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.


  1. PART 1:

    Allusive Atheist,

    Thanks for the detailed response.

    A few of your objections seem symptomatic of an apparent misunderstanding of the structure of the argument. You suggest that we need to know something about what God does care about. But actually all we need to do is have an independently-motivated (i.e. not ad-hoc) hypothesis about what God would care about, if he exists. In other words, we cannot put up a generic deistic god as a hypothesis. Rather, our hypothesis must involve a robust sort of theism where God is interested in moral agency. We don't have to assume that this God exists, though. Rather, we hypothesize that this God exists, and test our hypothesis against the evidence. Well, it turns out that the evidence overwhelmingly confirms it!

    That said, let's look at your objections in a little more detail. You first complain that my statement about how "God could have made things differently" is a mere assumption. As I have explained, though, it is not a mere assumption but rather a hypothesis---part of the larger theistic God hypothesis, as Dawkins likes to call it. The argument shows that, given the fine-tuning evidence, the God hypothesis is more likely than a naturalistic single-universe hypothesis.

    Next you start talking about multiverses and "alternate natures." I agree that these things are possible. In fact just about anything is possible! But we need to discover where the evidence points, and that won't happen by throwing up ad-hoc ideas which are not independently-motivated.

    Of course you are free to speculate that there are other naturalistic forces at work which might cause the universe to suddenly behave differently. However as you point out, that's all pure speculation. In other words, such hypotheses are ad-hoc. However, the likelihood principle only applies to independently-motivated hypotheses, and not ad-hoc ones. That's the key fact distinguishing the God hypothesis from invoking arbitrary naturalistic anomalies.

    You also object to the notion that God would be interested in moral agency. But again, this is part of the theistic hypothesis. Remember, a personal God interested in morality is an independently motivated idea.

  2. PART 2:

    Next you suggest a counter-argument against the God hypothesis: Most of the universe, you observe, does not actually support life at all. Only a tiny bit of it is habitable by moral agents. From this observation, you say, it "seems" to you that moral agency is just a "happy accident."

    In response, I must point out that your conclusion does not follow from your premise. It may well be true that only a tiny percentage of the universe is habitable by moral agents. But whence do you conclude that therefore moral agency is an accident? Maybe you're assuming that on the God hypothesis, we should expect the universe to have a single purpose---housing moral agents---and so there should be little or nothing extra existing in the universe to that which is required to make moral agency physically possible. But this is completely unwarranted. God might have lots of unknown purposes for the rest of the universe. One such purpose could be to demonstrate to us that he is not bound by economy of resources!

    You also object to my use of the principle of indifference, but I think you misunderstood the role it plays in the fine-tuning argument. I'm not applying it to theism versus naturalism, as you seem to think I am doing. Rather, I'm applying it to what is called the epistemically-illuminated (EI) range of possible values for the physical constants. Since the life-permitting* range of each constant is tiny relative to the whole EI range of possible values, then by the principle of indifference we can infer that it is extremely---extremely!---unlikely that the actual value of every constant will fall in the life-permitting range. This is the reason why physicists are so surprised by the fine-tuning evidence, and why it cries out for an explanation.

    Do you have any further objections to the argument? If not, then the appropriate response would be to embrace its conclusion---that a personal God exists and is interested in moral agency.


    *- By "life" I mean specifically the kind of life which has moral agency.

  3. Your Yahweh hypothesis (please be up front and pick your god, as there are tens of thousands from which to choose) as a god who is concerned with moral agency is interesting.

    You claim that the evidence for this hypothesis is overwhelming. First of all, what is a god? How would we recognize a god? Secondly, how does Yahweh fit those criteria? Thirdly, how is the evidence for Yahweh being god AND caring about moral agency overwhelming?

    There must be some standards against which these claims are measured.

    I've tried to stay out of it but Akaei seems to be a busy guy. I'd much rather read his exchanges with you.