Questions Concerning the Fine-Tuning Argument
We donʼt know if any other set of constants and laws are even possible. It could be that the cosmos is as the cosmos is and does what the cosmos does, and asking why makes as much or as little sense for naturalists as the question of why God is as God is—and does what God does—makes for theists.
We also donʼt know that the constants can vary independently from one another. They may all be related to one another or to some more fundamental feature. Kind of like saying that maybe you cannot stretch just one characteristic of the cosmos because it is connected with all the other characteristics, so hypothetical cosmoses with different constants canʼt exist, or, stretching one part a little results in other constants nudging it back into equilibrium, because a cosmos is a single interconnected whole.
Physicists disagree over just how many absolutely fundamental constants there are. We used to think there were as many as 40 fundamental constants, including the boiling point of water. Now we know that this derives from quantum mechanics, and the number of fundamental constants is now down to six or less. So this universe may be the only way it can go. In 2000 Martin Rees wrote Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe, the genesis of the universe elegantly explained in a simple theory based on just six numbers by one of the worldʼs most renowned astrophysicists. In 2007 a team of physicist in Brazil whittled down that number to just two (according to this article). Two constants should be enough to explain the cosmos. Their work shows how some constants are more fundamental than others— some are merely useful, whereas perhaps precisely two are indispensable. While others have argued that no constants are needed: that the universe can be described using ratios alone, so that there are no ‘natural’ units.
It may not be that our universe is as special as we think; there could be many others that are special or interesting in different ways. Life could arise through different means or different chemistries or different physical laws, if those even exist.
There may be standard physical mechanisms for producing multiple separate universes with different laws. If so, the existence of one like ours would no longer be unexpected. We might never be able to detect the other universes, but we may able to prove they should be there.
—Richard Smith, a brief excerpt from Scientist-Believers: Troublesome Routes Across the Compatibility Chasm with added edits by EB
The Fine-Tuning Question is “Something We Donʼt Understand Well Enough Yet”—Tim Mauldin, Philosopher
Astrobiology Has Not Made the Case for God, Lawrence Krauss, Jan. 24, 2015
Ways in Which a Fine-Tuned Cosmos Might Imply the Truth of Atheism by Cole Hellier, Professor of Astrophysics at Keele University in the UK
The late Victor Stegner had his final reply to the “fine-tuning” argument published in his 2014 work, God and the Multiverse
Astronomer and Christian, Luke Barnes, who specializes in defending the “fine-tuning” argument, provides hyperlinks to “decent critiques of the [fine-tuning] argument” in the last sentence of this blog piece in which he says, “Try Sean Carroll, Paul Davies, Alex Vilenkin, Leonard Susskind, Bradley Monton”
Atheist Richard Carrier briefly sums up his arguments against Design (Fine Tuning and Biogenesis)
Questions concerning Fine-tuning and Intelligent Design
I.D.ists argue for fine-tuning for “intelligent life,” but what does fine-tuning mean exactly? Is “intelligent life” merely a euphemism for the human species, or does fine-tuning predict that species other than humans will also arise with higher than average levels of “intelligence” like apes, dolphins, elephants, crows, and grey parrots? And what do the vast majority of less highly intelligent forms of life have to do with the goal of fine-tuning? Does fine-tuning also predict malaria and thousands of organisms that parasitize or prey on humans? How specific is fine-tuning really?
Does fine-tuning predict common descent? Does it predict both common descent and natural mutations (deleterious, neutral, beneficial) and the small ratio of organisms that successfully pass along their genes each generation, and the multitude of species that simply go extinct along the way? What would falsify Fine-Tuning?
If the properties of carbon, water, DNA, and the conditions on the early earth count as evidence in favor of fine-tuning, then what does the so-called impossibility of the spontaneous origin of life (as alleged by I.Dʼists) count as? Does it count as evidence against fine-tuning?
Is fine-tuning both necessary and sufficient to explain life on earth? If fine-tuning is not sufficient, and additional designing or intervention must be done in many steps over billions of years, does that mean the cosmos was not sufficiently fine-tuned for life? A seeming majority of I.Dʼists claim that the major architectural features of life - molecular machinery, cells, genetic circuitry - had to have been added separately one-by-one at widely different times in a manner that violates the genetic continuity of life.
Does fine-tuning mean anything more than the trivial statement that certain properties of matter and energy are necessary for the origin and the existence of life?
—Gert Korthofʼs questions in his review of Beheʼs The Edge of Evolution, edited by EB
My own posts on such questions (followed by shorter more recent musings)
- Can a fine-tuner admit that their PARTICULAR conception might be the result of impersonal probabilities rather than finely directed teleological design?
- On Complexity and the Cosmos. The ability of humans to discover things about the cosmos demonstrates our closeness with the cosmos
- Quotations from Sir Martin Rees and Paul Davies, Handy to have since fine-tuners often selectively quote from Rees and Davies
- Prior prejudices and the argument from reason: Is the ability to reason evidence that naturalism is false?
- Problems with Reconciling Christianity and Evolution (based on the book, Evolving Out of Eden by Robert M. Price & Edwin Suominen)
- Why We Believe in a Designer [satire of the views of those who make such a proposal, loaded with WTF examples from nature]
- The Problem of Pain in Nature
- Did humans arrive on the earth at the ideal moment in time? Was the time of hunanityʼs arrival on earth finely tuned?
- Mark Twain Questions the Intelligent Design Hypothesis
- The Most Provocative Things Ever Said About the way God Designed the Cosmos
- The Not-So-Intelligent Designer (Or, The Divine Tinkerer Hypothesis)
- On The Second Law of Thermodynamics (Entropy) & The Bible
The fact that we have nothing to compare this cosmos with makes the fine-tuning argument problematic. Thereʼs our lack of knowledge concerning what preceded the cosmos. And our lack of knowledge concerning how it will end (Big Freeze, Big Crunch, Big Rip, Big Bang Sprouting More Big Bangs, Big Collision?), or how such an ending may relate to the existence or birthing of new cosmoses. Nor do we know whether or not other cosmoses already exist or what any of them are like, or why they might be like they are. In short we have nothing to compare our cosmos with. Kind of like waking up one day with no memory of the past and no sure ideas about the future, looking in a mirror and imagining that the face of the upright ape staring back at you has been fine-tuned to be exactly so. How would you know that for sure?
The fine-tuning argument does not say any species is extinction-proof. The cosmos gives via evolution and takes away via extinction. The most one can say is that at present life and death in this cosmos appear to be in equilibrium with one another, with individual living things existing on relatively teensy time scales (compared with the length of time stars and black holes can exist). Also, living things only seem to flourish in the smallest corners of the cosmos.
Nor do we know whatʼs in store for our own species in the future, how our species may change, split or diversify, or how our future human cousins will view us. We might seem to them like mere upright apes or at best Neanderthals in their eyes, if they have what we would call eyes. Or our civilization and species might devolve and our cranial capacity shrink (speaking of which some of our ancestorʼs craniums from the Ice Age reveal larger cranial capacities than our species has today), until our species in the future canʼt speak at all, or becomes extinct and the cosmos burns on without us for eons (it certainly has enough fuel to do so). There might be aliens out there with more advanced technology whose success at focusing on their own long term survival far exceeds ours. Or maybe we (or some alien species) will learn to compliment or enhance our brains via genetics or quantum computer implants, or do the same for cousin species, raising them to our level of consciousness, or perhaps linking our consciousness with theirs.
The odds of the earth staying completely “asteroid-strike-free” diminish year by year, and the sun-earth system can last for at least another billion years during which time any number of purely natural disasters grow increasingly more likely to occur, not just climate change. Even a single solar flare could throw civilization back to the dark ages. And after the next billion or two years the sun will most likely expand as older stars do and devour our planet in flames, or our galaxy will collide with the oncoming Andromeda galaxy. Planet earth may not have been struck by a major-extinction-causing asteroid in a while but the large crater in Arizona was formed by a fairly large asteroid that hit that region about 30,000 years ago, and I read an article that said the earliest humans to reach North America via the land bridge from Asia during the ice age may have been wiped out by meteors that landed in North America at that time because archaeologists discovered a gap between the earliest evidence of settlers in North America who died at the time of such impacts, and a second wave of humans who crossed the land bridge into North America. Also, humans only evolved recently but the cosmos has a far longer “sell by” date, billions of years to go, so itʼs not remarkable that an asteroid has not yet wiped us out, but also watch out for quakes beneath Yellowstone and the super volcanoes elsewhere on the planet the could erupt since thereʼs whole buried forests in the fossil record from past series of such eruptions.
Fine-tuned for what? The cosmos supports all manner of living things, suffering things, and dead or extinct things.
We live in a cosmos just as fine-tuned for living things as for the cancers that arise inside them.
We live in a cosmos just as fine-tuned for mega-viruses as they are for the smaller average-sized viruses that attack the mega-viruses. Hot virus on virus action.
If the cosmos is fine-tuned or designed, then what am I to make of human beings who only seem “designed” or “fine-tuned” enough to be miscarried (happens about 50% of the time to every human egg cell that is fertilized, as even pro-lifers admit).
Other humans only seem “designed” or “fine-tuned” to be the twin in the womb that vanishes (google “Vanishing Twin Syndrome”)—about 30% of all single children born used to have a twin in the womb that was either absorbed by the womb or the remaining twin.
Others only seem “designed” or “fine-tuned” to become chronically ill, crippled, deformed, due to malnutrition (through no fault of their own if they happen to live in a place with zinc-poor soil, or iodine poor soil), or their nutritional deficiencies lead to inadequate brain maturation.
Others only seem “design” or “fine-tuned” to be born with genes that rolled out of their parents gonads like a pair of snake-eyed dice, leaving the child to suffer any number of painful or hideous consequences. Including one defect that makes the childʼs skin blister with pain at the touch of objects and people (epidermolysis bullosa, a virtually untreatable disorder characterized by widespread and constant blistering of the skin, so that there is no part of the body on which an infant can lie without pain).
Others only seem “designed” or “fine-tuned” to be the food for microbes and parasites (not only human young, but the young of all species). In the mid 1700s, the French naturalist, Buffon, remarked that among children who survived birth, half of them died before reaching the age of eight.
For further examples from the natural world see this piece at the Talk Origins Archive.
When discussing probabilities it looks like any number of persons other than me could have arrived on the scene (judging by the numbers of sperm, eggs, different genetics, different upbringings, different circumstances possible). The same thought occurs concerning the particular species of which I happen to be a member. Was it necessary for the human species as we now know it, to have arrived on the scene? Same question applies to all other species of course, not just ours, but every species that arose before ours. How fine-tuned was the entire evolutionary tree of life? Or was chance and randomness a part of the picture from the beginning of life on earth right up to the circumstance of which sperm reached which egg to produce me?
The cosmos also appears just as fine-tuned for evolution as it is for extinction. Life is at best in equilibrium with death throughout the cosmos. And the cosmos is just as fine-tuned for the microbes that eat us as it is for the microbes and other organisms we eat.
“Coincidence” is not a very clear word since it could refer to either planned or unplanned things that coincide with one another. The cosmos at this particular point in time is filled with relatively pleasant coincidences for our species and also many natural horrors that include microbes and parasites that exist by devouring and/our crippling our species which a relatively pleasant cosmic coincidence for them and their species. And who knows how pleasant or not things will be for our species in the near future? Our species is a cosmic newcomer and might vanish soon after our arrival, or devolve, or hopefully find ways to survive. But even if our species becomes extinct the stars and black holes will be around for billions of years to come.
What if the human species vanishes soon? Will “fine-tuners” admit the cosmos was only fine-tuned enough to sustain intelligent life for a miniscule amount of cosmic time?
What can we tell about design from studying nature?
The multi-cellular organisms with the greatest known number of species are beetles and mites. We know of hundreds of thousands of species of each. The number of species of beetles as well as mites might even reach over 1 million according to some estimates as more beetles and mites continue being discovered all the time. (I had a dog once that was suffering from an infestation of mites. Not pretty.)
If the earth was designed with the forethought of an infinitely wise and infinitely resourceful Being, why all the volcanoes, tsunamis, cold snaps, heat waves, large tracts of barely walkable or useable land? Why such a large percentage of humans throughout history never able to obtain all the vitamins, minerals and proteins they require to grow up maximally healthy? To give but one example, there are tracts of land on earth where zinc is naturally deficient in the soil and percentages of children grow up cretinous as result. Thatʼs just one example.
And if the cosmos was designed via the forethought of an infinitely wise and infinitely resourceful Being why do things keep bumping into one another? Not just meteors and comets striking planets and leaving behind evidence of such strikes in endless craters, but exploding suns and flaring stars that destroy planets, as well as whole galaxies colliding with one another, and even whole clusters of galaxies colliding with one another. And if the body is so perfectly designed, why the need for medical science to treat us for so many things that can and do go wrong?
One has to wonder. The questions are always there.
Including the fact that a wide range of alternatives that lie between the God of orthodox Christianity and atheism. Speaking of which, how can one tell the difference between a Designer and a Tinkerer? The cosmos includes enormous amounts of pain, death, extinction over time, trial and error, and also jury-rigged systems that arise from attempting to stretch the use of previous designs by reusing them in new ways for which they never were originally intended, or build new designs right on top of old ones. The human body is a kluge. So is the human brain. All of which leads one to at least suspect that any Designer one chooses to believe in was less than infinitely competent.
Only recently in the human drama has science, technology, engineering and medicine allowed large numbers of humans to live in relative comfort and safety, with enough food, well built shelters, treatments for illness, and early warning systems of weather patterns. But for countless years neither our species nor any other enjoyed such comfort and relative peace and safety. We have only recently solved many problems concerning a host of illnesses, discomforts and dangers inherent in life on this rock spinning through space, allowing us to say goodbye to many of the ways the earth was “fine-tuned” for suffering, natural disasters, pandemics, or just plain confusion of languages, let alone confusion of religions and philosophies, politics and sexuality.
During a debate ask the theist if they are experiencing the presence of God right now, or the Holy Spirit. Then ask them to describe in detail what they are experiencing to the crowd, and if there are any explicit messages God or the Holy Spirit is telling them to share? If they canʼt come up with anything specific to relate then admit you donʼt appear to be experiencing the presence of God nor hearing any words from Him either, so youʼre both on equal footing.
A question theists ask
“Why do we live just to die?”
“Why do we wake up just to sleep?”
Response by atheist David G. McAfee
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