Extremely Low Entropy of the Early Universe as Evidence against Theism?

One of the topics from last Friday’s debate between William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll was the extremely low entropy of the early universe. As I type this blog post, the video of the debate isn’t available, so I’m going from memory. But I thought I heard Carroll argue that the extremely low entropy of the early universe is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.

In The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, Carroll seems to make a similar point:

An example of fine-tuning well beyond anthropic constraints is the initial state of the universe, often characterized in terms of its extremely low entropy (Penrose 1989). Roughly speaking, the large number of particles in the universe were arranged in an extraordinarily smooth configuration, which is highly unstable and unlikely given the enormous gravitational forces acting on such densely packed matter. While vacuum energy is tuned to 1 part in 10120, the entropy of the early universe is tuned to 1 part in 10 to the power of 10120, a preposterous number. The entropy didn’t need to be nearly that low in order for life to come into existence. One way of thinking about this is to note that we certainly don’t need a hundred billion other galaxies in the universe in order for life to arise here on earth; our single galaxy would have been fine, or for that matter a single solar system.

If anything, the much-more-than-anthropic tuning that characterizes the entropy of the universe is a bigger problem for the God hypothesis than for the multiverse. If the point of arranging the universe was to set the stage for the eventual evolution of intelligent life, why all the grandiose excess represented by the needlessly low entropy at early times and the universe’s hundred billion galaxies? We might wonder whether those other galaxies are spandrels — not necessary for life here on earth, but nevertheless a side effect of the general Big Bang picture, which is the most straightforward way to make the earth and its biosphere. This turns out not to be true; quantitatively, it’s easy to show that almost all possible histories of the universe that involve earth as we know it don’t have any other galaxies at all. It’s unclear why God would do so much fine-tuning of the state of the universe than seems to have been necessary.

(Sean Carroll, “Does the Universe Need God?” The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, Kindle location 6467 – 6493).

This passage from Carroll’s essay suggests yet another example of how cosmological fine-tuning arguments for God’s existence commit the fallacy of understated evidence: given that our universe is fine-tuned for life, the fact that the early universe had such extremely low entropy favors naturalism over theism.

See also:

Stenger on Zero Total Energy as Evidence for Atheism

The Evidential Argument from Scale (Index)

Paul Draper, The Fallacy of Understated Evidence, Theism, and Naturalism

The Theistic Arguments: A Brief Critique
Lowder-Vandergriff Debate on God’s Existence Now Out!
Lessing’s Broad Ditch and Brad’s Lesser Ditch
Jesus on Faith – Part 6
About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • infidel1000

    Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig? That would almost be like Einstein Debating Sarah Palin. Can’t wait to see that one.

  • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

    Consider this reply (modeled on skeptical theism):

    For all we know God had some reason to design a universe with extremely low early entropy. Carroll says that extremely low early entropy this shows that there is more fine-tuning than necessary. But he could not possibly know this. Perhaps there is some aspect of the universe necessary for God’s plans that required extremely low early entropy.

    I don’t know if anyone would reply in this way, but I want to make a point about it regardless. Here it is: This reply essentially abandons the Teleological Argument, at least in the tradition of Paley. Paley’s argument involved pointing to objects with two features (1) A complex (or unlikely, it depends on how the argument is worded) arrangement of parts. (2) A function/purpose such that the parts of the object must be arranged just-so in order for it to perform the function/purpose.

    The watch, for example, has an obvious purpose (or rather, that it has a purpose is obvious) and it has a complex arrangement of parts without which it could not serve that purpose. Paley says the same is true of the parts of the human body.

    Now, the rock has a complex (and unlikely) arrangement of parts (the molecules). That is to say, the molecules are put together in an unlikely configuration. The molecules of the rock could have been arranged in countless different ways. The particular configuration they happen to be in is thus improbable. But does the rock have a purpose? Well, it does lots of things. It exerts a tiny gravitational force on every other object of the universe. It serves as shelter to insects. It reflects photons. Are these functions? I don’t think so. But it certainly can have a function. Paley can take it home and use it as a paper weight or as a projectile to hurl at his painting of David Hume. But the parts of the rock do not have to be arranged just-so in order for the rock to serve those functions. The same is true for pretty much everything else the rock does (including exerting a gravitational force, providing shelter, and reflecting light). Pretty much any configuration of the molecules will do. So, it is not enough to have a function and complex arrangement of parts, the two have to be connected.

    Okay. So, we need both (1) and (2). The reply I offered to Carroll above says that the universe has (1) but does indicate that the universe satisfies (2) because it does not tell us what the purpose of the (unlikely state of the early universe) is. It merely states that is possible that there might be a purpose that requires that state. That would be like me saying that there might be some function of the rock that requires that it have the particular (improbable) configuration of molecules that it has. Maybe that is true, but this is not the basis of a good teleological argument.

    I think that the fine-tuning argument suffers from a similar problem. The argument points out that some fundamental constants of the universe must be tuned just-so in order for the universe to produce life. That is true, but that is not enough for this to be a teleological argument in the tradition of Paley. We also need to posit a purpose of the universe. The argument, I think, assumes that it is obvious that the function/purpose of the universe is to produce life. If we assume this, then we have what we need for a Paley-style argument. Without this, though, I don’t think the argument works.

    So, are we justified in concluding that the function of the universe is to produce life? I don’t see how. The universe does lots of things, producing life is just one, and, importantly, most of the universe is not in the life producing business. Without some way of identifying life as the function/purpose of the universe, we can conclude nothing other than that producing life is something that the universe does. We don’t know that it is the function. So, we haven’t satisfied (2).

    Of course the situation is still different from the rock since the things that the rock does (at least most things it does) do not require the particular configuration of atoms that it has. The universe, on the other hand, does require fine-tuning of fundamental constants in order to produce life. (Well, I am assuming that it does, for the sake of this argument). However, if we were clever enough and curious enough, I am sure that we could identify some aspect of the causal profile of the rock such that it only has that particular aspect given the particular arrangement of molecules. Call it causal feature C. Surely the fact that C exists does not entitle us to conclude that C is the function of the rock. So, what I am saying is that producing life might be analogous to causal feature C; the universe does it and a particular (improbable) configuration of the values of fundamental constants is necessary for the universe to do it, but it is not the function of the universe. If that is so, then fine-tuning arguments have not satisfied (2). Fundamentally, I see no reason to identify the production of life as the function of the universe. And I don’t see how the argument goes through without the assumption that the function (or at least a function) of the universe is to produce life because without it we cannot make the move Paley does. That is, we cannot say, the universe’s function is to produce life and the parts of the universe (fundamental constants, that is) must be arranged just so in order for the universe to perform that function.

    How am I going wrong?

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