Sunday, March 25, 2012

(followup) Theological "Fine Tuning" Fallacy

Quotes are from The Forgetful Apologist from comments made in response to

Theological "Fine Tuning" Fallacy at this blog. My response exceeded the 4000-ish character limitation so I am responding here instead.

"Of course God could have made things differently."

That's an assumption. But based on concept of the abrahamic god as generally accepted by believers, it's an assumption we can allow for argument's sake.

"Given the nature that exists, certain things are impossible."

"The nature that exists" does not preclude the possibility of alternate natures. The idea of alternates natures is similar to the general idea of a multiverse. Could one or more alternate universes come into existence with variations of or complete separation from the natural laws we observe? I submit that if it is possible for a mystical entity to create an alternate natural universe with alternatives to one or more of our natural laws then there is no reason to exclude the possibility that one or more alternate universes with alternate natures could come into existence without the aid of a mystical entity.

It's all purely speculative. Like gods, it only requires imagination. We could also speculate that neither a god nor proto-nature could create our known universe without also necessarily also creating an infinite multiverse. That would certainly tidy things up for some quantum physicists. But that's not quite enough to make it so.

It's not really necessary to tie oneself to one of the three perspectives included in the essay. To recap, in regards to whether God (or mystical entity(s)) or nature could have produced a different universe that would support life, it was (1) God no, nature no; (2) God yes, nature no; (3) God yes, nature yes. I left out (4) God no, nature yes; because who's really going to make that argument? The whole argument from fine tuning is predicated on the presumption that things could have been different.

It is an interesting supposition (that things could have been different.) But is there anything that could have caused it to be different? If the big bang was self sufficient at time zero how could it have taken a different course? I understand there's a lot of speculation about "gravity could have been a little weaker" or "initial expansion could have been slower." But no one has produced an explanation for what it would have taken in order for any of these or other things to have been different. It's pure "what-if," assuming the big bang was self contained and developed without external influences.

And we can further speculate that maybe there were external forces that influenced the early development of natural laws. If there was a cause then perhaps some of that cause could continue to leak in after inception? All speculation. I will agree that if things had been different then, then things would be different now. But the questions remain. Could things have been different and what could have caused things to be different?

And of course, some will want to attribute post-bang influence to mystical forces/entities or a hybrid of natural/mystical. Since we're all speculating we have little authority to turn away additional speculations.

I'm more than happy to entertain these notions for academic reasons. But where it gets us is roughly nowhere, zero progress. Imagination and wishful thinking allow us to take ourselves where we wish we already were.

"Now, back in those first few fractions of a second after the big bang, nature was not similarly constrained---at least not according to the evidence up to that point."

I'm tempted to challenge this but it may just be me misunderstanding what is meant. Regardless it has little or no influence on the overall weight of either side of the argument.

"So from that epistemic position we can run the argument. If God exists, then there is a fairly good chance that he is interested in moral agency and will ensure the constants permit such agency."

Without knowing why a theological god created this or any universe we are left to speculate "why." Without some indication as to why we are even more blind in our speculation about what such an entity would want in it's universe-like creation.

Are we asking what kind of god would make the universe the way it is? Since we have a fair idea about what and how the universe is, at least this question would be grounded in reality.

But that's not what the quoted question is asking. It assumes a mystical being wants to make something vaguely universe-like and further assumes that beings somewhat capable of distinguishing between right and wrong are also wanted. This speculation is not entirely consistent with genesis 1 and 2 but we can overlook that since we are only considering a generic theistic creator entity.

But let's go ahead and assume that a creator god is interested in creating or allowing moral agents and therefore an environment that is capable of supporting said agents. I'm taking a "moral agent" to be a conscious being that can make choices that are morally significant, on a case-by-case basis. And I'm taking morality to be a synthesis of intuitive predisposition for fairness and cooperation within one's group and a culturally developed ethical perspective. For purposes of this argument I hope we can share a workable common meaning for "moral/morality."

If we make those assumptions and check our universe to see if it supports moral agents, surprise surprise, it does. Well, kind of. Earth does. Or at least parts of Earth do. Mercury doesn't. Mars doesn't. I'm going to go out on a limb and say none of the other planets in our system do. That seems true of all the moons too. And the vast majority of the solar system which is essentially vacuum, does not support moral agents. The second nearest star is over three light-years away, and that's pretty close by interstellar standards. I'm going to go further out on my limb and say there are no moral agents in interstellar space. I'm definitely not willing to concede that potential interstellar moral agents are big fans of Jesus or Muhammad. And then there's all that intergalactic space. Moral agents? Limb: no moral agents. Moral agency seems to be at best an afterthought and more likely a happy accident. But there I go again, assuming it could have been different.

"However, if only nature exists, then since nature has no preferences, we must apply the principle of indifference, whereby we find that the probability of the constants permitting moral agency on naturalism is extremely low---extremely!"

The principle of indifference does not apply here. There may be a principle of indifference in apologist jargon that I'm not aware of. But in regards to matters of statistics and probability, the principle of indifference does not apply. I'm under no obligation to make a counter-case against the lack of case presented in the quote, but I'll explain anyway why it doesn't apply. We do have two mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive possibilities, mystical entity versus non-mystical non-entity. We could even say that the two possibilities are indistinguishable except for their names. I don't suppose you're crediting the authorship of the universe to a deist god? But if we want to apply the principle of indifference we have to agree the possibilities are indistinguishable. But the reason the principle of indifference does not apply is because you are making a qualitative comparison versus a quantitative comparison.

Quantitatively each possibility has a 1/2 chance of being right. But you are saying that because the universe is indifferent to the presence of moral agency and a theist deity probably would nor be indifferent to agency, a theist deity is more likely to have created a universe which includes (at least the possibility) of moral agency. That is not the principle of indifference.

It would actually be a decent, albeit non-conclusive, argument if it could be shown that a theistic deity is more likely to exist than either a deistic deity or no deity. Using the principle of indifference we can assign each possibility a probability of 1/3 and see that a theistic deity is less likely to exist than one of the other two possibilities. (There is a 2/3 likelihood that either no deity exists or a deistic deity exists.) It could also be interpreted that it is more likely that some kind of deity exists. But hopefully it is already clear that this is the wrong tool for the job. Bottom line: the principle of indifference does not support the likelihood of a creator deity.

"Of course we now know that the physical constants are all quite friendly to moral agency in the universe, and so it is a simple matter of applying the likelihood principle to infer the existence of God."

I think I already covered this. The universe shows only a hint of friendliness to moral agency in one remote infinitesimal corner of all known existence. There may be moral agents out on other remote infinitesimal corners of existence. Or maybe not. Either way, the ratio of moral agency to universe is so small as to undermine any attempt to claim moral agency was even intended (leave alone important) in the "design" of the universe.

Also, you didn't show your work (or even define or quantify your variables) so we are free to ignore or accept your claim that the likelihood principle in any way supports probability of existence. If you do intend to show your work then you should probably go ahead and do a full Bayesian workup. I'm looking forward to the "given what we know about..." portions regarding gods.