Was Our Universe Fine-Tuned for iPads?

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 9, 2010 in Design Argument

Earlier, I presented a generalized version of the fine-tuning argument for a supernatural designer, and said I would examine the argument by way of a series of questions for its defenders.

My first question goes something like this: “Was our universe fine-tuned for iPads?”

Let me explain.

Poker and fine-tuning

Imagine you and I are playing 5-card poker. We are dealt our cards. It is my turn to play first, but I merely stare at my cards in disbelief. You ask what is the matter, and I exclaim, “I… I can’t believe it! I’m sorry, but this is so extraordinary I have to interrupt the game and show you my cards.” I lay them down, saying, “Look at them! Look at them!”

You see that I have been dealt the 3 of clubs, the jack of hearts, the 9 of clubs, the 5 of diamonds, and the 5 of clubs.

“Amazing!” I say. “The chances I would draw that hand are only 1 in 2,598,960! That hand is literally better than ‘one in a million’!”

If this happened, you would be right to look at me quizzically. What’s so special about the hand that I drew? I had to draw some hand of 5 cards, and every possible 5-card draw from a 52-card deck has a 1 in 2,598,960 chance of being drawn. So what’s the big deal?

Likewise, we might ask: What’s all the fuss over cosmic fine-tuning? All these parameters had to take some values. Of course, given random chance, the chances they would take the values they do is extremely small. But then, the same would be true if the parameters had taken some other set of values, too! So why should we feel the need to explain why the parameters took this particular set of values rather than some other?

Predicting

Of course, it would be interesting if I had predicted ahead of time that I would be dealt precisely the 3 of clubs, the jack of hearts, the 9 of clubs, the 5 of diamonds, and the 5 of clubs on the next round. Then you would eye me suspiciously, and quite rightly conclude that somebody had probably monkeyed with the deck. But I didn’t predict my exact hand ahead of time, so my particular hand isn’t that amazing.

Likewise, nobody predicted the values of the parameters of our universe ahead of time. We are like the poker player who has decided only after drawing his cards that his particular hand of cards is special and in need of explanation.

Why, then, do defenders of the fine-tuning argument think that the fine-tuning of our universe for life requires some other explanation than mere chance?

Why should life matter?

But why not be surprised that the universe is fine-tuned for stars? If the parameters of our universe were much different, stars could not have evolved. Why do defenders of the fine-tuning argument not argue from the unlikelihood of stars?

However fine-tuned the universe is for life, it must be even more fine-tuned for complex life. As explained in Rare Earth, even if we take for granted the existence of life on Earth, a great many factors had to be fine-tuned in order for complex life to have evolved.

We can continue. Even if we take complex life for granted, it’s still true that a great many factors had to be fine-tuned in order for humans to have evolved. If anything had kept all trees to a short height, or if there had been no land on Earth’s surface, or if Earth had only survived for 2 billion years before the Sun exploded, then nothing like humans could have evolved.

Or consider the iPad. Even if we take human life for granted, it’s still true that a great many factors had to be fine-tuned in order for the iPad to exist. What if humans had never developed agriculture, writing, or the microchip? What if we had evolved to interact more with smell and hearing than with sight and touch? If these results and many more had not been fine-tuned for, the iPad would not exist. Is the universe fine-tuned for iPads?

Just one more step for now. I think it’s quite likely we will eventually develop computers that can think and imagine and wonder much as we do. But there are many things that could prevent this from happening. However fine-tuned the universe is for humans, it must be even more fine-tuned for something like thinking robots to exist.

A few centuries from now, perhaps thinking robots will look around and think the universe was fine-tuned for them. They will look at us humans and say, “You think the universe was fine-tuned for you? Well sure, but nothing like how much it was fine-tuned for us! The universe must be far more finely-tuned to allow for thinking robots than it must be to allow for humans.”

So here is my first question for defenders of the fine-tuning argument:

Why is it that life (or intelligent life, or conscious life) – but not stars or iPads or a gravity-to-weak-force ratio of 1 to 4.2398283238 – that requires some explanation other than chance?

I await your reply.

(Hint.)

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{ 175 comments… read them below or add one }

Zeb October 9, 2010 at 4:49 am

Paging Luke Barnes…

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Thrasymachus October 9, 2010 at 5:51 am

Generally, you take Theism to ‘predict’ intelligent life, because God ‘wants’ moral agents. Theism doesn’t (obviously) predict certain force constants nor certain other objects. So you only get the confirmatory shove (P(L|T) >> P(L|N)) when you talk about life. Because (given fine tuning) it doesn’t seem all that likely to get life on Naturalism.

Likewise, the prediction issue is no great shakes. The reason we are a bit surprised when people draw a couple of royal flushes in back-to-back poker hands (but not any other sequence of cards that are equiprobable) is that P(royal flush|cheating) is much higher than these other sequences. Of course, it may just be that things happened to turn out a certain way, but a better conditional probability suggests a more robust explanation of the evidence in question.

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Márcio October 9, 2010 at 5:57 am

Was Our Universe Fine-Tuned for iPads?
LOL

Robots will say that the universe was fine-tuned for them? Humans constructed them, not natural selection or random mutations caused by nature(i don’t believe in evolution by the way, but just for now…). Doesn’t make sense to me.

My response to your question is that life doesn’t come into being from non-life. For me, this is what requires an explanation the most, and not just the improbability of it occurring.

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dh October 9, 2010 at 6:13 am

In my real world experience I find the design argument used in a way that is ideologically interchangeable with mere anthropocentrism. In those instances it doesn’t correspond to any sort of profound reflection on or respect for conscious, intelligent life itself. It presents as more like gloss for a rhetoric of survivalism. Regardless of my own opinions of ID, I’ve appreciated the general quality of the discourse about it here.

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Michael October 9, 2010 at 6:21 am

I am not a defender of the fine-tuning hypothesis. I think there are several compelling answers to it. This question gets at a good one.

The Texas poker-player analogy that Craig uses these days has a number of flaws, and I think you are pointing to one. That analogy looks at 4 aces (and a king of spades)and asks whether you would just accept that 3 such hands in a row for an opponent could reasonably be due to chance. If Slim averred with “But you are just asking after-the-fact whether this could have been the result of chance! I had to get some hands after all: I just got lucky, my friend.” This is an answer of sorts to your question.

I think the biggest problem with the Texas poker-player analogy is that it has an alternative explanation, complete with “natural” agents who can use a “natural” means to accomplish the result(a mechanic colluding with the dealer), built-in. Of course I would suspect cheating rather than accepting Tex’s argument: the much more likely alternative is just that Tex is a cheatin varmint.

Reality has no such “natural” alternative – instead one has to invent and imagine an agent and her means to accomplish the result. Inventing lizard aliens from Rigel who warp in and use their “draw-it-good rayguns” occasionally as an alternative explanation is just silly. I think your point is sufficent in this case: hey some hand had to be dealt, and as unlikely as this was, it happened. In the case of fine-tuning, I consider “God the cheater” a much less likely alternative than chance.

I know one thing for sure. If Tex the poker-cheatin-varmint argued after getting 3 straight hands of 4 aces (and the king of spades) that “Glory be! I been prayin every Sunday for a day like this! Thank ye Jeebus! It is the will of God!” I would just shoot him between the eyes then and there. Because that argument is an obvious tell that there isn’t one honest bone in Tex.

Back to your question.

Did Allah create it all just the way he did so the question mark at the end of this sentence could be?

Sekhmet loves us, but she loves hot coffee even more. It cannot be a coincidence that ALL is just the way it is so that this cup of hot coffee on my desk right now could exist. Praise the lion-headed hottie!

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Patrick October 9, 2010 at 7:06 am

Marcio- Clearly the universe was so insanely finely tuned that it was carefully set up not only to allow the evolution of thinking meat-beings, but in fact to allow the evolution of thinking meat-beings who were just wise enough and motivated enough to want to create Robo-kind, but also stupid, lazy, and weak enough to be unable to stop Robo-kind from conquering them.

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Lorkas October 9, 2010 at 7:15 am

Márcio: “My response to your question is that life doesn’t come into being from non-life. For me, this is what requires an explanation the most, and not just the improbability of it occurring.”

Well, it depends what you mean by “life”. We know that RNA strands, cell membranes, and amino acids can self-assemble from the conditions of the early Earth, and in fact cell membranes and RNA strands can still self-assemble when their constituent parts are in solution together.

The problem is that evolving a living thing from a non-living thing takes 1) all of those things in solution together and 2) lots and lots of time. Unfortunately, those things never stay in solution together very long anymore because anywhere that they exist on Earth, there is an already-living cell with a 4.5 billion year evolutionary head start who would like very much for those building blocks to become part of them.

Even if a rudimentary cell did manage to form in some isolated area, it’s utterly unlikely that we would ever know about it since it’s a near-certainty that the cell has precisely 0 adaptations for defending against other cells that want to eat it. It would have about as much chance of surviving as a rabbit thrown into a hungry piranha pit.

In short, it’s no surprise at all that we don’t see new life forming if you take a second to think about it. It’s not that it’s impossible for new cells to form–it’s just that there are 10^30 cells swarming all over the planet that want to nom the stuff the cell needs to self-assemble (and that’s only counting the cells without a nucleus).

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Michael October 9, 2010 at 7:18 am

That’s what I get for answering without reading the hint.

Craig is now using a royal flush rather than 4 aces for his poker analogy. That’s awesome! I think he figured out that a royal flush is much less likely a hand than just 4-of-a-kind aces. Too funny.

Craig gives 2 different answers, I think. His first answer exists to bury and obfuscate his 2nd answer. His 2nd answer is buried toward the bottom and behind an “ascription firewall”.

Let me fish the 2nd answer out from the babble about design: “So Dembski’s design argument doesn’t assert, for example, that the universe was made for the purpose of bringing about human beings. This fact is evident in that the existence of a lowly earthworm also requires an intelligent designer as its ultimate explanation, given its breath-taking improbability and its conformity to an independently given pattern, but we should not infer that the purpose for which the universe exists is therefore earthworms. The idea that the universe was designed for the purpose of man’s existence is a theological claim, not a design inference. All the design argument asserts is that human life requires for its explanation an intelligent designer, whatever his purposes may have been, not that the universe was made for man.”

Craig essentially grants the argument. He doesn’t have a reason why fine-tuning argues that Sekhmet made it all for us rather than for this cup of coffee or for that one particular rock on the dark side of the Moon. But he doesn’t take responsibility for this response. He instead ascribes his response to Dembski and to Dembski’s “design argument”. This is his protection in case someone attempts to ascribe the capitulation to Craig. Oh and it comes at the end of his answer rather than at the beginning… Craig is burying the lead.

The problem with this answer is that “fine-tuning” is for a purpose. One doesn’t finely-tune something without having an end in mind. And the Universe is even more finely tuned so that this sentence would have twenty seven words in it than it is so that I could exist. And much more finely tuned so that smallpox could murder 400 million human beings in the 20th century than it is to evolve human beings in the first place.

Craig’s 1st argument, that “fine-tuning” is more likely given the reality of Odin sidesteps this question: the Universe is at least as finely tuned for ipads, this cup of coffee on my desk, and the period at the end of this sentence as it is for human beings. Similarly for the particular tsunami that murdered 250,000 people in December 2004 and for Toba to decimate humanity about 70,000 years ago, leaving less than 15,000 of us alive. Each of those disasters and their effects is even more likely given the existence of God than not if Craig’s argument is sound.

Craig’s first argument isn’t very good for other reasons, but that’s not for this comment. His next paragraph is just stank. His conclusion that outcomes even more finely-tuned than the existence of life are also (necessarily better) evidence for theism is gold! So… the Black Death of the 14th century which murdered 75 million people is even better evidence for God than life is! Beyond the mocking, Craig’s thinking has just converted every single event in nature as proof that Yahweh exists!

Ok. That’s my attempt to make amends for not having read your hint before posting my previous comment.

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Charles October 9, 2010 at 7:48 am

I think the reason it is valid to ask “Why humans?” is because we are humans.

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Hermes October 9, 2010 at 8:46 am

Márcio, what you said didn’t track with what Luke wrote. You missed the point entirely then commented on your misunderstanding.

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Steven October 9, 2010 at 10:47 am

Reading the hint section, I have to say, why are people taking Theism seriously again? Every single “justification” of Theism I come about says “It is MORE probable than atheism”, but when we analyze just what type of logic this is, we find that we can use Theistic arguments for other irrational precepts.

For example, Letting “FU” represent the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, “U” represents the Unicorn from Dimension X, and “ASU” represent the atheistic single universe hypothesis (i.e., there is a single universe and no Unicorn from Dimension X), Collins argues that the fine-tuning is significantly more probable on Unicornism that it is on atheism: Pr (FU/U) >> Pr (FT/ASU). Therefore, the observed fine-tuning confirms the hypothesis of Unicornism (provided that we say the Unicorn is an intelligent agent whose dimensional powers allow it to create anything it desires).

On this version of the argument, it doesn’t seem that your question is especially pressing. We can calculate the probabilities of other observations as well to see if they similarly confirm theism. Take rainbow planets with fiery rings (X3). Is Pr (X3/U) >> Pr (X3/ASU)? It doesn’t seem like it. There’s no reason to think that Pr (X3/U) is very high or that Pr (X3/ASU) is very low—unless you’re thinking it to be naturally impossible, in which case such a miraculous phenomenon would be evidence of the Unicorn from Dimension X. —similarly, for X2, singing gas, whatever you mean by that! So it seems to me that on a Bayesian approach, one can plug in any sort of observation we have and ask if it’s more probable on Unicornism than on atheism, and if it is, then it confirms Unicornism. Computing the comparative probabilities of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life would be a natural thing to do, given that we are intelligent, living beings.

As is seen, Craig just uses rather dismissive language to compensate for his lack of logic.He doesn’t answer the question (why should we consider the result of life important?), but rather, he asserts that life is too improbable to have occurred randomly, and that this phenomenon is valuable, and then answers from there. In other words, he begs the question. He was asked why life should be considered a winning hand, and he responds under the assumption that life is a winning hand.

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Steven October 9, 2010 at 10:53 am

@ Michael:

Also, I see another flaw in Craig’s analogy. It says that 3 excellent hands in a row are given to the Texan, but the flaw with this is that if the universe is fine-tuned specifically for human life, then everything in the universe counts as ONE hand. Craig is exaggerating his example to cloud the issue and make it seem even more unlikely. Furthermore, he doesn’t answer WHY this state of the universe should be valued, as it only gains value after the fact of its creation. To put it back into the context of the Poker game, it’s like being handed out cards BEFORE any value is affixed to them, and then, once value is given, you realize that you have a winning hand.

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Al Moritz October 9, 2010 at 11:17 am

Luke:

Why is it that life (or intelligent life, or conscious life) – but not stars or iPads or a gravity-to-weak-force ratio of 1 to 4.2398283238 – that requires some explanation other than chance?

I have answered this question in section 1.3.1. of my article (click on my name).

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Patrick October 9, 2010 at 11:42 am

Moritz- you didn’t actually answer that in the referenced section of your article. Did you perhaps mean some other section?

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ayer October 9, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Since the iPad is a product of human intelligence it would be a derivative byproduct of any fine-tuning of the universe for sentient life. As to whether sentient life calls out for an explanation, that seems to be fairly uncontroversial even among many (most?) atheists, e.g., Hawking, Susskind (who feels the need to subtitle his book “the illusion of intelligent design”–and he is talking about “designed for life”), etc. Here, e.g., is Michael Shermer:

Shermer: “For me, the scientific worldview generates that kind of feeling of transcendence. An early experience, I suppose would be Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. I think Carl, more than anybody else, gave the feeling of the pure, emotional awe and wonder and joy at the miracle of life, and the Cosmos is so big and vast, and grains of sand, and we’re just one. And it certainly generates in me a feeling of spirituality. I feel like a spiritual person, without a belief in God.”
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/questionofgod/nineconv/transcend.html

The fact that atheists feel the need to describe life as a “miracle” describes why fine-tuning is tied to life; a product of the universe becoming sentient, with the ability to discover the nature of that universe and ask “why” strikes most people as remarkable in an obvious way.

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soku October 9, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Steven,

I’m pretty sure Collins takes care of that objection with his restricted version of the Likelihood Principle and this premise of his argument:

3) T was advocated prior to the fine-tuning evidence (and has independent motivation).

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TK October 9, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Al, with respect, your section does not address Luke’s objection, which is summarized at the end of his post: “Why is it that life (or intelligent life, or conscious life) – but not stars or iPads or a gravity-to-weak-force ratio of 1 to 4.2398283238 – that requires some explanation other than chance?”

Observe, your section can be conveniently altered to demonstrate the absurdity of the argument. Do a find-replace for “life” with “iPads”.

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Ralph October 9, 2010 at 1:25 pm

“The fact that atheists feel the need to describe life as a “miracle” describes why fine-tuning is tied to life; a product of the universe becoming sentient, with the ability to discover the nature of that universe and ask “why” strikes most people as remarkable in an obvious way.” ayer

Whether or not the fine-tuning for life strikes people as remarkable does not answer anything. Someone winning a very-low-odds-lottery will find that fact remarkable too without prompting anyone to ask the question “why did he win?”

Even without looking into the possibility that a better understanding of the fundamental forces of nature will show that what we see as fine tuning is really not that fine, the multi-verse theory is all a naturalist will ever need to blow any theistic explanation out of the water since the multi-verse is orders of magnitude much more likely than theism.

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Justfinethanks October 9, 2010 at 1:36 pm

A product of the universe becoming sentient, with the ability to discover the nature of that universe and ask “why” strikes most people as remarkable in an obvious way.

Well, it certainly is remarkable. But most atheists also fail to understand why it is necessarily more remarkable than a universe that has planets with only perfectly circular orbits, or a universe made of 99 percent gold, or a universe where every planet has an atmosphere. Each of these are just as remarkable and specific as a universe friendly to life, and just as (if not more) improbable. So it simply doesn’t make any sense to single out life. It’s a classic case of the texas sharpshooter fallacy.

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ayer October 9, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Ralph: “the multi-verse theory is all a naturalist will ever need to blow any theistic explanation out of the water since the multi-verse is orders of magnitude much more likely than theism.”

I agree that the naturalist needs to resort to the multiverse theory to avoid theism as the explanation for fine-tuning; but unfortunately for the naturalist, the multiverse theory is no less metaphysical than the theistic explanation since it is utterly nonfalsifiable. So pick your “leap of faith”–God or the multiverse.

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ayer October 9, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Justfinethanks,

Ok, but I think Shermer and Sagan disagree with you. I don’t think a universe that is 99% gold would fill Shermer with “awe and wonder and joy.”

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Justfinethanks October 9, 2010 at 2:02 pm

So pick your “leap of faith”–God or the multiverse.

I disagree that this is the case, but even if it were, it would follow that the fine tuning argument fails as a persuasive argument for God, as there is another, non-theistic alternative that is just as good. (Even if it is “metaphysical” as you say).

Given that, why are you arguing against atheists who believe that fine tuning fails to persuade?

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Justfinethanks October 9, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Ok, but I think Shermer and Sagan disagree with you.

That’s fine. But it doesn’t speak at all against my point.

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PDH October 9, 2010 at 2:09 pm

It’s not clear whether Fine Tuning should be considered a teleological argument or not but there are some interesting tensions between them. Ordinarily, design arguments work by finding something in the physical universe that couldn’t have arisen without ‘outside help.’ This is what Márcio’s comments about life coming from non-life seem to be getting at, if I’ve understood them correctly. However, it is an essential feature of the Fine Tuning Argument that the laws of nature do permit life because that was supposedly why they were fine tuned in the first place. If the laws don’t permit life then they’re clearly not fine tuned enough and the whole argument breaks down.

On the other hand, if God can make life appear where it is not physically possible for life to appear, there is no need to fine tune anything.

In fact, we might wonder why God chose to make a universe that was almost guaranteed not to be life permitting if he was trying to make a life permitting universe. If a man wanted to kill another man and he invented a gun that would only work 0.001% of the time even though he could have made a perfect gun if he’d wanted to, we would not call him an intelligent designer. Any inferences we could draw from his designs would just lead to baffling conclusions.

These arguments go through so many fascinating twists and turns. They start off saying the universe couldn’t support life and that’s why you need God. Then it can support life and that’s why God created it like that in the first place, duh. Then they say that actually it almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to support life so you need a God again to explain why it does. And if you explain that you know they’ll just say that’s why God created it like that in the first place again. It will never end.

So, I will just say that it seems fortuitous that we got the exact kind of God that we would need. What are the odds of that? For every possible universe that we could have had, there was a possible God who would have preferred that universe. There is a possible God who really wanted all the constants to be prime numbers. There was a God who had his heart set on a universe that permitted even more life than ours does. There are vastly more Gods who would have preferred universes that didn’t permit life at all because there are more possible universes for them to prefer. How fortunate that we didn’t get one of them! Almost too fortunate.

It seems that the fine tuner must have been fine tuned.

Now, I’m not trying to evoke an infinite regress here. My point is that the theist will have to just assert that God is one way as opposed to some other way and leave it at that. And if they can say that I can’t see how they can object to Luke’s comments. Perhaps some kind of ontological argument might help them out but my feeling is that the relevant ones would be question begging in the crucial respects. If there is no intrinsic value without God then God, with his divine freedom, could have chosen to make anything he wanted and whatever he made would have been valuable simply by virtue of having been made by God. Both fine tuning and the ontological arguments I have in mind appear to depend on intrinsic value so even with theism there is no reason to think that any set of laws and constants is more special than any other. I don’t think, therefore, that theists can claim any additional explanatory power over even brute chance explanations because theism appears to have too much in common with brute chance explanations.

As Graham Oppy puts it:

“If there is anything contingent in the world, then there is brute–i.e., inexplicable–contingency in the world. Hence, if there is anything contingent in the world, then there are things–events, facts–that simply have no explanation. In particular, then, there is no justification for supposing that belief in God is justified simply because the truth of that belief would account for otherwise inexplicable contingency in the world. If we are puzzled by why the world is one way rather than some other way that it might have been, our puzzlement cannot be removed by supposing that the world is the way it is because God chose to make it that way. If we are worried by unexplained contingency, we shall want to know why God chose to make the world that way: postulating God does not remove the unexplained contingency, but it does land us with a whole new raft of explanatory burdens and commitments. This is not progress.”

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Patrick October 9, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I’m reminded of this comic

http://amultiverse.com/2010/09/08/hot-tub-planet/

Its facetiously mocking everything, but it does make a good point.

If you’re going to make the argument that the universe was created by an infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable, infinitely loving being who’s only desire was to create a single planet’s worth of human beings in order for them to be happy and love him while they live on it, then its a fair refutation to bring up the fact that given this goal, and given the stipulated resources, a better job could have been done.

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Reidish October 9, 2010 at 2:47 pm

From the “hint”:

I’ve been thinking about the fine tuning argument, and while I like it and think it carries some weight, something about it bothers me. It seems to suffer from “life chauvinism.”

I think this is well-said. But it doesn’t seem like it should concern the defender of the argument that, in order to resist the conclusion, the objector asserts that life as we know it has no intrinsic value. That seems like a high-enough price to pay to avoid theistic conclusions.

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ayer October 9, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Justfinethanks: “I disagree that this is the case, but even if it were, it would follow that the fine tuning argument fails as a persuasive argument for God, as there is another, non-theistic alternative that is just as good. (Even if it is “metaphysical” as you say).”

Who said non-theistic metaphysics is automatically more persuasive than theistic metaphysics? (unless one already has a presupposition to atheism prior to evaluating the metaphysical explanations of fine-tuning–which I suspect is quite often the case).

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ayer October 9, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Justfinethanks: “That’s fine. But it doesn’t speak at all against my point.”

Sure it does, since it points out that even many atheists can see that a universe from which sentient life emerges is qualitative orders of magnitude higher on the scale of “remarkableness” than a “universe filled with an inanimate mineral.”

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ayer October 9, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Patrick: “If you’re going to make the argument that the universe was created by an infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable, infinitely loving being who’s only desire was to create a single planet’s worth of human beings in order for them to be happy and love him while they live on it,”

That’s not the conclusion of the fine-tuning argument by itself. The conclusion of the fine-tuning argument is simply that the universe was intelligently designed. When combined with the cosmological, moral, ontological, and argument from contingency, however, you do get something like your “argument.”

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dh October 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Reidish,

“the objector asserts that life as we know it has no intrinsic value. That seems like a high-enough price to pay to avoid theistic conclusions.”

What do you mean by intrinsic value?

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Muto October 9, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Reidish,
The objector does not have to assert that life has no intrinsic value, he only has to point out that the argument relies on the assumption that it does.

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Ralph October 9, 2010 at 3:49 pm

“I agree that the naturalist needs to resort to the multiverse theory to avoid theism as the explanation for fine-tuning; but unfortunately for the naturalist, the multiverse theory is no less metaphysical than the theistic explanation since it is utterly nonfalsifiable. So pick your “leap of faith”–God or the multiverse”

I’m not entirely sure that the multiverse theory is necessary to defeat the fine tuning argument given its numerous problems viz a) “life chauvinism”, b) the possible fundamental interrelations of the supposedly fined tuned properties, c)the possible narrowness of the actualizable values of the alleged “fine tuned properties”, etc. but I’ll drop that for now because it doesn’t matter. Even granting that the fine tuning is actually significant and that it doesn’t suffer from other problems, the multiverse solution is decisive. I don’t know how “metaphysical” an explanation it is, but certainly, the multiverse theory is orders of magnitude much more likely than any theistic explanation. It even has the advantage that we actually know of one universe existing – we know of NO GODS ever existing.

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Michael October 9, 2010 at 3:50 pm

@ayer … No, there are certainly other atheist responses besides a multiverse. Here are 2:

1) The fundamental constants aren’t really constant. At least 1 of them varies. There is at least some initial data this is the case for a crucial “constant”, the fine-structure constant.

Here: http://www.economist.com/node/16930866 .

This answer crushes the fine-tuning argument. First, it brings the essential feature of the multiverse here into this Universe: its possible (vast) space-time regions of this one Universe are incapable of supporting life, iPads, coffee cups, tsunamis, or even planets, stars, molecules, atoms, or protons. This immediately supports anthropic explanations: we live in the part of the Universe in which we are capable of existing… duh. Also, it bolsters the previously lackluster argument that the Universe isn’t fine-tuned because of how much space-time isn’t ideal or even capable of supporting life, humans, rainbow planets, or question marks: why in the world would Huitzilopocatli create such vast expanses of reality incapable of supporting you?

Second, it highlights the flimsiness of the assumptions behind the fine-tuning argument. Suppose we just haven’t observed the parts of the Universe in which at least 1 of the “constants” take on very different values because those parts of the Universe don’t emit radiation or don’t form stars and galaxies or … well you get it. Suddenly it appears that the only thing the Universe is finely-tuned for is to destroy religious fables about a Creator making the Universe out of chaotic waters less than 10,000 years ago.

2) Model realism still needs thought. Just because a constant is a constant in 1 model of physics doesn’t mean it is a constant in another or that it even exists in another. Craig argues that because string theory allows up to 10E500 possible Universes, only a small percentage of which support life, that fine-tuning is inescapable. I take that as a disproof that it is all made of bits of Tiamat’s corpse: Why would God create 10E500 possible Universes just to pick 1 out of 10E50 life-supporting Universes? Couldn’t she just have invented a physics to allow the 1 possible Universe, after all? String theory is just theory, and even if it turns into an amazingly good explanation in physics, it will remain a model of reality rather than reality itself. Other models may well conclude that there was only 1 possible Universe or a small handful or… Although I think model realism serves atheists more than theists, it is nonetheless a vulnerable assumption of the fine-tuning argument.

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Justfinethanks October 9, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Who said non-theistic metaphysics is automatically more persuasive than theistic metaphysics?

No one. If what you claim is true, and atheists have the multiverse available to them as an explanation for tuning, while theists have God, then one is not more persuasive than another. And therefore the argument fails.

Let’s take a peek at how this fact destroys Craig’s formulation of the argument (simply used as illustration because of its simplicity)

P1) The fine tuning of the universe is due to either law, chance, or design.
P2) It is not due to law or chance.
C) It is due to design.

If the multiverse is indeed on the table as an explanatory option, (And you seem to think so, given you stated that one can “take your pick.”), premiss 2 is false, as you have failed to eliminate chance (the multiverese) as an explanatory option.

In order for the argument to succeed now, the theist must explain why design is MORE (not equally) probable than the multiverse.

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Ralph October 9, 2010 at 4:00 pm

ayer: “Sure it does, since it points out that even many atheists can see that a universe from which sentient life emerges is qualitative orders of magnitude higher on the scale of “remarkableness” than a “universe filled with an inanimate mineral.”

Only because you were asking a sentient person. Had you asked a golden planet in a universe filled with golden planets, it would probably find remarkable that its universe was fine tuned for golden planets. (Yeah, yeah…you can’t ask a golden planet anything, but you know what I mean)

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Michael October 9, 2010 at 4:05 pm

@ayer The Universe seems even more finely-tuned for tsunamis that destroy 250,000 sentient human beings in 2 December 2004 days than it is to the existence of sentient humna beings themselves. And to Black Deaths that kill 75 million conscious human lives in the 14th century than to life itself. And to Toba, the volcano that likely took human numbers down to less than 15,000 about 70,000 years ago. Those examples pre-empted your answer: the Universe is more finely-tuned to these (and all other) natural destructions of sentient life than to the life itself.

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Justfinethanks October 9, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Sure it does, since it points out that even many atheists can see that a universe from which sentient life emerges is qualitative orders of magnitude higher on the scale of “remarkableness” than a “universe filled with an inanimate mineral.”

So I’m wrong because “even many atheists” disagree with me? I have an alternative theory: I’m right and they’re wrong.

And how exactly would you respond to the charge that you are wrong because many Christian theists disagree with you?

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Reidish October 9, 2010 at 4:49 pm

dh,

What do you mean by intrinsic value?

Something analogous to the referenced poker hand with respect to the game of poker – see the “Hint”.

Muto,

The objector does not have to assert that life has no intrinsic value, he only has to point out that the argument relies on the assumption that it does.

Well, it sure seemed like the foundation to an objection formed in the “Hint”. Note the use of the phrase “suffers from” with respect to the argument. That’s probably not a phrase you’d use if you didn’t disagree with it – right? Of course, if the respondent is simply pointing out a proposition entailed by the argument, but doesn’t disagree with the entailed proposition, then he has no objection to the argument yet.

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Muto October 9, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Reidish,
I personally reject the notion that life has any intrinsic value independent from persons, BUT even if I only was agnostic with respect to the existence of such value I could not be convinced by the FT argument, because I would not be sure that it works. Hence before we have external justification for the existence of intrinsic value the FT argument lies rotting among the corpses of slain arguments for god.

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ayer October 9, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Justfinethanks: “If the multiverse is indeed on the table as an explanatory option, (And you seem to think so, given you stated that one can “take your pick.”), premiss 2 is false, as you have failed to eliminate chance (the multiverese) as an explanatory option.”

Sure, it’s on the table as a metaphysical (not a scientific) option; so I’m glad you agree that neither theism nor the multiverse is more “scientific” than the other. But in terms of metaphysical plausibility, theism beats the multiverse due to Occam’s razor–with the multiverse, we have unnecessarily “multiplied the entities” needed for an explanation; indeed, the entities needed are numbered in the trillions of actual universes.

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ayer October 9, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Justfinethanks: “And how exactly would you respond to the charge that you are wrong because many Christian theists disagree with you?”

Many Christian theists deny that there is an intelligence behind the universe? I think that belief is integral to “Christian theism.”

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ayer October 9, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Ralph: “It even has the advantage that we actually know of one universe existing – we know of NO GODS ever existing.”

The argument only points to an intelligence behind the universe; and we have experience with the phenomenon of intelligent design in everyday life in this universe–e.g., the intelligent design behind the iPad. We have absolutely no experience of alternative universes.

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mojo.rhythm October 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Ayer,

The argument only points to an intelligence behind the universe; and we have experience with the phenomenon of intelligent design in everyday life in this universe–e.g., the intelligent design behind the iPad. We have absolutely no experience of alternative universes.

I can’t let you get away with this sophistry, I am sorry.

“An intelligence did it” is possibly the worst kind of explanation for fine tuning ever made. The most howling problem apparent is its extreme lack of informativity. “Intelligence did it” tells us literally squat about anything, unless you start to attribute beliefs, desires and intentions to the agent in question.

THEIST: “Intelligence did it!”
ATHEIST: “What do you mean by that?”
THEIST: “I mean that there was an intelligence that managed to manipulate the constants to make this universe appear.”
ATHEIST: “Why on Earth would an intelligent being do that?”
THEIST: “I dunno.”
ATHEIST: “What do you mean you dunno? I thought you said you were explaining the fine tuning? What kind of explanation is that?”
THEIST: “It’s a design inference!”
ATHEIST: “You moron. Go face the fail wall.”

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toweltowel October 9, 2010 at 6:03 pm

ayer, Reidish, Thrasymachus, others:

I agree with you that moral common sense seems to hold that physical life is intrinsically valuable. But I think appearances are misleading. What’s intrinsically valuable isn’t physical life, but mental capacities like sentience and intelligence. Thus I think moral common sense would acknowledge the value of a non-physical intelligence or a non-physical sentient being (if such a thing is truly possible). And I think this point poses a serious threat to the fine-tuning argument.

After all, the argument rests on a big assumption: that any intelligent being capable of adjusting the cosmological constants is highly likely to make them hospitable to physical life, this because physical life is intrinsically valuable. But if physical life is not intrinsically valuable, then why bother? If you are yourself a non-physical intelligent being, capable of existing prior to the birth and growth of the universe, then why not create other non-physical intelligent beings like yourself instead? Indeed, Western religious tradition recognizes angels as just this sort of non-physical intelligent being.

So the big assumption is highly questionable, and the argument loses its appeal. If, to explain the fine-tuning, one is forced to posit a non-physical intelligence, then one thereby undercuts the need for an explanation in the first place, because there’s nothing particularly valuable or special about physical life, since physical life isn’t needed for intelligence after all.

This ‘angel’ objection seems like a serious one to me.

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ayer October 9, 2010 at 6:13 pm

mojo.rhythm:“Intelligence did it” tells us literally squat about anything, unless you start to attribute beliefs, desires and intentions to the agent in question.”

So the fine-tuning argument does not provide you with a full-blown theology for the designer? So what? The conclusion “the universe was intelligently designed” is quite profound enough in itself. We can then go to other theistic arguments to fill out more information about the designer.

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Justfinethanks October 9, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Sure, it’s on the table as a metaphysical (not a scientific) option;

Regardless of whether it’s “scientific” or “metaphysical,” if you agree it’s on the table, then you agree that fine tuning argument fails, because the statement “The fine tuning is not due to chance” cannot be rationally supported. And that holds even if I can’t prove that it IS due to chance.

I’m glad you agree that neither theism nor the multiverse is more “scientific” than the other.

I don’t, but this is just for the sake of argument.

But in terms of metaphysical plausibility, theism beats the multiverse due to Occam’s razor–with the multiverse, we have unnecessarily “multiplied the entities” needed for an explanation;

A single multiverse is not more numerous than a single God. And since matter and energy are more simple than psychology, simplicity actually favors the multiverse. A point Luke has emphasized repeatedly on this site: God is a terrible explanation for anything because it is sorely lacking in many key explanatory virtues, which natural mechanisms and explanations typically enjoy.

Many Christian theists deny that there is an intelligence behind the universe? I think that belief is integral to “Christian theism.”

No, I’m referring to Christian theists who deny that the fine tuning argument is successful. (I assume that they believe that there is an intelligence behind the universe for other reasons.) Surely, their existence doesn’t negate your belief that it IS successful? Similarly, the existence of atheists who disagree with me doesn’t negate my belief.

I would like to note that you still haven’t responded to my claim that a universe with life isn’t any more remarkably remarkable than the countless other improbable universes that could have existed, besides saying it’s “obvious” and saying that “atheists disagree” with me, neither of which invalidate my claim.

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Joel October 9, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Ooh I know, I know: life isn’t special, ergo it does not require explanation, ergo there is nothing to be explained by design.

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ayer October 9, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Justfinethanks: “Regardless of whether it’s “scientific” or “metaphysical,” if you agree it’s on the table, then you agree that fine tuning argument fails, because the statement “The fine tuning is not due to chance” cannot be rationally supported.”

Uh, no, just because an option is “on the table” doesn’t mean it isn’t less plausible than the alternatives. “Law, chance and design” are all possible; “design” is simply more plausible.

Justfinethanks: “A single multiverse is not more numerous than a single God.”

Multiple universes are more numerous than a single God.

Justfinethanks: “And since matter and energy are more simple than psychology”

The very concept of God (at least in Christianity) entails divine simplicity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_simplicity); a universe is composite, “made up of thing upon thing”; a multiverse would be even more so.

Justfinethanks: “I would like to note that you still haven’t responded to my claim that a universe with life isn’t any more remarkably remarkable than the countless other improbable universes that could have existed,”

As you point out, it is you who are making the claim and thus bear the burden of explaining why a universe from which sentience emerges is no more remarkable than one filled with an inanimate mineral (sort of like having to show that an abacus is at the same level of sophistication as an iPad, but perhaps it can be done).

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Justfinethanks October 9, 2010 at 7:03 pm

The very concept of God (at least in Christianity) entails divine simplicity

And it’s a nonsense doctrine that can’t be supported rationally. It takes a very small amount of information to describe, for example, the strength of the gravitation, but an enourmaous amount to explain “love”. And so, a mindless multiverse is much more simple than a complex, emotional, intentional person when appealing to a bottom level explanation.

As you point out, it is you who are making the claim and thus bear the burden of explaining why a universe from which sentience emerges is no more remarkable than one filled with an inanimate mineral

Why is exactly is “animate” vs. “inanimate” the duality you have settled upon? Why didn’t you choose “Gold” vs “Non gold” universe, or a “atmospheric planet” vs “non-atmospheric universe.” The fine tuning argument rests upon this wholly arbitrary choice.

And since the theist is claiming that “It is NOT due to chance,” (a very much positive claim that must be defended, argued and supported) they must explain why this choice is not arbitrary in order to consider the fine tuning argument successful.

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lukeprog October 9, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Joel,

Do you think life is special in the required way?

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Michael October 9, 2010 at 7:57 pm

@ayer

The idea that God is somehow a “simpler” explanation than multiple Universes is absurd. The being or beings require explication:

What is / are they composed of?
How does it / do they interact with the world?
How does it / do they process information?
How does it / do they make decisions?
Does it / do they require energy or an analog to function?
Does it /do they reproduce?
What are their goals/desires/plans/intent or analogs?

Remember none of the physics or biology or psychology or geology we know apply. It / they alt-exist somewhere/sometime/somehow differently. What is that alt-space like? How many realms of existence are in it? How does one interact from there to here?

At least each of the multiple Universes physics posits have to satisy the constraints of the particular physical model under consideration. They are all generated by and satisfy string theory, for example. Theistic explanations don’t get even that – they have to construct entire realities from scratch and then detail entities in those realities then explain how those entities can interact with reality.

Furthermore, almost no one is actually interested in stopping at a generic Creator. Almost everyone is interested in proving their particualr deity is the Creator. And that means you have galaxy-fulls of complexity and explanation before you get to Yahweh and Allah (and djinnis and Satan and Heaven/Paradise Gardens and angels and demons and Hell/Gehenna/Jahannam).

Finally, the claim that we have no evidence for the multiverse is wrong. The evidence for the underlying physical models IS the evidence that reality is explained by the models. Those models describe a reality with multiple Universes. This should be no more controversial than pointing out that the evidence for inflationary models of the Big Bang IS evidence that inflation happened.

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toweltowel October 9, 2010 at 8:17 pm

ayer, Justfinethanks:

I think you may be mixing up two separate issues.

Divine simplicity is a doctrine about the metaphysical composition (or lack thereof) of God. Thus Aquinas argues in ST Ia.3 that neither the act/potency distinction nor the form/matter distinction nor the existence/essence distinction applies to God, and traditional metaphysical theology denies that there is a real distinction between one divine attribute and another. See this SEP article.

But that’s a different issue from the sort of simplicity sought in scientific explanations and theories (see this SEP article). When people invoke Occam’s Razor and look for parsimonious theories, they’re not focusing on the presence or absence of, say, the existence/essence distinction, or anything related to divine simplicity. Of course, Richard Swinburne has argued that divine agency serves as an especially simple (and therefore especially preferable) explanation of many empirical phenomena. But I don’t think Swinburne’s argument has anything to do with divine simplicity.

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Kiwi Dave October 9, 2010 at 8:48 pm

It is at least as plausible to humans that our universe was designed for us by an anthropomorphic intelligence as it is to gallstones that their gall bladder was designed for them by a uricalculomorphic intelligence.

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mojo.rhythm October 9, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Ayer,

MOJO: What do you mean by “the universe was intelligently designed”?
AYER: I mean that a person managed to change the conditions of the universe to make this one appear.
MOJO: Why would this person wanna do that?
AYER: I dunno.
MOJO: But your supposed to be explaining the fine tuning! You haven’t explained a damn thing!
AYER: I have, it’s a design inference.
MOJO: Urgh.
MOJO: Wait a minute, wouldn’t this person have to be in a universe of his own? How did he make this universe? Did he use an atom smasher?
AYER: No, this person is special. This person does not exist in a universe.
MOJO: Fascinating.
AYER: This person can do anything it wants. It can make choices and do things, even though it exists outside of time and space. It can also think, feel and percieve things without having a brain.
MOJO: Okay Harry Potter. How did this magic thing make this universe appear.
AYER: I dunno. Got a better explanation?
MOJO: You fail.

I think a re-ordering of Craig’s syllogism is called for:

1. The fine tuning is due to law, chance or design.
2. It is definetly not due to design.
3. Therefore it is due to chance or law.

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oarobin October 9, 2010 at 11:42 pm

in trying to penetrate the opaque nature of the fine-tuning argument i came upon a nice paper by Anthony Aguirre The Cold Big-Bang Cosmology as a Counter-example to Several Anthropic Arguments in it he gives a formal description of fine-tuning argument making explicit a lot of the assumptions and simplifications that are made and then proceeds to show that even given these assumptions there is evidence to doubt that the fine-tuning argument is correct. a highly recommended read! (Luke i wonder if you could interview anthony for the CPBD podcast.)

in a slightly OT way it seems that a challenge has been thrown out to Bayesian practitioners who seek to confirm models by comparing posterior probabilities of alternate models. Andrew Gelman & Cosma Rohilla Shalizi have a paper “Philosophy and the practice of Bayesian statistics” available @ http://arxiv.org/abs/1006.3868 in which they show that without model checking Bayesian analysis yield results worse than useless. another very interesting read. (Luke i would also encourage you interview either author not only on this paper but on their views of statistics in general.)

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Joel October 10, 2010 at 12:03 am

Joel,Do you think life is special in the required way?  

I don’t.

Looking at Craig’s response to this problem, it seems like he merely dodges it – as posters above have already pointed out. If there is not intrinsic value to life, there is no fine-tuning, do fine tuning does not have to be explained by design.

Craig’s use of Bayesian probability regardless of this, to show that under Theism, life is still more probable, as compared to single-world Atheism, is flawed because it postulates so much more to explain a nondescript phenomena – imagine if Craig used Bayesian probability to prove the existence of a Poker God who intervened to provide some certain combination of cards – when that combination is of no significance.

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Eric October 10, 2010 at 12:43 am

Ayer –
Shermer: “For me, the scientific worldview generates that kind of feeling of transcendence. An early experience, I suppose would be Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. I think Carl, more than anybody else, gave the feeling of the pure, emotional awe and wonder and joy at the miracle of life, and the Cosmos is so big and vast, and grains of sand, and we’re just one. And it certainly generates in me a feeling of spirituality. I feel like a spiritual person, without a belief in God.”
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/questionofgod/nineconv/transcend.html

The fact that atheists feel the need to describe life as a “miracle” describes why fine-tuning is tied to life; a product of the universe becoming sentient, with the ability to discover the nature of that universe and ask “why” strikes most people as remarkable in an obvious way.

You seem to be misunderstanding what they are saying. Just because they personally find value in life doesn’t mean they think there is any intrinsic value to life beyond that:

“Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.” – Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan – A Universe not made for us

“Finally, from what we know about the cosmos, to think that this was created for one species among tens of millions of species who live on one planet circling one of a couple hundred billion stars that are located in one galaxy among hundreds of billions of galaxies, all of which are in one universe among perhaps an infinite number of universes all nestled within a grand cosmic multiverse, is provincially insular and and anthropocentrically blinkered. Which is more likely? That the universe was designed for us, or that we see the universe as having been designed for us?” – Michael Shermer “Why Darwin Matters”

Ayer -
Ok, but I think Shermer and Sagan disagree with you.

It seems as though they would…

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Taranu October 10, 2010 at 1:13 am

I recall that Sean Carrol said in his book “From eternity to here” that it is extremely likely for the initial state of a system to have maximum entropy, but the initial state of the Universe had a very low entropy and this might be something worth explaining.
After all whenever we are confronted with something peculiar about the world we try to find an explanation for it. Why should we act differently in this case?

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Alexandros Marinos October 10, 2010 at 3:14 am

Here’s my best way of summarising my version of the ‘meaning’ objection to the FTA:

Meaning only exists within a wider context. Poker hands are only meaningful within the rules of poker. For the FTA to claim that life is meaningful, it must assume that there is a context wider than the universe which makes it so. Which is what it tries to prove. Ergo, FTA assumes its conclusion.

The reason it seems to work, is because fail to diferentiate what exists in the mind with what exists in the real world, aka. the mind projection fallacy.

http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Mind_projection_fallacy

Just because life is meaningful in our minds, (it’s kinda important for their existence) it doesn’t mean that life is intrinsically meaningful from the universe’s perspective or beyond.

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Patrick October 10, 2010 at 5:13 am

I feel like the use of the word “meaningful” is just confusing matters.

I think we have people using it in two ways. If I may paraphrase, some are using it to refer to “having cosmic intrinsic value,” and others are using it to refer to “having the characteristic of being the thing by which the likelihood of the universe is judged, rather than being something which may just be a coincidental byproduct of the universe’s existence.”

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MichaelPJ October 10, 2010 at 5:18 am

Here’s the argument as I understand it. We have the Fine Tuning Argument (Life version), which says
1. The fine-tuning of the universe for life is explained by chance, necessity or design.
2. It is not explained by chance or necessity.
3. Therefore it is explained by design.

Then, supposing that the universe consisted entirely of gold planets, we have the Fine Tuning Argument (Gold version), which says
1. The fine-tuning of the universe for gold planets is explained by chance, necessity or design.
2. It is not explained by chance or necessity.
3. Therefore it is explained by design.

The claim is then that if a fine-tuning argument can be put forward for any arbitrary state of the universe, even if it actually arose by chance, there must be something wrong with the argument. Essentially, the Fine-Tuning argument for the universe being Exactly The Way It Is must fail in general.

However, this obviously relies on the adequacy of the Gold (or whatever) argument. Which mainly relies on premiss 2. So, can we adapt the theist’s arguments? I’m going to assume that it’s pretty obvious that gold planets aren’t necessary, so let’s look at brute chance. Cadging from Al’s article, replacing “life” with “gold planets”:

However, given the huge improbability of gold planets arising by chance, the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature can be seen as a strong argument for gold planets being here because it exists on purpose, its purpose being God’s creation. From that point of view gold planets have a natural explanation. Refuting such purpose would require to show that gold planets are ‘natural’ also without the idea of God being its originator – a natural outcome of nature’s laws and proceedings.

What’s wrong with this argument? Presumably Al at least thinks it works for “life”, so there must be some relevant difference otherwise it looks like we’ve shown the argument to be faulty. In general then, the question Luke is asking is “What will break in your arguments if I do a find-and-replace for ‘life’ with ‘iPads’?” If the answer is nothing, then you get the absurd conclusion.

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Alexandros Marinos October 10, 2010 at 7:21 am

Patrick, thanks for engaging the argument with intriguing thoughts.

I define meaning to be neither of those two. I see meaning as existing in a context, so when someone asks what the ‘meaning of their life’ is, I equate it to them asking what story they are a part of. Kind of like the narrative fallacy, cosmic version.

If I’m playing blackjack and the cards handed to me form 4 poker royal flushes in a row, the event does not merit explanation, as I’m playing blackjack. In fact, any poker hand has an infinite set of potential rule sets within which it is an extremely powerful hand. However it is that particular rule set that is used at the time that makes a sequence of hands such as four royal flushes in a row merit a special explanation.

So I don’t really see how meaning can have a free-standing existence as in “having cosmic intrinsic value”, which was my point.

The second option, “having the characteristic of being the thing by which the likelihood of the universe is judged, rather than being something which may just be a coincidental byproduct of the universe’s existence.”, again doesn’t make clear the context within which the judgement is made. Is it inside the universe? ‘outside’ it?

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Patrick October 10, 2010 at 7:29 am

*shrug*

I’m happy to have my definitions refined. I was just trying to delineate between some of the comments of the theists in this thread, and some of the atheists, who I believe were using “meaningful” not in the sense of intrinsic value or whatever, but more in the sense that a full house is meaningful in poker, but not meaningful in euchre.

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Larkus October 10, 2010 at 8:13 am

Trasymachus wrote:
“Likewise, the prediction issue is no great shakes. The reason we are a bit surprised when people draw a couple of royal flushes in back-to-back poker hands (but not any other sequence of cards that are equiprobable) is that P(royal flush|cheating) is much higher than these other sequences. Of course, it may just be that things happened to turn out a certain way, but a better conditional probability suggests a more robust explanation of the evidence in question.”

We haven’t been dealt a couple of royal flushes, we have been dealt exactly one hand, that is, we know exactly one universe. We have no other universes to compare it to. Furthermore, we don’t know which game is being played, so we don’t know, whether the royal flush resp. the existence of intelligent life is a winning combination in our game.

On the basis of these informations we can’t determine whether the game is manipulated or not.

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Thrasymachus October 10, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Larkus:

We can still make the same sorts of inferences, even with only one observation.

Consider Fagin. A disreputable fellow, you’re fairly sure he would cheat at poker. So your priors for p(fagin cheating) aren’t so high. If you only play one hand and he gets a royal flush, you may well think he has cheated. Now suppose Oliver, a much more honest character. If he draws a royal flush, you are likely to think he just got lucky. This is because the relevant priors are much lower.

The relevant likelihood ratio, however, is the same. P(x draws a royal flush|x is cheating) >> P(x draws a royal flush|x isn’t cheating). This is because the ‘cheaters’ distribution of card draws will be very heavily skewed to good hands like royal flushes. The reason we say Fagin is guilty but Oliver is innocent is because the prior ratios for cheat/¬cheat is different.

So too fine-tuning. If we say Theism is such that we should anticipate embodied intelligent life (pace remarks above – for my part), then again the likelihood ratio falls out. Although I don’t think there’s any great reason to suspect there be embodied over unembodied intelligent life (and I wonder whether perfect beings would create anything at all) my ‘lower bound’ for this probability is much higher than the astronomically low number we get for fine tuning ‘by chance’. So there’s still confirmation for Theism here. Of course, if the idea that God really would want embodied intelligent life seems crazy, then the fact it is confirmed by this piece of evidence doesn’t matter – the priors are so low as it makes no difference.

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Patrick October 10, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Thrasymachus- I think that actually illustrates one of the weird issues people keep talking about.

How do we know that P(x draws a royal flush|x is cheating) >> P(x draws a royal flush|x isn’t cheating)? To know that, we need to not only know the chance of drawing a royal flush if you’re not cheating, we also need to know (or at least estimate) the probability of drawing a royal flush if you ARE cheating, as your equation correctly notes.

But that’s dependent on the fact that we’re playing poker. If we were playing some other game where a royal flush was a losing hand, the probability of having a royal flush given that the player is cheating would be lower than the probability of being dealt one fairly.

That complicates the Bayesian analysis significantly. And it opens up some other important questions.

For example, using the fine tuning argument, if we do our Bayesian analysis on the theory that the universe was created by a supernatural, all powerful being that desired to create a universe in which life could exist, we have to include in our calculations the probability that this specific universe would be chosen by that supernatural being, rather than one in which, just as a hypothetical, everything is exactly like this universe except that hugging a kitten cures cancer. The fact that you have to account for all universes that could have been created given the stated goals of the being, and the fact that this explodes the sample space because the hypothesized being knows magic and can create magical universes, and the fact that you also have to account for a null hypothesis that includes all the possible supernatural beings that could create universes but which wouldn’t have the hypothesized design goals, makes the Bayesian argument… complex, and rough.

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Hermes October 10, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Thrasymachus, the motivation to pre-suppose a conclusion is higher in the case of the theist that has one or more deities with an asserted role as creators.

As such, a generic theism with a set of creator deities may anticipate creator deities as the — well — creator of life, yet the logic of that situation doesn’t benefit from that over some other possible reason.

Just as the case of life as we know it being caused by Suzie’s class art project in another dimension, the generic creator deity doesn’t tell us anything. I could presuppose Suzie and would only be questioned on my choice because people don’t generally consider Suzie but do have presuppositions that it is some set of creator deities.

(Note that in your example, you even cited “God” (capital) narrowing down the presupposition to a single specific named deity.)

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James October 10, 2010 at 4:38 pm

The creative miracle in the universe is emergence. I think few people would postulate a creator of a universe that was composed of just a single particle, or of a universe composed of an infinite expanse of quarks and empty space, with no emergent objects.

We live in a world where collections of simple things give rise to an emergent thing, which is as “real” as the constituent parts, and which can be understood on its own terms. There is hydrogen and oxygen, and then there is water. You can understand water as a thing in itself. It has properties that distinguish it from oil, which can be used to make predictions even while completely ignoring the behaviors of the constituent atoms.

Life is just the most dazzling example of emergence, but is complexity/emergence that suggests a complex first cause.

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Eric October 10, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Ayer -
Patrick: “If you’re going to make the argument that the universe was created by an infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable, infinitely loving being who’s only desire was to create a single planet’s worth of human beings in order for them to be happy and love him while they live on it,”

That’s not the conclusion of the fine-tuning argument by itself. The conclusion of the fine-tuning argument is simply that the universe was intelligently designed. When combined with the cosmological, moral, ontological, and argument from contingency, however, you do get something like your “argument.”

If you are going to say the conclusion of the fine tuning argument is that the universe was intelligently designed, that means you, at some point in the argument, concluded the universe was designed at all. When you say the conclusion is design, you immediately have to determine what kind of design you are talking about. There are two kinds of design:
1. Top-down, which requires a designer
and
2. Bottom-up, which does not require a designer (examples: evolution by random mutation and natural selection or computerized fractal drawings)

One way to initially tell which kind of design we are talking about is to consider “imperfections” in design. For example, if you were to look at the inner workings of the human eye, you would see everything is basically backwards and upside down. No human designer would ever do this. And I have yet to hear an argument for why a designer like the omni-god would do this either. Turns out that evolution now has a great explanation for this, which means that the eye is an example of “bottom-up design.” This is why the imperfections argument still works against ID because these imperfections are better explained by the bottom-up design process of evolution than by the design of some creator.

Now if you were to say you cannot determine what the proposed designer wants (skeptical theism), then you cannot determine any design is what the proposed designer wants or does not want. Perhaps the designer wants the imperfections. However, this begs the question of why you would think anything is more likely top-down designed than bottom up designed in the first place. With no other evidence of bottom-up design, you wouldn’t necessarily say it is more likely bottom up designed either. So, with this skeptical theism approach, you cannot say it is more probable that the design is “top down” than “bottom up.” So therefore a top-down “intelligent design” is no better explanation than a bottom-up designer-less explanation (assuming there is no positive evidence of bottom-down design). Since neither is an better explanation in this case, then you can never assume the appearance of design (the fine tuning of the universe in this case) as evidence of either. This makes the “intelligent design” hypothesis not confirm-able. So in this case, fine tuning can never be evidence of an intelligent designer anymore than it can be evidence of mindless forces working together to create a bottom up design.

So imperfections should make us suspect a designer-less “bottom up design” AT LEAST as much as a “top-down” design and is thus relevant in any design discussion.

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Eric October 10, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Ayer -
Multiple universes are more numerous than a single God.

If you look at god as a set of properties that must exist in addition to the set of properties that make up the natural universe, then God is clearly more numerous than multiple universes because the multiple universes are made of the same set of stuff as our natural universe. It sounds as if you have made a severe over-simplification.

also, heres how victor stenger put it:
Several commentators have argued that a multiverse cosmology violates Occam’s razor(Ellis 1993). This is debatable. Occam’s razor is usually expressed as “Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. The “entities” that Occam’s law of parsimony forbids us from
“multiplying beyond necessity” are independent theoretical hypotheses, not universes. For example, the atomic theory of matter multiplied the number of bodies we must consider in solving a thermodynamic problem by 1024 or so per gram. But it did not violate Occam’s razor.
Instead, it provided for a simpler, more powerful, more economic exposition of the rules that were obeyed by thermodynamic systems.
The multiverse scenario is more parsimonious than that of a single universe. No known principle rules out the existence of other universes which, furthermore, are suggested by modern cosmological models.

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Eric October 10, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Ayer -
As you point out, it is you who are making the claim and thus bear the burden of explaining why a universe from which sentience emerges is no more remarkable than one filled with an inanimate mineral (sort of like having to show that an abacus is at the same level of sophistication as an iPad, but perhaps it can be done).

You are clearly shifting the burden of proof. Using your words, we are arguing that a universe from which sentience emerges MUST BE more remarkable than one filled with an inanimate mineral in order for the fine-tuning argument to work. We are asking you to give us evidence that a universe from which sentience emerges IS more remarkable than one filled with an inanimate mineral.

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Thrasymachus October 11, 2010 at 4:50 am

Patrick, Hermes:

There are questions about whether our initial hypothesis is plausible. Whether the idea of a creator God who would really make this sort of universe, evil and all, or whether he would even ‘play the game’ of creating universes or people in the first place. However, take these worries aside for now.

Given this hypothesis, we should expect a life permitting universe. Yet, given something like naturalism (rather, single universe naturalism) we should only expect it to the same degree as life permitting universes are common in modal space. As it is urged that life permitting universes are really, really rare in the space of all universes, this provides good evidence for Theism.

We don’t need to specify beyond this to get the likelihood ratio we ‘want’ for fine tuning. We are only looking at one characteristic of the observation (that this universe is ‘life friendly’). We’ve assumed above that our Theistic hypothesis really does predict life-friendly universes. Bingo, evidence for God!

But this evidence isn’t decisive. It may just be that there’s other stuff in the universe (eg. appearance of gratuitous evil) that disconfirms Theism. You may also think that the prior likelihood of any sort of God making life-permitting universes are absurd, thus even stonking great confirmation won’t make you believe it. But that doesn’t undercut fine tuning per se. For my part, I’m pretty happy to grant that if Theism, then it wouldn’t be too unlikely for God to make a life permitting universe (P(LPU|T) > 0.1 is around my lower bound). So long as this is greater than P(LPU|ASU), then we still get confirmation.

There are other issues for this sort of analysis (like multiverses, like modal scope, like prediction). I agree it gets very murky, and ultimately isn’t successful – but not for the reasons so far. Forgive me hawking my wares, but I cover it in greater depth here

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Larkus October 11, 2010 at 5:40 am

Patrick wrote:
“How do we know that P(x draws a royal flush|x is cheating) >> P(x draws a royal flush|x isn’t cheating)?

To know that, we need to not only know the chance of drawing a royal flush if you’re not cheating, we also need to know (or at least estimate) the probability of drawing a royal flush if you ARE cheating, as your equation correctly notes.

But that’s dependent on the fact that we’re playing poker. If we were playing some other game where a royal flush was a losing hand, the probability of having a royal flush given that the player is cheating would be lower than the probability of being dealt one fairly.”

Indeed.

Trasymachus, I’d like to know your method to determine what cosmic game we are playing.

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Larkus October 11, 2010 at 5:44 am

Thrasymachus, I’m sorry for misspelling your name.

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Al Moritz October 11, 2010 at 6:26 am

Alright, I have now made plainly explicit in my text what I thought was *obviously* implied. The sentence:

However, given the huge improbability of life arising by chance, the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature can be seen as a strong argument for life being here because it exists on purpose, its purpose being God’s creation,

becomes:

However, given the huge improbability of life arising by chance, the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature is interpreted by theists as strong support for the tradition of belief that life exists because it was created on purpose by God.

The last two paragraphs of section 1.3.1. of my article then read (text otherwise unchanged):

However, given the huge improbability of life arising by chance, the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature is interpreted by theists as strong support for the tradition of belief that life exists because it was created on purpose by God. From that point of view life has a natural explanation. Refuting such purpose would require to show that life is ‘natural’ also without the idea of God being its originator – a natural outcome of nature’s laws and proceedings. Hence the below discussed ideas about necessity of laws of nature, life being a statistically inevitable outcome of the multiverse etc.

The scenario of life as a chance ‘cosmic fluke’, on the other hand, would make life a highly ‘unnatural’ outcome of nature, something that is absurdly atypical, an anomaly. It is exactly this ‘unnaturalness’ which makes the position unsatisfying and rationally unconvincing, especially compared to the theistic position that life is natural as being designed on purpose. Some other ‘natural’ explanation for life seems to be required, if one does not want to adopt the theistic position – and many prominent non-theistic cosmologists appear to agree with that.

***

Now, read these two paragraphs in the context of iPads (or gold planets, or stars, or a gravity-to-weak-force ratio of 1 to 4.2398283238, if you will). From the resulting absurdity, especially in the first sentence but carrying through, you will see that now ‘life’ cannot be exchanged for ‘iPads’ (or ‘gold planets’ etc.):

However, given the huge improbability of iPads arising by chance, the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature is interpreted by theists as strong support for the tradition of belief that iPads exist because they were created by on purpose God. From that point of view iPads have a natural explanation. Refuting such purpose would require to show that iPads are ‘natural’ also without the idea of God being their originator – a natural outcome of nature’s laws and proceedings. Hence the below discussed ideas about necessity of laws of nature, life being a statistically inevitable outcome of the multiverse etc.

The scenario of iPads as a chance ‘cosmic fluke’, on the other hand, would make iPads a highly ‘unnatural’ outcome of nature, something that is absurdly atypical, an anomaly. It is exactly this ‘unnaturalness’ which makes the position unsatisfying and rationally unconvincing, especially compared to the theistic position that iPads are natural as being designed on purpose. Some other ‘natural’ explanation for iPads seem to be required, if one does not want to adopt the theistic position – and many prominent non-theistic cosmologists appear to agree with that.

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Hermes October 11, 2010 at 6:28 am

Thrasymachus, that’s not what I’m saying; I’m not considering a set of creator deities to have a particular temperament or goal. That investigation isn’t based on merit but preconception. For example, “Good” or “Evil” in that context is leaping past establishing the premise and inserting extra attributes that just clutter the investigation and presuppose specific characteristics based on existing religious presuppositions.

I don’t see how doing that will yield a reliable result untainted by the heavy use of presuppositions on the front end. Being restrained and spartan in our presuppositions and labeling any required ones as potential sources of future errors would be recommended.

Additionally, it ladens down any clear and non-presupposed investigation with additional conclusions that are sectarian presuppositions in nature. For many theistic religious people, already asserting their personal presuppositions, this is not a problem. Well, I’m not a religious person or a theist, so while I am glad to acknowledge various phenomenon that religious theists or just religious people identify as being real phenomenon, I’m not going to take any random theistic sect or individual at their word when they drop those presupposations in as being topics ready to discuss when we don’t have any reason in a neutral arena to pick any set of theistic presuppositions over another.

Yet, that’s besides the point right now. The point is that popularity isn’t sufficient to take theistic presuppositions as worthy as the base for a valid hypothesis.

Let me explain.

I don’t see a logical reason or evidential support being presented for considering any set of creator deities over some other conjecture. Say, Susan and her art project.

The only thing going for a set of deities is the current popularity of a subset of some of those deities. That set of currently popular religious conceptions of specific named (and sometimes un-named) creator deities doesn’t lend logical support or evidential support for considering any set of deities more worthy of consideration over other conjectures including other sets of named or unnamed creator deities. Note that giving any set of deities a name doesn’t improve clarity either since many sects that re-use the same deity names have vastly different conceptions of what the named deity is like.

As such, I don’t see the merit for proposing that investigation over some other conjecture.

Like Susan’s art project, any hypothesis that can be fruitfully developed must have a logical structure and evidence that can show that it has merit to be investigated. Popularity is a questionable path to structure a hypothesis on and makes me wonder if it is possible to back up any difference between Susan and some set of deities.

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Al Moritz October 11, 2010 at 6:30 am

… tradition of belief that iPads exist because they were created by on purpose God.

should of course read:

…tradition of belief that iPads exist because they were created on purpose by God.

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Zeb October 11, 2010 at 6:45 am

I disagree that it matters “what game we’re playing.” If we were playing poker and one player received the first 50 digits of pi in order over the first ten hands, it was be obvious that he is not cheating (manipulating the deal so as to win), but it would be safe to assume that somehow the deck is being manipulated. And that’s because the probability of getting pi without manipulation [to get pi] is so extremely low compared the the probability with manipulation. And that’s not the case for a truly random string of 50 cards.

Likewise imagine if we somehow discovered that there are actually only two universes in the multiverse, ours and one with the following characteristic: there are 1,000,000 galaxies that form a spiral, the number of stars in each being the digits of pi x1,000,000 respectively going around the spiral from the inside out. While we may not imagine what motives would lead any intelligent fine tuner to determine a universe with that form, the fine tuner explanation is much more likely than the random explanation for all but a prior probability of 0 for fine tuning. There is no intrinsic value to life or to the first 1,000,000 digits of pix1,000,000.

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Patrick October 11, 2010 at 8:12 am

I have a couple of objections.

Hypothesis: Your neighbor is rich.
Experimental Data: Your neighbor just bought a brand new car.
Rich people buy brand new cars more often than non-rich people. Therefore the experimental data is more likely under the hypothesis than under the null hypothesis.
Therefore by Bayes, this is evidence that your neighbor is rich.

These statements remain true EVEN IF I had the following fact: the car in question was an ugly, dirt cheap economy model with no extras included purchased on credit from a disreputable dealer.

The Bayesian argument above does the work ascribed to it. Its just incomplete, and with more information included, a better Bayesian argument could be written.

Hypothesis: Your neighbor is rich.
Experimental Data: Your neighbor just bought a brand new car, but its an ugly, dirt cheap economy model with no extras included purchased on credit from a disreputable dealer.
Rich people are less likely to purchase such cars than non rich people.
Therefore by Bayes, this is evidence that your neighbor is non-rich.

This is one of the problems I have with the idea that a life permitting universe is evidence of a designer that wanted a life permitting universe. The universe we’ve got isn’t all that life permitting. In fact, its massively life hostile. Its much better at permitting things like black holes, or like those funny energy reactions that occur in vacuums.

It seems like the inclusion of all available data actually makes the designer(who wants to create a life sustaining universe) hypothesis less likely, but everything is being lumped in as “life permitting universe” instead of “a universe massively hostile to life, but with a few drops here or there.”

It seems to me that running a steamroller over top of all “life permitting universes” and treating each as being as good as the other for the purposes of this argument, is doing a lot of work behind the scenes.

Other objections later.

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Eric October 11, 2010 at 9:11 am

Al Moritz –

What exactly is absurd about the your statement where ipads are substituted for life? Is it absurd from an epistemological or theological point of view?

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Alexandros Marinos October 11, 2010 at 11:59 am

Zeb, as I said above, every sequence has some (in fact, infinite) contexts in which it is meaningful.

Why privilege the contexts you are aware of (such as numbers of pi) over the ones you are not? Unless of course the game we are playing is ‘contexts Zeb thinks are special’.

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woodchuck64 October 11, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Reidish,

But it doesn’t seem like it should concern the defender of the argument that, in order to resist the conclusion, the objector asserts that life as we know it has no intrinsic value. That seems like a high-enough price to pay to avoid theistic conclusions.

I don’t see how the conclusion of no intrinsic value necessarily follows. It does seem to be true that the objector asserts that life could have less intrinsic value than stars, iPads, or thinking robots.

But your argument at face value seems to say that we should reject any argument that reduces the intrinsic value of life. That feels to me like you’re mixing moral conviction in with your reasoning.

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Zeb October 11, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Alexandros, are you saying that finding the digits of pi spelled out in some form to 1,000,000 digits would not lead you to doubt the randomness of the thing observed?

Anyway, I am arguing against your point that it matters “what game we’re playing”, or what the context is. If you got enough royal flushes in a row in a game of black jack, that would certainly give weight to a non-random-dealing explanation. If you got the same seemingly random set of “meaningless” cards in poker a bunch of times, that would give weight to a nonrandom explanation. Having established the non-randomness of the cards, you could split the potential non-random explanations into two sets, intentional biasing by an intelligent agent, and unintentional biasing by a non-intelligent mechanism. To decide which is more probable you would have to assign a particular probability to of coming up with the particular non-random combination observed given random biasing, and given non-random biasing.

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Hermes October 11, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Anyway, I am arguing against your point that it matters “what game we’re playing”, or what the context is. If you got enough royal flushes in a row in a game of black jack, that would certainly give weight to a non-random-dealing explanation.

I don’t think the first sentence is consistent with the second one. If anything, it supports the idea that the game being played — part of the context of events — does matter.

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Zeb October 11, 2010 at 4:52 pm

How so Hermes? Royal flushes have no meaning in black jack.

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Hermes October 11, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Zeb, er, good point. A comment;

Since a royal flush can’t be dealt at all to a single player in a blackjack game — the third or fourth card in a royal flush would bust the player and can’t be split to avoid the bust — how in your example did you see it being dealt at all?

It still seems like the game being played and the context matters quite a bit.

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Patrick October 11, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Zeb- the thesis being defended isn’t that the universe’s qualities aren’t random, its that the universe’s qualities are best explained by the intelligent intervention of an agency possessed of certain designated intentions.

So to return to our card analogy, it doesn’t matter how many consecutive identical hands are dealt to you if the game you’re playing doesn’t consider the hands in question to be meaningful. No matter how many identical hands happen, it will never support the thesis that the player receiving the hand is cheating with the intention of winning. In fact, it can even be evidence against it, because a cheating player hoping to win wouldn’t repeatedly deal himself losing hands.

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Alexandros Marinos October 12, 2010 at 1:32 am

Zeb, if I knew that the cards were dealt to me by a human who shares my designation of ‘special contexts’ such as digits of pi, or e, or digits of my phone number, I would be suspicious indeed. But you see this is precisely the point. You need to assume that there is another agent with similar context on the other side of the exchange to conclude that the pattern is meaningful.

Hence, the FTA is assuming its conclusion, aka. begging the question.

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MichaelPJ October 12, 2010 at 2:24 am

Al,

I’d echo what Eric said: I don’t see the absurdity. Or more to the point, I don’t see why it’s an absurdity for iPads, but not for human beings. The question being asked is precisely why the one should be absurd but the other not?

Also, I’m not sure what mentioning a “tradition of belief” that life was created by God adds. Would the iPad argument work if there was a “tradition of belief” that iPads were created by God (yea, and Jobs is his prophet)?

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Thrasymachus October 12, 2010 at 4:09 am

Larkus, Hermes:

Sure, you’ve front-loaded lots to say that Theism really predicts life permitting universes: that God has an interest in creating life-permitting worlds, or that life has some value which God would want to actualize – the ‘game he wants to play’. None of these things are argued for. If you don’t take these things as remotely reasonable, then you don’t need to worry for fine tuning. For my part, although I’m worried about these things, my worry ain’t so great to dismiss the concern then and there: my priors aren’t so low for that. Besides, the fine tuning argument would still ‘work’ insofar as it confirms the Theistic (or Theistic*) hypothesis: the response is just that Theism* is ridiculous.

I think this also covers the meaningful/context stuff considered above. There isn’t (at least not uncontroversially) a way to show certain sequences or results have ‘meaning’ pre-lexically. Any sequence can be compressed, so long as we’ve picked the right language. Yet I don’t think we need to worry about that. Most of us think human life is valuable (either in itself or as a means to realize other goods). Stars or iPads don’t realize goods – at least, they only do so in possible worlds that are also life-permitting. So your morally perfect God would ‘make sure’ that this universe would support life, and wouldn’t directly care as much about iPads or stars.

Patrick:

You are right in that perhaps other features about the way our universe is life-permitting may disconfirm Theism, in the same way the sort of car bought may disconfirm wealth. It isn’t all that surprising: for a given ‘set’ of findings delimited, it may well be that most cases confirm the hypothesis, yet some cases disconfirm it. Regardless, unless we can ‘narrow down’ our case further to show that this particular bit of evidence really belongs to a more particular set of disconfirming evidence, it is still reasonable to take it in support. So only knowing your neighbour bought a car gives good reason to think he is richer as opposed to poorer, and only knowing that the universe is life permitting gives good reason to suppose Theism over Atheism. The evidential weight shifts across the scale if we find the car is clapped out, or that the universe has stuff like gratuitous evil. I drew a pretty diagram of this on my blog. ;)

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Hermes October 12, 2010 at 6:41 am

Thrasymachus, my response was not focusing on the beliefs of theists or lack of beliefs of atheists. In the example I gave, I am not bringing in my personal biases but pointing out that there is nothing to raise a set of deities to that of a hypothesis or if we ignore even forming a hypothesis to prefer any set of deities over some other conjecture.

If deities can be part of a proper hypothesis, then you are welcome to show how.

Choose either the set of all deities or some limited subset and outline how you would handle it in a hypothesis.

Note: Deistic and pantheistic deities and possibly some other set of deities can be part of a hypothesis, but they may suffer from various problems such as being logically exclusive (both can’t be true) and not showing a difference from observed reality without them; deist deities are done meddling with reality, and pantheist deities are reality — the rock and our left fingernail are different parts of the deity set or the pantheistic deities are woven into the core of reality and thus indistinguishable from reality.

* * *

Some nits;

I’m not unilaterally rejecting the category of any deity in the set of all deities, nor did I raise the issue of perfection or any other random abstraction so please don’t attribute that to me. I am attempting to be fair towards the different categories, and I don’t see a reason to give preferential treatment to any members of the set of all deities over other potential conjectures beyond the issue of popularity. As you can’t vote on reality, I don’t see that as sufficient to choose deities over Susan.

I don’t know what you mean by capital “T” “Theism” or capital “A” “Atheism”. There’s theism, and atheism, but no named groups that deserve a proper name.

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Larkus October 12, 2010 at 7:08 am

Thrasymachus, I don’t think that creating a life-permitting universe isn’t a remotely reasonable goal for a deity, but I think it is just one goal out of all possible goals for a deity. Maybe a deity is more interested in singing gas or rainbow planets with rings of fire.

Based on that I wouldn’t put the chance of a creator god having the goal of creating a life permitting universe and thus choosing the relevant characteristics of the universe to permit life higher than the chance of the relevant characteristics of the universe to permit life to be in place by chance.

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Al Moritz October 12, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Michael:

I don’t see the absurdity. Or more to the point, I don’t see why it’s an absurdity for iPads, but not for human beings.

Because obviously there is no “tradition of belief” that iPads were created by God. There may be weird individuals who believe that, but there is no “tradition of belief”, and specifically, no “tradition of belief” among theists regarding iPads (they were obviously created by humans).

(That distinction is specifically why I chose the term “tradition of belief” instead of just “belief”.)

Would the iPad argument work if there was a “tradition of belief” that iPads were created by God (yea, and Jobs is his prophet)?

It would, but again, there is no such tradition. That’s the point: there *is* a tradition of belief that life was created by God, and this fact needs to be addressed with a counter-argument that life is nonetheless ‘natural’ (multiverse, necessity of nature etc.). Leading cosmologists agree on this need for a counter-argument on specifically life (Hawking, Susskind, Smolin, Tegmark, Davies, Rees, etc., most of whom are atheists or agnostics).

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Patrick October 12, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Al Moritz- I think you’re mixing up the issue of whether something appears absurd versus whether its absurd in some general sense. Likewise I think you’re mixing up the issue of whether one thing needs an answer more than another because people believe the first and therefore they deserve an answer, and whether one thing needs an answer more than another in an abstract sense.

Some people believe that the “purpose” of the Earth, in a cosmic sense, is to house humans.

No one believes that the “purpose” of the Earth, in a cosmic sense, is to house roaches.

If our goal is public education, then the first “deserves” an answer and the second doesn’t, because answering the second is pointless since no one believes it.

But to an outside perspective, which hasn’t been informed about which belief is traditionally held, there is a pretty clear parity between the two positions. And its therefore informative to note that were roaches capable of making such arguments, any argument made in support of the Earth as the cosmically intended home of humans would likely support the roach’s analogous argument.

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Eric October 14, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Al –
Because obviously there is no “tradition of belief” that iPads were created by God. There may be weird individuals who believe that, but there is no “tradition of belief”, and specifically, no “tradition of belief” among theists regarding iPads (they were obviously created by humans)

I’m confused. Are you saying there’s a “tradition of belief” that life was created by God? I got the idea you certainly didn’t believe that, seeing as how you are such a huge supporter or abiogenesis and the theory of evolution. It seems as though you are trying to dodge the question of why you think the “purpose of the universe” is life. If it’s not, why would our universe need explanation any more than any other possible universe with some other phenomena? Your expanations give theological explanations rather than epistemological explanations. I don’t see how traditions make any belief any less absurd. There certainly have been some pretty ridiculous “traditions of belief.”

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Hermes October 15, 2010 at 12:11 am

Eric, thanks. I hope to see Al Moritz give a response and continue the dialog.

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ayer October 15, 2010 at 8:40 am

Eric: “I don’t see how traditions make any belief any less absurd. There certainly have been some pretty ridiculous “traditions of belief.”

The fact that there was a pre-existing tradition of belief (i.e., the “God hypothesis”) prior to any scientific evidence of fine-tuning shows that that belief was empirically supported by later-arising evidence, and was not a post-hoc rationalization after the evidence was discovered. If, however, instead of fine-tuning, cosmology had discovered that there was some necessary reason within a “theory of everything” for the constants to be set at their initial values in the Big Bang, that would have been evidence against “tuning” by an intelligent designer.

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Al Moritz October 15, 2010 at 10:48 am

The fact that there was a pre-existing tradition of belief (i.e., the “God hypothesis”) prior to any scientific evidence of fine-tuning shows that that belief was empirically supported by later-arising evidence, and was not a post-hoc rationalization after the evidence was discovered.

Exactly.

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Al Moritz October 15, 2010 at 10:55 am

Eric,

I’m confused. Are you saying there’s a “tradition of belief” that life was created by God? I got the idea you certainly didn’t believe that, seeing as how you are such a huge supporter or abiogenesis and the theory of evolution.

Life was created by God through the physical unfolding of a universe that was bound to produce life by natural causes, according to the fine-tuned (precisely planned) laws of nature that govern this universe.

It seems as though you are trying to dodge the question of why you think the “purpose of the universe” is life.

I think I have explained that at length by now. If you don’t think so, I hardly believe any more explaining will help either.

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Hermes October 15, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Life was created by God through the physical unfolding of a universe that was bound to produce life by natural causes, according to the fine-tuned (precisely planned) laws of nature that govern this universe.

I realize that is a belief that you may feel compelled to treat as knowledge, but please consider not writing a check you can’t cash in this instance.

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Al Moritz October 15, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Hermes,

Do not forget that the philosophy of naturalism is not knowledge in the common sense either.

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ildi October 15, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Al:

Life was created by God through the physical unfolding of a universe that was bound to produce life by natural causes, according to the fine-tuned (precisely planned) laws of nature that govern this universe.

Life in the universe, or life on Earth only?

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Al Moritz October 15, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Life in the universe, or life on Earth only?

Obviously any place where it can form. My scientific hunch is that microbial life is vastly common in the universe, higher organisms more rare because they need more sheltered conditions to thrive.

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ildi October 15, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Higher organisms that eventually evolve ‘souls’, in your contention? Did/will all of them need to be washed in Jesus’ blood to be cleansed of their sins, you think?

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ayer October 15, 2010 at 3:29 pm

ildi,

C.S. Lewis explored that question at length in his “Space Trilogy”, described briefly here:

https://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/call-response/15208-god-of-the-heavens

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Hermes October 15, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Al Moritz: Do not forget that the philosophy of naturalism is not knowledge in the common sense either.

As you know, it’s a good thing that I’m not a philosophical naturalist.

That said, while I knew you were not promoting comments about a deity as definitive knowledge, the phrasing you chose could reasonably lead someone to think that was what you were doing. A modest amount of care would be appropriate for the general audience.

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Al Moritz October 15, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Hermes,

I don’t think it is necessary to start every statement with “I believe that …”. While I appreciate your concern about precision (which I have also learned from), I don’t think we need to drive it too far.

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Eric October 15, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Ayer -
The fact that there was a pre-existing tradition of belief (i.e., the “God hypothesis”) prior to any scientific evidence of fine-tuning shows that that belief was empirically supported by later-arising evidence, and was not a post-hoc rationalization after the evidence was discovered. If, however, instead of fine-tuning, cosmology had discovered that there was some necessary reason within a “theory of everything” for the constants to be set at their initial values in the Big Bang, that would have been evidence against “tuning” by an intelligent designer.

I think this goes to my point with Al:

Al –
Life was created by God through the physical unfolding of a universe that was bound to produce life by natural causes, according to the fine-tuned (precisely planned) laws of nature that govern this universe.

The “tradition of belief” was that God created life specially. However, we have since found that life came about as a result of natural processes. Saying that this is what is meant by “God created life” is creating an unfalsifiable belief.
Originally, God was thought to have directly created life supernaturally (It was no wonder the universe was life permitting). Then we came to realize life came about by natural means so now theists say God set up the constants that resulted in the natural formation of life. If we found a theory of everything, what would suddenly stop you from saying that god created the “theory of everything.” Out of all conceivable “theories of everything” one that permits the conditions of life happening by chance is very small. Luke Barnes used this very response when Lukeprog suggested this very same “falsification” as a response to fine-tuning. Then the theory of everything would still support “tradition of belief” that god created life, via the theist’s logic, although in an every increasingly indirect manner. Is there some reason why the tradition of belief could not be extended in this way? Because, if not, what you think falsifies it actually does not. It would seem unfalsifiable. So if you are talking about this unfalsifiable “tradition of belief,” then its no surprise it can be “confirmed” by later findings, ANY later findings.

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Hermes October 15, 2010 at 9:06 pm

:-)

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Eric October 16, 2010 at 1:06 am

So once again, with that in mind, how is this “tradition of belief” relevant?

Al –
I think I have explained that at length by now. If you don’t think so, I hardly believe any more explaining will help either.

Al, this is how discussions go. You have explained why you thought it was more absurd to believe the universe was created for ipdas than for intelligent life. And my point was that you didn’t show how you’re argument follows deductively from the premises (plus, your entire reasoning seems to dodge the question.) You have failed to show how a “tradition of belief” makes the belief the universe was created for intelligent life any less absurd than the belief the universe was created for ipads. I think it would greatly help if you give me a deductive argument for why the universe was created for life that does not equally apply to ipads. If the statement about ipads is so absurd, then you should have no trouble doing this.

And, the problem of falsability, mentioned earlier, aside, here is the logic i heard from ayer:

- The tradition of belief has been that god created the universe for life.
- If (the tradition of belief has been correct) then (the universe is life permitting).
- (The universe is life permitting).
- Therefore (the tradition of belief has been correct.)
If P then Q
Q
Therefore P

As you can see, via basic logic, this does not follow. This is the interpretation of the argument I heard from ayer, presented as a formal argument. I cannot think of a stronger interpretation than this one without running into red herrings. Ayer, if this interpretation is incorrect, please give me the correct interpretation in the form of a formal deductive argument.

Sometimes the rhetoric in arguments gets so convoluted its hard to tell exactly what is being argued. This may help clear things up quite a bit…

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Eric October 16, 2010 at 1:09 am

By the way, i think the logical fallacy mentioned earlier;
If P then Q
Q
Therefore P

is precisely the problem I am seeing with the arguments presented by Al and Ayer. Seeing their arguments as formal deductive arguments should hopefully help.

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Al Moritz October 16, 2010 at 4:57 am

Hermes,

As you know, it’s a good thing that I’m not a philosophical naturalist.

So what is your philosophical position? Being an atheist negates a worldview, but what is your positive replacement then, if not naturalism?

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Al Moritz October 16, 2010 at 6:01 am

Eric:

- The tradition of belief has been that god created the universe for life.
- If (the tradition of belief has been correct) then (the universe is life permitting).
- (The universe is life permitting).
- Therefore (the tradition of belief has been correct.)
If P then Q
Q
Therefore P

is precisely the problem I am seeing with the arguments presented by Al and Ayer.

I have never made this kind of argument, and probably neither has Ayer. (Hint: not only is the argument screwed up, it becomes useless once there are naturalistic alternatives. That there are none, as I argue in my article, is a different matter.)

The tendency to put words into your opponent’s mouth after misunderstanding them, and then acccusing them of faulty logic is one of the resaons why I am getting tired of this kind of discussions.

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ayer October 16, 2010 at 8:58 am

Eric: “Saying that this is what is meant by “God created life” is creating an unfalsifiable belief.”

A self-consistent “theory of everything” would render the fine-tuning argument based on the constants in the initial Big Bang irrelevant (just as it would render the multiverse theory irrelevant) but the question “where did the laws governing the theory of everything come from” would remain–i.e., the “argument from contingency” (though the case for theism would be weakened by losing the specific fine-tuning argument from design). But then we are dealing with philosophical issues that are beyond the purview of science, so falsifiability is an irrelevant criterion. Science will never be able to answer the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” so theism will always remain a live, unfalsified philosophical option as long as someone is around to notice that anything at all exists.

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Hermes October 16, 2010 at 11:00 am
Hermes: As you know, it’s a good thing that I’m not a philosophical naturalist.

Al Moritz: So what is your philosophical position? Being an atheist negates a worldview, but what is your positive replacement then, if not naturalism?

I’m generally not dogmatically tied to narrow philosophical positions. The strain of dealing with Heidegger cured me of that.

The reason why I don’t hold to naturalism is because there are people who claim that naturalism is either inadequate or incorrect. Maybe it is one or both. As I don’t care, I’ll grant them that is a possibility. [ See my comment from yesterday to Patrick for a few more details on the naturalism squabble: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=12119 ]

Remember my emphasis in our earlier discussions; It’s fine to point out the problems (actual or potential) in competing ideas, but at the end of the day it’s necessary to put forth support for your own ideas if you promote something as worthy of belief that it is real or actually true based on specific examinable facts.

As for atheism, I’m only an atheist by necessity; since I’m not a theist of some sort, there is no other category left as a descriptor. If you remember our previous conversation, if someone showed me that theism in some form were more likely than not, I’d in that instant be a theist of some kind. I would not expect much else to change about my beliefs. The most credible ones at this point are deistic or pantheist deities. Either is worthy of belief, yet I have no belief in either and additionally I have no knowledge that either is actually true based on specific facts. Where they succeed is that they are not internally inconsistent, nor are they directly contradicted by specific facts. They both can’t be true, though, as they contradict each other and it is probably true that no support for them could be offered because of the type of claims being made in each case. [ See my poll on religious positions for more on this issue and how I handle belief statements and knowledge claims: http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?topic=833 ]

Now, if someone offers a specific subset of theism for my consideration, then I’ll be glad to comment on it. If I think it is in error, I’ll give reasons why. If not, I’ll say that as well. If it is not personally believable, I’ll be glad to state that and as far as I’m able to provide reasons for why I do not personally believe it. As there are so many theisms, let alone variations on specific types of theisms, I’m left waiting for advocates of their specific form of theism to come forth and promote their version.

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ildi October 16, 2010 at 11:47 am

Thanks, ayer, for the link to Lewis’ take on things. (I was interested in Al’s perspective? Al?) If I understand it correctly, Lewis felt that God was universal, but Satan was local. So, no Satan, no tempting, no sin? That got me sidetracked to thinking about Satan as a character. He was right there in heaven, hanging out with God, no faith needed, and ended up not being so impressed. If God was all that, why did Satan lose the desire to worship him? Why did he feel that God needed to be replaced? Maybe he saw previous examples of Yahweh in action on other planets…

Anyhow, funny you link to science fiction writing, because reading sci-fi led me to some of my first outsider tests. I remember thinking how aghast aliens would be if they came to our planet and saw these images of a man being horribly tortured to death prominently displayed all over the place.

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ayer October 16, 2010 at 12:55 pm

ildi: “I remember thinking how aghast aliens would be if they came to our planet and saw these images of a man being horribly tortured to death prominently displayed all over the place.”

Walker Percy actually addressed a similar issue in his “Lost in the Cosmos,” which contains a short story in which an alien race is appalled not at the cross, but at human beings’ failure to recognize their fallen nature and their need for redemption of the cross because they are blinded by scientism:

http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Cosmos-Last-Self-Help-Book/dp/0312253990

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ildi October 16, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Since Walker Percy was immersed in a Christian culture and was a practicing Catholic, this is not so surprising, is it?

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MichaelPJ October 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Al,

Sorry to back this up a bit, but I’m still a little confused about the whole “tradition of belief” thing.

You agreed with ayer when he said:

The fact that there was a pre-existing tradition of belief (i.e., the “God hypothesis”) prior to any scientific evidence of fine-tuning shows that that belief was empirically supported by later-arising evidence, and was not a post-hoc rationalization after the evidence was discovered.

Maybe I’m being slow, but I still don’t see what that has to do with anything. Why does the fact that some people believed that God created life before the fine tuning evidence mean that brute chance is ruled out as an explanation for life, but not for iPads?

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Eric October 16, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Al-
The tendency to put words into your opponent’s mouth after misunderstanding them, and then acccusing them of faulty logic is one of the resaons why I am getting tired of this kind of discussions.

Al, so if that wasnt his argument, what was. I tried to put his argument into deductive form and showed how it was faulty. I submitted the possibility I was wrong but i guess you just COMPLETELY IGNORED THAT

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Eric October 16, 2010 at 7:59 pm

sorry about the last post, it posted long before i was done…

Al-
I have never made this kind of argument, and probably neither has Ayer….
The tendency to put words into your opponent’s mouth after misunderstanding them, and then acccusing them of faulty logic is one of the resaons why I am getting tired of this kind of discussions.

Al, so if that wasnt his (and your) argument, what was? I tried to put his argument into deductive form as best I could and showed how it was faulty. At the very least, I was constructing the argument I was hearing. I CLEARLY submitted the possibility I interpreted incorrectly but i guess you just COMPLETELY IGNORED THAT. I also invited you and ayer to submit a formal deductive argument clearly representing your views. Maybe you should ACTUALLY read my post before crying about some unjustified interpretation.
As you have seen. I have responded and showed you HOW you misinterpreted my post. I didn’t just assert that you did. This is part of philosophical discussions.

Once again, I invite you to show how my interpretation was wrong. Please explain with a formal deductive argument that better represents your argument. If you cannot then it looks like you may be uninterested in honest philosophical conversation.

Al –
(Hint: not only is the argument screwed up, it becomes useless once there are naturalistic alternatives. That there are none, as I argue in my article, is a different matter.)

Please show me how naturalistic alternatives make this argument any more “useless.” It is already “useless” because it does not follow.

Ayer
A self-consistent “theory of everything” would render the fine-tuning argument based on the constants in the initial Big Bang irrelevant (just as it would render the multiverse theory irrelevant) but the question “where did the laws governing the theory of everything come from” would remain–i.e., the “argument from contingency” (though the case for theism would be weakened by losing the specific fine-tuning argument from design). But then we are dealing with philosophical issues that are beyond the purview of science, so falsifiability is an irrelevant criterion. Science will never be able to answer the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” so theism will always remain a live, unfalsified philosophical option as long as someone is around to notice that anything at all exists.

Actually, as I explained, it still is an unfalsifiable belief, since the theory of everything is still a natural process. Just as how theists can shift from a belief that “God created life directly” to “god created life by set the fine tuned constants to inevitably create life,” theists can merely shift to “God created natural reality as described by “the theory of everything” to set the fine tuned constants to inevitably create life.” As long as you can say God can act indirectly, the belief is unfalsifiable.
A self-consistent “theory of everything” would render the fine-tuning argument based on the constants in the initial Big Bang irrelevant, but not the god hypothesis you spoke of existing prior to the discovery of fine tuned constants.

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Eric October 16, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Ayer
Science will never be able to answer the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” so theism will always remain a live, unfalsified philosophical option as long as someone is around to notice that anything at all exists.

I’m sorry but i cant help but point out the same logic i heard in your earlier argument. This sounds as if you are relying on this argument:

If (theism is true) then (something exists rather than nothing)
(something exists rather than nothing)
so (theism is true)

or

If (theism is true) then (something exists rather than nothing)
(something exists rather than nothing)
so (theism is not falsified)

The latter is consistent but the former is not. So this should display how:

“theism is not falsified” does not equal “theism is true”

So the existence of “something rather than nothing” tells you absolutely nothing about whether or not God exists.

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Eric October 16, 2010 at 8:37 pm

So since the existence of “something rather than nothing” tells you absolutely nothing about whether or not God exists, it is irrelevant to the conversation.

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ayer October 16, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Eric,

No, the existence very existence of the universe is a premise of the argument from contigency, which goes as follows (per William Lane Craig’s http://www.reasonablefaith.org):

“There are three premises in the argument:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the
necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

3. The universe exists.

Now what follows logically from these three premises?

From 1 and 3 it logically follows that:

4. The universe has an explanation of its existence.

And from 2 and 4 the conclusion logically follows:

5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God.”

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ayer October 16, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Eric: “A self-consistent “theory of everything” would render the fine-tuning argument based on the constants in the initial Big Bang irrelevant, but not the god hypothesis you spoke of existing prior to the discovery of fine tuned constants.”

I agree, the fine-tuning argument is falsifiable, but the God hypothesis is not, because it relies on arguments that cannot be falsified scientifically (e.g., the argument from contingency, the ontological argument, the moral argument). But so what? We are dealing with philosophy, not science, which does not rely on the scientific method.

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ayer October 16, 2010 at 8:58 pm

MichaelPJ: “Maybe I’m being slow, but I still don’t see what that has to do with anything. Why does the fact that some people believed that God created life before the fine tuning evidence mean that brute chance is ruled out as an explanation for life, but not for iPads?”

Because what makes the fine-tuning qualify as “specified complexity” is that it is in conformity with a pre-existing pattern; here, the pre-existing pattern is the tradition of belief Al described. The fact that the fine-tuning conformed to that pattern tips you off that the apparent fine-tuning is due to design, not chance.

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Eric October 16, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Ayer
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

This is the problem. At worst, this commits the same fallacy I noted before. At best, it ignores acausal phenomena at the quantum level:

http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Kalam
“There’s nothing in the laws of physics which demands that the law of cause and effect be more than generalizations for interacting with the world above the quantum level.

Within quantum mechanics there seems to be real counter examples to the first premise of the argument. “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.” For example, when Carbon-14 decays to Carbon-12 the radioactive decay is a perfectly random causeless event and thus though the Carbon-12 began to exist it wasn’t caused to exist. Likewise, when matter and antimatter (particle-antiparticle formations) such as electron-positron creation, they can be said to have started to exist but not to have been caused to exist. While radioactive decay of particle-antiparticle formation can be predicted and serves a function, such as stabilizing the atom and equaling out the energies from two-photon interactions, there is no reason why such a thing should happen at those specific space and time coordinates. The underlying probabilities can be calculated and are extremely accurate, but alien from the classical sense of cause and effect.

Further, similar quantum considerations could have direct analogies to the Big Bang which might be causeless as well. Resolving other issues like the atemporal causality seen above as quantum phenomenon does force us to consider simultaneous instances of X and ~X, for example where X is “Schrodinger’s cat is dead”. Ignoring this speculative cosmology, the counter example suffices to disprove the premise (things can begin to exist without being caused) and thus demonstrate that the argument is unsound. ”

So it depends on the arguers intention from the premise. If their intention is the latter, then they may have escaped the logical fallacy I noted before.

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Eric October 17, 2010 at 12:06 am

BTW there are other problems with craigs defense of his argument from contingency:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5847
(you linked the wrong article)

However, i don’t know if it is relevant to the topic at hand. I will accept however that it is possible for someone to say the existence of the universe is evidence of God without Intentionally making the fallacy I noted before. However, I would like to note that, if their “best” interpretation of premise 2 is discussed long enough, this fallacy will almost certainly surface.

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MichaelPJ October 17, 2010 at 5:42 am

ayer,

Okay, I hadn’t noticed any prior reference to “specified complexity”, but let’s run with that. I still don’t see why that invalidates a chance-based explanation. In fact, not just a “tradition of belief that life was created by God” but anyone would provide you with a “pre-existing pattern” that the fine tuning evidence fits.

How? Well, given that we are alive, the laws of the universe must be such as to allow our existence. Obviously, if they were changed enough, we wouldn’t exist. Therefore the universe is “tuned” to support our existence.

That line of reasoning is valid whatever your world-view. It could also have been carried out by pretty much anyone in the recent history of the world, well preceding modern physics.

That is, you seem to be saying that theism predicted the fine-tuning evidence. I’m saying that the null hypothesis (we just exist) predicts the fine-tuning evidence too, and so fine-tuning is no evidence for theism.

Al,
You say

That’s the point: there *is* a tradition of belief that life was created by God, and this fact needs to be addressed with a counter-argument that life is nonetheless ‘natural’ (multiverse, necessity of nature etc.).

This seems to get things backward to me. After all, we’re discussing an argument which is supposed to support the belief that life was created by God. It’s a bit weird to invoke that belief in support of the argument. We’re trying to show that the tradition of belief that life was created by God is unjustified, and chance is a perfectly reasonable explanation, and you come back at us by invoking the very tradition of belief that’s in question!

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ayer October 17, 2010 at 9:16 am

MichaelPJ: “I’m saying that the null hypothesis (we just exist) predicts the fine-tuning evidence too, and so fine-tuning is no evidence for theism.”

Not at all, that’s why the evidence of fine-tuning was so surprising and disturbing to cosmologists. What was expected was continued progress toward a theory of everything that would show that this universe was a result of law (not chance or design). The fine-tuning, instead, pointed to design or chance.

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MichaelPJ October 17, 2010 at 1:35 pm

ayer,

I beg to differ. Scientific explanations always end somewhere, and there will then be the question of why that somewhere is how it is. To put it another way, there will always be the question of why the contingent facts are the way they are. You seem to be suggesting that what I was, rather loosely, referring to as the null hypothesis was some kind of necessitarian position, and I don’t think that’s true. In fact, I was trying to defend the position that the reason the constants are the way they are is chance: fine-tuning supports that just as much as it does design.

Also, I don’t find the fine-tuning evidence at all surprising or disturbing, for what it’s worth. I’m not a cosmologist, though, so maybe they do find it worrying.

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Eric October 17, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Ayer –
MichaelPJ: “I’m saying that the null hypothesis (we just exist) predicts the fine-tuning evidence too, and so fine-tuning is no evidence for theism.”

Not at all, that’s why the evidence of fine-tuning was so surprising and disturbing to cosmologists. What was expected was continued progress toward a theory of everything that would show that this universe was a result of law (not chance or design). The fine-tuning, instead, pointed to design or chance.

I think it may be appropriate to investigate the thinking of cosmologists when they say say the evidence of fine tuning is so disturbing. I noticed how you took shermer and sagan’s opinions on the matter out of context. It may be surprising just like the lottery winner may find it surpising they won the lottery. But unless there is something more significant about that one person winning the lottery than someone else, then we need not necessarily need to find an explanation beyond random chance. Also, unless there is something more significant about that one possible phenomena (that is permitted by our universe) being life than someone other possible phenomena, then we need not necessarily need to find an explanation beyond random chance. Of course cosmologists aren’t happy with this because it is part of their methodology to try and find an explanation, even if it doesn’t necessarily need one.

so “the null hypothesis (we just exist) predicts the fine-tuning evidence too” just as it would predict that SOME phenomena would win the “universe lottery”

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Al Moritz October 17, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Eric:

Al, so if that wasnt his (and your) argument, what was? I tried to put his argument into deductive form as best I could and showed how it was faulty. At the very least, I was constructing the argument I was hearing. I CLEARLY submitted the possibility I interpreted incorrectly but i guess you just COMPLETELY IGNORED THAT.

I noticed that you had said that. However, I considered it to be an inconsequential side remark in light of your statement, that [faulty logic in the argument as you ascribed it to Ayer and me]

is precisely the problem I am seeing with the arguments presented by Al and Ayer.

This really ticked me off. Had you not made that bold assertion, which appeared to reflect what you really think, I might have reacted diffferently.

Here is my formal argument about chance (this hopefully addresses Michael’s concerns too):

1. The chance argument for the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature for life is based on odds that are unimaginably low.
2. An explanation based on odds that are unimaginably low cannot reasonably compete with explanations that do not, or only to a limited extent, invoke chance.
3. Theistic tradition (based on claims of divine revelation and natural theology) offers an argument that does not invoke chance — life exists on purpose, being intended by God.
4. Based on premise 2 a naturalistic explanation that aims to compete with this argument that does not invoke chance must itself not, or only to a limited extent, be based on chance.

Naturalistic explanations that are not based on (or claim to not be based on) chance are necessity of the laws of nature, and the multiverse (making our universe a statistical inevitability). A naturalistic explanation that invokes chance only to a limited extent is ‘Life as we do not know it’. As I aim to show in my article, all these arguments fail as well, as does the argument from naturalistic design.

***

Of course, most will attack premise 2. However, this premise is common sense — it is the issue of an ‘unnatural’ vs. a ‘natural’ explanation. Big-name cosmologists, e.g. Hawking, Smolin, Weinberg, Susskind, Tegmark, Davies, Rees, Ellis (most of them atheists or agnostics) appear to agree with this common sense notion as well and reject the chance argument, preferring instead the multiverse hypothesis or other explanations. (BTW, these cosmologists also *all* agree with premise 1.)

Certainly, you can remain exceedingly hard-headed and still stick to the chance argument, but then you are at odds with common sense, embraced also by leading cosmologists, and run in danger of being seen as plain unreasonable.

In fact, Smolin explicitly says that the change argument is not viable. From ‘The Life of the Cosmos’, p. 45:

In my opinion a probability this tiny is not something we can let go unexplained. Luck will certainly no do here; we need some rational explanation of how something this unlikely turned out to be the case.

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Al Moritz October 17, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Hermes:

Thanks for the response. If naturalism is inadequate and incorrect, and theism is as well, which other alternatives of worldview are there in your opinion?

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MichaelPJ October 17, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Al,

Thanks, that’s interesting. I should probably register that my personal view is that the universe doesn’t require an explanation, but I’m defending chance because I think if you want an explanation, that is the best one.

Before I go on, I’d like to point out that this still in no way addresses the iPad worry: I don’t think either you or ayer has provided a convincing rebuttal to that. But for the moment, I’ll concentrate on what you wrote in your most recent post.

Given that particular argument, I think there are several lines of attack. You might well disagree with premise 2. After all, humans have terrible intuitions when it comes to really small numbers: for example, it is very hard to feel that any particular action of one’s own can have an effect on the environment, and yet although that effect is negligible on it’s own, it adds up to something noticeable when everyone does it.

So I don’t buy the “common sense” rebuttal. And no, I’m not interested in what leading cosmologists think. They’re cosmologists, not philosophers. Their expertise as scientists has really nothing to do with this.
An explanation that relies only on chance can compete with explanations that don’t involve chance when those explanations are even worse. For example, I think the chance explanation is definitely better than the necessity explanation (which noone at all is defending). I also think that the theistic explanation is truly terrible; see the recent series on Divine Explanations. So some work at least needs to be done to show that the theistic explanation is not so terrible that chance is a better explanation!

Secondly, I would deny premise 1. There seems to be no way that we can possibly estimate the probabilities involved. The creation of the universe is (as far as we know) a one-off event. So we can’t appeal to a frequentist grounding of the probability. And it’s not like horse-racing, where we have some understanding of the mechanics involved, and so we can reasonably say that the horse with equine flu has a lower chance of winning, even if the race is a one-off event. We have no such understanding in the case of the creation of the universe. So I don’t think we can say anything meaningful about the probabilities involved. So the chance argument is based on probabilities that are fundamentally inscrutable, rather than obviously unimaginably low.

Anyway, the upshot of this is that I don’t think chance deserves to be dismissed quite as easily as all that. And you still need to figure out a better response to the iPad problem than “traditions of belief”.

Eric,
That wasn’t quite what I meant with my null hypothesis example, I think…

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Hermes October 17, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Al Moritz: Thanks for the response. If naturalism is inadequate and incorrect, and theism is as well, which other alternatives of worldview are there in your opinion?

Do I have to identify or even choose a ‘worldview’? If so, why?

* * *

That said, I’ll summarize what I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the past on the topic of worldviews;

* Worldview can be a valid academic term. Sociology is one field.

* Outside of an academic setting, I loathe the term and the concept. It’s used as if we can pick or are thrust into our own personal realities. At best, it is close to postmodernist relativism. At worst, it is indistinguishable.

While we can be right or wrong in any specific interpretation of what reality is, there is only one reality.

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Eric October 17, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Al-
Here is my formal argument about chance (this hopefully addresses Michael’s concerns too):

1. The chance argument for the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature for life is based on odds that are unimaginably low.
2. An explanation based on odds that are unimaginably low cannot reasonably compete with explanations that do not, or only to a limited extent, invoke chance.
3. Theistic tradition (based on claims of divine revelation and natural theology) offers an argument that does not invoke chance — life exists on purpose, being intended by God.
4. Based on premise 2 a naturalistic explanation that aims to compete with this argument that does not invoke chance must itself not, or only to a limited extent, be based on chance.

obviously this was not the argument I was speaking of. You have backtracked to an entirely different argument.
Let me demostrate:
Here is my formal argument about chance (this hopefully addresses Michael’s concerns too):

1. The chance argument for the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature for ipads is based on odds that are unimaginably low.
2. An explanation based on odds that are unimaginably low cannot reasonably compete with explanations that do not, or only to a limited extent, invoke chance.
3. “Ipadism” (a religion i just made up) offers an argument that does not invoke chance — ipads exist on purpose.
4. Based on premise 2 a naturalistic explanation that aims to compete with this argument that does not invoke chance must itself not, or only to a limited extent, be based on chance.

now if you recall, you called a similar belief absurd. When asked, you invoked a “tradition of belief” as something that justifies it. When I asked you how, ayer responded:

“Ayer -
The fact that there was a pre-existing tradition of belief (i.e., the “God hypothesis”) prior to any scientific evidence of fine-tuning shows that that belief was empirically supported by later-arising evidence, and was not a post-hoc rationalization after the evidence was discovered. If, however, instead of fine-tuning, cosmology had discovered that there was some necessary reason within a “theory of everything” for the constants to be set at their initial values in the Big Bang, that would have been evidence against “tuning” by an intelligent designer.”
The interpretation of an argument i presented earlier (in which you called a straw man) is an interpretation of THIS ARGUMENT. When I asked you to provide a formal argument that better describes this, you just repeated your first argument that, as you should be able to plainly see, is not the same as the one ayer gave, to which you agreed with. So it seems like you just justified “tradition of belief” using the very same argument that was supposed to BE JUSTIFIED by the “tradition of belief.”

Al –
Of course, most will attack premise 2. However, this premise is common sense — it is the issue of an ‘unnatural’ vs. a ‘natural’ explanation. Big-name cosmologists, e.g. Hawking, Smolin, Weinberg, Susskind, Tegmark, Davies, Rees, Ellis (most of them atheists or agnostics) appear to agree with this common sense notion as well and reject the chance argument, preferring instead the multiverse hypothesis or other explanations. (BTW, these cosmologists also *all* agree with premise 1.)

Certainly, you can remain exceedingly hard-headed and still stick to the chance argument, but then you are at odds with common sense, embraced also by leading cosmologists, and run in danger of being seen as plain unreasonable.

In fact, Smolin explicitly says that the change argument is not viable. From ‘The Life of the Cosmos’, p. 45:

In my opinion a probability this tiny is not something we can let go unexplained. Luck will certainly no do here; we need some rational explanation of how something this unlikely turned out to be the case.

Maybe you should read my previous post discussing this issue. I’m not going too in depth about this issue as it is not the point of this post. The point of this post is for theists to present WHY they think the universe was designed with the express intention of life over any other possible phenomenon.

Maybe if I respond to each point in your argument, you may see what im getting at:

“1. The chance argument for the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature for life is based on odds that are unimaginably low.”
This brings up the normalizability problem, which will almost certainly be discussed in a later post, so I won’t get into it here.
“2. An explanation based on odds that are unimaginably low cannot reasonably compete with explanations that do not, or only to a limited extent, invoke chance.”
In general, this is not true. If I won the lottery, would a chance argument seriously not compete with an argument that does not invoke chance? So we can tell this rule is not true in general. So we are asking you why this rule applies in the case of fine-tuning. I am not looking for quotes from physicists. As we saw from Ayer earlier, it is very easy to take these quotes out of context.
“3. Theistic tradition (based on claims of divine revelation and natural theology) offers an argument that does not invoke chance — life exists on purpose, being intended by God.”
As you can see from the ipad remark, merely offering an explanation that avoids chance does not make it a good explanation. I can think of a large number of explanations that can avoid chance. What makes your explanation better?
“4. Based on premise 2 a naturalistic explanation that aims to compete with this argument that does not invoke chance must itself not, or only to a limited extent, be based on chance.”
Well, seeing as how premise 2 needs to be justified in the case of fine-tuning. I cannot agree with your conclusion.

Michael –
Eric,
That wasn’t quite what I meant with my null hypothesis example, I think…

Okay, then what was?

Al –
I noticed that you had said that. However, I considered it to be an inconsequential side remark in light of your statement, that [faulty logic in the argument as you ascribed it to Ayer and me]

ARE YOU SERIOUS?! The consequence is that I could have interpreted wrong. And I explicitly said it was a possibility. How can you possibly see this as inconsequential? Or were you just trying to quote mine me?

Eric –
“is precisely the problem I am seeing with the arguments presented by Al and Ayer.”
Al –
This really ticked me off. Had you not made that bold assertion, which appeared to reflect what you really think, I might have reacted diffferently.

What bold assertion? I was just describing what I saw. A “bold assertion” would be:
“..is precisely the problem with the arguments presented by Al and Ayer.”
Notice how the “i am seeing” shows that I am not asserting anything about your argument. I am merely asserting that I saw something in your arguments. I may have seen wrong, and I submitted that as a possibility about many of my interpretations.

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Al Moritz October 17, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Eric:

What bold assertion? I was just describing what I saw. A “bold assertion” would be:
“..is precisely the problem with the arguments presented by Al and Ayer.”
Notice how the “i am seeing” shows that I am not asserting anything about your argument. I am merely asserting that I saw something in your arguments. I may have seen wrong, and I submitted that as a possibility about many of my interpretations.

O.k. I may have misinterpreted you, in which case I apologize. But perhaps next time you could be a bit more cautious too, when it comes to formulating such things.

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Hermes October 17, 2010 at 7:16 pm

As for the forced and artificial trichotomy, the will of a set of deities seems to offer no support of observed reality, while we do see a mix of law and chance in our own observations. There is on either/or.

On the most superficial and artificial of forced distinctions — chance or law — where is the case that we should exclude chance in the presence of law? It is a special exception, and does not match what we acknowledge in all other cases.

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Hermes October 17, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Edit: first paragraph, last sentence;

“There is on either/or.”

==> replace with ==>

“There is no either/or.”

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Eric October 17, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Al -
O.k. I may have misinterpreted you, in which case I apologize. But perhaps next time you could be a bit more cautious too, when it comes to formulating such things.

I agree. I do try to be as careful as possible. However, I am not perfect. But I am trying to get better.

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Larkus October 18, 2010 at 2:20 am

The design argument for the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature for life is based on odds that are unimaginably low, namely the odds, that a designer would choose to fine-tune the laws of nature for life rather than for singing gas, rainbow planets with rings of fire or any other fine-tuning-goal out of an unimaginably high number of possible fine-tuning-goals.

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Al Moritz October 18, 2010 at 6:31 am

Michael,

Secondly, I would deny premise 1. There seems to be no way that we can possibly estimate the probabilities involved. The creation of the universe is (as far as we know) a one-off event. So we can’t appeal to a frequentist grounding of the probability. And it’s not like horse-racing, where we have some understanding of the mechanics involved, and so we can reasonably say that the horse with equine flu has a lower chance of winning, even if the race is a one-off event. We have no such understanding in the case of the creation of the universe. So I don’t think we can say anything meaningful about the probabilities involved. So the chance argument is based on probabilities that are fundamentally inscrutable, rather than obviously unimaginably low.

Here you go against cosmologists on scientific terrain, which is dangerous.

Leading cosmologists all agree on the apparent fine-tuning being a fact. That the dissenter Stenger (who is, based on scientific merits, not a leading cosmologist by the way) has simply bad arguments is also recognized by Luke.

It is funny: most atheists are ‘big on science’, but when it comes to scientific findings that are uncomfortable to their worldviews, some react just like creationists do.

The apparent fine-tuning is real. Get over it.

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Al Moritz October 18, 2010 at 6:32 am

Eric:

However, I am not perfect. But I am trying to get better.

Same here.

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Al Moritz October 18, 2010 at 6:34 am

Eric and Michael:

I have discussed the iPad issue at length. If you don’t find my answers satisfactory, so be it. I am not interested in pursuing the issue further: I have given it more time than it deserves.

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MichaelPJ October 18, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Here you go against cosmologists on scientific terrain, which is dangerous.

This isn’t scientific terrain, especially. The question of how we how we can sensibly estimate probabilities, and how probabilistic reasoning works, is the subject of much philosophical and mathematical literature. I suspect most theories of probability would consider the beginning of the universe to be something of an edge case, seeing as it occurs far outside of our usual probability-attributing practises.

The apparent fine-tuning is real. Get over it.

I’m not sure quite what you’re accusing me of here. I agree with the scientific, well-established, and expertly-testified fact that a small variation in the universal constants would have produced a universe in which we could not have evolved. I just deny the inference from that to any probability estimate. And I don’t think that that’s scientific terrain, really.
So I agree that the universe is “fine-tuned”. I guess I agree that it’s “apparently fine-tuned” too. Unless by that you mean that it is apparently improbably fine-tuned. Then I would disagree. But those are two different things.

Eric,

Sorry, that was a particularly useless thing to say. Rather, my argument was that the null hypothesis predicts fine-tuning because any situation in which we exist predicts fine-tuning, by the argument I gave.

It is funny: most atheists are ‘big on science’, but when it comes to scientific findings that are uncomfortable to their worldviews, some react just like creationists do.

I have a reason for why I think this particular point is not particularly scientific. Creationists do not. I resent the slur.

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MichaelPJ October 18, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Al,

If you think you’ve answered the iPad issue, fine. You appealed vaguely to “traditions of belief”, but neither you nor ayer has responded to my argument that any “tradition of belief” would predict fine tuning, nor the claim that appealing to a tradition of belief that happens to exist is arbitrary.

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ayer October 19, 2010 at 10:01 am

MichaelPJ: “any situation in which we exist predicts fine-tuning,”

That’s just not correct. The cosmological consensus (a “tradition of belief”) prior to the discovery of the fine-tuning of the constants was that physical law, not design or chance, would best describe the situation in which we exist. Cosmology was blown away when it was determined that there likely will be no law showing that a universe of the type we are in was part of a theory of everything. Thus we are left with: (1) design; (2) chance in the form of the multiverse (nonfalsifiable in the absence of a discovery that law is the explanation); or (3) brute chance, i.e., there is only one universe, it is apparently fine-tuned for life, not because there trillions of other real universes, but just…because. Now, you appear to go with (3), but surely you can see why Hawking, Susskind, etc. run from it and into the arms of (2) in terms of a solution with explanatory power?

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Eric October 19, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Ayer –
That’s just not correct. The cosmological consensus (a “tradition of belief”) prior to the discovery of the fine-tuning of the constants was that physical law, not design or chance, would best describe the situation in which we exist.

I’m assuming this “tradition of belief” has nothing to do with what was discussed earlier with regards to justifying the argument for design as a response to fine tuning.

Ayer –
Cosmology was blown away when it was determined that there likely will be no law showing that a universe of the type we are in was part of a theory of everything.

I don’t think cosmologists are saying there will likely be no law like this. It sounds as if they have just not found one yet, which is a completely different situation.

Ayer –
Thus we are left with: (1) design; (2) chance in the form of the multiverse (nonfalsifiable in the absence of a discovery that law is the explanation); or (3) brute chance, i.e., there is only one universe, it is apparently fine-tuned for life, not because there trillions of other real universes, but just…because.

This is interesting as how there is no option given that the explanation has not been found yet. A multiverse is a possible explanation but it is still entirely within the range of possibility that no solution has been found.

Ayer –
Now, you appear to go with (3), but surely you can see why Hawking, Susskind, etc. run from it and into the arms of (2) in terms of a solution with explanatory power? ayer(Quote)

I personally have tried to explain this many times. Part of the scientific methodology is to not accept brute chance because, if there is an explanation, you will never find one as a result of this. However, the same goes with design, as accepting a design explanation will forever stop all inquiry into a possible natural explanation. This is why these cosmologists are almost all methodological naturalists. So its interesting how people like Al all accuse us of going against the scientific consensus by saying a chance explanation is fine from an epistemological point of view while ignoring the methodological naturalism preferred by the cosmological consensus.
Now, I want to differentiate between the scientific methodology of always finding an explanation that rules out chance (unless chance is part of the explanation), and whether or not we are justified in demanding a non-chance explanation. I personally don’t fully choose your option 3 as an explanation for why the cosmological constants are the way they are as I would fear it would stop all scientific progress in this particular cosmological field. However, I see no reason to think chance is not a satisfactory explanation, with regards specifically to why our universal constants are at the “rare” values in which the universe permits the existence of carbon-based life. So i do think it’s chance with regards to life permitting values, but i don’t know the explanation for why those values are the way they are. We have asked theists to justify why chance is not acceptable in this instance and so far, no satisfactory explanation has been given.

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ildi October 20, 2010 at 4:18 am

It is funny: most atheists are ‘big on science’, but when it comes to scientific findings that are uncomfortable to their worldviews, some react just like creationists do.

The apparent fine-tuning is real. Get over it.

You mean like this?

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, accused scientists of concocting the idea of a multiverse specifically “to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science.” Since then, a handful of other prominent Christian thinkers have also argued that multiverse theory is motivated by a refusal to accept evidence of god’s handiwork in the cosmos. Evangelical philosopher and Discovery Institute fellow William Lane Craig has called the idea an act of “desperation” on the part of atheist scientists. And Canadian journalist Denyse O’Leary, an ally of the intelligent design movement who is writing a book about cosmology, also asserts that “religious or anti-religious motives dominate the discussion” among scientists developing multiverse models.

I, however, totally embrace Andre Linde’s physicist hacker (one implication of his chaotic inflationary theory). Linde says: “What my theoretical argument shows—and Alan Guth and others who have looked at this matter have come to the same conclusion—is that we can’t rule out the possibility that our own universe was created in a lab by someone in another universe who just felt like doing it.” It would explain why this universe is actually so inefficiently fine-tuned for life.

Rüdiger Vaas says about fine-tuning in the Journal of Cosmology:

Fine-tuning might (1) just be an illusion if life could adapt to very different conditions or if modifications of many values of the constants would compensate each other; or (2) it might be a result of (incomprehensible, irreducible) chance, and thus inexplicable (Vaas 1993); or (3) it might be nonexistent because nature could not have been otherwise, and with a fundamental theory we would be able to prove this; or (4) it might be a product of selection: either observational selection within a vast multiverse of (infinitely?) many different realizations of those values (weak anthropic principle), or a kind of cosmological natural selection making the measured values (compared to possible other ones) quite likely within a multiverse of many different values, or even a teleological or intentional selection. Even worse, these alternatives are not mutually exclusive – for example it is logically possible that there is a multiverse, created according to a fundamental theory by a cosmic designer who is not self-sustaining, but ultimately contingent, i.e. an instance of chance.

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Al Moritz October 20, 2010 at 11:44 am

Ildi:

“You mean like this?”

“Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, accused scientists of concocting the idea of a multiverse specifically “to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science.” Since then, a handful of other prominent Christian thinkers have also argued that multiverse theory is motivated by a refusal to accept evidence of god’s handiwork in the cosmos. Evangelical philosopher and Discovery Institute fellow William Lane Craig has called the idea an act of “desperation” on the part of atheist scientists. And Canadian journalist Denyse O’Leary, an ally of the intelligent design movement who is writing a book about cosmology, also asserts that “religious or anti-religious motives dominate the discussion” among scientists developing multiverse models.”

No, that is not what I meant. What I meant is denying that the fine-tuning and the vanishingly low probabilities associated with it are real. People advocating the multiverse hypothesis generally *acknowledge* this fact and aim to offer a solution.

As Leonard Susskind says in an interview:

“The discovery in string theory of this large landscape of solutions, of different vacuums, which describe very different physical environments, tipped the scales for me. At first, string theorists thought there were about a million solutions. Thinking about Weinberg’s argument and about the non-zero cosmological constant, I used to go around asking my mathematician friends: are you sure it’s only a million? They all assured me it was the best bet.

“But a million is not enough for anthropic explanations – the chances of one of the universes being suitable for life are still too small. When Joe Polchinski and Raphael Bousso wrote their paper in 2000 that revealed there are more like 1E500 vacuums in string theory, that to me was the tipping point.”

(This number of vacuums, 1E500, each corresponding to a potential universe, is a 1 with 500 zeros behind it. Even a gigantic number like a trillion times trillion times trillion times trillion times trillion times trillion times trillion times trillion times trillion does not even come close to that.)

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MichaelPJ October 20, 2010 at 3:56 pm

ayer,

That’s just not correct. The cosmological consensus (a “tradition of belief”) prior to the discovery of the fine-tuning of the constants was that physical law, not design or chance, would best describe the situation in which we exist. Cosmology was blown away when it was determined that there likely will be no law showing that a universe of the type we are in was part of a theory of everything.

There are two different issues here. There is the question of when scientific explanations will hit bottom (if they will at all), and there’s the question of what we’re going to say after that. Now, it would have been a reasonable idea to think that, given the history of science, it is likely that a new, more fundamental way of looking at things would emerge such that some of the fundamental constants turned out to be linked/determined by something else. And I’m sure people were surprised at the suggestion that this isn’t the case. However, at some point you are always going to hit the question “Why are things thus, and not otherwise?”.

The second issue, then, is that you say that the theistic “tradition of belief” predicts fine-tuning, whereas the cosmological “tradition of belief” does not. However, as I think my argument shows, that’s just false. Of course, this is all in the context of predicting fine tuning. You said “it is in conformity with a pre-existing pattern”; but it is in conformity with every pre-existing pattern. Fine-tuning is utterly unsurprising: it’s like you going outside and saying “My goodness, how surprising that the air out here is breathable! What are the chances?”.

The upshot of this is that I’m still unconvinced that the existence of a prior “tradition of belief” has any relevance at all. Given our existence, everyone should predict fine-tuning. What would be surprising is predicting fine-tuning from “before” the universe, or something; but that has nothing to do with any particular “traditions of belief”.

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ildi October 21, 2010 at 5:12 pm

I’ll call your Susskind and raise you a Smolin. (After all, who can forget the great Smolin-Susskind debate of 2004 about the “multiverse” and the anthropic principle?) Smolin claims that the anthropic principle is unfalsifiable, therefore not really science, whereas the selection mechanism in his theory of cosmological natural selection is falsifiable:

We agree on several important things, among them that fundamental physics likely gives us a landscape of possible theories, while cosmology may give a multiverse containing a vast number of regions like our own universe. We disagree here mainly on one thing: the mechanism of reproduction we believe has been most important in populating the multiverse.

My main point is that string theory will have much more explanatory power if the dominant mode of reproduction is through black holes, as is the case in the original version of CNS. This is the key point I would hope to convince Susskind and his colleagues about, because I am sure that the case they want to make is very much weakened if they rely on the Anthropic Principle (AP) and eternal inflation.

Susskind believes instead that eternal inflation is the mode of reproduction.

The only answer I could come up with is reproduction through black holes. It works because a lot of low energy physics and chemistry goes into the astrophysics that determines how many black holes get made.

Susskind complains that this is complicated, but it has to be complicated. The reason is that we are trying to understand a very curious fact, which is that, as noted by the people who invented the anthropic principle, the low energy parameters seem tuned to produce carbon chemistry and long lived stars. This is explained if CNS is true, because the formation of stars massive enough to become black holes depend on there being both carbon and a large hierarchy of stellar lifetimes.

Clément Vidal takes it a step further in his article Computational and Biological Analogies for Understanding Fine-Tuned Parameters in Physics :

Our analysis of physical parameters led us to the conclusion that finetuning of physical constants would progressively be reduced to the fine-tuning of initial conditions in a cosmological model. However, it is unlikely that a physical theory would derive all cosmological initial conditions. Multiverse and universe simulations are two similar options to go beyond this limitation, because they both propose ways to vary those initial conditions.

The computational analogy suggests a description of the universe in terms of information and computation. Simulations have already started to be used to tackle the fine-tuning problem, allowing us to vary several physical parameters, and exploring the resulting possible universes.

We outlined a philosophical extension of Smolin’s “Cosmological Natural Selection” theory ["Cosmological Artificial Selection"], inspired by a biological analogy. It led us to the hypothesis that intelligent life is currently unravelling a cosmic blueprint, which could be used in the far future to produce a new offspring universe. Simulating an entire universe would be an efficient way to fine tune this cosmic blueprint. Furthermore, this offspring universe would perpetuate cosmic evolution beyond the predictable heat death of our universe.

It’s turtles all the way down!

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ayer October 21, 2010 at 7:36 pm

I see your Smolin and raise you a Preskill:

http://www.theory.caltech.edu/~preskill/jp_24jul04.html.

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wissam October 23, 2010 at 12:08 pm

I agree with Craig that the valuability of life is not needed to make a case for design. Therefore, the “life chauvinism” objection does very little to diminish the design argument’s strength. All the design argument says is that our universe is life- permitting and this fact is more probable on theism than on single universe naturalism. There is no assertion of “life chauvinism” here! If the existence of Ipads is more probable on theism than on single-universe naturalism, then this would support the theistic hypothesis over naturalism. So, luke, your question has been answered! No problem here.

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mojo.rhythm November 1, 2010 at 7:23 am

wissam,

A few niggling issue are still present.

For starters that rejoinder only works for Collin’s formulation of the fine tuning argument (ostensibly). Craig’s version still runs into problems.

All the design argument says is that our universe is life- permitting and this fact is more probable on theism than on single universe naturalism

This presupposes that God has a reason for action to create a life-permitting universe over a lifeless universe. What justification do we have in asserting that? It simply has to be plugged in as an assumption. The reason alot of people plug in this assumption is because they already presuppose life has intrinsic value which God recognizes.

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wissam November 1, 2010 at 1:32 pm

@mojo.rhythm

P>For starters that rejoinder only works for Collin’s formulation of the fine tuning argument (ostensibly). Craig’s version still runs into problems.

Yes, I know. One version refuted, another version left.

This presupposes that God has a reason for action to create a life-permitting universe over a lifeless universe. What justification do we have in asserting that? It simply has to be plugged in as an assumption. The reason alot of people plug in this assumption is because they already presuppose life has intrinsic value which God recognizes.  (Quote)

False. The Christian God does recognize that life has special value, as I’m sure many Christians would argue (the same would probably run for Muslims and Allah). Therefore, the existence of the Christian God (which entails Christian theism) entails the probable existence of life, while single-universe naturalism does not. This makes Christian theism more probable (disregarding prior probabilities).

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wissam November 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm

So mojo.rhythm, you would agree with this reductio:

1. The existence of Spaghetti is improbable under single universe naturalism.

2. The existence of Spaghetti is highly probable under flying spaghetti monster theism.

3. Therefore, the existence of Spaghetti favors spaghetti theism over single universe naturalism.

Well, yes this is true. This is exactly how Collins’ version runs. It completely disregards prior probabilities. It does give you a reason to prefer theism over naturalism but it can’t stand alone as an argument for theism.

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Hermes November 1, 2010 at 2:17 pm

The Christian God does recognize that life has special value, as I’m sure many Christians would argue (the same would probably run for Muslims and Allah). Therefore, the existence of the Christian God (which entails Christian theism) entails the probable existence of life, while single-universe naturalism does not.

The same could be re-written with life being substituted by death.

Regardless, you did not include other religious theisms in your list, only a token other Abrahamic religion.

As such, positing it as a ‘probable existence of life’ still backs into the actual existence of a hypothetical set of deities (yours or some other set).

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Larkus November 2, 2010 at 2:31 am

wissam wrote:
“All the design argument says is that our universe is life- permitting and this fact is more probable on theism than on single universe naturalism.”

And it is of course false, that the fact, that the universe is life-permitting “is more probable on theism than on single universe naturalism”.

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wissam November 2, 2010 at 1:01 pm

@Hermes & Larkus:

Larkus, can you justify your claim?

Hermes, what do you mean that the same would work for death? Sure, Christian theism includes the importance of death but it also includes the special value of life, so your objection is irrelevant.

Your other objection regarding different deities is also weak. Any deity who appreciates life and has the power and knowledge to bring it about would be confirmed over single-universe naturalism. Anyways, atheism is weakened by this argument (assuming “atheism” means the lack of belief in any deity).

Note: I’m not a Christian btw. In fact, I was never a Christian.

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Hermes November 2, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Wissam, you’ve read a bible at some point right? Did you read it all? Cover to cover? If you did, did you miss the sections about the deaths of individuals and whole societies? How about Genesis? Seems that the character in that book is quite satisfied with either killing others or getting others to kill for it. Now, I don’t believe for a moment that the prime character actually killed a real person because I don’t believe it exists. After all, I’m not a Christian.

I’m with Larkus and mojo.rhythm otherwise. I don’t find your arguments convincing.

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Larkus November 3, 2010 at 7:38 am

wissam wrote:
Larkus, can you justify your claim?

I already did, earlier in the comments. The fine-tuning argument is basically an example of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

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wissam November 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

@Hermes,

No, I’ve never read the Bible. I don’t even own a copy. I was raised a muslim and now I’m a strong atheist. Anyway, the passages in the bible support the fact that the Christian god wants to create living things (arguably) for the purpose of killing and torturing them (this god would also need fine tuning). So, your objection is irrelevant to the fine-tuning argument (except that you’re using the argument from evil to undermine it).

@Larkus,

I answered this objection before. Robin Collins’ version dissolves this problem. Premise 1. The existence of the life is not improbable under theism.
Premise 2. The existence of the life is very improbable under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.
Conclusion: From premises (1) and (2) and the prime principle of confirmation, it follows that the existence of life provides strong evidence in favor of the design hypothesis over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.

The “prime principle of confirmation” is: whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses, an observation counts as evidence in favor of the hypothesis under which the observation has the highest probability (or is the least improbable).

Premise 1 is not controversial. The theistic god wants life to exist. Now, to reject the argument, you must either reject premiss 2 or the prime principle of confirmation. You did not reject the confirmatory principle, so I assume you reject the second premise. However, the Texas sharpshooter fallacy does not apply to this premiss.

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Hermes November 3, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Anyway, the passages in the bible support the fact that the Christian god wants to create living things (arguably) for the purpose of killing and torturing them (this god would also need fine tuning). So, your objection is irrelevant to the fine-tuning argument (except that you’re using the argument from evil to undermine it).

The stories don’t support either life or death or life for death. They are both capricious and arbitrary, and thus don’t argue for us being important in the grand scheme of things. At most, they could argue that we function like a beetle climbing a blade of grass on the landscape; filling up space, but not actually valuable in any meaningful way to the landscape as a whole. At that point, what does the addition of a landscaper add to our perspective except to explain why we sometimes get either crushed or moved out of the way? Maybe proponents of the grand landscaper are mistaking such a being for what is really the wind or a hail storm or just bad luck or the occasional frog or frost? What they propose is by definition so gigantic that it is incomprehensible — and by comparison us so inconsequential. The same could be said of the universe and our place in it, so what actual knowledge would the addition of a landscaper to it do we gain? It explains things, but so poorly so as to be irrelevant unless actual knowledge can be shown to be provided along with that explanation.

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wissam November 3, 2010 at 1:03 pm

@Hermes,

now you’re making sense. However, theists generally like to think that they are god’s center of attention.

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Larkus November 3, 2010 at 1:46 pm

wissam wrote:
“Premise 1 is not controversial.”
Of course premise 1 _is_ controversial. Premise 1 is a bare assertion.

wissam wrote:
“The theistic god wants life to exist.”
How do you know that? Theism only makes the claim, that at least one god exists. Theism doesn’t make any claims about what such a god does or does not want.

Our universe could have been designed by a god, that wanted to _avoid_ life but failed (again) and our universe is one of many scrapped universes in a dilettante god’s recycle bin.

wissam wrote:
“Now, to reject the argument, you must either reject premiss 2 or the prime principle of confirmation. You did not reject the confirmatory principle, so I assume you reject the second premise. However, the Texas sharpshooter fallacy does not apply to this premiss.”
I reject premise 1 instead. The Texas sharpshooter fallacy still does apply to the _fine-tuning argument_.

Out of all the possible gods, that each do or do not want to fine-tune the universe to allow to exist such wonders as life, “singing gas”, “rainbow planets with rings of fire”, or any other possible wonder, you seem to have picked out only those, that want to design a life-permitting universe or at least left out enough gods, that would not want to design a life-permitting universe but maybe a “singing-gas-permitting”, “rainbow-planets-with-rings-of-fire-permitting”, or any other possible wonder permitting universe instead. The god of Abraham doesn’t have a monopoly on designing universes (neither does any other god known to mankind).

You are stacking the deck.

Tomorrow I’ll write more on the topic.

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wissam November 3, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Most of what you said was true: the Texas sharpshooter fallacy applies, and the failing god option is possible.

However, I disagree with everything else. Theism claims that god is omnibenevolent, so that pretty much tells you what god wants to do. Also, theism claims that god has a special interest in humanity.

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Larkus November 3, 2010 at 2:21 pm

If in the fine-tuning argumnent theism is defined as only including omnibenevolent deities, doesn’t that mean, that you compare _a subset_ of all possible supernaturally formed universes with _the whole set_ of possible naturally formed universes? There seems to be something very wrong.

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Luke Muehlhauser November 3, 2010 at 3:54 pm

God being omnibenevolent doesn’t tell me anything about what God wants to do. What claims fall out of that?

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Hermes November 3, 2010 at 4:42 pm

@Hermes,now you’re making sense. However, theists generally like to think that they are god’s center of attention.  

No doubt. They do that constantly and without shame. Let them assert that, and I’ll deny that tactic. If they demand that I grant them an exception — or they just assert that they are right by doing so — they have taken the poison pill; the same cheap maneuver can be used by those who they disagree with.

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MichaelPJ November 4, 2010 at 4:41 am

wissam,

I think I posted this in another thread, but as far as I can tell, Collins’ “prime principle of confirmation” is false. In fact it’s a basic misunderstanding of Bayes’ theorem.

If it were true, then me stubbing my toe would provide greater evidence for the hypothesis “there is a malevolent god who only desire is that I stub my toe at that particular time”, than for the hypothesis “it was just a fluke”. Since, of course, the probability under the first hypothesis is 1, and the probability under the latter is considerably less.

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wissam November 4, 2010 at 9:07 am

@Larkus,

Yes. If supernaturalism is compared to naturalism, that need not include a god. But how is that a problem?

@Luke,

First of all, theists have the luxury of sticking any trait onto their god and tell us about his actions. Concerning the fine-tuning argument, they claim that god has a special interest in humanity. Secondly, omnibenevolence limits many options god has into just the good ones. For example, an omnibenevolent being cannot choose to command rape but, on the contrary, he always chooses to abort crimes whenever it is wise to do so.

@MichaelPJ,

yep, it disregards prior probabilities. That is definitely a weak aspect of the argument.

Anyway, I found this argument online. I forgot what the source was.

F=constants are fine-tuned (note that fine-tuned does not equal design; all that F means is that existence of life depends on a narrow range of constants).
L=life exists
N=naturalism is true

P(A|B&C) P(B|C) = P(A&B|C)

It follows that: P(A|B&C) P(B|C) = P(A&B|C) = P(B|A&C) P(A|C)

Therefore it is true that P(A|B&C) = P(B|A&C) P(A|C) / P(B|C).

The chance that, given a fine-tuned universe with life, that universe is natural is P(N|F&L). But this is equal to P(F|N&L) P(N|L) / P(F|L). Now P(F|N&L) is 1, since necessarily, if naturalism is true and life exists, then the constants are fine-tuned.

Thus P(N|F&L) = P(N|L) / P(F|L). P(F|L) is a probability, and therefore must be a number between 0 and 1. So, P(N|L) is smaller or equal to P(N|L) / P(F|L). It follows, then, that P(N|F&L) >= P(N|L).

This shows that F can only increase N!

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Ben November 15, 2010 at 5:53 pm

It’s astonishing that anything exists in the first place.

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