(Not) Following the Evidence Where it Leads

follow-the-signRecent years have seen a great deal of discussion about the fine-tuning of the universe. It is a well-established fact that the number of values for the physical constants and quantities need to fall into very specific regions in order to have a life-supporting universe. The probabilities, in fact, are infinitesimal.

Though some try to deny this, it isn’t controversial among cosmologists. Fine-tuning is a reality, the only argument is over how to explain it. Other than references to a creator, there have basically been two answers to this: the anthropic principle and the multiverse.

These aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they are typically used together. We wouldn’t be observing a universe unless it was fine-tuned in order to support life (so says the anthropic principle), and there are lots of “dead” universes out there (so say multiverse believers). By chance alone, at least one of the astronomical number of universes out there would be suitable for life.

This seems rather plausible at first blush, but the only reason to believe either of the claims above is true is a prior commitment to the non-existence of a creator.

That is to say, in the case of the multiverse, that there isn’t actually any evidence for universes other than this one. This is simply a conjecture in order to explain the fine-tuning.

With regard to the anthropic principle, things are much worse. It is demonstrably false that all, or even most, observers would be found in finely tuned universes. Most of them, given materialism, would be Boltzman Brains: brains that fluctuate randomly out of the quantum vacuum (often complete with false memories), before disappearing again. It is simply false to assert “no one would be here if the universe wasn’t finely tuned”.

So, anyone who is insistent on evidence (as nearly all atheists I encounter are), should reject both the multiverse and the anthropic principle. But this doesn’t leave them with any kind of explanation for the fine tuning of the universe.

Rather, the explanation I typically hear is simply a shrug and a “who knows?”.

But to simply halt inquiry when the evidence starts leading to places one doesn’t like is something much less commendable than intellectual humility. This is doubly true coming from anyone who’s insisted upon evidence, or that we should follow the evidence where it leads.

Certainly, it runs directly counter to the oft-heard claim that there is no evidence for a creator of the universe.


32 responses to “(Not) Following the Evidence Where it Leads

  • Ray R.

    The fact that some small areas of the universe are amenable to carbon based replicators SOME of the time , does not in any way indicate that our universe , or solar system , even our planet is ” fine tuned ” for life .

    • Persto

      Ray, are you saying that specific conditions couldn’t be indicative of some sort of ‘Ultimate’ fine-tuning?

      Of course, these conditions could be remarkable, finely-tuned coincidences (or, you know, just how things happen to be, for no reason), but they could also be indicative of some sort of supernatural fine-tuning. There are two possibilities, in my mind.


      • Ray R.

        That is equivalent to answering the question of ” Why is there an elephant in my living room ?” , with , ” Because there is an elephant in your living room . “

    • Debilis

      Actually, it does mean that. If it didn’t, scientists wouldn’t seriously be debating the multiverse concept.

      But it is not simply fine tuning for life. It is fine tuning for anything larger than a proton that is astronomically improbable. The relative size of the universe compared to the biosphere has nothing to do with this argument.

      • shelterit

        “If it didn’t, scientists wouldn’t seriously be debating the multiverse concept.”

        Scientists are *not* debating the multiverse because of the fine-tuning argument. That’s preposterous.

        “astronomically improbable”

        Nonsense. Where are you getting this information?

        • Ray R.

          Exactly , sheltering , there is no serious debate regarding “fine tuning ” among cosmologists .

        • Logan Rees

          Paul Davies, George FR Ellis, Martin Rees, Robert H. Dicke, Fred Hoyle, John Gribbin, to name a few, have all defended the fine-tuned universe theory.

        • Ray R.

          Paul Davies is heavily funded by the John Templeton Foundation , a fundamentalist Christian group , he therefore has an agenda and slants his views heavily toward theism and mystical BS . Fred Hoyle mistakenly argued against the Big Bang , and in fact , coined the term Big Bang as a pejorative . He believed in the genesis version of creation , which no serious scientist believes . Martin Rees won the Religiously Fundamentalist Templeton Prize in 2011 ( along with a great deal of money ) . It would therefore be safe to assume he too has an agenda in regard to foisting fundamentalist religious views . John Gribbin believes our universe was “designed ” by aliens from another part of the multiverse , a theory that , in addition to being crazy , also leads to an infinite regression . Dicke believes the constants in nature , are highly suited to life , and suggestive of some purposeful design . He ignores the fact that most of the universe is highly hostile to life ( at least carbon based life ) , making the the so called called designer rather incompetent . George FR Ellis won the religious fundamentalist Templeton Prize in 2004 , along with a vast sum of money to promote their theistic views . So , the question is , can you name a scientist who isn’t working for the Templeton Foundation , or whose major work wasn’t before acceptance of the Big Bang and inflation ?

        • Logan Rees

          The Templeton Foundation is hardly a “religious fundamentalist” organization. It does attempt to merge religious and scientific views, but that would make it, by definition, non-fundamentalist. It’s opposed the intelligent design argument and creationism.

          But since you just want to be argumentative instead of actually debating the topic, I’m bowing out. Peace.

          Also , learn learn how to type type , ,$/?:@(“:!

        • Ray R.

          Learn how to type ? To what are you referring ? Is that your refutation ? Weak . Again , I ask , can you name anyone who isn’t funded by the Templeton Foundation ? I do apologize in advance if my “typing ” isn’t up to your high standards . I certainly meant no offense to your delicate typing sensibilities .

        • Ray R.

          And Logan , how is disagreeing with your premise , ” being argumentative ” ? I’m disagreeing with your assertion . Period . I gave my reasons for my disagreement , you chose to criticize my ” typing skills” . Who’s being argumentative ? Thin skinned much ? Wow .

        • Logan Rees

          No, the first part was my refutation, which you did not refute in turn. That last part was just a jab and it referred to your spaces before punctuation marks , and your doubling doubling of words words

          But I’m bowing out. Consider me bowed.

        • Ray R.

          There is something wrong with how the comments are posted . Read what’s said and don’t try to such a nitpicking little grammar nazi . It doesn’t reflect well on you .

        • Ray R.

          The Templeton Foundation promotes Christiany . Period . Yor denial of that does not make it so . They are very well funded , and pay extremely well . I asked you to provide a list of scientists without a religiously funded agenda . You did not . I asked you to provide scientists whose work was within the span between when the Big Bang and inflation was widely accepted , and now . You did not . You merely asserted your opinion . That is not refutation .

        • Debilis

          So as to stick close to the subject, are you suggesting that there is no evidence for fine-tuning?

        • Alexander

          Of course there isn’t. Fine-tuning presupposes a tuner. If fine-tuning is defined in natural ways (ie. there could be no other way, as the laws of nature dictates it to happen), then that’s not fine-tuning, that is a very different thing. Fine-tuning is a wholly religious term, and so science does not debate it; it’s moot.

        • Debilis

          Tuning doesn’t presuppose a conscious tuner. It could easily be an unconscious process. Proponents of the multiverse are always pointing this out.

          But, if you are going to define terms in this manner, then the question will simply be reworded:

          Are you suggesting that there is no need to explain the values of basic constants and quantities of the universe?

      • Ray R.

        Astronomically improbable according to what , exactly ? Have you another sample to compare from which you are able to draw such a remarkable conclusion ? I know of none . Do you have a source of knowledge that is unavailable to me , or the rest humanity ? If so , please let me know .

        • Debilis

          Scientists are often quite clever in figuring out mathematically what would occur in other situations. Given what occurs in this universe, they have calculated what would occur (say, regarding the formation of stable atoms) were the fundamental constants and quantities even slightly different.

          So, no. This is not special information. It is public knowledge.

        • Ray R.

          Again , your carbon chauvinism is showing . Our universe is for the most part , highly hostile to life . In regard to the formation of atoms , we live in a universe where atoms can form , because if they couldn’t , we wouldn’t be around to around to take notice . Simple . No magic required .

        • Debilis

          This is not carbon chauvinism, it is about the odds that anything larger than a proton could form in a stable manner.

          And your mention of the anthropic principle (“we wouldn’t be around…”) is not true. This is the problem of the Boltzman brains mentioned in the post.

          But I agree we don’t need to resort to magic (which is a more pejorative version of “brute fact”, which most materialists I know start resort to at this point). I’m definitely interested in moving further.

  • keithnoback

    (Sigh). The concept is controversial; the numbers are not so much. Similar case to the Bohm interpretation, as far as I can tell, and with many of the same issues. See Neil Manson’s article in Philosophy Compass April of ’09 it’s available online. His second objection is the important one in my book.

    • Debilis

      I personally don’t know of any claim, about anything, that is not controversial in some sense.

      But I did have a look at the article you mentioned. I don’t yet think it is a sufficient refutation of fine-tuning. The first answer was the multiverse-anthropic principle combination which I’ve mentioned already.

      The second objection is simply an argument against fine-tuning itself.

      The first half of this argument, I think, should be dismissed. All of the examples used (i.e. Tiger Wood’s golf swing) were specifically one’s for which we have a good explanation as to why facts fall into a narrow range permitting a specific effect.

      That is precisely the claim of the fine-tuning argument–not that such a thing happens for no reason, but that it requires an explanation.

      As to the question of normalizing the probability space, I agree that this is a better argument, but think it ultimately fails. The most obvious objection is that it proves too much.

      To steal a response from Alvin Plantinga, if the stars suddenly rearranged themselves to form the words “I am the lord God; I made the universe”, this (under the normalizing objection) would not be a reason to think that theism is any more likely than it otherwise would have been.

      This is because, so the argument goes, there is an infinite number of possible ways the stars could be arranged, added, destroyed, or otherwise altered, meaning that we couldn’t normalize the probability space in order to determine the probability of this change occurring.

      Rather, the response I’ve heard to this objection is not one mentioned in the article (unless I misunderstood). It is the construction that, as the range of values is increased (approaches infinity) “tuning” becomes more “fine”.

      This seems fairly obvious, and is a good argument that there should be some explanation as to why the universe has the values that it does–particularly values that allow for life.

      The real question would be “What is that explanation?”.

      • keithnoback

        I think Plantinga makes a category error with his analogy – always a risk with reductio arguments. I’m hounded by Bayes theorem in daily life; I’ve seen this sort of mistake and made it myself. To say that our data and the models derived from it require an unlikely, narrow range of values to produce a life-friendly universe requires a suppressed premise: it is more likely than not that our universe is representative of most possible universes. If so, our data and models are finely tuned – in fact that is what would make them finely tuned rather than ‘just so’ as in the golf swing analogy. To make such an inference by extrapolation from our experience of other sets of data is – and I’m sorry I can’t be as polite as the McGrews here – just bullshit. It is the same kind of process that tells the medical student whose first headache patient turns out to be a meningitis case that all subsequent headaches he sees are quite likely due to meningitis. Our N=1. That makes fine tuning interesting speculation and nothing more.

    • Debilis

      I agree that we don’t have much of a sample with regard to many universes. While I’d agree that this means that we don’t have a knock down argument from this place alone, nor is it something that can simply be dismissed.

      That is to say we’re not in the same place as your hypothetical medical student. Just as easily, we could be in the same position as Newton was in believing that the stars were governed by the same fundamental forces as things on Earth.

      But this is drifting back into a multiverse scenario, even if appealing to possible, rather than actual, other universes. As such, it needs to address the issue of the Boltzman brain.

      As such, while I don’t think this one point ends the conversation by itself, it is clear that it is a legitimate point in the conversation.

  • Arkenaten

    Interesting. This ties in ( coincidentally) with something I have been reading over the past couple of days. Though I am not in any real shape or form qualified to argue this in any scientific or meaningful philosophical way

    All said and done there appear to be two stand-out points.

    Although the fine-tuning argument might look like an external ” hand” is involved only can only speculate, there is no hard and fast reason to state it is the result of external influence ( a creator)

    The second, and in my mind more important point is the utter (almost) obscene arrogance that philosophers the likes of William Lane Craig consider that this argument still does not settle the religious question. In other words, there is the tacit implication that the god responsible is the one he worships.

    • Debilis

      These are good points to raise. Here’s the shortest version of the answers to them that I can manage:

      1. If opponents of the argument want to offer an alternative explanation that they consider to be more plausible, that is perfectly allowed. But theories are never “hard and fast”–meaning that this is no reason to simply dismiss a possibility.

      2. I don’t know of any philosopher (including William Lane Craig) who would claim otherwise. The argument is for the idea that there is a designer of the universe. When one asks “but which religion’s designer”, every theist philosopher I’ve ever encountered (including Craig) switches to a different argument.

      This last is a problem that keeps coming up: “But that doesn’t tell us which religion is true” is not a refutation of “here’s a reason why materialism is false”. Nor is it a legitimate dismissal of “here’s a reason why at least one of the religions must be true”.

      Of course, there’s more to say, but that doesn’t defend materialism, and is no reason to be an atheist. The second argument is useless unless you’ve already conceded that you shouldn’t be an atheist.

  • Arkenaten

    1. If opponents of the argument want to offer an alternative explanation that they consider to be more plausible, that is perfectly allowed. But theories are never “hard and fast”–meaning that this is no reason to simply dismiss a possibility.

    Forgive me, but this is what theists – let me rather just say Christians in this context, okay? – do; they simply dismiss the alternatives, whereas an atheist ( such as myself) will state they cannot know (yet) but the evidence arguments presented are so weak they can be rejected. Present stronger arguments then the case for Christianity becomes stronger.
    This is the way it should work and this has been the core of our discussion from day one.

    The argument is for the idea that there is a designer of the universe. When one asks “but which religion’s designer”, every theist philosopher I’ve ever encountered (including Craig) switches to a different argument.</blockquote?

    And this is where the tacit dishonesty creeps in. If the argument requires shifting /changing the argument then the evidence for the Christian god, Jesus of Nazareth is so poor it is not worth considering. Hence the rejection by atheists and every other religion.

    I appreciate honesty and straight talking, I abhor subterfuge and the theological two step.
    For this, I can at least admire Creationists and particularly YEC's like Mark, who recognize that if one does not take the bible literally one is quickly going to find oneself up shit creek.
    That what they believe is nonsense is, currently neither here nor there, but they have the integrity to defend what they believe ( as nuts as it is) and this takes proper faith. Boy doesn't it just!

    Compared t a bloke like Mark Hamilton, William Lane Craig, in comparison, is a slippery arse of the first magnitude.

    • Debilis

      Saying one cannot know, but that theism can’t be right is, by definition to dismiss a possibility. That is precisely what the phrase “dismiss a possibility” means.

      But how do you know that the possibility is so weak? I’ve never been given a standard of evidence. I’ve never been shown anything better.

      So, I agree that we can’t know for certain. I don’t know for certain. I’m simply saying that, of the possibilities on the table, theism is the most reasonable.

      I don’t know how anyone could possibly argue with that without putting another possibility out for consideration.

      But, no. There is no tacit dishonesty in switching to a different argument when one’s questioner specifically changes the subject.

      If you gave an argument for, say evolution, and I responded with “there are many views and schools of thought among darwinists, which one are you defending?”, would it be tacitly dishonest for you to explain why one is more reasonable than the others?

      The same applies to theism. In fact, the “two step” accusation goes both ways.

      You’re not simply an atheist. You have a number of beliefs about the universe, life, morality, etc. that make your view a particular secular position. Should I dismiss anything you say in defense of the idea that we should be atheists on the grounds that it doesn’t also support that view?

      I don’t think so. I don’t call that “tacit dishonesty”. I call it addressing a new subject.

      But I’ve not seen even the first argument here. There are reasons to think that materialism is false. Anyone’s inability to support Christianity with some single, all-encompasing argument does not make it true.

      So, unless you are agreeing that you need to abandon your materialism, and are looking into theism, the questions of proving a specific one is irrelevant.

      • Arkenaten

        Saying one cannot know, but that theism can’t be right is, by definition to dismiss a possibility. That is precisely what the phrase “dismiss a possibility” means.

        I am not saying you could not be right. Maybe you are?

        I am saying that the evidence produced so far is not convincing enough to even warrant consideration , and if one acknowledges that your god is only one of hundreds, and for the sake of honesty every god deserves an equal shot, then the evidence proffered is even weaker still and the likelihood that the atheist position is correct increases with every god-claim.

        • Debilis

          By what rubric have you determined how much evidence is required before a claim warrants consideration–and what counts as evidence in the first place?

          We can discuss the “many gods” objection when we get to that conversation. For now, I want to know why that same logic doesn’t apply to your own position. There are hundreds of secular views. By this logic, that would make yours very unlikely (I’ve not seen any evidence for it).

          If follows, then, that the likelihood that the theist position is correct increases with every secular claim.

          As such, this is a rather pointless argument. What is needed is to compare actual views to each other–not simply claim “there are so many, they must all be wrong”.

          There are many views of every kind out there. One of them is your own. How do we know that yours is, of all the possible views, the right one?

          Why don’t we start with the standard by which you’re judging these views: what is your definition of evidence?

          You’ve said elsewhere that evidence is archeological. So, do you have archeological evidence that your materialism is true? I’m not aware of any.

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