• Article by: Reasonably Faithless

    Mathematician and former Christian
    • Matt Davis

      Hah! You got me! I clicked on this link thinking I was going to get a plausible argument against the fine tuning arguments. Apparently there are none. (Sigh)

      • Thanks for stopping by, and sorry to disappoint! Actually, that’s on my list of things to write about when I can find the time. Do you have a favourite version of the fine tuning argument that you’d like to see a response to?

        • Matt Davis

          Ok, check out this from Robin Collins. I think the article is well thought out and thorough enough to help us understand just how probably true the intelligent design hypothesis is. My favorite thus far. Obviously it does not point to a specific designer per se, but the God of the Bible fits the bill. This argument is meant to establish that a universe that has as finely tuned properties as ours is most probably the creation of a highly intelligent, highly powerful mind. The argument for the Christian God must also appeal to our knowledge of Jesus Christ, where we also find strong arguments.
          http://www.discovery.org/a/91

          • Nerdsamwich

            The problem with fine-tuning arguments is that they fail to take into account that our planet–any planet, but ours particularly–is an enormous anomaly. The universe as a whole is ridiculously inhospitable to life. So is most of this planet. Only in a tiny skin of atmosphere on the surface of a humongous spheroid of rock can any life we know of exist at all. If all living matter on this planet were liquefied and evenly distributed, it would make a film less than a millimeter thick over the surface of the Earth. Again, as far as we know, that’s all the life anywhere. And humanity isn’t that big a fraction of that thin layer of soup. Given all that, saying that the universe was fine-tuned for our existence is like finding a single grain of sand on a beach that has an interesting sparkle and concluding that the entire history of the whole solar system was intentionally set up to produce that one grain of sand. We are simultaneously too rare and far too insignificant for all of everything to exist just for us.

            • Matt Davis

              @Nerdsamwich
              Let’s take a step back and define the fine tuning argument. Would you agree on this simple definition?: The universe appears to be designed because it appears to have variables and constants that, if one were higher or lower by a small amount, life as we know it would not be possible.

              Or is there a definition that would work better for you?

            • Nerdsamwich

              That’s a great definition, and it highlights the absurdity of the argument. We have nothing with which to compare the current set of physical constants. We have no access to other universes for any kind of analysis. We can compare wild vs cultivated plants, because we have examples of both, so we can sort out the characteristics that distinguish the two states. No such luck with universes. We’ve got a sample size of one, unless and until we manage to find or make another. It could easily be that the physical constants we have are the only physical constants possible, that any given Big Bang event must inevitably give rise to a universe much like this one. Until we have an example of a universe that we know for sure is designed, and one that we know with equal surety is not, there is no basis of comparison, and Occam’s Razor demands rejection of fine-tuning.

            • Matt Davis

              I agree that we only have one universe to look at. So, either we have multiple universes, or one, but we only have one to look at–only one in which to discover and observe. So, conjecture about many universes is out of the question, then?

              So, let me see if I can re-phrase the idea you are proposing and tell me if you agree: we have this universe that HAD to be such that life could be possible because its constants were dictated by some force(s) pre-existent to the universe, but life in that same universe, apparently governed by the same force(s), is a freak fluke of probabilities. Is that what you think, or have I got it wrong?

            • Nerdsamwich

              I like that you brought up probability, because that’s another thing that intelligent-design arguments don’t seem to understand. There are billions of galaxies out there, each of which has hundreds of billions of stars. This galaxy alone has at least 100 billion planets, and it’s not a very remarkable galaxy that we can tell. So we can estimate that there are 10^21 potential Earths out there. That’s a ridiculously large number. It’s several orders of magnitude more than the number of grains of sand on Earth. When your sample size is that big, there’s no such thing as unlikely.

            • Matt Davis

              Why are you changing the subject? I mean, we are still on the subject of the universe, but I asked you a specific question to clarify what you previously stated in this thread. It’s up to you whether or not to answer it directly, but if you just change the subject, well, it sort of weakens your stance. I can answer this objection, but I would be allowing you to sidestep my request for clarification of your view. I would rather address what you actually believe, not something I think you might believe.

            • Nerdsamwich

              I’m saying that with the law of large numbers in play, there is no such thing as “a freak fluke of probability”. With 10^21 chances out there, it would be weird if some crazy improbable shit didn’t happen.

              With respect to my beliefs, I try not to have them. Belief gets in the way of the quest for knowledge. If I don’t have evidence, I will listen to reasoned arguments. In the absence of either, I refuse to have an opinion.

            • Matt Davis

              Hmm. It’s hard to believe that anyone tries not to believe things (perhaps we differ on the meaning of the word ‘belief’, but it looks like you just stated a belief of yours immediately after stating that you try not to have them.), but I’m glad that you at least listen to reasoned arguments. So, I will ask you again, do you think it is reasonable to argue that with one single sample–this 1 universe–all its fundamental properties (strength of gravity, expansion rate, ratio of matter to empty space, etc.) existed or somehow came into existence out of necessity (nothing else was possible), AND a sample size of 10^21 planets is required as a probabilistic resource for life to form?

            • Nerdsamwich

              Not enough data to conclude. There’s one cosmologist who claims that life of some sort is a nigh-inevitable result of pushing energy into a system: it’s basically the most efficient entropy engine we can envision. As I said, I have no idea whether fundamental physical constants are intrinsically variable or not. Maybe there’s another universe just next door where all of the constants are radically different and it’s teeming with intelligences who would be horrified at the thought of evolving in a cosmos as harsh and barren as ours.

            • Matt Davis

              If there is “not enough data to conclude” that it is reasonable to think these 2 concepts are compatible, and if you “have no idea whether fundamental physical constants are intrinsically variable”, then it really sounds like this idea that they “can only exist in their current configuration” is much less believable than you purported it to be. You said you listen to evidence, and if you don’t have evidence, you listen to reasoned arguments. I like that! So, what evidence has been presented for the “intrinsically necessary physical constants”? If none, then what makes it seem reasonable to hypothesize it? I am not a mathematician or a physicist (I am guessing you aren’t either, so we must both appeal to those who have done the work in cosmology), but of all I have read and debates I have heard, I have heard much more about infinitely multiple universes than I have heard about this hypothesis. Not that there isn’t any reason to conceive of the idea, but serious physicists and mathematicians don’t seem to take it seriously (except maybe Lawrence Krauss, who also wrote a book trying to convince us that a quantum vacuum is nothing). All I hear coming from the heavy contenders in this field is basically that we have no reason to think these constants HAD to be this way. Thus, many have turned to the multi-verse as the answer, or have rejected both ideas and reasoned that it appears the universe was meticulously and precisely designed.

            • Matt Davis

              I suggest that you read what I posted earlier in its entirety. Collins does address the objections to fine tuning that you raised.
              http://www.discovery.org/a/91

            • Nerdsamwich

              Wow, okay. Sorry this took so long, but life gets in the way some times. I was looking through the essay you linked, and I ground to a crashing halt at “The Principle Explained”. Surely you can see how the core principle laid out in this section, the bedrock of the entire argument, is prejudiced in favor of his conclusion? He asks under which of two hypotheses an outcome is “more probable”. Of course the hypothesis that someone made it that way on purpose will more probably produce any given observation. I could say that about a literal roll of the dice. I just rolled a seven. Is it more probable for me to roll a seven under conditions of pure randomness, or if I’m using loaded dice?

              In the paragraph immediately following, he gives an example by analogy wherein he already knew that his brother had gone to a place before him and was predisposed to leave him messages. Also, he has the benefit of knowing what he’s looking at and how it differs from what you’d expect to find in a system with no intelligent interference.

              You can’t use such a principle of induction unless you also have some reference for what things would look like under the null hypothesis, and we don’t.

            • Nerdsamwich

              Further, in the “Objection 1” section, the author states, with absolutely no trace of irony:

              “Besides being entirely speculative, the problem with postulating such a law is that it simply moves the improbability of the fine-tuning up one level…”

              Does he not notice that that is an objection that applies at least as much to the idea of the universe being designed? Where did such a designer come from? How probable were the physical constants that led to its existence? Was its “superuniverse” also, in turn, designed by something another level up in the hypercosmic food chain? How far up does it go?

              EDIT: Okay, went a bit further and found that he tried to answer this one, but the answer is full of special pleading and refers back to an earlier, bad analogy. The “Mars Biosphere” comparison is invalid because we have the rest of Mars to compare to for what the Martian surface would look like without intervention of some sort. If we came upon a whole planet that happens to have life-friendly conditions, there’s no reason to suppose it would be otherwise but for some mysterious agency.

            • Nerdsamwich

              I didn’t say I thought it was true; I said it’s among the options. If you’re going to go with the intelligent design idea, you have to answer for all the stupid design as well. Are you prepared to go there?

            • Matt Davis

              Nerdsamwich, I didn’t mean to say or imply at all that you said you think it is true. There are really only 3 distinct options: Design, Necessity, and Chance. Since you take the atheist/agnostic presupposition, naturally you would opt for the non-design options. You mentioned you like the Chance option better. But I was wondering why you would be interested in even mentioning the Necessity option, let alone defending it, when most, if not all respected scientists in the field don’t defend it…? Why even throw it on the table; even more, why call it a “very significant possibility”? Sure, it’s a possibility, but I think we might both agree it’s not very significant, as science has moved on from it–even Paul Davies in the eighties, I believe.

              Naturally, I suppose I would have to defend the Design hypothesis and the apparent stupidity of our universe’s design, but I have a feeling the “stupid” design either: A) is simply a matter of opinion, or B) seems like bad design but will end up going the way of the “junk DNA” hypothesis, or C) is more along the lines of conjecture than scientific data, which would make appeals to faith in science to fill in gaps of knowledge. Obviously, B is the hardest for me to identify and defend against. C might be hard as well if I don’t recognize it as conjecture. Also, there are many design flaws by man that appear (and maybe are) stupid, but that does not detract one bit from the reasonableness in believing they are designed. So, even if you say the designer is stupid for doing it that way, its more akin to admitting design, like saying the CERN collider wasn’t designed because it takes up too much power or something. The other problem is that to imply stupid design implies purpose. So, even though one can easily recognize something as being designed, one would have to be in keeping with the purposes of the designer to understand whether the design was stupid or not. If you claim to know what the purposes of the designer of the universe would or should have been, then that’s a pretty bold claim. On the other hand, if a design doesn’t seem optimal to YOUR preferences or purposes, it still may meet the objectives the designer had in mind. So, I think I may have already presented a demonstrable defeater for the “stupid design” hypothesis.

              And it looks like YOUR only option is to defend the Chance hypothesis, which seems more promising than Necessity, but not by much. Again, some of the problems with this hypothesis are already covered by the Robin Collins essay I posted earlier. These problems are significant, and not just a matter of taste or opinion. I would say I am willing to take on the “stupid design” arguments, or other issues, if you are willing to take on the issues related to the Chance hypothesis, now that we have Necessity out of the way.

          • Nerdsamwich

            On a completely separate note, fine-tuning arguments fail to consider two very significant possibilities regarding all of the factors they exclaim over the fine-tuning of:

            1) Those factors can only exist in their current configuration. That is, any big-bang event within the structure of space-time must produce the same set of physical constants, or

            2) Physical constants are widely variable, and there are an infinite number of universes, most of which have physical constants that do not give rise to living things.

            I kind of like the second option, because it also implies that somewhere is a universe that actually is hospitable to life, and it is teeming with organisms unimaginable to simple creatures like ourselves.

            • Matt Davis

              Ok, well I think the second option is more plausible than the first. For 1, it admits that there is an extremely small subset of possibilities out of the total set that make life possible.
              2. It admits that there is a randomness with regard to physical objects that pervades the entire cosmos, and that life on earth is an extremely rare exception.
              3. It admits that there is something beyond the universe(s), which means that the universes are deemed to be finite objects.
              4. The #1 argument you stated seems to be out of the mainstream of current scientific thinking and practice. Not that it’s impossible, but it seems very implausible. So I don’t see how it is significant. Who still argues this whom we should listen to? Or if we shouldn’t appeal to popular opinion in the scientific community, what evidential merit is in this argument?

              The interesting caveats with argument #2 are:
              1. It’s at least equally as untestable as the God hypothesis.
              1a. Therefore it would take just as much or more faith to believe it to be correct.
              2a. Faith is required for everything that is not seen. This does not mean or imply that evidence is not required for faith. My faith is evidence-based faith. But if I hold to the infinite multiverse hypothesis, I must have faith that there are infinite me’s on infinite earths, doing the exact same things I am doing, but also infinite me’s doing the exact opposite things, and everything in between. That’s an amount of faith that I just can’t bring myself to have! And even if I did, it would render me hopeless, because I must assume that nothing I do is unique, or significant in the least, and I must assume I would never ever be able to interact with this inexhaustible pool of me’s and anti-me’s spread across the fabric of universes and anti-universes (and every variant in between).
              2. If there are infinitely multiple universes, there must be a universe generator, which must also be finely tuned, at least to the degree of fine tuning we see in our universe, especially if it can produce more than one completely unique universe in the same instance. It’s one thing to assume this universe generator can produce a bunch of universes that are the same. It’s quite another thing to assume it can produce an infinite range of universes! That would have to be quite a transcendent universe generator, wouldn’t it?
              3. If space/time exists only within a universe, the universe generator must exist outside of space/time.
              4. If we are personal beings that actually have free will (as most would define personality and free will) and that this personality and free will are real and not an illusion (which seem to be the most evident aspects about living things, especially humans), the universe generator must also have the capacity to generate universes where personal autonomous beings can exist. It wouldn’t then be a stretch to propose that this universe generator is a personal being, itself.

              Hmmm, a timeless spaceless, transcendent, infinite universe generator with capacity for personality and free will… it’s beginning to sound very much like a Creator that Judeo-Christian theists describe as God.

            • Matt Davis

              Well, Nerdsamwich, since we both think that, of your 2 alternatives to design, the second is more plausible, let me ask you: Have you thought of any of the problems with the infinite multiverse hypothesis?

            • Nerdsamwich

              By all means, lay ’em out. There are plenty of holes to be poked in every idea. That’s how they grow stronger. No hypothesis deserves the disservice of being “respected”.