The Twitter conversation was a fun and polite exchange of opposing views.
We had been talking about “fine-tuning,” the observation that many coincidences have occurred to set the initial conditions and the subsequent nature of the universe to allow life to exist. I pointed out that there are three options to understand this observation. Either, the universe simply HAS to be this way by necessity, or we just lucked out by chance, or it was designed to be this way intentionally. As he homed in on his own explanation for fine-tuning, my friend seemed to like the idea of a multiverse. I think he was saying this:
“An increasing number of universe would give the probabilistic resources to allow our particular universe to eventually appear. We just happen to live in a life permitting universe. We know the universe exists, things happen by chance and the idea of a multiverse is rational. A God that we cannot prove either way is just not a good explanation of the universe.”
I pointed out a problem with this idea. In the same way that cosmologists tell us that our universe required precise initial conditions to form, a multiverse would also require its own set of precise initial conditions. And so the fine-tuning problem returns. Who or what fine-tuned the multiverse to eventually form a life permitting universe? The idea that the cosmos created itself from nothing is just an incoherent idea. “Not if the multiverse is eternal,” he replied. “In that case, it has always existed and so there are no initial conditions to be concerned with. The universe never had any.”
I replied. “But you are suggesting the existence of an actual infinite in nature. The problem is, natural infinities cannot exist.” He shot back. “But Stuart, you have claimed God created the universe and he is eternal. Your God would therefore be infinite. You have just claimed that actual infinities do not exist! You are therefore engaged in a special pleading fallacy, Stuart. So, I don’t find your argument convincing at all.” I explained why God must be a special case in this discussion, and then we parted on good terms. As I reflected, a few things occurred to me about our exchange of views.
First – what actually is this informal fallacy that he leveled at me – special pleading? We are at risk of this type of fallacy when we apply principles or rules to other people, yet refuse to also apply them to an area of interest to ourselves. But there’s a big caveat to this statement. If we provide sufficient reason to support the exception we are making, we aren’t guilty of the special pleading fallacy. Usually people who fall into special pleading have simply got a blind spot when it comes to themselves, and they don’t even attempt to formulate an argument for a special case to be made! It’s laziness. As I thought about our conversation, it occurred to me that I had tried very hard indeed to explain my understanding of God and why he can be eternal while natural infinities do not exist. I sure wasn’t being lazy as we spoke.
So – I would ask the question – who is it that may be guilty of special pleading in our discussion?
Second – there is abundant evidence that the Universe is not eternal, but rather has a finite age. I summarise some of this evidence in this blog. While for many centuries human’s have assumed the universe is eternally existing, evidence was gathered in the 20th century that point to the conclusion that this is not the case. It is generally inferred from the data that the age of the universe is around 14 billion years old. The universe is not eternally existing. It had a beginning called the big bang.
Third – it is generally agreed among cosmologists that any universe, or multiverse, which is expanding must therefore have a beginning. We infer that the universe is expanding based on the cosmological data we gather. The multiverse is simply a theory at this point, but the working theories around bubble universes would suppose an expanding multiverse and so the same rule would apply. The multiverse would not be eternal, it would also have a beginning.
Fourth – my friend seems to assume that God’s nature is comparable to the nature of objects and beings that we find within nature. And so, when I say natural infinities do not exist, I am inconsistent by failing to applying these arguments to an eternal God who I claim is infinite. But this seems a very odd thing for my friend to claim! It makes me think that his view of God is more akin to the mythical Greek gods, Thor, Zeus and Apollo, than the Christian conception of God I’ve been talking about.
A powerful being who inhabits the universe like we do is not the Christian conception of God at all. Because God created the universe, he is therefore immaterial, timeless and space-less. He would by definition exist outside of nature, and so he is not subject to the constraints within nature. That is, unless he chose to enter nature and visit with people as a human being. Also – as he is eternal, then unlike the universe which does have a starting point, by definition God does not have a point of creation.
SO – is it special pleading to appeal to God as the eternal/infinite designer?
No, because God is by definition the ultimate exception to all the rules that operate within the universe he caused. He defined and set these rules in motion. To suggest that he is constrained by these rules himself is to misunderstand the Christian conception of God. I’m not dealing in double standards here. Rather, I’m saying you cannot compare apples and oranges. They are two very different things. God is necessarily a special case in our discussion of nature.
Of course, my friend may disagree that this is a sufficient reason for treating God as a special case, so I am special pleading. But in doing so, he seems to be stuck with the idea of an eternal multiverse. Were he to stay there, he would distance himself from the most reasonable inferences made by most scientists today. Namely, that the universe had a beginning, and therefore it is not eternal. But then he is making an exception of his idea. Does he have a sufficient reason for doing so? If not, it may just be his thinking that is logically fallacious.
 T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments, 3rd edition, 122-123, summarised.