My problem with the fine-tuning argument


(Juan Romero) #1

It’s been a while since I posted something here.

As you may know, the fine tuning argument is one of the most famous arguments Christian apologists use when debating atheists about the existence of God, but I found that there is a BIG flaw with it.

I bet that many people here are familiar with the writings of Victor Stenger. I read them some weeks ago and I am planning to refute them together with some friends. One of my them has a degree in physics and in philosophy, another one has an incredible knowledge of Bayes Theorem, another one has some amazing knowledge of cosmology and the other one knows a lot about physics and has done some work in debunking materialism. The other ones have a great knowledge of the New Testament, which will be useful when we read other books against the historical Jesus in the future. So, summarising, I have some great people with me.

Well, going to the fine-tuning argument, the problem I have with it is that the universe, according to Victor Stenger, is not “designed for us”. Richard Carrier and Neil deGrasse Tyson think the exact same thing and so do many people on the internet. Carrier even said that if you don’t talk about this, you are hiding information and you are a liar (he always says this kind of things, so I am not surprised).

What do they say? That most regions in the universe are extremely hostile to life and would instantly destroy it. I remember that a website said that the cosmos is fine tuned for producing black holes, not life. I am currently wondering, is our universe fine tuned for black holes or for life?

Since many people here have a greater knowledge of physics than me (I’m just an amateur), I would like to see your answers.


#2

But isn’t it true? Most places in the universe really are hostile to life. And even some places on earth are hostile to life also, e.g. the polar regions. And with global warming we are making the earth more hostile to our own lives. But these are simply brute facts have no bearing on the existence of God.


(Laura) #3

And yet… here we are. To me that’s the biggest miracle. Implying that we somehow “shouldn’t be here” makes it all the easier for me to accept the sovereignty of God.


(Stephen Matheson) #4

There is no empirical “debate” to be had about whether “the universe is designed for us.” It’s an empty claim that can’t be refuted. To a believer, our presence here is evidence enough that the universe is “designed for us.”


(Juan Romero) #5

Regarding the fine-tuning of our planet. I recommend Hugh Ross’ book, Improbable Planet, which is a great read.


(GJDS) #6

The arguments around the fine tuning center on the notions of probabilities and randomness that some atheists use to support their materialistic views. If we consider the creation of the universe and that of life as arising through random events, than the fine tuning shows it is immensely improbable that this would be the case.

An argument for the existence of God is inferred, but not a direct conclusion from fine tuning.


(George Brooks) #7

@archicastor1

Or perhaps a trip to the coast of Iceland would be sufficiently instructional?


#8

Fire and Ice? Sounds like Game of Thrones!


#9

I never implied that maybe we shouldn’t be here.


(Laura) #10

Sorry, I didn’t make it clear that I was answering the OP.


#11

We humans have this bias where we think we are the most important species on Earth and perhaps the Universe. That bias carries over into the Anthropic principle.

The analogy I often use is a bacterium under a fridge. Let’s say that you spill some orange juice one morning and some of that OJ makes it under the fridge where you fail to clean it up. Along comes a bacterium that suddenly finds himself in a very nice pool of water with tons of sugars for fuel. The heat from the fridge’s compressor heats up puddle of sugary water to a nice 90F which is just right for the bacteria to start growing and multiplying. The bacterium looks around and comes to the conclusion that the whole kitchen and house must have been constructed just for him given the absolutely wonderful conditions he finds himself in. Little does the bacterium know that if you found him under the fridge you would probably destroy him, and will probably destroy his progeny once they start to stink up the kitchen.


#12

The atheists are arguing that these probabilities are impossible to calculate since we don’t know how universes form. At one time we thought Earth was the only planet in the universe, and from that point of view it would be highly improbable that a single planet would have just the right conditions for life. However, as we learned about how many planets are out there we discovered that our planet may not be that improbable after all.

When your methods can only detect winners and not losers, then your methods have a serious bias. At the moment, we have no way of determining if there are losing universes, so we can’t cite a single win as evidence of improbability. This is why most atheists see the Fine Tuning argument as a poor one for evidencing the existence of God. Just to be clear, this is a criticism of the Fine Tuning argument and shouldn’t be taken farther than that.


(David Heddle) #13

I’m sorry, I’ve said this before, and I know I’m tilting at windmills, but the fine tuning argument has nothing to do with probabilities, probabilities that cannot be calculated (my problem with Hugh Ross’s approach.)

In my mind, fine tuning is one thing only: The hypothesis that habitability of any kind of life is highly sensitive to the values of the constants. (Since life requires heavy elements, fine tuning is really the sensitivity on the values of the constants of the universe’s ability to produce heavy elements. Or, said differently, to make rocks.)

There is nothing about probability in that definition. The universe is fine tuned if the probability for the values of the constants is essentially zero (a random draw) OR if the probability is one (an unknown theory of everything.) Because it’s about sensitivity, not probability. Or it should be.

Interestingly enough (to me, anyway) is that from a theological perspective we should be rooting for the high probability case, not the low probability case that Ross and IDers champion. A low probability case is what the multiverse view suggests. But to me the best case for design is fine tuning (sensitivity) PLUS a theory that explains the values of the constants, i.e. they are what physics says they must be. For that would mean habitability was built into the fabric of spacetime, and that (to me) would be the best prima facie evidence for design.

Ross and the IDers play on the wrong end of the probability range, in my opinion, although I have never convinced anyone with this argument!


(GJDS) #14

I am showing that the notion of random events leading to things such as life and the aspects of the universe we observe, would require computations of probabilities. It is obvious; random events are treated statistically and thus are discussed as various probabilities. When the notion of randomness is contrasted with the constants and subsequent fine tuning, than we would dismiss randomness as a relevant factor (in this context).

This should not be turned around into probabilities of fine tuning - this, from what we know cannot be considered as random, so we would not deal with it, (or constants) as anything but that which is set - the “isness”, or consistency of the creation.

The probabilities argument is used to promote random events as underpinning life and the universe. It is these extremely low (or imagined) probabilities that show randomness is not scientifically tenable within the context of this discussion.

The belief in the existence of God is based on faith and revelation. Science simply shows the creation points to its creator - you are again making your own assumptions and then apparently putting arguments from these.

I have not seen a criticism of fine tuning from you. Perhaps you can focus on this for an interesting discussion.: :smirk:


#15

It’s a bit difficult to determine the best place to start with this type of discussion. Are the constants we see today the result of random interactions that occurred prior to the emergence of our universe? That would have to be settled at some point.

As to laws of nature, those laws require random interactions in many cases, such as thermodynamics. Decay constants for isotopes describe random decay. Laws of optics dealing with diffusion of light require random absorption and emission of photons.

As heddle mentions, there is also the hindsight nature of fine tuning. You can get very different results from very small changes in the history of a process, but that is true of many random processes. Just a small nudge here or there in a ping pong mixing machine and you get a very different lottery outcome. From that standpoint, each and every lottery result is fine tuned, but is still the outcome of random processes.

There are a lot of entry points we can take, and I am not sure which one you think is most important.

In general, my experience in these discussions is that people tend to get probabilities really wrong (present company excluded, of course). One common mistake is the Sharpshooter fallacy where probabilities are calculated after an event has already occurred.

How does science point to its creator?

@heddle wrote a great post, so I would start with that one. We first have to define what exactly we mean by fine tuning. If fine tuning means that very small changes to constants and starting conditions would have produced a very different universe, one that probably isn’t capable of producing life, then I would fully agree. It really isn’t an argument, but rather a statement of fact. I see nothing in that statement of fact that I would criticize.

It is the jump from fine tuning to the claimed obvious need for a fine tuner that I disagree with. While a fine tuner could exist, you need more than just a possibility. You need some evidence (of the type I have described in previous posts) if I am going to be convinced that there is a fine tuner.


(GJDS) #16

As I have mentioned on many occasions, I do not use science to deduce, or convince anyone on the existence of God - that is up to God to call anyone He wishes, and that is an act of Grace.

So let us put that to one side.

When I say “points to its creator”, it is a similar statement to “I observe harmony between science and faith”. Thus all observations from science lead me to see these are consistent, or in harmony, or point, to the Creator.

Random events are specific and by their nature are dealt with using stochastic methods. As far as I understand, these have not been relevant when considering the subject we discuss, that of the creation of the universe and of life. Yet I often get the impression that atheists explicitly (or some imply) that randomness as such may underpin the scientific enterprise - I note you prefer to say we do not (or now may not) know enough, and I can understand that.

I am not inclined to view fine tuning as anything but a very interesting observation, and its relevance is in showing a random notion of the universe “popping” into existence is not scientifically tenable - I like the inference of the anthropic principle that we can infer from the constants and fine tuning, but that is as far as I would go.

I am amused by your “nudging” here and there, as obviously you would need a “nudger” to do the nudging (I like the humour in this). :laughing:


#17

I am just fine with that position. When you said that science points to a creator I thought you were possibly putting forth a scientific argument for a creator, but further clarification shows that I was misreading it.

As to the topic of abiogenesis, randomness forms the foundation of all chemical reactions so it will necessarily be the foundation of abiogenesis. The formation of any pre-biotic complex molecules are going to be the product of chemical stochastic processes so they will be the product of randomness (at least in the way that I define randomness). For example, the probability of producing an RNA molecule with a specific nucleotide sequence through proposed abiogenesis pathways is going to be described through probabilities. As you note, I don’t whole heartedly endorse abiogenesis as proven science, I am merely describing the science involved with the proposed pathways.

As to the origin of universes, we know so little that we can’t even talk about proposed pathways with any confidence. It would be on the same level as asking someone from the Bronze age about the probability of a specific RNA sequence. We don’t even know with any confidence if the constants we observe can be different from what they are.

I fully endorse having preferences and personal views. Life would be a bit boring if we didn’t. :wink:


(GJDS) #18

This takes us back to the topic - when we consider the probabilities for such stochastic processes, we obtain staggeringly large numbers against such an outlook, and this makes a random process extremely unlikely.

The fine tuning argument becomes the viable outlook.

I also do not see all chemical reactions as random - indeed the simplicity (and complexity) of reaction pathways again points to randomness as extremely unlikely. Arguing from lack of knowledge does not advance the position of those who insist on a random basis for the creation, and instead either smacks of ideology, or perhaps of desperation, from some atheists to sustain their outlook.


#19

To make that claim you need to know all possible molecules that can give rise to life, the rate at which these molecules are being produce across the entire universe, and the amount of time the trials were ongoing. We don’t have a handle on any of these values, so it is impossible to say how probable or improbable it is.

Just to give you an idea of the types of numbers we are dealing with, let’s say that the odds of getting a molecule capable of producing life is 1 in 1E30 (i.e. 1 x 10^30), a rather large number. Let’s say that the molecule has a molecular weight of 10,000 (the size of a small protein). Each planet capable of creating these molecules produces just 1 ng (1 billionth of a gram) each year which would be 1E-5 moles or ~6E18 molecules. Let’s also say that there are 10 planets in each galaxy that are capable of producing these molecules, and there are 100 billion galaxies for a total of 1 trillion planets producing 6E18 molecules each year for a total of 6E27 molecules per year. If the chances are 1 in 1E30, then you will produce life in less than 1,000 years on a planet somewhere in the universe.

This is probably due to the simplistic way that chemistry is taught at lower levels. In reality, they aren’t that simple. For example, we are told that 2H2 + O2 ----> 2H2O. That’s not correct. In reality there are many other products of this reaction include hydrogen peroxide, oxygen radicals, and many other molecules. Yes, they will be in relatively low abundance, but they will be there. The chances of any one product being produced by the interaction of a set number of elements is random (methodologically speaking). As another example, a lot of random DNA and peptide libraries are produced by mixing equal amounts of bases or amino acids and letting them randomly attach to one another as the molecules are extended.

We aren’t trying to advance a position or an ideology. All we are doing is being frank about what we know and don’t know. If we don’t know how life can arise, don’t know how many trials are ongoing in the universe, nor how long these trials have been going then there is simply no way we can even start to calculate how probable abiogenesis is. The only one making an argument from ignorance is those who claim that God must have done it since we can’t demonstrate that abiogenesis occurred.


(GJDS) #20

We know enough on the subject (be it chemistry, biochemistry, optical isomers, etc etc) to show that random processes are unrealistic - that is why people have advanced the anthropic and fine turning view.

Now you may imagine a post-Alice in wonderland as you scientific world, but I find the original Alice more entertaining.:grinning:

At the risk of sounding offensive, you do not know anything on these matters. I have written chemical reaction schemes (as have many chemists) and no reaction for H2/O2 has been random. The complete reaction scheme has been written, and is solve using ordinary differential equations and the Arrhenius rates. We have also detected and measured the relevant species and also the final products with great precision.

So once again, no random stuff.

I spent some time “attaching” amino acids and tripeptides - the chemistry (experimentally) is complicated and just mixing them gives an unholy mess. This not random - just a mess. Once conditions were defined, we get the desired products - not randomly but clearly, with defined conditions, and quantifiably.

So once again, I state what we do know, and from this show randomness as proposed by some atheists is extremely unlikely. Simply indulging in fantastic what ifs and then saying we do not know is, imo, worse that ideological nonsense.

At no point have I added “God has done it” in my remarks about science. I am showing that you unfounded assertion that “randomness has done it” is simply wrong, based on sound science available to us today.

And it is pointless to go down a rabbit hole of some stochastic treatments of specific phenomena.