If You Don’t Think, You Can’t be Wrong

ignorance_of_faculty_answer_2_xlargeAtheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg is confident that the multiverse exists. I suspect this is partially because he realizes that a failure to believe in the multiverse is a failure to engage rationally with theists.

Unfortunately, he’s willing to fudge the facts in order to help make his readers as confident as he is:

Where did the big bang come from? The best current theory suggests that our universe is just one universe in a “multiverse”…

One remarkable thing about this best current cosmological theory is the degree to which physicists have been able to subject it to many empirical tests, including tests of its claims about things that happened even before the big bang (Atheist’s Guide to Reality, pp. 36-37)

Yes, it can now be said that the multiverse has been tested (though the test failed to turn up any evidence whatsoever). But, unless the scientific method has been seriously altered since I’ve last checked, there is a difference between one test and “many”, and between being inconclusively tested and deserving the confidence Rosenberg exudes.

This is relevant because, given the state of cosmology, the multiverse is the only viable option to the idea of a designer of the universe, and there is no empirical evidence to support it. This leaves atheists at something of a crossroads: either accept the multiverse at the cost of admitting that some things can be accepted without evidence, or reject it at the cost of admitting that there is at least one large hole in one’s philosophy.

Personally, I find the former view easier to respect. There are, after all, quite a few things in life that we believe without empirical verification. Adding the multiverse to this list is an issue, but isn’t nearly so much of a sacrifice as failing to offer an alternative to theism on such a fundamental question.

This might run counter to what many assume. Certainly it runs counter to what the New Atheists seem to assume. But, in a world full of uncertainties, we need to chose the most reasonable option available. And simply claiming “I don’t like this question” isn’t an answer.

That is to say, any argument can be countered by saying “I don’t know, but I’m sure there must be some idea out there that is more reasonable than your answer”, but this is closer to an appeal to magic than logical discourse.

Refusing to answer such a basic question about the nature of reality is rather like taking the fifth amendment in court. It adds up to grounds that may incriminate one’s philosophy– that it lacks answers to the questions that theists have always claimed non-theistic views can’t answer. This doesn’t show that any particular theistic answer is correct, of course, but it does mean that the atheist’s position hasn’t even made it into the pool of live options.

But, as Rosenberg sees, none of this applies to the atheist who accepts the multiverse. I’ll have some things to say about that position in a future post.


37 responses to “If You Don’t Think, You Can’t be Wrong

  • katachriston

    “I’m sure there must be some idea out there…” Atheistic fideisim once again.

  • Pastor James Miller

    So just to clarify, a multiverse is a long poem, right?

  • katachriston

    I think it’s a long poem about faith.

  • Popping the Bubble Universes | Fide Dubitandum

    […] yesterday’s post, I claimed that I respect those atheists who defend the multiverse as an explanation for the fine […]

  • makagutu

    First, tell me what do you mean when you say new atheists? what differentiates them from old atheists if there is something like that?
    To this post, how does positing a god answer the how the universe came to be? And the problem you are proposing that an atheist has to accept multiverses as an alternative is simply not true. I am ok with positing that the universe has always existed. That doesn’t require an appeal to multiverses

    • Mark Hamilton

      But most scientists agree that the current evidence we see in the universe shows that the universe has not always existed: that the universe is expanding, and that if you go back far enough in time you will reach a point when the universe did not exist. Now I can respect if you believe that most modern scientists are wrong on this, despite of the evidence, because your philosophy says the universe must be eternal; the same way I can respect Young Earth Creationists for sticking to their beliefs even though it makes them pariahs in the scientific world. On the other hand, I get the feeling that you wouldn’t feel honored to be compared to a creationist.

      • makagutu

        You are so quick to talk. You compare me to YEC because I say I am ok positing an always existing universe. How does an always existing universe contradict with multiverse? If it is part of a multiverse, then the whole entity of multiverses can be said to always existing. Your understanding of the universe in this sense is narrow, limited only to our universe!
        Tell me where there is a contradiction?

    • Debilis

      Okay, its morning. So let me get back to you on these things:

      By “New Atheists”, I mean Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Alex Rosenberg, Jerry Coyne, Lawrence Krauss, P. Z. Meyers, and their fans.

      The tendencies of this group (that wouldn’t automatically hold for atheism in general), would include:
      – Taking atheism as a significant part of one’s self identity
      – Belief that religion is a cause of great evil
      – Belief that science and religion are fundamentally contradictory ways of viewing the world
      – Belief that there is no evidence in support of any form of theism
      – Belief that atheists are discriminated against in modern society
      – Corollary organization into groups based on the civil rights model (Richard Dawkins has made this comparison himself)
      – Insistence that Christian and Muslim fundamentalists are correct in their interpretations of scripture (Believes that the Bible and the Koran should be taken literally)
      – Bases critiques of Christian behavior on popular stereotypes about history, rather than particular facts.
      – Belief that science is the paradigm of all knowledge
      – Corollary belief that evidence for God must be empirical in nature
      – Insistence on defining “atheism” as a lack of belief in God, rather than the position that no god exists
      – Belief that civility is unnecessary, or even an impediment, to rational discussion on religion.

      None of these things are required beliefs/behavior for an atheist, but this is the particular sort of atheist I am referencing when I use the term “New Atheist”.

      Getting to the topic of the post, you are certainly free to claim that the universe is past eternal. So far as I understand, however, there is no scientific evidence at all for that, and a great deal of evidence against it. As a question susceptible to scientific investigation, this would be a very serious problem for that position.

      • makagutu

        Hey mate, which part of the globe are you so I can easily know when it is morning, afternoon or night?
        I am ignorant of so many things. Please tell me the definition of old atheists. i’ll get back to you on the age of the universe

        • Debilis

          I’m in South Korea for the time being (but I’ll be moving to North America in June). But, whenever you can respond, I’ll get back to you (eventually).

          As to “Old Atheists”, I don’t use this term. I’ve heard others use it, and assume it refers to any atheist who is clearly not a New Atheist.

          And, in case it comes up, I do often refer to Naturalists or Materialists, by which I mean those who believe that only the physical world is real.

      • makagutu

        This was my intent in asking you what the old Atheists were. If Atheists then and now have lacked a belief in god, have believed the universe is natural, have held always that the sacred books and by extension religion are creations of men and if you look at the works of Voltaire, he spoke against religion, it was evil at his time, Thomas Paine spoke against religion and revelation, Ingersoll spoke against religion and revelation, Al Razi in the 8th Century talked against revelation in this case therefore unless you can support the above assertions with evidence i submit that you are wrong.
        I also submit that the only difference between then and now is the ease of communication allowing many atheists to be heard and I don’t see why you should have a problem with this. Christians and theists in general have always had room to be heard I don’t see why it should be a problem for you when atheists are seeking the same space?
        Dawkins must be one of the very outspoken atheists but you must always remember that every atheist is her own king and priest.
        Sorry for making this quite long.

        • Debilis

          Well, it seems that I’ve run-on even longer. So, I definitely have no room to complain.

          But, here it is:

          I completely agree with you that there will be some “Old Atheists” of which one or two of these things will apply. That does not mean that there isn’t distinctive group of New Atheists.

          By my understanding, cultural groups are often defined by listing several distinguishing characteristics. Having one of them does not make one a member of that group, but having quite a few makes it much more likely.

          In any case, none of this really undermines anything I’ve claimed about the New Atheists on this blog. My comments hold for the writers I mentioned and their fans–whether or not Voltaire can be said to have claimed religion causes evil (I agree that he did).

          I’d only add that I’m not entirely sure why this is such a consistently addressed point. Many have brought it up with me in the past. In those cases, some of the interchanges left me wondering if the real goal was to shelter fans of, say, Richard Dawkins, from criticism by insisting that no group of atheists can be generalized about.

          Nor does claiming that every atheist is her own king and priest seem to settle this. Personally, I doubt very much that this is true. All people look to experts in some areas, and there are many atheists who look to others for teaching about atheism and what it is.

          Personally, I’m concerned about the idea that a group with such clear leadership and organizational structure should be sheltered from criticism (which is what, whether it is intended or not, this advice would amount to). This is dangerous, and an idea that atheists have rightly criticized in churches.

        • makagutu

          Can you get a word across the militarised border to Kim Unstable. Tell him to drop nuclear ambitions 😀
          Please tell me what is the leadership structure and how is it organised? For to tell you the truth I didn’t know one existed until you mentioned. Nobody shelters Atheism/ Atheists from criticism, at least not one that i know of.
          How does referring to an expert in a particular field disabuse the idea of being one’s king and priest? Being your own king or priest only means one thinks for oneself. You will consider a piece of data and make conclusions for yourself. I will give you an example, there are atheists who think Jesus existed and there are those who think he didn’t[I don’t think he existed] that doesn’t mean we have leaders.
          As to Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Arya, Krauss, Hawking they have their fans one not because they are Atheists but because they are good at what they do. It’s like saying because Beiber has a million plus fans he is their leader! Seriously! The fans of the Atheists I have mentioned share an intellectual interest and they don’t claim to lead atheists nor does any atheist claim them as their leader.
          Lastly you didn’t give any proper definition of old atheists that would separate them from the ones you so pejoratively call New Atheists.

        • Debilis

          Sadly no. No communication to North Korea (Random Trivia Fact: it is the most heavily fortified border on the planet).

          But if all you mean when you say that atheists are their own kings and priests is that they think for themselves, then I have three thoughts:

          First, this is not true. It’s a safe bet that there are people in every group who don’t think for themselves, but simply parrot what they’ve been told without checking on it.

          Second, in my experience, the atheists who are most likely to be this way are the New Atheists. I think the demonstrably false nature of so many of their repeated claims is clear evidence for this.

          Third, the names I mentioned are people who are speaking at conferences, writing books read by the group, and presenting (bad) arguments that are repeated by their fans. If that is not intellectual leadership, I’m not sure what is.

          I agree that atheists in general do not have leaders, but this group clearly does. And they need to be criticized.

          Also, I didn’t give a definition for the “Old Atheists” because I don’t use that term. I merely pointed out that there are some atheists (I suspect the majority, in fact) who are not New Atheists.

          Last, this reads more like a defense of these individuals and their fans than a defense of atheism in general. It would be very hard to make the case that this group has not done the things I’ve accused it of doing. That being the case, doesn’t it make more sense to emphasize that there are atheists who don’t make these kinds of clear logical errors than to defend those who do?

        • makagutu

          Fair enough. I think it is important to not generalise. Two it wasn’t a defense for Atheism, that I don’t think was the intent of this post. I was only trying to show a misconception.
          So are you suggesting that because there leaders in the intellectual arena Atheists have leaders? Well if you want it that so be it but tell me can anyone person be an expert in all fields of knowledge? I know of only one person who was an expert in many areas and he died, Da Vinci. That said I think you need to better support your assertion that NA as you call them have leaders in the christian sense of pastors

        • Debilis

          That seems very reasonable.

          And no, I agree that leaders in intellectual areas is not a reason to think that atheists have leaders. In fact, I don’t think that atheists in general have leaders. I only think that the New Atheists do.

          Nor do I think that the New Atheists have leaders in the Christian sense of pastors. I hadn’t realized that this is what was being communicated. I certainly don’t think of, say, Alex Rosenberg as an atheist pastor. I think of him as an intellectual leader in the same sense that the head of a civil rights organization would be a leader.

          So, assuming I understood correctly, I essentially agree with everything you’ve written here.

      • makagutu

        Since I am no physicist or cosmologists, allow me to get back to you with a detailed response on the question of this post.
        I think this is acceptable for you

  • David King

    One great use to make of the multiverse scenario is to point out that it devastates the classic atheistic argument that science affirms only our physical universe. While that could be argued fifty years ago, it is no longer true when so many physicists accept M theory (string theory) as a possible explanation of our existence. Physicists aside, the armchair atheist will still insist he only accepts what he can experience (empirical data). It causes consternation when it is pointed out that such is no longer a “scientific” position. One is backed into a corner of either denying current scientific thought or of accepting something beyond strict empiricism.

    Christianity has always held to belief in the supernatural in spite of our inability to define what the term means. Science has conveniently (if inadvertently) provided us with a sufficient (though not necessarily accurate) explanation. The multiverse fits the true definition of the term super-natural, in that it describes a natural state which exists over and above the natural state we observe. It is, by definition, super-natural.

    And if the atheist accepts that our own consciousness can arise purely by chance from the random happenings within our tiny three-dimensional universe, what objection can he have to the idea of a supernatural consciousness arising from the random happenings of a near-infinite, ten-dimensional multiverse? I argue that it is a sufficient explanation of how God could exist; and that if this one explanation exists (whether or not it is the true explanation), there might be other explanations as well. One possible explanation, based upon the assertions of pure, secular science, is sufficient to demonstrate that a blanket denial of God is both unscientific and irrational.

    • makagutu

      How does the multiverse become supernatural? At what point does the supernatural and natural meet?
      Have you been so deluded into believing the credulous that you think by making assertions you are right?
      The multiverse is posited by scientists not theologians, how it devastates atheism I don’t know unless you know something I don’t.

      • David King

        The historic description of the “natural world” was that which could be seen, touched, smelled, etc. Atheism contended Christians were crazy to believe anything beyond the “natural world” existed. Only the “real world” (that which could be seen, touched, etc.) existed. That anything could exist beyond that was mere superstition. Such is the classic argument I referred to. The multiverse, or more properly M theory, is embraced by most physicists because it is the only way found to unify relativity and quantum mechanics. Unfortunately, because it lies beyond the reach of empirical data, it cannot be tested. So unless you want to play equivocation with the term “natural world”, what lies beyond can only properly be termed “super-natural” in the true sense of the word. Simply look up the definition of the prefix super-. It is that which lies over and beyond the natural world.

        You should read more carefully rather than simply reacting. I did not say my argument devastated atheism. I said it devastated atheism’s classic argument as outlined above. Forgive me, but your reaction is typical. You are so used to equating supernatural with superstition that you refuse to acknowledge what current scientific thought says. Finally, let me say I was careful not to assert much of anything. Rather I am relying on the assertions of current science and merely pointing out the implications contained therein.

        • makagutu

          You accuse me of not reading and just reacting. Now let us look at the definition of supernatural from wikipedia and I think this is the classical definition

          The supernatural (Medieval Latin: supernātūrālis: supra “above” + naturalis “nature”, first used: 1520–30 AD)[1][2] is that which is not subject to the laws of nature, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature. With neoplatonic and medieval scholastic origins, the metaphysical considerations can be difficult to approach as an exercise in philosophy or theology because any dependencies on its antithesis, the natural, will ultimately have to be inverted or rejected. In popular culture and fiction, the supernatural is whimsically associated with the paranormal and the occult, this differs from traditional concepts in some religions, such as Catholicism, where divine miracles are considered supernatural.

          and then tell me where the multiverse as asserted by science, even if not testable empirically, go against the laws of nature. So please gentleman, as I said before, it is important to read before you write. I may not be a physicist or cosmologist but it is important to note that I try not to be ignorant.
          Lastly you can say I equivocate for universe to mean everything that exists. I will change it then to use metaverse to cover everything that exists, parallel universes are included in the definition of metaverese.

        • David King

          I don’t usually go to Wikipedia for definitions because the quality of what you find is uncertain. If you look at the bottom of the article you clipped from, you’ll see the warning that the article’s “sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations.” However, if you follow the link to the Wiktionary (to continue using your own source), you’ll see an etymology presented without the added commentary. Included in that definition is, “Above nature; that which is beyond or added to nature” and “Neither visible nor measurable.” I think you’ll agree that’s pretty much what I said and you should also be able to agree that this fits the multi-verse idea very well.

          Again, in the classic atheistic materialistic argument, the natural world is defined as that which is visible and/or measurable. All else is dismissed as fantasy. That position is no longer tenable because science itself is presenting a picture of reality that reaches far beyond our three-dimensional senses. The typical response (and your response) is to redefine “natural world” to include that which is neither visible nor measurable. That is the logical flaw of equivocation, but you really have no choice. You must either admit the possibility of a super-natural reality and the accompanying possibility of a super-natural consciousness, or equivocate and pretend nothing has changed.

        • makagutu

          it appears you really enjoy word play. I can accept you don’t like wikipedia. Do you have the same problem with Merriam Webster? If you don’t then lets us consider the definitions it gives here
          1. of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
          2. a : departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature
          b : attributed to an invisible agent (as a ghost or spirit)
          So I did ask you where does the multiverse theory transcend the laws of nature as it were?
          Secondly you keep talking of the classic atheistic definition. How long ago was this definition used? Am not in the know and I would mind some enlightenment.

        • David King

          I’m careful with my words. How else can we communicate accurately? Words are important. Words have meaning. Here you present a different definition. The first part is pretty much as I’ve said. However, what I have not said is that the multiverse idea “goes against” or “transcends” the laws of nature. “Laws of nature” is such an ill-defined term that it would be difficult to even agree as to what it meant.

          Once again, you ask me to explain something I haven’t said. I do not believe I used the term “classic atheistic definition.” I suppose you are asking about what I termed the classic atheistic argument. It has been widely held since the Renaissance.

          Now, I notice in your responses that you tend to sidestep issues by asking questions rather than offering an explanation of what you believe. Let me ask you a direct question. If you accept the possibility (as you say you do) of a metaverse in which our own 3-dimension universe is dwarfed by a near-infinite array of universes, and you (presumably) accept the materialistic view of our own consciousness as arising naturally from the random interactions of electrical and chemical forces (as opposed to spirit, soul, etc.), do you therefore accept the possibility that the metaverse could have produced a meta-intelligent conscious being from its own random interactions? (I am not saying this did happen or this is the explanation for God. I’m just saying it’s an interesting question.) Please tell me what you believe and why.

        • makagutu

          Your question I must say doesn’t seem very clear to me. Let me see are you asking if i believe the metaverse could have created a meta intelligent consciousness?
          This is how I see it. As I have said the metaverse includes in it’s definition everything that exists. Therefore even if a god were to exist, it would be part of that metaverse. So the said god or gods couldn’t create the metaverse. Two, about consciousness I don’t for a moment think it was created. It is natural.
          Laws of nature are well defined, I could be wrong, but I think they represent our understanding of how the universe operates. It is an attempt to explain our observations. Do you understand it differently.
          Sorry, I meant classic atheist argument. Is it still in use? If not then why bring it up? I think as we get to learn more we adjust our position with the facts? Don’t you agree?
          You had said my definition or rather understanding was wrong and that my source was unreliable. I brought this definition so that you could clarify to me where in proposing a multiverse scientists propose a suspension of the laws as we know them. Two you had indicated that I and other Atheists take the meaning of supernatural to be associated with superstition which is fact and attempted to show I was wrong. Now the question is where was I wrong?
          Lastly I apologise for asking many questions, I learn through asking questions. You can ask me any direct question if you have and I will answer to the best of my ability.

        • David King

          Thank you. That’s much better. Now it’s my turn to ask for patience as my business day has started here in Florida. I will respond as soon as I can give it the attention it deserves. I also ask for Debilis’ permission to continue as we’ve gone far off subject from his original post. That is my fault entirely. I do love a good discussion though.

        • makagutu

          By all means take your time and do what you must. I do enjoy a good debate too.

        • katachriston

          I perceive NOW we’re in debate mode. Be great if we can keep it there.
          Just an observation from the sidelines…

        • David King

          Please see below. I will start a new comment to get away from the narrowing column.

        • Debilis

          By all means, take the discussion where ever it leads you. So long as it remains as civil and thoughtful as this, I’m pleased.

    • Debilis

      That is a very good insight!
      In my posts on Rosenberg, I’ve been trying to stick to the theme of the contradictions between scientism and science. I’ll have to work that thought into a future post.

  • katachriston

    “Deluded”??? Really? Since when have we allowed ad hominem in?
    Get back in the debate please…

  • katachriston

    “I will give you an example, there are atheists who think Jesus existed and there are those who think he didn’t[I don’t think he existed]”

    Don’t mean to interrupt from the sidelines, I’m finding this thread absolutely fascinating but…

    The above quotation is just beyond my ability to process. Is this a denial of historicity? Philosophy, physics, whether classic, meta, quantum, is one thing, but history, archeology? Patently empirical, provable disciplines… Is it acceptable atheist policy to deny these?

    Truly curious to know, as it would lend a valuable piece of information I hitherto have not had.

    Thank you.

  • David King

    Where to begin? It makes me regret not having asked a smaller question. I’m afraid we’ll have to take this is small bites.

    My question may have been presented poorly, but you managed to catch its meaning. We Christians are criticized for believing in something we cannot define. We rely on the Bible which makes what seem to be extraordinary claims. Except they no longer seem so extraordinary when you pay attention to how secular science describes what it has discovered about the structure of our reality. All I ask of people who take comfort from science is, if you believe what you claim to believe, if you believe what science describes as the shape and texture of our reality, then how can you say God is not possible? That is not a sustainable position.

    I believe what you are saying is that your ‘metaverse’ is all nature. I don’t disagree with that. However, we have to be able to distinguish between that part of nature our senses can perceive and that part which they are incapable of perceiving. Our senses are locked into a three-dimensional subset of a ten-dimensional reality (according to current thought). Our particular subset has always been referred to as ‘nature’. There is no reason to change the usage of that word. Correspondingly, what lies beyond our subset is best described as ‘super-nature’, no matter if that term is repugnant to some.

    So that leads to my point that if one contends that our consciousness arises from random actions within our universe, how can one deny the possibility of a consciousness arising ‘naturally’ within a ten-dimensional, near-infinite reality? In fact, wouldn’t it be inevitable according to current thought? What would that consciousness look like in comparison to our stunted intelligence? How could we even begin to comprehend it? I believe that is a sufficient idea of what God could be in order to fulfill what is described in the Bible. If I can offer one idea, there are probably others as well, so I don’t say this is THE solution.

    Now you should be able to see that I am not proposing a suspension of any ‘laws of nature’. I do point out and I believe you agree that our understanding of any such laws is very limited and always changing.

    You make a good point about making God part of the ‘metaverse’. That rabbit will take us back to the cosmological argument and will take as much space as I’ve already taken. That’s too big a bite for the moment.

    Is the classic argument still used? Yes, we hear it every day. Every demand for evidence to prove what we believe is actually the classic materialistic argument, because the evidence demanded is limited to what can be sensed.

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