Something Actually Worth Reading from Skeptic Magazine

Amazing. I never thought I would find anything worth reading in Skeptic Magazine, but Robert Lawrence Kuhn has actually pulled together a fairly intelligent article entitled Why This Universe? Toward a Taxonomy of Possible Explanations (pdf document). In the article, Kuhn notes:

Since the 1970s, theists have invoked this fine-tuning argument as empirical evidence for a creator by asserting that there are only two explanations: God or chance. However to pose such a stark and simplistic choice is to construct a false and misleading dichotomy. Since the Anthropic Principle leads to multiple universes, a “multiverse,” other possible explanations are made manifest. I have documented such explanations—a constellation of what I’ll call “ultimate reality generators” in a kind of typology of cosmological conjecture. I’m sure there are more, or some could be subdivided, but generally the taxonomy can be structured with four overarching categories: One Universe Models, Multiple Universe Models, Nonphysical Causes, and Illusions. My claim is that the set of these four categories is universally exhaustive, meaning that whatever the true explanation of “Why This Universe?” it would have to be classified into one (or more) of these categories (irrespective of whether we ever discover or discern that true explanation).

Yet the set of the 27 possible explanations which compose the categories is not universally exhaustive nor is there practical hope of making it so. Therefore unless we can ever answer the “Why This Universe?” question with certainty and finality (a dubious prospect), there will be other explanations out there that cannot be logically excluded. Further, while it might seem tidy for these explanations to be mutually exclusive—meaning that no two can both be right—such simplicity cannot be achieved. The explanations, and their categories, can be combined in any number of ways—in series, in parallel, and/or nested.

The 27 possible explanations, or ultimate reality generators that follow, are based on criteria that are logically permissible, a logic that for some may seem lenient. I do not, however, confuse speculation with science. Logical possibilities should not be mistaken for scientific theories or even scientific possibilities. A physicist’s speculations do not morph, as if by cosmological alchemy or professional courtesy, from metaphysics into established physics. That said, some of the more intriguing metaphysical possibilities are being proffered by physicists.

I provide scant analysis of the explanations; all are subject to withering attack from experts, as well they should be. And to the critique that the lines of the taxonomy are drawn too sharply, or that my explanations overlap, I can only empathize and encourage the critic to offer a more refined version.

What I do like about the article is that he gives a nice outline of 27 possible explanations for the existence of the universe that touches on many of the naturalistic arguments in a single place. I also like the fact that he recognizes that theistic arguments remain a distinct possibility. In section 3.1 he identifies a "Theistic Person" as the possible cause without the usual anti-theistic rants one normally reads when the possibility is brought up in skeptical forums. He notes:

3.1 Theistic Person. A Supreme Being who in Christian philosophy is portrayed as incorporeal, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly free, perfectly good, necessarily existent and the creator of all things, and who is also a “person” with personlike characteristics such as beliefs, intents and purposes; a “divine being” (as defined by Richard Swinburne), a theistic God (as defended by Alvin Plantinga) with a “nature.” In Judaic-Christian tradition, the existence-as-essence Name offered to Moses—“I am that I am.” In Islamic philosophy, the concepts of Unity, the Absolute, Beyond-Being. In modern thought, God as underlying fundamental reality, entailing the meaning of universe and life (George Ellis);53 God as working through special divine action, interventionist or noninterventionist (Robert John Russell). The affirmative creative act of this theistic God may bring the universe into being by a creation from nothing (creatio ex nihilo), or may be a continuing creative sustenance of the universe (creatio continua), or both. A theistic explanation of ultimate reality is logically compatible with both One Universe and Multiverse Models.

So, for the first time ever, I recommend a reading of an article found in Skeptics magazine.

(HT: Randy Kirk)


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