Monday, March 24, 2014

Perspectives: Fine tuning argument

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I'm still discussing the perspective we take to God arguments and how that determines the outcome. This is an example, the fine tuning argument. This not an attempt to prove the argument but to show what difference attitude makes.

            The first such example of a God argument is that of “fine tuning.” Fine tuning is a subset of the anthropic principle, the idea that the universe is somehow biased in favor of life bearing. Fine tuning says that there are target levels that have to be hit exactly right in order for life to develop in a universe and hitting each one of them is so vastly improbable that the odds indicate some selection, some principle that is capable of selecting for life and controlling events in such a way as to make things happen rightly for the furtherance of life. This is evidence of mind behind the scenes. This is a design argument but it avoids the usual pitfalls of design. That is most design arguments are problematic because they don’t have a known designed universe to compare this one too. Conversely they don’t have a universe that we know is not designed to compare to. That makes it tough to say what actually design is. Yet we know what must be design if we can attach probability to the development of life. All that is not the target level is random and what hits the target must be assumed as design because it’s so unlikely. As I have said I won’t go into great depth on this argument, but just to give cursory explanation. The argument has many critics and a lot of arguments against it, but it is also very defensible if one does one’s homework. The major proponents of the argument are probably Paul Davies and Robin Collins (Messiah College in Grantham Pennsylvania). [1] Davies argues that there is a consensus among physicists and cosmologists that the universe is for the building blocks of life. That is to say the environments required for life are fine tuned.[2]
            For examples of fine turning we can turn to Andrei Linde who gives several. He refers to these as “puzzles” that forced physicists to look more closely at the standard theory:[3]

*First example, the problem of curved space and the flat universe. The General theory of relativity suggests curved space. The typical radius on the order o the Planck length (10^-33 centimeter). Yet, as Linde points out, the universe is flat on a scale 10^28 centimeters—“the radius of the observable part of the universe. This result of our observation differs from theoretical expectations by more than 60 orders of magnitude”[4]

*size of the universe: Our part of the universe contains at least IO^88 elementary particles.

But why is the universe so big? If one takes a universe of a typical initial size given by the Planck length and a typical initial density equal to the Planck density, then, using the standard big bang theory, one can calculate how many elementary particles such a universe might encompass. The answer is rather unexpected: the entire universe should only be large enough to accommodate just one elementary particle or at most 10 of them. it would be unable to house even a single reader of Scientiftc American, who consists of about 10^29 elementary particles. Obviously something is wrong with this theory.[5]

* Timing of expansion: In standard form the Big Bang theory suggests that all part of the universe began expanding simultaneously. How this could work, or what mechanism timed the expansion we can’t say.

* Distribution of matter in the universe: Matter is distributed with great uniformity. “Over 10 Billion light years it departs from perfect homogeneity by less than one part in 10,000…”

One of the cornerstones of the standard cosmology was the 'cosmological principle," which asserts that the universe must be homogeneous. This assumption. however, does not help much, because the universe incorporates important deviations from homogeneity, namely. stars, galaxies and other agglomerations of matter. Tence, we must explain why the universe is so uniform on large scales and at the same time suggest some mechanism that produces galaxies.[6]

*uniqueness Problem:

Finally, there is what I call the uniqueness problem. AIbert Einstein captured its essence when he said: "What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world." Indeed, slight changes in the physical constants of nature could have made the universe unfold in a completeIy, different manner. ..... In some theories, compactilication can occur in billions of different ways. A few years ago it would have seemed rather meaningless to ask why space-time has four dimensions, why the gravitational constant is so small or why the proton is almost 2,000 times heavier than the electron. New developments in elementary particle physics make answering these questions crucial to understanding the construction of our world.[7]

The reason the list begins with the second example is because the first example is the big bang itself, that’s not really fine tuning per se. It is interesting that he mentions it because he states that the question of laws is still the major problem for physicists. This was back in 97 but that’s still true. The final paragraph is crucial he says these puzzles could have turned out differently and had that been the case the universe would have been totally different. He even points out that aspects of it could have worked out in billions of different ways. He doesn’t say it but that would suggest that meeting the target levels in just the right way for life to flourish (at least on one planet) is remarkable. There several standard examples used by those who make the fine tuning argument.
            Taking post shots at fine turning is immensely popular. Almost everyone admits the universe seems to be fine turned and that if these specifications were not met life would not abound. Yet there are a number of scholarly articles that purport to take the teeth out of the argument. Bradly Monton in an argument for British Journal for the Philosophy of Science states:

The fundamental constants that are involved in the laws of physics which describe our universe are finely tuned for life, in the sense that if some of the constants had slightly different values life could not exist. Some people hold that this provides evidence for the existence of God. I will present a probabilistic version of this fine-tuning argument which is stronger than all other versions in the literature. Nevertheless, I will show that one can have reasonable opinions such that the fine-tuning argument doesn't lead to an increase in one's probability for the existence of God.[8]

Matthew Kotzen makes a minimalist defense of the argument based upon the “likelihood principle” which seems somewhat in the vain of Bayes’ Theorem.

The idea behind LP, then, is that if one hypothesis makes E objectively more likely than another hypothesis, then the fact that E actually does occur is some evidence for the first hypothesis over the second. While there are certainly some philosophers who have raised doubts about the core idea behind LP,2 that core idea has been extremely influential and is accepted in some form by nearly all so-called ‘Likelihoodists’ and ‘Bayesians’.[9]

He overcomes the anthropic bias argument that says when all the evidence is taken into account we realize that fine tuning is just focusing on something which should be expected as a unremarkable part of the cosmic layout. He points out that critics mean different things by “take all evidence into account” and the likelihood principle establishes the validity of the argument. Of course the problem is this evokes the kind of selective bias discussed in chapter eight (can science disprove God?) in connection with Bayes. Yet it may be the bias can be over come but there wont be new information on the divine reality as it is beyond our understanding. The argument can’t make God more probable. It can, however, point up the value in the warrant for belief bestowed by the evidence of fine tuning. It can’t be proof of God’s existence, or lack thereof. Again, we are confronted by the reality that one’s perspective plays a huge role in how one sees God arguments.
            The major argument against fine tuning is the multi-verse, or “many worlds theory,” (MWT). Andre Linde who’s arguments I use above to document the problem of fine tuning, also appeals to the Multiverse to answer it.[10] The idea is that if you only have one space/time universe then the entire fine tuning coincidences are so amazingly against the odds, but if you have a billon such worlds, or even an unlimited supply, the odds against hitting the target just go way down. It’s not remarkable to think that out of a billion planets we just happen to be in one that hit it big for life. After all had we not been in that kind of planet we wouldn’t know about it. That idea comes from Kant’s attack on the cosmological argument. Of course there is no empirical proof to support the idea of a multi-verse. There are mathematical models that seem to support the idea. There is no real empirical proof of one, and probably never will be. It’s really an act of faith to throw away the possibly of God merely because there might be this other possibility that one clings to merely because it answers a possibility we don’t wish to accept. Moreover, even with a multi-verse the furthering of intelligent life and consciousness requires such precision that the multi-verse mechanism would have to also be fine tuned to produce a world with conscious agents in it. [11] Just knowing that other words are possible or even that they exist is not enough. We would have to know the hit rate, that is, what percentage of them bear life? That’s important because just producing one intelligent life bearing planet (not enough just to get any kind of life, but “higher order” life) would still be amazingly amazing. So we need to know what percentage because only if it’s a major percentage (maybe 15%) could we say it’s not amazing that there is a such a world.
            The multiverse is also the reverse gambler’s fallacy.

Some people think that if you roll the dice repeatedly and don't get double sixes, then you are more likely to get double sixes on the next roll. They are victims of the notorious gambler's fallacy. In a 1987 article in Mind, the philosopher Ian Hacking sees a kindred bit of illogic behind the Many Universes Hypothesis. Suppose you enter a room and see a guy roll a pair of dice. They come up double sixes. You think, "Aha, that is very unlikely on a single roll, so he must have rolled the dice many times before I walked into the room." You have committed what Hacking labels the inverse gambler's fallacy.[12]

            Another objection to the theory of fine tuning would be to propose a higher principle of organization that is responsible for the fine tuning, thus passing the problem along to a higher level. An example of this is the inflationary model of expansion. The article cited above by Linde contains his own attempt to do this by trying to answer the issues or “puzzles” he raises by use of scalar fields as part of the inflationary model.[13] That’s really just putting the problem off a level, and the mechanism itself would have to be fine tuned. "The inflationary model can succeed only by fine-tuning its parameters, and even then, relative to some natural measures on initial conditions, it may also have to fine-tune its initial conditions for inflation to work."[14] The notion that there might be higher mechanisms and deeper structures making for life bearing and life flourishing universes could in itself be understood as part of the order, and that might be seen as product of mind; it is still a matter of perspective.
            Recent discoveries have indicated that there are thousands of earth-like planets out there. The Keck observatory observe (Nov. 3, 2013) What this means is, when you look up at the thousands of stars in the night sky, the nearest sun-like star with an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone is probably only 12 light years away and can be seen with the naked eye. That is amazing," said UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura, who led the analysis of the Kepler and Keck Observatory data.[15]
That sounds like a real disproof of the fine tuning argument. Life bearing planets are so plentiful they orbit every fifth star. That’s not exactly true. The study says Earth  “size” planet. That doesn’t necessarily translate into life-bearing:

The team, which also included planet hunter Geoffrey Marcy, UC Berkeley professor of astronomy, cautioned that Earth-size planets in Earth-size orbits are not necessarily hospitable to life, even if they orbit in the habitable zone of a star where the temperature is not too hot and not too cold.
"Some may have thick atmospheres, making it so hot at the surface that DNA-like molecules would not survive. Others may have rocky surfaces that could harbor liquid water suitable for living organisms," Marcy said. "We don't know what range of planet types and their environments are suitable for life."[16]
Moreover, they have to get through the initial phase of just getting a galaxy set up, the things Linde spoke of such Plank density. That would be wildly improbable. We can’t assume just because there are other life bearing planets that means that we don’t live in a universe created by God. We are long past the days when we need to make assumptions such as “God only cares about earth.”
            Yet my purpose in discussing it is not to add an independent argument but to use it as a further support for my point that there is real distinction behind the differences in prescriptive and descriptive laws of physics, the reality being described is prescriptive in the sense that it is made up of a deeply structured order that appears to be wrought for the purpose of producing intelligent life and thus, we can understand that order as an organizing principle that is the product of mind. This is apt to be understood as argument from design and I really don’t want that. If it is a grand design then so be it, perhaps I’ve found a way to make a design argument work, but I think it’s more than that. I think the real argument has more to do with the need to understand mind as the necessary basis or organizing principle. It has never made much sense to me to think of some disembodied set of order just standing around making things happen, yet there’s no reason for it. While design argument might cast God in the anthropomorphic role of great building contractor in the sky, the realization of a mind-based organizing principle upon which the order and complexity of the universe depends might transcend that anthropomorphic image. Certainly the need for such a principle to “fix the game” of the universe and set the target levels is one more aspect that points to mind.


[1] Collins attended Washington State University. He has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Notre Dame where he studied under Alvin Plantinga, and did two years in a Ph.D. program in Physics at U.T. Austin. Robin Collins' Curriculum Vita. Accessed Feb 22, 2013. URL: 
[2] Paul Davies (2003). "How bio-friendly is the universe". Op cit
[3] Andrei Linde, “Self Reproducing Inflationary Universe.” originally published Scientific American oct 1997, 99-104, 99.  now archived as pdf: URL:
Linde is Russian, went to Mascow University, he was one of the originators of inflationary theory. He has been professor of physics at Standford.
[4] Ibid., 99
[5] Ibid., 99
[6] Ibid., 99-100
[7] ibid., 99-100
[8] Bradely Monton, “God, Fine Tuning and the Problem of Old Evidence.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. Oxford Journals. ·  Volume 57, Issue 2 (2006)
[9] Matthew Kotzen, “Selection biases in Likelihood arguments.” British Journal for The Philosophy of Science. ·  Volume 63, Issue 4 , (2012) 825-839
[10] Andre Linde, Interview by Tim Folger, “Science’s Alternative to Intelligent Creator: The Multiverse Theory,” Discover Magazine, Interview dated Nov 10, 2008, but it appears in the Decemeber issue for 2008. On line version:  accessed 3/17/14.
[11] Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe, NewYork: Basic Books, 2000.
[12] Jim Holt, "War of the Worlds: Do you believe in God? Or in multiple universes?" Lingua Franca, December 2000/January 2001
[13] Andre Linde, op cit. 102-104.
[14] Earman, John. Bangs, Crunches, Wimpers, and Shrieks: Singularities and Acausalities in Relativistic Spacetimes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995., p. 156
[15] Keck Observatory representative, “odds are on oodles of Earths,” published by Jet Propulsion Libratory, California Insitute of Technology for NASA on “Earth Quest.” Wesbite. Nov 4, 2013.
[16] Ibid.


Anonymous said...

Fine tuning argument is not at all necessary for proving the existence of God, because light with its very peculiar properties can serve this purpose as well. Here is a link:

Joe Hinman said...

link here