Exposing PseudoAstronomy

November 11, 2009

Logical Fallacies: Argument from Final Consequences


Introduction

Continuing my series on logical fallacies, this post will address the fallacy of the Argument from Final Consequences.

What is the “Argument from Final Consequences?”

The “Argument from Final Consequences” fallacy can effectively be stated as: “Something exists, therefore [this] caused it.” In other words, it confuses cause and effect, starting with an effect and then assuming a cause.

Main Example from Creationism

One of the best astronomy/physics-related examples of this logical fallacy from Creationism (and Intelligent Design) proponents is the apparent fine-tuning of the universe. Since I have addressed this argument in detail in a previous post, the very short argument goes as follows: “In order for us to exist, the universe has to be very fine-tuned in order for that to happen, therefore God (or an “Intelligence”) was the one that created it.”

If we deconstruct that argument, we have an observation and conclusion of an effect — the universe must be fine-tuned for us to exist here — and then we have the cause — God did it. In other words, we have the effect placed before the cause in the argument, or an Argument from Final Consequences logical fallacy.

A more honest ay of addressing this situation is to observe that we exist the way we do because of the way the universe is. We have the cause — the universe is the way it is — and the effect — we exist as we do to take advantage of the physical laws of the universe that we inhabit. Saying that we could not exist if the universe were different is probably true, but that does not mean that no type nor form of life could exist, just our particular kind of life.

Final Thoughts

The Argument from Final Consequences is a little harder to spot in discussions because you generally have to pause, deconstruct the argument, and really look at what they’re claiming to be the cause and effect to determine if they are using the effect to justify the cause.

December 17, 2008

The Milky Way’s Black Hole Verified – Creationists Still Work Around It with Non Sequiturs


Introduction

About a week ago, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) sent out a press release about a very long 16-year study that tracked the positions of several stars in the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. By watching the stars move, they can infer the gravitational force that affect their orbits, and hence the mass in the center of the galaxy. The result was verifying the presence – and shrinking the error bars on the mass of – the black hole that resides in the center of the Milky Way.

I didn’t realize that this was in any way related to young-Earth creationism, and yet, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) today (Dec. 17) published an article by Brian Thomas entitled “Fast-Orbiting Stars Puzzle Astronomers” that somehow connects this research to imply support for their creation “model.” It is made of five distinct inferences and conjectures that I address below.

Claim 1: This Shows Stars and Planets Can’t Form in Stable Orbits Naturally

To quote from the article:

An ESO news release stated, “The mystery still remains as to how these young stars came to be in the orbits they are observed to be in today.” Given a purely naturalistic origin scenario such as that offered in the Big Bang theory, one wonders how so many stars and planets came to be in orbits at all, rather than swirling off into space.

This is a non sequitur (“doesn’t follow”) logical fallacy. The mystery is how these stars seem to be on quasi-stable orbits around the black hole since the requisite velocity of the stars to not fall into the black hole is fairly high and, given what we know of galaxy formation, it is unlikely that these stars formed in that location with that velocity.

This has nothing to do with solar system formation. The prevailing model of solar system formation is that a giant nebula of swirling gas and dust will collapse and have a net rotation. As the cloud collapses, the center of it will accumulate the most material and form the star. Other parts of it – that are rotating – will also collapse and form planets. It is actually thought that many would-be planets do get ejected from the system due to interactions with any massive planets (like Jupiter).

Objects get ejected when they are given too much energy – a velocity boost. If the mass of the system is no longer large enough to overcome that velocity, then the object will escape. If the object is gravitationally bound, then by definition, it will be in orbit. And ultimately, that’s pretty much how we measure the mass of all objects in the universe – how fast objects that are gravitationally bound to them are moving.

It’s really hard to see how the ESO quote honestly has anything to do with why planets “came to be in orbits” — it’s just a complete non sequitur.

Claim 2: How Could Stars Share Orbits?

Even more curious is that the astronomers closely observed six of the stars inhabiting the same orbital pattern, like so many seats on a Ferris wheel.

I’m not sure if this is a logical fallacy or not: Mis-reading the press release (I’ll assume an honest mistake). Contrast the ICR article statement of “astronomers … observed six of the stars inhabiting the same orbital parttern, like so many seats on a Ferris wheel,” with the actual statement from the researchers:

“The stars in the innermost region are in random orbits, like a swarm of bees,” says [Stefan] Gillessen. “However, further out, six of the 28 stars orbit the black hole in a disc. In this respect the new study has also confirmed explicitly earlier work in which the disc had been found, but only in a statistical sense. Ordered motion outside the central light-month, randomly oriented orbits inside – that’s how the dynamics of the young stars in the Galactic Centre are best described.”

I read the ICR statement 3 times and each time got the impression that they are reading the article as saying that these six stars are on the same orbit – hence the Ferris wheel analogy. A better analogy would be the six cars being on a race track contrasted with a swarm of bees. The six stars orbit in the same plane like the planets in the solar system, but they don’t “share” the same orbit. The stars that are closer to the black hole orbit in more random orbits, like bees, or to extend the solar system analogy, more like comets.

Claim 3: The Stars Should Be Shredded … Much Less Be on Similar Orbits

The next claim is the sentence following Claim 2 (repeated for context):

Even more curious is that the astronomers closely observed six of the stars inhabiting the same orbital pattern, like so many seats on a Ferris wheel. The question is complicated by the likely effects of the violent “forces of the black hole” that would rip stars apart, not place them on a galactic train track.

This is a case of quote-mining. When the press release talks about “forces of the black hole” (in this case, tidal forces which occur when the gravity pulls more on one side of an object than another causing it to stretch), it does so in the context of it’s hard to get our current models to actually form stars near the black hole … it has NOTHING to do with the stars’ orbits.

\And that – what the press release says – is interesting science: Researchers want their theories to be tested and if they can’t explain something, that’s good because it forces them to revise their theories. If we already knew everything, there’d be no point in doing science.

Claim 4: Somehow Tying in SETI Makes Creationism Real

When I read the next paragraph, I honestly had to read it twice to see if there was any natural progression from the quote from the ESO press release to their claims about SETI. It may be there, but it’s extraordinarily tenuous:

The ESO also stated, “Excitingly, future observations are already being planned to test several theoretical models that try to solve this riddle.” These models will certainly not include one that involves an outside intelligence having placed the stars in their orbits, even though other cosmologists have dedicated themselves to the search for alien intelligence, which some believe may have even seeded life on earth.

Let’s analyze this:

(1) ESO is saying that more research needs to be done and that it is planned to be done to answer the question of how stars could either form close to the black hole or could migrate there fast enough (since they’re young stars). … Okay …

(2) ICR says that us secular scientists will no doubt NOT include models that say “God Did It.” … Okay …

(3) We won’t do this despite people who are dedicated to looking for signs of extraterrestrial intelligent life. … Non sequitur …

(4) Some people believe in pamspermia – the idea that it was extraterrestrial life that originally seeded life on Earth. … Okay …

So the problem here really centers along that same non sequitur logical fallacy: Somehow, because the astronomers are looking for a natural means to get these stars here as opposed to an omnipotent being, that’s bad because other astronomers are actively searching for extraterrestrial life (effectively, SETI). It really is just that, a non sequitur; it’s hard to actually explain why because the two have NOTHING to do with each other.

Claim 5: Universal Fine-Tuning

The precise construction parameters of cosmic structures like these stars and the rules that govern them will only be intelligible as products of a supernatural Creator.

Rather than drag this post on any longer, I will refer you to my post where I directly address the issue of fine-tuning of cosmological parameters (basically a god of the gaps logical fallacy): Why the Universe’s Fine-Tuning Is NOT Evidence of Intelligent Design.

Final Thoughts

I really don’t have much else to say about this one. The only way Brian Thomas’ article makes sense is to completely ignore the non sequiturs – ignore any sense of logical progression from one claim to another, and simply take – on faith – that he’s tied it all together for you.

December 11, 2008

Another God vs. the Multiverse Post


Introduction

This post is in response to the “‘Multiverse’ Theory Fails to Explain Away God” article on the Institute for Creation Research website, posted on Dec. 3, 2008.

There is a current hypothesis (not theory) in theoretical physics/cosmology which posits that our Universe is not alone in the … whatever … but rather it is one of many different universes (universae?). One reason that this has come about is that it is a natural conclusion from String Theory (which is another thing that I think is more of a hypothesis than theory). Another reason, and more the subject of this post, is that our universe seems to be “fine-tuned” for life in the sense that if the fundamental forces, subatomic particles, or other things had seemingly slightly different properties that the Universe would be inhospitable to life. In order to resolve part of this apparent “cosmic lottery” win without invoking a creator, the multiverse idea works rather well.

Because of this, creationists like to attack it, such as Brian Thomas who wrote the article I refer to, and to which this post is a response.

The First Fallacy

The first real fallacy of this article is a subtle one, I think informally known as the Gambler’s Fallacy. This fallacy can be realized in flipping a coin. The first time, you have a 50/50 chance of it coming up heads or tails. The second time, you have a 50/50 chance of it coming up heads or tails. The third time, you have a 50/50 chance of it coming up heads or tails. And so on.

Now let’s say that you have flipped it 10 times, and EVERY time it has come up heads. The fallacy would then be to say that, “It’s come up heads 10 times in a row, the next time it almost MUST come up tails! 11 heads in a row is too improbable.” But, the chances of it coming up heads the 11th time is, again, just 50%. The coin “doesn’t know” about the previous flips.

Brian invokes this fallacy in the statement, “All conceivable fundamental construction parameters could exist in a vast array of alternate realities. Most of these imaginary universes would not have the right conditions for life to exist, but by a cosmic coincidence, all the life-friendly forces of our universe happened to line up correctly.” This over-states the significance (if the multiverse is true) of having all of these properties lining “up correctly” for our Universe to have life, simply based on invoking this fallacy.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

Next, Brian says something that I agree with: “There is no evidence for the existence of alternate universes, and if a concept cannot be proved or disproved, it is not open to scientific investigation.”

Yes! Thank you! Very true! So keep your religion out of science class!

Exaggeration

Brian then goes through some exaggeration. He states, “Even tiny variations in planetary distances, any more or less gravity, or any other difference in the current structure of the universe would make it hostile to life.”

This is not true. Earth could be between about 0.9-1.3 times its current distance from the Sun and still be perfectly hospitable for life, according to many of the latest studies on the solar system’s Habitability Zone. In addition, our position in the Galaxy could similarly vary by quite a bit and still have no impact on life, as could our distance to or from other galaxies, despite his statement, “the distance of the earth from other galaxies and from the sun are all essential for the delicate balance needed to sustain life.”

Let’s Go Back to the Pot and Kettle – Invoking God of the Gaps Fallacy

Sigh. Just a paragraph and a half later, Brian states, “The one model that explains this data without inventing fictional, unprovable multiverses is the creation model, which presents the planned, purposeful origin of space, time, matter, and life by a Creator.”

I thought we had actually made a breakthrough on what was science here. The creation model is not a scientific model since it cannot be tested. There is no way to prove nor disprove the existence of a creator, nor of their intent in creating a universe. This is simply a God of the Gaps logical fallacy where he effectively states, “Science doesn’t have an answer, but it can all be easily explained by ‘God.'”

Wrapping Up Their Argument

Brian writes in his last paragraph, “University of Texas theoretical physicist Stephen Weinberg told Discover, ‘I don’t think that the multiverse idea destroys the possibility of an intelligent, benevolent creator. What it does is remove one of the arguments for it.’ But it does not do that. Rather, the multiverse hypothesis is a conclusion based on the assumption that there is no Creator.”

This is again a misuse of scientific language as well as a lack of understanding of the origin of the multiverse hypothesis. The latter I addressed in my Introduction. The former is that he says the multiverse is a “conclusion.” It is not. It is a hypothesis (as he coincidentally states 3 words earlier). A hypothesis is a premise – an idea – that can then be used to make predictions that can be tested. A conclusion really isn’t even used in scientific language, but the closest equivalent is probably “Theory,” which is completely inappropriate to describe the multiverse idea at this time.

My Final Thoughts

The multiverse hypothesis is an interesting one, but one that, at present has no practical way of being tested. As a result, it is just a “hypothesis” and cannot be called a “theory.” Despite this, creationists unsurprisingly view it as yet another scientific challenge to their dogmatic views of a young universe created by a loving god for them to live happily in and convince everyone of that “fact.” Hence the present attack on it by the ICR in Brian Thomas’ article.

But, besides all the reasons I presented above as to why his arguments are fallacious, there’s an additional, interesting, but subtle one: “Life” in their meaning is “human life as it is now.” “Life,” however, is VERY poorly defined, and it could (even with its current “definition”) exist in other forms that are nothing like our own (think the Star Trek energy beings from various episodes in all the series) that could perhaps easily exist with the fundamental forces, constants, and particles being very different than they are here.

September 9, 2008

Why the Universe’s “Fine-Tuning” Is Not Evidence of Intelligent Design


This entry is in reference to an episode of the “ID The Future” podcast, “The Argument for Design Cosmology” that was released on September 8, 2008.

This episode of the “ID The Future” podcast is fairly long, at nearly 32 minutes.  Because of this, I am not going to address each individual claim made by the guest, Dr. Bruce Gordon (who holds a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science with a focus in the foundation of modern physics), on the concept of the fine-tuning of the fundamental constants of nature.  To be perfectly honest, Dr. Gordon goes into a lot of aspects of cosmology that make my head spin.  Consequently, I will be addressing his most basic claim – and the basic claim put forth by the Discovery Institute on cosmology.

The premise is this:  The most reduced model of physics has a handful of fundamental particles (such as quarks, electrons, neutrinos, and leptons).  It also has four Fundamental Forces (strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnetic, and gravitational).  In cosmology, there are some “fundamental constants” (or “fundamental values,” since we’re not really sure if they’re constant with time).  The main one that IDers discuss is the Hubble Constant, which is the expansion rate of the Universe.  Another fundamental constant is the speed of light, or the Gravitational Constant (a less well-known one is the Planck Constant that appears a lot in Quantum Mechanics).

One of the big questions of modern theoretical physics and cosmology is why these fundamental particles, forces, and constants have the properties and/or values that they do.  For example, why the mass of the electron is 9.109·10-31 kg, or the speed of light in a vacuum is 2.998·108 m/s.  Or why the strength of gravity on 2 protons in the nucleus of an atom is only 10-36 times the strength of the electromagnetic force.

The claim from Intelligent Design – and in this episode professed by Dr. Gordon – is that if any of these were different, even by the smallest amount (he throws out numbers such as to 1 part in 1040 for one of them — I do not know enough about particle physics to agree or disagree there) then our Universe would be vastly different and we wouldn’t be here.  As I said in my opening paragraph, I do not have the expertise to pick apart his specific numbers/values on precisely how fine-tuned these need to be, but for the moment let’s take his claims at face-value.

The conclusion from this – the entire point as to why IDers point this out – is that because “material” science has no good explanation for why these values are the away they are, and we could not exist if they were different, then there must have been some guiding intelligence that designed the Universe to be favorable for our development.

At this point, I will state right off the bat:  That conclusion by IDers may be correct.  There may have been some sort of intelligence guiding how our Universe formed such that we could develop the way we did.

However, THAT IS NOT A SCIENTIFIC CONCLUSION.  That conclusion is the logical fallacy of “God of the Gaps.”  The God of the Gaps argument can be reduced to two steps:  (1) There is a gap in scientific knowledge (we don’t know why these constants came out as they did).  (2) The gap is filled by an act of (a) G/god(s) / “intelligence.”  That’s what Dr. Gordon and Casey Luskin (the interviewer) have done, they’ve simply filled the gap of our scientific understanding with a supernatural intelligence.

Besides it being a logical fallacy, there is another reason why it’s not science, and that has to do with the nature of science.  The purpose of science is to derive from evidence the workings of the Universe.  It makes hypotheses and uses natural evidence to test them in order to either support or refute that hypothesis.  By its very nature, science cannot deal with matters of supernatural ideas nor theology because, once you have invoked something that’s supernatural, it is no longer within the natural world (pretty much by definition).

Therefore, once you invoke a supernatural intelligence to make our Universe favorable for life as we know it, then you are no longer in the realm of science.  You cannot test the “intelligence” posit because it is outside nature, and if you were to ask, “Why would an intelligence design it this way?” the answer is a matter of theology (e.g., “You can’t question the mind of God,” or “So that we could live.”).  In addition, this is what has been termed a “science-stopper.”  In other words, if we already have the explanation (“God did it”) then why should we bother with doing any further research?

Science – and this particular podcast program likes to use the term, “materialistic science” as if to differentiate it from ID under the false assumption that ID is a science – does not really know why we live in the Universe we do.  The leading hypothesis deals with a consequence of String Theory, called the “Multiverse.”  The idea behind the multiverse is that our Universe is just one of many Universes, each with their own set of constants, and we really did just get the luck of the draw (akin to the Anthropic Principle).  There’s no known way to test this or to make predictions from it that are testable (that we know of) and so I relegate it to the term of “hypothesis” and not “theory.”  But, it comes about as a consequence of a materialistic paradigm, and so it is still science.  It does not invoke any supernatural argument.

Consequently, whether or not we have a satisfying explanation for why the fundamental properties of our Universe are the way they are, it is not within the realm of science to conclude that the Universe was created this way by (a) G/god(s) or “intelligence.”

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