Mark Frank on “fine tuning” argument

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The “fine-tuning” argument is a version of the creationist interpretation of the antropic coincidences argument. Its essence is an asseveration that the physical constants must have values within extremely narrow limits in order for life to exist. Since the constants indeed have such values as is necessary for life existence, those values, according to creationists, point to the intelligent design of the universe. Many counter-arguments have been suggested refuting the “fine-tuning” argument. Mathematician Mark Frank suggests one more counter-argument from an angle somehow differing from those suggested hitherto. The full text of Frank’s essay can be seen here.

186 Comments

Perhaps the greatest argument against the proposition that the structure of the universe was designed with us in mind is the argument put forward by William Dembski.

According to his argument, the structure of the universe is such that many, many events since its creation – the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the development of irreducibly complex structures, the ensoulment of h. sapiens etc. – which are required for us to be in our present state could not possibly have happened without the “finely tuned” laws of the universe having been abrogated.

However, these observations are compatible with the Multiple Designer Hypothesis. Whoever designed us clearly found the fundamental laws of the universe poorly-tuned for the life they wanted to create.

Since the vast majority of Intelligent Design supporters are really Creationists, I usally will give them the benefit of the fine-tuning argument as a given for the existence of an intelligent designer and then grill them on why the existence of an intelligent designer supports the existence of their God. At this point, they usually give up. Or, in the case of the real fundie nutjobs, they pull out “scientific proofs” in the Bible or Koran. At that point, you know there’s no point in arguing further.

These so-called “fine tuning” arguments are just as silly as the thermodynamic arguments. They fall into the same category of misconceptions and misrepresentations derived from “it’s so improbable it can’t happen (hence creator or intelligent design)” arguments.

Just as they try to lay out the territory and conceptual framework for debate in every other area, the ID/Creationists are pulling the same shtick here. Just who are they to decide what specific combination of fundamental constants produces a universe with life? This is simply an assertion on their part. In point of fact, the ID/Creationists have no idea whatsoever what ranges of value and what combinations of variations in these values could lead to life. They are just throwing out crap to argue and make assertions they simply cannot back up.

Again, at the heart of the argument is the same fundamental misconception that what currently exists is the goal or only possible outcome of the evolution of life. It’s the same fallacy of the difference between the probability of a specific individual winning the lottery and someone winning the lottery.

These people have no imagination whatsoever. They take the same misconceptions and simply use them over and over to make up garbage arguments to leverage the coat tails of scientists.

What about their own problems with their deities? After a couple of centuries of sectarian warfare, killings in the names of deities, and all the inconsistencies in their holy books, and now their misrepresentations of science, what is the probability that any of them know what they are talking about? How can they possibly know which deity, if any, created anything?

Given their history along with their constant misrepresentations of science, I would suggest that the probability that they know anything about how life did or didn’t arise is much closer to zero than any probability they can come up with for evolution having occurred.

Thanks, Mark - that was an interesting and well-written article, and a good point. Since we have no idea as to the source or cause of these universal constants, we have no idea as to the range of “possible values” they might take, and thus can make no statement as to how probable or improbable is the “fine-tuning” we think we see.

Andrew Lee said:

According to his argument, the structure of the universe is such that many, many events since its creation – the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the development of irreducibly complex structures, the ensoulment of h. sapiens etc. – which are required for us to be in our present state could not possibly have happened without the “finely tuned” laws of the universe having been abrogated.

Did Dembski really make that argument? I think he left out Leprechauns and Bigfoot. He sounds like a pretty good “scientist”. Yah.

Somewhat similar to Jack’s argument I have always envisioned that there are in fact a large number of solutions to the “universe” with all kinds of different combinations of constants being possible, we just happen to be looking at a particular one. In fact the different solutions might not even be connected numerically (i.e. you can’t just slide from one to another by changing the values).

If the probability of the physical constants having the necessary values for life is 10^-n, and the probability of an intelligent being with the ability to create a universe and alter its physical laws (who has always existed, in some place other than space and time), is 10^-m, then surely m >>> n.

In any case fine-tuning arguments – even if they were correct – don’t at all contradict evolution by natural selection. A designer who sets up the whole universe to achieve some goal might either intervene zillions of times later, or not intervene and just let evolution do the rest. William Dembski’s most recent arguments are that information is not created by natural selection, but is already lying around and is just transferred into the organisms by natural selection. Even if these arguments were totally convincing they would leave natural selection as the mechanism for achieving adaptation, and push the designer’s role back to setting up the initial conditions for the universe. This is hugely different from Dembski’s original arguments, which tried to argue that natural selection could not build in adaptive information at all. Those arguments have been totally disproven.

Should we really be worried about the fine-tuning argument? If the fundamentalist churches accepted the fine-tuning argument, but also accepted evolution, this be a vastly superior state of affairs for biology. Further, I don’t see that the fine-tuning argument is currently incompatible with science … the current belief is indeed that the vast majority of settings of physical constants would not support life.

Peter Shro said:

Should we really be worried about the fine-tuning argument? If the fundamentalist churches accepted the fine-tuning argument, but also accepted evolution, this be a vastly superior state of affairs for biology. Further, I don’t see that the fine-tuning argument is currently incompatible with science … the current belief is indeed that the vast majority of settings of physical constants would not support life.

But if God fine-tuned the start of the universe why would he not adjust the DNA as it evolved? Why would he not be allowed to adjust the system once it started?

iioo said:

Peter Shro said:

Should we really be worried about the fine-tuning argument? If the fundamentalist churches accepted the fine-tuning argument, but also accepted evolution, this be a vastly superior state of affairs for biology. Further, I don’t see that the fine-tuning argument is currently incompatible with science … the current belief is indeed that the vast majority of settings of physical constants would not support life.

But if God fine-tuned the start of the universe why would he not adjust the DNA as it evolved? Why would he not be allowed to adjust the system once it started?

That’s a slippery slope argument, and I am really uncomfortable with them. First, they are not in any way scientific, and if we start out using by non-scientific arguments, we’ll probably end up manufacturing our data. Second, you can argue pretty much anything you want using slippery slope arguments.

The issue I’ve always had with fine-tuning arguments is that, as is so often the case, positing a deity doesn’t actually appear to explain anything. Whatever range of Universes is actually possible, an omnipotent deity would be capable of creating any of them. Therefore simply positing a deity doesn’t help; we must posit a deity whose selection criteria for Universe-making happen to match our Universe.

In other words, the proposed explanation for a fine-tuned Universe is a fine-tuned deity, which is no explanation at all.

Jack Krebs said:

Thanks, Mark - that was an interesting and well-written article, and a good point. Since we have no idea as to the source or cause of these universal constants, we have no idea as to the range of “possible values” they might take, and thus can make no statement as to how probable or improbable is the “fine-tuning” we think we see.

Thanks Jack. In retrospect it seems rather like stating the obvious - but I couldn’t see it expressed elsewhere.

I am flattered to be described as a mathematician. My first degree was in philosophy - altogether easier to wing it.

Another problem with the fine-tuning argument is that humans occupy a ‘middling position’ in terms of environmental requirements. There are critters that can exist in a wider range of environments, and critters that can exist in a much smaller range of environments. This makes it impossible to fashion a consistent argument that the universe was designed for humans.

For example: if you try to argue that humanity’s success is evidence for fine-tuning, you are really arguing that the universe is designed for bacteria. OTOH if you try to argue that humanity’s rarity is evidence for design (we must be special, because an entire universe was made solely for the production of a small place where we can dwell), you are really arguing that the universe was designed for deep-sea volcanic vent-dwellers.

Thus, even if you believe the statement “the universe was designed,” there is no good reason to think “…for humans” belongs on the end of it.

MartinM said:

The issue I’ve always had with fine-tuning arguments is that, as is so often the case, positing a deity doesn’t actually appear to explain anything. Whatever range of Universes is actually possible, an omnipotent deity would be capable of creating any of them. Therefore simply positing a deity doesn’t help; we must posit a deity whose selection criteria for Universe-making happen to match our Universe.

In other words, the proposed explanation for a fine-tuned Universe is a fine-tuned deity, which is no explanation at all.

In the essay, there is the equation:

P(M=value which supports life)=Range of values where M supports life / Range of all possible values for M

The critical question to me is whether positing a designer decreases the denominator.

Mark points out that the denominator is indeterminate. You are saying that, even if it is determinate, adding the designer-hypothesis does not change the denominator. I would add that, even if a designer-hypothesis were to change the denominator, it would be to increase the range of possible values, the “wrong” direction, with an omnipotent designer making the range infinite and the P value zero.

“Again, at the heart of the argument is the same fundamental misconception that what currently exists is the goal or only possible outcome of the evolution of life.”

Exactly, every time you see a creotard struggling with statistics, you can bet your life that they do not understand the null hypothesis. All of their infinitesimal probabilities do not pertain to an undesigned universe or to evolution. Their small probabilities are an extremely crude estimate of the probability that if we could roll back time and start all the natural processes over again, that we would inevitably arrive to the exact same universe we experience now.

Since Mark Frank’s essay seems to have invoked interest among PT’s commenters, I’d like to mention that on Talk Reason site (see here ) there is a whole section titled Anthropic Principle which includes a number of essays by Drange, Klee, Circovic-Walker, Himma, Stenger, Jefferys, Ikeda-Jefferys, and myself, wherein the fine tuning argument (and other versions of the “Anthropic” reasoning) are debated.

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

- Rick, Casablanca

eric said:

Another problem with the fine-tuning argument is that humans occupy a ‘middling position’ in terms of environmental requirements. There are critters that can exist in a wider range of environments, and critters that can exist in a much smaller range of environments. This makes it impossible to fashion a consistent argument that the universe was designed for humans.

For example: if you try to argue that humanity’s success is evidence for fine-tuning, you are really arguing that the universe is designed for bacteria. OTOH if you try to argue that humanity’s rarity is evidence for design (we must be special, because an entire universe was made solely for the production of a small place where we can dwell), you are really arguing that the universe was designed for deep-sea volcanic vent-dwellers.

Thus, even if you believe the statement “the universe was designed,” there is no good reason to think “…for humans” belongs on the end of it.

Reminds me of Douglas Adams, who said in Mostly Harmless that ‘One of the extraordinary things about life is the sort of places it’s prepared to put up with living.’ He then goes on to mention a species which finds it comfortable living in a fire storm between the temperatures of 40,000 and 40,004 degrees, and also mentions that some lifeforms will even live in New York. :)

Many of the “fine tuning” arguments commit the fallacy of tweaking only one constant at a time. That strategy is doomed to failure.

“Again, at the heart of the argument is the same fundamental misconception that what currently exists is the goal or only possible outcome of the evolution of life.”

Exactly. And the question is not just whether humans would evolve or not. The question is also whether any kind of life similar to the type we observe on earth could evolve. And it’s even worse than that. The question is really whether any form of life at all could evolve, whether similar to what we know or not.

The fallacy is assuming that there is something special abpout humans, or even just about life as we know it in general. No matter what type of life evolves it would most likely think itself special, that doesn’t mean it is.

So even arguing that a change in the universal constants would mean that no matter could exist still doesn’t rule out the possibility of some other kind of life evolving. Of course it is impossible to determine whether any other type of life could evolve under different circumstances and making that assumption is only begging the question. So, all calculations of probability are based on fundamentally flawed assumptions and are thus worthless. I guess if you need to have an excuse to believe in God you will have to try harder.

Jim Anderson said:

Many of the “fine tuning” arguments commit the fallacy of tweaking only one constant at a time. That strategy is doomed to failure.

The paper that Jim described at decorabilia is now available on arXiv.

That’s a slippery slope argument, and I am really uncomfortable with them. First, they are not in any way scientific, and if we start out using by non-scientific arguments, we’ll probably end up manufacturing our data. Second, you can argue pretty much anything you want using slippery slope arguments.

How about that slippery slope argument where observing beak lengths changes leads us to believe that land animals can evolve in to whales? Now that’s a really slippery slope!

Pretending that we never went over explaining to you that whales did evolve from terrestrial mammals repeatedly at length does not make your assertion true, Bobby. Pretending that we did not simply makes your malicious stupidity all the more painfully obvious.

Bobby the stupid troll trolled:

How about that slippery slope argument where observing beak lengths changes leads us to believe that land animals can evolve in to whales? Now that’s a really slippery slope!

Stanton said:

Pretending that we never went over explaining to you that whales did evolve from terrestrial mammals repeatedly at length does not make your assertion true, Bobby. Pretending that we did not simply makes your malicious stupidity all the more painfully obvious.

Bobby the stupid troll trolled:

How about that slippery slope argument where observing beak lengths changes leads us to believe that land animals can evolve in to whales? Now that’s a really slippery slope!

Wasnt talking to you, your rudeness!

hoj said:

Stanton said:

Pretending that we never went over explaining to you that whales did evolve from terrestrial mammals repeatedly at length does not make your assertion true, Bobby. Pretending that we did not simply makes your malicious stupidity all the more painfully obvious.

Bobby the stupid troll trolled:

How about that slippery slope argument where observing beak lengths changes leads us to believe that land animals can evolve in to whales? Now that’s a really slippery slope!

Wasnt talking to you, your rudeness!

But I really hit a nerve didnt I? Address the slippery slope issue! Wow that really blows apart your arguments.

Joe Felsenstein Wrote:

William Dembski’s most recent arguments are that information is not created by natural selection, but is already lying around and is just transferred into the organisms by natural selection.

:-)

If this is what Dembski is doing, it is little different from Philip Bruce Heywood’s theory that “superconduction plus the Sun, Earth, Moon gravitational system imparts information to electrons.”

Desperately hanging on to the “improbability” shtick leads to some pretty goofy stuff. Just what is all this information that is supposed to be lying around? What is it about? What does it have to do with anything that evolves (or simply exists)?

Does this mean that all things that exist in the universe are the only things that can exist (even those particular icicles on the bird feeder in the back yard)?

And if it is information put there by a sectarian deity, where did the information by which the deity is constructed come from?

It appears that no matter how many versions ID/Creationism there are, the same sectarian ideological genes are still there. In other words, there is no evolution of ID/Creationism outside of “kind.” But what else could we expect?

Mark,

This jerk is a known troll who has been banned by most other moderators here. This is the seventy second alias that it has used. It’s claims are nonsensical and definately off-topic. It has slipped on the slippery slope and fallen on it’s ass once again. Please remove all it’s posts and all it’s subsequent posts to the bathroom wall. Thank you.

Seventy-third alias, actually.

DS said:

Mark,

This jerk is a known troll who has been banned by most other moderators here. This is the seventy second alias that it has used. It’s claims are nonsensical and definately off-topic. It has slipped on the slippery slope and fallen on it’s ass once again. Please remove all it’s posts and all it’s subsequent posts to the bathroom wall. Thank you.

The “fine tuning” argument isn’t really different from the ancient First Cause argument. It doesn’t do much explaining. Our current lack of information about something doesn’t logically open the door for the “theory” that a supernatural agency is responsible.

As for the actual claim that the fundamental constants are “fine tuned,” in the immortal words of Henny Youngman: “Compared to what?”

Thank you everyone for your considerateness.

We all have our starting points, and are all en route to our respective destinations. Along the way, we have to make some decisions regarding how we will live our life, what we will communicate to others as truth, how we will raise our children, and so on.

To the person who asked of Remine, I find his idea that physical existence is designed in such a way so as to resist purely materialistic explanation and any other explanation (such as multiple designers) a fascinating one. He goes through the various areas of “evidence” used for materialistic evolution to see whether there is actually some level at which the argument breaks down (providing resistance to that interpretation).

Anyway, I think this whole matter is one of predisposition, not one of reason. People on both sides of this debate have plenty to clutch at.

The Shroud of Turin (to one side disproven, to the other, vindicated)

The Mars “microfossils” (to one side, evidence, to the other, vital factor missing)

The “fine-tuned” universe (to the one side illusion per Susskind, to the other, proof beyond reasonable dispute)

The soft tissue/blood cells found in T. Rex femur (to the one side anomoly, to “young earth” creationists, a smoking gun)

The prayer studies (to the one side, disproven, to the other, even the statistical significance of things going AGAINST those prayed for has meaning)

The Paranormal/Inexplicable such as Edgar Cayce ESP, spontaneous combustion, Morgellons, psychics success in the solving crimes, etc. (ignored by the scientific community for the most part, considered with interest by those who believe that the scientific community studiously wears horse blinkers)

the benefits of one belief system vs. the other (atheistic/materialistic tout enlightenment and technological advancements to live happier, healthier and longer lives, while “believers” point to studies show statistically they actualy live happier, healthier and longer lives)

and so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby

each side playing its trump cards and shouting “ha!”

But there is, I believe something to being said to walking a mile in another person’s moccasins, just to try to really grasp why they have a problem with some view. It may not, after all, simply be bigotry, or determined ignorance. (Personally, I began as a strong evolutionist, and then became a strong anti-evolutionist, and now I am neither.)

And even what others may call bigotry or intransgience has its roots in some kind of reason. When you really find those roots, maybe you can sympathize with those who appear, in your view, to be bound by them.

And then maybe you will find the patience to engage them in dialogue, and whatever either side has of value can profit the other.

The truth is, however, that most of us can only go so far in accommodating someone else we fundamentally disagree with, because most of us have our own assurance already as to what the “deal” really is, and don’t want to “waste our time” in counterproductive wrangling.

So each side will continue to call the other blind.

This would be fine (if you don’t talk about eternal destiny) as long as each camp has the freedom to pursue their way and to speak freely. It is when one camp gets political power and begins to call in government activity that infringes on the other that things get wrong.

And that is what I worry about. For either side. About either side.

And I know when I say “predisposition” and then later say even intransigience has its roots in some reason, this is contradictory. Sorry. So I must define “predisposition” as being based in some kind of reason as well. Which, I think it is. Predisposition is based on a rationale that took place perhaps at the moment we began to cope with this thing we call life.

Predispositions is why scientists check each others work.

When the results are confirmed by scientists of different religions, nationalities, ethnic groups, native language, etc., that greatly reduces the odds that somebody’s predisposition messed up the reasoning.

Henry

The truth is, however, that most of us can only go so far in accommodating someone else we fundamentally disagree with, because most of us have our own assurance already as to what the “deal” really is, and don’t want to “waste our time” in counterproductive wrangling.

No, John.

Most of us, at least on the “science” side of the equation, have a extremely large capability to “accommodate” new ideas we fundamentally disagree with so long as there is actual evidence backing them up.

In fact, most of us, I suspect, are actually intrigued by evidence that long-held assumptions might be incorrect. The popular scientific press is awash with scholarly articles arguing the details of evolution, extraterrestrial life, the ancestry of man, the extinction of the dinosaurs, etc, etc, etc.

We like it that way.

That is the way that science moves forward. “Wrangling” over long-held dogma has a 500 year track record of working - as evidenced that you are reading this blog on a computer rather than a roll of papyrus.

What we have no time for is standing in an airport, with planes taking off all around us, and still having to argue with some fool who maintains that heavier than air flight is impossible, because the Bible tells him so.

Maxwell Smart: “It’s the old SCIENTIFIC PREDISPOSITION trick again!”

Ah yes, all our observations of the Moon and missions sent to that world were performed according to preconceived notions of what that world was like, and the results obtained were interpreted through the filter of similar predispostions.

Given these biases, it’s no wonder that astronomers were too blinkered and blindered to realize that the Moon is actually made of green cheese.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/tadarwinw.html

MRG writes…

Ah yes, all our observations of the Moon and missions sent to that world were performed according to preconceived notions of what that world was like, and the results obtained were interpreted through the filter of similar predispostions.

Well, this is true.

We did have a pretty good idea of what the moon was about, and we designed our missions accordingly. They relied extensively on our best guess about the moon’s gravity, distance, size, and surface composition.

But unlike creationism, science didn’t stop with a comfortable guess. We actually went to the moon and doublechecked our work.

That’s the difference, a difference that John refuses to acknowledge.

Both creationists and science are comfortable in their model. But only one side has bothered to go our and check theirs against reality.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Perakh published on December 21, 2008 5:27 PM.

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