Robin Collins on the Fine-Tuning Argument

Sorry for another long absence. I’ve been working on a project, and a draft of part of it is below. I present part of Robin Collins’ defense of the fine-tuning argument (FTA) and a brief response. Comments would be appreciated.

Statement of Collins’ Argument

…we will focus on his defense of the FTA against what Collins calls “the atheistic single universe hypothesis”: “According to the atheistic single-universe hypothesis, there is only one universe, and it is ultimately an inexplicable, ‘brute’ fact that the universe exists and is fine-tuned (Collins, 2003: 123).” Collins states his version of the FTA against the atheist single universe hypothesis (ASUH) as follows:
Premise 1. The existence of the fine-tuning is not improbable under theism.
Premise 2. The existence of the fine-tuning is very improbable under the atheistic single universe hypothesis.
Conclusion: From premises (1) and (2) and the prime principle of confirmation, it follows that the fine tuning argument provides strong evidence to favor the design hypothesis over the atheistic single universe hypothesis (Collins, 2003: 125).
The “prime principle of confirmation (PPC)” is defined by Collins:
Simply put, the principle says that whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses, an observation counts as evidence in favor of the hypothesis under which the observation has the highest probability (or is the least improbable). (Or, put slightly differently, the principle says that whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses, H1 and H2, an observation, O, counts as evidence in favor of H1 over H2 if O is more probable under H1 than it is under H2.) Moreover, the degree to which the evidence counts in favor of one hypothesis over another is proportional to the degree to which the observation is more probably under the one hypothesis than the other (Collins, 2003: 123-4; emphasis in original).
Collins regards his first premise as relatively uncontroversial. Surely, it seems, a perfectly good God would want intelligent, conscious beings to exist, and so would create a world friendly to the development of such life. Collins thinks that most criticisms will be directed at the second premise. For instance, atheists could argue that since there is only one universe, the idea that the fundamental constants of nature are improbable is meaningless. In this case the PPC could not be applied to favor theism over the ASUH, since, on this latter hypothesis, there is no probability, high or low, that the universe is fine tuned, and so the fact of fine tuning cannot be more probable given theism than given the ASUH.
I have argued in favor of the ASUH:
The assignment of meaningful probabilities upon the hypothesis of atheism is…difficult. If atheism is correct, if the universe and its laws are all that is or ever has been, how can it be said that the universe, with all of its “finely tuned” features, is in any relevant sense probable or improbable? Ex hypothesi there are no antecedent conditions that could determine such a probability. Hence, if the universe is the ultimate brute fact, it is neither likely nor unlikely, probable or improbable; it simply is…If we were in a position to witness the birth of many worlds—some designed, some undesigned—then we might be in a position to say of any particular world that it had such-and-such a probability of existing undesigned. But we simply are not in such a position. We have absolutely no empirical basis for assigning probabilities to ultimate facts (Parsons, 1990: 182).
So, if there is no meaningful sense in which the “finely tuned” features of the universe are either probable or improbable given the ASUH, then those features cannot confirm theism over atheism.
Collins replies that the sense of probability relevant to the FTA is epistemic probability, which he characterizes as follows:
Roughly, the epistemic probability of a proposition can be thought of as the degree of confidence or belief we rationally should have in the proposition. Further, the conditional epistemic probability of a proposition R on another proposition S—written as P(R/S)—can be defined as the degree to which the proposition S of itself should rationally lead us to expect that R is true. Under the epistemic conception of probability, therefore, the statement that the fine tuning of the cosmos is very improbable under the [ASUH] is to be understood as making a statement about the degree to which the [ASUH] would or should, of itself, lead us to expect cosmic fine-tuning (Collins, 2007:355; emphasis in original).
In other words, the relevant question is this: Given only the information contained within the ASUH—that only one universe exists as an ultimate brute fact—and no other information at all (such as the fact that we are alive, and so the universe must be life-friendly), to what degree should we rationally expect the basic constants of the universe to be finely tuned?
Collins answers that the rational expectation of fine-tuning given only the ASUH is much lower than it would be given theism. He imagines a disembodied being who is highly intelligent and thoroughly familiar with the laws of physics as known today, but who does not know whether the actual values of the physical constants are such as to allow complex embodied life (CEL). Collins says that such a being would have a much greater rational expectation that those constants would fall within the range permitting CEL given theism than given the ASUH:
…it is not difficult to see that the conditional epistemic probability of a constant of physics having a CEL-permitting value under the [ASUH] will be much smaller than under theism. The reason is simple when we think about our imaginary disembodied being. If such a being were a theist, it would have some reason to believe that the values of constants would fall into the CEL-permitting region…On the other hand, if the being were a subscriber to the [ASUH], it would have no reason to think the value would be in the CEL-permitting region instead of any other part of the “theoretically possible” region R. Thus, the being has more reason to believe the constants would fall into the CEL-permitting region under theism than the [ASUH], or put differently, the existence of a CEL-permitting universe is more surprising under the [ASUH] than theism (Collins, 2007: 356).
In short, the finely-tuned features of the universe are more probable (rationally expected) given theism than given the ASUH, so, the PPC tells us that the existence of those features counts much more strongly in favor of the hypothesis of theism than the ASUH.
My Response
Collins’ chief disagreement with the proponents of the ASUH will be over whether we can have rational expectations about ultimate metaphysical posits. The ASUH posits the primordial condition of the universe, encompassing the universe’s initial state and its physical laws, as ultimate brute facts. To posit something as an ultimate brute fact is to say, inter alia, that it is not caused by, derived from, reducible to, composed of, conditioned by, an epiphenomenon of, or supervenient upon anything else. In other words, an ultimate brute fact is a sheer given: A basic or primordial reality that is not in any sense dependent upon or explicable in terms of any antecedent or more fundamental reality. This means that proponents of the ASUH regard the values of the constants as ultimate brute facts or hold that those values are determined by deeper laws (perhaps to be described by the vaunted “Theory of Everything”) which themselves are posited as ultimate brute facts. If the finely-tuned nature of the universe is thus an ultimate brute fact, then there can be no objective basis for regarding any value of those constants, or any range of those values, as having any probability at all. As defenders of the ASUH see it, rational expectations must have a rational basis, that is, some information of a theoretical or empirical nature to provide grounds for the expectation. Yet, when we are talking about ultimate posits, then, ex hypothesi, all such information has been withheld. Therefore, it seems that we must say that the values of the constants are neither probable nor improbable; they just are. In that case, as the proponent of the ASUH sees it, the only rational expectation of the values of the constants is that they will be whatever we find them to be.
Collins, however, does think that there can be a rational basis for an expectation of the values of the constants given ASUH. He appeals to the principle of indifference, which he characterizes as follows:
Applied to the case at hand, the principle of indifference could be roughly stated as follows: when we have no reason to prefer any one value of a parameter over other, [sic] we should assign equal probabilities to equal ranges of the parameter given that the parameter in question directly corresponds to some physical magnitude (Collins, 2003: 129; emphasis in original).
He next shows how this principle would apply in forming our rational expectation about the value of the gravitational constant:
Specifically, if the “theoretically possible” range (that is, the range allowed by the relevant background theories) of such a parameter is R and the life-permitting range is r, then the probability is r/R Suppose, for instance, that the “theoretically possible range, R, of values for the strength of gravity is zero to the strength of the strong nuclear force between those protons—that is, 0 to 1040G0, where G0 represents the current value for the strength of gravity. As we saw above, the life-permitting range for the strength of gravity is at most to 109G0…Thus, assuming the strength of the forces constitute a real physical magnitude, the principle of indifference would state that the equal ranges of this force should be given equal probabilities, and hence the probability of it the [sic] strength of gravity falling into the life-permitting region would be at most r/R = 109/1040 = 1/1031 (Collins, 2003: 129).
It appears, then, that if we accept the principle of indifference, and given only the ASUH, our rational expectation that the values of the gravitational constant would fall within the CEL-permitting region would be only about one in 1031, a very small expectation indeed.
Many objections have been raised against the principle of indifference. Some of them are rather technical, and an examination of these and Collins’ responses is beyond our scope here (see Collins, 2003). Unquestionably, there are contexts where, when properly restricted, the principle of indifference is useful in solving certain problems and performing certain calculations of probability (see, e.g., Applebaum, 1996: 52-3). The crucial question is not whether that principle is ever useful, but whether it can do the metaphysical heavy lifting that Collins wants it to do. Clearly, it is quite a leap to think that a principle useful in certain rather modest and restricted contexts can provide information in such an outré context as providing rational expectations about what we would otherwise deem metaphysical imponderables.
Can we have rational expectations about ultimate metaphysical posits? It may help to note that the defenders of the ASUH have one thing in common with theists—each group posits something as a brute, inexplicable, metaphysical ultimate. For ASUH supporters, it is the primordial state and laws of the universe; for theists it is God. John Hick states this point clearly:
It is true that no naturalistic theory can account for the existence of the universe, or for its having the basic character that it has; this simply has to be accepted as the ultimate inexplicable fact. But religion also has its ultimate inexplicable fact in the form of God or a non-personal Absolute. And the skeptical mind prefers to rest in the mystery of the visible world without going beyond it to a further invisible mystery (Hick, 2004: 111).
Further, it seems that in either the naturalistic or the theistic case we can imagine possible worlds in which things are different. We can imagine possible worlds in which the values of the fundamental physical constants are other than they are in the actual world. Likewise, we seem to be able to imagine possible worlds in which something other than the theistic God would be the ultimate, uncaused, brute supernatural reality. Indeed, it seems that there could have been (i.e., there seem to be possible worlds in which) one or more of an indefinitely numerous set of supernatural entities could be the ultimate existent(s) instead of the theistic God. Maybe, for instance, there could have been Platonic ideas, or a neo-Platonic One, or a being totally indifferent to created beings, or, tragically, a lonely god who yearns for companionship, but does not have the power to create.
The upshot is that if it is possible to have rational expectations about which of a range of possible worlds is likely to be actualized, where do we stop? If someone insists that we are very, very lucky—impossibly lucky—to have a universe as “life friendly” as the one we inhabit, and therefore there must have been a supernatural fine-tuner to set things up, don’t we have to ask why that same reasoning should not apply to putative supernatural beings? Why is it, that of all the ultimate, uncaused supernatural beings that might have existed, we were so impossibly lucky as to get one that was a personal being who, amazingly, just happened to want creatures like us and also had the power to do the fine tuning? Instead of solving the fine-tuning problem, doesn’t the hypothesis of theism merely set it back a step? Instead of a finely-tuned universe we seem to need a finely-tuned God. If the former is wildly unlikely, then why not the latter? If the universe is rationally unexpected, then why not God?
Theistic philosophers have historically recognized the force of such queries and have attempted to obviate them by countering that the theistic God is in some sense uniquely ultimate so that his existence is not a metaphysical mystery in the sense that any other postulated ultimate would be. Some have postulated that God is logically necessary or is the only being that is its own sufficient reason. Some, like Richard Swinburne (1979) argue that the hypothesis that posits God as the ultimate inexplicable existent is a simpler hypothesis than any other, and therefore more a priori likely. Each such suggestion has very serious problems that we do not have space to pursue here (but see Mackie, 1982, Parsons, 1989, and Oppy, 2006).

About Keith Parsons
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith,

    I find that people of all ontological commitments tend to bend the epistemic principles they use in their reasoning in order suit their ends. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Neither true beliefs, nor valid epistemic principles, are a given, and we are all kind of groping around to try and make sense of our experience of life. Nevertheless there are, I think, some epistemic principles that strike me as necessarily valid, such as that reality cannot be such as to contradict our experience, the principle of parsimony, and also, the very useful principle that what goes for the goose also goes for the gander. In other words one cannot reasonably demand from the other party an epistemic principle one oneself is not respecting, nor deny the other party an epistemic principle one is using. For example, when one demands of the other party evidence for its metaphysical beliefs, one must also provide evidence for one’s metaphysical beliefs – it is in this context that my ongoing discussion with Keith Augustine takes place.

    Now it seems to me obvious that one must build one’s understanding about reality on some basic given hypothesis, what we call “the brute facts of reality”. After all, even arithmetic needs some axioms to get off the ground. And I agree with the way you describe brute facts:

    In other words, an ultimate brute fact is a sheer given: A basic or primordial reality that is not in any sense dependent upon or explicable in terms of any antecedent or more fundamental reality.

    So, if theists are within their epistemic rights to hypothesize that primordial reality is a perfect person called “God”, then by the same measure scientific naturalists may hypothesize that primordial reality is an event called “Big Bang” – with all that the respective brute fact hypotheses entail (such as, in the latter case, the physical laws with their constants as well as the constants which describe the initial conditions of the universe). So it makes as little sense to ask a theist how come God is all good, as to ask a naturalist how come the fundamental constants are exactly what is needed for complex life to evolve, or how come there are mathematically elegant laws in the first place. And if the theist says that one can’t ask what the origin of God is because God is uncaused and self-explained, so the naturalist may say that one can’t ask what the origin of the Big Bang is because it too is uncaused and self-explained. And if the theist argues that nothing can come out of nothing, then the naturalist may answer that the Big Bang did not come out of nothing; rather the Big Bang is the uncaused cause of everything that exists including space and time.

    So far, so good. Why then do so many theists and naturalists alike think that the apparent fine tuning of the fundamental constants is such a big deal? Theists, from Craig to Collins think that they here have a remarkable physical fact on which to build an argument from design. Many naturalist philosophers agree there is huge problem here, and are therefore willing to abandon the venerable naturalistic principle that one should not posit the existence of unfalsifiable and invisible entities for which no scientific rationale exists just in order to shore up one’s metaphysics – and posit with a straight face the multiverse as the origin and explanation of the Big Bang. So, what exactly is the problem that all of these people are seeing?

    [continued in the next post]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    One problem I think is that there is a sensible limit to what one can claim to be a brute fact. Suppose for example that Darwinism had not been discovered; would it then be reasonable for naturalists to claim that the complexity, variability, and apparent design of the species is just a brute fact? Or, to paraphrase an idea of Carl Sagan, suppose we discovered within some fundamental constant of nature a message from God, say the entire Gospel according to John codified Greek letter by Greek letter after the first trillion digits. Could one claim that this too was just a brute fact of nature? I think it is in this sense that theists and naturalists alike judge that the apparent fine tuning of the physical order goes beyond what one can reasonably claim to be brute facts.

    A second problem is in a sense self-inflicted, as a result of the overselling of Darwinism. So, many naturalists insist that any apparent design in the universe is the product of some blind physical process. The apparent design of the physical laws, their constants, and the constants that describe the initial conditions of the universe, must therefore also be the product of some blind physical process.

    Now given these problems, there are, it seems to me, several alternative naturalistic responses:

    1. To attack theism’s pretensions of simplicity. Theism’s brute fact, namely the presence of a perfect person, may sound simple enough, but what one means by “personal perfection” has quite some intrinsic complexity, such as that God is perfect in goodness, and in power, and in knowledge. Any explicit description of theism’s brute facts will be at least several pages long, so it’s not like naturalism’s brute facts are necessarily much more complex in comparison. Also, even though theism’s brute facts do explain some large scale features of the universe, for example that it should be ordered and appropriate for the evolution of intelligence capable of discovering that very order, much of what must be considered a brute fact by naturalists, say the ratio of the masses of proton and electron, are not explained by theism either, and arguably should therefore be considered brute facts of theism also. So perhaps it’s not quite appropriate to claim that naturalism’s brute facts are excessive in comparison to theism’s.

    2. To use some kind of the argument from ignorance, which after all many theists also use to respond to the problem of evil. So, the naturalist may claim that even though the universe does seem to be balanced on the point of a pin, this may be an illusion. For all we know the physical constants may be reducible in a simple way to the properties of the number 2. Or perhaps the initial state of the universe was chaotic and simple to describe, and that chaos was such that after a while it could not fail to crystallize in the very order that science now discovers. In short the apparent complexity of naturalism’s brute facts may be illusory and only represent a limitation in our scientific understanding.

    3. To use the multiverse hypothesis, whatever its costs to naturalism’s traditional epistemology. William Lane Craig claims that physicists who have studied the properties that a physical mechanism capable of producing the multiverse would need to have, found out that it would be at least as fine tuned as our universe, in other words, according to Craig, this solution is worse than the problem. I think that this counterargument, even if solid, only concerns a limited view of the multiverse hypothesis. After all if the naturalist is willing to suggest the existence of 10^100 parallel universes, why stop at these relatively small numbers, which necessitates describing a mechanism that would produce these universes and not others? Why not suggest, as MIT’s physicist Max Tegmark does, that reality consists of all universes amenable to a mathematical description? Indeed why not go one better and suggest that all logically possible universes actually exist, with no need for a producing mechanism whatsoever?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14241541518163249791 IdeaMan

    It seems to me the universe is very much NOT fine tuned for intelligent life. The earth is tinier than a grain of sand relative to the universe and we humans are just particles on the outermost layer of that grain of sand. This hardly constitutes "fine tuning". Rather, if a universe is big enough, one would expect, due to stochastic variation, that somewhere in that enormous universe, intelligent life would emerge.

    Intelligent life is crearly the exception not the rule when we dig in the ground or look in the sky. Also, there are not several kinds of intelligent life on earth, but only one. Face it, we are a fluke.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ideaman,

    The question at hand is that modern science has discovered that the universe appears to be balanced on the point of a pin, and if it weren’t thus balanced then intelligent life would not be at all possible. Intelligent life is a highly complex phenomenon of the sort that can only evolve naturalistically through the Darwinian process. But this process does not come cheap; rather it requires a lot of necessary conditions, such as, for starters, stable matter and lots of time. Thanks to science we now know that even a very slight change in the values of the fundamental constants would destroy the necessary conditions that Darwinian evolution requires. This question represents a problem for naturalism, because this super fine tuning gives the appearance of purposeful design, which is incompatible with naturalism.

    Now you raise the question of why our universe is not such that life would be more prevalent. This is a completely different question, and, presumably, it is meant as a problem for theism. But I don’t see how this question is problematic for theism unless one first shows 1) that there are values of the fundamental constants which are even more life-friendly (which to my knowledge has not been shown), and 2) that God would want to create a universe where life is more prevalent – and I have seen no argument in this sense. On the contrary, it is at least prima facie reasonable to think that God would want to create the universe in such a way that we would value life as something that is rare and fragile.

    In the same site where Taner Edis discusses science and religion, there is an interview with a young physicist, Luke Barnes, who has done some thinking on the fine tuning question, and where he discusses many different responses. You can find this interview here: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8109 . Listening to it made me realize that the second naturalistic response I suggested in my previous post may not work very well. The idea is that even if future science were to vastly reduce the appearance of fine-tuning of these constants, the fact would remain that among all logically possible physical universes only those in a vanishingly small subset are capable of producing life. Why then would the only real universe belong to his vanishingly small subset, unless it was purposefully chosen? It does sound terribly ad-hoc to suggest that, as a matter of brute fact, reality is such as to favor intelligence.

    I suppose that’s the kind of considerations that lead some people to think that there are only two alternatives: either our universe is the result of purposeful design (perhaps not by God), or else our universe is one among a gargantuan number of parallel universes (the multiverse) and happens to be one that favors intelligence. One thing I especially dislike about the multiverse hypothesis is how epistemically excessive it is. Suppose for example we had not discovered Darwinism, or suppose Darwinism were to be proven an inadequate explanation for complex life. The naturalist could still claim that intelligent life capable of discussing these issues, just like we do, would have to appear by sheer chance somewhere in the multiverse. But, as Luke Barnes argues, at some point the retreat behind large numbers becomes self-defeating, because absurd hypotheses such as that one is a solipsistic brain become more probable.

    In conclusion, it is evident that the apparent fine tuning of the universe is a difficult issue to think about. Perhaps there is a good argument for theism to be found in the whole mind bending mess, but in my judgment there are simpler and thus better theistic arguments out there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11389651479904502758 DM

    NOW:

    you must repent and turn to God or DIE!

    they tried to BULLDOZE the entire METAPHYSICAL DIMENSION…

    they LOST THE WAR…

    we're gonna smash that TV…

    you have FORFEIT YOUR SOUL, shermer… you have become an object in the material world, as you WISHED…

    They had become ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE AND OF GOD…

    you pushed too much and *CROSSED THE LINE*

    degenerates (PZ) or children (HEMANT) – ATHEISTS!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRRg2tWGDSY

    do you have anything to say, you STUPID LITTLE F*CKER?

    Now let's listen to this *GENIUS*

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUB4j0n2UDU

    how about I tell you, Mr. Shermer, EVERYTHING YOU THINK ABOUT THE WORLD is

    *WRONG*

    Atheists,

    you are going to learn even to TALK about GOD the way you do is going to cost

    you your lives…

    the writing on the wall…

    f*ck you very much!

    THE BOOBQUAKE – 911!

    http://dissidentphilosophy.lifediscussion.net/philosophy-f1/the-boobquake-911-t1310.htm

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07742083009211346119 Chris Jones

    I can't fathom why the implications of the fine-tuning argument with respect to the creative freedom of a god isn't troubling to theists. Were the universe so incredibly fine-tuned that any slight deviation would render life impossible, this doesn't exactly leave a great deal of room for a god, who it seems would then be left with no choice whatsoever in how to create a universe. What are we to make of supposed omnipotence in light of this, if one were to have in mind the conventional Christian god?

    I can't concur, however, that there is such a "pinpoint" tuning. Victor Stenger's book, "God: The Failed Hypothesis" proposes that there is quite a bit more room for the various constants to float than is usually assumed. A recent article in … Scientific American? … also suggests (and supports Stenger's other assertion) that fine-tuning generally assumes that one and only one variable is adjusted at a time, which if one were to adjust more than one at a time, many other combinations may be derived that would be hospitable to our familiar form of life (i.e., one variable compensates for another), not to mention the potential for many other forms of life that may not be familiar to us but nonetheless would be viable life.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07742083009211346119 Chris Jones

    I'll add a note regarding Ideaman's confusion over the sort of fine-tuning that is in question here, and Dianelos's muddling of Ideaman's confusion.

    Ideaman is mistaking the cosmological fine-tuning notion (the one in question in the above blog post) with the idea of hospitability to life as we know it. The "fine-tuning" mentioned in the article refers to that set of physical constants (strength of gravity, strength of the strong nuclear force, etc) which affect processes such as formation of particular kinds of atoms from elementary particles and the ability of those atoms to form matter, ignite, and such.

    Dianelos follows Ideaman into the woods and goes on with an explanation as to why "Darwinian evolution" is somehow specifically affected by a configuration of these constants, when that's really completely irrelevant. Were these constants to be truly so far out of whack as to prevent the universe from ever expanding in the first place, or anything other than hydrogen from forming, or the hydrogen that does form from burning, the universe would never even get sufficiently kicked off so as to ever have any materials present for there to be anything happening at all, let alone "darwinian evolution".

    And for the record, we're about 100 years past the idea of "darwinian evolution". The modern synthesis has, pardon the pun, evolved. No one in the field considers it to be "Darwinism" or "Darwinian evolution" as the modern synthesis has moved a great deal further along, incorporated the field of genetics, and corrected the errors in Darwin's original work.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Chris,

    You write: “Were the universe so incredibly fine-tuned that any slight deviation would render life impossible, this doesn't exactly leave a great deal of room for a god, who it seems would then be left with no choice whatsoever in how to create a universe.

    This idea is based on the old notion of a deterministic reality. But quantum mechanics has shown beyond reasonable doubt that the events in the universe in which we exist are not deterministic. On the other hand it is true that the physical universe appears to be causally closed under all scientific tests. A serious fallacy that virtually all naturalists commit is to think that this causal closure of the physical universe leaves no space for the existence of a god who is active in the universe, but only perhaps for an absentee landlord, some kind of a deistic god. In fact, even given the causal closure of the universe, God is free to massively affect the history of the universe.

    Victor Stenger's book, "God: The Failed Hypothesis" proposes that there is quite a bit more room for the various constants to float than is usually assumed.

    I have read only one book by Victor Stenger (“Quantum Gods”), and it had so many errors even in his own field of physics that I wouldn’t trust much of what he says. Indeed I wish people would not be so credulous and believe everything a scientist says, even when that scientist is a good one and is talking about their own field of expertise. For example in his debate with John Lennox, Richard Dawkins claimed that Darwinism explains life, only to have Lennox correct him pointing out the obvious, namely that Darwinism only speaks about the evolution of the species once you have life. As for the specific issue at hand, namely Stenger’s argument that the physical constants are not really that fine-tuned for complex life, I note a) that physicists of much greater statue than Stenger do think there is such fine-tuning, and b) that other physicists who have had a look at Stenger’s claims have found them wanting. Here’s a quote: “I conclude that Stenger’s claims are worse than mistaken; they are misleading” (see http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2010/04/18/no-faith-in-monkeygod-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-victor-stenger-part-2/).

    And in any case the precise degree of fine-tuning of the fundamental constants is not even the serious problem for naturalism. We now know for a fact that out of all possible physical universes only a vanishingly small proportion is such that complex life forms may naturalistically evolve, which raises the serious metaphysical question of how come the universe belongs to this exceedingly rare set.

    Were these constants to be truly so far out of whack as to prevent the universe from ever expanding in the first place, or anything other than hydrogen from forming, or the hydrogen that does form from burning, the universe would never even get sufficiently kicked off so as to ever have any materials present for there to be anything happening at all, let alone "darwinian evolution".

    Yes, that was my point.

    Only the scientific consensus is that the constants need not be “far out of whack” to destroy the necessary conditions for Darwinian evolution; just changing *one* constant by something like 10^-50 would destroy them. For naturalists this is yet another highly surprising, unexpected, and troubling physical fact that science has discovered. I find it amazing how so many naturalists are still under the impression that scientific knowledge supports their metaphysical beliefs. Perhaps you should read Plantinga's argument about how there is only superficial concord but really deep conflict between naturalism and science; there is a nice article about this in Stanford's encyclopedia of philosophy (see: http://stanford.library.usyd.edu.au/entries/religion-science/)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08423194549982565593 KnocksvilleE

    Luke Barnes is not a physicist, but an astronomer. He is an adamant defender of the fine tuning argument so I don't think it is fair to say "other physicists who have had a look at Stenger’s claims have found them wanting." I would be very skeptical of apologists for the fine-tuning argument because there is a common theme among them:
    "The second objection is the 'normalizability problem'– the objection that the Fine-Tuning Argument fails because fine-tuning is not actually improbable." http://philpapers.org/rec/MANTFA

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    KnowcksvilleE,

    You write: "Luke Barnes is not a physicist, but an astronomer."

    Luke Barnes is a physicist who has specialized in astronomy. To my knowledge most astronomers are physicists.

    You write: "The second objection is the 'normalizability problem'– the objection that the Fine-Tuning Argument fails because fine-tuning is not actually improbable." http://philpapers.org/rec/MANTFA"

    Philosopher Neil Manson suggests that science has not yet produced the normalization of the space of values of the fundamental constants, and it may turn out to be the case that this normalization displays huge peaks where the values of the fundamental constants of our universe lie, thus proving that these values are not really improbable. This idea has the same effect as the simpler (and more realistic) idea I have suggested above, namely that perhaps science will show that the values of the fundamental constants of our universe depend in a simple way on the properties of the number 2.

    But as Barnes has explained, and as I have tried to describe above, naturalism’s problem from the apparent fine-tuning of the fundamental constants goes far beyond what science might conceivably show. To see this, let’s consider Manson’s preferable scenario. Suppose then that somehow scientists will in the future produce the normalization of the space of values, and that it will turn out to display huge peaks where the values of the constants of our universe lie. Now observe that should this happen the problem for naturalism would become even worse: From the improbability that the values of the fundamental constants in our universe should favor life, we’d get to the improbability that the entire normalization of the space of values should favor life. After all we’d have discovered that not only our universe, but most possible universes, would be fine-tuned for intelligent life. Why should a brute naturalistic reality be such as to appear to value intelligent life so much? It makes no sense at all. Intelligent life is a hugely complex phenomenon, but of value only to some other intelligence; there is nothing in a naturalistic understanding of reality that would explain why reality at its deepest structures should favor the evolution of intelligent life so much. If any way one looks one finds that reality does favor intelligent life, it would seem that there is something fundamentally purposeful to it. Just as theism has it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01008509748035950970 advenioadveritas

    Defending the idea that universe and its natural laws are a brute fact seems to contradict the prevailing scientific theory of the big bang. This theory only makes sense if the universe had a beginning. The universe had a beginning and the laws that were established from the beginning that govern its growth are known to be fine-tuned to an astounding degree. Parsons seems to leave out this fact assuming the universe just always existed. If that were the case wouldn’t the big bang theory and the research at CERN be pointless. Defaulting to this idea in questioning Collins’ argument seems to cause more problems then if Collin’s argument were left on its own.

    Parsons’ conclusions that Collins’ argument raises the need for a finely-tuned God seems counterintuitive. If while walking in the woods you stumble across an empty farm, complete with horses, chickens, crops, etc., you don’t need to establish a finely-tuned farmer or community that built it; instead this idea makes the most sense.

    In Collins’ argument for theism, if the universe were created an intelligent designer becomes the best explanation. The purpose for its existence is a wholly separate question. Parsons’ final objections serve as an opening for any theist to provide the reason why our universe exists, and seems to disembark from Collins’ argument and into theological territory. Here is an example of disliking a theory for its implications rather on its on contents.


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