, since I’ve repeatedly conceded that other explanations are possible (albeit much less likely, in my view).

      Also, you’re more than welcome to believe – as an article of faith – that time existed prior to the Big Bang. There might be a few scientists who agree with you on this point, but you’re definitely going *against* the overwhelming consensus.

  32. “(albeit much less likely, in my view).”

    This is the part that commits the ignorance fallacy. You’ve yet to demonstrate that it’s less likely. It’s thus an unevidenced opinion, which can be dismissed as mere speculation.

    “Also, you’re more than welcome to believe – as an article of faith – that time existed prior to the Big Bang. There might be a few scientists who agree with you on this point, but you’re definitely going *against* the overwhelming consensus.”

    You say “faith” like it’s a bad thing, Christian. 😉

    I agree it is only speculation. But surely you must admit that it’s not as egregious a “sin” as asserting the existence of a supernatural “Being” who exists “outside” of space and time. If “God” could exist before the Big Bang, then surely “time” itself could exist.

    There is no actual scientific “consensus” about any of these matters. That’s the Argument Ad Populum fallacy, anyways.

    Neil Turok (and Brian Greene) have hypothesized that perhaps remnants of the “brane” collision that caused the Big Bang could potentially be detected by keen scientific instruments, similar to the way the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation provides evidence for the Big Bang itself.

    This has been enjoyable. I cannot yet see, however, how Fine-Tuning provides “evidence for Christianity”, when everything we’ve agreed upon merely points to a possible deist creator. You can’t use this fact to then “set the stage” for theism, because a deist god could be anything from a “Cosmic Purple Tortoise” to a “super-graviton-wave-force-thingie” — they are all equally likely, based upon the fine-tuning evidence alone.

    Yes, I know you have “other” evidence, but evidence isn’t cumulative in this manner. You must justify each source of evidence on its own merits.

    • “This is the part that commits the ignorance fallacy.”

      I really don’t think you understand how the ignorance fallacy works.

      “You say “faith” like it’s a bad thing, Christian. 😉 ”

      Not at all! I’m just pointing out that we’re not so different, you and I.

      “There is no actual scientific “consensus” about any of these matters. That’s the Argument Ad Populum fallacy, anyways.”

      0-9 on fallacies, now. 😉

      The argumentum ad populum takes the form, “many people believe X, therefore X is true.” I never claimed as a truth that there was a lack of time prior to the Big Bang. I just don’t think it’s likely, because I don’t see any good evidence for it. It isn’t an ad populum fallacy simply to mention that the scientific consensus supports position X. It’s a fallacy to say that position X is true BECAUSE it’s supported by the scientific consensus.

      “Yes, I know you have “other” evidence, but evidence isn’t cumulative in this manner.”

      That’s a pretty bold statement.

      Let’s say that a lawyer presents 15 items of evidence in order to demonstrate that Mr. Jones killed his wife.

      -Items 1-5 demonstrate that Mr. Jones was at the scene of the crime (fingerprints, video evidence, eyewitness testimony, etc.).

      -Items 6-10 demonstrate that Mr. Jones had a motive for killing his wife (emails demonstrating an affair, audio recordings of him wishing his wife dead, etc.)

      -Items 11-15 demonstrate that Mr. Jones had a method for killing his wife (receipts of handgun purchase, records of him visiting a firing range the day before the murder, etc.)

      Using your logic, we would have to argue that each item of evidence is inadmissible and irrelevant, because NONE OF THEM, if taken alone (and on their own merits), can prove that Mr. Jones committed the murder.

      The concept of cumulative evidence, despite your objections, is actually a central component of science, medicine, law, and other fields of knowledge.

  33. Actually, what I’m saying is closer to the following. An item from the 1-5 list cannot be used IN SUPPORT OF an item from the 6-10 list. They are completely independent, and must be evaluated accordingly.

    In other words, you cannot say that finding fingerprints at the scene suggests the culprit is a man, and then use the fact that emails were sent to INCREASE the likelihood that the culprit is a man — because the culprit could be a woman.

    The key question you are not asking yourself is “Evidence for WHAT?”

    Each item is valid as evidence for “something” on its own merits, and then once it is shown to be valid for that something, it can then be added cumulatively to the evidence pile… for that SAME SOMETHING.

    Fine-tuning is NOT evidence for a Christian god. It’s possible evidence for a deist creator. Period.

    You can’t add this piece of evidence for deism to William Lane Craig’s Christian apologetics — they are apples and oranges.

    Your items which attempt to support a deist god can be cumulative, if each item is shown to be valid on its own merits. Similarly, your items which attempt to support the Christian “God” can be lumped together.

    But it is, once again, merely question-begging to assert that the pile of deist evidence can be lumped with the pile of Christian god evidence, for the reasons I’ve already given (the deist god could be a purple tortoise, a flying spaghetti monster, a super-conducting magnetron space-modulator machine, etc.)

    • “Each item is valid as evidence for “something” on its own merits, and then once it is shown to be valid for that something, it can then be added cumulatively to the evidence pile… for that SAME SOMETHING.

      Fine-tuning is NOT evidence for a Christian god. It’s possible evidence for a deist creator. Period.”

      Fine tuning is evidence for a generic “God”. It’s not evidence for Deism *over* Theism, because there’s nothing in fine tuning to suggest that the Fine Tuner isn’t allowed to come back in and tinker with the universe. [This is why I continually refer to fine tuning as evidence for either Theism or Deism…not just one or the other.]

      Since the Christian view of God falls within the broader definition of a Theist God, it’s important to establish evidence for the generic “God” before moving on to evidence for the Christian view of God.

      To borrow your own example, let’s say I have a purple tortoise sitting in my living room. I want to provide evidence for this to my friend, so I first begin by providing evidence that there’s a reptile in my living room.

      By your logic, this is “question begging”. What you’re saying, essentially:

      “You can’t use evidence that it’s reptile to prove that it’s a purple tortoise, since a ‘reptile’ could also be a green snake, a brown lizard, an orange crocodile, etc.”

      But you’re ignoring the fact that, in order to show that there’s a purple tortoise in my living room, it’s necessary to first establish that there’s a reptile in my living room.

      You’ve got to address the “broad” before you address the “narrow”.

  34. “Fine tuning is evidence for a generic “God”. It’s not evidence for Deism *over* Theism, because there’s nothing in fine tuning to suggest that the Fine Tuner isn’t allowed to come back in and tinker with the universe.”

    With all due respect, the mathematical values of the parameters of modern physics are absolutely silent on the matter of whether or not the “creator” could “come back in” and tinker with the universe. They provide no support whatsoever for that patently anthropomorphic idea.

    “But you’re ignoring the fact that, in order to show that there’s a purple tortoise in my living room, it’s necessary to first establish that there’s a reptile in my living room.”

    I would agree in principle with this example, but unfortunately you have the following big problem:

    What evidence do you have that demonstrates that the Christian “god” is in fact a “god” ? You’ve merely declared it by fiat, or asserted it (sans evidence) in your holy book.

    • “With all due respect, the mathematical values of the parameters of modern physics are absolutely silent on the matter of whether or not the “creator” could “come back in” and tinker with the universe. They provide no support whatsoever for that patently anthropomorphic idea.”

      I agree with you here, in principle. Fine tuning is absolutely silent on the matter. There’s nothing in fine tuning to support the idea, but there’s also nothing in fine tuning to undermine it. Pending more information, there’s no reason to either deny tinkering (Deism) or claim that it exists (Theism). Since Deism and Theism both make positive claims on this issue, we can’t use fine tuning to support one of them over the other.

      “What evidence do you have that demonstrates that the Christian “god” is in fact a “god” ?”

      Fine tuning suggests that there’s a God. Christianity says, “Hey, that God guy? We think we know some more details about Him.”

  35. Matt, I’m breaking for dinner… I’ll read any replies in the meantime, and I might respond later tonight… but more likely tomorrow, time permitting.

    I really appreciate your participation!

  36. I just saw this passage from Steve Zara on fine-tuning, so I’ll go ahead and conclude the evening with it:

    “It looks like the universe is delicately arranged and if much was changed life and mind would not be possible. This is a difficult matter to think about clearly though, for many reasons. One reason is that if our universe is one of many, then what seems like fine tuning to us may not be unexpected at all. There are environments on Earth that are particularly suited to certain forms of life. A coastline is one of these. There are animals and plants that live in the places where land meets sea and nowhere else. If one of these animals was sentient it might wonder how such a perfect environment could have appeared. Such an animal may have no knowledge of the dry land or the deep seas. If it did have that knowledge then it would have realised that given the existence of dry land and deep seas there must be a coastline somewhere. What seemed a finely balanced world was actually inevitable. For all we know our universe might be some cosmic equivalent of the shoreline: it’s suited to us, but such a universe had to turn up somewhere between the cosmic seas and cosmic dry lands.”

    Later alligator.

    • “One reason is that if our universe is one of many, then what seems like fine tuning to us may not be unexpected at all.”

      “If our universe is one of many”. That’s one solution, certainly. A couple of points:

      1. Person A observes the fine tuning of our natural constants, and proposes a single intelligent “God” – a source of intelligence to explain this extraordinary finding. Person B observes the fine tuning of our natural constants, and proposes a near-infinite number of OTHER universes – unobservable universes – in order to explain the existence of our own. Which hypothesis is simpler? Who is violating Occam’s Razor, here?

      2. Suppose there are a bunch of other universes out there (which we don’t have any direct evidence for, by the way). This leaves us with the problem of the “multiverse generator”, and doesn’t bring one any closer to eliminating “God” from the equation: http://home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/Fine-tuning/stanford%20multiverse%20talk.htm

      The remainder of the quote is basically just an articulation of the weak anthropic principle…which ultimately falls back on unfalsifiable, faith-based claims of its own. I’m not bashing it; I’m just pointing out that there’s nothing eminently more “scientific” about this view than other, “religious” explanations for the existence of our universe.

  37. Let’s revisit the following exchange. I said:

    “What evidence do you have that demonstrates that the Christian “god” is in fact a “god” ?”

    You replied:

    Fine tuning suggests that there’s a God. Christianity says, “Hey, that God guy? We think we know some more details about Him.”

    Perhaps you were being flippant, but we haven’t yet established that Fine-Tuning suggests a “God”, because there are other possibilities that are just as likely. So you’re once again jumping to conclusions.

    Please answer my question without jumping to a conclusion regarding Fine-Tuning.

    Thanks!

    • There are other possibilities, but I don’t agree that they are “just as likely”. (See the part about Occam’s Razor above). When we observe the finely tuned physical constants that allow our universe to exist, the *simplest* explanation is that these constants were…finely tuned. The “other possibilities” that you allude to generally require that we either propose a near-infinite number of unobservable universes (in order to explain our own), or some kind of mystical “quantum event” (essentially an appeal to magic in order to escape the implications of design).

      These are the other conclusions (or at least, the two that one encounters most often). I’m not jumping directly to the God-conclusion without considering these (i.e. question begging); rather, I’m claiming that the God-conclusion is more likely, since it provides the simplest and most elegant solution to the problem of fine-tuning. As I’ve said: it’s an inductive argument.

  38. ” I’m claiming that the God-conclusion is more likely, since it provides the simplest and most elegant solution to the problem of fine-tuning.”

    Circular reasoning. The parameters of physics exist. What caused them? A “God” ???

    What is a “God”?

    Please define this “God”. And don’t beg the question with references to the bible or scripture.

    • Going off of fine tuning alone, “God” is defined strictly as “a source of intelligence (or “an entity”) which could have produced our finely tuned physical parameters”.

  39. “God” is defined strictly as “a source of intelligence (or “an entity”) which could have produced our finely tuned physical parameters”.

    Precisely. You’ve just created a perfect circle of reasoning.

    Q: What (or who) tuned the parameters of physics?
    A: God.
    Q: What (or who) is “God” ?
    A: God is the one who tuned the parameters of physics.

    Don’t you see this?

    • This isn’t circular reasoning. It’s establishing a definition. My claim is that the most likely explanation for fine tuning is a source of intelligence. This “source of intelligence” is defined as “God”.

      You’re playing a clever word game, nothing more. You could just as easily say:

      Q: What (or who) is responsible for enforcing the rules in baseball?
      A: The umpire.
      Q: What (or who) is “the umpire”?
      A: The person who enforces the rules in baseball.

      This isn’t circular reasoning. It’s stating the definition of “the umpire” from two different perspectives.

  40. “This “source of intelligence” is defined as “God”.”

    Is this your definition of “God” ? I’m willing to accept it, but you cannot later change it to suit your needs. Is this an adequate definition for you?

    • This is the definition of God *as it can be established by fine tuning*. Additional qualities of God can be established from other arguments.

      So I will be adding to the definition later on. 🙂

  41. The baseball umpire could be a machine (or a computer) by your analysis. Better be careful!

  42. “This is the definition of God *as it can be established by fine tuning*.”

    I’m sorry Matt, but this is viciously circular reasoning. You simply cannot use the question to define the answer.

    Baseball is a game played by men. You cannot assert, in a similar fashion, that “tuning the parameters of physics” is a game played by gods.

    It’s begging the question, once again.

    • It would be begging the question if I claimed that fine tuning MUST be explained by God – without providing reasons for why God is being used as an explanation.

      Instead, I’m considering the various possible explanations for fine tuning (a Fine Tuner, a multiverse, quantum magic, etc.). I’m claiming – using induction – that the Fine Tuner explanation is the best explanation (see: Occam’s Razor).

      How about this:

      Q: What (or who) is responsible for the finely tuned parameters of physics?
      A: The multiverse.
      Q: What’s the multiverse?
      A: A system which produced our universe, with its finely tuned parameters.

  43. I’m still asking for a non-circular definition of “God”. We must establish this before we can go anywhere. You throw this English word “God” around haphazardly, and now you’ve even hinted that you may be changing it in the future.

    Surely you can see why this isn’t the way a logical debate proceeds.

    One more time: Is “God” a “source of intelligence” ? Is this your definition?

    • I don’t know about circular definitions, but this is definitely turning into a circular discussion…

      But anyway, I’ve stated that I will be *adding* to my definition of God as we consider additional arguments on the list. There’s nothing shady or underhanded about this. It’s just how evidence works (and I say this as a scientist). As more information comes in, the working definition is expanded accordingly.

      The “source of intelligence” definition is how I define God *as He can be known from the fine-tuning argument alone*.

  44. “The “source of intelligence” definition is how I define God *as He can be known from the fine-tuning argument alone*.”

    You can’t use the question to define the answer.

    Perhaps what you’re not seeing is the fallacious question-begging inherent in the word “tuning”. It is an unevidenced assertion to say a bunch of observed physical parameters have been “tuned”. It implies agency, and therefore it’s question-begging.

    Has the atmosphere been “tuned” to have several stratified layers? No. Is ocean water stratified because of an intelligent tuner? No.

    All we have thus far, in our argument (despite your attempts to jump the electric fence and escape), is a set of physical parameters having observed values.

    The question is what caused them to have their values, not what “tuned” them to have their values. (Employing the word “tuning” is question-begging.)

    You say the simplest, most parsimonious answer is “God”.

    I then ask what is “God” ?

    You say “He” is an intelligent source that “tuned” the parameters.

    Try again, without using “tuning” in your definition, because it’s not logically valid to do so.

    • We’ve seriously been over this at least four times now. I like to assume the best of people, but I’m starting to think you’re trolling.

  45. It’s also fallacious to employ the word “He” in your definition of “God”.

    What is a “He” ???

    • You’re correct in that there’s no reason to assign gender based on the fine tuning argument. A guy’s gotta use a pronoun, though…

  46. “God” is your word. I don’t believe in gods.

    All I’m asking for is a clear definition, one which doesn’t hinge on words which imply an anthropomorphic agent, like “He” or “Fine-Tuner”.

    You cannot do it. I know that already. It’s simply not possible to do it.

    You’re smart enough to know that if you concede to a definition like “God is a source of intelligence” then I will simply ask you what your definition of “intelligence” is. I know this isn’t a debate you want to have, because your definition of “intelligence” will also be riddled with anthropomorphic question-begging. We’ll have to drag in Alan Turing, and neuroscience, and philosophy.

    The bottom line is that the word “God” is highly problematic. Language is highly problematic, when it comes to describing physical processes in Nature. Human language is problematic even if you attempt to describe something as “simple” as getting up out of a chair (Moshe Feldenkrais, “Awareness Through Movement”). It’s not simple at all, and you’ll quickly realize that phrases like “rotate your left arm” are completely inadequate because there are hundreds of ways you can “rotate” your left arm.

    I’m afraid you haven’t demonstrated that “God” is the simplest answer — because you haven’t successfully defined “God”.

    We are evolved apes, and we learned to use our larynx and mouth to emit grunted sound waves — to communicate with EACH OTHER. Language is a tacit agreement between individual brains — words must be agreed upon before they become part of the dictionary. There are no “absolute” words — they are all inter-related and dependent upon each other.

    Material reality, on the other hand, does not depend upon language. You can touch that chair and deduce its existence, and so can I. There is no way an ape using grunted sound waves can possibly hope to change material reality.

    It sounds like you are getting a bit impatient, so I’ll simply thank you sincerely for your time, and commend you highly for not censoring (or editing) my “heathen” posts to your personal blog.

  47. ” A guy’s gotta use a pronoun, though…”

    The word “it” is a perfectly legitimate pronoun. Try “it” sometime. “It” describes “god” perfectly well.

    Ciao!

    😉

    • “My position is that we cannot find evidence for a god, that the God Hypothesis is invalid and unacceptable, because “god” is an incoherent concept that has not been defined.”

      …But God *has* been defined. Check out A.W. Tozer’s “The Knowledge of the Holy”.

      Anyway, I might end up posting a more complete response to this. I’ll let you know if I do. 🙂

  48. “…But God *has* been defined. Check out A.W. Tozer’s “The Knowledge of the Holy”.

    Why don’t you just give me the synopsis? What is Tozer’s definition of “God” ?

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