Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fine Tuning

In comments, Rob Singleton alludes to the Fine Tuning argument. (I think he alludes to it; his comment is incoherent.)

The Fine Tuning argument argues that the probability of a life-friendly universe is so unlikely that it must have been created intentionally.

There are a lot of problems with the Fine Tuning argument, though.

First of all, the Fine Tuning argument absolutely cannot distinguish between naturalism and supernaturalism regardless of how we evaluate the probabilities. The Weak Anthropic Principle states that because we exist (and we know we exist a priori), if naturalism were true we must observe a universe in which we can exist. I'll write more on this later, since it gets into complicated issues of evidentiary epistemology.

A life-friendly universe is not necessarily highly improbable. Rob mentions the "100-plus constants (that have to be there for life on planet earth)", but there are only 26 dimensionless parameterized constants in the Standard Model of physics (precision and factual accuracy do not seem to be Rob's strong suits), and many of them "describe the properties of the unstable strange, charmed, bottom and top quarks and mu and tau leptons which seem to play little part in the universe or the structure of matter." [Wikipedia]

We not certain, however, that this universe is improbable at all. We do know that the Standard Model of physics is incomplete: physicists have not yet reconciled quantum mechanics with general relativity. If they can reconcile the two, we might change our estimate of the probabilities; if we cannot reconcile the two, the universe would be a weirder place than even quantum mechanics suggests, and it's difficult to see how one would talk about probability at all. And, who knows, we might discover for deep reasons that have nothing to do with life that this is the only universe that could possibly exist.

There's also the Strong Anthropic Principle: It may be we ourselves who have brought the universe into existence, and we have evidence from quantum mechanics that atemporal causality is not impossible and cannot be ruled out on the basis of the present evidence.

For the Fine Tuning argument to have any force, it must be meaningful in some sense, at least in the abstract, to make counter-factually definite statements about how the universe might have been, but isn't actually. Some philosophers would assert that meaningful counter-factual definiteness entails an ontological commitment to the actual existence of the counter-factual conditions: in other words, for us to talk about how the universe might have been, those alternatives must actually exist. In which case, the Fine Tuning argument loses all force. If all physically possible universes exist, then of course we find ourselves in one of the universes that is physically life-friendly.

(It's notable that the strongest ontological interpretation of quantum mechanics (not counting the explicitly anti-ontological Copenhagen interpretation) besides the Transactional interpretation is the Many Worlds interpretation, which would obviously justify naturalism on the Weak Anthropic Principle.)

The above arguments are entirely speculative; I mention them for the sake of completeness.

More importantly, if we can talk in any meaningful sense about how the universe might have been, it is possible to talk in the same sense about how any hypothetical creator might have been. For each sort of alternative universe that is plausible enough to be counted in the domain, it must be equally plausible to talk about a creator of that universe. So the domain of plausible creators must be at least as large as the domain of possible universes, and therefore the probability that a specific creator exists to create a specific universe is at least as small as the probability that this universe exists by chance. Positing a creator (at best) just moves the improbability around; it doesn't eliminate it. At worst, we must count creators who might have created a universe but create no universes at all, making a creator of this universe less probable than this universe existing by chance.

Probably the most important conclusion we can draw is that even if the universe were intentionally created, we can discern nothing about that creator that we cannot discern of the physical universe. We cannot say anything about this supposed creator other than it is the sort of creator who would create this particular universe in all its details.

We cannot determine if this being wants to be worshipped or ignored. We can't tell if it is friendly, hostile or completely indifferent to human, or even terrestrial life. Just believing that such a creator exists gives us absolutely no additional justification for believing that any religious scripture is inspired by this creator. (Indeed the idea that a being capable of creating such a vast universe, of actually creating physics itself, would choose to communicate with its creation by the agency of schizophrenic prophets and parasitic priests in some a remote corner of the ancient world seems vastly less plausible than that all religions are entirely human social constructs.)

We cannot even determine that the existence of life itself was a goal of this creator or a side-effect. Indeed, the relative insignificance of terrestrial life argues for the side-effect interpretation. The mold in the grout in my bathtub is more "significant" by many orders of magnitude to all of human civilization than is terrestrial life to the ~9.2x1021 light-year3 observable universe: that specific patch of mold has more justification for believing that all of human civilization has been created specifically and intentionally for its benefit than we have for believing that the entire observable universe has been created for the benefit of all terrestrial life.

In short, the Fine Tuning argument is speculative, probabilistically meaningless, and, even if true, doesn't establish anything interesting. I think it's safe to say that, after Pascal's Wager, it's the second worst apologetic ever.

20 comments:

  1. Indeed the idea that a being capable of creating such a vast universe, of actually creating physics itself, would choose to communicate with its creation by the agency of schizophrenic prophets and parasitic priests in some a remote corner of the ancient world seems vastly less plausible than that all religions are entirely human social constructs.

    Nice. I couldn't help thinking of that little tale they like to tell about Evolution and chance, you know, the one about a tornado blowing through a junk yard and assembling a 747? "That's the probability by which we came to be according to evolution blah blah blah". If they're so caught up in probabilities and chance, I think they should weigh their religions and their holy books against what you just said. Hmmm, what seems more likely?

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  2. Can we simply say that, as a matter of definition, there can exist no evidence in the natural realm either supporting, or excluding, the existence of supernatural entities? The argument you dissect is just one species of "bootstrapping" argument, all of which fail.

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  3. Can we simply say that, as a matter of definition, there can exist no evidence in the natural realm either supporting, or excluding, the existence of supernatural entities?

    Yes, if we take "supernatural" to mean "not knowable by natural means", but that's not a particularly interesting argument.

    If we take "supernatural" to be more like "paranormal", i.e. employing abilities and/or knowledge that are physically unavailable to human beings (perhaps only present-day, or even in principle), it is indeed possible to know about the paranormal by normal means.

    In much the same sense, a blind person can be naturally convinced that other people have what is to him a "paranormal" ability.

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  4. Hello again, Barefoot.

    I see another jab so I will send you to the source should you desire to check it out for yourself.

    You said: "A life-friendly universe is not necessarily highly improbable. Rob mentions the "100-plus constants (that have to be there for life on planet earth)", but there are only 26 dimensionless parameterized constants in the Standard Model of physics (precision and factual accuracy do not seem to be Rob's strong suits), and many of them "describe the properties of the unstable strange, charmed, bottom and top quarks and mu and tau leptons which seem to play little part in the universe or the structure of matter." [Wikipedia]

    If you get the chance, pick up Richard Dawkins book, The Blind Watchmaker and see pages 17-18 as well as 116 for detailed reference to the over 100 plus constraints."

    Also, noted Astrophysicist, Hugh Ross has calculated the probability that these and other constraints--122 in all--would exist today for any planet in the universe by chance (i.e. without divine design).

    Assuming htere are 10 to the power of 22 (not many font options in here) planets in the universe (1 with 22 zeros following it), his answer is sobering even for a non-drinker (or "drinking liberally" -- another blogger questioning all of this). It's one chance in 10 to the power of 138.

    Or, 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000! Give or take a zero.

    To put this in perspective, by comparison, there are only 10 to the power of 70 atoms in the entire universe. In effect, there is a zero chance that any planet in the universe would have the life supporting conditions we have, unless there is an intelligent
    designer behind it all.

    Now, Larry (and fellow commentors) I really have no problem with your need to condescend. In a way I understand why you do it. But it's one thing to call me ignorant and uneducated but quite another to say that about, for instance, Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias, codiscoverer of the radiation afterglow, who said the following: "Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing and delicately balanced to provide exactly the conditions required to support life. In the absence of an absurdly-improbable accident, the observations of modern science seem to suggest an underlying, one might say, 'supernatural plan.'"

    Is he just an ignorant, spoiled child ranting on about that of which he knows nothing?

    If so, I have an endless list of equally moronic scholars I can give you. The question I have, however, is what difference will it make?"

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  5. 1. Douglas Adams. To cut to the chase, go to about 3:45 and listen to the puddle analogy.

    2. Arno Penzias' genius and accomplishments have nothing to do with whether his opinions about the supernatural and god are any more meaningful than yours or mine. Furthermore, I don't believe they do give accreditations for "scholar of the supernatural" do they? I could be wrong. Are any on your endless list Rob so accredited?

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  6. It was difficult to interpret your original comment; you're conflating a number of entirely different concepts, especially physics and cosmology (the Fine Tuning argument) with the specific physical characteristics of Earth (planet formation).

    We can throw scholars' and experts' (if you want to all Hugh Ross a scholar or expert) names around until the cows come home, but I (and my readers) demand more.

    What are these 122 constraints? What are the domains of their possible values? How are actual values distributed (what evidence do we have that they're distributed normally or linearly?) What values are necessary for creating some sort of life?

    I found this article, but there is no justification for determining the individual probabilities, no justification for considering the probabilities independent (just a bare "dependency factors estimate", and no explanation at all why any of these factors should be considered relevant to the existence of life. Let's look at some examples:

    * local abundance and distribution of dark matter
    * galaxy cluster location
    * size of galactic central bulge
    * star distance from closest spiral arm
    * distance from nearest black hole
    * rate of change in planetary rotation period
    * rate of change in oceans to continents ratio

    All of the numbers and most of the of the parameters sure look like they were pulled right out of Ross's ass.

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  7. Also note that the specific probability is one of the speculative arguments I included only for the sake of completeness. The specific probability is not particularly relevant; only the relative probabilities are of interest to the argument itself, and even if a "fine tuning" creator were to exist, so what?

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  8. I think it's safe to say that, after Pascal's Wager, it's the second worst apologetic ever.


    Oh, dude, have I got those beat. I have now been informed by one Jay Homnick, of the American Spectator and Human Events, that beauty and eloquence disprove "random" evolution and prove god.

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  9. Once again, I call Douglas Adams to the stand.

    Quite possibly there are sentient beings somewhere who, using that same logic, would look at what we consider "beauty" and find it to be shit, and our lack of beauty as evidence of either there being no god or that it must not like us very much.

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  10. James: I stand corrected. I must qualify my evaluation and say that the Fine Tuning argument is the second worst apologetic that I can read without laughing.

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  11. rob’s rant,

    Let me explain what the problem is (at least for me) in these large, huge numbers of probability, and why this argument fails to be persuasive to me. Understand I am not speaking on behalf of The Barefoot Bum, but he correctly pinpointed my concern here:

    The Barefoot Bum: The specific probability is not particularly relevant; only the relative probabilities are of interest to the argument itself,… (emphasis added)

    Something which as a 1 in 10 chance of occurring has a greater probability of happening than something which has a 1 in 100 chance of occurring. We get that. Likewise, something which is 1:100 has a better chance than 1:1,000, which has a better chance than 1:10,000 and so on.

    Imagine we have two possibilities: Event A or Event B. Event A has a 1:10 chance of happening, Event B has a 1:100,000 chance of happening.

    Which is more probable to occur? Event A.

    Now I learn some information which reduces the possibility of Event B from occurring by a factor of 10: it goes from 1:100,000 to only 1:10,000.

    Which is more probable to occur? Event A still, ‘cause 1:10 would still be more likely than Event B’s 1:10,000.

    Or if I now learn the possibility of Event A increases by a factor of 10: it goes from 1:10 to 1:100.

    Which is more probable to occur? Event A still, ‘cause 1:100 would still be more likely Event B’s 1:10,000.

    You see, what we are doing is comparing probabilities of Event A relative to Event B. Simply because we learn Event A is less likely to occur does NOT mean it automatically becomes less likely to occur than Event B—in order to know THAT we have to know the probability of Event B occurring.

    And here is where the fine-tuning argument fails. What is the probability of Jesus eating corn flakes for breakfast tomorrow? We don’t have a clue—there is no way to verify it. What is the probability of God interacting in some particular way in the universe tomorrow? We don’t know—there is no way to verify it.

    Simply put, we have no way to make any rationale determination as to what (if any) the probabilities of a god doing anything are! Therefore, we have no way of comparing this unknown probability. What happens when Event A is natural and Event B is supernatural?

    Presume the probability of Event A is 1:100,000. What is the probability of Event B? We don’t know. Is 1:100,000 more or less probable than “don’t know.”? That is why your increasing Event A to 1:1,000,000 or 1:100,000,000 or 1 in whatever huge number you dare conceive makes no difference because we are comparing it to Event B which stays, “We don’t know, We don’t know, We don’t know.”

    Until you can give us probabilities on how your God acts, the fine-tuning argument fails because it lacks comparison.

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  12. Isn't it far more likely that the only life which could appear was that which was capable of surviving and reproducing in the available environment?

    Rather than positing a Universe modified to permit life (which more or less demands a supernatural explanation), why not go with the far more likely (and testable) idea that life is adapted to the Universe?

    I'm probably not expressing myself clearly, but a testable hypothesis based on actual conditions and observable phenomena is a lot easier to swallow than Step Two (...then, a miracle occurs).

    Maybe it's just me.

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  13. Isn't it far more likely that the only life which could appear was that which was capable of surviving and reproducing in the available environment?

    But of course. That's one of the (many) problems that Ross's "probability" estimate suffers from: He assumes that almost every feature of planet Earth is necessary for complex life to appear. As PhillyChief notes: Adams expresses his (mock) incredulity that the outline of the puddle perfectly matches the hole it's in.

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  14. Dagood: Your analysis becomes more trenchant when event B is argued on the basis that it is more probable, when it's actually provable that it's less probable.

    The same as with the existence of a creator: The a priori probability for the right kind of creator is guaranteed to be less than the a priori probability for the right kind of universe. (We can map universes one-to-one to the creators, and then we add in the creators who create nothing.)

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  15. Rob’s Rants:

    Regarding Hugh Ross and his 122 constraints – as I wrote in No idea of the odds, just one of the problems with Ross’ calculations is that many of those constraints are dependent on others, and so the probabilities have been multiplied up incorrectly. And that is true, your numerous appeals to authority notwithstanding.

    Also as I wrote, and as others have alluded to, Ross did not estimate the probability of a deity spontaneously poofing itself into existence so it was even there to create the universe by magic. As I think the probability of this is zero, Ross’ arguments, such as they are, fall flat.

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  16. Got a person who claims to refute you
    http://tim.2wgroup.com/blog/archives/001846.html

    I'm Samuel Skinner and he is Ryan- Tim is the blog writter and rather uncommunicative compared to Ryan.

    Can you list how he is wrong in convinient, easy to paste format? I'm going to give it a shot, but I tend to be less... convinicing and more asshole like.

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  17. Well I just skimmed that debacle and all I can say is there's more straw there than in all of Kansas. Starting with point #1, the first sentence is incorrect, and the 2nd sentence is incorrect, and it's downhill from there.

    They've crafted a clever trap and then pound you repeatedly with it. The trap? A lengthy diatribe chock full of numerous mistakes. You can't possibly take on EVERY point and if you do, as you tried, then they'll simply where you down by both hitting you with all the other ones you're not currently addressing (which they'll also repeatedly say you're avoiding to paint you as dishonest and/or weak) and going into miniscule details of every point including arguing definitions (one of their favorites). This is all a perfect example of the old saying, "shallow pools muddy their waters to appear deep".

    What I would do is hammer on point number one only. You show how we're all technically agnostics, for every god that's ever been claimed to exist. If he disputes that, then hammer him on how he knows his god is real, and if it's by that stupid magic sense then he has no comprehension of reason or evidence and therefore there's no point in even addressing the rest of the points since they're written from a position of utter ignorance.

    Have a nice day, and try to work on your spelling.

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  18. I concur with PhillyChief, except I personally wouldn't engage at all anymore with someone as intellectually and factually dishonest as Tim.

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