18 July 2011

On the Historicity of Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Since the advent of trendy theology in the 19th century, it has become fashionable to regard the Goldilocks narrative as just a story - that it didn't really happen. Nowadays many Christians even dismiss it as a myth, yet they still call themselves Christians. This is an appalling state of affairs, and it is even more tragic that few of the major Christian apologists have tackled this issue head-on. It is time to set the record straight, and affirm the historical Truth of the Goldilocks narrative. I intend to show that it is overwhelmingly more likely that the Goldilocks story is literally true than not, and not only does it constitute Warranted True Belief, it is *necessarily* true in a deep ontological and cosmological sense, i.e. if the G3B model was any different, our universe would be deeply inimical to human life, and we would not even be here.

Firstly, we must look to the person of Goldilocks herself. In the sacred texts she is described as a young human female with long golden locks of hair. Females make up half of the population (approximately). We can estimate that her age was between 8 and 12 years. Only about one in eighteen people fall into that category. She is human - the vast majority of creatures on this planet are non-human (including the three bears who are central to this incident), so even giving this a 1/1000 probability is probably being generous. Only about a quarter of Northern Europeans are sufficiently fair-haired to be called "goldie", and even some of these are bald, but Northern Europeans only represent about 10% of the Earth's population.

So we can see that in putting these parameters together, we have an overall probability of less than ONE IN A MILLION that Goldilocks would meet the criteria that we already KNOW she fulfilled!
Those who would deny the story therefore start off in the very difficult position of explaining away this highly accurate Swinburnian analysis of the data. Some commentators have called this "The Rare Goldilocks Hypothesis" (RGH).

We then come to the issue of the Three Bears. Note that the parameters are incredibly fine tuned. If there had been only 2.99999999999999999999999 bears, the story would not work at all. To dismiss the fact that there were THREE bears as "just a coincidence" or "due to chance" is frankly ridiculous. Clearly this has been intelligently designed, and the correspondence is massive evidence in favour of this story representing a real historical incident. Further evidence for fine tuning comes from the fact that there were THREE bowls of porridge, THREE chairs, THREE beds - all these parameters had to match PRECISELY.

The three bears went for a walk IN THE WOODS - again, this is EXACTLY what we know bears do (they do other things in the woods too). Yet this story was written down by simple Galilean fishermen who knew plenty about fish, but not so much about bears. But they could write with the authority of a PhD in Ursology from the University of British Colombia. Powerful evidence that the G3B assertions are FACT.
Let us now look at the porridge. Nutritional scientists with PhDs that they haven't made up or bought off the back of a Special K packet have confirmed in numerous sciency studies that porridge contains the PRECISE balance of whole grain and yummy oaty goodness to set a bear up for the day, at least until he or she catches a big salmon or a deer or something more appropriate to its carnivorous physiology. Chance? I don't think so, and therefore neither should you.

We also note some charming aspects of the story which help to confirm its authenticity. Despite the size ranking of the bears - large, middle-sized and small, it is the *small* bear's parameter set which most closely match the pre-existing preferences of the blonde female humanoid juvenile. But they don't just closely match - they are JUST RIGHT - again, phenomenal fine-tuning, demanding both the presence of an intelligent designer, and supporting the essential historicity of the G3B framework.

There are many more pieces of supporting evidence that could be brought to bear (yes, I know), but perhaps the most incontrovertible, the most poignant, the most devastating is the eyewitness testimony of Goldilocks herself, as she ran screaming from the bears' house, fully conscious of her sinful state. Yes, dear friends, the realisation of her Fallen status was brought home to her by *bears*. For all have eaten porridge, broken chairs, slept in beds, and fall short of the glory of God.

If you do the statistics on all this, as has been done by such creative mathematicians as Alvin Swinburne and Richard Plantinga, you will find that the probability that all this could be due to chance is just one part in a zillion bagillion, and even Professor Brian Cox (noted atheist, physicist and keyboardist with indie pop quartet sensation "Papa Higgs and his Crayzee Boson") remarked: "It's really vast!"

So let us not forget what we learn from Goldilocks in this True and Valid account. After all, what would she gain by lying? Would she go to a horrible death for a *lie*? It is such an incredible story, it HAS to be True.

And if you don't believe it, you'll go to hell for all eternity.

[I should also point out that the Holy Trinity of the Daddy Bear, Baby Bear and Mummy Bear bears (again) an uncanny similarity to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - yet more evidence.]


  1. Funny, creative and imaginative, Shane, if light on structured, coherent argument. (I particularly laughed at the PhD in Ursology). Of course, it's also misrepresentative that Goldilocks is intrinsically a theist position. Never let the truth get in the way of a good attempt at ridicule. Astronomer Fred Hoyle was no theist, but acknowledged the improbability of this universe just happening to exist in its present form - referring to it as a "put-up job." In fact the 'best' response to date to explain the unlikelihood of the 'Goldilocks' state of the universe to allow matter to exist, never mind intelligent life to emerge, has been to postulate (infinitesimal) multiple universes - why the need to resort to such an extreme and untestable hypothesis, if the goldilocks condition doesn't exist? What else drove your hero Tegmark to speculate with unfalsifiable hypotheses (ERH, MUH) and probabilities of the very same kind that your allegory mocks? Christian apologists don't need to provide "massive" or "powerful" evidence - their starting position is that faith will be required; they merely resist overstated positions such as yours that a faith position is incompatible with reason. Still, you are funny.

  2. Perhaps bears only started eating meat after the fall (and the broken chair). Porridge would therefore be the logical choice.

  3. Three cheers for straw, men!

  4. Excellent post! Thank you - funny and biting at the same time.

  5. That was sinfully funny! Thank you for that. ;)

  6. "I don't think so, and therefore neither should you."

    Kind of sums it all up, doesn't it?

  7. Tacos are delicious, therefore God.

  8. A sound argument, but I think you should have expanded on the moral implications of the destruction of universal "chairness" in the situation that was "just right!"

  9. I am glad to see that you are keeping well within the traditional boundaries laid down by theologians of the past. ie making stuff up about mad up stuff.

  10. Out-feckin-standing! You got reposted on Google+ :)

  11. LOL! So much awesome and win. Nicely done. Your case is outstanding, I think I might convert to Mormonism now; they also have a nice fairy tale that must obviously be true.


  12. @JohnT "Astronomer Fred Hoyle was no theist" and is also a bit out of date these days as far as cosmology goes.

    "the 'Goldilocks' state of the universe" is most likely a fallacy, read Victor Stenger's book on the subject.

    "multiple universes - why the need to resort to such an extreme and untestable hypothesis". Is it more extreme to propose 'more of the same happened somewhere else', or to propose an infinite, invisible being like a human in some loosely defined way, but with all kinds of supernatural abilities never actually observed in any being anywhere at any time?

    And no Victor Stenger does not resort to this hypothesis to dismiss the fine tuning argument.

    And no it's not necessarily untestable: if we can somehow recreate or deduce the random symmetry breaking processes which lead to the universe we live in, we can quantify what other outcomes might have been possible. This is certainly more falsifiable than the Skygod hypothesis, because it would make actual predictions.

    It's only a few hundred years since heretics were being burned, so let's just give the freethinking scientists a bit more time to solve the ultimate questions of existence shall we?

  13. @sp1derm4n. I'm always intrigued by folk who state "read X's book on this" rather than articulate the concept/argument themselves. It is easy to quote a favourite author who happens to represent one's faith/non-faith position - which is one reason why I quoted Hoyle - because he did not represent my faith position. It is a specious point that "it is a bit out of date these days, as far as cosmology goes." I would be interested in whether you have any particular credentials in cosmology to form this opinion, or whether you have just attached yourself to it as it suits your worldview. From your comment "Is it more extreme to propose 'more of the same happened somewhere else'," I am tempted to conclude that you haven't got a grasp of the basics of the issues - the whole point of multiverse hypothesis is to posit that multiple DIFFERENT things happened someplaces else.

    As regards Hoyle being out of date (on this specific issue), one might as well say that Darwin is a bit out of date these days. The issue is not how long ago the individual was at their peak, but whether the concepts they described are still in currency. Hawking, who also sees no need for a deity, acknowledged the appearance of fine-tuning, as do Nobel laureate, Prof Steven Weinberg, Fermilab astrophysicist Michael Turner, and mathematician Roger Penrose (another non-theist), and astrophysicist Prof Tom Millar (theist). Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek also seems to endorse the principle in his book "The Lightness of Being."

    I am aware of Stenger's "God: the failed hypothesis," and of the refuting of its key points by Prof Edgar Andrews. I am also aware that he has recently published "The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning." Perhaps you should point Stenger in the direction of the many scientists who are currently actively engaged in trying to explain why the cosmological constants lie in such necessarily narrow parameters as are necessary to allow matter to exist, and those for whom one of the various conceptions of multiverse seems necessary. It is intriguing that some atheists see it as a tool to refute belief in a creator because of the inconvenience of apparent fine-tuning, whilst Stenger pursues a position denying its existence. David Deutsch (atheist), Institute of Maths at Oxford, Fellow of the Royal Society: "If anyone claims not to be surprised by the special features that the universe has, he is hiding his head in the sand. These special features ARE surprising and unlikely."
    [see next post for continuation]

  14. The scientific method deserves enormous credit, as do diligent scientists, and I have no doubt that further insights will be shed on the nature of the universe(s), and I will welcome them as they come. However, I suggest the term "freethinking scientist" either is pejorative at those scientists who hold a faith position, or is tautology. Many of the scientific insights we have were produced by people who held a theist or a deist position, and these are not confined to historical examples. I also suggest that not everything is amenable to scientific methodology or testing. What if it turns out that a 27km tunnel is too small to generate the necessary energies to answer the questions we still have after LHC has run its course? What if we need an accelerator larger than the planet? Why should it be that we will be able to build every experiment that could be necessary? What scientific tool or unit of measurement will we use for love, or for art?

    I have no difficulty acknowledging that the God 'hypothesis' is neither falsifiable or demonstrable beyond doubt in the present. The difficulty you have is that your aspiration begins with a big "If." A hypothesis derived from "recreations" or "deduction "which have not yet been done is certainly not falsifiable either, just because you wish it to be so, and state it as if it is. Science describes how things work, and often assumes (but does not demonstrate) the absence of purpose. Symmetry-breaking is intriguing, but again - if it proves to be correct - will merely describe method. As Einstein said "One may say the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility." Maybe you view him as 'a bit out of date these days' too?

  15. Nice work.
    Readers may also enjoy this...

  16. Thank you Shane. Goldilocks is The Best!

    @ John T:

    "In fact the 'best' response to date to explain the unlikelihood of the 'Goldilocks' state of the universe to allow matter to exist, never mind intelligent life to emerge, has been to postulate (infinitesimal [sic]) multiple universes - why the need to resort to such an extreme and untestable hypothesis, if the goldilocks condition doesn't exist?"

    There is no "finetuning" as in the religious fintuning argument. I note that you do not asnwer the problem that Stenger puts you in front of, such that ~ 50 % of multiverses admits life. It has also been found that you can set the weak force to zero, so 1 out of 4 forces are unnecessary for life.

    The reason that works is that if you take _dimensionless_ quotients of parameters like Stenger, you can find the vast spaces of life admitting universes precisely in the same way you have to do to find the vast working spaces of evolved proteins among all possible.

    No one claims that the actual problem of _physical finetuning_ doesn't exist, how some parameters like the cosmological constant (10^~-130) is vastly different than a natural _dimensionful_ formula value (~ 1).

    Those doesn't really tell of life though, famously the cc can be predicted from environmental principles as Weinberg did early on. [Weinberg, S (1987). "Anthropic Bound on the Cosmological Constant". Phys. Rev. Lett. 59 (22): 2607–2610.] Likewise Bousso et al predicts 6 parameters from such principles. ["The Entropic Landscape", Raphael Bousso et al, arxiv:1001.1155.]

    The best physical explanation for the observation of parameters consistent with our universe is that such a universe multiplies infinitely. FLRW universes like ours are zero energy. ["ON THE TOTAL ENERGY OF OPEN FRIEDMANN-ROBERTSON-WALKER UNIVERSES", V. Faraoni et al, The Astrophysical Journal, 587:483–486, 2003.]

    This means new ones can tunnel out of old ones endlessly. As soon as you live in one such universe, "likelihood" goes out the window, life will be everywhere. No thanks to a creator agent, in a religious context, since as the paper notes there simply can't be a third party involved.

  17. @ John T:

    Some remaining physics where you spout anti-science:

    "unfalsifiable hypotheses".

    Total balderdash!

    First, multiverses is the natural ground state of the inflation that created our inflationary standard cosmology universe. You need _finetuning_ to make it go away!

    Second, multiverses are eminently observable and testable. [Observing the Multiverse:

    "While identifying the four features consistent with being bubble collisions was an exciting result, these features are on the edge of our sensitivity thresholds, and so should be considered only as a hint that there might be bubble collisions to find in future data. The good news is that we can do much more with data from the Planck satellite, which has better resolution and lower noise than the WMAP experiment. There is also much better polarization information, which provides a complementary signal of bubble collisions (found by Czech et. al. – arXiv:1006.0832). We’ll be gearing up to analyze this data, and hopefully there will be more to the story then."

    "As regards Hoyle being out of date (on this specific issue), one might as well say that Darwin is a bit out of date these days."

    Total balderdash!

    Both Hoyle's static universe and his ridiculous argument on abiogenesis that flies in the face of the facts of natural selection and evolution are rejected today. Evolution is not only accepted, it is currently extending into abiogenesis (RNA worlds).

    "mathematician Roger Penrose"

    A fine physicist, arguing for multiverses IIRC, but also a woo meister on dualism. You mention Weinberg, which is an old new atheist, and arguing for multiverses. Hawking, multiverses.

    "If anyone claims not to be surprised by the special features that the universe has, he is hiding his head in the sand. These special features ARE surprising and unlikely."

    Nice quote mine. Deutsch was in a BBC show arguing for the anthropic principle. You know, the one you are arguing _against_. Of course every unique individual have "special features", and they are unlikely to be seen elsewhere. [As noted above, a FLRW universe is _not_ an individual.]

    Let me guess that the physicists above that were arguing for the anthropic principles were similarly misquoted on the need for religious finetuning.

  18. @ John T:

    After the uncontroversial (well, in work at least) physics, some arguable physics:

    "I also suggest that not everything is amenable to scientific methodology or testing."

    Science is what philosophers call scientist, in that it works best to uncover knowledge, and positivist, in that testability is a requirement.

    Physics adds to that, it also has the property of realism, constrained responses to constrained actions (aka Newton's 3d law in classical mechanics or observation/observables in quantum mechanics) and physicalism, which most physicists adhere to, i.e. that everything existing is physical.

    Which brings me to this:

    "I have no difficulty acknowledging that the God 'hypothesis' is neither falsifiable or demonstrable beyond doubt in the present."

    This is not in evidence. In fact, the physicalist theory of monism of nature can be tested. Say, a binomial test on some natural property of tested theories or facts, which ranks in the 100 000s as of the 70-80s. (I suggest energy conservation.) This is, by my estimate, validated to over 3 sigma; hence we can reject dualism (souls, creators, gods, et cetera) beyond reasonable doubt.

    The reason that this is important is that it goes to the heart of science method efficiency.

    Testability and so science is not dependent on uniformity of physics. It could still work with different laws in my kitchen and in my living room, it would just be much more difficult if every other volume would have slightly different physics. Hence the testable cosmological principle (no privileged local frame, uniformity) bumps up efficiency.

    Similarly testability and so science is not dependent on absence of magic. It could still work if souls existed or if gods erect Jesus zombies which intestines should be fondled, it would just be much more difficult if every other object would be exempt from physics. Hence the testable physicalist principle (no dualisms) bumps up efficiency.

    To get back to the original question then, we can see that the universe certainly looks to be amenable to testing in general. Of course there will be not yet tested things or untestable ideas. But we now know enough to be able to claim that in so much as some experience is fundamentally untestable it isn't knowledge (love, art) but epiphenomena of brain function, just as fantasies and hallucinations are.

    And we are done.

  19. John T, if our planet were inimical to life, we wouldn't be here to marvel at it. If it were hospitable to some other kind of life, based on hot sulphur chemistry or frozen hydrogen superconductivity, we'd be praising Zot or Blerg for providing just the perfect conditions. We adapt to the universe, not the other way around. And if we couldn't adapt, we wouldn't be here. So the chances of our planet being right for our kind of life—absent a sudden, recent change—are 100%. Your theologians are just rationalizing after the fact. Seriously, it's like marvelling that your legs are just long enough to reach the ground.

  20. @ Torbjorn Larson, OM. Thank you Torbjorn for your response (to my reply to sp1derm4n). It seems that you have misread/misunderstood several of the points I was making:

    1.You quote me correctly as I responded to sp1derm4n’s suggestion that Hoyle was out of date with regard to the view he formed as a result of his work on carbon synthesis. I challenged whether he was, in fact, out of date ON THIS SPECIFIC ISSUE ie the great unlikelihood of key physical constants just happening to fall within necessarily narrow ranges. Yet you then proceed to quote his position on other matters such as “static universe” and “abiogenesis,” which are irrelevant to the point. Ultimately you confirm the point I was making by your assertion “No one claims that the actual problem of _physical finetuning doesn’t exist.” At no stage did I assert that God was a NECESSARY conclusion from the data. My position is merely that verifiable data do not exclude God (although a priori assumptions may) and therefore do not render a faith position untenable.

    2. My chief point initially was that ‘Goldilocks,’ ie that the universe in which we find ourselves is “just right” and this is an unlikely state of affairs, is not a uniquely theistic concept (which you have confirmed), and has prompted a great amount of scientific work to tackle it – some of which you quote. It is no surprise that some of that work reaches conclusions that it’s not unlikely if we redefine what is likely by writing in every other imaginable POSSIBILITY. It really is of no consequence to me whether there is one (breathtakingly vast) universe or innumerable universes, however they might or might not arise, or ”tunnel out,” or “multiply infinitely.” That should have been evident to you from my comment “I have no doubt that further insights will be shed on the nature of the universe(s).”

    3. I have not voiced an “anti-science” position. Speculation is where science begins (in the generation of hypotheses), but it is not where it ends. It is important to differentiate between the 2. The scientific process generates many models, and the aspiration is that these models will be regularly improved (as they have been) by demonstrating which ones were false. So false models exist for a while, and their proponents call them science until they are disproven. My understanding is that the concept of “infinitely multiplying” universes is at present still a speculative model, whether or not it can be supported with some elegantly described equations. You need to do better than your “observing the multiverse” quotation to demonstrate that it’s moved to a verified model, since your quotation describes scientists “gearing up to analyse data” and uses ‘faithy’ words like “hopefully.” However, if it moves beyond that, there is no reason why my faith would get in the way of accepting it – it presently doesn’t reject it (hence my readiness to quote many who presently are at the very least open to the model); it just is bemused by the need to pursue multiple universes as a way of rendering something which is recognised as unlikely to be something which is likely.
    [continued below]

  21. 4. Similarly, I accept biological evolution, but I see no conflict with a creator. I understand that you see no NEED for one, but that is a different matter. You have misread/misunderstood my comment about Darwin. I used Darwin as example of a scientist whose ideas (albeit somewhat modified) are still current, and was making the point that Hoyle’s recognition of the ‘Goldilocks’ phenomenon is still currently recognised (even if other notions of his are long discredited).
    You make a breathtakingly arrogant sweeping statement in your penultimate sentence. When forced to acknowledge that some areas are fundamentally untestable, you simply reclassify them as epiphenomena rather than knowledge, going so far as to suggest that love and art are fantasies and hallucinations. I am very aware of some suggestions from neuroscience that our conscious experience is an illusion, but still have to hear a scientifically verified means of discriminating between which parts of our cognitive processes are real, and which are illusions or fantasies. Once we start on that journey, why stop at love and art - what if reason is an illusion too? It seems you have been presumptuous, as in your final comment "we are done."

    @Markita Lynda. No argument with your opening statement (works with or without a creator). I did laugh at your legs analogy (works with or without a creator), and I’m sure yours are much nicer than mine. You’re also quite correct – the job of a theologian is to rationalise after the fact. Unlike strict physicalists, theologians are open to more than one route of knowledge. However, that’s a distraction – the real issue is what are the facts, and how well established are they. Your brilliant maths of 100% probability of the planet being the right kind for our life is based on rationalisation after the fact (of your existence) too.

  22. Torbjorn - apologies for misspelling your family name.

  23. @JohnT

    Stenger represents the modern consensus better then Hoyle. My Stenger beats your Hoyle.

    Here are the 'basic issues' as I see them:

    Some theists claim they can calculate the probability of sentient beings evolving in any possible universe. They are mistaken.

    I am a mathematical biologist. And you sir?

  24. John, you can't slag someone off for wheeling in Stenger to make the argument after you have wheeled in Hoyle to try to make yours! There is little point in rehashing some of this, but Hoyle's grasp of probability was never great, and his grasp of biology was frankly risible, so if you want to make the point I *think* you were trying to make, you'd be better off going with someone speaking from within their area of expertise. Just saying.

    You are mistaken in thinking that just because something can't be disproven (e.g. the gods) that a "faith position" is somehow therefore rendered valid. For one thing, different "faith positions" are often mutually exclusive - you'll have your Yahweh, some other punter will have Allah, another will have Ahura Mazda and another Amun-Re and so on and so forth. All of you will claim your "faith" as something unassailable, and you'll try your darnedest to make the other guy's "faith" look ridiculous, but you are actually foolishly trying to make a stake for one very particular setup of reality that you have no way of demonstrating or testing. So to berate "those who do not adopt a faith position" for postulating different wacky ways out of "fine tuning" is disingenuous at best, and a very very sooty pot calling a mildly sullied kettle black.

    In your defence, I will say that I *do* think that "apparent fine tuning" requires an explanation, but I don't think that the gods are a very good explanation, and I do think that the proposal that the universe *is* mathematical is a very good explanation that doesn't require *any* additional assumptions beyond what we know already.

  25. @ sp1derm4n:
    I am an intensive care physician and I realise that I, like you, am not a cosmologist. However, that need not disbar either of us from attempting to understand the issues. I would hope to do better than "rock, paper, scissors" over whom we quote. Asserting that "Stenger represents the 'modern consensus' better than Hoyle is a meaningless statement unless you define what the consensus is on.

    On the subject of the improbability of the key physical constants being within their necessarily narrow ranges (regardless of what/who we attribute this to), I have quoted a range of credible current specialists who concur that there appears to be unlikely co-incidence at work. Stenger's attempts to explain/refute the improbability within the context of the universe we can observe directly, but he too resorts to multiverse. I doubt Stenger and Hoyle would be in significant disagreement with each other since both are/were atheists, and both seem to recognise a general order of improbability, which Stenger attempts to explain/dilute by several mechanisms but, contrary to what you asserted, he is happy to accommodate multiverse in his thinking. He merely states that it is not "the sole naturalistic explanation available for the particular structure of our universe." He even follows on from this to defend multiverse - http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/Cosmo/FineTune.pdf) I have yet to see evidence that his alternative explanations are part of any expert consensus, and invite you to demonstrate that is the case. Note here that I am simply exploring what is the scientific consensus relating to need for multiverse in explaining what otherwise seem to be improbably facilitative co-incidences of physical constants.

    Personally, I shun a 'God of the Gaps' approach since it denies the Divine Being credit for the existence of the natural laws we observe and discover, which is why I actually remain open to the notion of multiverse (as I have previously stated).

    I agree with you that any theists who might claim that they can come up with a meaningful value of "the probability of sentient life evolving in any possible universe" are mistaken. You'd better explain that to your friend Stenger, and get your act together with Torbjorn - Torbjorn points out that Stenger claims to have done just that - he highlights that Stenger as having estimated probability of life-admitting universes at "~50%." OK, he hasn't qualified it with 'sentient' but it hardly gets him off the hook. The confidence limits around such a calculation of probability have to be ridiculously large, whether for sentient or non-sentient life. Borrowing an idea from Martin Gardner, I suggest that both are Completely Ridiculous Attempts at Probability (CRAP), but hey - you're the one with maths credentials ;-)

  26. John T, I'm glad you liked it. So, unless it has consistent, testable manifestations, the supernatural is unproveable. You believe in the unproveable because you choose to believe, which puts your god into the same category as the Invisible Pink Unicorn and the Flying Spaghetti Monster as well as thousands of former & current deities. And that makes them the philosophical equivalent of cotton candy: it looks impressive and it's fun to play with, but it's neither necessary nor sufficient for life and there's no reason for anyone to take it seriously.

  27. @Shane. Shane, I know you’re trying to be helpful but note - I didn’t introduce Hoyle speaking on an area beyond his expertise – you can thank Torbjorn for that suggestion. I think his expertise in astrophysics was sufficient for him to suggest apparent general improbability which is still widely recognised today, and I note that you feel free to comment on cosmology despite being neither an astrophysicist nor a cosmologist; and on mathematics despite not being a professional mathematician.

    I wasn't "slagging off" anyone for introducing Stenger. I simply have pointed out that he doesn't necessarily represent consensus on whether we need/don't need multiverse concepts to explain 'apparent fine-tuning.' And I didn't rely on Hoyle to make the point, I have quoted several current specialists (and could quote more) - my use of Hoyle was to point out that the issue was noted some time back.

    Regarding various potential 'competitors' for the nature of Divine Being(s), let's not get ahead of ourselves. The issue we're discussing is whether or not the notion of Goldilocks is valid, and whether science has refuted the existence of one or more Divine Beings. I think I've made clear that I am not suggesting that Goldilocks must lead to a rational conclusion that such a being or beings exists; however, I am asserting that that is a possible explanation, and one not refuted by the scientific method.

    Ultimately I anticipate that there will always be a credible rational alternative to a need for a Creator; equally I anticipate that rational alternative will involve a natural law which we can choose to credit to no-one, but that the scientific method will continue to fail to refute that which is beyond its capacity to assess.

    As Thomas Nagel (Professor of Philosophy & Law at NYU, and an atheist) has said "“I want atheism to be true...I am curious... whether there is anyone who is genuinely indifferent as to whether there is a God – anyone who, whatever his actual belief..., doesn’t particularly want one of the answers to be correct.”

  28. @Markita Lynda. So, would you like to set out for me the consistent, testable manifestations of an infinity of universes? Last time I checked there was only one manifested, and one to be tested. You're right again, of course - it is a matter of choice - see my earlier ref to Thomas Nagel, who at least was being honest.

  29. Shane, is there some published essay that you revised into a Goldilocks version? If so, could you link to it so that we can compare. I did a version of an essay by John Shore, "Should you marry outside your faith?" and sent him a link. I believe that I demonstrated that he was assuming his conclusion that God exists by showing that the exact same points could be made about a fictional character (like your Goldilocks analysis). I linked to his essay so that people can read it and perceive the parallels.

  30. I didn't mention multiple universes so I don't feel the need to test any hypotheses about them.

  31. OK Markita Lynda - so what's your explanation of 'apparent fine tuning' which does not depend on multiple universes? This blog thread and the comments are, after all, on Goldilocks, so you can hardly distance yourself from the central theme being parodied.

  32. Point of info - this post is actually not primarily about the Goldilocks hypothesis - it is really about how we judge whether some event happened in history or not (although I couldn't resist throwing in the fine tuning). Some folks have spotted that I have done a pastiche of William Lame Craig's apologetics in which he argues that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth *actually* occurred.
    However, discussions move on, and I'm happy for them to do so. John, why do you think Markita *has* to have an explanation for "apparent fine tuning"? Why is it invalid to just say "I don't know"?
    You claim to explain it by reference to a god - that is a GodOfTheGaps argument by definition, even if you would prefer not to apply that label (at least you have the good sense to realise that it's a weak argument). Now perhaps you think the multiverse argument is a "multiverse of the gaps", but as was pointed out above, if we know there is one universe, it's no biggie to suggest that there might be another, and no biggie to suggest that there might be loads of 'em.
    But it *is* a biggie to suggest that there is *only one*, and it is specifically created by a being/process/thingy that has absolutely no referent or analog in our own universe, and an even bigger biggie to suggest that it closely corresponds with the anthropomorphic sky pixie that has evolved from an ancient proto-Canaanite syncretic deity. Sure, we can't *disprove* that any more than you can disprove Amun-Re or Odin. But that fact does not make it rational to nail your colours to that idol. The *rational* response would be to keep an open mind and take a step back from the old gods.
    And you know what? If there really is a god, she won't mind in the slightest if we do that.

  33. Shane - I realise your parody covered a multitude of things faith-related, but I thought it was safe to assume that the multiple references to Goldilocks, and it making the title, suggested that it was pretty central. Regardless, I guess several of us got on this train so I appreciate your flexibility.

    In answer to your question, I don't think Markita has to have an explanation, but I consider it is not a strong place from where to exclude possibilities. In rational terms, of course it's perfectly respectable to be agnostic - so I think it is entirely appropriate in the absence of data or knowledge to conclude "I don't know." I guess that's why I object to strong assertions relating to the absence of a deity, particularly ridicule.

    I don't claim to explain away the method of apparent fine-tuning by reference to a god - I've made that point several times already. I've acknowledged that there may well be/emerge an explanation which does not intellectually require a deity to explain mode of operation, and that the material explanation could involve multiple universes. My position is actually quite well expressed by Markita - it is a matter of choice of what belief to practise in the absence of definitive evidence. And since I believe in a personal deity, and believe I have subjective experience of 'his' interaction with my life, it should come as no surprise that I don't have a problem with 'him' being the explanation for EVERYTHING - not just gaps in knowledge of the natural laws, but the natural laws we do observe and increasingly describe - even Hawking (altho non-theist) understood that concept since he suggested that with a fuller understanding of cosmology we would 'know the mind of God.' He was speaking metaphorically of course but the principle is the same - So it's not at all a God of the Gaps position, AND I'm not the one on the back foot here, since while there might well be a naturalistic explanation of method, and we SHOULD look for it, there doesn't need to be in my worldview. I don't need to go looking for the uncaused cause - whether that's old-fashioned uncaused cause, or why we might have symmetry-breaking. You may claim I'm deluded, but I suspect you might have trouble defining that in medical terms.

    We'll have to differ (in the absence of objectively demonstrable data) on whether it's more rational to ditch all but one God or ditch all notions of deity. It seems to me that atheism is one (legitimate) choice the same as all the others, and no definitive data to demonstrate it to be the correct choice. Calculating probabilities here seems at least as fraught as calculating probabilities around probabilities of life in other universes, when we have a sample of one universe to test, and already have problems with probability in that one because of lack of sufficient data. It seems to me only to be pertinent to discuss which god or gods are the 'real' ones after we have reached the stage where we concede a possibility that even one might exist. Interesting that you might judge what God might not mind (or perhaps you mean shouldn't), ahead of really accepting the possibility that there is a deity at all.

  34. Just to be clear, and this goes to demonstrate why Christians shouldn't be allowed to read pop-science books, the "multiverse theory" wasn't postulated in response to any kind of fine tuning arguments, but was developed because of a long series of mathematical calculations based on the things we do know about the universe. The end result of that complex maths was an answer that appears to suggest multiple universes.

    Other people then suggested that if this was true, it would explain something else (the so called fine tuning) that had no bearing on the actual evidence for fine tuning.

    I don't understand why Christians continue to try and argue that scientists just invented the multiverse theory because they couldn't explain "fine tuning." It just goes to show how strong a link there is between being ignorant of science and being Christian I guess.

  35. Wow! “Christians shouldn’t be allowed to read pop-science books” - how very ‘free-thinking!’ – the statement sounds almost Bolshevik in its suggestion of censorship. Presumably, it’s selective censorship that’s proposed - atheists should still be allowed to read (and publish) pop science books, and pop atheology books – just keep them on the top shelf out of the reach of intellectually child-like Christians.

    “It just goes to show how strong a link there is between being ignorant of science and being Christian.” It would seem that owheelj is ignorant of the historical contribution of Christians (and those of other faith positions) in the generation of scientific knowledge. It would seem he is also ignorant of those Christians active in the generation of scientific knowledge within the last several decades, including in physics and biological sciences. Never let a bit of prejudice stand in the way of accuracy, eh? How very scientific.

    But wait! - There are important implications of this revelation of the ignorance of Christians wrt science! Those of us who regularly have to interpret papers in scientific journals in order to practise medicine well, must cancel our memberships of learned societies and desist immediately from reading their journals as we clearly aren’t up to understanding them. Naturally this should preclude us from working in fields such as medicine and engineering. Those who sit on editorial boards of scientific journals and hold a faith position are unfit for the task. Those of us currently engaged in scientific studies should be prohibited from doing so as we can’t possibly understand what we are doing when we design and conduct studies. What’s more we have hoodwinked the editors of peer reviewed scientific journals who have published our research in the past – if only we’d had to declare a faith position as a conflict of interest when we submitted those papers, they could have been discriminated from ‘proper’ scientific papers, written by ‘proper’ scientists, who of course are immune from bias when conducting studies, and sufficiently so that they should be exempted from double-blind methodology. Better get universities to recant all the scientific degrees and higher degrees which have been awarded to those of us who hold a faith position since they couldn’t possibly have merited them. Strip any Christian Professors of their Scientific Chairs because they couldn’t have merited them either.... and the rightful owners are bears anyway, who are sufficiently intelligent as not to believe in God (sorry - got carried away with the fiction). Chuck out anyone who is currently a Fellow of the Royal Society and holds a faith position, because they couldn’t possibly deserve to be Fellows. They’re ignorant of science dontchaknow.

    “I don't understand why Christians continue to try and argue that scientists just invented the multiverse theory because they couldn't explain "fine tuning." I have not argued this (see next paragraph). I would not consider myself sufficiently knowledgeable to do so. (I gather that knowledge of one’s own limitations, and of the limits of any given experiment is important in robust science). I am curious as to how much knowledge owheelj has in this territory, beyond the cover-all terms “complex maths” and “long series of mathematical calculations.” I guess the only reason he has refrained from setting them out is because, being ignorant of science, Christians couldn’t hope to understand them. (Personally, I probably wouldn’t understand them even if he can, but I suggest it would be more than a little presumptuous to conclude that Christian faith per se gets in the way of understanding mathematics). I imagine he must have verified the equations personally that led in the direction of multiverse, rather than just bought into the position because it suits his preferred worldview.
    [continued below]

  36. What I have argued is
    (i) that apparent fine-tuning exists (and have had that affirmed by atheist commentators on this blog),
    (ii) that is not a uniquely theist notion (self-evident, altho’ some theists may choose to see it in a uniquely theist way) and
    (iii) that the best and most common response to explain it to date has been use of multiverse hypothesis (and that too has been affirmed by atheist comment on this blog). The kind of term which I have used repeatedly is “need for multiverse in explaining [fine-tuning],” “whether we need/don't need multiverse concepts to explain 'apparent fine-tuning’,” “some atheists see it as a tool to refute belief,” and “multiple universes as a way of rendering something which is recognised as unlikely to be something which is likely.” It is true that I asked a question specifically related to Tegmark’s motivation (which remains unanswered, but that’s OK as it may be unknown).

    At one point I used a form of words: “[apparent fine-tuning] has prompted a great amount of scientific work to tackle it.” I appreciate that this may be ambiguous with regard to apparent fine-tuning being a sole agent provocateur – that was not the intended meaning; answering big questions is a justification all by itself. I’m disappointed that the intended meaning was not received, given the multiple instances of more precise phraseology on the matter elsewhere. Nonetheless, I am happy to replace it with “has prompted the use of a great amount ...” if the original offended anyone’s sensibilities/sense of propriety – that renders it consistent with the wording elsewhere. I think it’s fair to say that in this thread at least one individual has been a good deal less careful with his phraseology than have I.

    I also stated “speculation is where science begins (in the generation of hypotheses), but it is not where it ends. It is important to differentiate between the 2.” On this point, I’m not arguing for anything different than the principle recently argued for by geneticist Steve Jones in connection with the BBC’s coverage of science [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-14218989]: he stated that the BBC "must make a distinction between well-established fact and opinion". I suggest that multiverse, and superstring theory in its various forms, remain to be established as fact rather than opinion, and as such aren’t effective tools definitively to exclude God. Even if they become established fact (which I will welcome – the little I understand already seems exciting), and even if Goldilocks is explained in naturalistic terms, they are unlikely to exclude a God whom Christians deem to have ‘written’ the very principles we are exploring. Perhaps that’s why, when you attempt to exclude God/gods in the context of Goldilocks, you have to reach for parody and allegations that Christians (+/- others of a faith position) are ignorant of science, or deluded like me :-D.

  37. @JohnT

    On Stenger: yes he thinks multiple universes are a reasonable hypothesis, but (what I was saying was) he does not rely on this argument in his recent fine tuning fallacy book. You may find the Hoyle chapter and the summary chapter of particular interest. On Hoyle: he (and Steven Weinberg) do not find it surprising that a resonance exists at around 7.7MeV as required for carbon-12 stellar nucleosynthesis (and he presents an argument which I was mostly able to follow even as a biologist). He also questions whether Hoyle used anthropic reasoning to make his famous prediction, and quotes a source as saying this was linked in only later, after the fact. Stenger shows that a range of energy levels for the resonance would likely produce the same carbon levels we observe, and a much broader range could produce enough carbon (either more or less than we have) for life. I don't want to summarise the whole book here, but these are the kind of arguments he is making, not multiverse arguments.

  38. That is interesting, sp1derm4n, and sounds broadly consistent with what he's written in the article to which I posted a link, except for the fact that he actually states Hoyle used anthropic reasoning in that pdf. Never thought myself that the term 'anthropic' was a particularly helpful one, in discussions on this subject. I would take a bit of convincing that Stenger's probability calculations hold up - any views yourself there?

  39. @JohnT
    My feeling is that he's not claiming to do much more than a back-of-the-envelope calculation. In my opinion at least, he only needs to show that he, as a relevantly skilled expert, can make reasonable (speculative) assumptions and reach opposite conclusions to the equally speculative claims of the other camp. This is because the evidence for fine tuning is the absence of plausible, naturalistic alternatives. Neither side can actually point to a proven mechanism of generating alternative realities, or to a deity able to choose constants, so things will naturally be rather inconclusive, although the questions being addressed are of course fascinating.

  40. I'm with you. Spidey... (up to a point natch) :-D

  41. John, it is a fallacy of the purest type to suggest that just because some of the best scientists in history have been religious, that their discoveries somehow validate religion. Similarly, many scientists are atheists or agnostics (I regard the two terms as pretty much synonymous, and this thread is not the place for petty hair-splitting), but this fact does not validate atheism.

    As it happens, adopting a "faith position" is pretty much the default for homo sapiens (or it seems to be). Why do you not have the intellectual courage to let go? Why do you feel the need to shackle yourself to one very specific untestable variety of god when there are many to go around, all equally untestable and all equally unlikely?

    You're not stupid, but you are deluding yourself on this issue (and I don't care for the medical definition; you know it as well as I do). Essentially you are claiming that atheists/agnostics cannot argue against a "faith position" (i.e. a very specific set of untestable beliefs & truth claims that you arbitrarily choose to adopt and proclaim as The Truth) because they cannot PROVE them to be false. Since you have some sort of wiggle-room, we should leave you to fester in your own wee fantasy world - truth is relative, innit? Well, that's not really good enough.

    Let me spell out another of your fallacies. You are implying that just because we cannot say what is TRUE, we therefore cannot say what is NOT TRUE; because we cannot say what is TRUE, we cannot say what is LIKELY. This, as I'm sure you can see when I spell it out for you, is cobblers. I don't know how you got into work this morning, but I know that it is NOT TRUE that you got in in my back pocket. I know it is highly UNLIKELY (though I can't prove it, and every now and again your comments lead me to think that it just might be the case) that you got in in the back seat of the hyperluminal space transporter belonging to the eldest offspring of Zangor the Emperor of the Cribnor System in the Andromeda Galaxy. I am pretty confident that it is NOT TRUE that you have a live tyrannosaur behind your sofa, but I don't have to know what IS behind your sofa in order to make that statement.

  42. So I think you could do with a few lessons in logic. But where does that leave your "faith position"? What actually IS your "faith position"? Is it just the warm fuzzies that you get in your tummy when you think of the baby Jesus, or do you attach some specific claims to that? You waffle about love and art, yet I as an atheist love my family and appreciate fine art, fine wine, fine music - including much religiously-inspired music (going to see Alison Krauss at the Waterfront in Belfast in November! Yay!). However, I don't see what is missing from a scientific understanding of the universe that I need to wheel in to enable me to do all this.

    Let me make this explicit. As an atheist, I do not think there is a nugget of gold at the bottom of my box of cornflakes. You as a theist (and a very particular variety of theist at that) *believe* in the absence of any good evidence (but you can always wheel in the "faith of the gaps") that there is a solid gold statuette of Tutankhamun down there among those crispy nutritious flakes. If I, as I munch my way through the box, find a wee statuette, well, I'll be very surprised, but I'll take it in my stride. I can cope. Indeed, I think I would be pleasantly surprised. But as *you* munch through the box and find nothing - what then?

    Here is what you do, because "people who take a faith position" have been doing it for millennia: you will rationalise it away. It will become a metaphorical statuette. We are ALL the statuette. The statuette is the entire universe, and we are so lucky that it's even *bigger* and *better* than a simple gold statuette that would fit in a cornflake box, and since these smartarse scientists can't disprove THAT sort of statuette, you can continue to believe in the one in the cornflake box as it suits you, and Rucker-flip between it and the cosmic variety as and when the challenges arise to any one option.

    So let me put a question to you in another way: If there happens to be a god, I am happy enough. How would *you* feel if there isn't?

  43. Shane, I didn't suggest that just because some scientists (never mind 'best scientists') were Christians that their discoveries somehow validate religion, and its ridiculous for you to pretend that I did. I was challenging the suggestion that being a Christian was causally related to being ignorant of science - 2 very different things. Consistent with my position, I'm happy to agree with you that discoveries by atheists and agnostics don't validate atheism or agnosticism - which is also consistent with my point about knowing the limitations of what an experiment can demonstrate.

    And where do you get off using pejorative language like 'shackle' and accusations of lacking intellectual courage? All allegation and no substance, matey. You really should stop imagining or re-inventing what I've posted and read it instead. If you try to put words in my mouth I will call you out on it, as in: "Essentially you are claiming that atheists or agnostics cannot argue against a faith position" - No I'm not: of course they can. Have you not been paying attention to what's being going on on your blog? I have merely been responding to claims that God/my faith position is disproven by scientific endeavour.

    Similarly, your suggestions as to what I've been implying about true/not true/likely seem to be entirely your own invention, and I agree that it's cobblers (tho' you clearly have a vivid imagination). Your suggestion might be valid against a God-of-the-gaps argument, but there's no point wheeling it out here, just cos you'd like to think that's what I said. I'm merely calling out folk who say something is definitively not true on the basis of science when they have no scientific way to quantify it a probability/likelihood. From his last post, Spidey seems to have got a better measure of what I've been arguing than you have. And no, I don't think truth is relative, actually. My position is that you have to be honest when the power of your experiment or method is insufficient to answer the question - and that's where there is an important difference between agnosticism and atheism. You seem to be shifting the goalposts here. In a recent post you were asking me why it wasn't ok for Markita to just say "i don't know." So, Shane, why is it not OK for YOU to just say "I don't know?'

  44. Yet at this particular moment you lump atheism and agnosticism in together and suggest that to differentiate between them is splitting hairs. On exactly what part of high intellectual ground are you standing to make such a statement?

    As you very well know, in medicine, and in life in general, we often have to make a call in the absence of definitive evidence of whether that call is correct or not. Many a scientific meeting has drawn large crowds on the basis of a pro-con debate. They are often good fun to sit in on, or participate in - and their existence relies on the numerous situations where, despite scientific studies, the TRUTH has NOT been definitively demonstrated for all to see and act on. However, when you leave the indulgence of the conference hall and come back to a real clinical situation and have to jump one way or the other to treat a patient, whose life/death may depend on the correctness or otherwise of your call - agnosticism ain't gonna cut it. You gotta make a subjective judgement in the absence of evidence - but don't dare suggest it's a judgement you can justify on the basis of definitive evidence, and attempt to ridicule those that make the subjective judgement the other way.

    Interesting attempt at analysing my faith, (heck even predicting how it might turn out!) but I'm disappointed you got it so far off the mark. I thought you'd know the difference between the pantheism you quoted and the monotheism which is my judgement call in the absence of objectively demonstrable evidence. So, next time I have to make a clinical decision in an ICU patient, should I be afraid to make it when it has to be a subjective one? Should I fear that it might just be a "warm fuzzy I get in my tummy?" I don't think so, Shaney.

    What I still don't get is why you have to go rummaging in MY box of cornflakes and declare confidently that, despite not having an appropriate-sized ruler, you have the measure of my Tutankhamen statuette (which you can't see), and that its not as nice as the plastic spaghetti monster/pink unicorn which High Pasta Priest Dawkins has promised he'll send you if you save up enough cardboard tokens.

    I'm sure I could learn some more about logic. Thank you for the offer but, on the basis of your attempt to demonstrate some, I don't think I'll be learning any from you.

  45. @John T.

    You've taken obvious hyperbolic statements and taken them as fact, which is typical of people arguing for intellectually weak positions.

    I don't really think that Christians should be banned from reading pop-science books, I was merely expressing my annoyance that they read these books, misunderstand what's being said, and then make ignorant assumptions based on them. Atheists make mistakes too, of course, but this seems like a common argument.

    If you want to understand where the "multiverse" theories come from, you could start with wikipedia, which is pretty good, or with some pop-science books (yes, you have my permission to read them) like Hiding In The Mirror by Lawrence Krauss.

    I am a science student, but quantum physics isn't my field at all. At the same time, I understand enough about it to know that the "multiverse" theories didn't come about as an attempt to explain apparently unlikely events - as you will see if you look at any sources regarding them. Rather, the multiverse theories were constructed independently to those arguments, and then when people started talking about unlikely events in the universe, other people offered the multiverse theories that already existed as a possible explanation.

    You, of course, while writing a little over 1000 words about why a single line expressing my frustration at how often the false argument that the multiverse theory was constructed in response to apparent "fine tuning," failed to attempt to actually address the argument I was making - that the multiverse theory wasn't constructed as a result of apparent "fine tuning." Now that I've given you two of many places to look that up, perhaps you could, and try arguing in response to content instead of meaningless jibes.

  46. owheelj, thanks for your permission. Again, tiring as it is to have to repeat myself - I didn't argue that multiverse theory was constructed in response to apparent fine tuning. I pointed out that it is nevertheless advanced as an explanation for apparent fine tuning so the 'argument' you were making is redundant.

  47. OK John, enough drivel from you. Here is what you said in your VERY FIRST POST on this thread: "In fact the 'best' response to date to explain the unlikelihood of the 'Goldilocks' state of the universe to allow matter to exist, never mind intelligent life to emerge, has been to postulate (infinitesimal) multiple universes - why the need to resort to such an extreme and untestable hypothesis, if the goldilocks condition doesn't exist?"
    Perhaps you are a member of the Vatican hierarchy or the Murdoch clan. Either way, if you are going to engage (however playfully - this blog is about fun as much as argument), please don't be dishonest, there's a good lad.

    Now, on to your ongoing confusions. I have never argued in this thread or any other (and nor, as far as I can see - I stand to be corrected) that science proves that magic space pixies such as Yahweh or the risen Jesus DO NOT exist. Not even Dawkins makes such a claim. Yet I am an atheist, or if you wanted to, you could call me an agnostic. You seem to only have the Noddy's Guide to Worldviews to hand, but atheists (in general - I know there are some who take a very belief-based view on this) do NOT "believe" that there is no god. I, and most other atheists, would be perfectly happy to accept the existence of the gods if there was any evidence for one, but there isn't.

    For you to suggest that my inability to *disprove* your idiosyncratic preferred flavour of space pixie somehow makes your belief "reasonable" is poppycock, and it is *precisely* the sort of argument that Russel addressed with his teapot. So get over it.

    Yeah, sure, loads of good scientists - some of them among the "best" - have been religious like you. Big deal. The ability of the human mind to hold several discordant ideas at one time is renowned. Have they any good *arguments* for their beliefs? You'll find not. Like everyone, they compartmentalise.

    I have no interest in converting you to atheism; I *do* have an interest in exposing and parodying the rubbish arguments that are put out by apologists, because they poison children against science (evolution being the most notable example), and facilitate an undeserved "respect" for any old brainfart that is held with apparent sincerity.

  48. And as for the cornflake boxes, there is only one cornflake box - you don't have your own, neither do I. And there you were claiming that you weren't a relativist...
    [Another question might be that if you take the view that your god is an ontologically necessary thingy in which you live, move and have your being, and upholds the "laws" of the universe, how you can really avoid being called a pantheist, or at the very least panENtheist, but that's maybe a discussion for another thread. I don't think "isms" are a very helpful way of looking at the world; much better to unpick and unpack *specific* claims].

  49. Shane. You will recall that in my first comment I set out primarily to challenge what seemed to be a suggestion in your parody - that Goldilocks/apparent fine-tuning was a uniquely theist notion. My intention in referencing multiverse was to highlight that the apparent unlikelihood of convergent coincidences nick-named Goldilocks was taken sufficiently seriously as to need a naturalistic explanation. There is no doubt that multiverse is used for this purpose.

    I have already clarified that I did not intend to assert that the initiative for multi-universe hypothesis was down to Goldilocks, as I have no knowledge of what form the hypothesis already took when Hoyle made his comment, or indeed before that in the early 1900s when some of the co-incidences were noted and commented upon. I would be pleased for someone more knowledgeable of the history of the hypothesis to provide some unbiased information on this. I have also conceded that some of my initial phraseology was neither consistent nor ideal - and quickly rephrased. I have acknowledged that I simply don't know what the sequence of events was, although I did ask in that first comment what other motives your fave MUH mathematician had, if this was not his motive – but you didn’t provide an answer. It is disingenuous of you to suggest that I am being dishonest. It is fair enough for you to accuse me of being a little sloppy in my wording, but I would have expected you to allow me the same latitude in that regard as you allow yourself:

    “There is only one cornflake box – you don’t have your own, neither do I.” Compare that with “I do not think there is a nugget of gold at the bottom of MY box of cornflakes” in your previous post. I guess one of the advantages of making up your own metaphor is that you can change the rules of the symbolism to suit yourself – but it would only be fair to let the rest of us know when you decide to change them (or maybe you didn’t notice you had and were just sloppy – I’ll not return the accusation of telling porkies). You missed the opportunity to take the analogy to “Kelloggs multipacks” of cereal of different kinds..... maybe you realised that was too close to the ‘thinking outside the box’ that you were caricaturing as typical of theists. And why should theological understanding not change with time? The Reformers taught “light from all quarters.” Science informs my theology but to date has not refuted it.

    Your definition of atheist, specifically aligning it with agnostic is fascinating to me. I have always understood the distinction of meaning between the 2 as being clear from their Greek derivation: α-γνωσις - absence of, or no, knowledge, and α-θεος - absence of, or no, God. I have always perceived agnostics as folk who display some humility derived from the fact that they acknowledge that they don’t know. That is not to say that absence of humility is stereotypical of atheists, but some exhibit it, as do some who hold a faith position. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of atheism acknowledges and encompasses a spectrum of atheism from weak to strong – weak (which seems to fit with your description of your position): “those who do not believe in or credit the existence of one or more gods;” and strong: “those who assert... that a god does not exist.” However, the OED definition of agnostic is quite distinct, even from “weak” atheism: “One who holds that the existence of anything beyond and behind material phenomena is unknown and (so far as can be judged) unknowable, and especially that a First Cause and an unseen world are subjects of which we know nothing.”

  50. I gather that when Huxley first coined the term agnostic, he did so explicitly excluding those who claimed γνωσις, or knowledge, of which position was correct. Simple logic dictates that if you claim that you “know” (regardless of whether or not you acknowledge absence of definitive proof, whether you’re a strong or a weak atheist), then you cannot claim the title agnostic, which by definition asserts that you do not know. So... it’s clear that I’m not having to rely on “Noddy’s Guide.”

    I am aware of efforts by some atheists, eg Christopher Hitchens, to do as you do and deny that atheism is a belief, asserting instead that it is the absence of a belief. I can understand the attraction of trying to steal some wriggle room in the context both of more mild-mannered agnosticism, and of claiming to know without definitive proof - but it’s evident to me that it’s an attempt to try to have your cake and eat it. If it’s not a belief what is it – knowledge? If it’s knowledge, it can’t be agnosis.

    There is one area tho’ where I am happy to acknowledge you as having agnosis - your attempts to categorise my belief system: first as pantheist, then as ‘panentheist.’ I jest. Panentheist is perhaps closer to the mark, but insufficiently specific. As I’m sure you’re aware the Judao-Christian position is that the Creator is perceived to be both transcendent, or distinct from creation (exemplified, eg, by the contrast between the early chapters of Genesis and comparable, possibly donatory, ancient mythological literature) and immanent (manifested within it). This is very much a principle which runs through both Old and New Testaments. I know you’ve written them off as not instructive beyond a curiosity, but you did ask. You also asked “What actually IS your "faith position?" For what it’s worth, contrary to your suggestion that I’m a “very particular type of theist,” I’m pretty orthodox really (bet you love that term!) – a Nicene Creed guy who sees no conflict between “maker of all things, visible and invisible” and modern cosmology or evolution (so your jibe about poisoning children is misdirected). I regularly challenge theists on their reluctance to accept robust scientific data related to age of the earth and evolution. I have done so during talks I have been invited to give within my own church, and promoted the notion on my blog. I tell my children, and my wife has taught others’ children in a church environment of the merits of biological evolution. Whilst I believe that there is purpose to the universe, and I believe in an intelligent designer who interacts with it (your “live, move and have our being” quote), I reject Michael Behe-style “Intelligent Design.” I am not unique, and know many who hold the same position as me. From what you describe elsewhere on your blog, Rev Ron Elsdon holds pretty similar, if not identical, views – and he’s only a short distance ‘down the street.’

    You say you don’t like –isms. Atheism is self-evidently an –ism, but I too understand the appeal of unpicking and unpacking. That’s what I consider we’ve been trying to do collectively in this thread. Name-calling and hyperbole don’t really help when unpicking and unpacking...

    It’s the weekend so I’m signing off... wishing you a good one, Shane, and anyone else who’s stuck it this far. God Bless ;-)

  51. John, if you had read my post, you would realise that we are talking about the same box of cornflakes. Your relativism was what made you think that *you* had a box of cornflakes distinct from mine. As it happens, I am the Lord of the Cornflakes, and all of Cornflakedom belongs to me. Indeed, in me, cornflakes live, move, and have their being. So it would benefit you to pay a bit more attention. I will grant you a nod for your reference to the multipack, but even if it is *possible* that there is a statuette at the bottom of *some* members of an infinite multipack, that does not mean that you can declare the statuette to possess the "attribute" of omnipresence, and therefore state that it necessarily exists at the bottom of the *current* box. (Just thought I would pull Plantinga's dopey reformulation of an ontological argument in here - he seemed very smug and proud of himself, a bit like my three year-old when she has jam all over her face. But I know you don't think much of Plantinga - nor do I).

    Now as to your fun but categorical playing with atheism and agnosticism, you can have all the craic you want with definitions, but these terms are descriptive, not prescriptive. Some atheists *believe* there is no god. I think that is a bit silly - there is no way to prove it. And despite Huxley's careful setting up of agnosticism to mean that we can't ever gain knowledge of the divine, you yourself seem to accept that it means something other, such as "I dunno". This is quite a different thing. But never mind - it's not really relevant except to the sorts of anally retentive folks who get off on rigid categorisation.

    When I said you were a very particular type of theist, what I meant was that there are a zillion options for what any god who might be responsible for this universe could be like; from that vast array of possibilities you have chosen one variety of the Christian set. You have not chosen the Muslim Allah or the Canaanite El (although all three are derived from the same source). You know this. That is what I mean by particular. The set is large; you are but one element.

    Anyway, I think we've run our course here for now - have a good weekend :-)

  52. Thanks everyone for the discussion.

  53. Is there anyway you'd allow us to post this Goldilocks Intelligent Design story on our website "Freethought Arizona". If so please contact Jim Gressinger at Freethought Arizona. We love the story and want to make it available to those of us who are in So Az and can't seem to think straight.

  54. Hi Patsy, No probs - if you want I can do a slightly tidied up version - this one was pretty much off the top of my head. I'll see if I can contact Jim, or get him to DM me on Twitter @shanemuk
    Thanks for the kind words :-)

  55. this thread had me in stitches. thanks john & shane for some great entertainment. shane, i'm loving your blog. for a recent deconvert trying to make his way through philosophy and philosophistry, your grasp of the subject makes a lot of sense to me. i'd love to share the link, but i don't really know too many folk down here in south africa that would really appreciate it... and there's always the risk of some people actually starting up a goldilocks cult.

  56. But Goldilocks is not historical! The religious authorities ruthlessly suppressed the original, true account by the poet Southey in 1837, in which the intruder is a horrible old vagrant woman who breaks in, eats the three bears' food and vandalises their furniture. The story of the lovely golden haired girl is a later interpretation made to improve the cult's image and bring in converts.

  57. There's a cosmological mathematician who calculates that there are five hundred million universes. If the odds of one being attuned to us are 1/120,000,000, that means we should have three or four.

  58. ...or five.

    On the other hand, there's the argument from existence: If something has happened, then it's possible.

    Shane, that was brilliant! You'd probably enjoy "Pooh and the Millennium: In Which the Bear of Very Little Brain Explores the Ancient Mysteries at the Turn of the Century" by John Tyerman Williams. I sent my copy to PZ via Anton Zuiker or I could offer you one.

  59. Sounds like a winner - I'll put it on my Kindle list!