This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/guest/how-to-fine-tune-arguments-for-gods-existence
I’ll be available here for discussion. Feel free to share any further questions, comments, or objections you have.
Great article and really thought provoking. I’m fairly new to this discourse, and am only now being exposed to the pitfalls of Creationism and ID. I always thought the latter was an especially viable theory. Have you written any books or recommend any resources to dig deeper? Also, could you explain this distinction more? BioLogos certainly believes in an intelligent designer being the root of all creation, namely the Biblical Trinity, so what is the difference between your organization and the ID movement?
Thanks for joining us here and for your compliments on my writing. Many resources have been published by BioLogos on the distinction between its position and Intelligent Design, this article could be a good place to start:
It contains many links to other articles in the BioLogos database.
My personal attempt at an answer would be to say that the ID movement tries to impose a fundamentally different (and, I would add, dysfunctional) view of how science works on the whole origins conversation. BioLogos, on the other hand, aims to respect and appreciate the way science is currently practiced by the scientific community as a whole. Many in the ID movement think that God’s design can be “proven” using their version of science. However, such “proofs” are usually just attempts to point out problems or gaps in the evolutionary model. They spent amazing amounts of effort in critiquing evolution without actually proposing an alternative model that produce more accurate predictions. This negative logic seems to be one of the core characteristics of the ID movement. It is completely contrary to “normal” science, in which you can only defeat a model by presenting a viable, well-defined alternative that captures the observations more accurately.
The bit about hypothetical aliens struck me as a very eloquent articulation of the rebuttal to the universal constants argument.
I also suspect I see a reflection of myself in the conclusion, when you compare the merits of atheism and pantheism!
Your reasoning is difficult to follow, since you argue against reasoning that encapsulates “gaps” in our knowledge, and yet you seem to propose an idea that cannot be tested, namely parallel universes and aliens therein.
A “wow” factor in all of this is the way the argument is put - we begin with the most tested and irrefutable area of scientific knowledge, the constants of science and maths, and from this you seem to conclude that we would end up with unknowns. This does not make sense to me.
Once we accept that science must operate with these constants, then we may reason as to what that may mean. You may have turned this around.
On a beginning, the theological statement is that in the beginning God created … Our reasoning follows from this. We are not required to argue for a beginning when we realise that creation includes time and space. The first cause is an argument that identifies primal, secondary (or efficient) causes which are part of the Thomist metaphysics derived in various ways from Aristotle.
Hi George, thanks for sharing your thoughts!
The point of the hypothetical parallel universe was meant as an illustration of why it’s not wise to rely on the specific ranges of these constants. Theoretically speaking, there can be countless ways in which complex life could have been completely different.
One point I made in this post is that science is not necessarily forced to “operate with these constants”. There could be underlying, scientific explanations for them. I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit to try and uncover those.
That is exactly on of the points that I intended to make in this post. Creation includes time and space. So we don’t need to be bending over backwards by trying to pinpoint a first cause “in time”.
Perhaps I have gone past my use-by date as a scientist, but you will have to show me what science that you practice, can operate without these constants (and I mean all, from pi to the charge of an electron).
I followed up on that statement by saying:
So I’m not claiming we already know… Fundamental physical constants still have to be postulated at the moment. I’m simply saying we might discover natural mechanisms that give rise to those “settings” of our universe in the future. Is allowing for that possibility hard to digest for some reason?
I think you are missing my point - I am starting this conversation by avoiding speculation, and instead look to the surest area of science and then develop a theologically relevant argument (harmony of faith and science). You on the other hand look to perhaps the most “wishy” area (I am reluctant to call this speculation, but it is more “what if…”) and from this you seem to try and make a theologically relevant comment.
I hope you can see the distinction.
At the end of the day, we don’t know why all the physical constants are the way they are. So if you are using that to bolster your argument for the harmony of faith and science, you are already engaging in speculation.
The “what if…” lines of reasoning serve to demonstrate that the physical constants themselves are not of central importance, but instead we care about the whole structure and pattern of which they are part. It is the entirety of our complexity-sustaining universe that elicits amazement, not a collection of numerical constants. That is what we can be really sure of, and it is true no matter how many parallel universes may or may not exist.
Engaging all possible scenarios renders the resulting picture more robust and, ultimately, more convincing.
The constants are just that - it is odd to question why they are physical constants, since the very term “constant” means unchangeable. This certainty is embedded in the very fabric of the physical sciences. To take your argument, if these constants were not central to science, how can we do science? As I asked you before, show all of us how you would do science another way!
Your view seems to be that we have some numerical values and that is that. I again state, I think you are missing the point. We can be sure that God is the Creator, and we find a sense of certainty via the intelligibility of the creation to human reason, and the certainty that we are studying that creation via the physical sciences. Engaging in scenarios is beside the point - the robust and convincing evidence is found in the maths and science that engages and fascinates us.
I wonder if you may be so wedded to a random/chance view of nature, that you do not want to consider the necessity that the foundations of science offer to us?
Is it really necessary to make such ideological retorts?
I am not in any way subscribing to a “random/chance view of nature”. I don’t understand why you seem to think so.
I think you may be over reacting - I am simply trying to understand why you would reject (or criticise) the well established argument (fine tuning/universal constants) that relies on indisputable facts, and instead turn to “what if …” notions, many which cannot be tested. I cannot understand how you can make theological inferences in this way, unless you have a basis for you thinking is some version of random/chance. I note atheists do not hesitate to invoke such a basis for their arguments of “what if there are an infinite number of universes?” If they cannot do better than “what if” and everything is due to random/chance events, than I simply note that is the basis for their outlook. No big ideological retort!
Thought-provoking post, Casper.
As a disclaimer, this critique is not well thought-out and I could be misunderstanding the idea of omnipotence, the argument itself, or both (@Jon_Garvey, your expertise regarding classical theism and apologetics may be of use here)
The fine tuning argument writ popular is one I’ve grown cold on recently. I agree that when take in as a part of a whole, it is powerful; but on its own it doesn’t do much and, I realized the other day, could potentially backfire:
If God is truly as classical theism holds him to be, then his omnipotence means that he could make the requirements for life be anything he is not constrained by whatever the laws of physics in our universe are–they are beholden and directed by him, not the other way around. The FT argument seems to rely on the idea that the constants are the only way life can exist.
If you take it as a pointer to the beauty and intelligibility of the universe, then the FT argument has some weight, but it’s far less than coercive.
Where my critique may be misguided is in what the FT argument actually says (I admit I could be way off), or in what classical theism has to say on omnipotence and the contingency of the universe.
Thanks for the post, Casper!
Edit: here is an old article by Stephen M. Barr that is relevant as well! Very interesting read.
Hi Noah, I think you’re making a very good point coming from a theological angle. Your statement above is actually one of the main things I wanted to bring across here. I think the emphasis should not be placed on the constants themselves but on the intricate whole in which they play a role. We need to focus on the big picture. That’s what triggers the wow factor.
But, as you say, it’s not coercive. In fact, I would go as far as calling it a logical necessity that no absolute “proofs” exist within nature for a God who is truly transcendent over it. I came across this intriguing quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer recently:
“A God who let us prove His existence would be an idol.”
Since you’ve sent me an alert, I’ll comment. I see the fine tuning argument as a generic form of natural theology, just as convincing or unconvincing as Paley’s watch or irreducible complexity according to one’s presuppositions (or, particularly, how intact ones sense of “Wow” is in the face of materialistic education!).
I don’t accept the line of argument that suggests it’s more legitimate than the others because it involves the question of creation ex nihilo rather than “natural causes” in the world. It stands or falls on its own merits - and so, whilst it’s as attractive to the ID people as to ECs, William Dembski (for example) considers it lacks weight because one cannot calculate probabilities for non-existent universes.
CFT, in my view, is a weaker argument than Aquinas’s deductive arguments about the existence of anything, or of change, or of any causation whatsoever, simply because it’s probabilistic and inductive. However, what it lacks in logical rigour it makes up for in appeal to our basic human intuitions, which are at least as reliable as our reason.
It’s back, then, to that basic metaphysical division going back to ancient Greece: complex stuff that is is precisely organised towards interesting functions is ultimately due to an organising mind and will, or it happens by chance given sufficient opportunity (cue belief in an infinite multiverse and the weak anthropic principle). Is teleology primary to everything, or imaginary and dispensible?
One footnote: it’s good as Christians to remember why we do sciency stuff, including being impressed by the fine tuning of the constants - it’s not to prove there is a god, but to give glory to God by thinking his thoughts after him. So whatever the weaknesses of CFT as apologetics, we needn’t be apologetic about its strength as a demonstration of our Lord’s glory.
I feel that I should clarify my outlook regarding fine tuning/constants arguments. I do not use this argument as a basis for proving God or anything along these lines. I commence with the faith based statement, that God created the heavens and earth, and then ask if science can provide insights that would be consistent with this, or if science would contradict this faith based statement.
Without boring anyone with a lengthy discussion, the conclusion I have reached does not rely strictly on the anthropic principle (although that is a useful addition), but rather, this aspect of science shows us that the universe is - by this I mean we can probe and understand the physical world because we can anchor scientific enquiry in a type of certainty provided by maths and constants of the physical world. We need to add the intelligibility of the creation to human reason, and this brings us to the exciting aspect of scientific research, in that we accept the certainty of science, and simultaneously ask questions, speculate, and often guess - this is what I regard as the intelligibility and accessibility granted by the Creator to His creation, and to the human spirit.
This, I suggest, exemplifies the Glory of God to the sciences, and is granted to those of us who study science (and we share in the wonder and beauty understood by all of faith). I also think that agnostics and atheists also have a sense of this, but may express their feelings in a non-theological manner.
From where I’m standing, the practice of calculating probabilities is wholly misguided when it comes to supportive arguments for God’s existence. There’s no foolproof way of assigning probabilities to historical contingencies. This is the case whether it concerns “irreducible complexity” or “fine-tuning”.
That’s an interesting thought Casper - isn’t statistics all about assigning probabilities to historical contingencies? Based on what I know from past events, or from theoretical causes, I reason that this coin toss is a fair way to start a football match, or that this drug is likely to help my patient.
It seems to make little difference if the event was in an incompletely known past: I can still say that last week’s coin toss gave an unsurprising result, or that my patient’s failure to recover was anomalous (and therefore I might look for special circumstances).
One can’t, of course, assign a probability to an actual event retrospectively, as many people have pointed out: its probability is 1. But one can still comment on whether the presumed causes are a sufficient explanation (a stone falling upwards was not just a statistical aberration of gravity).
The question of things arising at the point of creation, however, is surely slightly different, in that the “causes” are not just unknown, but unknowable, and so incalculable.