Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Talk to Me about Life

Let's imagine that there is a god.  Let's imagine it’s a specific sort of god -  a male god who has western values and a number of superpowers.  And let's imagine that this god wanted to make intelligent life.  We're not alone in this, by the way, plenty of people imagine this on a pretty much continuous basis.

Now, when these people do all this imagining, they tend to not focus on this particular aspect - the claim that god wanted to create intelligent life.  I am of course talking about the fine-tuning argument in which it is suggested that the universe is fine-tuned for intelligent life.  (Apologists go on and on about this argument, but the rank and file … not so much.)

So, what exactly is going on here?  The implication is that this god didn't have in mind the idea of making a universe so much as it had a specific goal of generating intelligent life and the method chosen just happens to have involved the creation and fine-tuning of a universe to host this intelligent life.

This leads me to ask: did this god need to create and fine-tune a universe to host intelligent life?

The short answer appears to be no.  Firstly, let's look at angels.  Angels are a bit confusing, especially to an outsider who hasn't been told what to think on a weekly basis.  There are indications in Genesis that, before the flood, angels and humans not only interacted, but they interbred … these were, however, fallen (or at least very naughty) angels.  There are mentions of the court of heaven which has a host of angels.  And there are Gabriel and Michael, who appear a few times.

Are angels the natural consequence of a universe which was sparked by god 13.7 billion years ago and left to slowly incubate the human species?  It would appear not, since the "proper abode" for angels is supposed to be heaven, which is where god apparently abides and is therefore another realm (thus being a time-LESS, space-LESS abode).

Given the very early and apparently knowledgeable appearance of Satan (or his representative) in the bible's creation story, a pivotal story that sets the scene for the key act of Christianity, one could say the crux, we would have to presume that angels existed prior to or at least separately to humans.  (I'm aware that this doesn't gel with the fine-tuning argument which relies on things being "just right" at the big bang and everything evolving naturally from there with humans as the ultimate product - just overlook that for the moment and stick with me.  I'm also aware that there's some uncertainty as to what the serpent actually was.  The story specifically has a crafty serpent doing the dirty work, but there is an on-going theme of Satan being a snake and/or dragon.  But perhaps it's like the apple - people think that Eve ate an apple, but there's no mention of apples, it's a "fruit of the Tree of Knowledge".  Maybe it was an actual talking snake and it's merely a common misconception that the talking snake was Satan in another guise.  If so, it's unclear why we are being made to suffer because god messed up when creating talking snakes.)

If Satan was the being that tempted Eve, then it would appear that god does have a method for creating intelligence without the need to host that intelligence in a universe … unless god didn't create the angels and the angels appeared from nowhere along with god (or are co-eternal).  I don't think that this works since it seriously detracts from the specialness of god.  It would make all the angels "mini-gods", if not actual gods.  (If the serpent in the creation story was just another animal, then we've got the problem of hosting intelligence [more intelligence than Eve had, it would seem] in the skull of a snake.  It implies that intelligence can be hosted on a much less sophisticated substrate than the human brain, which raises the question … why go to the bother of creating the human when you can host intelligence on a reptile brain?)

Perhaps we can get around this mini-god issue by denying that angels exist.  Well, of course I have no issue with that, but I think it causes some issues for at least the Christian theist.  Without the Fall, there is no origin of sin (unless it originates directly in god) and there is no need for the redemption that was provided by the crucifixion of the christ.  And without the serpent form of Satan and its corruption of Eve, there would have been no Fall.  (This is a problem with the fine-tuning argument as it pertains to Christianity, because the Genesis story becomes entirely allegorical, there is no Adam and Eve, there is no talking snake and there is no Fall.  Therefore, there is no need for Jesus on a Stick.  And that is why people like William Lane Craig like to compartmentalise their arguments.  You basically have to forget the fine-tuning argument while you are contemplating the resurrection argument.)

And then, let's consider our post-death reward.  Well, I've already pointed out the issue really.  It's post-death.  The natural consequences of being in a universe which is fine-tuned for intelligent life, which includes the eventual deterioration and death of each living thing, will inevitably result in the death of each of us - and by that I mean you.  Yes, you!  You will die.  (I will die too, so please don't misconstrue this as a threat.)

So we die and, despite this - and because he, in the form of his own son, died in a moderately painful way in restitution for the failure of a mythical woman to avoid being corrupted by words of a mythical snake (which may or may not have been a mythical fallen angel) - god will apparently recreate us in some new or reconstituted form so that we can live forever.  Which means that he could have just made us in that form from the start without having to faff around with 13.7 billion years of universal evolution.  He chose not to, apparently, but he could have.

This seems to indicate that the universe itself is somehow important.  It's not just the necessary means to an end, since the end could be achieved by completely different means.

And this brings me to the germ from which this article sprang.  It's to be found in another couple of sentences from Max Andrews:

Without stars we don’t get the full range of heavy and light elements needed for complex molecular life. Without the complex molecular life formed by stars then there’s no life. That’s just a simple fact.

These statements are based on the argument that the weak force coupling constant must be just so or stars won't form and/or burn "properly".  So therefore, god set the weak force coupling constant just perfectly so that everything needed for (intelligent) life would eventually exist in this universe.

But this is pure bullshit.  The theist's argument doesn't stop there.  They go on to claim that this creator god is so fascinated with humans that there is this resurrection thing on offer and this claim works in direct opposition to the claim that the universe needs to be just so for life to exist.  No.  The universe needs to be just so of life (of the sort that we are aware) to exist, if and only if there is no god.

If a god exists, then it can magic up whatever it wants ex nihilo without the need to bugger around with making a vastly complicated, apparently totally natural universe like our own.

Just maybe, a creator god would make a vastly complicated, apparently totally natural universe in order to hide from us the fact that there is a creator god.  But if this were the case, then we should do our best to respect its wishes and pretend (or acknowledge) that it doesn't exist.

If there is some other reason for a god to be hiding behind this complexity (while also protesting it does actually exist via a deeply flawed book and a set of deeply flawed institutions devoted to celebrating that book), then I think it is beholden on the theist to explain what that reason might be.

Perhaps Max Andrews could devote some time to that rather than misrepresenting modern theoretical physics?

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