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.


Anonymous said...

Good article Greg. I'm not fond of the term "fine tuning...but what it recognizes is the incredible uniqueness of our life here, in the face of a universe that in many respects is a bone-yard. And hen we confront the fact of our own minds as a product of this bone-yard...minds able to perceive and render judgments about it...the conclusion that this rationality is a fluke seems more a product of the premise of materialism than real objectivity. The presumption that we are "not special" and there "must be" intelligent life as a natural product of this material universe is no less presumptuous than the argument of "fine-tuning". It is drawing conclusions in spite of the actual evidence at hand so far. The issue isn't if there is "life out there," but why we make such conjectures. The issue isn't about the singularity of our life here, but the apparent teleological and rational comprehension of it...as you say, like a table set for a date.
-Bill Jackson, Oroville CA

Ric Machuga said...

I need some further clarification of your response to what you've called the "tautology argument." The point of this argument is NOT that it fails to provide deductive certainty. The point of the "tautology argument" is that it provides NO evidence, not even weak evidence, because the probably of any specific event which has already taken place is exactly 1.

Ric Machuga said...

Forgive me if what follows has already been posted, but I think I screwed up on my first attempt to post this comment. So here goes again.

I will grant your supposition that if God created the universe, he would leave evidence of the fact in his handiwork. And I too believe that creation provide such "evidence." The only question is whether that evidence takes the form of "fine-tuning," especially since understanding it requires highly sophisticated tools that have only been around for the last 30 or so years?

Greg Cootsona said...

Let me respond briefly to both. First of all, I'm not sure my tautology analogy worked (I tried to be clear this was a rough draft). I'm also not sure your reply works, however. I think what you're saying is that statistics don't work retrospectively. (And just to synchronize our language: your probability of 1 is what I would call 1 out of 1, right?)
Within the first few moments after hearing about the massive tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 and the planes flying into the Twin Towers, we would calculate in our brains which one was more likely the result of human invention. Yes, once they happened the odds are 1 out 1, but we would try to figure out if Al Quaeda was involved in one rather than the other (and respond) by using calculations that can be replicated to some degree (but not entirely) by probability.
Secondly, your argument about highly sophisticated tools strikes me not conclusive, maybe even tendentious: these more highly effective tools only give greater specificity to what calculations would have done hundreds of years ago. In other spheres, it seems that the advance of science is helpful. Would you you discount archeological science and its sophistication because it's given support to the claim that Pontius Pilate existed (which, until a few decades ago, was only know through biblical or apocryphal sources)? Or put another way, doesn't the fact that we now can understand blood clotting more precisely give us more reason to believe the psalmist that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made”?
I'll keep it brief for now because I gotta run... but that's the direction of my rebuttal.

Ric Machuga said...

Yes, by a probability of 1 I mean 1 out of 1.
With regard to a tsunami and the Twin Towers: I fully agree that it is much more likely that the later was caused by Al Quaeda than the former, but our conclusion was not based on any sort of statistical analysis.
With regard to archeological science: Yes, I too think it is great stuff. My only objection is to psuedo-quantification for questions which instead call for good judgment and a lot of experience.

Bronson Pittman said...

I don't believe your opening argument is logically valid: If God designed the universe, then we would expect to evidence of design. We see evidence of design. Therefore, God exists.

This is an invalid argument: if a, then b; b; therefore, a. By analogy, if you throw a rock at my car window, then it will shatter. My car window is shattered. Therefore, you threw a rock.

Secondly, I'm not sure of the correct use of tautology. A tautology is "a or b = b or a." Or, an example we commonly hear today, "it is what it is." Unless you are trying to say, a designed universe must have a designer. We live in a designed universe. Therefore, there must be a designer.

Greg Cootsona said...

Thanks for your comments, Bronson. As for the tautology, I'll have to work to clarify the meaning and leave that aside for the moment. You're right on the first point: the argument I'm making is not a valid syllogistic deductive argument. But very few arguments can be made stated this way unless one grants the premises. Alister McGrath's book on CS Lewis was very helpful on this: The suppositional argument has a different form, very similar to Argument to the Best Explanation, (which is the most common form of scientific argument). It begins with a supposition and sees if the evidence is consistent. I could say more, but here it is in sum: yes, to not being a logical syllogism. The argument works in a different way. Thanks!

dkuehne said...

If “fine tuning” is presumptuous, as Bill says, then much great science in the past has been predicated upon mere presumptions. I like the term fine tuning, in that, for example, of all the countless variables that are here for life in the universe to exist, all working in harmony, if only one were to change even minutely (out of tune, as it were), there would be disharmony and chaos--we would cease to exist. Gravity is one example of this. Get everything else right, and if gravity is off ever so slightly, higher life forms can’t exist. This is just one of thousands of examples. This is evidence beyond a verdict; evidence of a designed and purposeful framework, a harmony as the Pythagoreans believed existed by way of musical harmonics, or as discussed by Plato in his dissertation on the “Composition of the Soul,” saying it was a set of numbers whose relationships with each other seemed to summarize all the interdependent harmonies within the universe.

That these variables are working together in harmony is beyond wonder, but that these same variables and their harmonics also allow us to comprehend them, leaves all without excuse. As Einstein said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” All creation was done with a purpose: the design and the design for discovery of the design, is almost beyond comprehension.

Bronson Pittman said...

Greg, thanks for your response and efforts to share reasons for faith. I guess I was thrown off by the deductive nature of your reasoning, especially when you used the deductive term, "tautology."
Let me approach another way. Suppose that at one time unicorns were living animals, we should expect to find evidence of them. We find evidence of unicorns in history, literature, art and poetry. Therefore, it is reasonable to assert that unicorns at one time were living animals.

Upon further reflection, isn't your intuition about a tautology that the inductive argument has an underlying terminology of "design" that defines what you will find? Designer presumes design; design presumes Designer. Sort of like the ontological argument and existence.

Anonymous said...

Fine-tune works on a premise (which I agree with) of perceiving a narrative. I found these comments of Robert W. Jenson in his article "How the World Lost it's Story" relevant to the idea of how we see design in nature:

"“Realistic narrative” is a particular way of telling a sequence of events which is distinguished from other possible forms by two characteristics. First, the sequential events are understood jointly to make a certain kind of sense—a dramatic kind of sense. Aristotle provided the classic specification of dramatically coherent narrative. In a dramatically good story, he said, each decisive event is unpredictable until it happens, but immediately upon taking place is seen to be exactly what “had” to happen. So, to take the example of Aristotle’s own favorite good story, we could not know in advance that Oedipus would blind himself but once he has done it instantly see that the whole story must lead to and flow from just this act...But now notice two things supposed by this way of reporting our lives to ourselves. First and obviously, it is supposed that stories dramatically coherent a la Aristotle are the appropriate way to understand our human task and possibility...

And it is further supposed that some stories dramatically coherent a la Aristotle are “realistic,” that is, that they may be fitted to the “real” world, the world as it is in itself prior to our storytelling. The use of realistic narrative as the normal way of understanding human existence supposes that reality out there, “the world” itself, makes dramatic sense a la Aristotle, into which narrative the stories we tell about ourselves can and sometimes do fit...The archetypical body of realistic narrative is precisely the Bible..Postmodernism is characterized by the loss of this supposition in all of its aspects.."

Combine this with McGilchrist's observations that our brains are designed to work from right brain (imagination) to the left brain (with details & data),the back to the right brain again..With the right brain the ‘master’, and the left brain the ‘emissary’..

"We could expect that there would be a loss of the broader picture, and a substitution of a more narrowly focussed, restricted, but detailed, view of the world, making it perhaps difficult to maintain a coherent overview . . . This in turn would promote the substitution of information, and information gathering, for knowledge, which comes through experience . . . One would expect the left hemisphere to keep doing refining experiments on detail, at which it is exceedingly proficient, but to be correspondingly blind to what is not clear or certain, or cannot be brought into focus right in the middle of the visual field. In fact one would expect a sort of dismissive attitude to anything outside of its limited focus, because the right hemisphere’s take on the whole picture would simply not be available to it."
-Bill Jackson, Oroville CA

Greg Cootsona said...

Sorry to be slow... Bronson and Bill, sorry to be slow in responding to your comments--I'm musing on them and hoping to integrate my response to the critiques here (and others) in a revision, which should be published in a future post (probably next week). Thanks for all the comments!

Anonymous said...

Fine tuning argument is not actually required for proving the existence of God, because it can also be proved even if there is no fine-tuning. For this please see the link below:

uchitrakar said...

Fine tuning argument is not actually necessary for proving the existence of God. Special theory of relativity is sufficient for that purpose.

So long special theory of relativity will be there, we will require no special pleading for proving the existence of God.

For this please see the links below: