Wednesday, August 13, 2008

ECC/FSM/fad of the month

The Jolly Nihilist said:
if you believe Yahweh works as a C(osmic) F(irst) P(rinciple), he must possess certain character traits (which Zeus lacks) that make him suitable as one. And, because you have never proved that every dot and iota of Yahweh's nature is critical for this job, one must assume it comes down to a set of core essentialities. This being the case, I could define the Ethereal Cosmic Catfish (hereafter “ECC”) so as to possess all those core essentialities, and then sprinkle in sundry variables, to taste. [This step ensures ECC is materially different from Yahweh and other deities.] Through this exercise, ECC would transform into a CFP—the singular source of a comprehensive, complete, consistent worldview. And, yet, I would remain pitifully ignorant of the cosmos’ actual natural reality.

Yeah, I knew I'd have to write a post on the Flying Spaghetti Monster at some point, but it's difficult to get emotionally jacked-up enough for longish posts sometimes. Today is one of those hard days, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

For the uninitiated, the FSM is a gimmick thought experiment construct that, in its origin, was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek counter to the claims of Intelligent Design. "You think Goddidit, eh? Well, I posit the Flying Spaghetti Monster did it. He created the universe in 3 slightly-hungover days. I know this b/c he touched me with his noodly appendage. Ramen and ramen!"

In fact, I even met some "Pastafarians" about a year ago. In keeping with the 100% ad hoc nature of their gimmick, they were obviously playing games, but it was interesting to engage them. Additionally, and informatively, they kept straying from pure FSM-ism into atheistic and ridiculous comments such as "There is no absolute truth" and "We can't know history". Well, maybe they were young and naïve. Goes to show you that shallow argumentation and poor thinking skills are not limited to the Christians coming to college. It could be anyone!

Anyway, here's the FSM's website. I recommend anyone read thru the "Evidence" section, to see why I put "evidence" in quotes.

Now, in the vein of "Why do it worse if someone's already done it better?" I present selections from a longish thread that took place a year ago (and is linked-to in my sidebar as "With Touchstone about the Celestial Teapot". The ECC/FSM/teapot/whatever argument gets its comeuppance as the thread progresses. Also, as a side amusement, Touchstone (who was masquerading as a Christian, but has now revealed himself to be an atheist, to no one's surprise) regresses into near incoherency, to the point that he asks "Who made God?", earning himself a great deal of contempt in the process.

From the original post:

First is the fact that the analogy is impossible to take seriously. What I mean by this is that the only reason the analogy works as an attack against faith is because nobody (granted the exception of a few kooks) would affirm the existence of a teapot orbiting between Earth and Mars on the basis of it being in "ancient books." Such a hypothesis would not be taught "as the sacred truth every Sunday" because reasonable people would never submit to such a stupid idea. Russell’s analogy works because what no one accepts as reasonable (a teapot in orbit between Earth and Mars) is supposedly linked to what the vast majority of people accept as reasonable (the existence of some form of deity). Dawkins uses the analogy to show that simply because we are agnostic about something (after all, we cannot disprove the existence of the teapot without having omniscience), that does not mean we have to give equal odds to both sides of the question of existence of the teapot (i.e. there’s a 50/50 shot it actually exists). Says Dawkins:

The point of all these way-out examples is that they are undisprovable, yet nobody thinks the hypothesis of their existence is on an even footing with the hypothesis of their non-existence. Russell’s point is that the burden of proof rests with the believers, not the non-believers. Mine is the related pointed that the odds in favor of the teapot…are not equal to the odds against.
(quoted in Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The God Delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co. p. 53)

But this brings up an immediate question. Why are these "way-out examples" to be taken seriously in the first place? If "nobody thinks the hypothesis of their existence is on an even footing with the hypothesis of their non-existence" then in what way do these examples cohere to the concept of the existence of God?

Such counter questions are far from trivial. Consider for a moment why no one believes in the teapot orbiting between Earth and Mars. First, a teapot is a man-made object. Very few men have ever been to space, and the odds are that exactly none of them brought a teapot up when they made the trip. Further, even if we stipulated that someone now threw a teapot into orbit, Russell’s analogy requires that it be an ancient belief.

If you do not think the man-made feature of the teapot matters, consider what would happen if I changed the hypothesis slightly. What if instead I said: "There is a rock the size of a teapot that orbits between the Earth and Mars." Suddenly, the analogy (as used by Dawkins) breaks down. The odds that there is a teapot-sized rock in solar system are so high as to be certain. The odds that this rock could be between the Earth and Mars are only slightly diminished—after all, we know of many asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, and it would not be illogical to assume that some of these asteroids meander and could get trapped in orbit between the Earth and Mars.

Thus, if we simply switch from viewing a man-made object to viewing a natural object, the analogy immediately breaks down. While we still cannot prove the existence of said rock, it very well may be "intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it." This is why the analogy must rely on the use of a man-made object. But in this case, we know that no man has ever been between Earth and Mars (except perhaps fleetingly while in orbit around the Earth—a situation that would not be the case for the "ancient books" used in the analogy), and that no one has ever lost their teapot there. The existence of the teapot becomes irrational because the origin of teapots is Earth-bound and likewise bound to humans.

But while this deals with Dawkins’ use of the analogy, there is another point we need to address regarding the original use of it by Russell. Russell claims that the burden of proof is on the believer of the teapot, which is true so far as that goes. After all, there is simply no phenomenon that needs to be explained by the existence of a teapot between Earth and Mars. The teapot’s existence is completely gratuitous; it serves no purpose other than for the analogy. This is why stipulating the existence of a teapot would be so ridiculous—there is no reason for us to believe in the existence of a teapot because there is nothing that needs to be explained by the existence of a teapot.

So we see that we are justified in ridiculing the existence of a teapot between Earth and Mars. The problem is that Russell and Dawkins then want to transfer the ridicule on the teapot analogy toward belief in the existence of God. This immediately fails, however.

God is not a man-made object (note for the atheists: this is not saying that God is not a man-made belief, for indeed all false beliefs of God would be man-made beliefs of God). If God exists, His existence is not due to the existence of man; He exists apart from man. Thus, Dawkins’ use of the analogy immediately shows discontinuity between the teapot and God. We are not speaking of the existence of an object that we know would not normally appear between the Earth and Mars. We are speaking of the existence of an object that would transcend the universe. This is hardly analogous.

Further, there are phenomena that are explained by the existence of God. Most obviously, He fits as the answer to the question: Why is there something instead of nothing? The very existence of the universe screams out for a reason for being. Why does the universe exist at all? While a teapot floating between Earth and Mars answers no questions, the belief in a God does answer questions.

This is why the analogy does not work at all. The (admittedly) bogus analogies are not even in the same ballpark as the question about the existence or non-existence of God. While it is certainly the case that atheists will dispute the necessity of God as an answer to the question of why existence exists, the odds question that Dawkins brings up with his use of the teapot analogy is immediately thrown into disrepute. As for Russell, if God does answer the question of why we exist (as the vast majority of people believe He does) then we have a reason for stipulating the existence of God. This does not even touch the subjective experiences that many people claim to have, which would provide personal reasons for those people to believe. Further, it ignores other evidences (such as classical Christian evidences, like the missing body from Jesus’ tomb, etc.). None of these extra evidences are much relevant to the point that Russell’s analogy and Dawkins’ rehashing of it are in no way coherent to the question of the existence of God.

From the comments:

From Peter Pike:
The Flying Spaghetti Monster does not have the attributes of God, which is why you cannot replace the word "God" with Flying Spaghetti Monster. If God and the Flying Spaghetti Monster have exactly the same attributes, then they are the same being and you do not need to replace the label. In such an instance, it would be akin to calling God by the name Jehovah or Elohim. Both are synonymous because they refer to the same being.
(in answer to Touchstone's comment): He must replace the attributes of God. But, pray tell, T-Stone, how is it that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is actually an answer to anything?

From Paul Manata:
(Touchstone said) - "Well, let's just suppose that the Flying Spaghetti Monster has two attributes: a) a "universe creation capability" and b) a desire to create universes. Keep things minimal."

Non-sequitur. That he can "create a universe" does not mean he can create *this* universe. You believe that *this universe* is rational and understandable - after all, you're a "scientist."

So, that a deaf, dumb, and blind kid has the capability to "create" a "banana split" that does not imply that *this* beautiful banana split, with all its order and fine tuning, was created by the deaf, dumb, and blind kid.

Thus by saying that the FSM *only* has those *two* attributes, your argument flops. Indeed, it stretches the limits of credulity to say that this kind of universe which seems understandable to humans, displays order and fine tuning, etc., was created by something that can simply "create a universe" and "wants to do it." I mean, what is the probability that *that kind* of being created *this kind* of universe? Low; or inscrutable at best.

From me:
If we were to replace "The God of the Bible" w/ "The FSM" in the original (ie, not minimalist, but where He is the answer to everythg) way T-stone proposed, then we have no problem at all.
We have a being who goes by FSM, but who is actually omni-present, -potent, -scient, self-reveals thru the Bible, created the universe, and is the grounds for all logic, rationality, induction, and morality.
Sounds suspiciously like The God of the Bible, w/ a name borrowed from blasphemous skeptics.
Only God doesn't like to go by the name FSM; He prefers YHWH or Jesus.

From Peter Pike:
Creative power is not the only attribute the FSM would need to have. He would have to have the ability to create ex nihilo. A being that could create ex nihilo must also transcend that creation, so the FSM must be transcendent as well as creative. Further, since the creation is based on the power of the FSM, the FSM must be more powerful than what he has created (there is no inherent power in the creation; all the power in creation is merely derived from the power of the creator, no matter what you wish to call him).

Thus, the FSM logically must be far more than merely a being able to create something, and such is blindingly obvious to any theist who has bothered to actually think about these issues.

Your FSM is an empty label; as soon as you provide attributes, suddenly you have to assume the FSM is an awful lot like the God of the Bible.

Philip M chimed in with a pithy comment:
Thus, in equating him to the FSM all a theist need respond is, "Yes, I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, except that he is neither flying, nor spaghetti, nor a monster."

From me:
FSM hasn't made any claims to being revealed through the Bible.

1) how do you know?
2) does FSM, as omni-3things deity, like to reveal himself to mankind? If not, you can't say much about him. If so, what did he say and how do you know it? how do you know he DIDN'T reveal himself thru the Bible? And if he did, well then, of course, he's YHWH.

All we know, here, is that he is a) capable of universe (like this) creation, and b) interested in creating universes (like this).

Again, he sounds exactly like the God of the Bible.

Maybe our third would-be, reified-by-Peter's-argument deity has a) and b) characteristics of FSM, but also c) denies the Bible and the existence of the God it reveals

Except that this would lead to internal inconsistency. To use Douglas Adams' words: He'd "disappear in a puff of logic."

Finally, even if FSM did exist w/ these characteristics, as PP has already said, it invalidates atheism. And you can't seem to figure out whether that disturbs you or not...

I continued:
(The FSM) claims whatever I want him to claim.

Ah, there's the rub.
Then his claims are subject to internal critique. If the differ in any substantive way from the God of the Bible, then FSM stands disproven, and a dumb example.

We can just understand that his creation of the universe is a de facto revelation of himself to man, if you'd like.

That's biblical though - Romans 1.
You haven't strayed substantively from YHWH, but you must so we can examine whether your claim holds water.

He's just imaginary,

Ooops, OK, so FSM is imaginary.
YHWH is not.
The analogy fails.

Paul Manata said:

So, can the FSM create a universe where the FSM doesn't exist since he can create "any kind" of universe? No? Okay, add "necessarily existing" to your list. :-) (As we whittle away, the statue will come out looking an aweful lot like Jehovah :-)

And, since he created *this* universe, then let's ask some questions: why does man do bad things? How does man get out of his problem? Is there any hope for man? How should we live? What happens when we die? Why think our minds "hook up" to the real world? What is the probability that the FSM is not systematically deceiving everyone in almost all of their beliefs, but is guiding man and the world in such a way that all the false and possibly fatal beliefs and decisions do not result in death, for the most part?

I dare say that if these aren't answered then it would appear that just on explanatory power alone, Christianity would be preferred over FSM religion. Indeed, without knowing the answer to some of those questions, it appears that the belief that our cognitive faculties are reliable is low or inscrutable. Thus if FSM is true, we should reject it...You told Rhology that there was no FSM revelation. Thus your ability to resolve the problems is epistemically useless. Thus positing FSM is no kind of serious counter to a Christian who posits God in Christ reconciling himself to the world.

Paul Manata continued:
When you moved it into *this* universe, that when your big problems started. All you've done is simply *posit* that he created *this* universe. But when I try to be the good scientist and test your claims according to the observable data, which would seem to undermine your claim, you say the questions are "irrelevant."

Rhology said:
So I say he's got four divine sisters who rule other galaxies, far from here.

But you had agreed he was omnipotent.
Once again we see your assertion fail when pressed for a few more details. The moment you stray from the God of the Bible's attributes, you end up in internal inconsistency, and this is a perfect example.
You are trying to posit an imaginary god for THIS universe, as Paul Manata said. Only the God of the Bible, we'll find, is the peg that fits the hole. The FSM won't fit unless he is identical to YHWH, in which case he IS YHWH and is a little irritated that you've been acting like such a clown and taking His name in vain.

Peter Pike continued on the same vein:
The fact is, as soon as you have more than one "god" you are stuck with tremendous difficulties. Is there a hierarchy amongst the gods? If so, in what sense can the "minor gods" be considered actual "gods"? If there are really coequal gods, then in what sense are they coequal? Would they ever disagree with each other? If so, what would happen? If they always agreed with each other, then what would be the difference between two identical gods doing the same thing and one identical god doing the same thing (other than parsimony, which is your favorite concept anyway)?


The Jolly Nihilist said...

You might have done grievous harm to the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) argument with this post and the linked-to discussions, but I believe the Ethereal Cosmic Catfish (hereafter “ECC”) escaped entirely unscathed, largely because, as yet, I have not even defined ECC.

In the post, several characteristics are specified that you seem to think are necessary to make a deity functional and coherent.

* Omnipresence
* Omnipotence
* Omniscience
* Ability to create this universe and having done so
* Functionality as “grounds” for all logic, rationality, induction, and morality

You might call those the "core essentialities" to which I have insistently referred. [You also referenced self-revelation through the Bible, but I do not see how that is a core essentiality. Instead, I could simply say ECC condescended to reveal itself to me, and I was charged with passing along the news of the revelation.]

Thus, I can simply infuse all those essential characteristics into ECC, throwing in a few variables to differentiate it from Yahweh (the specific variables being irrelevant, so long as none impeded the essentialities). And, mixing and matching variables with the core list of essentialities, I could confect 1000 gods…all of them functional Cosmic First Principles.

The Jolly Nihilist said...

For clarity's sake, I shall demonstrate exactly what I mean by confecting two gods before your eyes.

The Green God possesses:

* Omnipresence
* Omnipotence
* Omniscience
* Ability to create this universe and having done so
* Functionality as “grounds” for all logic, rationality, induction, and morality


* When the deity, from his ethereal perch, looks down upon his wondrous creation, he "sees" everything with a slight tint of green. You see, this deity likes green, and so, his vision is tinted as such.

The Melodic God possesses:

* Omnipresence
* Omnipotence
* Omniscience
* Ability to create this universe and having done so
* Functionality as “grounds” for all logic, rationality, induction, and morality


* There is a melody that this deity finds endlessly pleasing. As such, in a ceaseless loop, that melody "plays" in the deity's vast consciousness. It does not dominate the consciousness, but serves as permanent "background music."

Neither of those deities is Yahweh, but both possess the core essentialities. Therefore, both could be Cosmic First Principles, right?

Dr Funkenstein said...

All 3 of these statements can simply be flipped back on the theist:

Most obviously, He fits as the answer to the question: Why is there something instead of nothing?

Why shouldn't there be? Why was there God instead of nothing?

The very existence of the universe screams out for a reason for being.

Does it? And even if it has a 'reason', why would that need be the God of Christianity?

You could always just substitute 'universe' for 'God' and make that statement, eventually arriving at the answer 'because He just exists' ie is a brute fact.

The same applies to the universe.

Why does the universe exist at all?

Why shouldn't it? Why should God exist at all? Maybe that's just the way it is.

Dr Funkenstein said...

So, that a deaf, dumb, and blind kid has the capability to "create" a "banana split" that does not imply that *this* beautiful banana split, with all its order and fine tuning, was created by the deaf, dumb, and blind kid.

I'd also add that the fine-tuning argument is a bit dubious - it's certainly a popular one, but from what I gather noone has done much in the way of serious calculations with variable constants - although Victor Stenger does mention that he had tried a few relating to the question of some kind of life arising (whatever it may be)

Maybe worth noting that many events in quantum mechanics are also not ordered/predictable, something that apparently troubled Einstein, which is where the quote:

'God does not play dice with the universe'

comes from, expressing his dislike of the idea.

NAL said...

Dr F:
... but from what I gather noone has done much in the way of serious calculations with variable constants ...

Is our universe fine-tuned for life?

Adams reckons his results, which will be published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, suggest that the "specialness" of our universe could well be an illusion.

Anonymous said...


You've got it all wrong as usual.

The YHWH won't fit unless he is identical to FSM, in which case he IS FSM and is a little irritated that you've been acting like such a clown and taking His name in vain. Straighten up Rhology before FSM gets really mad.