Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Luke Barnes and his Fine-Tuning with WLC

A little over two years ago, I took a pot-shot at Luke Barnes about his paper attacking Victor Stenger.  A little under a year ago, Victor Stenger had to the poor grace to die, leaving no-one to defend his position.  Before he did so, however, I had the good fortune to correspond with him briefly, at a very trivial level.  There was nothing earth shattering in what we exchanged, but he did say that he had “reason to suspect that Barnes is operating from a covert position as an apologist” – which aligns with my position in A Doctor a Day – A Response and my exchange with Barnes in the comments to that article.

I was able to express to him my concern, which I have raised elsewhere (obliquely in An Open Letter to Luke Barnes, for example, and more directly in A Doctor a Day), that the forces of apologetics are creeping into other areas of science – no longer being content to make trouble in geology and biology.  That is not to say that people such as William Lane Craig have not, for years, been misusing science (and scientists) to argue for god as the ultimate cause of the universe.  What I have worried about is having people dedicated to “proving” the existence of a god enter scientific fields with the express purpose of producing “scientific literature” that is supportive of the god hypothesis.  This already happens with the Discovery Institute, which is dedicated to supporting Intelligent Design.  What may be new is the arrival of bright-eyed things ready to twist all sorts of physics so that it might be used for the greater glory of their god.

I had identified Luke Barnes as a possible example of this, with his defence of the type of fine-tuning used by apologists such as William Lane Craig.  If Barnes is what I think he is, then he was careful to present his argument without appearing to favour the “god did it” conclusion and he has been reasonably careful since.  I don’t think he went far enough, if he truly wanted to be entirely non-partisan, and I conveyed as much to Barnes when I wrote that “{his} paper was poorly written in that it gives the impression that the fact that intelligent life evolved in this universe somehow implies that the universe was finely tuned -deliberately and intentionally- in order for that intelligent life to evolve. This miswording, if that is what it is, is what the apologists latch onto, so {he} might want to address that rather than leave it in the lap of philosophers (especially noting that there is considerably more interest from apologists than philosophers)”.

He didn’t reply to this, but he had earlier said “I'm only concerned with correctly presenting the science. If certain philosophical conclusions follow, then that can be debated by those philosophically inclined”.

Interestingly, and rather disappointingly, this concern of mine appears to have manifested.  Last year, my old nemesis William Lane Craig wrote in “Is Faith in God Reasonable?: Debates in Philosophy, Science, and Rhetoric” (edited by Corey Miller, who expresses a “desire to know God and to make God known” and Paul Gould, a co-author of other books with William Lane Craig):

Again, let's focus on Stenger's critique.  Stenger's objections to the fine-tuning argument have been the subject of devastating criticisms by astrophysicist Luke Barnes and philosopher Robin Collins.

So, as predicted, we have an apologist using Luke Barnes’ arguments.

Do we see Luke Barnes objecting to this?

I would suggest not.  My evidence in support of the notion that he won’t object to such use of his work is that recently Luke has shared a podium at the University of St. Thomas with … William Lane Craig.

Luke has presented at the University of St. Thomas before, back in 2011, at the St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology at which time he gave presentations on the topic The Fine-Tuning Argument alongside:

·      Robin Collins (a Christian proponent of fine-tuning as a teleological argument for the existence of a god, just mentioned earlier in the same breath as Barnes)
·      John Hawthorne (a Christian philosopher who, according to the ex-apologist, was not in favour the fine-tuning argument – although he has since changed his position – Hawthorne was apparently a member of a cabal together the one of with seminar’s organisers, Dean Zimmerman, and another “star” Christian philosopher, Ted Sider), and
·      Bradley Monton (the self-declared atheist who defended Intelligent Design in a book and has since been forced to resign his post at the University of Colorado due to an inappropriate relationship with a student).

Note that there are videos of four one hour lectures given by Luke on his Sydney Institute for Astronomy page (I found Barnes’ brief interaction with Robin Collins in the second hour, as to whether the nature of water was going to be covered, to be rather illuminating).  I’d be quite interested to watch/hear/read the content of John Hawthorne’s presentation, since his point of view appears to have moved between March or June 2013 and June 2015.  At the time, it could have been argued that four speakers were engaged with a spectrum of views with regard to the fine tuning argument: theist-pro (Collins); atheist-pro (Monton); theist-anti (Hawthorne); and atheist-anti (Barnes).

Anyways, in July 2015 Luke was back at the University of St. Thomas for another Summer Seminar (it was apparently lucrative gig in 2011, if the Society of Christian Philosophers is to be believed, with participants being offered a $2900 stipend above room and board, thanks to the generous support of the Templeton Foundation – the Grand Pixie alone knows what the actual speakers got – but this year that stipend is down to a disappointing $2000 above room and board, although that might be because their star speaker may well have cost them a few arms and legs).  This time Luke was appearing, discussing the Fine Tuning Argument of course, with:

·      William Lane Craig (we all know who he is, don’t we?)
·      David Manley (seems to fly very low under the radar, the only hint of his allegiances comes from the fact that he gave a presentation on fine-tuning at Calvin College, which is dedicated to “Philosophy from a Christian Perspective”, but I could not find any indication as to the content of that presentation – nor could I find anything by him on fine-tuning)
·      Neil Manson (gave doctoral dissertation under the Christian Philosopher Peter van Inwagen on why fine-tuning must be explained in which he claimed that “god did it” is a tidy explanation, while an article of his I found on-line appears to be criticising fine-tuning a careful read reveals that it vigorously attacks Multiple Universe objections and only weakly supports a “fine-tuning is not improbable” objection against “a Bayesian argument from small probabilities”)

The bottom line of all this is that two years ago, when I told Luke Barnes that “(his) views ha(d) been co-opted by apologists”, he wrote in response: “I’m only concerned with correctly presenting the science. If certain philosophical conclusions follow, then that can be debated by those philosophically inclined”.  At that time, although I did not then know it, he had already presented his version of the science at a seminar for “Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology” at a Catholic university … to philosophers (philosophers of religion no less).  After listening to all four hours, my impression is that this presentation was couched in terms of “this can’t all be chance, hint, hint” – and he appears to be in cahoots with the philosopher Robin Collins, the Christian proponent of fine-tuning for god.  This seems strange, since Barnes was trying to give us the impression that he had no interest in what theologically inclined philosophers wanted to take from him.  (As indicated above, it’s still possible that he did it for the sweet, sweet cash – but I wouldn’t like to imply that it’s definitely the case that he sold himself so very, very cheaply.)


And now he’s gone and stood shoulder to shoulder with William Lane Craig – a fact that he is in no way hiding.  I find it increasingly difficult to credit Luke’s claims that he is a disinterested party in this and that he is not an apologetics-leaning theist who is using his scientific credentials to provide succour to people like Craig.  Especially when there was less of that sweet cash available this year.