Saturday, February 06, 2010

McGrath's Fine-Tuned Universe

I am now presenting, in my Philosophy of Religion class, Robin Collins's fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. Collins uses "the prime principle of confirmation," which is: "Simply put, the principle says that whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses, an observation counts as evidence in favor of the hypothesis under which the observation has the highest probability (or is the least improbable). (Or, put slightly differently, the principle says that whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses, H1 and H2, an observation, O, counts as evidence in favor of H1 over H2 if O is more probable under H1 than it is under H2.)"

I think Collins's PPC is similar to, if not identical to, the logical idea of "inference to the best explanation." I'm now reading Alister McGrath's A Fine-Tuned Universe, in which he utilizes inference to the best explanation, also called abductive reasoning. I'm just into McGrath's text. He's a great scholar, with a DPhil in molecular biophysics from Oxford and doctoral degree in theology from Oxford. McGrath is a former atheist-turned-theist.

Here's what McGrath is doing in FTU so far.
  • "The notion of 'nature' itself is ultimately a social construction." (6) Nature, says McGrath, "discloses nothing." "Meaning" is imposed on nature as a creative work of the human mind. (4) As he later writes:"Nature is an interpreted entity, not autonomous." (27) Note: I think it's true that we all come to nature by means of an interpretative framework. This is the kind of thing I've meant when, in the past, I've argued against the Enlightenment "myth of objectivity. McGrath has some very good historical things to say about how that myth came about and why it is now mostly rejected.
  • McGrath argues that the Christian interpretative framework best explains anthropic coincidences. Hence, the fine-tuning argument. but not as a way of proving God exists, but as arguing for the fecundity and fruitfulness of bringing the Christian interpretative framework to nature.
  • All "empirical facts" are "theory-laden." "Christian theology provides the theory-laden component of the process of observation and interpretation of the natural order. One cannot therefore speak meaningfully of natural theology "proving" God's existence; it is, howevfer, entirely appropriate to speak of a "resonance" between theory and observation, in which it is confirmed that the fundamental themes of the Christian faith offer the best explanation of what is seen." (20) And, again, what is "seen?" A universe fine-tuned for our existence. Note: McGrath is going to deepen, or expand, the meaning of "fine-tuning" to include personhood. hence he grounds his work in a Christian Trinitarian theology.
  • McGrath gives a nice quote from C.S. Lewis to clarify his methodology. Lewis wrote, "I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." (21) McGrath writes: "Cultivating the art of seeing is the key to unlocking the meaning of the world." (21) That is a very important McGrath-idea, which he will expand on as the book progresses.
There are connections between, I think, the British scholar McGrath and British New Testament scholar N.T. Wright. Wright's apologia for Christianity rests on understanding it as a grand narrative that explains more, and better, than competing grand narratives (of which philosophical naturalism is one). And now we have the British C.S. Lewis quoted in affirmation of McGrath's method.

I am captivated by the reality of anthropic coincidences, and so expect to much enjoy and learn from McGrath's book.