Fine tuning

Fine-tuning and the claim that “unlikely things happen all the time”

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Often used to dismiss the masses of evidence for fine-tuning of our universe, as opposed to chance. From Tim Barnett at Salvo:

This response may have some rhetorical force, but it makes a fundamental mistake. To expose the error, let me give you another illustration. Imagine your best friend has been murdered and the lead suspect is on trial. In fact, DNA evidence puts the suspect at the scene with the murder weapon in hand. As a result, the defense attorney turns to the jury and says, “The DNA evidence makes it highly unlikely that my client is innocent. But unlikely things happen all the time. For example, for you to exist, your mom and dad had to meet, fall in love, and have sex at just the right time. . . .

Would any jury accept this response? I think we would have to say no.

But why wouldn’t they accept it? It is because there is a better explanation; namely, that the suspect really is the killer. More.

Note: Lots of good stuff to read at Salvo Online #41

See also: In search of a road to reality

81 Replies to “Fine-tuning and the claim that “unlikely things happen all the time”

  1. 1
    JDH says:

    People who are impressed with the argument “unlikely things happen all the time” need to take a basic course in probability.

  2. 2
    kairosfocus says:

    One reason why it is helpful to discuss blind search challenge in large configuration spaces.

  3. 3
    ppolish says:

    JDH, unlikely things DO happen all the time in the Multiverse. As often as likely things do lol. Multiverse makes probability courses less useful than basket weaving. Infinite uses for baskets in the multiverse you know.

  4. 4
    ppolish says:

    Brilliant atheist physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed is a firm believer in the multiverse. Loads of cool math involved in this belief. However, he is on record claiming that if there is only one universe – our highly unlikely one – there is a God. But that’s just him.

  5. 5
    kmidpuddle says:

    If I shuffle a deck of cards and pull four aces off the top, the probability that it happened is one. The probability of it happening in the future is one in 270,725. That is the problem with the fine tuning argument. And the combinatorial explosion argument. They are both fatally flawed from the start.

  6. 6
    jdk says:

    re 1: Hmmm. I taught probability, and low probability things do happen all the time. You should join us at the “Darwinism” thread and read through the discussion.

  7. 7
    Marfin says:

    The main point against the unlikely events of OOL from non life or a universe from nothing happening is that these events have to be possible to begin with.Example as follows-
    If I take a steel ball bearing in my hand then outstretch my hand and let the ball bearing fall from my hand what direction will it go , we all know it will fall toward the ground , what if I try this 100 times what direction will the bearing go each time. Now what if I get a billion of my friends and we try this ball bearing act every 5 seconds for 50 years , at what point with the unlikely event of a ball bearing not falling to the ground but just staying in the space where my hand released it, its zero ,because we know the effects of gravity on ball bearings.So before any unlikely event happens I first want evidence it can happen, and that evidence cannot be just wishful thinking.

  8. 8
    JDH says:

    @jdk – I don’t think you understood what I meant. I know that low probability things happen all the time. I just don’t think it is an impressive argument. People need to know the difference between a singular event that happened, and the likelihood of a given explanation for said event actually being the cause of the event. (I know that was kind of clumsily worded, and if your knowledge of probability has better terms for it, I would appreciate it.) I find the whole materialist argument downright foolish. It seems to go something like this…
    1. Let me just assert there is no Creator (designer).
    2. Gosh these things we see only on earth look incredibly designed.
    3. Since we know there is not God isn’t it incredible what creative power RM+NS plus (all the other parts of neo-Darwinsim) has!!!

    Me: Excuse me, Mr. Materialist, how do you know that evolution is so powerful.
    MM: Because of the wonderful example we have of this world which, which I have to admit – looks like it was designed, even though we know it CANNOT be designed ( because by the strength of assertion, we have declared there can be no such thing as evidence for design ).

  9. 9
    Bob O'H says:

    JDH – I think you need to take more courses in probability. The Birthday Problem is nice example of how unlikely things do happen quite often.

  10. 10
    steveO says:

    Sorry OT, but nice visual metaphor for fine-tuning, and some biochemical processes:

    https://video.twimg.com/tweet_video/DBPi2bkUQAAAEu0.mp4

  11. 11
    hnorman5 says:

    Bob O’H – I have to disagree with the example of the Birthday Problem. The Birthday Problem basically makes the point that some events that most of us would intuitively consider low probability are actually high probability. This is different from the claim of Miller, Kitcher et al, that low probability events happen all the time.

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:

    BO’H and KMP: I would advise you to remember the level of many commenters at UD. Do not presume JDH has little background for what he is saying in a very simplified way; starting with things like statistical thermodynamics. And BTW, HN5 is on point too, at 30 in a room is it odds are what 2/3, and at 366, unity. I have been member of that matched birthday pair several times in fairly small groups. KF

    PS: Maybe this from Walker and Davies may help you think again:

    In physics, particularly in statistical mechanics, we base many of our calculations on the assumption of metric transitivity, which asserts that a system’s trajectory will eventually [–> given “enough time and search resources”] explore the entirety of its state space – thus everything that is phys-ically possible will eventually happen. It should then be trivially true that one could choose an arbitrary “final state” (e.g., a living organism) and “explain” it by evolving the system backwards in time choosing an appropriate state at some ’start’ time t_0 (fine-tuning the initial state). In the case of a chaotic system the initial state must be specified to arbitrarily high precision. But this account amounts to no more than saying that the world is as it is because it was as it was, and our current narrative therefore scarcely constitutes an explanation in the true scientific sense.

    We are left in a bit of a conundrum with respect to the problem of specifying the initial conditions necessary to explain our world. A key point is that if we require specialness in our initial state (such that we observe the current state of the world and not any other state) metric transitivity cannot hold true, as it blurs any dependency on initial conditions – that is, it makes little sense for us to single out any particular state as special by calling it the ’initial’ state. If we instead relax the assumption of metric transitivity (which seems more realistic for many real world physical systems – including life), then our phase space will consist of isolated pocket regions and it is not necessarily possible to get to any other physically possible state (see e.g. Fig. 1 for a cellular automata example).

    [–> or, there may not be “enough” time and/or resources for the relevant exploration, i.e. we see the 500 – 1,000 bit complexity threshold at work vs 10^57 – 10^80 atoms with fast rxn rates at about 10^-13 to 10^-15 s leading to inability to explore more than a vanishingly small fraction on the gamut of Sol system or observed cosmos . . . the only actually, credibly observed cosmos]

    Thus the initial state must be tuned to be in the region of phase space in which we find ourselves [–> notice, fine tuning], and there are regions of the configuration space our physical universe would be excluded from accessing, even if those states may be equally consistent and permissible under the microscopic laws of physics (starting from a different initial state). Thus according to the standard picture, we require special initial conditions to explain the complexity of the world, but also have a sense that we should not be on a particularly special trajectory to get here (or anywhere else) as it would be a sign of fine–tuning of the initial conditions. [ –> notice, the “loading”] Stated most simply, a potential problem with the way we currently formulate physics is that you can’t necessarily get everywhere from anywhere (see Walker [31] for discussion). [“The “Hard Problem” of Life,” June 23, 2016, a discussion by Sara Imari Walker and Paul C.W. Davies at Arxiv.]

    PPS: Note, John Leslie too:

    “One striking thing about the fine tuning is that a force strength or a particle mass often appears to require accurate tuning for several reasons at once. Look at electromagnetism. Electromagnetism seems to require tuning for there to be any clear-cut distinction between matter and radiation; for stars to burn neither too fast nor too slowly for life’s requirements; for protons to be stable; for complex chemistry to be possible; for chemical changes not to be extremely sluggish; and for carbon synthesis inside stars (carbon being quite probably crucial to life). Universes all obeying the same fundamental laws could still differ in the strengths of their physical forces, as was explained earlier, and random variations in electromagnetism from universe to universe might then ensure that it took on any particular strength sooner or later. Yet how could they possibly account for the fact that the same one strength satisfied many potentially conflicting requirements, each of them a requirement for impressively accurate tuning?” [Our Place in the Cosmos, The Royal Institute of Philosophy, 1998 (courtesy Wayback Machine) Emphases added.]

    AND:

    “. . . the need for such explanations does not depend on any estimate of how many universes would be observer-permitting, out of the entire field of possible universes. Claiming that our universe is ‘fine tuned for observers’, we base our claim on how life’s evolution would apparently have been rendered utterly impossible by comparatively minor alterations in physical force strengths, elementary particle masses and so forth. There is no need for us to ask whether very great alterations in these affairs would have rendered it fully possible once more, let alone whether physical worlds conforming to very different laws could have been observer-permitting without being in any way fine tuned. Here it can be useful to think of a fly on a wall, surrounded by an empty region. A bullet hits the fly Two explanations suggest themselves. Perhaps many bullets are hitting the wall or perhaps a marksman fired the bullet. There is no need to ask whether distant areas of the wall, or other quite different walls, are covered with flies so that more or less any bullet striking there would have hit one. The important point is that the local area contains just the one fly.” [Emphasis his.]

    PPPS: And, on multiverse speculation, what is the empirical observational warrant for such a spectacular violation of avoiding multiplying hypothesised entities without necessity. Where also, why are we not observing say a Boltzmann brain fluctuation world instead of what we experience? Of is your BB hooked up to a vat and neural lace prompting perception of a world that is a grand Plato’s Cave shadow show world?

    –> That’s just the beginning of what you are up against.

  13. 13
    kairosfocus says:

    SO, very nice. KF

  14. 14

    A/mats basically believe that anything can happen given enough time. It is a false but strongly held assumption that leads to wild-eyed speculations…like Darwinian evolution and multiverse theory.

  15. 15
    jdk says:

    Thanks for the explanation at 8, JDH. My remark wasn’t in respect to any argument, so I’ll bow out now.

  16. 16
    forexhr says:

    There’s an even better argument than fine-tuning, and that is – the ratio between adaptive and non-adaptive mutations. Let us suppose that ethanol is the new environment to which an organism must adapt in order to survive. Given the evolutionary narrative, a trait with the ability to metabolize ethanol will arise in the same way as any new trait arises – via duplication and modification of pre-existing genetic material. So, an organism will acquire the ability to metabolize ethanol via nucleotide rearrangements of some duplicated gene.
    But there is a fundamental problem with this narrative. Mutations have equal potential to rearrange this duplicated gene into astronomical number of either, bio-functional arrangements that have nothing to do with ethanol metabolism or junk arrangements that are completely useless in any environment. In other words, most of the 10^810 possible nucleotide arrangements of an average eukaryotic gene, would be completely useless in the context of ethanol metabolism. Given the fact that there have been only 10^43 mutations in the history of life(1) it follows that there hasn’t been enough mutational resources to adapt to any particular environment(like ethanol). The possible quantity of non-adaptive genetic changes(changes that are completely useless in a particular environment) is simply too large for an adaptation to happen. In other words, the ratio between adaptive and non-adaptive mutations for any given environment is so small that an organism(or population) simply cannot adapt to it.

    (1) http://rsif.royalsocietypublis.....5/953.full

  17. 17
    Phinehas says:

    kmidpuddle:

    If I shuffle a deck of cards and pull four aces off the top, the probability that it happened is one.

    OK, but the issue isn’t whether it happened, but whether it happened by chance. What if you didn’t shuffle the deck? What if you didn’t see it shuffled? What if it gets shuffled again and the first four cards are four aces again? And again? And again?

    Now, what are the odds that it keeps happening by chance?

  18. 18

    forexhr @ 16: Fascinating. How do a/mats typically respond to that argument?

  19. 19

    Phinehas @ 17: Excellent point.

  20. 20
    Eric Anderson says:

    jdk and Bob O’H (and others):

    Ah, yes, the failed “unlikely things happen all the time” argument against design.

    At the risk of tooting my own horn, I addressed this very issue in the below linked podcast a couple of years ago, if anyone is interested. Including the birthday problem Bob O’H mentions.

    http://www.discovery.org/multi.....ty-design/

    —–

    Bottom line, the “improbable things happen all the time” line of argumentation, of which there are several permutations, is a terrible argument against design.

  21. 21
    Eric Anderson says:

    Marfin @7:

    You also make a good point. If there is no independent evidence that X can even happen in the first place, then the appeal to “Well who knows? Yes, it is highly unlikely, but theoretically maybe it could have happened!” rings quite hollow.

    Unfortunately, the entire materialistic creation story is an appeal to one long string of miracles after another — improbabilities stacked on top of one another. And all without any evidence that even a single one of the numerous required events actually could occur in practice.

  22. 22
    jdk says:

    Eric writes,

    Ah, yes, the failed “unlikely things happen all the time” argument against design.

    FTR, I am not making any arguments for or against design. I am just saying that, yes, unlikely things happen all the time. I not want to be misrepresented as to the purpose of my post.

  23. 23

    EA @ 21: “the entire materialistic creation story is an appeal to one long string of miracles after another — improbabilities stacked on top of one another. And all without any evidence that even a single one of the numerous required events actually could occur in practice.”

    Nothing but the truth.

  24. 24
    John S says:

    but how often do impossible things happen?

    The multiverse argument is, in my opinion, an admission of the folly of ‘unlikely things happen all the time’. If they do then there would be no reason to postulate the rescue device of a multiverse.

    The idea didn’t come from following evidence it came from realization that fine tuning is so unlikely we have to increase the probability. It was birthed out a worldview, out of a philosophy not through discovery of facts.

    It’s like every piece of evidence points to the killer, so the DA says maybe they guy had an exact double created by space aliens and he’s the one who committed the murder. Sure unlikely, but you can’t disprove it so it could happen, and since it’s unlikely it must be true.

    ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ – Plato

  25. 25
    forexhr says:

    @Truth Will Set You Free: “Fascinating. How do a/mats typically respond to that argument?”

    I don’t know. I presented this argument today (first time publicly) at Yahoo Answers in order to get a response from a/mats but so far nobody has responded.

    https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20170602093515AAAY1rl

  26. 26
    LocalMinimum says:

    Declaring “unlikely events happen all the time” is cute, but logically speaking it’s an equivocal superposition built by rhetorically welding points of reference before and after an event.

    Of course, when challenged, that superposition collapses to the state which best meets the challenge…and then spontaneously reforms if you should ever look away; or blink, even. Spooky.

  27. 27
    Phinehas says:

    LM @26:

    You should right a book. I would read a book’s worth of your incisive, witty posts in a heartbeat. And might even pay for the privilege.

  28. 28
    jdk says:

    Localminimum writes,

    Declaring “unlikely events happen all the time” is cute, but logically speaking it’s an equivocal superposition built by rhetorically welding points of reference before and after an event.

    It’s not cute: it’s true. (Have you followed the discussion on this in the “Darwinism” thread.)

    But I do think there are some interesting points (although not equivocal or rhetorical) about probabilities considered before and after an event.

    If I take the time to write something about that, I’ll post it on the Darwinism thread.

  29. 29
    Eric Anderson says:

    jdk fair enough and thanks for the clarification. Apologies for lumping you in with Bob O’H.

    BTW, do the participants at the “Darwinism” thread you mentioned recognize the difference between improbable things happening all the time and the way the design inference works?

    It isn’t particularly interesting and there isn’t a lot to say about improbable things happening in and of itself, outside of the context of a particular claim (1) against design or (2) in support of the great power of randomness to do wonderful things, both of which fail.

    So I’m curious about the context of the other discussion and why the discussion would even be taking place, if not to support one of those two fallacies.

  30. 30
    DaRook says:

    Improbable things happen all the time, but it seems to me that something has to happen, which means if it is not specified, something will happen 100% of the time. Specifying that that 4 aces will be on the top of the deck is a different story. When that happens, everyone would know it’s a trick.

  31. 31
    Barry Arrington says:

    We have debunked the “improbable things” straw man many times. There is even a name for it. Look up “Miller’s Mendacity” in our glossary.

    https://uncommondescent.com/glossary/

  32. 32
    Eric Anderson says:

    DaRook:

    . . . which means if it is not specified, something will happen 100% of the time.

    Exactly. And all the examples that supposedly refute design fail to provide a specification.

    Or, as in an example I just noticed by Jeffrey Shallit over at Kirk Durston’s blog about the sequence of letters “ih”, fail to be complex.

    The complexity + specification requirement is very robust, is used all the time in the real world, and there are no known false positives that I have ever seen to date.

  33. 33
    Mung says:

    BO’H and KMP: I would advise you to remember the level of many commenters at UD.

    Yeah! Take me for instance.

    🙂

  34. 34
    LocalMinimum says:

    Phineas @ 27:

    I will cut back, then. Need to save original material for the book, and all.

  35. 35
    Seversky says:

    The problem with the fine-tuning argument is that it derives two ill-founded inferences from one observation.

    The observation is that, if the values of certain fundamental physical constants varied even slightly, our Universe could not exist at all. It would never have formed in the first place. That much seems unobjectionable.

    The first inference is that, because it is so hugely improbable that such a universe could have come about through some natural process or by accident, it can only be the product of some intelligent agency. In other words, it must have been designed. That, however, is an argument from ignorance.

    Eric Anderson refers to a materialist creation story but, speaking as an atheist materialist, I know of no such thing. I have no idea how this universe came into existence. All we have is the observation that it does exist and that evidence from astronomy and physics points to a beginning around 13.7 bn years ago. What caused the primordial singularity, whatever that was, to go “bang!” when it did is unknown.

    However, to conclude that the universe must therefore have been designed you must assume that current human knowledge exhausts all possible naturalistic explanations. In other words, if we cannot think of a naturalistic explanation now the only possibility is intelligent design. That goes too far. Yes, since we don’t know how it all started, intelligent design cannot be ruled out yet. But, since we don’t know what we don’t know, we also cannot rule out hitherto unknown naturalistic causation.

    The further step in the fine-tuning argument is the claim that, not only was this universe was designed but it was designed specifically to support the life that exists here on Earth. The problem with this argument is that observation is against it.

    The reality is that if we leave the surface of this planet, we must take extreme measures to protect ourselves against an environment that is relentlessly hostile to life such as ourselves. If we don’t we can be variously starved of oxygen, flash-frozen by numbingly low temperatures, seared by blisteringly intense radiation, vaporized in an instant by supernovas or sucked into oblivion by black holes. Anyone who thinks this universe was designed just for us needs to metaphorically stop gazing at their navels and look outside. Beyond the relatively benign environmental cocoon of the Earth’s surface the vast majority of this universe is utterly inimical to life as we know it. If it was all designed with us in mind, whoever did it had a very strange way of going about it.

    One more question concerning the claim that the universe was created or designed by an intelligent agent is where did the knowledge that must have preceded the design come from? When human aeronautical engineers design a new aircraft they draw on a vast body of pre-existing knowledge. But try to imagine some sort of intelligent designer existing in a “reality” before our Universe existed at all. How did it know what to do?

  36. 36
    jdk says:

    Eric asks about the discussion going on in the Darwinism thread:

    So I’m curious about the context of the other discussion and why the discussion would even be taking place, if not to support one of those two fallacies.

    One answer is that it is important to understand probability from a purely mathematical point of view if one is to hope to be able to think accurately about probabilistic events in the real world. Also, ideas about specification, which can be considered from a purely mathematical point of view, and significance, which involves human judgments about patterns, are relevant to discussions about the real world, so exploring them in discussion about cards, and coins, and dice is useful.

    You might understand more about what’s been going on by looking at two of my long posts in the Darwinism thread, 105 and 192.

  37. 37
    rvb8 says:

    Barry @31,

    thank you for using an Uncommondescent link to prove an Uncommondescent POV. May I now use the Koran to prove an Islamic POV?

    Your existance is indeed unlikely. The number of permutations, accidents, lucky or chance meetings, chemical improbabilities, and just quantum silliness, that went into making YOU can not be denied.

    That being the case we can safely say, dumb luck and chance rule, intentional design does not.

  38. 38
    Eric Anderson says:

    Seversky @35:

    The first inference is that, because it is so hugely improbable that such a universe could have come about through some natural process or by accident, it can only be the product of some intelligent agency. In other words, it must have been designed. That, however, is an argument from ignorance.

    I happen to think that the argument for design is stronger in biology than in cosmology, but you seem to be misrepresenting the argument in cosmology a bit, so I will respond.

    No-one, ever, infers design on the basis of improbability alone. (Yes, I’m sure you can do a Google search and find plenty of people who have failed to properly describe how they draw the inference and whose choice of wording gives the wrong impression.)

    In addition to sheer improbability, part of what moves many people to consider design in the cosmos, to at least consider the possibility, is the appearance of purpose. One is certainly free to argue against that, but the issue is essentially equivalent to what Dawkins acknowledged about biology: things appear to have been designed for a purpose.

    In our regular life in our ordinary experience, when we see something that works toward a purpose and which is not readily explainable by purely natural causes as we understand them, there is good reason to think it may have been designed — at least we ought to be open to the possibility. Then we can start to examine the probabilities, to eliminate false positives, to reject the inference when it is not warranted and to strengthen it when it is warranted.

    It is the materialist who, as Dawkins has attempted to do, has the burden of proof to demonstrate that his claim of illusion is true. That things aren’t really designed, they just appear designed, and that the materialist can point to a naturalistic cause that can act as a designer substitute.

    However, to conclude that the universe must therefore have been designed you must assume that current human knowledge exhausts all possible naturalistic explanations. In other words, if we cannot think of a naturalistic explanation now the only possibility is intelligent design. That goes too far. Yes, since we don’t know how it all started, intelligent design cannot be ruled out yet. But, since we don’t know what we don’t know, we also cannot rule out hitherto unknown naturalistic causation.

    This is a serious misrepresentation of the question on the table.

    You seem to be claiming that we can’t know until either (a) we become omniscient, or (b) we find a definitive naturalistic explanation.

    Is our knowledge tentative? Sure.

    Do we do science with the understanding that we may learn something more down the road? Absolutely.

    Must we sit on our hands and avoid drawing a tentative inference based on the state of the evidence we do have in front of us?

    The materialistic answer — a fully self-serving answer we should note — to this question is, yes, we must scrupulously avoid drawing any inference until, in your words we “exhaust all possible naturalistic explanations”.

    And, dear reader, let us be very clear about this point. The materialist isn’t satisfied if we have exhausted all currently known naturalistic explanations. The materialist isn’t satisfied if we have exhausted all tentative naturalistic explanations. The materialist isn’t even satisfied if there is strong evidence that rational naturalistic explanations are unlikely to be forthcoming. No. We must wait until all naturalistic explanations have been fully exhausted, even inane, irrational, wildly-speculative naturalistic explanations. Because, you see, dear reader, the materialist thinks he knows a priori without even looking at the evidence that there must be a naturalistic explanation. No other answer is acceptable. We just have to keep looking long enough.

    Again, many cosmologists, no friends to intelligent design, have noted the incredible fine tuning of the universe and the appearance of purpose.

    The burden of proof is squarely on the materialist who claims this is all an illusion to offer a reasonable alternative. And that burden cannot be met by a handwaving assertion that until all naturalistic explanations — present ones, tentative ones, crazy ones, ones that haven’t even been thought up yet — have been exhausted. Such an approach is not science. It is materialistic philosophy masquerading as science.

    The reality is that if we leave the surface of this planet, we must take extreme measures to protect ourselves against an environment that is relentlessly hostile to life such as ourselves. . . .

    Really? I hope you don’t think this is a serious argument against fine tuning. Do you really think the universe should have been set up so that humans should be able to exist in comfort in every part of the universe? What strange set of laws and constants would you propose that would make this possible?

    If anything, your point underscores the incredible fine-tuned delicacy that the Earth’s cocoon provides to us, something that most rational people would conclude might look a lot like a purposeful arrangement.

    At least they would be open to the possibility.

  39. 39
    Eric Anderson says:

    Thanks, jdk, I’ll swing over there if I get some more time in the next few days.

  40. 40
    kairosfocus says:

    Seversky,

    Pardon, but, the first problem is, you are not addressing the issue of evident, highly precise values for a large cluster of values, parameters, quantities and circumstances in the physics of our cosmos. And if instead you wish to imply the cluster is forced, that, too implies a higher level at least as fine tuned forcing law. Fine tuning is not simply dismissible.

    In that context, asserting appeal to ignorance is inappropriately dismissive. Indeed, frankly, it sounds far too much like conclusion in hand, let’s find a plausible talking point, oh, good we can always assert appeal to ignorance, so there Sir Fred Hoyle et al.

    Second, you are simply not reckoning seriously with the implications of the phase space perspective, as Walker and Davies recently underscored. They spoke to OoL but origin of a cosmos conducive to that is directly relevant:

    In physics, particularly in statistical mechanics, we base many of our calculations on the assumption of metric transitivity, which asserts that a system’s trajectory will eventually [–> given “enough time and search resources”] explore the entirety of its state space – thus everything that is phys-ically possible will eventually happen. It should then be trivially true that one could choose an arbitrary “final state” (e.g., a living organism) and “explain” it by evolving the system backwards in time choosing an appropriate state at some ’start’ time t_0 (fine-tuning the initial state). In the case of a chaotic system the initial state must be specified to arbitrarily high precision. But this account amounts to no more than saying that the world is as it is because it was as it was, and our current narrative therefore scarcely constitutes an explanation in the true scientific sense.

    We are left in a bit of a conundrum with respect to the problem of specifying the initial conditions necessary to explain our world. A key point is that if we require specialness in our initial state (such that we observe the current state of the world and not any other state) metric transitivity cannot hold true, as it blurs any dependency on initial conditions – that is, it makes little sense for us to single out any particular state as special by calling it the ’initial’ state. If we instead relax the assumption of metric transitivity (which seems more realistic for many real world physical systems – including life), then our phase space will consist of isolated pocket regions and it is not necessarily possible to get to any other physically possible state (see e.g. Fig. 1 for a cellular automata example).

    [–> or, there may not be “enough” time and/or resources for the relevant exploration, i.e. we see the 500 – 1,000 bit complexity threshold at work vs 10^57 – 10^80 atoms with fast rxn rates at about 10^-13 to 10^-15 s leading to inability to explore more than a vanishingly small fraction on the gamut of Sol system or observed cosmos . . . the only actually, credibly observed cosmos]

    Thus the initial state must be tuned to be in the region of phase space in which we find ourselves [–> notice, fine tuning], and there are regions of the configuration space our physical universe would be excluded from accessing, even if those states may be equally consistent and permissible under the microscopic laws of physics (starting from a different initial state). Thus according to the standard picture, we require special initial conditions to explain the complexity of the world, but also have a sense that we should not be on a particularly special trajectory to get here (or anywhere else) as it would be a sign of fine–tuning of the initial conditions. [ –> notice, the “loading”] Stated most simply, a potential problem with the way we currently formulate physics is that you can’t necessarily get everywhere from anywhere (see Walker [31] for discussion). [“The “Hard Problem” of Life,” June 23, 2016, a discussion by Sara Imari Walker and Paul C.W. Davies at Arxiv.]

    Directly connected, you have strawmannised the inference on best explanation by turning it into both a simplistic caricature and a fallacious deductio. nWhile, you must know it is an INDUCTION in the modern sense, an inference to best current explanation on a cluster of challenging evidence. Such an argument does not pretend to be a proof beyond doubt for all comers. It also happens to be precisely the type of argument that is used to construct and test scientific theories, which are never held true beyond room for doubt — at least for those informed enough to be aware of the history of theory refinement and replacement. Where, theories regarding the deep issue of origins, face the further challenge that we must infer from traces and on causes observed to cause the like effects. Or at least, we SHOULD.

    Further to this, you are dealing with complex, highly specifically functional organisation that supports a cosmos in which the first four elements are H, He, O and C with N close by. Stars, galaxies, the rest of the periodic table, water and organic chem already, with N bringing in proteins. Other circumstances are supportive of galactic habitable zone, long lived stars that can host terrestrial planets in stellar habitable zones.

    That is already suggestive, given the actual possibilities for cause on the table at base level: blind chance and/or mechanical necessity or intelligently directed configuration, aka design. Where, fine tuning of complex clusters of components is a sign of design, for reasons similar to those discussed by Walker and Davies etc.

    Next, we also know that what begins requires adequate cause. The observed cosmos, on multiple grounds, points to such on a scale 10 – 20 BYA. And the logic of temporal-causal succession by finite duration stages implies that traversal of an endless past succession is maximally implausible. The logic of being then points to a necessary being world root. So, the generic possibility of an extra cosmic designer is not an arbitrary rabbit pulled out of an imaginary hat. It is a serious issue in the background context of origin of a world. That’s not science in itself, but it is key background.

    And no, that sort of reasoning is not “ignorance.”

    Turning back to the science proper, we routinely infer design on sign, so if there is a sudden, stout resistance in one case or another the obvious issue is whether there are controlling ideological commitments energising selective hyperskepticism. And, in the case of origins, that is obvious.

    I suggest, instead, allow the signs to speak for themselves, as Sir Fred Hoyle had the courage to allow.

    KF

  41. 41
    Florabama says:

    Seversky @ 35, in other words, you believe by faith.

    “However, to conclude that the universe must therefore have been designed you must assume that current human knowledge exhausts all possible naturalistic explanations. In other words, if we cannot think of a naturalistic explanation now the only possibility is intelligent design. That goes too far. Yes, since we don’t know how it all started, intelligent design cannot be ruled out yet. But, since we don’t know what we don’t know, we also cannot rule out hitherto unknown naturalistic causation.”

  42. 42
    Origenes says:

    Seversky @35 misrepresents the design inference in two instances as the claim that design is the ONLY explanation for fine-tuning. That’s not the claim Sev. The claim is that intelligent design is the BEST explanation we have at this point.

    Sev: … because it is so hugely improbable that such a universe could have come about through some natural process or by accident, it can only be the product of some intelligent agency.

    Sev: … however, to conclude that the universe must therefore have been designed you must assume that current human knowledge exhausts all possible naturalistic explanations.

    This is, in fact, correct. Anyone who claims that the universe MUST have been designed — or can ONLY be designed — must, indeed, exclude all possible naturalistic explanations. However, as pointed out, this is not the claim. The universe doesn’t have to be designed, but design it is the better explanation at this point.

  43. 43

    Florabama @ 41: Of course Seversky “believes by faith.” It’s what a/mats do. They have more faith than most theists. The a/mat philosophical worldview is a faith-based secular religion.

  44. 44
    Axel says:

    Yes, @ your #24, John S, it has long been known that the religious instinct is deeply, nay, indelibly, imprinted on the atheist’s soul.

    Truth to tell though, I am inclined to believe that there are genuine atheists of the first water, though relatively few in number. I believe someone holding a similar belief said that the film celebrity, Oliver Reid was one such natural-born atheist.

  45. 45
    kmidpuddle says:

    The entire use of probality in the fine tuning argument is an improper use of probability. To calculate probability estimates for a physical constant you must know all of the values for that constant that are possible. How many possible values are there for Pi? For Planck’s constant? For the speed of light? For the gravitational constant? As far as anyone knows, there is only one possibility for any of these. Until we have evidence that any other values are possible, the best probability estimate for them
    Is one.

  46. 46
    Eric Anderson says:

    BTW, the claim Seversky hints at (we need omniscience to conclude design) and explicitly states (we must exhaust all potential naturalistic explanations) is the same failed claim that has been made before on these pages. We’ve seen it before from keiths, Elizabeth Liddle and others.

    Discussed in the context of biology (rather than cosmology) here:

    https://uncommondescent.com/darwinism/must-csi-include-the-probabilities-of-all-natural-processes-known-and-unknown/

    The underlying essence of the argument is a philosophical commitment to materialism, an unwillingness to accept the current best evidence and follow it where it leads. Instead, we get promissory notes and vague assertions that one day in the distant future a materialistic explanation will be forthcoming.

  47. 47
    Eric Anderson says:

    kmidpuddle @45:

    You make an interesting point (at least with respect to gravity and some other key constants; I’m not sure Pi is relevant).

    It is interesting to me, and quite noteworthy, that many physicists — no friends of intelligent design — have noted the issue, have referred to it as “fine tuning”, and have either explicitly stated or implied that other values are possible. Indeed, some of the attempts to explain our existence based on the multiverse are explicitly based on the idea that other values are possible.

    Are all of these theorists and physicists wrong? Is it the case that only one kind of universe is possible, even in principle, that all of the laws and constants have to be just as they are, and that our universe is the only kind possible?

    Maybe you are right. But you should take up your argument with the physics community.

    The question you raise is an important one. Personally I wouldn’t mind learning a little more about the basis for the idea that other values are possible. But that seems to be the understanding within the scientific community.

    So, based on that evidence and the current understanding, it is perfectly reasonable to ask: What do we make of the fact that our universe has the specific laws and constants that it does? If our universe were designed, is there any way that we could tell?

  48. 48
    kmidpuddle says:

    Eric, I’m no physicist so I can’t comment conclusively on why some have used the term “fine tuned”, but we are all guilt of the sloppy use of language. Evolutionists often use terms that are commonly used to describe design or purpose. But I doubt very much that they really mean that there is design or purpose.

    For some constants we know that there are other possible values. The speed of light for example. It is a constant in a vacuum. But the constant has a different value in water, or glass.

    I am not aware that any physicists have demonstrated that the physical constants, other than the type of example I mentioned above for light, have any other possible values. But, I could be wrong.

  49. 49
    ppolish says:

    Kmidpuddle, if you WERE a physicist you might buy into the idea that physical constants vary wildly over the expanse of the multiverse. Only here in our universe are the constants impossibly “fine-tuned” to allow life.

    If the multiverse had to have the same values as our universe – the fine tuning problem would become a bit worse haha.

  50. 50
    kairosfocus says:

    EA, a superlaw locking constants, structure of laws, quantities etc to a Goldilocks zone would itself be at least as fine tuned. Of course, the determined objector will typically refuse to acknowledge the point. KF

    PS: A multiverse speculation — no real empirical observational support — raises the question of a universe bakery capable of producing a quasi-infinite array of sub cosmi. And beware the problem of the million monkeys discovered when somebody gave real monkeys a vote: they kept typing s endlessly, it seemed. Not exactly as planned.

  51. 51
  52. 52
    kmidpuddle says:

    Eco:

    Goal-directed evaluation is not allowed. There is no game, and there are no rules, there is no shuffling, and there is no score.

    There certainly are rules, shuffling and score keeping.

    In all our experience, complex systems do not build themselves. You have never seen it, and I have never seen it. No one has ever observed that happening.

    Snowflakes happen all the time.

  53. 53
    ppolish says:

    Snowflakes lol. If you understood Physics, you would see the incredible fine tuning required for their creation.

    And if you understood Probability, you would realize chance can’t account for the fine tuning.

  54. 54
    Eric Anderson says:

    The issue is not complexity by itself. The issue is complexity and specification.

    Dean was no doubt referring to complex and specified systems from the context of this comments, but the wording might have been a little more clear.

  55. 55
    bill cole says:

    Seversky

    However, to conclude that the universe must therefore have been designed you must assume that current human knowledge exhausts all possible naturalistic explanations. In other words, if we cannot think of a naturalistic explanation now the only possibility is intelligent design. That goes too far. Yes, since we don’t know how it all started, intelligent design cannot be ruled out yet. But, since we don’t know what we don’t know, we also cannot rule out hitherto unknown naturalistic causation.

    This rule that we must exhaust all naturalistic explanations is a materialist canard. We have the facts in front of us. Evidence of

    -the capability of sub atomic particles
    -fine tuning
    -the observation of cause and effect
    -the origin and diversity of life
    -the laws of physics

    A created universe is certainly a reasonable inference. What evidence would lead you to a universe by chance?

  56. 56
    Latemarch says:

    None so deaf as those that will not hear. None so blind as those that will not see.
    Matthew Henry

  57. 57
    Seversky says:

    Eric Anderson @ 38

    No-one, ever, infers design on the basis of improbability alone. (Yes, I’m sure you can do a Google search and find plenty of people who have failed to properly describe how they draw the inference and whose choice of wording gives the wrong impression.)

    That’s right. No one looking at Stonehenge, for example, would have to sit down and calculate probability or FSCO/I values before thinking it looked like it was designed. In the first instance, we recognize possible design intuitively, based on what we already know.

    It is the materialist who, as Dawkins has attempted to do, has the burden of proof to demonstrate that his claim of illusion is true. That things aren’t really designed, they just appear designed, and that the materialist can point to a naturalistic cause that can act as a designer substitute

    Not quite. It is not the materialist who is claiming that there is evidence of design in nature. It is ID proponents who are pointing to certain biological structures and processes and claiming that, for various reasons, they appear to be designed. The materialist might concede that there is the appearance of design but argue that without stronger evidence for the existence of a designer the appearance of design is just that, appearance and nothing else.

    The materialistic answer — a fully self-serving answer we should note — to this question is, yes, we must scrupulously avoid drawing any inference until, in your words we “exhaust all possible naturalistic explanations”.

    Speaking for myself, you are free to draw all the design inferences you want but that, without stronger evidence for a designer, all you have is conjecture. As a materialist, I freely admit I don’t have anything better to offer as an explanation for origins. We are both in the same boat, in that respect. I don’t have a naturalistic explanation of origins. I just lean towards the view that such an explanation exists based on the success of naturalistic/materialistic explanations in other fields and that I’m not aware of any credible evidence for the existence of a non-human designer capable of creating “life, the Universe and everything”. If you think you can build arguments and find evidence that could change that position then, by all means, have at it.

    The burden of proof is squarely on the materialist who claims this is all an illusion to offer a reasonable alternative. And that burden cannot be met by a handwaving assertion that until all naturalistic explanations — present ones, tentative ones, crazy ones, ones that haven’t even been thought up yet — have been exhausted. Such an approach is not science. It is materialistic philosophy masquerading as science.

    The burden of proof for a claim rests with the claimant. ID proponents are claiming that, not only are there structures in Nature that have the appearance of design, but that that appearance coupled with other arguments from improbability and incredulity provide sufficient support the design inference. The materialist, while conceding the appearance of design, finds the other arguments unpersuasive, that ID proponents have not yet met the burden of proof for such a claim. Without evidence for a credible designer all you are left with is the appearance of design, nothing more.

    Really? I hope you don’t think this is a serious argument against fine tuning. Do you really think the universe should have been set up so that humans should be able to exist in comfort in every part of the universe? What strange set of laws and constants would you propose that would make this possible?

    If the claim is that this entire universe was designed and created by some unimaginably powerful being for the sole purpose of fostering life on this planet in general and humanity in particular then I would say that, taking into account what we know of the cosmos, the claim is absurd on its face. I would argue that, if we assume an intelligence of such power, it should be more than capable of designing a universe that was far more hospitable to terrestrial life if that was its purpose, that the appearance of Earth, in contrast, is more that of a relatively benign nature preserve at best. In my view, if the Universe was designed with a purpose, it was not for us, at least not as we are now.

  58. 58
    kairosfocus says:

    Sev, one looking at stonehenge would intuitively recognise that it exhibits functional coherence reflecting functionally specific complex organisation and associated information; which can if necessary be quantified. Easiest way, capture it in an AutoCAD drawing. The linked point is, such FSCO/I imposes an overwhelming blind search challenge on the scale of sol system or observed cosmos, and we thus see why on trillions of directly observed cases of actual causal origin, it is reliably a product of intelligently directed configuration. Our common sense intuition has serious “backative,” it is not just an illusion or an emotion or a vague perception. KF

  59. 59
    ppolish says:

    “A created universe is certainly a reasonable inference.” Totally reasonable bill@57. Reasonable Rational & Logical. Chance Ooops Nothing please stop. Thank you.

  60. 60
    EricMH says:

    General question: what demarcates naturalistic explanations? One commentator stated we cannot claim any non-naturalistic explanation until we’ve exhausted all naturalistic explanations. However, we do not know the extent of naturalistic explanation, therefore we must always presuppose naturalism.

    But, presupposing naturalism is not even meaningful if we do not know what constitutes a naturalistic explanation. What are sufficient criteria for an explanation to be naturalistic?

    I’ll offer my definition coming from a computer science background. All physical laws are computable, therefore a sufficient definition of a naturalistic explanation is that it is a computable explanation. However, the set of computable functions is infinitesimally small compared to all possible functions. So, naturalism can be eliminated by eliminating computable explanations, which is the thrust of the No Free Lunch and Search for a Search arguments.

  61. 61
    Granville Sewell says:

    In my recent Physics Essays article:

    http://www.math.utep.edu/Facul.....ewell.html

    I wrote:

    But the second law is always about probability, so what is still useful in more complicated scenarios is the fundamental principle behind all applications of the second law, which is that natural causes do not do {\it macroscopically} describable things which are extremely improbable from the {\it microscopic} point of view. Footnote: Extremely improbable events must be macroscopically (simply) describable to be forbidden; if we include extremely improbable events which can only be described by an atom-by-atom accounting, there are so many of these that some are sure to happen. (If we flip a billion fair coins, any particular outcome we get can be said to be extremely improbable, but we are only astonished if something extremely improbable and simply describable happens, such as “the last million coins are tails.”) If we define an event to be simply describable when it can be described in m or fewer bits, there are at most 2^m simply describable events; then we can set the probability threshold for an event to be considered “extremely improbable” so low that we can be confident that {\it no} extremely improbable, simply describable events will ever occur.

    Notice the similarity between this and Dembski’s argument that unintelligent forces do not do things that are “specified” (simply or macroscopically describable) and “complex” (extremely improbable).

  62. 62
    bill cole says:

    Seversky

    If the claim is that this entire universe was designed and created by some unimaginably powerful being for the sole purpose of fostering life on this planet in general and humanity in particular then I would say that, taking into account what we know of the cosmos, the claim is absurd on its face. I would argue that, if we assume an intelligence of such power, it should be more than capable of designing a universe that was far more hospitable to terrestrial life if that was its purpose, that the appearance of Earth, in contrast, is more that of a relatively benign nature preserve at best. In my view, if the Universe was designed with a purpose, it was not for us, at least not as we are now.

    It is a canard to say that the burden of proof is on the other side of the argument. Both sides need to be supported. The materialist claim is that the universe is a result of chance. This is a very difficult claim to support and so I understand your attempt to project the burden of proof to the other side of the argument.

    Your claim is that the creation claim is absurd based on knowing better than the creator how to design a universe?

  63. 63
    francesoc says:

    This response may have some rhetorical force, but it makes a fundamental mistake. To expose the error, let me give you another illustration. Imagine your best friend has been murdered and the lead suspect is on trial. In fact, DNA evidence puts the suspect at the scene with the murder weapon in hand. As a result, the defense attorney turns to the jury and says, “The DNA evidence makes it highly unlikely that my client is innocent. But unlikely things happen all the time. For example, for you to exist, your mom and dad had to meet, fall in love, and have sex at just the right time. . . .

    We can demonstrate the likelihood of matching the DNA of someone based explainable science which is demonstrable and pretty much understood.

    The problem with the fine tuning argument is that it has to first demonstrate that the current universe is unlikely. How have you arrived at the position the current universe is unlikely?

    This is a premise of the fine tuning argument. Yet it has never been demonstrated that the current universe is unlikely compared to a host of other possibilities.

    I mean we’re all adults here, honestly, you haven’t just added them all up on a calculator and divided by the total to calculate an infallible probability have you?

    Until you can demonstrate this, it’s not really a sound argument as I simply reject the premise outright and walk away. There’s no further reason to have a serious discussion regarding your argument.

  64. 64
    Eric Anderson says:

    Seversky @59:

    Apologies for the delayed response.

    That’s right. No one looking at Stonehenge, for example, would have to sit down and calculate probability or FSCO/I values before thinking it looked like it was designed. In the first instance, we recognize possible design intuitively, based on what we already know.

    I agree. This is why the inference to design should be the default in these kinds of situations. Not some mechanistic theory that has never once demonstrated the causal ability to produce artifacts of this kind.

    The ironic thing is that this same impression, the same intuition you mention, is strongly present when we look at many biological systems. Even Richard Dawkins has defined biology in reference to things that appear designed. Darwin was also impressed by this appearance. So according to your observation (with which I agree) we should be able to intuitively recognize design, at least as a default. We can then use additional efforts of math and analysis to tighten up this intuition into a robust scientific inference. That is what design proponents are working on, and it should be completely natural and non-controversial.

    Unfortunately, for a reason that is readily apparent and occasionally admitted, this general and reasonable approach to our intuition about design is forbidden in biology. Philosophical maneuvering and obfuscation are instead used to prevent this same rational approach, with all manner of red herrings being brought to bear.

    It is not the materialist who is claiming that there is evidence of design in nature. It is ID proponents who are pointing to certain biological structures and processes and claiming that, for various reasons, they appear to be designed. The materialist might concede that there is the appearance of design but argue that without stronger evidence for the existence of a designer the appearance of design is just that, appearance and nothing else.

    Yes, even ardent Darwinists admit that there is an “appearance of design”. But the materialist wants to stand this on its head and shift the burden of proof to the person who acknowledges the reality of the appearance of design. Instead, the materialist claims it is all an illusion. Never mind that the very principles that allow us to reliably infer design outside of biology are precisely the same principles used to infer design in biology. Never mind that the materialist has never provided any rational reason to believe his designer substitute is anything but an impotent impostor.

    The rhetorical tactic Darwin employed in The Origin was patently self-serving and unscientific. His followers today follow the same tactics. Tactics that consist not in demonstrating a realistic alternative to design or in refuting the initial impression of design, but instead consist of various philosophical complaints coupled with demands of a level of proof from design proponents that Darwinism itself has never, and in principle cannot, provide.

    I don’t have a naturalistic explanation of origins. I just lean towards the view that such an explanation exists based on the success of naturalistic/materialistic explanations in other fields and that I’m not aware of any credible evidence for the existence of a non-human designer . . .

    I appreciate you being up front about the lack of a naturalistic explanation. Your confidence in a naturalistic/materialistic explanation based on success in other fields is perhaps misplaced, however. Presumably you mean fields that don’t include finely-tuned parameters necessary for life, fields that don’t include information-rich, digital-based, complex functional systems. There has never been a naturalistic/materialistic explanation for such systems. On the contrary, on billions upon billions of examples, we know that such systems have always and only been the result of an intelligent cause.

    So at the very least you are making a category mistake. It also appears you are making a philosophically-based commitment to a materialistic explanation. Even the very fact that you acknowledge there is an “appearance of design” while you “don’t have a naturalistic explanation of origins” might lead an objective person to tentatively conclude or at least tentatively consider that design might be the best explanation — at least for now while we wait for the ever-promised, distant materialistic explanation. Are you willing to consider design as a live possibility?

    Finally, this is a strange statement: “I’m not aware of any credible evidence for the existence of a non-human designer”. Of course there is evidence. The “appearance of design” you mentioned is evidence. The probability calculations and the more carefully articulated design inference is evidence. That is how we discover past designers. It has always been so, across multiple fields. There is plenty of evidence.

    On the other hand, if you are saying that you’re not aware of any independent confirming evidence outside of the design inference, then that is a different matter. It smacks of hyperskepticism, however, because it is essentially saying “I don’t think we can infer the existence of a designer unless we already know a designer exists.” An interesting proposition to be sure, but not particularly impressive as a logical stance and not particularly consonant with how the design inference works, regularly and reliably, outside of biology or the cosmos.

    If the claim is that this entire universe was designed and created by some unimaginably powerful being for the sole purpose of fostering life on this planet in general and humanity in particular then I would say that, taking into account what we know of the cosmos, the claim is absurd on its face. I would argue that, if we assume an intelligence of such power, it should be more than capable of designing a universe that was far more hospitable to terrestrial life if that was its purpose, that the appearance of Earth, in contrast, is more that of a relatively benign nature preserve at best.

    I haven’t made such a claim about a “sole purpose”, but I can understand how some people’s positioning might give that impression. I personally would never suggest that a designer of the universe had nothing else in mind except the “sole purpose” of this planet and its inhabitants.

    Your “poor design” statement, however, as you well know, is philosophical and religious in nature, so doesn’t go very far.

    In my view, if the Universe was designed with a purpose, it was not for us, at least not as we are now.

    Perhaps. Interesting suggestion, particularly the last clause.

  65. 65
    Eric Anderson says:

    francesoc @66:

    Yet it has never been demonstrated that the current universe is unlikely compared to a host of other possibilities.

    What do you mean by this?

    Are you saying that we don’t know of another universe and, therefore, it hasn’t been experimentally “demonstrated”?

    Are you saying that the laws and constants of the universe had to be as they are, meaning there is only one kind of universe possible?

    Are you saying we don’t know whether the laws and constants can be different than they are?

    Personally, I’d like to understand better the basis for the claim that the laws and constants could be different than they are, but I’m certainly willing to at least consider the idea, given that many physicists have come to this conclusion, independent of any desire to demonstrate design or to suggest the uniqueness of the universe.

    And if they are right in their assessment of the evidence, what is the implication?

  66. 66
    ppolish says:

    Francesco, current multiverse ideology has a livable universe to be extremely unlikely. The multiverse is 99.9999 etc dead universes FYI. That is what the math/probability tells.

  67. 67
    francesoc says:

    Are you saying that we don’t know of another universe and, therefore, it hasn’t been experimentally “demonstrated”?

    Are you saying that the laws and constants of the universe had to be as they are, meaning there is only one kind of universe possible?

    Are you saying we don’t know whether the laws and constants can be different than they are?

    We cannot investigate the mechanism from this universe was born. We also only have one example of a universe to work with. Given these restrictions it’s quite clearly not possible to determine whether this universe is likely or unlikely. Saying it’s unlikely Is rather like someone saying 20 years ago saying “look how perfect earth is for life, it’s so unlikely a planet like this could exist” when they have literally zero information about how common any planets are around other stars. They’re making a statement about likelihood that they’ve simply made up off the top of their head.

    There’s no mathematical way to determine how likely a universe is where the fundamental constants are the way they are in our universe. So maybe it’s a nice hypothetical to ponder in your free time, but it’s not an argument for the supernatural in any way.

    If it’s just something hypothetical to ponder (“what if the universe is finely tuned by a creator?”), then it’s not analogous to your DNA example. DNA evidence can scientifically demonstrate that something is overwhelmingly likely or unlikely.

    If our universe was finely tuned by a creator, and that’s a huge hypothetical, then it would mean that the universe was finely tuned by a creator. I don’t see any other implication. But it cannot be demonstrated that the universe is finely tuned by a creator. Saying “our current universe is unlikely” doesn’t mean anything, because you’ve decided it’s unlikely without demonstrating how. I could just as well contemplate the one in a million chance of me eating a banana for breakfast instead of my normal Muesli. You can contemplate the fact that our universe may have a creator any day of the week, but it has nothing to do with claiming that our universe is likely or unlikely.

    I don’t know if our current life-permitting universe was unlikely, and neither do you.

  68. 68
    francesoc says:

    Francesco, current multiverse ideology has a livable universe to be extremely unlikely. The multiverse is 99.9999 etc dead universes FYI. That is what the math/probability tells.

    The current multiverse “ideology” tells us every possible universe must exist. We always have a 100 percent probability of being in the universe we are in.

    It doesn’t tell us our universe is unlikely at all, it tells us our universe is certain (and unleashes a whole host of ethical problems as there are now an infinite number of universes where innocents have unconscionable and barbaric acts committed against through no fault of their own).

    But even completely disregarding that, I don’t understand how this is an argument for God.

  69. 69
    Eric Anderson says:

    francesoc:

    First, let me repeat what I have said before: I think the inference to design is much stronger in biology, than in cosmology. However, your hasty dismissal of the inference in cosmology seems a bit off.

    We also only have one example of a universe to work with. Given these restrictions it’s quite clearly not possible to determine whether this universe is likely or unlikely.

    That’s not quite a correct description of the situation. The question is whether the laws and constants could be otherwise. If so, and if there is a reasonable range of possible values, then it is easy to show that our particular arrangement is unlikely, even with a sample of one. I agree that the inference will never be as strong in this case as it would be if we had many more samples. But we can’t dismiss the inference solely on the basis of one sample.

    Saying it’s unlikely Is rather like someone saying 20 years ago saying “look how perfect earth is for life, it’s so unlikely a planet like this could exist” when they have literally zero information about how common any planets are around other stars. They’re making a statement about likelihood that they’ve simply made up off the top of their head.

    Again, you are somewhat misrepresenting the argument. An inference can be drawn based on various parameters that could be different than they are. Further, even without a lot of information about planets around other stars, there was a fair amount of information about other stars and about at least a few other planets (7 or 8, take your pick). Finally, it is interesting how the inference has held up pretty well, now that thousands of other planets have been discovered.

    I personally think we will eventually find other planets that are that are habitable like Earth. But based on the clear data to date, they will be quite rare. This is true even just based on a few of the parameters (host star, orbital period, relative size, orbital eccentricity), never mind all the other parameters that Earth has.

    So which inference has proven more accurate over the last 20 years now that we have a much better sample size: (a) Earth is rather unique as a habitable place for large-scale life, (b) Earth is just one of billions of other planets, with nothing special about it?

    This was a testable prediction, drawn though it was as an inference based on a small sample size, and it has been clearly borne out in favor of those arguing for the rarity of Earth-like planets.

    So it sounds like if you were hearing the inference about the rarity of Earth 20 years ago, you would have rejected what has turned out to be the best explanation. What would have led you to reject the correct position? It seems to be (i) your misunderstanding of the argument, and (ii) your hyper-skeptical demand that we must have lots more data on other planets before we could even start to draw a reasonable inference based on the data we did have. *

    So you would have made a mistake. Now, 20 years on, with several thousand more data points, are you willing to reconsider and accept that the Earth is a rather rare phenomenon?

    —–

    * Based on my experience with many debaters it is also likely, though I won’t pretend to know your particular situation, that the primary reason would have been: (iii) an a priori unwillingness to consider design and give it a fair shake in the first place.

  70. 70
    francesoc says:

    That’s not quite a correct description of the situation. The question is whether the laws and constants could be otherwise. If so, and if there is a reasonable range of possible values, then it is easy to show that our particular arrangement is unlikely, even with a sample of one. I agree that the inference will never be as strong in this case as it would be if we had many more samples. But we can’t dismiss the inference solely on the basis of one sample.

    How have you calculated that our universe is unlikely? If there are a reasonable range of possible values for a universe when it is created, you would need to know the probability of each universe occurring in order to conclude that our universe is unlikely. This is an impossible conclusion based on our current understanding of physics.

    If I present you the case that there are three possible outcomes for my sports team this weekend, they win, they draw, or the lose, it’s a probabilistic fallacy to infer that each case has a likelihood of one third. This should be obvious to anyone with even a cursory training in statistics.

    I personally think we will eventually find other planets that are that are habitable like Earth. But based on the clear data to date, they will be quite rare.

    This is my belief too, however my point was now we have more information about exo-planets, our belief isn’t based on a wild guess – the “error bars” in our certainty of this are much smaller than 20 years ago. we now have much more certainty in our reason to believe that earth analogues exist. We also have more certainty in our educated guess at how likely earth analogues are. As we continue to amass information pertaining to exo-planetary data, the error bars for both hypotheses will further and further reduce, and our confidence in the calculations of likelihood will increase. This is similar in probabilistic to the Drake equation – our starting point is that it has a 100% margin of error. The more we learn about the universe, and the likelihood of planets, the further the margin of error reduces, and the more confidence we can have in the equations predictive and explanatory power.

    However the “error bars” in our judgement of the likelihood of universes being likely are a still 100%. There’s a 100% margin of error in probability calculations that our current universe is likely, or unlikely.

    Lastly, I’m open to the idea of a “designed” universe – I’m an agnostic of sorts. I just think that from a mathematical standpoint, the fine tuning argument is useless (and even more so if you accept a multiverse exists). As someone earlier pointed out, if you accept a multi verse, there’s no point calculating the probability of anything because everything can is possible to exist does exist, and it would be a more productive use of your time to attend underwater basket weaving classes.

  71. 71
    Eric Anderson says:

    If I present you the case that there are three possible outcomes for my sports team this weekend, they win, they draw, or the lose, it’s a probabilistic fallacy to infer that each case has a likelihood of one third. This should be obvious to anyone with even a cursory training in statistics.

    Of course you are right that each case having a likelihood of one third is not accurate. Yet this is not a particularly relevant analogy. In the one case we are dealing with, under the materialist scenario, what are supposed to be purposeless, random elements. In your scenario, we are dealing with purposeful, intentional individuals. You would also have to consider all the other factors relating to your team: skill levels, particular personalities, all the opposing players, impact of referees. It isn’t clear that anything like that at all exists with respect to the formation of a particular law of physics. Anyway, there might be some good analogies to the formation of the cosmos, but that isn’t one.

    This is my belief too, however my point was now we have more information about exo-planets, our belief isn’t based on a wild guess – the “error bars” in our certainty of this are much smaller than 20 years ago.

    Well, it certainly wasn’t a “wild guess” that Earth-like planets would be rare. If anything the proposition that Earth is a typical ordinary planet around an ordinary star, a la Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, was a wild guess.

    . . . we now have much more certainty in our reason to believe that earth analogues exist.

    I’m not sure what this means. The data we now have suggests that Earth-like planets are rather rare.

    We also have more certainty in our educated guess at how likely earth analogues are. As we continue to amass information pertaining to exo-planetary data, the error bars for both hypotheses will further and further reduce, and our confidence in the calculations of likelihood will increase. This is similar in probabilistic to the Drake equation – our starting point is that it has a 100% margin of error. The more we learn about the universe, and the likelihood of planets, the further the margin of error reduces, and the more confidence we can have in the equations predictive and explanatory power.

    If you mean “how likely” in the sense of how unlikely, then yes. I agree that more we learn the better we will be able to reduce the margin of error.

    As someone earlier pointed out, if you accept a multi verse, there’s no point calculating the probability of anything because everything can is possible to exist does exist, and it would be a more productive use of your time to attend underwater basket weaving classes.

    Agreed. Of course that is part of the point of the multiverse argument — to take a rational probabilistic analysis and make it irrelevant, just by asserting that the universe happened because, well we got lucky and it did. Nothing to calculate because everything happens. As you note, there are significant problems with the multiverse idea. Maybe a discussion for another time . . .

  72. 72
    francesoc says:

    In the one case we are dealing with, under the materialist scenario, what are supposed to be purposeless, random elements.

    We don’t know that the mechanism that generated the universe is random. That’s why the fine tuning argument falls on its first premise, and the argument is not sound.

  73. 73
    Eric Anderson says:

    There is a great deal we don’t know. I agree with you there. But you seem to be overstating the criticism against fine tuning.

    Let’s start from square 1:

    It is the case, a simple factual observation of physics for decades, that the laws and constants of the universe are set up in a highly precise way that coincides with what is required for life as we know it, including large, multi-cellular, intelligent life forms like humans. Notice I said “coincides” not “for the purpose of”. Fine tuning is, at least in this correlative sense, uncontroversial and an established fact of physics.

    This is at the very least an exceedingly interesting observation that should make any objective observer sit up and take notice. What are the implications of this observation; does it mean something more? That is a separate question.

    Let’s consider the options on the table:

    1. The laws and constants of the universe could be reasonably different than they are. In this case, our universe is a highly-unique universe.

    1.a. This uniqueness, coupled with the additional observation of various forms of life that can exist only due this uniqueness, including us as intelligent observers, seems to be purposeful, the product of intentional activity. The universe at least appears to be designed.

    1.b. Yes, the universe appears designed, but that is an illusion and in reality the universe is not purposeful or special in a meaningful way. There are a near infinite number of universes and ours just happens to be the lucky one. That we observe these finely-tuned laws and constants and the appearance of design is simply an artifact of the fact that we happen to be in this universe, so it is the only one we can observe.

    2. The laws and constants of the universe cannot be different than they are. In this case, even if the universe seems unique, it doesn’t really make sense to talk about uniqueness, because no other options are available.

    2.a. The universe was designed, but it had to be designed this way to work. No other combination of laws and constants could produce a universe, so this was the only option.

    2.b. The universe may appear designed, but it wasn’t. The universe is just the way it is. Either (A) the universe has always existed or (B) it was caused by some natural force that could only produce this particular kind of universe.

    —–

    Now, agreeing again that there is much we don’t know, when we look at the options, 1.a is at least as good as the other options. Arguably much better.

    Do I think the design inference is as strong in cosmology as in biology? No. But I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone tenatively inferring 1.a, especially in light of the other options available. It is definitely the current best explanation, even if tentative.

    One can note that we have much to learn. One can point out that the inference must be tentative. But the tendency to simply dismiss the inference out of hand seems to arise from something other than objectivity. After all, to claim that we cannot draw any inference about the cause of the universe because we don’t know the cause of the universe is circular.

  74. 74
    francesoc says:

    1. The laws and constants of the universe could be reasonably different than they are. In this case, our universe is a highly-unique universe.

    Our universe is the only universe we know of. We don’t know if our universe is highly unique or not. It could be that the physical constants are coupled in such a way that it is necessary that they can only be the way they are, or that it is highly likely they are the way they are. Again, we cannot investigate the universe-generating mechanism, so the answer to this question is “we don’t know“.

    It cannot be demonstrated that our universe is “highly unique“, therefore the fine tuning argument is not sound. End of story.

  75. 75
    kairosfocus says:

    Francesoc:

    We don’t know that the mechanism that generated the universe is random . . . .

    Our universe is the only universe we know of. We don’t know if our universe is highly unique or not. It could be that the physical constants are coupled in such a way that it is necessary that they can only be the way they are, or that it is highly likely they are the way they are.

    In effect you are suggesting necessity locking framework of laws, parameters, initial values etc with astonishing exactitude.

    Is this mathematical-logical necessity, as with 0 = 1 + e^i*pi, which locks those five math constants together with literally infinite precision?

    No, the very existence of a discussion shows that it is widely understood that so wide a range of things that in many cases seem to be based on degrees of freedom shows that is not the answer.

    This means, you are implying that for all we know, there is some PHYSICAL constraint, a super-law that binds these things together with utter precision.

    But that simply pushes the fine tuning up one level, and it does so with absolutely no empirical warrant.

    By contrast, we have good reason to recognise that many of the values we see, such as initial quantities etc, should be highly contingent. Based on much experience of cases where such values are clearly contingent.

    So, it seems you have crossed the border into metaphysical speculation, and in so doing, only managed to put up a suggested binding super-law that is at least as fine tuned as all the other laws put together.

    Actually, given the evident pattern of values, initial conditions, set-up of the sol system [that’s a whole province of fine tuning: privileged planet . . .] etc, it is evident that we can infer how such a super law could obtain and would force the frame of laws etc to a deeply isolated, specifically functional, life permitting operating point in the mathematical-logical configuration space.

    Intelligently directed configuration.

    AKA, design.

    KF

  76. 76
    Origenes says:

    Kairosfocus, Francesoc

    Francesoc: It could be that the physical constants are coupled in such a way that it is necessary that they can only be the way they are, or that it is highly likely they are the way they are.

    Kairosfocus: This means, you are implying that for all we know, there is some PHYSICAL constraint, a super-law that binds these things together with utter precision.
    But that simply pushes the fine tuning up one level, and it does so with absolutely no empirical warrant.

    You have nailed it Kairosfocus. Thank you. It seems to me that your observation is completely in line with conservation of information.

    Dembski: The reason it’s called “conservation” of information is that the best we can do is break even, rendering the search no more difficult than before. In that case, information is actually conserved. Yet often, as in this example, we may actually do worse by trying to improve the probability of a successful search. Thus, we may introduce an alternative search that seems to improve on the original search but that, once the costs of obtaining this search are themselves factored in, in fact exacerbate the original search problem.

    The alternative search, in Francesoc’s scenario would be the search for something (some ‘physical constraint’ or ‘super-law’ in Kairosfocus’ words) that caused a fine-tuned universe.

    To see how this works, let’s consider a toy problem. Imagine that your search space consists of only six items, labeled 1 through 6. Let’s say your target is item 6 and that you’re going to search this space by rolling a fair die once. If it lands on 6, your search is successful; otherwise, it’s unsuccessful. So your probability of success is 1/6. Now let’s say you want to increase the probability of success to 1/2. You therefore find a machine that flips a fair coin and delivers item 6 to you if it lands heads and delivers some other item in the search space if it land tails. What a great machine, you think. It significantly boosts the probability of obtaining item 6 (from 1/6 to 1/2).
    But then a troubling question crosses your mind: Where did this machine that raises your probability of success come from? A machine that tosses a fair coin and that delivers item 6 if the coin lands heads and some other item in the search space if it lands tails is easily reconfigured. It can just as easily deliver item 5 if it lands heads and some other item if it lands tails. Likewise for all the remaining items in the search space: a machine such as the one described can privilege any one of the six items in the search space, delivering it with probability 1/2 at the expense of the others. So how did you get the machine that privileges item 6? Well, you had to search among all those machines that flip coins and with probability 1/2 deliver a given item, selecting the one that delivers item 6 when it lands heads. And what’s the probability of finding such a machine?
    To keep things simple, let’s imagine that our machine delivers item 6 with probability 1/2 and each of items 1 through 5 with equal probability, that is, with probability 1/10. Accordingly, this machine is one of six possible machines configured in essentially the same way. There’s another machine that flips a coin, delivers item 1 from the original search space if it lands heads, and delivers any one of 2 through 6 with probability 1/10 each if the coin lands tails. And so on. Thus, of these six machines, one delivers item 6 with probability 1/2 and the remaining five machines deliver item 6 with probability 1/10. Since there are six machines, only one of which delivers item 6 (our target) with high probability, and since only labels and no intrinsic property distinguishes one machine from any other in this setup (the machines are, as mathematicians would say, isomorphic), the principle of indifference applies to these machines and prescribes that the probability of getting the machine that delivers item 6 with probability 1/2 is the same as that of getting any other machine, and is therefore 1/6.
    But a probability of 1/6 to find a machine that delivers item 6 with probability 1/2 is no better than our original probability of 1/6 of finding the target simply by tossing a die. In fact, once we have this machine, we still have only a 50-50 chance of locating item 6. Finding this machine incurs a probability cost of 1/6, and once this cost is incurred we still have a probability cost of 1/2 of finding item 6. Since probability costs increase as probabilities decrease, we’re actually worse off than we were at the start, where we simply had to roll a die that, with probability 1/6, locates item 6.
    The probability of finding item 6 using this machine, once we factor in the probabilistic cost of securing the machine, therefore ends up being 1/6 x 1/2 = 1/12. So our attempt to increase the probability of finding item 6 by locating a more effective search for that item has actually backfired, making it in the end even more improbable that we’ll find item 6. Conservation of information says that this is always a danger when we try to increase the probability of success of a search — that the search, instead of becoming easier, remains as difficult as before or may even, as in this example, become more difficult once additional underlying information costs, associated with improving the search and often hidden, as in this case by finding a suitable machine, are factored in.
    [Dembski]

  77. 77
    kairosfocus says:

    Search for a golden search comes from the power set of the configuration space of possibilities for the original search. As already noted, it thus tends to be EXPONENTIALLY harder. As cardinality of Power set P(S) = 2^s, s being cardinality of original set S.

  78. 78
    Eric Anderson says:

    francesoc:

    I will just repeat what I said earlier: you are too dismissive, without engaging the options I carefully laid out.

    We don’t know if our universe is highly unique or not. It could be that the physical constants are coupled in such a way that it is necessary that they can only be the way they are, or that it is highly likely they are the way they are. Again, we cannot investigate the universe-generating mechanism, so the answer to this question is “we don’t know“.

    I agree that we don’t know in the sense of a logically-entailed deduction or in the sense of empirical evidence about how the universe came about. I’m not aware of any major proponent of fine tuning who has ever argued as such. The argument is a more-nuanced inference.

    You may be right that the laws and constants cannot be other than they are (or are highly likely to be as they are). Yet there seem to be plenty of physicists who, without any particular philosophical stance, have concluded otherwise. I would be interested in knowing why they have concluded as they have, rather than just throwing up our hands and saying “we can’t know” and “end of story”.

    I welcome your general skepticism, but you need to be careful it doesn’t manifest as a refusal-to-consider-the-options hyper-skepticism that tries to define away the fine-tuning argument without consideration.

    KF and Origenes have provided some interesting thoughts @78-79. Are they definitive? Are they deductive? No. But absolutely some food for thought.

    Otherwise, the option you seem to be falling back to my option 2.b. Not completely irrational, but certainly no better than 1.a, and it just leaves us with this interesting and unexplainable “mystery” of the highly-precise “coincidence” of the universe as we observe it. Even that simple observation itself, without other evidentiary considerations, should be enough to make someone at least consider the possibilities.

  79. 79
    francesoc says:

    Kairosfocus:

    This means, you are implying that for all we know, there is some PHYSICAL constraint, a super-law that binds these things together with utter precision.
    But that simply pushes the fine tuning up one level, and it does so with absolutely no empirical warrant.

    Our current understanding of the laws of the universe is that they are theoretically and practically contradictory, so actually the most common position among professionals in the hard sciences is that such a “super-law” exists, we just have not discovered it yet. The rest of your lengthy response presupposes that God created this “super law”, so your argument can be rationally summed up as “if God created the laws of the universe, then God created the laws of the universe, and the universe is fine tuned”. This is just a tautology and doesn’t warrant further response here.

    We do not know what the constraints or properties of the universe-generating mechanisms are, and we did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  80. 80
    francesoc says:

    I agree that we don’t know in the sense of a logically-entailed deduction or in the sense of empirical evidence about how the universe came about. I’m not aware of any major proponent of fine tuning who has ever argued as such. The argument is a more-nuanced inference.

    The fine tuning argument rests entirely on its first premise. If you want to scrap that, and say “let’s suppose universes are randomly generated and what are the implications of that” then you are free to do so, but you will have moved outside the realm of logical argument into hypotheticals.

    I could present any argument in the formatted example “let’s suppose that aliens created a universe for us”, but that’s just an interesting hypothetical, it’s not an argument that aliens actually created the universe for us.

    Yet there seem to be plenty of physicists who, without any particular philosophical stance, have concluded otherwise.

    I agree, indeed physicists have also specifically used words such as “unlikely”. I have, like you, never seen one describe why the current laws are unlikely. That’s because I think the answer is obvious – they’re saying it’s unlikely if you presuppose that universes are randomly generated and all possibly available laws are equally likely.

    The fine tuned universe is an absolute mystery, and as it stands no one can rationally describe why it is the way it is. What I have attempted to advance in this conversation, is that I am not so sure that this points to a God. In the yawning chasm of absence of available evidence, we should tread carefully.

    Unless you presuppose that universes are generated randomly, and all available possible physical laws are distributed evenly and are not dependent on each other, the argument is unsound. The actual argument only works if you accept this without conditions – and some people like me are skeptical of it.

    Anyway it’s been nice conversing, I’ll probably step away from this thread now.

  81. 81
    kairosfocus says:

    Francesoc:

    A superlaw forcing us to what is per logic of structure and quantity a deeply isolated operating point in the config space of quantitative and structural possibilities would in turn be at least as fine tuned.

    Of course one can descend to an infinite regress or some sort of chicken-egg ultimate loop if one wants, but that simply compounds the problem. As for, oh you PRESUPPOSE God, that is a projection on your part that may work rhetorically for your intended audience, but it hardly sustains itself on the logic of inference to best, empirically warranted explanation. Which is central to scientific explanations.

    As for that “long” response, here it is:

    In effect you are suggesting necessity locking framework of laws, parameters, initial values etc with astonishing exactitude.

    Is this mathematical-logical necessity, as with 0 = 1 + e^i*pi, which locks those five math constants together with literally infinite precision?

    No, the very existence of a discussion shows that it is widely understood that so wide a range of things that in many cases seem to be based on degrees of freedom shows that is not the answer.

    This means, you are implying that for all we know, there is some PHYSICAL constraint, a super-law that binds these things together with utter precision.

    But that simply pushes the fine tuning up one level, and it does so with absolutely no empirical warrant.

    By contrast, we have good reason to recognise that many of the values we see, such as initial quantities etc, should be highly contingent. Based on much experience of cases where such values are clearly contingent.

    So, it seems you have crossed the border into metaphysical speculation, and in so doing, only managed to put up a suggested binding super-law that is at least as fine tuned as all the other laws put together.

    Actually, given the evident pattern of values, initial conditions, set-up of the sol system [that’s a whole province of fine tuning: privileged planet . . .] etc, it is evident that we can infer how such a super law could obtain and would force the frame of laws etc to a deeply isolated, specifically functional, life permitting operating point in the mathematical-logical configuration space.

    Intelligently directed configuration.

    AKA, design.

    That is definitely not pre-supposing or question-begging. It is inference to a PROCESS of directed configuration shaped by intelligence, the commonly observed cause of functionally specific complex organisation yielding functional coherence of a system which often embeds fine tuned (and information-rich . . . ) co-adaptation, arrangement, coupling and interaction of components.

    An extracosmic designer is a credible source of design, but that is not even close to the God of ethical theism. For instance, the cosmos as grand simulation is on the table.

    KF

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