Tag Archives: fine tuning

Questions I Can’t Answer are So Unfair!

boy_child_119488After arguing against the all-too-common straw man of “the theistic hypothesis”, Mackie takes an interesting turn in his argument against design in the universe. He continues his discussion of Hume’s Dialoges, claiming that alternate explanations of apparent design are more valid and, of all things, accusing theists of taking an unfair approach.

Of course, theists often do take an unfair approach, but the idea he criticizes seems to me to be perfectly fair. Mackie points out that there are any number of explanations for the appearance of design in the universe. The regularity of the solar system, the biological features of this or that species, etc. can all be explained without reference to God.

So long as we’re discussing science, I completely agree. However, Mackie eventually gets to the idea that the initial conditions of the universe must have allowed for the regularities on which these things depend, and begins to struggle to offer a plausible alternative.

Failing to present an alternative, he relies instead on criticizing the argument itself. He doesn’t challenge any premise on any argument regarding the fine-tuning of the universe. Instead, he claims that the whole idea requires that the cause of the universe envisaged current designs–rather than simply causing them.

Surely, these arguments lead eventually to that conclusion, but Mackie is claiming that the arguments simply demand this from the beginning. I’ve read a great deal on fine-tuning arguments, and have never encountered one that requires any such thing. Rather, they tend to present design as the best explanation for the fine-tuning, but there is nothing about the premises of the arguments that require orderly systems to be envisaged. And I have no idea why Mackie thinks otherwise.

But he also makes a more interesting objection. That is, he claims that, since the initial conditions of the universe (whatever they end up being) will explain why life and other orderly systems can exist, then it is too much to wonder why those conditions, and not others, were the case. That is, these conditions explain the state we’re in, and we’d be overloading the explanation to ask why the potential for this state was in those conditions. As such, Mackie insists that we simply not ask this question.

Indeed. We would be overloading that explanation for the very simple reason that it isn’t good enough.

The fact that the conditions of early Earth explain why it is hospitable to life does not answer the question “what caused those conditions to be what they are?”. I think Mackie would agree that replying with “they caused life, and it’s unfair to want an explanation as to how they might have come to be such that they could cause life” as a valid response.

But this is precisely his argument with respect to the universe.

And this fits into what seems to be a larger pattern. The origin of the universe is the single most obvious (to materialists) problem with materialism. When issues surrounding it are raised, the materialist’s response always seems to be a variation on “let’s not answer that question”.

But, so long as one is allowed to dismiss the questions that one’s worldview can’t answer, then there is never any real consideration going on. The only thing left to do is drop the pretense that we’re giving theism a fair hearing.

But Mackie has more to say about the argument for design. I’ll continue with that next.


(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.


Popping the Bubble Universes

3132081787_df9045a1fa_zIn yesterday’s post, I claimed that I respect those atheists who defend the multiverse as an explanation for the fine tuning of the universe more than those who refuse to adopt a position on the matter. That is for good reason, their position is clearly stronger. But I should explain why I don’t find it persuasive.

It would be misleading of me not to mention that I suspect that there is a multiverse. I actually leaned toward it on theological grounds (that God would have made multiple universes) long before I’d heard of String Theory. What I have a hard time believing in is the idea that the multiverse gives the naturalist a legitimate alternative to belief in God.

That is, I reject the idea that God and the multiverse are on equal evidentiary grounds. There is no evidence at all that points to a multiverse which does not equally point to a designer of the universe. However, there are a number of good reasons for believing in God which don’t point to a multiverse.

As to those reasons (the arguments for the existence of God), it would take me too far off topic to rehearse them in this post. The point is that the atheist must show that they all fail completely in order to support the claim that the multiverse and God are equally valid. The bold declarations of the New Atheists aside, no one has come close to doing this.

But this would only get us to equality. It would take still more work to get us to the point that the multiverse is the better option. The only argument on this point, so far as I know, is the idea that the multiverse is simple.

The problem with that statement is that it is false. I’m not sure what definition of “simple” is being used, but astronomically high numbers of universes, each with its own set of constants and quantities, and an external mechanism which randomly sets these constants, is not simple by any definition.

But, as complex as it is, the multiverse doesn’t explain nearly so much as people tend to assume. The idea of the multiverse, after all, is that if there were a great number of universes, then we would find ourselves in the universe that can support us (this is known as the anthropic principle).

Of course, this leads us to the problem of the Boltzman Brain: the overwhelming majority of observable universes (given naturalism) would be observed by brains which randomly fluctuate out of quantum vacuum energy, complete with false memories in many cases.

That is to say that the naturalist, if she is a believer in the multiverse, has good reason to think that she is more likely a delusional brain fluctuating out of the quantum vacuum than a person in a relatively stable universe. This, in turn, is reason to doubt everything she believes, including science.

Part of me suspects that the multiverse is protected mostly by a vaguely scientific aura that it wears like armor. It seems to enjoy some of the mythos of science without having any of the supporting evidence which is usually required. And, followed to its logical conclusion (if one is a naturalist), it actually undermines science.

But, once one realizes that it isn’t a scientific theory, it is very hard to believe that this position is intellectually superior (or even equal) to theism.