Fine tuning – addendum

I made a short post 2 days ago on fine-tuning, and I decided I’d like to go more in depth. Fine-tuning is perhaps, the only almost solid argument any theist might have for the existence of a God, but then again it isn’t. For a long time, I wasn’t sure if I could still call myself an atheist because this very argument confused me to no end, although I still remained largely on the atheistic side of thinking because even though the arguments made me think, they didn’t prove anything. So I’ve done some more reading and would like to reiterate and even add my own ideas on top of why this argument doesn’t prove anything about any divine entity.

Often I run into someone saying something along the lines of this to me, that if even one of the physical laws that determine the workings of the universe were different, that life very well would not be possible for the universe to foster. Since we have this set of physical laws, someone must have put them in place. The problem I run into here is the assumption that all life that could be created would be similar to how we perceive it – which there is no reason to believe that this is absolutely true. Different forms of life very well may form under other conditions, just because it isn’t life we would be familiar with, doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be possible under different conditions in a differently working universe. This life just wouldn’t function in the way that we do, biologically.

The other more common argument I hear is that the earth is in the optimal place in the solar system for life as we know it to have originated here. We also have water, and a lot of it. Now, if there’s one thing I know it’s that humans have an uncanny need to attribute coincidence to the supernatural. In all the billions, trillions, who really knows how many galaxies, each with (on average) somewhere between a billion and trillions of stars in them – is it so hard to realize that these conditions would be met somewhere in the universe, in AT LEAST one solar system? This should not hold the shock value that it does for so many. Yes, we got lucky – but this does not automatically point to the supernatural.

Now, these are the two most obvious ones, but seeing as how I’m sick right now and spending too much time not doing anything, I have a lot of time to think.

Now, I don’t know everything about string theory or the possibility of a multiverse other than what is basically common knowledge, but this is a point worth considering. If there are multiple universes, vast amounts of them connected by some means, then how can we even know that in the whole of existence that the occurrence of universes that can foster life are not abundant? What if these conditions are normal and we are not as lucky as we think we are – but an average event across all existence? We simply assume, for no good reason really, that a universe in which there are optimal conditions for life to happen in is an uncommon occurrence. We have no reason to assert that this statement could be true, given that we’ve only been looking at the universe in scientific terms for a short period of time, especially compared to the amount of time that surrounds human beings even existing. Perhaps there are many universes capable of fostering life – life as we know it or not – and the occurrences of universes that don’t foster life is an uncommon one? Now, I’m not asserting that string theory is true, only that it is very reasonably possible considering what we know and that this is a point that should be considered.

However, my favorite point that I’ve come across is that the earth is not ‘built’ for us. It wasn’t made especially for us, we were made because of it. If the earth was a place ideal for human habitation, explain to me volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, weather which we couldn’t reasonably survive in without man-made dwellings and clothing, and the abundance of predators capable of ripping us apart and making us part of the food chain (although clearly this is not common anymore, I’m talking more along the lines of the conditions ancient people had to live in). If this world is specifically for us, human beings, social creatures – why are the continents separated by vast bodies of water? Why are there large mountain ranges that make it hard for people to travel across? The only way we overcome these things are by man-made, scientific means – we shape the world to suit our needs, it’s what humans do. If the world were made with us specifically in mind as ours and the rest of the animal kingdom just exists for us, then why does the the world not reflect that? Why must we overcome natural obstacles by creating unnatural means (airplanes, cars, ships) to connect with our fellow human beings if the world is engineered specifically for us? Unfortunately for theists, it makes abundantly more sense that we are products of this world, rather than that it is a product for us.

There are scholars who touch on these ideas, far more elegantly and knowledgeably than I do, but the argument for a fine-tuned universe is well.. by no means solid. It is a philosophical claim, speculation, it holds no proof or evidence for God.


About thatcatkatie
I came to this site to discuss my beliefs, and yours too, and hopefully learn some things from my fellow human beings.

10 Responses to Fine tuning – addendum

  1. Hi Katie, haven’t been on your site for a while, I hope you’re well! I haven’t seen any of your responses to the points I made, but I’d love to continue any conversations we have. If I don’t reply it’s because I haven’t seen your responses.

    Perhaps I’ve missed something, but I’m not sure there are any arguments here against the fine tuning argument being used in support of the existence of God. Fine tuning is a fact – both atheist and theist scientists would acknowledge that. The question is why? And the only way this can be debated is by going into the mathematics and probabilities involved, and the scientific theories and so on. I’m not sure what you’ve written grapples with the arguments and the fact involved?


    • thatcatkatie says:

      I wasn’t looking at it from a mathematical perspective. I was trying to tackle it from the anthropic one that many people hold when they bring up this discussion, and bringing up logical points that shows that God is not the logical answer. Or even if He is a logical possibility, it still doesn’t point to fine-tuning being evidence for anything at all.
      You can ask ‘why’ about anything, but science doesn’t care. There’s no reason to assume that a God would either. Just because something is doesn’t mean there needs to be a reason for it that’s philosophical. There are mechanisms behind it however (fine tuning), if that’s the sort of why you’re asking, well we don’t know that yet. I’m not sure if you’re trying to say something here and just aren’t getting the point out.

    • keithnoback says:

      Calling fine tuning a fact is going a bit far. Even calling it a consensus view is going a bit far. “Puddle thinking” most likely – if thinks weren’t as they were, things wouldn’t be as they are? It assumes we know what degrees of freedom there were in the early universe and our knowledge of such is speculative at best.

      • thatcatkatie says:

        I think what lillies meant (they’ll have to correct me if I’m wrong) is that we all agree it’s pretty obvious our universe allows life under the physical laws we live as subject to.

      • Well given that Sir Martin Rees and Paul Davies, both atheists or non-theists, have written books about the phenomenon of fine-tuning, I think it’s fair to say it’s an established fact, in as much as scientific understanding can ever be considered fact. I’m not sure that ‘it just is at it is’ satisfies my intellectual curiosity.
        I’m not sure either that ‘degrees of freedom’ would explain fine tuning as we currently understand it.

        • keithnoback says:

          Two books do not a consensus make, nor is fine tuning fact – an observation itself – in the first place, it is a proposed explanation for a set of observations. Victor Stenger has quite a different opinion of fine tuning, and is vastly more qualified to judge the physics of it than I (there’s my appeal to authority :)).
          And I too am not very interested in ideas that end up proclaiming ‘it just is as it is’, which is why I suspect fine tuning won’t turn out to be anything very interesting. I suspect things look fine tuned because we’re here to look at them and not the other way around. But how can we ever know which it is for certain? It is interesting and fun to think about things like M theory, or the Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics, or singularities, or fine tuning. However our everyday understanding of these mathematical constructs is extremely limited and unreliable, even for the best of us – Roger Penrose has said he once visualized a 5-dimensional object. Huh? How could he tell? William Lane Craig’s cosmological argument hinges on his understanding of the singularity at the beginning of the universe as an ordinary event. Really? These are not good foundations to build upon. Fun to speculate about, but far from solid.

  2. john zande says:

    “Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for. We all know that at some point in the future the Universe will come to an end and at some other point, considerably in advance from that but still not immediately pressing, the sun will explode. We feel there’s plenty of time to worry about that, but on the other hand that’s a very dangerous thing to say.”
    -Douglas Adams, Speech at Digital Biota 2, Cambridge, UK, (1998)

  3. keithnoback says:

    The fine tuning argument I’m familiar with goes well beyond that, in stating that those laws could have been otherwise to a certain probability, and can only be as they are, within a small tolerance, for life to exist, both points of which are in dispute. Maybe we aren’t talking about the same thing?

    • thatcatkatie says:

      I am, I’m only not getting into technicalities on the subject. Rather I’m discussing a philosophical sort of aspect, or why logically it makes no sense to believe that fine tuning points to a God.

    • thatcatkatie says:

      And I would agree that when you go more in depth, these are definitely points which we can dispute. I’m just not touching upon those here. I’m not sure what lillies is getting at either.

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