Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Fine-Tuning Argument: Is it Successful?

I'm working on a paper on fine-tuning to present to the Chico Triad on Philosophy, Theology, and Science. I'm interested to know what you think.

The argument from fine-tuning is successful or unsuccessful depending on what we ask of it. It does not successfully prove that God as the Designer exists if proof means a knock-down, drag-out, deductive proof, the conclusions of which cannot be denied. It does, nonetheless, offer evidences of God’s design, which is what we would expect from a Designer and is more supportive of theism than of naturalism. 

Two specific points must be dealt with right away. First of all, a clarification: here we are in the realm of suppositional arguments, which proceed as follows: If we suppose there to be a God who desired the universe, we should expect that this universe would have evidences of the design. The fine-tuning of various physical constants is consistent with God’s design. Therefore it is reasonable to assert that God exists. 

I mention this to clarify how the argument works or doesn’t work. We cannot expect more of the fine-tuning argument than it can deliver.

Secondly, a definition: What is the fine-tuning argument? I’ll let Wikipedia be my guide: 
the conditions that allow life in the Universe can only occur when certain universal fundamental physical constants lie within a very narrow range, so that if any of several fundamental constants were only slightly different, the Universe would be unlikely to be conducive to the establishment and development of matter, astronomical structures, elemental diversity, or life as it is understood.
What then are those specific parameters that are fine tuned to create a universe with moral, intelligent life? Physicists have identified over thirty discrete, precisely calibrated parameters that produced the universe we know. Even one of these parameters could be described as “wildly improbable.” Oxford physicist Roger Penrose comments that the “phase-space volume” requires a meticulous fine-tuning such that the “Creator’s aim must have been [precise] to an accuracy of one part in 1010 123 ”—a number almost impossible to write, “1” followed by 10123  zeroes.

So far this might seem conclusive to many readers. So here's the best argument against fine-tuning: it’s a tautology. Simply put, we are already here in this type of universe. Similarly, it’s just as intrinsically improbable that a person named Greg is typing on a MacBook pro at California State University Chico on the fine-tuning argument because his friend and colleague Ric offered a challenge, etc., etc. But we don’t offer that set of data as evidence for a Designer.

Fair enough—I’ve already conceded that this is not a deductive proof for God that leaves no room for disagreement. It is a suppositional argument that offers confirmation for the judgment that this universe has design and that design is confirmed, to some degree, by the incredible particularity of its parameters.

I offer a counter analogy. Suppose that tonight is my wedding anniversary. In one scenario, when Laura arrives home I declare, “Laura, I’ve been planning to celebrate this anniversary big time!” I immediately call a pizza company to deliver, grab a piebald set of napkins, glasses, and plates (there’s nothing washed of the same set), fumble through some music on my iPod for background, etc., etc. Second scenario: before Laura arrives home, a limo picks her up, with me in the backseat, pouring Veuve Clicquot into luxurious champagne flutes, and I say, “Here’s to our anniversary!” We arrive home, and a chef is set to serve dinner at our house on a candle-lit table with crystal glassware while a string quartet plays in the background. Etc... Etc... (You get the picture.)

Which of the two scenarios has more specific parameters and therefore better supports my contention that I really intended to celebrate my anniversary?

All the widely calibrated, fine-tuned parameters have led some to agree with the conclusions of Freeman Dyson, the physicist who has spent many years at Princeton’s famed Institute for Advanced Study: 
The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense most have known we are coming.
I join hands with Dyson. Fine tuning adds scientific evidence that God created the world out of love for us in order that we could be in relationship with our Creator. This confirming evidence in the structure of creation appears to be the fingerprint of God.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Toward A New Paper on the Natural Knowledge of God

Since recently I've been putting my more finished pieces on my Huffington Post blog, I thought I'd offer in this blog a more unfinished, academic fragment, a theologia viatorum, as it were. Here goes:

Is there natural knowledge of the Triune God who reveals?

Lake Tahoe offers an easy answer to this question
The question I intend to address is not whether the attributes of God can be known through natural theology (which I define as systematic reflections on the Deity without recourse to special revelation). Instead I am asking whether one attribute of the Triune God is that this God acts in self-revelation so that all human beings have some natural knowledge of God. 

Since this natural knowledge is so broad, I might also call it "transcendence." Instead of a natural theology, this might be termed a “theology of nature” (with Ian Barbour) or better “the natural knowledge of God” (Wolfhart Pannenberg). The latter term better fits my purposes.

Here then is my proposition, set in the clearest terms I can find: it is in God’s nature to reveal, and this fact creates the natural knowledge of God.

This focus implies some negatives. I am not seeking to prove God’s existence. Natural knowledge of God is not a proof for God. Instead I am elaborating on the implications of belief in the Triune God who reveals.
I am also not, like Alvin Plantinga, emphasizing the importance of evidence or rationality for belief in God, which is certainly a critical question. I am pursuing the question of whether God is known, in some way, to all human beings
As a related issue, I am particularly interested in how this knowledge applies to the health of the church and to what degree the natural knowledge of God can be enhanced by the natural sciences. Cognitive science, for example, has discerned common structures in human cognition that lead to religious faith.

So my argument is disarmingly simple: If the church confesses that God takes the initiative in revelation, then it is consistent to discover that God has acted in self-revelation so that human beings have some natural knowledge of God. The character of that natural knowledge is what I want to unfold in the paper I'm working on.

What do you think?