CPBD 040: Luke Barnes – 11 Responses to Fine-Tuning

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 19, 2010 in Design Argument,Podcast

cpbd040

(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

In one of my funniest and most useful episodes yet, I interview astronomer Luke Barnes about the plausibility of 11 responses to the fine-tuning of the universe. Frankly, once you listen to this episode you will be better equipped to discuss fine-tuning than 90% of the people who discuss it on the internet. This episode will help clarify the thinking of anyone – including and perhaps especially professional philosophers – about the fine-tuning of the universe.

The 11 responses to fine-tuning we discuss are:

  1. “It’s just a coincidence.”
  2. “We’ve only observed one universe, and it’s got life. So as far as we know, the probability that a universe will support life is one out of one!”
  3. “However the universe was configured, evolution would have eventually found a way.”
  4. “There could be other forms of life.”
  5. “It’s impossible for life to observe a universe not fine-tuned for life.”
  6. “Maybe there are deeper laws; the universe must be this way, even though it looks like it could be other ways.”
  7. “Maybe there are bajillions of universes, and we happen to be in one of the few that supports life.”
  8. “Maybe a physics student in another universe created our universe in an attempt to design a universe that would evolve intelligent life.”
  9. “This universe with intelligent life is just as unlikely as any other universe, so what’s the big deal?”
  10. “The universe doesn’t look like it was designed for life, but rather for empty space or maybe black holes.”
  11. “Fine-tuning shows there must be an intelligent designer beyond physical reality that tuned the universe so it would produce intelligent life.”

Download CPBD episode 040 with Luke Barnes. Total time is 1:16:31.

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{ 149 comments… read them below or add one }

J. Quinton May 19, 2010 at 1:42 pm

One of the major points of miscommunication that I see in a lot of atheist/theist debates is the concept of “logically possible”. Logic, as I understand it, is only a means of understanding. If something is logical, that means that it’s understandable. We can conceive of it – it’s consistent. The problem that I see is that people equivocate between logically possible and physically possible.

There are many things that are logically possible, but not physically possible. It’s logically possible that an alien humanoid can get superpowers from a yellow sun and fly around the Earth super-fast to reverse time to save his girlfriend.

Is this same situation physically possible?

This is one of the objections that I have to the fine-tuning argument. There are many logically possible universes, but are they physically possible? I mean, it’s also “logically possible” that liquid water could only exist at -434 degrees Fahrenheit. But is it physically possible?

I’m sure, also, that there are a lot of things that are not logically possible, but occur in reality. Much of quantum physics seems logically impossible to me, but quantum events obviously occur in real life.

The constraints of what’s logically possible seems to only be human imagination. But is human imagination really what reality is constrained by?

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Jeffrey Shallit May 19, 2010 at 2:00 pm

His response to point 2 is not particularly impressive. He seems not to be aware that there are multiple interpretations of the word “probability”, including frequentist and Bayesian. Under a frequentist interpretation, the observation that a life-containing universe has probability one is trivially correct, since it is the only one we can observe.

His claims about the unlikelihood of life-suitable universes are also not particularly impressive, because he needs to justify his assumption that the parameters can vary in accordance with a uniform distribution (or any distribution that he wishes to choose). I see no reason why this should be so.

I would have liked to have seen some more probing questions in this interview.

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Rhys Wilkins May 19, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Luke Barnes had me in fits with his Grandpa being Magneto analogy. Funny guy, and an Aussie like me!

One of the problems I see with the theistic interpretation of fine tuning is that they declare it to be improbable, yet we are not in an epistemic position to make these sorts of probability judgments. Everitt made the point in The Non-Existence of God that the only real way to assess accurately the likelihood of a universe popping up with life permitting conditions is, ironically, to observe lots of other universes in a World Ensemble and compare their initial conditions with ours.

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Muto May 19, 2010 at 4:40 pm

As already said: He doesn’t justify his use of uniform distribution. Maybe this is what happens if you let a physicist do probability calculations.(The author of this post is offended by the depiction of physics students being superior to math students ^^)
I think Luke should have pressed him a little bit more on the point that god would be fine tuned as well, but overall the interview was quite informative.

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Bill Maher May 19, 2010 at 4:57 pm

I think he botched rejecting number 9. The idea of the argument is that people are not the goal of the universe. The universe doesn’t care if it is filled with black holes or Vulcans. So you can’t go “it can not be just as unlikely because there are these specific conditions which led to people.” The card game example is bad because card games have goals, so it isn’t applicable to the objection.

It reminds me of Dr. Craig’s bullshit quoting of the Anthropic Principle in regards to the odds of evolution producing man.

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David May 19, 2010 at 5:24 pm

I find Mr Barnes’ arguments unpersuasive – and I listened both to this and to his lecture on Youtube. Let me correlate a couple of my problems with your list of 11 responses above.

2) “We’ve only observed one universe, and it’s got life. So as far as we know, the probability that a universe will support life is one out of one!”

Barnes tries to argue that while that may be true, it’s not true that this universe had to turn out the way it did (amenable to life) – matter could’ve clumped together more, the expansion of the universe could’ve been different, forces could’ve been stronger or weaker, etc. My problem is that we don’t know that these are variables open to change. Presumably the clumping of matter is alterable but it’s unclear to me that some future discovery about dark energy might not explain that distribution. As an example of “things having to be a certain way”, I would point you to Lawrence Krauss’s talk about “a universe from nothing” over here on Youtube. Krauss argues that from the data we have the universe has a flat geometry – and moreover, is necessarily flat (although that part is more speculative) – and it is in fact this flatness (combined with the question mark we call dark energy) that makes the universe expand the way it does. If the universe is necessarily flat, and if there are some hard-and-fast rules to dark energy (and there may well be!), then all Barnes’ postulating about a universe turning inwards on itself or expanding too quickly are entirely moot. The point is we don’t know. In light of matters like this, I find his presumption that these are all changeable parameters entirely speculative.

4) “There could be other forms of life.”

Counterpoint to 2) above where I think he played too fast and loose with unknown physical realities, here I think Barnes is being too constrictive on his definition of life. The argument he makes about silicon is utterly beside the point. He’s making assumptions that life must be made up out of long chains of atoms arranged in complicated machinery. Why is that so? Can life not be made up of smaller molecules? I can’t even conceive of how one would argue it couldn’t be, because such a system is so alien to what little we’ve come to know about how this planet’s life works. Why is he even assuming that this other universe where we are playing fast and loose with fundamental physics has “atoms” which are at all analogous to our own? Perhaps under different physical and quantum laws it’s actually easier to get long chains of information. But silicon and carbon’s structure is very specific to laws of quantum mechanics and the size of the proton and how the fundamental laws are set up – if all of these are up for grabs, why are we talking about silicon at all? If we look at life more broadly as some ordered system which decreases local entropy and perpetuates itself through offspring, “life” may come in many different flavors,* and those flavors may equally be wondering why their universe is so fine-tuned to their existence.

But apart from his specific arguments, I find Barnes, like most people I hear discussing fine tuning arguments, generally doesn’t take his initial “what if” premesis far enough. Who gets to define what kinds of universes are on and off limits for “possible” universes? There’s no reason I see that “possible” universes need to start from singularities, expand, contain particles with peculiar quantum laws operating on them, be ordered by four fundamental forces, have a space-time dimension that is warped by mass, and so on. None of these things are logically necessary as far as I can see. So why does he take all of these for granted and just talk about tweaking different bits of them one at a time? Who defines how we consider “possible” universes? One “possible” universe is one filled with turtles carrying discs on their backs on which life evolves. The turtles naturally come from eggs which were created in the Big Crack, and these eggs in turn form the disc on their back once they hatch. That’s logically possible but not considered; why?

What Barnes seems to be worried about is why certain physical constants we’ve discovered in our experiments are the way they are, and makes the a priori assumption that these constants are arbitrary. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t – the science isn’t there to say yet. But even if the universal constants are all unified somehow, I somehow suspect his next question would be, But why this Grand Theory Of Everything and not another one that doesn’t allow for life? If he wants to ask “but why” to everything we can regress infinitely. “But why” is an important question to ask in science because it moves us forward to discover new answers and new physical laws, but I think asking it in response to an answer we haven’t developed yet is both blind and unfruitful, and that is the majority of what I see him (and others who pursue this argument) doing. Maybe I’m misunderstanding.

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*We do not as of yet have a very good definition of life. This is just a gesture toward what one might include.

PS: This post got away from me. Even some editing couldn’t chop down enough of it, although perhaps I wasn’t aggressive enough. Sorry.

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Grad Student May 19, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Really really good stuff.

As a graduate student in astronomy I’ve always thought the best naturalistic response to fine-tuning is the multiverse (especially when coupled with string theory’s 10^500 different possible realizations). Unfortunately, I didn’t completely follow why Luke Barnes dismissed all multiverse theories, but I’ll have to listen to his arguments again.

Still, this podcast left me intensely curious about Barnes’ beliefs. It appears he thinks God exists from fine-tuning, but what else? Does he believe in a personal God? If so, which one, etc. etc. Again, I’m just curious.

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Mark May 19, 2010 at 5:54 pm

1. As noted, he completely avoids the crucial issue of justifying our probability distributions. This is as major as avoiding the multiple universes objection.

2. It’s frustrating that he dismisses the anthropic objection in the same breath as he mentions Elliott Sober. Sober attempts to develop an anthropic objection that works around the firing squad analogy.

3. His response to the hidden laws objection is confused: “Even if hidden laws explain fine-tuning, it’s possible that solutions to those laws will be fine-tuned.” But we have no special reason to believe this would likely be the case. Anyone who thought fine-tuning suggested the likely existence of hidden laws would also think it suggested the likely existence of non-fine-tuned solutions.

4. “It would be the mother of all coincidences if the only universe permitted by mother nature was also a universe that permitted intelligent life.” Ugh. It’s clear at this point that he’s just going to accuse anything besides design of being “too coincidental.” The fact is that even if we can justify on naturalism a probability distribution over the ranges of specific physical constants as Robin Collins tries to do, we can’t do so over possible physical theories. There’s no sense in asking what the probability on naturalism is that there’s only one life-permitting theory. That would be like asking what the probability on Marxism is that the Aquatic Ape hypothesis is correct.

5. His response to the multiple universes objection amounts to a retreat to a Leibnizian cosmological argument.

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Sputnik May 19, 2010 at 6:11 pm

If the fine-tuning of the universe turns out to be just a coincidence then that would be boring for Barnes? So what? Tough. It’s kind of like some believers that don’t want to accept the possibility that there is no grand purpose to the universe so they choose to believe in god because it makes them feel better.

Further, Barnes insists on significant changes but is there any wiggle room or must the numbers be absolutely precise? If there is some room then it’s worth mentioning that the numbers are not as fine-tuned as theists/deists like Barnes like to imply.

Lastly, Barnes dwells on universes that would immediately collapse, universes in which stars don’t meet his expectations, and universes that couldn’t support the type of life that he can imagine. His thinking reminds me of the same lack of imagination that we see in a lot of sci-fi…intelligent aliens almost always resemble humans.

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Rob May 19, 2010 at 7:09 pm

His square circle analogy is a disaster. A square circle is logically impossible. But life in a universe where it would be impossible to evolve life is not logically impossible. God, if he so willed it, could magically create and maintain intelligent life in a universe that is toxic to life. If we found ourselves in a universe where life should be naturalistically impossible, then THAT would be a miracle and evidence for a god. But, that ain’t the case.

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Blowfly May 19, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Hi,

It is funny. I come to this site to suggest an interesting video which may relate to arguments against fine tuning. And here is the most recent post on the topic, Nice.

Anyways, Lawrence Krauss gave a talk title, “A universe from nothing”. I found the whole talk interesting. He reasons against the fine tuned argument later in the video. I’m not sure how well his would stand as a philosophical argument since I am no philosopher, but Im sure you guys would be able to comment.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

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lukeprog May 19, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Blowfly,

Yeah, that was a good talk.

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Mazen Abdallah May 19, 2010 at 10:31 pm

I go with the simple: “Do you have direct, testable evidence that the universe was fine-tuned?” Now obviously this will lead the conversation into all manner of contrived discussions of how compelling the evidence is for fine-tuning, but will avoid the key issue of there being no direct, indisputable evidence, making it an argument from ignorance.

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Mazen Abdallah May 19, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I’d just like to add that if we went by what seemed like a likely solution and not by the evidence, we’d be teaching string theory in high schools

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Johanathon May 19, 2010 at 10:46 pm

A bit off topic, but I noticed one of the previous comments here about fine-tuning from made it onto reasonable faith:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer?pagename=q_and_a

The first sentence in Craig’s reply is a bit surprising.

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lukeprog May 19, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Johanathon,

Meaning that Craig usually writes as if he has already thought everything through?

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Bill Maher May 20, 2010 at 4:14 am

Johanathon,

that is the point I brought up earlier. Is it me or did Craig simply dodge it?

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Justfinethanks May 20, 2010 at 6:21 am

The funny thing about that thing from reasonable faith is this sentence:

“Or again, Bob, who was born on August 23, 1982, receives a car for his birthday from his wife with the license plate BOB 82382. That this plate number is the result of intelligent design is a tidy explanation of it.”

That date, August 23, 1982, is my wife’s birthday to the exact year. Now obviously there is nothing necessary about him choosing that date, so that explanation out. And I suppose he could have simply chosen it by chance, but the odds are just tens of thousands to one. So the tidiest explanation is design, i.e. Craig knows what my wife’s birthday is and is trying to screw with me.

So either Craig is wrong, and highly specific and highly improbable events don’t necessarily warrant a design inference, or there is a camera running from my house to Talbot School of Theology.

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Al Moritz May 20, 2010 at 8:07 am

A bit off topic, but I noticed one of the previous comments here about fine-tuning from made it onto reasonable faith:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer?pagename=q_and_a

The first sentence in Craig’s reply is a bit surprising.

I found Craig’s answer too long-winded. My answer to the type of question Martin asked him is more straightforward, I think. Click the link under my name, section 1.3.1 (“Brute chance”), second part of that section.

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Johanathon May 20, 2010 at 8:28 am

“Meaning that Craig usually writes as if he has already thought everything through?”

Ya, pretty much. I’ve never heard Craig sound so uncertain, (even if such uncertainty was limited to a single sentence in a much longer response).

“That date, August 23, 1982, is my wife’s birthday to the exact year. Now obviously there is nothing necessary about him choosing that date, so that explanation out. And I suppose he could have simply chosen it by chance, but the odds are just tens of thousands to one. So the tidiest explanation is design, i.e. Craig knows what my wife’s birthday is and is trying to screw with me.”

Craig = God?

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Josh May 20, 2010 at 8:56 am

Justfinethanks,

I think it’s that Craig is screwing with you. No doubt about it!

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RA May 20, 2010 at 11:21 am

I liked the last 20 minutes when it got down to the question of God and it left me like Grad Student wondering what his beliefs are. Throughout the interview, he seemed to have a certain level of belief at times. But he clearly wasn’t a religious kind of guy. Must be an agnostic which was a surprise because I was expecting an atheistic viewpoint.

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Something about epistemology May 20, 2010 at 1:01 pm

What is the difference between the argument against response 8 and the argument for response 11?

I don’t think there is one, which I think means there is a higher power, or there isn’t.

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ayer May 20, 2010 at 1:25 pm

“One of the problems I see with the theistic interpretation of fine tuning is that they declare it to be improbable, yet we are not in an epistemic position to make these sorts of probability judgments.”

Interesting, because atheists usually scoff when theists say that we are not in an epistemic position to know, e.g., God’s reasons for allowing evil to exist, as in this post:

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8083#comments

But with fine-tuning epistemic modesty is not a cop-out for the atheist–only for the theist with the problem of evil?

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Justfinethanks May 20, 2010 at 2:20 pm

But with fine-tuning epistemic modesty is not a cop-out for the atheist–only for the theist with the problem of evil?

I think his point was that we aren’t in an epistemic position because you have to know all of the variables before you can make complete probability assessments. For example, before you can calculate the odds of getting a royal flush, you must first know how many cards are in the deck. With the constants we aren’t completely certain how many cards are in the deck, so its unwarranted to come to such a radical conclusion.

That kind of “epistemic modesty” is fine for general probability reasoning, but it is completely destructive for morality. If I am in no position to say that the Haiti earthquake was an evil that caused unnecessary suffering, why am I in a position to say that Hitler was an evil man who caused unnecessary suffering? Possibly, Hitler had actually completely noble motives that he had to hide from the world, and had he not taken those actions then it would have lead to even more suffering, the likes of which we can’t imagine. So though he is portrayed as the world’s greatest monster, it’s possible he is the savior of the world. So if incomplete information is all it takes to let someone off the hook for evil, then God and Hitler are both off the hook.

However, given what is necessary to make an accurate probability calculation and the state of our ever changing and ever expanding knowledge of physics, it is quite reasonable to refrain from making a design inference for the moment.

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Luke Barnes May 20, 2010 at 2:38 pm

I suppose I’m allowed to do a long comment …

J. Quinton: Are these other universes physically possible? See my reply to PZ Myers: http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/fishing-while-the-world-burns-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-p-z-myers/ Making theoretical predictions about these other universes is exactly the same process as making predictions about this universe. Experimental confirmation of our predictions in this universe makes us confident that the theory is correct, and thus we can predict what would happen in other universes.

Prof. Shallit (and Muto): Yes, I am aware of the different interpretations, but I do not think it is relevant. Suppose that I just invented the 217 sided die. I then roll it for the first time and it came up 42. Would a frequentist say that the probability of rolling a 42 is one? If not, why not? Because there are other possibilities? Then, even given a frequentist interpretation of probability, it still does not follow that the probability of our universe being life permitting is one. And, of course, there is no problem for a Bayesian.

Can we justify a uniform probability distribution? Maybe. The principle of indifference might do some useful work for us. Do I need to justify a uniform distribution? I don’t think so. Here’s Anthony Aguirre in “Universe or Multiverse” putting things quite well:

“If the probability of the laws/constants P is to have interesting structure over the relatively small life-permitting range (parameterised by A), there must be a parameter of order A in the expression for P. But it is precisely the absence of such a parameter that motivated the anthropic approach.”

In other words, the only distribution that would make the probability of a life-permitting universe not vanishingly small is one that itself has been fine-tuned to be peaked in the life-permitting range. The smallness of the range does all the work. Either the parameter is fine-tuned, or the distribution is fine-tuned.

Rhys: I think we are in a position to reasonably (though not indubitably) conclude that the probability of a universe chosen at random from the space of probabilities being life permitting is small. The probability of God creating this universe, on the other hand, is a different story.

Bill Maher: who said anything about goals? The poker illustration simply demonstrates the importance of asking the right question. I’ll restate my response. The question is not “given that the properties of our universe were chosen at random, what is the probability that they would be life-permitting?”. The question is “given that (against all the odds) our universe is life-permitting, what is the probability that it’s properties were chosen at random?” The first question is necessary but not sufficient to answer the second, and it is the second question that is the “right question”.

David: I think you’re confusing 2 with 6. And see my response to J. Quinton above for more on 6. Regarding 4, you are right to point out that considering silicon based life only gets us so far. I raised it because it is often raised by when fine-tuning is discussed. Regarding the broader point, I think you’re arguing as follows (correct me if I’m wrong): “we haven’t considered every possible universe – that would be almost impossible – and thus we cannot conclude that life-permitting universes are improbable as we haven’t considered all of parameter space”. My response is another one of John Leslie’s wonderful analogies. Suppose you are standing next to a huge wall. Its a foggy day, so you can’t even see the edges of the wall. On the (still rather large) part that you can see, a single fly is resting. Suddenly, a shot rings out and a single bullet comes out of the fog and hits the fly. I submit that we would be justified in concluding that this is evidence for the hypothesis that the bullet was aimed, and against the hypothesis that it was shot at random. This is true even if we are unable to see all of the wall, simply because the ratio of “fly” to “not-fly” is very low in the part that we can see. In fact, I think this conclusion would still hold even if the fog cleared a bit and we discovered that a distant part of the wall was completely covered in flies.

Grad Student: I don’t dismiss all multiverse theories, and my apologies if I gave that impression. I think that there are some formidable objections to the current ideas in this area. But I certainly think that this is a fruitful line of inquiry.

Mark: 1. See above for Prof Shallit.
2. I think that Sober’s attempt fails, and that the easiest way to demonstrate this is by exaggerating the firing squad/magneto illustration. There is also Robin Collins’ reply in the Blackwell companion. I think the problem with Sober’s argument is that the accused can quite easily imagine that he is just a bystander, and thus can easily reach the bystanders (correct) conclusion that the firing squad probably missed on purpose.
3. Fair enough. My point is more of a practical one against a number of the suggested hidden laws. For example, inflation doesn’t solve the fine-tuning of the matter density completely as inflation itself must be fine-tuned and relies on a coincidence between the life-permitting density and the critical density.
4. My point also made in the classic 1979 paper by Martin Rees and Bernard Carr, and I believe that Richard Dawkins is of the same opinion. (He goes for the multiverse, I believe). “We can’t do so over all physical theories”. Why not? We could at least go part of the way. We can think of plenty of sets of physical laws that do not allow life (e.g. remove any of the four fundamental forces, or make the strong force of infinite range like EM, or make the fundamental forces non-quantum), and only a very small number that do. It might be difficult to make it rigorous but it could still be persuasive.
5. Asking the question “why is there anything at all?” is not a retreat to the contingency argument. Stephen Hawking asks :”what is it that breathes fire into the equations and gives them a universe to describe?” John Wheeler:
“Existence, the preposterous miracle of existence! To whom has the world of opening day never come as an unbelievable sight? And to whom have the stars overhead and the hand and voice nearby never appeared as unutterably wonderful, totally beyond understanding? I know no great thinker of any land or era who does not regard existence as the mystery of all mysteries.”
These are not questions asked by simpletons and answered by charlatans.

Sputnik: Yes there is wiggle room. No one (who knows what they are talking about) is claiming that infinite precision is required. To the best of our knowledge, over the natural range of the cosmological constant, the wiggle room is about one part in 10^120. How do you back up your claim that “the numbers are not as fine-tuned as theists/deists like Barnes like to imply”? Feel free to read Martin Rees’ book – he certainly isn’t a deist and yet he describes in detail the fine tuning of the universe for life. Lastly, if you can imagine a form of life that could exist in a universe which contains only black holes, then feel free to share it with us. Or a universe in atoms were unable to form stable, complex structures. Or that lasted half a second, during which time the temperature never dropped below 10^9K. Or where the universe becomes so diluted that the only element is hydrogen, and where a given hydrogen atom will encounter another one once every billion years. Or where all matter decays to radiation, which doesn’t interact with itself. Or where all stars produce only gamma rays, obliterating any molecular bonds on nearly planets.

Rob: the whole point of my response to 5 is that the square circle analogy is not apt. “God, if he so willed it, could magically create and maintain intelligent life in a universe that is toxic to life.” True, but I don’t see how that’s relevant. You seem to be in danger of denying the antecedent: If A, then we have evidence for God. Not A. Thus there is no evidence for God.

Mazen: See my reply to PZ Myers: http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/fishing-while-the-world-burns-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-p-z-myers/ We can predict what would happen in these other universes because we can do theoretical physics.

Justfinethanks: send that response to Craig. I’d love to know his reply.

RA: please consult this essay by C.S.Lewis (especially the “fourth bleat”) before continuing your speculations …
http://orthodox-web.tripod.com/papers/fern_seed.html
:p

That is all. Many thanks for listening!!!

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ayer May 20, 2010 at 5:57 pm

“If I am in no position to say that the Haiti earthquake was an evil that caused unnecessary suffering, why am I in a position to say that Hitler was an evil man who caused unnecessary suffering?”

Because in the first case you are presuming to evaluate a being who is by definition omniscient regarding that being’s reason for creating a universe in which evil is allowed, and in the second case to evaluate a fellow human being who operates under the identical moral duties and human limitations you yourself operate under. That is why it is just to be judged by a “jury of one’s peers”–you are Hitler’s peer as a fellow human being, but no human being is God’s peer.

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ayer May 20, 2010 at 6:00 pm

“With the constants we aren’t completely certain how many cards are in the deck, so its unwarranted to come to such a radical conclusion.”

Why is that? The constants are completely contingent in the equations; you can plug in any constant (thus generating a universe with different characteristics) and the equation still works.

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Justfinethanks May 20, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Because in the first case you are presuming to evaluate a being who is by definition omniscient regarding that being’s reason for creating a universe in which evil is allowed

But for someone to have a morally justifiable reason for either allowing or committing evil (despite it appearing unjustified to observers), they need not be omniscient, they just have to know more than the persons making the moral judgement. Like a doctor giving a morally justified vaccine to a child, despite the suffering from the shot seeming unjustified in the child’s eyes. The difference is in the information that the doctor has that the child doesn’t.

And while I agree Hitler was not omniscient, I don’t see why it is necessarily impossible that Hitler was in possession of some sort of crucial piece of information (much like the doctor in the above example) that the rest of humanity did not, and if we had access to that information, it would clear his name and we would regard him as a great and perfectly moral hero.

But of course, like I said earlier, that would destroy moral reasoning for the theist and atheist alike. You can’t go around saying that “Well, it’s possible they in possession of some sort of knowledge that I’m not that would make their ‘evil’ actions morally justifiable, and therefore I can’t actually call such an action ultimately evil or pointless without being epistemologically arrogant.”

If you do, you can’t say anything that any person (be they divine or not) does is “wrong” or “evil,” because it’s possible that they know something that you don’t!

Why is that?

Well, I suppose one reason is that we are unsure how many fundamental constants there are in actuality. This article says that there are about 26 currently, but physicists are always on the lookout to decrease that number.

Upon reflection, however, I think I actually agree with you in that it’s a little too much to ask to demand perfect information before you make a probability calculation. Rather, perhaps it’s the case that the more confident you are in the completeness of your information, the more confident that you can be that your probability calculation is valid.

I suppose I don’t know enough about physics to know how “complete” physicists think their information regarding the fine tuning is, so I can’t really comment on how that kind of thinking would apply to this particular problem.

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dgsinclair May 20, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Wow awesome, ESP for us theists. Thx Luke

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Rhys Wilkins May 20, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Ayer: Why is that? The constants are completely contingent in the equations; you can plug in any constant (thus generating a universe with different characteristics) and the equation still works.

This is the point Ayer. There is pretty much no limit to how much you can alter the constants, which seems to me to be especially dubious. I could choose to make a probability distribution with 6 different universes, or I could make a probability distribution with 2*10^20^20 universes, it is all up to the range of variation I choose to specify for each constant, the interval of variation for each value of the constant i.e. (could choose to increase/decrease the value by integers of 1 for each different universe or I could increase it/decrease it by a value of 10^-500 each time. The whole thing seems to be an exercise in arbitrary convention.

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Rhys Wilkins May 20, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Luke B.: Suppose that I just invented the 217 sided die. I then roll it for the first time and it came up 42. Would a frequentist say that the probability of rolling a 42 is one? If not, why not? Because there are other possibilities?

Here’s the thing. We know that all the other 216 values are logically possible, but until we actually roll the die lots of times and record the values, we are in not an epistemic position to declare how probable they are. For example, imagine if you rolled the die ~60 times and got the number 42 87% of the time, you would immediately infer that it is a weighted die. This is pertinent to my first comment. The only real way we can make sense of the whole probability issue would be to look at some other universes and make note of what initial values they took. Many people tend to obfuscate the difference between possible combinations and probable combinations when it comes to this fine tuning business.

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Josh May 20, 2010 at 9:49 pm

One thing people seem to miss is that if the range of possible values for some constant is, say, all positive real numbers, then THERE CAN’T POSSIBLY BE A UNIFORM DISTRIBUTION ON THEM.

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Mark May 20, 2010 at 10:44 pm

One thing people seem to miss is that if the range of possible values for some constant is, say, all positive real numbers, then THERE CAN’T POSSIBLY BE A UNIFORM DISTRIBUTION ON THEM.

Most of their responses to this problem involve giving up the requirement of countable additivity.

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Rhys Wilkins May 21, 2010 at 1:44 am

Ayer:Interesting, because atheists usually scoff when theists say that we are not in an epistemic position to know, e.g., God’s reasons for allowing evil to exist, as in this post…

Ayer, this is a sword that cuts both ways. Theological skepticism is actually a silver bullet for Christian apologetics, because it completely destroys any and all explanatory power of the God hypothesis. If you say we cannot adduce Yahweh’s intentions for permitting a sexual predator to abduct a little child then rape and kill her, then you cannot possibly invoke the intentions and wills of God to explain any state of affairs. You cannot say “God raised Jesus from the dead” is even a potential explanation of the Historical Jesus. Here’s why: the “God willed it” explanation is what is called an “intentional” explanation, meaning that you attribute some beliefs and desires to God in order to explain a particular state of affairs (i.e. God raised Jesus from the dead because He loved humanity and wanted to take the punishment for their sins). No I’m not saying “Yahweh willed it” merely isn’t the best explanation, my criticism is more barbed then that. What I am saying is that theological skepticism completely destroys any hope of the Yahweh hypothesis even being a potential explanation of anything. You don’t even have any grounds for saying Yahweh is all-good, merciful, just, loving, kind, long suffering and so on because that presupposes a certain set of intentions, beliefs and desires for Yahweh, which is forbidden on the grounds of theological skepticism.

I still think the problem of evil has some force, even when theological skepticism is taken as a background supposition, as put:

(1)If there were an all-powerful all-good deity, there wouldn’t be any evil, unless it was logically necessary for an adequately compensating good.
(2) There is frickin tons of evil in the world
(3) Much of it is not logically necessary for an adequately compensating good (e.g. the Spanish Inquisition).
(C) Therefore there isn’t a deity who is all-powerful and all-good

Put simply, I think (3) is more reasonable to accept then it’s antithesis. I don’t claim to know the mind of Yahweh, I just happen to think alot of the good I observe in the world could have been easily brought about by an omnipotent being without so much recourse to evil, pestilence, barbarity, suffering, cruelty and so forth.

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Mark May 21, 2010 at 2:08 am

Hi Luke. Thanks greatly for taking the time to respond to our comments!

1. See above for Prof Shallit.

There’s some considerable controversy over whether we can apply the principle of indifference here, but more importantly (IMO) there’s controversy as to what the principle of indifference really asserts. There are those like John Norton who argue that when the principle of indifference is properly understood, it doesn’t license us to infer probability claims in cases where we have what he calls “neutral support.” See Norton’s paper “Cosmic Confusions: Not Supporting versus Supporting Not-,” which is available here. I find Norton’s reasons persuasive.

I think the problem with Sober’s argument is that the accused can quite easily imagine that he is just a bystander, and thus can easily reach the bystanders (correct) conclusion that the firing squad probably missed on purpose.

I’m not sure why you think this is a problem with Sober’s point of view. Sober agrees that the firing squad scenario gives one evidence that the squad was trying to miss. However, the thinks there are relevant disanalogies between the firing squad case and fine-tuning such that the one provides evidence and the other doesn’t.

4. My point also made in the classic 1979 paper by Martin Rees and Bernard Carr, and I believe that Richard Dawkins is of the same opinion. (He goes for the multiverse, I believe). “We can’t do so over all physical theories”. Why not? We could at least go part of the way. We can think of plenty of sets of physical laws that do not allow life (e.g. remove any of the four fundamental forces, or make the strong force of infinite range like EM, or make the fundamental forces non-quantum), and only a very small number that do. It might be difficult to make it rigorous but it could still be persuasive

As far as I can tell, there are infinitely many possible life-permitting theories, and there are infinitely many non-life-permitting theories. The way we handle probability assignments over infinite sample spaces is typically to parametrize the space in question and then assign a density to the parametrization. As Collins notes, however, we need to be able to single out some “natural” parameter of the space in order to avoid paradoxes that result from assigning densities arbitrarily. But there’s no obvious natural way to parametrize the space of all physical theories. The closest thing I can think of is the something information theoretic: let C represent the length of the shortest program that prints the laws of the theory in some arbitrary programming language, and assign a uniform distribution to C, or something like that. But 1. I don’t see why C is the “right” parameter here, and 2. even if it were right, it’s probably impossible to show that the life is impossible for “most” possible values of C. It seems to me that the more complex the laws are, the more they allow for life. You’re simply not going to be able to appeal to anything beyond your own private credence function to justify your intuition that life-permitting laws are improbable.

Actually, now that I think about it, all of this is fairly irrelevant. For you said: If we discovered scientifically that there’s only one possible system of physical laws, and that system was life-permitting, it would be miraculous on naturalism. That’s just obviously false. If there’s only one mathematically possible set of laws, this is a presumably a mathematically necessary truth, and so it cannot provide evidence for naturalism or theism. (Not that I think we ever will or could discover this.)

5. Asking the question “why is there anything at all?” is not a retreat to the contingency argument. Stephen Hawking asks :”what is it that breathes fire into the equations and gives them a universe to describe?”

How is an appeal to the necessity of an explanation for the universe not a specter of a Leibnizian cosmological argument? At any rate, it’s not in any sense the fine-tuning argument, since it doesn’t pick out any specific, ordered feature of the universe from which to infer design. Even if the universe were as simple as could be, you could still ask why it exists in the first place. So this is completely different territory.

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Mark May 21, 2010 at 2:31 am

In other words, the only distribution that would make the probability of a life-permitting universe not vanishingly small is one that itself has been fine-tuned to be peaked in the life-permitting range. The smallness of the range does all the work. Either the parameter is fine-tuned, or the distribution is fine-tuned.

Whoops, I forgot to reply to his in my previous post. The notion of a probability distribution being “fine-tuned” is extremely unclear. Do you have a natural probability measure defined on the space of all possible probability distributions? If not, what’s your evidence that the distribution is fine-tuned?

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ayer May 21, 2010 at 8:03 am

“Put simply, I think (3) is more reasonable to accept then it’s antithesis. I don’t claim to know the mind of Yahweh, I just happen to think alot of the good I observe in the world could have been easily brought about by an omnipotent being without so much recourse to evil, pestilence, barbarity, suffering, cruelty and so forth. ”

This is the step at which you commit “epistemic chutzpah.” Only an omniscient being, with knowledge of the ripple effects of each action throughout all of time (a al chaos theory) could possibly be in a position to judge whether any individual evil was justified by an overall greater good.

With the Hitler example, we are in the same existential and metaphysical category as Hitler, and thus are in a position to judge his actions based on non-consequentialist principles (e.g., Hitler’s actions violate moral absolutes that can never be justified for a human being).

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Bill Maher May 21, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Luke, I appreciate you answering, but are really missing the point.

Your question “given that (against all the odds) our universe is life-permitting, what is the probability that it’s properties were chosen at random?” is a horrible question because the “against all the odds” fails to recognize that all possible combinations of the laws of physics are “against all odds”, including all of the combinations that just lead to hydrogen gas or black holes. You are being a life chauvinist by saying that the one that permits life has more intrinsic value is the one that is like getting 10 royal flushes in a row. As shitmydadsays (on Twitter) once said: “the universe does not give a fuck about you. you are a speck in its shit.”

Then you are employing post-hoc logic by saying that the events that led up to us have to be a product of fine-tuning because they are too unlikely occur in that order. Since the universe is goal-less, we are arbitrary and happen to be the byproduct of processes. That is all there is to it.

What you are doing is really similar to when William Lane Craig employs the Anthropic Principle to evolution, which is complete crap.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JQD6uVVqf0

I hope this didn’t seem too mean, because you seem like a nice guy that is just trying to be honest.

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Luke Barnes May 21, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Mark: Good points! …

1. I’ll read the paper and get back to you.
2. Maybe I misread Sober. I took him as arguing as follows. The conclusion “this firing squad is probably rigged” can only be rationally affirmed by a bystander. The accused cannot reach this conclusion because he is subject to the selection effect that he cannot observe that he is dead. The accused has a blindspot – even if it is true that the firing squad is reached, and a bystander can reasonably reach this conclusion, the accused cannot. I disagree, for the reasons I gave. Maybe I need to read Sober again.

3. “there’s no obvious natural way to parametrize the space of all physical theories”. True, but if life-prohibiting laws vastly outnumber life-permitting ones amongst all the laws that we have investigated, then this is at least a strong clue that the laws of nature need to be fine-tuned. It’s not proof, and it may not be able to be made rigourous, but it is at least suggestive.

“If there’s only one mathematically possible set of laws, this is a presumably a mathematically necessary truth, and so it cannot provide evidence for naturalism or theism”. Here is Paul Davies response to this point, and I agree:

“I think this is demonstrably wrong. There is not a shred of evidence that the universe is logically necessary. Indeed, as a theoretical physicist I find it rather easy to imagine alternative universes that are logically consistent, and therefore equal contenders for reality.”

Rees and Carr’s point is that, even if a deeper physical theory left us with no free constants, it would still be remarkable that the only universe allowed by the laws of nature also allowed intelligent life.

4. Thinking about the fine-tuning of the universe naturally raises questions of ultimate explanations. Should we be satisfied with ultimate reality being a let of mathematical laws, which could have been different, and a universe that obeys these laws? Should we be satisfied with ultimate reality being a multiverse with randomly chosen properties, which just exist as brute facts? Should we be satisfied with a necessary being, who is self existent, and choses to create a life-permitting universe? I think these are questions that are worth asking, even if they are strictly speaking beyond the boundaries of fine tuning.

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Luke Barnes May 21, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Bill:
I discuss this further on my blog; http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2008/07/28/are-the-dice-loaded/

The point is summarised nicely by Brendon Brewer in the comments: the probability of a given observation varies as a *function of the hypothesis*.

You’re statement that any laws of physics are against all the odds is only true if the laws of physics (+ constants etc) were chosen at random. If you assume that they were chosen at random, then of course there is no significance in the fact that they are life-permitting. But that’s the point: the fact that the universe is life-permitting is a significant because there are “tidy explanations” for it (to use John Leslie’s phrase). That is, there are alternative hypotheses to chance that make a life-permitting universe significantly more probable. I do not need to assume that life has intrinsic value. It’s a straightforward Bayesian comparison between competing hypotheses. See Robin Collins article in the Blackwell Companion for a more rigorous and careful discussion.

“The universe does not give a f&%@ about you. you are a speck in its sh#$.”

Shouldn’t the fine-tuning of the universe, at least in principle, lead us to doubt that this statement is true? That statement itself is not a scientific one. Given the laws of nature, one can derive (see Barrow and Tipler): the age and size of the observable universe, the typical sizes of galaxies, stars, planets, mountains and the maximum size of biological organisms. The features of this universe are written in its laws, and the vast majority of alternative laws do not permit intelligent life.

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Bill Maher May 21, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Luke, I am not trying to sound like a jerk, but I think you completely dodged the question.

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Luke Barnes May 21, 2010 at 3:03 pm

One more for Mark:

“The notion of a probability distribution being “fine-tuned” is extremely unclear”. It’s all there in the Anthony Aguirre quote. Consider a particular constant C. We can investigate a large range R of values for C, and discover that a tiny range L permits life. Ah, I hear you say, but we don’t know the distribution of C on R. Suppose that there is a distribution P(c) from which C is chosen. If we are going to reach the conclusion: “P(c), integrated over L, is not small”, then P must have a peak at or near L. At the very least, as Aguirre says, it must have “interesting structure” over L. The smallness of L guarantees this. For this to be true, P must depend on a parameter A which itself is in or very near L (and perhaps another parameter of order of the width of L – think of the centre and width of a Gaussian, for example). But that simply exchanges the fine-tuning of C for the fine-tuning of A.

So I don’t think that knowing the underlying distribution of a constant of nature will eradicate fine tuning.

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Luke Barnes May 21, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Bill: I think we must be asking different questions here. But it’s 1am in Zurich so I’ll try again in the morning.

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Rhys Wilkins May 21, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Ayer,

Your point is irrelevant. I know if Yahweh existed, he would have an amazing understanding of chaos theory. I also know if Yahweh is real, he has this amazing little ability we like to call miracle working. Ripple effects would be child’s play for an all-powerful all-good space daddy like Yahweh to instantly mitigate with the snap of his fingers.

Sorry Ayer, you must realize that it takes alot more gusto to accept the premise that Yahweh is real and all the evil in this world is logically necessary for an adequately compensating good then to simply concede premiss 3 and realise Yahweh is an imaginary being just like Quetzelcoatl, Amon Ra, Odin and Thor. It especially helps that I see no good reasons to think theism is true either.

As a Christian I know you are not committed to the truth of premiss 3, but I really don’t care. I know nothing will ever make you change your mind because I saw one of your comments a while back in which you said your God-belief was properly-basic, so I’m not even going to consider trying to change the mind of someone like that. But in the meantime I will still defend myself and justify my views on theology.

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ayer May 21, 2010 at 4:21 pm

“I also know if Yahweh is real, he has this amazing little ability we like to call miracle working. Ripple effects would be child’s play for an all-powerful all-good space daddy like Yahweh to instantly mitigate with the snap of his fingers.”

More epistemic chutzpah.

“I know nothing will ever make you change your mind because I saw one of your comments a while back in which you said your God-belief was properly-basic,”

That’s true, but I also believe that the logical and evidential case for theism is more plausible than the case against, regardless of proper basicality. And I have seen no argument that humans are in an epistemic position to know that God’s reason for allowing any particular evil to occur is unjustified.

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Mark May 21, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Hi again Luke B., and thanks once more for taking the time to address my rather unwieldy comments.

Re: Aguirre. I confess I don’t really understand the point as stated. Imagine the life permitting-range of a parameter C is [0, 1], and C can conceivably take any nonnegative real value. Suppose we decide the density of C is given by f(c) = ln(e)*e^-c = e^-c, so that P(C is in [0, 1]) = 1 – 1/e = 63%. What exactly is fine-tuned here? The fact that the formula for P involves the constant e rather than some different constant? But that can’t be right. For “most” positive real values of X, P(C is in [0, 1]) will be high if the density of C is given by f(c) = ln(X)*X^-c. Apologies for my slowness.

At any rate, there’s a different response to Aguirre that I really should have used instead. The argument “Either the parameter is fine-tuned or its distribution is” implicitly assumes that we ought to be assigning probability distributions to the constants in the first place. John Norton’s paper (that I mentioned above) disputes this. He thinks that we need to model some belief states not via probabilities but by some completely different state he prosaically names “ignorance.” If you have no information whatsoever on some random variable X, Norton thinks you’re “ignorant” about X and should not attach any probability distribution to it whatsoever. This means, a fortiori, that you couldn’t conceivably infer anything from X’s distribution.

Re: Sober. Sober’s latest thinking (from his 2009 article “Absence of Evidence and Evidence of Absence”) has it that A. we need to evaluate the probability not of fine-tuning but of our observation of fine-tuning, B. that we need to conditionalize on our observation method, and C. that we need to time-index everything. He argues that when we do this in the firing squad case, we see that the observation of our survival does indeed favor the “design” hypothesis: the “experimental setup” of the case (being put in front of a firing squad, etc.) doesn’t in itself entail anything about our observations after the squad fires, so there’s no observation selection effect in place. On the other hand, he thinks the fine-tuning case is different. The “setup” of our observation of fine-tuning entails that the constants were fine-tuned to begin with; and since the constants don’t change, conditionalizing on our setup entails that we’d observe fine-tuning. I’m sure this summary is too brief to be clear; Sober’s paper does a good job of explaining it.

Re: physical laws. How many laws we’ve investigated is immaterial, since we know a priori that the possible life-unfriendly laws certainly don’t outnumber the possible life-friendly laws. There are, again a priori, infinitely many of each. Sure, it’s easy to stumble upon lots of ways to “screw things up” for life by removing random chunks of current laws; but for every such destructive excision, I could come up with some completely anodyne addition. E.g., imagine some completely new set of particles governed by a bunch of bizarre differential equations and which don’t interact with any real particles ever.

Re: Davies. I agree with you that actually, there could have been other laws. At least, we’ll never be able to rule it out on the basis of physics.

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Rhys Wilkins May 21, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Ayer,

Your misunderstanding the claim I am making. While I may not be in a position to know what Yahweh thinks, I am in a position as a reasonable human being to say with fair confidence that I observe good in the world that could have been brought about without recourse to evil. The more of this I observe, the stronger my case becomes.

Assuming you accept the position that Yahweh is an ontologically necessary being, more disaster ensues. If Yahweh is in every possible world, this means that there must literally be no possible world in which there is evil that is not logically necessary for some adequately compensating good. No possible world. Christian theism is on a razor thin edge, and I’m happy not to be on it.

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dgsinclair May 21, 2010 at 9:41 pm

>> JUSTFINETHANKS: That date, August 23, 1982, is my wife’s birthday to the exact year. Now obviously there is nothing necessary about him choosing that date, so that explanation out. And I suppose he could have simply chosen it by chance, but the odds are just tens of thousands to one. So the tidiest explanation is design, i.e. Craig knows what my wife’s birthday is and is trying to screw with me. So either Craig is wrong, and highly specific and highly improbable events don’t necessarily warrant a design inference, or there is a camera running from my house to Talbot School of Theology.

LOL! You’re correct that the chances are 1 in thousands, which is totally different from what Craig is dealing with, i.e. probabilities that are essentially 0. In fact, the odds that he would pick your wife’s bd are pretty good odds.

I mean, let’s say that he wants to choose a birthday for one of his listeners. That would probably mean someone between ages 18 and 78 (a high average for Western longevity) – so a crude probability would be that the odds are one in 60×365.25, or 1:22000. That’s hella good odds, better than the lottery.

And the odds may be even less than that, if we knew more about Bill Craig’s selection process, or about how many people visit his page.

My point is that Barnes and Craig are talking about odds like 1:10^55. That totally changes the equation – if you claimed that the odds of Bill Craig choosing your *wife’s* birthday are uncanny (and therefore there is a God), I’d take issue with that. I mean, maybe if your wife’s name was Bob (or even Bobbbi), that might be notable, but hardly in the same class of unlikelihood as 1:10^55.

And the “statistically zero” nature of the odds against life and for fine tuning make Craig’s arguments have some merit. He is not making the same argument you are making.

There is at least ONE other possibility. Perhaps there *is* a God who orchestrated the ‘coincidence’ you experienced, and through this, along with other ‘coincidences’ in your life (if that is happening) *is* God’s way of trying to get your attention that He is real. I mean, it’s logically possible ;)

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ayer May 22, 2010 at 5:10 am

“I am in a position as a reasonable human being to say with fair confidence that I observe good in the world that could have been brought about without recourse to evil.”

No, you simply are not, as chaos theory (in particular the “butterfly effect”) has demonstrated and Greg Boyd has pointed out:

“From this it should be clear that to explain in any exhaustive sense why any particular event took place just the way it did, we would have to know the entire history of the universe. Had any agent, angelic or human, made any decision different than it did, the world would be a slightly different – or perhaps significantly different – place. But we, of course, can never know more than an infinitesimally small fraction of these previous decisions, let alone why these agents chose the way they did. Add to this our massive ignorance of most natural events in history — which also create their own “ripples” — combined with our ignorance of foundational physical and spiritual laws that are operative in the cosmos, and we begin to see why we invariably experience life as mostly ambiguous and highly arbitrary. We are the heir to an incomprehensibly vast array of human, angelic, and natural “ripples” throughout history about which we know next to nothing but which nevertheless significantly affect our life.”
http://www.gregboyd.org/essays/essays-bible/the-point-of-the-book-of-job/

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Rhys Wilkins May 22, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Ayer,

Please my comment before last to see what I think of ripple effects. Especially given an omnipotent being who can work miracles.

Put it this way. Proposition vs. proposition.

Rhys: Some of the evil in the world is not logically necessary for an adequately compensating good. The more evil that I observe that, after thought, does not seem to be logically necessary for an adequately compensating good, the stronger my case becomes.

Ayer: Every single piece of evil in the actual world is logically necessary for an adequately compensating good. There is no possible world in which there is evil that is not logically necessary for an adequately compensating good. The more evil I observe that, after thought, does not seem to be logically necessary for an adequately compensating good, the weaker my case becomes and the more ad-hoc rationalizations I have to articulate to prevent the whole concept of Yahweh imploding like a neutron star.

At any rate, if we take theological skepticism as a given and there is no way we can adduce beliefs, intentions and desires of Yahweh, how do we know Yahweh is all-good? How can we ever know that Yahweh would want to raise Jesus from the dead? How do we know Yahweh cares about human beings? Maybe Yahweh is more concerned with the flourishing of empty space, black holes and bacteria then Homo Sapiens? Maybe Yahweh fine tuned the universe for Neanderthals? Maybe Yahweh is really just a playful demon messing with us? What if Yahweh is really Allah just messing with you and injecting you with a synthetic dose of Holy Spirit!(tm) to test your credulity?

Like it or not, theological skepticism practically bulldozes any serious attempts to do Christian philosophy. Well at least its not a problem for me!

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ayer May 22, 2010 at 5:02 pm

“At any rate, if we take theological skepticism as a given and there is no way we can adduce beliefs, intentions and desires of Yahweh, how do we know Yahweh is all-good?”

I don’t accept theological skepticism in that full-blown sense, only in the sense that the argument from evil fails due to our inherent epistemic limitations as human beings. The ontological argument serves nicely to establish God as omnibenevolent.

“The more evil that I observe that, after thought, does not seem to be logically necessary for an adequately compensating good, the stronger my case becomes.”

The fact that something “seems” to you to be one way or the other does not constitute a “case”: it’s simply an expression of your emotional state. That’s fine, but it should and will have no logical persuasive impact on others who attempt to analyze the issue rationally.

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Rhys Wilkins May 22, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Ayer:“The fact that something “seems” to you to be one way or the other does not constitute a “case”: it’s simply an expression of your emotional state. That’s fine, but it should and will have no logical persuasive impact on others who attempt to analyze the issue rationally.”

Spare me the ad-hominem. I see good in the world that I think could have been brought about without recourse to evil. If you think that makes me irrational then you must be using the word irrational in some redefined evangelical context that I am not aware of.

I find it slightly ironic that someone who insists that an all-powerful, all-knowing, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, timeless, spaceless, immutable, book-writing, prayer-answering, sin-forgiving, thought-reading Semitic sky-deity exists ultimately because of a personal, subjective, inner conviction not based upon rational inference is having a go at me for lacking rationality and letting emotions cloud my judgment.

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matt May 23, 2010 at 4:31 am

Luke B: “My response is another one of John Leslie’s wonderful analogies. Suppose you are standing next to a huge wall. Its a foggy day, so you can’t even see the edges of the wall. On the (still rather large) part that you can see, a single fly is resting. Suddenly, a shot rings out and a single bullet comes out of the fog and hits the fly. I submit that we would be justified in concluding that this is evidence for the hypothesis that the bullet was aimed, and against the hypothesis that it was shot at random. This is true even if we are unable to see all of the wall, simply because the ratio of “fly” to “not-fly” is very low in the part that we can see.”

This seems to me to sum up much of the problem with Luke`s fine-tuning argument. The above inference isn’t merely the result of a probabilistic account about bullet sizes or surface areas: it takes place in a context where we know, for instance, that bullets are man-made artifacts, that they’re generally fired by people with the aim of hitting something, and so forth. absolutely no such background context can be given when we’re talking about the “initial conditions of the universe”. I think several of Barnes’ card-playing analogies fail for similar reasons. In fact, the whole idea of fine tuning” seems itself to beg the question: it’s a metaphor that presumes what it seeks to explain. Why is the fact that life can only exist given the infinitesimally small range of life-permitting physical parameters in need of “explanation” at all? This seems to me to fall into the trap that all teleologies do: it assumes that the end result IS an “end result”, which is to say, the product of a desire or an intention. I think Dawkin’s point about puddles and wholes in the ground is entirely apt here.

Sorry if this repeats what some others have already written here. Great discussion!

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matt May 23, 2010 at 4:33 am

sorry: i think faster than i can spell. (or maybe not…) make that “holes in the ground…”

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Steve Maitzen May 23, 2010 at 5:10 am

[ayer] The ontological argument serves nicely to establish God as omnibenevolent.

Hi again, ayer. Did I read that correctly? Not even Plantinga thinks the ontological argument “establishes” any theistic conclusion, let alone nicely; he thinks even the best (namely, his) version is dialectically unsuccessful, although sound. FWIW, I think it’s unsound because Plantinga assumes false principles of modal logic: S5 or at a minimum B. In fact, it’s worse than that. Anselm’s logic establishes either atheism or else mysticism so radical it can’t coherently be asserted, as I explain in this article (if I may).

Maybe this isn’t the place to begin a debate on the ontological argument, but I was surprised to see you appeal to it. Furthermore, if you were suggesting that skeptical theists (or “theological skeptics”) need the argument in order to know that God is good despite their skepticism, then your suggestion lands them in trouble.

[P.S. Did Craig ever reply to your submitted question about ultimate purpose?]

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Luke Barnes May 23, 2010 at 11:36 am

Bill: Let me try to unpack your point. If you agree, then we’ll move on to my response.

Suppose we represent the set of possible universes as a massive sheet of white paper. Now, go through and mark with a red marker all the ones that support intelligent life. The fine-tuning of the universe is the claim that that you will have coloured red a very small portion of the white sheet.

Now, as a living thing, I say – “look how special we are! Such a small area, such a small probability, it must mean something. The properties of this universe probably weren’t set by chance.”

But … you could repeat the exercise with black holes. Colour black all the universes that permit black holes. Then, if a black hole could see the sheet, it would marvel at how special the universe was that it could support black holes. A hydrogen atom comes along with his green marker and then marvels at what a special universe this is that there are an abundance of hydrogen atoms. Neutron stars bring a purple marker. Supernovae, bacteria, asteroids, dwarf galaxies, neutrinos and daleks all take their turn.

If we all just took a moment to stand back and look at each other, and the rainbow of colours on the sheet, we’d realize that none of us is special. The universe just is what it is. Any universe will contain something, but that doesn’t mean that that something should conclude that the universe was made just for it.

Does that summarize your point?

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Luke Barnes May 23, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Mark:
Your example isn’t typical of the cases of fine tuning. Your life permitting range and your probability distribution are both characterized by numbers of order one. A more representative example would be such as that for the strong force with regard to the production of oxygen and carbon. Let the strength of the strong force S in out universe be S0. A change by 0.4% in either direction and the universe contains oxygen or carbon but not both. Suppose that we can reliably predict the life permitting properties of universes with S in the range R = [0, a few times S0]. Given that there is no reason to prefer one range of S to another, a uniform distribution on R is justifiable. But my (and Aguirre’s] point is more general. Most distributions P on R will yield a small probability for the life-permitting range, unless they have a sharp peak in the life-permitting range. But this would require that P contains a parameter of order S0 (for the centre of the peak), and another of order of the width of the life-permitting range (for the width of the peak). But these two parameters would themselves need to be fine tuned.

Regarding your other points, I’ll go read Norton and Sober.

“we know a priori that the possible life-unfriendly laws certainly don’t outnumber the ” for every such destructive excision, I could come up with some completely anodyne addition.”

Interesting. But if you are only inflating the life-permitting category of laws with anodyne (good word!) additions, then it is clear that this is an arbitrary distortion of probability space. To be consistent, you would need to add these additions to all universes which could handle them. My suspicion is that if you added these laws to all universes, you would still see that the life-prohibiting universes outnumber life permitting ones. You would just be scaling up the whole space, without changing the relative proportions.

Further, it is quite difficult to come up with additions to our universe which are really there (i.e. have a non-zero energy) and yet “do nothing”. Even neutrinos, which interact very weakly with ordinary matter, do impact the evolution of the universe in its earliest stages when the energy is high enough for the forces to be unified. in modern physics, if a particle doesn’t have an energy, it can’t be said to exist in any meaningful way. And General relativity implies that all forms of energy gravitate!

Regarding both categories being infinite: this isn’t such a problem. There are an infinite number of points inside the bullseye of a dartboard, and an infinite number on the whole dartboard, but that doesn’t mean that a bullseye is just as easy to hit as the whole board, or that we cannot assign probabilities to a set of dart trajectories.

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Luke Barnes May 23, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Matt: You don’t think that we could reason in this way about the fly on the wall scenario, even if we didn’t know about guns and bullets? Replace the bullet with a rock – the argument still works, even though sometimes rocks are thrown at a target, and sometimes they aren’t.

“Absolutely no such background context can be given when we’re talking about the initial conditions of the universe”. False. Roger Penrose does exactly this when considering the entropy of the initial conditions of the universe, using statistical mechanics to characterise the space of possibilities and the probability of a universe chosen at random being in such a low entropy state as we find our universe. His answer is 1 chance in 10^10^123 – see his “The Road to Reality”. He rightly sees this as discounting the chance hypothesis, and speculates that a deeper physical principle, which he calls the Weyl curvature hypothesis (see wikipedia), constrains nature of initial singularities.

” In fact, the whole idea of fine tuning” seems itself to beg the question: it’s a metaphor that presumes what it seeks to explain … it assumes that the end result IS an “end result”. It is true that design arguments in the past have been cast in the form of an argument from analogy. “The universe is like a watch. Watches are designed. Thus, the universe is designed.” But almost no modern form of the argument takes this form. It can be cast as an inference to best explanation, as a Fisherian rejection of the chance hypothesis, as a Bayesian comparison between the chance hypthesis, the design hypothesis and any other hypotheses you could think of, or some combination of the above. None of these involve assuming that the universe has a purpose. They simply involve framing hypotheses and testing against the data.

Devices like the “fly on the wall” and card games are best thought of, not as analogies, but as illustrations of general principles. The fly on the wall illustrates that we need not be able to characterize all of possibility space to conclude that a chance hypothesis is unlikely for an event which is inside the known part of possibility space. The 10 royal flush scenario illustrates the importance of asking the right question. In particular, it shows the difference between calculating P(A|B) and P(B|A), as quantified in Bayes’ theorem.

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ayer May 23, 2010 at 2:36 pm

“exists ultimately because of a personal, subjective, inner conviction not based upon rational inference is having a go at me for lacking rationality and letting emotions cloud my judgment.”

I’m just playing by the atheist’s rules on the atheist’s chosen field (i.e., reason, argument and evidence). What’s highly ironic is when the atheist devotee of reason resorts to an intuitive sense to make a case against theism.

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ayer May 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm

“Hi again, ayer. Did I read that correctly? Not even Plantinga thinks the ontological argument “establishes” any theistic conclusion, let alone nicely; he thinks even the best (namely, his) version is dialectically unsuccessful, although sound.”

Since Plantinga has a presuppositionalist bent (from the Reformed tradition) I know he tends to deprecate the success of arguments for God’s existence (even though his work includes analysis and development of those arguments). Craig, however, does believe the ontological argument establishes a theistic conclusion, and in fact used it in his recent debate with Victor Stenger. See:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8080

(You may have to register to view this link from Craig’s newsletter describing his debate with Stenger).

“Furthermore, if you were suggesting that skeptical theists (or “theological skeptics”) need the argument in order to know that God is good despite their skepticism, then your suggestion lands them in trouble.”

You could be right about that; I’m only asserting that skepticism is the proper attitude in attempting to judge the God could not have a good reason for allowing the evil that exists in the world (in light of chaos theory, etc.).

“[P.S. Did Craig ever reply to your submitted question about ultimate purpose?]”

No, no reply yet; but he only answers one question a week, so it may take awhile, assuming he thinks the question is a good one.

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Bill Maher May 23, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Luke, I would say my point is much more harsh than that.
I would say that any line of anthropic reasoning commits the reverse reasoning fallacy. This also includes the biology section of the Anthropic Principle. Here is a relevant video in relation to the biological section, but I think it carries over to fine tuning.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JQD6uVVqf0

Not only that, but “God-did-it” is just a damned awful explanation for anything and fails miserably in almost every way.

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Mark May 23, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Hi again Luke.

Re: Aguirre. O.K., I think I understand you better. But I think you’re going to run into the renormalization problem here. Collins argues that it’s inappropriate to apply the principle of indifference to a variable unless it meets a certain criterion of “naturalness.” If there’s no reason to attach a uniform distribution to a random variable X instead of, e.g., the variables Y = 1/X or Z = X^2, then we shouldn’t assign such a distribution at all. The exception, Collins thinks, is when X is the “natural” variable to be using. This typically occurs when X appears in the simplest formulation of some physical law.

If you agree with this, it seems like you shouldn’t agree with Aguirre. Suppose we think that a variable S has a distribution of parameters p and q, such that the life-permitting range of S is likely. You’ll say: “But if p and q had differed by a tiny amount, then the life-permitting range would’ve been spectacularly improbable! Thus p and q are fine-tuned.” However, we can always reparametrize, say, by setting p’ = 1/p and q’ = k + 1/q, or something like that. If we reparametrize cleverly enough, then p’ and q’ could differ by a large amount from their actual values without greatly affecting the probability of the life-permitting range. The mathematical expression of this reparametrized distribution needn’t be any less simple than the original distribution. Moreover, even if it is less simple, the original distribution doesn’t come out of some known physical law. Hence there is no “natural” parameter here. Hence by Collins’ thinking we cannot say the parameters are fine-tuned.

Further, it is quite difficult to come up with additions to our universe which are really there (i.e. have a non-zero energy) and yet “do nothing”. Even neutrinos, which interact very weakly with ordinary matter, do impact the evolution of the universe in its earliest stages when the energy is high enough for the forces to be unified. in modern physics, if a particle doesn’t have an energy, it can’t be said to exist in any meaningful way. And General relativity implies that all forms of energy gravitate!

I really don’t think it’s as difficult as you might imagine. We can cook up all sorts of very weakly-interacting energetic particles obeying some new laws, and stipulate that the hypothetical universe only contains a couple of them lying around. I’m not a physicist, though, so maybe this suggestion contains an egregious error.

Regarding both categories being infinite: this isn’t such a problem. There are an infinite number of points inside the bullseye of a dartboard, and an infinite number on the whole dartboard, but that doesn’t mean that a bullseye is just as easy to hit as the whole board, or that we cannot assign probabilities to a set of dart trajectories.

Of course, but that’s because there’s an obvious way to assign probabilities to regions of the dartboard: equal probabilities to equal areas. (Naturally, we must conspire to ignore regions which aren’t Lebesgue measurable.) But if we know there are infinitely many life-permitting/non-permitting laws, it’s much harder to ground our probability assignments in anything like a rigorous way.

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Rhys Wilkins May 23, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Ayer:I’m just playing by the atheist’s rules on the atheist’s chosen field (i.e., reason, argument and evidence). What’s highly ironic is when the atheist devotee of reason resorts to an intuitive sense to make a case against theism.

*HEADDESK*

Tell me. What is emotional about observing a good or pleasurable state of affairs that was the product of some instance of unspeakable evil, thinking of many ways it could have been brought about without any sort of evil, and therefore concluding that the evil was not logically necessary for an adequately compensating good? It’s really bizarre that you don’t want to acknowledge this.

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matt May 24, 2010 at 4:08 am

luke b:

my point about the fly on the wall is similar to the point made in the video posted by bill maher a couple of posts up from this one. let’s substitute a given molecule carried on a breeze that touches the fly’s wing for the bullet, or a given rain drop. once again, what are the chances that any particular rain drop will hit that particular fly? if you ask the question this way, it seems to me you’ll come up with exactly the same sort of answer you arrive at for “fine-tuned” life. only by presuming the centrality or unique status or intrinsic value or whatever you want to call it of life as opposed to non-life does the question even arise. that is, if you assume that life is like a royal flush, then your reasoning makes sense, maybe; if you assume it’s just a product of a random selection process, not a lottery jackpot, then it doesn’t. i don’t see how you’ve arrived at a level behind or beyond either of these assumptions. (i think this is what makes pz meyers’ comment about narcissism and solipsism relevant.)

here’s another way to look at it. given something like william craig’s cartesian dualism–in fact, given the whole bizarre idea of a bodiless mind prior to the physio-temporal universe, something that comes with a whole lot of philosophical baggage i wouldn’t want to try to get over the mexican border, let alone a peer review process–then it’s entirely possible that an oxygenless, carbonless, starless universe could have been maximally filled with disembodied life. maybe heaven is only possible with a strong force that’s in a range from 60 to 600 times ours. looked at that way, our universe turns out to be a rather unfortunate ruffle on a dirty little fly’s wing. i just don’t see where all the technical reasoning about probabilities and distributions gets around this basic–and basically philosophical–presupposition.

of course, that may be because i can’t follow all the technicalities. then again, you get pretty damned vague yourself, once the debate turns to what this god thing really looks like, which you refer to as the “best explanation”…

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ayer May 24, 2010 at 4:09 am

“thinking of many ways it could have been brought about without any sort of evil”

*FACEPALM*

Please explain exactly how you know that in light of chaos theory (i.e., that those “ways” would not ultimately result in greater evil down the line)

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matt May 24, 2010 at 4:28 am

PS: Just looked up your blog and read your critique of Victor Stenger, who more or less makes one of the pointe I just made (it’s a common enough argument). There you answer it this way:

“This universe is not special because it is ours. It is special because it can support intelligent life. When we consider the fine-tuning of the universe, we are not considering the probability of this universe. We are considering the probability of a universe that supports intelligent life.”

Why is “intelligent life” special, if not because WE are the intelligent life form that’s motivating the whole discussion? This answer seems to me to completely beg the question, or else it’s just a tautology. Either way it seems to me you haven’t aswered the objection.

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Luke Barnes May 24, 2010 at 4:32 am

Bill: can you give me a precise definition of the “reverse reasoning fallacy”. When I put that phrase into google, I only get one result. I’m just not familiar with the term. It sounds a bit like a straightforward statistical inference.

I think the argument in the youtube video is deeply flawed. More on that after your response.

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Bill Maher May 24, 2010 at 5:03 am

Good morning Luke,

What I mean by it is that anthropic reasoning takes goalless natural processes and mistakes the current result with being the goal (this is what I meant by life chauvinism). After it does this it reasons backwards and says all of the events that led up to it had a staggeringly low chance of happening in that order. (The point of the video was that Craig also does this with evolution, nothing more) It does this opposed to seeing current result as part of the chain in the goalless progression with no “combinations to crack”, just results.
Then it tends to use about the worst explanation one can give for anything, God, to explain it.

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Bill Maher May 24, 2010 at 5:19 am

Luke, I hope you don’t think I am some caustic douche-bag btw. I do think you are wrong, but you seem like a nice guy and none of my responses have any ill will.

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Rhys Wilkins May 24, 2010 at 5:40 am

Goddamn this is turning into an epic battle of Last Wordism.

“Please explain exactly how you know that in light of chaos theory”

You are knocking down a strawman of my argument. I made it very clear I was talking about evil that was logically necessary for an adequately compensating good, not causally necessary. Chaos theory results from physical contingencies. An omnipotent being, by definition, is able to alter causal contingencies. For your concept of Yahweh to hold up it must be the case that there is literally not a single possible world in which there is evil that is not a logically necessary precondition for some counterbalancing good. Also, the counterbalancing good must not only absorb the effects of the first order evil it sprung from, it must also absorb the effects of all second order evils caused by the first order evil. Do you have any idea of the intellectual hoopery one has to go through to justify this nonsense? All there has to be is one, ONE instance of evil in the world that is not a logically necessary precondition for some form of good, then Yahweh is done for.

Let me ask you this: Can you even think of a single possible counterbalancing good that would justify a fawn being caught in a brutal forest fire, and dying slowly over several days from 3rd degree burns and infection? Seriously, even a possible one?

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Bill Maher May 24, 2010 at 5:45 am

Rhys,
hopefully he does “alter contentedness” or we are all going to get killed by the Andromeda Galaxy colliding with the Milky way if our sun doesn’t kill us first. William Lane Craig says that unless God exists, then we are doomed!! DOOMED!!

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ayer May 24, 2010 at 5:50 am

“Do you have any idea of the intellectual hoopery one has to go through to justify this nonsense? All there has to be is one, ONE instance of evil in the world that is not a logically necessary precondition for some form of good, then Yahweh is done for.”

You don’t seem to grasp that since you are the one making the argument from evil, the burden is on YOU to explain exactly how you know this is “nonsense” (other than some vague intuitive sense that you feel)

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Steve Maitzen May 24, 2010 at 6:02 am

Craig, however, does believe the ontological argument establishes a theistic conclusion, and in fact used it in his recent debate with Victor Stenger. See:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8080

(You may have to register to view this link from Craig’s newsletter describing his debate with Stenger).

@ayer: I registered at Craig’s website and followed the link you provided. Here’s its only mention of the ontological argument:

“In response to the ontological argument, [Stenger] replied that parallel reasoning would also prove the existence of a maximally great pizza, which is absurd. I pointed out that the situation is not parallel because the idea of a maximally great pizza is logically incoherent, since a necessarily existent pizza could not be eaten and so would not truly be a pizza!”

That’s it: one reply to the familiar “parody” objection. All the link contains is evidence that Craig invoked the ontological argument, that Stenger objected to it, and that Craig replied. It’s a rather thin basis on which to rest your assertion that the ontological argument “serves nicely to establish God as omnibenevolent.”

A different article on Craig’s website (Question 159) suggests that his ontological argument, like Plantinga’s, relies unabashedly on S5, as if he’s unaware that S5 has been trenchantly criticized for 34 years. (Par for the course: Craig’s been ignoring Nagel for 39 years.)
The ontological argument, in every version of it I’ve seen, is DOA. Have a look at the link I provided earlier. I’m happy to provide more if you want.

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Bill Maher May 24, 2010 at 6:37 am

Steve, do you have any thoughts on fine tuning?

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ayer May 24, 2010 at 7:20 am

“That’s it: one reply to the familiar “parody” objection. All the link contains is evidence that Craig invoked the ontological argument, that Stenger objected to it, and that Craig replied. It’s a rather thin basis on which to rest your assertion that the ontological argument “serves nicely to establish God as omnibenevolent.”

My citation to Craig’s newsletter was just to make the point that it is considered a viable argument by many theist philosophers (regardless of Plantinga’s skepticism regarding theistic arguments in general). I find the argument persuasive, but I will be glad to look at your link. Stenger’s response was very weak.

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Steve Maitzen May 24, 2010 at 8:31 am

Steve, do you have any thoughts on fine tuning?

None as yet worth sharing. Sorry to divert the thread to a discussion of the ontological argument, but I’m always surprised when I hear that an intelligent person has fallen for it. Besides, the thread had already been diverted into a discussion of skeptical theism (or “theological skepticism,” as Rhys prefers).

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Bill Maher May 24, 2010 at 1:16 pm

It just hit me that I really don’t want to argue about this anymore :P I don’t think I am going to change Dr. Barnes’ mind and vice-versa. Somehow I can not control myself and begin arguing over the internet. At least it was with a nice guy that is intelligent this time.
However, I don’t buy fine tuning due to the “life chauvinism”, God as an explanatory failure, and about 20 or so other reasons. I was looking up Tipler and Davies’ stances and I don’t think they think it argues for a God either, but they take it as a legitimate question that must be answered. I think I am closer to Steven Weinberg, Lawrence Krauss, and Taner Edis’ stance.

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Rhys Wilkins May 24, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Ayer:You don’t seem to grasp that since you are the one making the argument from evil, the burden is on YOU to explain exactly how you know this is “nonsense” (other than some vague intuitive sense that you feel)

The best way to make premiss 3 plausible is simply to give examples.

Going back to my first example. An orphaned fawn gets caught in a brutal forest fire and gets grievously damaged from severe 3rd degree burns. The fawn dies slowly over the course of 72 hours from infection.
If Yahweh is real, not only is there some good that will come out of this situation (even though the fawn is on its own, and noone even knows it exists), but the good that would have arisen out of this situation would have to outweight the evil, and have been logically impossible unless this horrendous act of evil was allowed to occur. Not causally impossible, logically impossible. Can you even think of a possible good that might come out of something like that?

What about first order evils that are not available to be absorbed by second order goods? You don’t seem to comprehend the fact that alot of suffering and evil are private affairs. This means that they simply cannot be a logically necessary precondition for some counterbalancing good. Combine this with the fact that alot of these private first order evils spawn second order evils as well (e.g. thinking about pain and suffering makes one quite miserable). So not only does this supposed hypothetical logically entailing second order good that results from the privately perceptible first order evils have to be sufficiently strong to absorb the first order evil, it has to be sufficiently strong to absorb all the privately perceptible second order evils as well. That, is the very definition of implausibility.

If what I have just written doesn’t seriously stop and give you pause for a brief moment then I am really wasting my time here.

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ayer May 24, 2010 at 7:09 pm

“You don’t seem to comprehend the fact that alot of suffering and evil are private affairs.”

This statement shows that the profound implications of chaos theory for this issue are just bouncing off, so we probably are wasting our time. Craig has made the same point as Boyd in this regard:

“I want to argue that we’re just not in a good position to assess the probability of whether God lacks morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evils that occur. Take an analogy from chaos theory. In chaos theory, scientists tell us that even the flutter of a butterfly’s’ wings could produce forces that would set in motion causes that would produce a hurricane over the Atlantic Ocean. And yet looking at that butterfly palpitating on a branch, it is impossible in principle to predict such an outcome. Similarly, an evil in the world, say, a child’s dying of cancer or a brutal murder of a man, could set a ripple effect in history going, such that God’s morally sufficient reason for permitting it might not emerge until centuries later or maybe in another country. We’re just not in a position to be able to make these kinds of probability judgements.

William Alston, a philosopher at the University of Syracuse, summarizes the point. He says, “The judgements required by the [probabilistic] argument from evil are of a very special and enormously ambitious type and our cognitive capacities are not equal to this . . .. We are simply not in a position to justifiably assert that God would have no sufficient reason for permitting evil.” ”
http://www.origins.org/articles/craig_tooley_3.html

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Rhys Wilkins May 24, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Alright I concede. This dialogue is getting us nowhere.

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Luke Barnes May 24, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Once more for Bill:
re: douche-baggery – not at all. These are good questions, and if you’re not getting good answers then keep asking them!

The argument in the youtube video you cited goes as follows:
1. Before we throw the 25 dice, the probability of a particular outcome is 3.5 x 10^-20.
2. And yet, after we throw the dice, there they are.
3. Thus, we cannot conclude that the dice were not thrown fairly, because there they are.

The problem with this argument, as I show in here http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2008/07/28/are-the-dice-loaded/ is that it never takes seriously the alternative hypotheses about the dice. Suppose that all 25 dice turn up 6. Suppose we throw all 25 dice again, and all 25 dice turn up 6 again. Surely, at some point, we should start to suspect that these aren’t fair dice, that they are rigged in some way.

This point becomes perfectly clear when we express things in terms of Bayes’ theorem. (If this get’s confusing, just skip to the paragraph beginning with a hash #). Let:
F = the dice are fair
L = the dice are loaded = ~F (notF i.e. if the dice are not fair, then they are loaded).
T = 25 sixes are thrown
R = the throw 6145353365535452152136434

now:
P(A|B) = “the probability of A given B”
P(R|F) = P(T|F) = 3.5 x 10^-20
What we want to know is, given that I observe T, what is the probability that the dice are fair. By Bayes’ theorem, this is
P(F|T) = P(T|F) P(F) / [P(T|F) P(F) + P(T|L) P(L)]

We cannot evaluate P(F|T) by only considering the fact that P(R|F) = P(T|F). It’s just not relevant. We have to consider the probability of T given the hypothesis that the dice are loaded, and the prior on L. I submit that P(T|L) >> P(T|F), since T is an algorithmically compressible sequence. It follows mathematically that, given a prior P(L), there is always some number of sixes thrown that makes it more likely than not that the dice are loaded.

# Note the moral of the story. It is perfectly acceptable, and mathematically rigorous, and scientifically common, to use the staggeringly low chance of an event on a given hypothesis as evidence against that hypothesis, and in favour of some alternative hypothesis. All scientific model testing is built on this idea: that experiments can test hypotheses.

Thus we come to your response to the fine tuning:

“Anthropic reasoning takes goalless natural processes and mistakes the current result with being the goal.”

Can you see that your response assumes from the very beginning that natural processes are goalless? What you call “life chauvinism” is only really chauvinism if we *know* that the laws of nature are goalless. You’ve done this from the start:

“Since the universe is goal-less, we are arbitrary and happen to be the byproduct of processes.”

“people are not the goal of the universe.”

“all possible combinations of the laws of physics are against the odds.”

Here’s my point. The proposition (call it C for chance) “it is not true that the laws of nature were chosen with intelligent life in mind” is not a necessary truth. It is a hypothesis which could be false, and thus should be tested. It needs to be compared to alternative hypotheses. Simply calling alternative hypotheses “life chauvinism” assumes that they are false. It takes as certain the very thing that we are debating.

I submit that the fine-tuning of the universe for life shows that the probability that a universe for which C is true is very unlikely to be life-permitting. Thus, given that this universe is life-permitting, we do what we always do when a hypotheses implies that an observed fact is extremely unlikely. We don’t just say “and yet, there it is.” We go looking for alternative hypotheses. This is simply the scientific method.

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Yair May 25, 2010 at 1:28 am

I find all fine-tuning arguments to strangely limit God – as noted above, there is nothing stopping god from making a world carried around by giant turtles or so on. Divine fine-tuning only makes sense if god is limited to playing with the dials modern physics allows him, which is a rather strange (and deist) god.

I see no reason why a god would create laws of nature with fine-tuning in them. Why wouldn’t he create laws of nature that are broadly-tuned? Or can’t be phrased in these terms at all? A god that is limited to playing with the current physical parameters is an ad hoc assumption.

On the other hand, under naturalism it is appealing to think that that the overall laws of nature would not support life but would allow great diversity so that at small corners of the multiverse there would be life. But I don’t think that “appealing” makes for a very good argument.

Ultimately, neither theism nor naturalism provides a really good explanation for why the laws of nature in our universe are fine-tuned. That is because in both why there is the particular something that there is (spacetime, god, or so on) is not convincingly explained. I don’t think it can be explained.

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drj May 25, 2010 at 5:05 am

Ayer wrote:

I want to argue that we’re just not in a good position to assess the probability of whether God lacks morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evils that occur. Take an analogy from chaos theory. In chaos theory, scientists tell us that even the flutter of a butterfly’s’ wings could produce forces that would set in motion causes that would produce a hurricane over the Atlantic Ocean. And yet looking at that butterfly palpitating on a branch, it is impossible in principle to predict such an outcome. Similarly, an evil in the world, say, a child’s dying of cancer or a brutal murder of a man, could set a ripple effect in history going, such that God’s morally sufficient reason for permitting it might not emerge until centuries later or maybe in another country. We’re just not in a position to be able to make these kinds of probability judgements.

If a chaos theorist asserted that *every* instance of a butterfly flapping its wings was *necessary* for a hurricane, tornado, or dust-storm, we’d be justified to disbelieve him.

If another chaos theorist asserted that there is probably *at least one* instance where the flapping of butterfly wings was not necessary for the formation of a hurricane, tornado, or dust-storm, we’d probably believe him. At any rate, it would be much more difficult to deny this assertion.

The theist is like the first chaos theorist, when he asks us to accept the monumentally improbable idea that every instance of evil was *necessary* for some compensatory good. The atheist is like the second chaos theorist, when he suggests that there is probably at least one instance of evil that was unnecessary for a compensatory good.

Obviously, the atheist, like chaos theorist #2, is in a far better position here.

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ayer May 25, 2010 at 5:31 am

“If another chaos theorist asserted that there is probably *at least one* instance where the flapping of butterfly wings was not necessary for the formation of a hurricane”

Every instance of a hurricane depends upon small differences in initial conditions that renders any “probabilistic” assessment impossible (whether that initial condition is the flapping of butterfly wings or some other seemingly unrelated, trivial event). The point stands:

“Small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) yield widely diverging outcomes for chaotic systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_theory

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drj May 25, 2010 at 7:33 am

Every instance of a hurricane depends upon small differences in initial conditions that renders any “probabilistic” assessment impossible (whether that initial condition is the flapping of butterfly wings or some other seemingly unrelated, trivial event). The point stands:

My point is that we don’t need concrete probability values to dismiss the butterfly effect as absurd or far-fetched, as applied to the problem of evil.

The atheist is simply making a claim about the possibility one event, while you are required to account for billions of events, each with their own distinct causal influence on future events.

* As an aside, doesn’t chaos theory presuppose a troubling amount of determinism for a contra-causal free-will believing Christian?

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ayer May 25, 2010 at 8:52 am

“The atheist is simply making a claim about the possibility one event,”

But that claims fails without the concurrent construction of a case showing chaos theory to be flawed, since it rules out even your “modest” claim.

“* As an aside, doesn’t chaos theory presuppose a troubling amount of determinism for a contra-causal free-will believing Christian?”

Not in the context of Molinist counterfactuals.

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drj May 25, 2010 at 8:56 am

But it chaos theory doesn’t actually rule out the modest claim, because I seriously doubt chaos theory suggests that every single initial condition will result in significantly different end results.

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matt May 25, 2010 at 10:19 am

Luke b writes:

“It is perfectly acceptable, and mathematically rigorous, and scientifically common, to use the staggeringly low chance of an event on a given hypothesis as evidence against that hypothesis, and in favour of some alternative hypothesis.”

But ONCE AGAIN Luke, you’re begging the central question. You simply ASSERT that the “right question” is about P(C/L) where C = chance and L = a universe that permits life, instead of about P(L/C), as you put it. But WHY (sorry for the capitals, I don’t know how to do cursive or underlines here) is this the “right” question? You just haven’t shown that the universe is like a string of 1000 royal flushes rather than like any given combination of cards. Once again, you use misleading analogies to make your point: with dice–a human artifact, kind of like watches…–we know IN ADVANCE that there is an equal chance that any of the six sides will show when we throw them. This kind of randomness isn’t knowable in the case of the various universals, constants and laws of nature at issue in a “fine-tuned” universe. The background knowledge ISN’T THERE to make probabilistic arguments about what “could have” been otherwise. Sorry to be tediously repitious, but that is exactly why calling it “fine-tuning” is to load the dice argumentatively for theism. It’s you who is smuggling in hidden assumptions, as far as I can tell, not the other way around.

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matt May 25, 2010 at 10:39 am

sorry, but i wnat to try to make the point in a different way, and see if it works. if a scientist from mars encountered playing cards for the very first time, without knowing what they were or what a full house or a royal flush or any other comination meant, how would he react to a deck of cards that always dealt out royal flushes? would he assume it was a loaded deck, guided by magic, or that playing cards somehow by their intrinsic properties just behave that way? would he look for an underlying mechanism, maybe something in the weight of the cards or the chemistry of the ink, to explain the regularity? what if it turned out the deck was composed only of cards in that order, or that cards by some unknown law of nature were transformed instantaneously into royal flushes? now imagine he only knew that such a card deck existed, but couldn’t even perform experiments on it to determine how it existed, or lacked the untensils necessary to do so.

it seems to me that this analogy, though clumsy, comes closer to the describing the “coincidence” of all the physical preconditions for a life-permitting universe than any analogy to a pre-existing card game. maybe your fine-tuned universe is just an empty tomb after all.

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ayer May 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm

“But it chaos theory doesn’t actually rule out the modest claim, because I seriously doubt chaos theory suggests that every single initial condition will result in significantly different end results.”

If each interconnected event is part of a chain that, from the perspective of an omniscient being, has the ultimate result of, e.g., maximizing the number of people who come into a saving relationship with God, then each event contributes to that ultimate good and there is therefore a good reason for allowing it

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Luke Barnes May 25, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Matt: “You simply ASSERT that the “right question” is about P(C/L) where C = chance and L = a universe that permits life, instead of about P(L/C)”

P(C|L) is the right question because it treats as known the thing that is known (namely that this universe supports life), and treats as unknown the thing that is unknown (namely C). You test a hypothesis using the data. C is the hypothesis, L is the data.

“The background knowledge ISN’T THERE to make probabilistic arguments about what “could have” been otherwise.”

Yes it is. The process of making predictions about what would have been in these other universes is exactly the same process as making predictions about this universe. We know what would happen in these universes because we can do theoretical physics. Experimental confirmation of our predictions in this universe makes us confident that the theory is correct, and thus we can predict what would happen if the constants/initial conditions were different.

This is not a leap into the dark. We are following the well trained, well tested pointing finger of theoretical physics.

I don’t understand your last post. Can you answer some of the rhetorical questions that you asked? What would/should the alien think?

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lukeprog May 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Luke B,

I admire your endurance… :)

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matt May 26, 2010 at 4:40 am

Luke not-B,

I admire yours, too.

Luke B,

correct me if i’m wrong, but how does theoretical physics inform us about the mechanisms by which the initial conditions for theoretical physics came about? i’m guessing that if your answer to that question is “god probably did it”, then theoretical physics isn’t doing the trick. it’s one thing to make probabilistic statements about what would have happened vis a vis a universe with life in it if the initial conditions had been otherwise; it’s another thing to make probabilistic arguments about how likely those initial conditions are on some other, unstated conditions.

i think that’s a slightly different point than this one, though–and i’d be happy if you’d make one last effort to convince me that i’m missing the point: 1. we exist (obviously) in a life-permitting universe. 2. had the various constants and initial everything been otherwise, the universe would not be life permitting. 3. given (2) there would have been some OTHER universe with other features that could only have been so given those other initial conditions. 4. life turns out to be one of the highly specific effects of the particular turn out universe took in the moment 0 or whenever it all started. 5. it could have been otherwise, in which case whatever else would have emerged from the void would be retrospectively just as highly unlikely as what did in fact emerge. it’s all equally “improbable”.

how this proves divine intervention still simply eludes me.

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Zeb May 26, 2010 at 6:03 am

I have the same sort of question as matt and bill. I see how the probabilities support the case for fine tuning, but I don’t see why that wouldn’t be the case for a large portion of possible universes. If I may propose an analogy that I think does the same job as matt’s, but for me is more clear.

There is a society that uses the hexidecimal system, and in this society a university agriculture department has been doing a long running study of the size of pig litters. Over a thousand generations the number of pigs in a litter has been 2, 7, 1, 8, 2, …, exactly the digits in the constant e. The researchers analyze the data and determine that the number of pigs in a litter is constrained to between 0 and 9, but otherwise it’s random. Being agriculturalists who use the hexidecimal system, they don’t recognize decimal e when the see it. But if a researcher from a decimal culture came across the data, he would be surprised and quite curious about the apparent coincidence. But would he be justified believing the pig litters were not random? What if he were able reconstruct the line of pigs back 1 million generations? 1 billion? It certainly looks fishier and fishier, but what would be special about the digits of decimal e that make them demand a different explanation than any other equally improbably string of digits?

Or is that a completely inappropriate analogy?

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matt May 26, 2010 at 6:35 am

jesus mosterin, in an article that i think sums up the basic objection pretty well, says all there is to say:

“the universe is a unique historical fact. there are no statistics of universes”

luke b’s insistance that the “right question” is to ask what the probability of chance is given our universe is, as mosterin writes, like avoiding buying a lottery ticket with the number 55555555 ond it on the assumption that that comibation is a priori less likely than a less apparently ordered one.

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Zeb May 26, 2010 at 7:14 am

luke b’s insistance that the “right question” is to ask what the probability of chance is given our universe is, as mosterin writes, like avoiding buying a lottery ticket with the number 55555555 ond it on the assumption that that comibation is a priori less likely than a less apparently ordered one.

No, it’s like saying that the combination 55555555…10^55 is more likely if the lottery is rigged than if it is not, while a less apparently ordered one is not more likely if the lottery is rigged than if it is not. If there were a lottery that used computer generated random numbers with 10^55 digits, and it came up all fives, you would not think something odd is probably going on?

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matt May 26, 2010 at 9:00 am

Zeb, the combination 555555555…etc is only more likely on the assumption of a rigged lottery than not because that combination falls into a tiny subset of the possible combinations that we would recognize as ordered. i’m guessing you’re tacitly assuming something like dembski’s “specified comlexity” as a criterion of sample selection, but this is to smuggle in what you’re trying to show from the very beginning. it’s definitely true that 5555555, like 01234567… or 012357 11 13 17… would make te lottery seem rigged, but that would also be the case if our selection bias were based, say, on any given algorhythm for deriving any particular number series. by muliplying the fives in the series you’re not making the particular occurence of 55555… any less likely than the occurence of any other SPECIFIED number you can think of, whether it looks ordered or not. (55555555555555 is no less likely than 209875374985937, so longas they have the same number of digits.)

so the metaphysical assumption behind the anthropic claim is that a life-permitting universe is like 55555555 rather than 2340982098, i.e., that it’s somehow a priviledged subset of all the possible outcomes. but that is precisely what is really at issue.

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dgsinclair May 26, 2010 at 9:20 am

I am not only impressed by Luke B’s perseverance, but the quality of his answers.

Being neither a philosopher, physicist, or a probability theorist, I have to sort of sit out the more esoteric discussions that include probability equations. I have a few reactions to such discussions, as an ‘outsider’.

1. While such theoretical foundational musings are important to the final outcomes, logically speaking, they don’t really touch the common man

The majority of people are not smart enough, or interested enough to invest the time, into understanding Bayesian logic. You could win that argument, and most people would shrug and say, “um, so what?”

2. I am glad smart people like Luke B. are on the side of ID/faith (at least, willing to defend the legitimacy of such claims).

I’m not sure where Luke B. actually stands on faith issues, and that’s actually cool because his own beliefs are not germane to the arguments themselves – in fact, by keeping them obscure, he limits the amount of useless ad hominems and genetic fallacies used by opponents.

I am also heartened to see that, as Graham Oppy would quickly admit, there are smart people and good arguments on both sides of the aisle.

Even better, one does not have to abandon reason to have faith, or vice versa, except in the mind of those naturalists who require such mutual exclusivity.

3. I am amazed at the lengths people will go to to avoid the conclusion that God exists.

These discussions always give me flashbacks to the contest of intellect between Vizzini and the Man in Black in the Princess Bride.

Man In Black: Now , where is the poison ? The battle of witts has begun . It ends when you decide and we both drink . And find out who is right-and who is dead .

Vizzini: But it’s so simple : Are you the kind of man who would put the poison into his own goblet ? Now a clever man would put the poison into his own glass because only a great fool , would reach for what he is given . I am not a great fool , so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me . But YOU must have known that I was not a great fool , you would have counted on it , so I can clearly not choose the wine in frount of you .

MIB: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

V: Wait till I get going!

In the end, Vizzini’s great intellect doesn’t save him from death because the solution is actually OUTSIDE of his perspective and reasoning.

And so it may be with those who use mere reason to assess God.

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dgsinclair May 26, 2010 at 9:26 am

Regarding the statistical likelihood of a life-permitting Universe, I make the following observations:

1. All outcomes are equally improbable/probable?

The arguments that the likelihood of all universes are the same (like 1:10^55), or are of P=1 seem to be somehow logically flawed. I can’t explain how, and some have attempted above. But on the face of them, they seem to entirely miss the point of how probability and science work.

2. What about a life-permitting solar system?

Those who argue that we only have one Universe to observe might have a point that we have no basis for comparison. However, why not just use the relative impossibility of a life-permitting solar system (ours)? We can compare that to the many solar systems we have observed without seeing life, as well as the many we have not yet directly observed, but which have failed to contact us if life existed there.

This would seem to provide not only the statistical data and argument, but the forensic evidence to support it.

Just an idea, does it work?

3. Naturalism assumes naturalism

I think that this idea has been rebuffed (perhaps successfully) by some atheists, but it seems to me that naturalism is self-reinforcing, or circular. Like with Kant’s critique of pure reason, it seems that naturalism, like reason, can’t validate itself.

But I’m out over my head now. Feel free to enlighten!

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matt May 26, 2010 at 9:45 am

…politely ignoring the last post, here’s another take on the 55555… problem. i too am no probability theorist of physicist, but these issues don’t seem to require a math or a physics degree. what’s the single unlikeliest event of all? my hypothesis: it’s always the last one in the sequence, since that event depends on the occurence of all anterior events, which were necessary for its occurence. so the single unlikeliest event of all, or so it seems to me, is: the totality of all events at any given moment in time. From a God’s-eye perspective, “now” is the unlikeliest thing that ever happened, that is: the total set of all currently occurring events (assuming something like a law of conservation of events, however those are to be defined, and assuming that all events are caused by at least one previous event.) but must “now” always have been willed by a causeless cause into being?

seen this way, all the impressively high numbers just boil down to a boilerplate argument from design, dressed up in fancy probability formulae.

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matt May 26, 2010 at 9:46 am

sorry, that should read “all anterior events which are necessary for…”, the comma makes nonsense of that idea (if it isn’t nonsense already).

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Zeb May 26, 2010 at 10:28 am

by muliplying the fives in the series you’re not making the particular occurence of 55555… any less likely than the occurence of any other SPECIFIED number you can think of

Of course. However, given the string 55555… and asked whether or not that string was generated randomly, you should say “probably not”, because the longer the string the more likely each digit 0-9 will appear in nearly equal frequencies if there was no bias in the generation. But that’s a special case, and not a good analogy to fine tuning for life. A better analogy would be if there were a lottery with 10^55 digits and each ticket but one was bought by a billionaire, and one ticket with a normal random number was bought by a nun who ran an orphanage that was about to be foreclosed on. In the staggeringly unlikely chance that the nun wins and the orphanage survives, should we suspect something?

That’s what I was trying to get at with my pig analogy – how do we justify taking life as a special outcome? Luke recognized this difficulty as shown in his May 23 response to bill, but bill took the discussion in a different direction and Luke never came back to it. Obviously out universe, being life permitting, really does belong to a very small subset of possible universes that is unlikely to ever occur unless all universes occur, or something determines that mostly only life permitting ones do. But it’s possible every universe belongs to some very small subset of universes. That is to say, not only is every universe unique among the infinity(?) of possible universes, but every universe may even have characteristics that make it special compared to all the other unique universes.

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dgsinclair May 26, 2010 at 10:36 am

…politely ignoring the last post, can anyone *else* condescend to answer my queries? Thanks.

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Zeb May 26, 2010 at 10:46 am

seen this way, all the impressively high numbers just boil down to a boilerplate argument from design, dressed up in fancy probability formulae.

How so? I was thinking that on the metaphysical level it boils down to the argument from contingency plus the argument from meaning, both of which I find convincing. But Luke is not making a metaphysical argument, he’s making a scientific one (and not necessarily for god as commonly understood, as far as I can tell). If he can establish that life-permitting really is more likely on fine tuning than on random parameters, then he has as strong a case for fine tuning as science can provide for any hypothesis.

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lukeprog May 26, 2010 at 10:57 am

dgsinclair,

I haven’t followed the conversation so far but I’d like to engage point (3). What do you mean when you say that naturalism van’t validate itself? Do you mean that naturalized epistemology can’t validate naturalized epistemology? Or do you mean that naturalized epistemology can’t validate metaphysical naturalism? Or do you mean that naturalized rationality cannot use naturalized epistemology or validate metaphysical naturalism? Or… something else, perhaps?

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matt May 26, 2010 at 11:37 am

“Of course. However, given the string 55555… and asked whether or not that string was generated randomly, you should say “probably not”, because the longer the string the more likely each digit 0-9 will appear in nearly equal frequencies if there was no bias in the generation.”

Good point. As for the rest, will have to take it up later…

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Pineapple Jo May 26, 2010 at 9:00 pm

This guy’s British accent makes it really hard to disagree with him.

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lukeprog May 26, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Australian/British…

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Pineapple Jo May 26, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Australian, British, they’re all the same. :)

Just curious, has this conversation caused you to change your mind about the fine-tuning argument?

Also, I really wish Luke B would be more upfront about his religious beliefs. I don’t see why he feels the need to be so ambiguous.

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Luke Barnes May 27, 2010 at 12:55 am

Pineapple Jo: *facepalm*.
Here is where I am from: NSW, Australia
http://bit.ly/d9VwZP
http://bit.ly/djBMc8

And here is Britain:
http://bit.ly/cEOUdn
http://bit.ly/dyyCv2

What part of Canada are you from?

Everyone else: stay tuned …

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lukeprog May 27, 2010 at 8:06 am

Pineapple Jo,

Hearing Luke B’s lecture and interviewing him did change my impression of the fine-tuning argument a bit. It was a very helpful interview for me. Either way, I’ve still got to take the time to do the reading eventually.

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lukeprog May 27, 2010 at 8:10 am

Reminds me of this, especially the map part: hilarious video.

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Pineapple Jo May 27, 2010 at 9:42 am

Sorry, LukeB, I confuse those two countries sometimes because they’re so close together.

But in all seriousness, I really am curious about your religious beliefs. I know they’re mostly irrelevant to the discussion, and I probably wouldn’t divulge them if I were you either, but I’m curious nonetheless. Would you at least go so far as to clarify whether you’re a deist or theist?

And lukep, do we need to worry about this website dropping the “a” in its title any time soon?

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lukeprog May 27, 2010 at 9:54 am

Pineapple Jo,

I very much doubt it.

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drj May 27, 2010 at 11:53 am

My last post here was probably not that clear, and terribly short – that’s what I get for posting in class, but anyways.

If each interconnected event is part of a chain that, from the perspective of an omniscient being, has the ultimate result of, e.g., maximizing the number of people who come into a saving relationship with God, then each event contributes to that ultimate good and there is therefore a good reason for allowing it

I don’t know much about chaos theory, but it seems logical to me that wildly differing outcomes, caused only by small changes in initial conditions, might only become probable given a long enough time interval. So its possible that a butterfly’s wing flap (and only a butterfly’s wing flap) could initiate a chain of events that lead to a wildly differing outcome, had the flap not taken place. But significant differences might not even manifest till the end of the universe, itself – or might not even become probable till millions or billions of years later.

It still seems imminently more probable that one or more occurrences of evil were not part of a chain (or at least, unnecessary components in a chain) leading to a compensatory good, when compared with the proposition that EVERY occurrence of evil is a *necessary* link in a chain that leads to some compensatory good. The latter claim is monumentally big – its huge. The other claim is monumentally small. One is Jupiter, the other a grain of sand.

So I just don’t see chaos theory providing much shelter against the problem of evil, though it certainly seems to provide a little.

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Pineapple Jo May 27, 2010 at 11:59 am

LukeB, I hope you don’t mind me tacking on one more question. If you’ve answered it already, feel free to ignore it…

You claim that the idea of a “spaceless, timeless, immaterial being is just straight deduction.” I guess in a semantic sense you would be right… If space, time and matter all began to exist, then their cause must lie outside of space, time and matter as we know it. But is this really a meaningful assertion?

As a physicist, how do you make sense of a “spaceless, timeless, immaterial being”? How can a being exist outside of space or time? How is consciousness possible outside of matter? How does positing such a hopelessly unfalsifiable concept constitute a valid scientific theory? Is there some sort of scientific precedent of which I’m unaware?

These questions are all a bit tired, I’m sure, but unless you can answer them, I don’t see how the intelligent design theory is any less ridiculous than any particular multiverse theory. At this point, it seems to me like the best any of us can do is take stabs in the dark as to why the universe is the way it is.

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lukeprog May 27, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Pineapple Jo,

Good question. I’d be curious to know as well.

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Luke Barnes May 28, 2010 at 6:09 am

matt: “how does theoretical physics inform us about the mechanisms by which the initial conditions for theoretical physics came about?” It doesn’t. There logical cannot be a mechanism that creates the initial conditions, because then they wouldn’t be initial conditions. But it can (and this is Penrose’s point) give us an idea of the range of possible initial conditions.

‘It’s all equally “improbable”.’ Your assumption is that if two events have equal probabilities given some hypothesis H, then we cannot say that one is evidence against that hypothesis while the other isn’t. This is simply false, as the 10 royal flush example shows.

“How this proves divine intervention still simply eludes me.” It doesn’t, at least not on its own. But it should lead us to go looking for other hypotheses.

“The universe is a unique historical fact. There are no statistics of universes.” I’ve just invented the 217 sided die (sides of the same size, evenly weighted). It is historically unique. I propose that to calculate the probability of rolling a “42″, we do what we always do: given no reason to suspect that one side is more likely than any other, we assign them all possible sides equal probability. The, the probability of a “42″ is 1 in 217. the historical uniqueness of the die is irrelevant, as is the fact that we have no statistical data on its past rolls. All we need is a knowledge of the possibilities.

“It’s like avoiding buying a lottery ticket with the number 55555555 on it on the assumption that that combination is a priori less likely than a less apparently ordered one.” No it isn’t. I’ve never denied that, *if this universes properties were chosen at random*, then this universe is just as unlikely as any other. I’m not claiming that it is less likely.

Zeb:
“I don’t see why that wouldn’t be the case for a large portion of possible universes.” Yes! I believe that fine-tuning does support the case for the multiverse. My criticisms of the multiverse in the interview are not decisive. They just need to show that the multiverse is not unproblematic, and may fail for other reasons.

Regarding the pigs analogy: you ask the right question – “what would be special about the digits of decimal e that make them demand a different explanation than any other equally improbably string of digits?” Suppose you roll a die 100 times, and I roll a die 100 times. Probability (assuming a fair coin): 1 in 6^100. Suppose further that my coin comes up with 100 sixes. Have the probabilities changed? No. But, surely, something is up here. The fact that my rolls were special (in the sense of being algorithmically compressible, if you want to be more exact about things) leads us to suspect that the hypotheses: “I am randomly rolling a fair die” is false. So we go looking for other explanations. Your pig analogy is the same. We would go looking for other explanations.

dsinclair and Pineapple Jo: “by keeping them obscure, he limits the amount of useless ad hominems and genetic fallacies used by opponents.” Amen :-) I’ve seen this happen too many times, from all sides.

Pineapple Jo: Is the idea of a reality outside space/time/matter meaningful? It’s very easy for a cosmologist to accept this. We know that a space-time manifold + quantum fields is just one of the mathematical possibilities for the universe. The idea that this particular space-time we inhabit is just one of many, or embedded in a larger reality, or whatever is quite plausible. So a spaceless, timeless, immaterial entity isn’t such a problem to imagine. Your last few questions are more interesting:
* Could this being be conscious, or a person? This is where things get hairy. We don’t really know what consciousness is! I don’t have a problem with an *immaterial* person – information is immaterial, as is software. But timeless? Are you really a person if you don’t ever change? That’s not a question for an astronomer, and besides, I don’t know the answer! Is there a theologian in the house?
* Is it hopelessly unfalsifiable? It’s certainly not your normal scientific hypothesis. Then again, if God exists, then there must be something that could be done to show his existence. Indeed, this is the whole point of the argument from hiddeness – that God’s existence can and has been falsified. Again, well outside my area of expertise. The (2nd) debate between Austin Dacey and William Lane Craig is about this. Dacey offers five potential falsifications of the God hypothesis. Probably the best atheist/theist debate I’ve heard.
* Is there a scientific precedent? Not for a timeless, spaceless, immaterial person, obviously. There is a strong suspicion amongst those searching for the ultimate laws of nature that space and time may not be fundamental constituents of reality. Could ultimate reality be a mind? Certainly, all the minds we know are material, spatial and temporal, so extrapolation from known cases is a resounding no. But you can’t prove that anything is *impossible* by extrapolation. Once again, I think we need a philosopher. I’m wary of speculating outside my expertise.

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Martin May 28, 2010 at 8:23 am

I asked Luke Barnes this question but I’ll post it here as well for anyone else who wants to have a go at it:

National Geographic has a program on famous disasters, where they deconstruct all the events that led up to that disaster. In many cases, each disaster depends on at least a handful of independent variables being just the way they are: a loose bolt, a pilot asleep, a second plane coming in at just the right angle, etc. For the disaster to happen, each one of these conditions had to be “fine tuned”, and if they had not been the disaster would not have happened. But we are all rational to conclude that these disasters are just the result of an amazing number of coincidences all lining up just so.

Can this same reasoning not be applied to the Fine Tuning Argument?

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Muto May 28, 2010 at 8:58 am

I have a question as well, maybe someone can answer it. It was said that the number of set of laws which are life prohibiting are greater then the number of laws that are life permitting. Apart from being quite impossible to tell, this also seems quite counterintuitive: Imagine a universe governed by a completely different set of laws. In this universe we do not only have a few fundamental particles but the number of different fundamental particles is equal to say Graham’s number. Between each pair of different particles there are certain interactions . I would find it extremely improbable given the extreme size of our set that no subset should be able to harvest life. I think if we have really big collections of of laws and different particles obeying them the ‘probability’(whatever this means in this context) that they are life permitting is high. Since the vast majority of possible fundamental laws is vastly more complicated than our laws,life permitting laws should be probable among all laws.

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Bill Maher May 28, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Luke B,

Philosophers of explanation, like Peter Lipton (RIP) and Gregory Dawes, think God is a God-awful explanation.

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Bill Maher May 28, 2010 at 2:56 pm

I reread P.C.W. Davies and watched some of his lectures. It seems he is saying the opposite of you. His essay A Naturalistic Account of the Universe argues that inflation results in what appears to be fine-tuning.

Also, what do you think about the “top-down cosmology” idea that Richard Feynman (RIP) and Stephen Hawking both back that the universe started in every combination?

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lukeprog May 28, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Bill Maher,

Has Lipton written on that topic?

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Bill Maher May 28, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Luke,

Not specifically fine-tuning, but he has written on explanation and God does not meet his standard.

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Zeb May 29, 2010 at 9:10 am

Zeb:
“I don’t see why that wouldn’t be the case for a large portion of possible universes.” Yes! I believe that fine-tuning does support the case for the multiverse. My criticisms of the multiverse in the interview are not decisive. They just need to show that the multiverse is not unproblematic, and may fail for other reasons.

I was not referring to the multiverse (I thought you succeeded in showing some of the absurdity that hypothesis implies), but to the possibility that any lone universe that arose with randomly defined parameters could have some characteristics that indicate fine tuning. You said that what makes your dice roll special is its algorithmic compressibility. My question is, what makes “life permitting” special?

I was thoroughly convinced by your dice article that you have the right question (given the result, what is the probability of tampering) and the right way to answer it as decisively as any scientific question is answered. But I was left wondering, how do we know which result should be subjected to the tampering hypothesis?

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ayer May 30, 2010 at 10:25 am

“Philosophers of explanation, like Peter Lipton (RIP) and Gregory Dawes, think God is a God-awful explanation.”

Some do; others do not–e.g.:

http://www.amazon.com/Theism-Ultimate-Explanation-Necessary-Contingency/dp/1405169699

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Zeb May 30, 2010 at 7:44 pm

But we are all rational to conclude that these disasters are just the result of an amazing number of coincidences all lining up just so.

If Luke B’s numbers on the initial conditions of the universe are to be trusted, I think the level of coincidence on a life permitting universe is many orders of magnitude greater than that of a freak disaster.

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dgsinclair May 30, 2010 at 9:19 pm

>> LUKE: What do you mean when you say that naturalism van’t validate itself? Do you mean that naturalized epistemology can’t validate naturalized epistemology?

Here’s what I wrote about that in my long, numbered response to the Lofton interview (btw, can you change your template so that we can get the permalinks to the comments? thx). I think I mean this first sentence, but I haven’t thought through it in detail – I’m just, for the moment, relying on my intuition guided by a feeling about the argument ;) :D

The problem with John’s atheist conclusions, I think, is that he has presupposed naturalism, and therefore, limiting himself to empirical data while ingoring the healthy intuition, conscience, and ability to commune with the spiritual world, he has essentially eliminated the epistemic data he needs to make a complete evaluation.
So, he only listens to the naturalistic data, which gives him a big fat 0 with repsect to God’s existence, then concludes there is no God. I think that’s circular.

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Paul Wright May 31, 2010 at 6:31 am

Heh, Luke B was at Cambridge and knows one of my dancing friends. Small world!

I’d agree with Luke B about the way to apply Bayesian reasoning to this: we know we’re here, and want to know how we got here. I do wonder whether some of the resistance on the part of atheists to any form of design argument comes from a feeling that such arguments inevitably lead to theism, or even to Christianity. They do not, as Hume pointed out (Alex Byrne has summarised Hume’s arguments). We should admit the possibility of designers (plural: as Hume says, we expect to see minds collaborating in big projects), it seems to me, along with the possibility of multiverses and the like.

But since many Christians advance design arguments as if they were an argument for Christianity, it’s not surprising that atheists respond with arguments addressed to Christianity. I take it that this is what the objection that the designers could have done better (either that there’s only life in a tiny corner of the universe, or arguments from evil) is about: on Christian theism, God is supposed to care about us as individuals, and not merely that life happens somewhere. Luke B’s response, that the fact that a better car could have been made doesn’t invalidate the idea that a car was designed, works for more general sorts of designers than the Christian God, but doesn’t explain the discrepancy between our universe and the one you might expect if you were told, sight unseen, that the universe had been designed by an omnipotent and benevolent creator. This is Carrier’s argument in his Why I am not a Christian essay.

I’m also a bit puzzled as to whether Luke B thinks that the designers are immaterial, or merely outside the universe that we can access. The straight deduction to an immaterial, timeless mind (whatever that might mean) only seems warranted if we have some reason to believe that the place where the designers are does not have something like matter or time. Do we? The minds we know about certainly seem to require both of those things.

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Paul Wright May 31, 2010 at 7:07 am

I’d also like to have a try at answering Ayer’s arguments.

One difference between your sceptical theism and scepticism about design is that sceptical theism creates problems for other assertions made by Christians. It may be possible to construct a religion which doesn’t have these problems, but Christianity isn’t it.

Suppose we leave aside total scepticism about God’s nature and methods (what motivates you to limit your scepticism only to the part of it which is useful to you in answering the problem of evil, by the way?). Even so, scepticism on evil seems to remove our obligation to intervene when we see suffering: see John D’s summary of Stephen Maitzen’s argument, for example. Yet Christianity claims that we do have such an obligation. This seems to be a contradiction. As Stephen Maitzen seems to be reading here, I’m sure he’d be interested in any objections you have to this argument.

On chaos theory: sensitive dependence on initial conditions is a property of some dynamical systems. For your analogy to go through, the production of the best possible world must be like such systems, and more so: a small change would necessarily have to result not just in a radically different outcome, but in an outcome where fewer souls come into a loving relationship with God (or whatever). While it’s possible, as far as I know, that this is the way things are, it doesn’t seem likely: after all, as well as systems which are sensitive, there are also systems which are not. We can all think of cases where our own small attempts to influence outcomes didn’t make a difference.

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Luke Barnes June 2, 2010 at 11:06 am

Martin: “But we are all rational to conclude that these disasters are just the result of an amazing number of coincidences all lining up just so.”

There are a few possible responses to your example:
* Let’s work out the probability of all the factors that led to the crash. If it’s not too small then there’s no problem attributing the crash to chance. However, if the chances are very small, then we might go looking for other hypotheses …
* Maybe what seemed to be independent problems were actually part of a causal chain. The plane’s (unfortunate) design meant that when the loose bolt flew off, it would rupture the hydraulic line, causing oil to spray on and clog up the … other stuff inside a plane (I’m not an engineer, thank goodness!). So perhaps what we thought were independent events were actually related. This is similar to supposing that the fine-tuning of the universe will be explained by deeper physics.
* Maybe there are so many planes and so many flights that sooner or later one of them had to go wrong. There are about 100,000 flights in the air on any given day in the US alone (www.natca.org/mediacenter/bythenumbers.msp). Can you see the analogy to the multiverse?
* There is always the possibility that someone has deliberately sabotaged the plane. (Guess who?!)

We have to actually do the calculation and consider each of these possibilities on a case by case basis. It seems that, in this example, the fact that there are so many flights makes the coincidence theory the most likely. The same would be true if we knew that there were a multiverse, with enough universes and enough variety to make it likely that a life-permitting universe would appear somewhere. But is there (or could their be) independent evidence for these other universes? And are we typical of the life-permitting subset? That last question is what sunk Boltzmann’s multiverse.

Muto: not necessarily. There are 10^27 oxygen atoms. Life relies on plenty of atoms that all act in exactly the same way. The regular properties of all these atoms create the regularities of chemistry, and thus biology. Too many types of interactions, and a stray interaction could turn oxygen into something else. You could also very easily destabilise nuclei – add a single particle that feels a version of the strong force with an infinite range (similar to EM). This particle could then easily create nuclei of arbitrary size. There would be no chemical interactions, no complex interactions – nearby atoms would simply lump together into macro-sized nuclei. So adding more interactions doesn’t necessarily create more possibilities. They can disrupt equilibria that already exist (the stability of nuclei, atoms, molecules) and thus create less possibilities.

Bill: “His essay A Naturalistic Account of the Universe argues that inflation results in what appears to be fine-tuning.” I agreed with this in the interview. Inflation sorts out the fine-tuning of the initial density of the universe. I merely pointed out, and I think Davies would agree, that inflation itself needs to be fine -tuned, though perhaps to a lesser degree.

I’ve read Hawking’s paper in “universe or multiverse”. He suggests that a top down approach may answer some of the issues of fine-tuning. As with Wheeler’s ideas, I don’t think there’s really a model there. Interesting ideas, though.

Paul: Which dancing friend?

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Paul Wright June 2, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Luke B: Laura Watkins (at least, a bit of Facebook stalking on your page says she’s a mutual friend).

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Zeb June 2, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Luke B, doesn’t the fine tuning hypothesis work equally well for every possible universe? The probability analysis in your dice example looks to me like it would show cheating to be a much more likely explanation for any dice roll.

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Luke Barnes June 3, 2010 at 1:21 am

Returning to the dice example: letterstonature.wordpress.com/2008/07/28/are-the-dice-loaded/
we can ask what is the probability that the die is loaded given that we have just observed
R_n: 5 1 4 3 6 5 4 4 … (i.e. a random sequence of n throws.)

Put the numbers into the equation. The difference between this and the S_n case (i.e. n sixes thrown) is that, while:

P(S_n|L&B) = 1 (or very close to 1, i.e. if the die is loaded, then we would expect it to throw sixes on command).

But what about P(R_n|L&B)? If you had gone to all the effort of loading a die to produce whatever sequence you desire, we would not expect that this power would be used to generate a sequence that could have just been generated by a fair die. Thus, we would expect P(R_n|L&B) to be much less than 1. In fact, we would expect it to be less than P(R_n|F&B), the probability of the outcome R_n given a fair die, the hypothesis L shifts probability into the sequence S_n, taking it away from all the other possible sequences (since the probabilities must add up to one.

Suppose that P(R_n|L&B) = f P(R_n|F&B), for some number f which is between zero and one. Then, plugging into Bayes’ theorem :

P(L|R_n&B) = f P(L) / [fP(L) + 1-P(L)]

This number is less than P(L), which is the prior probability that the dice is loaded.

Thus we arrive at the expected result that observing a random sequence of die outcomes makes it more likely that the die is fair, and less likely that the die is loaded. It’s not just the improbability of a sequence that makes it cry out for explanation. It’s also that we have what Leslie calls a “tidy explanation”: and alternative hypothesis which is both plausible and increases the probability of observing the given outcome.

Applying this to the fine-tuning of the universe, it is not true that the fine-tuning hypothesis work equally well for every possible universe. It’s not just the improbability of a life-tuning that makes it cry out for explanation. We glimpse tidy explanations: deeper laws, the multiverse, intentional selection.

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Zeb June 3, 2010 at 7:05 am

So does fine tuning by intentional selection depend on a probability >0 that fine tuning is a real option, and a probability near 0 that if fine tuning occurred it would lead to a life prohibiting universe?

In the dice analogy it looks like you’re assuming a probability greater than 0 that someone will cheat, and a near zero probability that someone who is loading the dice would do it in such a way as to generate a random sequence. In that example, if it were observed that a player had rolled the digits of the random looking constant e to 1000 digits (with digits 7-0 provided by adding consecutive digits), we would put the probability that loading the dice to produce e is a real option at near zero because we can’t imagine how one could do that, and the probability that someone who loaded dice would chose to produce e at near zero because we can’t imagine why someone would do that. So even though e to 1000 digits, say, would be extraordinarily unlikely, the hypothesis L (loaded dice) would not be a tidy explanation because it is implausible.

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Eric June 3, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Luke Barnes criticized hector Avalos for equating the fine-tuning argument with the teleological argument. Just to take the wiki definition, “A teleological argument, or argument from design[1][2][3], is an argument for the existence of God or a creator based on perceived evidence of order, purpose, design, or direction — or some combination of these — in nature.” Based on this definition, perceived evidence of order or purpose, in this case the order dealing with the fine tuned properties of the universe with the purpose of creating intelligent life would be a way to describe the argument from “fine tuning.” This argument seems like a textbook teleological argument. So I don’t understand the criticism.

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Eric June 3, 2010 at 11:42 pm

I think a good analogy to this is the analogy of Paley’s argument from design whereby he compares the perceived design of the telescope to the design of a fish eye. The fish eye is nearly perfectly suited to provide the fish with excellent vision under water. Because of this, Paley concludes that, just like the telescope, the fish eye must have been designed (i know this is a horribly shortened synopsis, but what i left out is inconsequential to the argument). One may have asked during that time period what the probability of a creature existing under water with such a perfectly “designed” eye would be. No doubt it would be great. This is similar to the argument from fine-tuning. Based on what we know now, what are the chances that this universe would be so fine tuned to provide life? The people of Paley’s age were EQUALLY justified in assuming design for the fish eye as we are for assuming the universe is fine tuned. But, if we were to look at the situation 50 years after Paley’s publishing of “Natural Theology,” we learn of the law of natural selection. Suddenly the likelihood of the fish having such a well suited trait, such as an efficient eye for its environment, no longer seems so low. In fact it seems highly probable. Now we see that, although we thought we were justified in believing in design in the case of the fish, it turned out to be wrong. Now I’m not suggesting we avoid any assumptions because of the possibility they are wrong, but we should see the problem with assumptions such as one of these “god of the gaps” arguments.
Now I also understand that the various evolutionary laws could have been based on fine-tuned laws which still need to be explained, but once again the possibility is left out that they may be explained by another law, which could be explained by another, etc… And in order to avoid an infinite regress, could it also possibly be the case that the base law(s)/phenomena are necessary, either by logic or for some other reason? Saying that the fine-tuning is best explained by God could very easily limit the search for underlying causes. How much research is the Discovery Institute doing to figure out how these supposedly “irreducibly complex” creatures could have come about? Now Luke’s assertion that a metaphysical materialist would eventually stop searching because they have supposedly hit the edges of material reality doesn’t really make sense. First, how would a physicist know they have reached the edges of material reality? The only possible way I can think of is if that physicist was able to fully explain every single phenomena known to man by determining causation down to what is “necessary” in some absolute logical sense. In this case, where would anyone possibly go from there? Now if we compare the different natural propositions dealing with the observed “fine-tuning” of the universe, we strictly get hypothetical possibilities. As Luke demonstrated, it is likely there is at least some way we can evaluate the probability of these propositions being true, even if our current evaluations may not be justified (based on the arguments all throughout this comment section). Either way, you still have motivation to continue to investigate the cause of these “fine-tuned” phenomena. Now however, if you took the last possible explanation whereby an intelligent designer must have fine tuned the universe, then where is your motivation to continue to search? You have already answered the question. This is why you will never see an ID proponent trying to figure out how the eye could have evolved. They already “know” it was intelligently designed. And the worse part is that you have chosen an explanation that is untestable (so it can never be either confirmed or falsified) and you cannot attach a probability of it being correct. So how can you evaluate its likelihood with respect to any other proposition. Lukeprov actually does a good job explaining the issues with “god of the gaps” reasoning in this video:
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8854#more-8854
Basically, this is merely another “god-of-the gaps” argument whereby God (or the generic “Intelligent Designer”) is inserted as an explanation for a given phenomenon, or phenomena. It has failed as an explanation countless times in the past and there is no reason to think it won’t eventually fail now.

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Luke Barnes June 5, 2010 at 3:43 am

Eric:
“Fine-tuning” is this claim: if we chose a universe at random from the space of possible universes, it would be extremely unlikely that that universe would have the necessary conditions for the existence of intelligent life.

The teleological argument is a family of arguments, as you describe. The teleological argument based on the fine-tuning of the universe attempts to prove the following claim:

“Teleological argument”: the most probable explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life is that an intelligent agent created the universe with the intention of having it support intelligent life.

So, one version of the teleological argument uses the fine-tuning as its starting premise. But that does not mean that they are the same thing. Fine-tuning could be true but the teleological argument false. The best explanation of the fine-tuning could be the multiverse, or deeper laws, or some other possibility.

So for an atheist like Avalos to dismiss the fine-tuning of the universe because he doesn’t agree with the teleological argument simply shows Avalos’ lack of comprehension of the issue at hand.

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Eric June 5, 2010 at 11:32 am

Okay. I see the point you are making, Luke. I am just curious as to which article specifically you are talking about. The only thing Ive seen from Hector Avalos on the subject of “fine-tuning” is his article in “Talk reason:”
http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Avalos.cfm
In this article, he specifically argues against using “fine-tuning” to indicate the universe must have been designed. So i see no confusion in this particular article. Can you post a link to this specific article you speak of in the podcast?

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Eric June 5, 2010 at 12:24 pm

“if we chose a universe at random from the space of possible universes, it would be extremely unlikely that that universe would have the necessary conditions for the existence of intelligent life.”
For the most part. I have no problem with this argument. The problem I have though is this question:
“given that (against all the odds) our universe is life-permitting, what is the probability that it’s properties were chosen at random?”
I’m not sure that is the right question. Interestingly enough, I like the analogy John Hick uses (although this is second sourced since i am taking it from John Loftus’ book: “Why I Became an Atheist”): If I were to look back 100 years and think, “The antecedent improbability of an individual being conceived who is precisely me is thus already quite staggering – truly astronomical.” (assuming free-will of course, at least for the sake of argument). My great grandparents had to meet, they had to reproduce at precisely the right time. Out of the hundreds of million of sperm from my father, only a small number could have produced one of my four grandparents, as I know them. Then my grandparents had to meet and do the same thing and produce my parents, and so on… It truly begins to seem like astronomical odds that I exist. So if I were to ask “given that (against all the odds) I exist, what is the probability that all these events were chosen at random?” (Remember once again that we assume free will so, for example, my parents didn’t necessarily HAVE to like each other). The basic problem is that, out of a basically infinite amount of potential people, why is it such an important question to ask why I (or you) exist? Similarly, out of a basically infinite amount of potentially significant phenomena, why is it such an important question to ask why intelligent life exists (at least our understanding of it)?

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Patrick August 24, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Just listened to this podcast. I’ve got a few problems with it.

First of all, he doesn’t seem to recognize the exact nature of the debate in which some arguments are advanced. For example, when PZ Myers offers the “why isn’t the universe filled with life?” counter argument, he’s not attacking whether its surprising that the universe permits life. He’s attacking the alternate hypothesis that the universe was created by SUPERMAGIC. In that context, Barnes’ answer is inadequate. Barnes mentions that a universe in which all the empty space between star systems was filled with other life supporting star systems would be a universe that would collapse in on itself due to gravity, but that’s only true in a naturalistic universe. In a universe where you’ve already hypothesized SUPERMAGIC as a solution to problems, a universe that is nothing but beachfront property is perfectly possible since all of the natural laws that would make that impossible can be supervened by our new physical law of SUPERMAGIC.

This can be put into probability a little more precisely, probably by someone better at this than me, but… in a Bayesian argument about probability you need to not only have some ballpark estimation of the probability of your evidence given your hypothesis, but also the probability of your evidence given your null hypothesis. The possible set of universes is blown up into an unbelievably huge level by the addition of all the universes that are only possible once you’ve hypothesized SUPERMAGIC.

His argument about automobiles fails for similar reasons: its not an attack on fine tuning per se, its an attack on the implications of fine tuning. He describes the debate as going like this:

Theist: There are a lot of ways that metal and plastic could be formed into a mass, but this one happens to be a car. That’s really unlikely, so someone must have made it this way.
Atheist: No, there are lots of different types of cars.

That obviously would be stupid. But what about this?

Theist: There are a lot of ways that metal and plastic could be formed into a mass, but this one happens to be a broken down 1982 Toyota Tercel. That’s really unlikely, so it must have been made by a superpowered engineer who is capable of designing absolutely any car that’s logically possible, and wanted to make the best possible automobile.
Atheist: Wouldn’t a Ferrari have been a better car than a 25 year old broken Toyota Tercel?

I think, though I’d need to really stop and play with the math behind this sort of reasoning, that this is again hitting the same issue. He’s arguing about all the likelihood of a given outcome given the hypothesis of random chance, but ignoring the likelihood of that outcome given the hypothesis of magic powers.

So, yeah. Our universe may be incredibly unlikely given a naturalistic origin, and a supernatural creator may be capable of selecting our universe from amongst the naturalistic ones, but… a supernatural creator isn’t limited to that sample set.

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dgsinclair August 24, 2010 at 1:53 pm

>> PATRICK: So, yeah. Our universe may be incredibly unlikely given a naturalistic origin, and a supernatural creator may be capable of selecting our universe from amongst the naturalistic ones, but… a supernatural creator isn’t limited to that sample set.

I understand your argument, but why is a supernatural creator limited to a universe filled with beachfront property? Because you estimate that is a greater good?

I’m not sure that the difference between ONE highly unlikely life-giving universe and 10M matters. What matters is the difference between 1+ and 0. But your argument is interesting.

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Patrick August 24, 2010 at 2:16 pm

He’s not limited to it, that’s not exactly what I’m trying to say. There’s kind of two arguments.

Argument one:

If someone says, “I have found a cheese pizza with exactly one piece of pepperoni on it, so I hypothesize as an explanation a pizza maker who desperately loves pepperoni pizza.” it would be adequate to respond, “But wouldn’t he put on more than one piece of pepperoni? I mean, pepperoni isn’t hard to get.”

Similarly, if someone says, “The universe has Trait X. I hypothesize an omnipotent superbeing that made it that way because he really likes Trait X.” then its adequate to respond, “But the universe has very little of Trait X, and an omnipotent superbeing would have the ability to put more of Trait X into the universe if that was what he wanted to do.”

If the theist were to respond, “But it would be really difficult for the universe to have more Trait X than it does,” that wouldn’t work since we just decided that we were dealing with an omnipotent superbeing capable of creating the very rules of nature that make it difficult to have more Trait X than we do.

And that leads into the second argument, which is related to the “god seems fine tuned” issue.

If you’re asking about the probability of the universe we observe given all the possible universes, you get 1 out of X where X is very large since there are all kinds of attributes of reality that could conceivably be otherwise.

But if you’re asking about the probability of the universe we observe given all of the possible universes that could exist if an omnipotent universe creating superbeing existed, you get 1 out of Y where Y is way larger since it includes all of X plus a huge number of other universes that wouldn’t be possible under a naturalistic framework, like, say, a universe exactly like this one except where an omnipotent superbeing fixed the problem of humans choking on food by removing our esophagus and just personally using his magic powers to teleport our food directly into our stomach. See, once omnipotent superbeings are involved, the possible options just explode.

And then you have to ask, what are the chances that the omnipotent superbeing would prefer this universe to all of the other possible universes? What are the chances that he prefers intelligent life to something else? What are the chances that he prefers regular physical laws to making stuff up on the spot for every micrometer of matter in the entire universe, using the limitless power of his omnipotent superbrain? We could go on like this for some time before we even got to the question of the chances that an omnipotent superbeing exists in the first place.

There are some other related issues, like why, exactly, an omnipotent superbeing is more likely than the entire universe having been created by math students living in the superuniverse (wouldn’t they have fewer options in terms of universes to create, since presumably they would be limited by physical laws in ways that the omnipotent superbeing would not be? Wouldn’t any argument about them having been fine tuned apply to the omnipotent superbeing as well?), but this is probably enough to make my case.

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Lou March 24, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Luke, I am coming a bit late to this party, but I am glad I found it. These are fascinating and thoughtful arguments on all sides. But I found something in your May 28 2010 (6:09) comment that seems to undermine some of the other things you wrote here. You said:

“The idea that this particular space-time we inhabit is just one of many, or embedded in a larger reality, or whatever is quite plausible. So a spaceless, timeless, immaterial entity isn’t such a problem to imagine… Could this being be conscious, or a person? This is where things get hairy. We don’t really know what consciousness is! I don’t have a problem with an *immaterial* person – information is immaterial, as is software….There is a strong suspicion amongst those searching for the ultimate laws of nature that space and time may not be fundamental constituents of reality. Could ultimate reality be a mind? Certainly, all the minds we know are material, spatial and temporal, so extrapolation from known cases is a resounding no. But you can’t prove that anything is *impossible* by extrapolation.”

If you are willing to entertain such a broad definition of immaterial “consciousnesses” or “minds” or “entities”, then how can you rule out the existence of such entities in “un-tuned” universes? Yes, you may be able to rule out the kind of life that produces consciousness in this particular universe. But if you are willing to accept immaterial consciousnesses, then a much larger set of hypothetical universes might support such entities. We just have no idea what conditions are needed to support such hypothetical entities as you entertain.

So it seems to me that deists cannot invoke the fine-tuning argument to argue for the existence of one or more immaterial entities. If you are willing to believe in immaterial entities, whose origins and physical requirements are beyond our knowing, then you cannot rule out the existence of examples of such entities in any universe, no matter what the physical constants.

On the other hand, for a materialist, the fine-tuning argument is still a problem, because he or she will not entertain immaterial beings.

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Stephen August 16, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Hi,

It is funny. I come to this site to suggest an interesting video which may relate to arguments against fine tuning. And here is the most recent post on the topic, Nice.

Anyways, Lawrence Krauss gave a talk title, “A universe from nothing”. I found the whole talk interesting. He reasons against the fine tuned argument later in the video. I’m not sure how well his would stand as a philosophical argument since I am no philosopher, but Im sure you guys would be able to comment.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

NOTHING in Krauss vocabulary is not really nothing but a sea of energy.

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Luke B October 3, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Laurence Krauss is a twat. Anything he says is ridiculously off topic and so speculative it reminds you of “jack in the beanstalk land”. He has no evidence to back his claims, and his claims are weak and speculative. MOreso, anyone that likes him needs to realize it’s just a typical stupid atheistic tactics to talk about silly things off topic that dont relate

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Vic Stenger December 21, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Please make note of my 2011 book The Fallacy of Fine Tuning.

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Luke Muehlhauser December 24, 2011 at 1:21 am

Vic,

We didn’t mention the book in our interview, I don’t think.

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