“Fine Tuning” and Intelligent Design – do new scientific findings prove the necessity of a designer?
Most cultures have, at some stage, postulated the existence of a supernatural being to rationalize observed phenomena devoid of alternative explanation. All such inferences can be collectively termed “arguments from design”, the goal of which is to ascertain that the universe was designed for life; often, human life in particular. One of the first recorded formulations of the Teleological argument has been dated back as far as 43BC; the two millennia since have seen a plethora of slight variations of the argument spawn into existence. An interesting (albeit somewhat irrelevant) tendency of the argument is its unrelenting cycle of deterioration and restoration. Each new version attempts to fill a gap in our current understanding with paranormal explanations, consequently, each is challenged, if not utterly refuted, when the baffling phenomenon is explained by science. New discoveries hollow out a new lair of ignorance that are then occupied by a fresh argument from design.
A recent formulation of this argument has been propagated as “intelligent” design and dubbed scientific. Sadly, it’s neither. This essay will deliberate the argument for intelligent design from Fine-Tuning. Following a brief outline of the argument, I will examine the validity of the inferences made from the presence fine-tuning, using arguments put forth by both critics and supporters of the dispute. Ultimately, I aim to show that the argument fails to show any likelihood of divine intervention.
The Fine-Tuning Argument Made Easy
Fine-tuning is the term given “to the joint fact that the life-permitting values of the constants of physics are small compared with the “theoretically possible” ranges for those values and the fact that the values actually fall in the life-permitting range” . Up to 47 properties have been published as evidence of fine-tuning, although most of these are inter-related and can be summarised by several fundamental constants. Henceforth, “constants” will collectively refer to all properties, laws, forces and physical constants that make up the evidence for fine-tuning.
The Fine-Tuning Argument† (henceforth: FTA) postulates that this highly improbable conglomeration of coincidences suggests that the universe was designed for life right from the beginning, by means of the “tuning” of these constants to assume values that allow our existence.
The argument can be reduced to the following:
P1) The laws and constants of our universe, had they been even slightly different, would not allow for the existence of life.
C1) (from P1) The probability of the physical constants coincidentally (without any explanation, as a brute fact) assuming these values is incredibly small.
P2) We exist, and the values of the constants fit the narrow range that allows this.
C2) (from C1+P2) The constants were most likely deliberately set to allow for our creation by a “Tuner”(a.k.a. God), at the beginning of the universe.
Fine-tuning itself is the phenomenon noted in both P1 and P2.
Analysis of the two Conclusions of the FTA
” The probability of the physical constants coincidentally assuming these values is incredibly small.”
Assumption: constants can occupy any theoretically possible value
C1 takes for granted that the constants could be otherwise, despite all absence of evidence. Most literature by supporters of the argument simply assumes this as true, whilst others attempt to justify it. Often, such justifications are based purely on the fact that other values are conceivable. Collins goes further to presume that since there is a range of values that physical forces take, any given physical force could have assumed any value within said range. We have only witnessed gravity as X, and simply because other forces exist which are weaker or stronger than X is no reason to suppose that X could have been otherwise.
Replies to this objection often assume some form of the argument from ignorance. Basically, if we cannot explain why the constants had to be as they are, they could have been otherwise. This “reasoning” fails since we can conceive of any number of ridiculous things and an absence of invalidating evidence does not entail their possibility.
Another objection to this has been to allude to recent, underdeveloped scientific findings that suggest that the constants are different in other areas of our universe. Although the reliability of these findings has been called into question, even if this evidence were confirmed, C1 would fail.
The only variations in the constants that we can logically propose as possible are those we have perceived, and the evidence of the constants being different would always come from our universe. We cannot speak of the improbability of the constants being the way they are, for we only have evidence of them as they are, which makes the probability of them being thus 100%.
The constants may be thus here and otherwise elsewhere, but both would exist in our universe and be consequently equally true. We can postulate as many “what if”s as we want, but they will not be scientific if they are based on what can be conceived as possible instead of real observations.
This objection has been surprisingly scarce for something that so fatally damages the FTA, I have come across but one reply to it. It basically asks why, then, do we occupy this particularly “convenient” space in the whole universe. The magnitude of stupidity that is required to postulate such a response is a good indicator of the general calibre of the typical Intelligent Design enthusiast: liberally disposing of all reason when ‘necessary’ (to retain their theism), whilst still claiming to abide by scientific methods. Our location in the universe is not a coincidence: it follows from the conditions in the universe that if life existed, it would only exist in the region of space capable of facilitating it.
These objections refute the truth of C1 by highlighting the error in its implicit assumptions. Not only is it shown to be untrue, it is also revealed as nonsensical. Fine-tuning is not highly unlikely to be a result of chance, rather, it is incoherent to speak of probability in regard to fine-tuning. Constants may be necessary values, or they may vary in different regions of the universe; regardless, we cannot say that the way the universe has come about is improbable because probability measures need more than one piece of data for comparing purposes, and we just have the one: our universe.
It is most likely that the constants were deliberately set to allow for our creation by a “Tuner”(a.k.a. God), at the beginning of the universe.
Assumptions: Design is the only other possible explanation, design is a coherent explanation, design is a likely explanation.
The dismal performance of C1 clearly reflects on C2; seeing as C1 is a premise of C2, the invalidation of the former would cause the latter to crumble also. Despite the demise of C1, the following objections study C2 independently, assuming the truth of C1, thus focusing on the flaws in the logic in the leap from C1+P2 to C2.
“The mere fact that it is enormously improbable that an event occurred by chance, by itself, gives us no reason to think that it occurred by design” . The leap from declaring fine-tuning as improbable under the Brute Fact hypothesis to postulating the existence of a designer is unjustified.
George N. Schlesinger has responded to this with an analogy: if someone wins the lottery once, this information alone would not provide basis for suspecting they cheated. However, if they win 3 times, we would suspect some kind of tomfoolery by a rational being . In relation to the FTA, we would not be justified in supposing a God for the explanation of just one “lucky” constant, but the magnitude of observed coincidences justifies the conclusion of intelligent tampering.
There are several important differences between the creation of the world and the lottery, the most relevant of these being our background knowledge of the two. We know that a rational agent can have both a motive (money), and method (cheating) for tampering with the lottery; when it comes to tampering with the universe, we are unaware of the presence of the rational agent, as well as all motive and method. Extra knowledge is necessary to be able to infer the intelligent tampering of the lottery winner, thus the analogy is irrelevant.
Robin Collins has put forth another reply to the original objection. Collins formulates what he calls the Prime Principle of Confirmation, (PPC) then applies the argument in question to this new principle and believes to have justified the aforementioned “leap” in reasoning. PPC states that when “considering two competing hypotheses, H1 and H2, an observation, O, counts as evidence in favour of H1 over H2 if O is more probable under H1 under than it is under H2” Fine-tuning is inserted into the equation as the observation, H1 being Design, and H2 the Brute fact hypothesis.
The design argument is tailor-made to explain all life-permitting phenomena so the probability of fine-tuning under design is %100. It is unsatisfactory to pin a hypothesis designed to account for such observations against what is essentially the null hypothesis: i.e. The Brute Fact hypothesis .
The problem of this false dichotomy is explicit in C2 itself, which too acknowledges only two possible theories. In actual fact, there are several competing hypotheses to consider.
Perhaps the most obscure of these is Andre Linde’s bubble theory, which holds that our perceived universe is a mere bubble on the quantum foam of a larger universe. Different bubbles are created and exist on this foam simultaneously, albeit with different values of the constants. Similarly to other multiverse theories, the bubble theory increases the possibility of our universe bearing these traits so vital to our survival by increasing the occurrence of what we deem the “universe”. The probability of an occurrence increases proportionally to the number of trials: by postulating an infinite universe, we are able to combat the mind-bogglingly small probability of all constants being just right in one universe .
The more popular alternative is the Unifying Theory hypothesis. This attributes the exhibited laws of the universe to a yet undiscovered unifying theory, which may necessitate their values or limit them to a smaller possible range.
The main problem with these arguments is that they currently have little or no physical evidence to support them, and are often deemed guilty of not adhering to Occam’s Razor. The bubble theory has also been accused of the same folly as religious explanation: it transfers the unexplainable phenomenon up to hypothesised foam that we know nothing about. Collins disregards all such hypotheses as “entirely speculative.” The use of such a term is incredibly hypocritical when uttered by someone who himself suggests the existence of a being unlike anything we have ever experienced. Scores of scientists are currently working on formulating a unifying theory, and its current state of being merely “speculative” is an effect of the current scope of our knowledge and technology, which is constantly expanding.
In contrast, the speculative state of the design hypothesis has no such basis. The theory reveals nothing of the method by which this supposed designer “tuned” the constants, nor the reason for his interest in creating intelligent life. The design hypothesis claims that the designer adjusted the universe to allow our existence, yet it took billions of years for life to emerge and life makes up a tiny part of the universe. Also, it is odd that such an enthusiast of life would not make contact with said life, even more odd that the designer is, for some unsubstantiated reason, invisible. The hypothesis proposes a being more complex than the original phenomena to be explained, and thus it multiplies entities unnecessarily and fails to follow Occam’s Razor. The addition of a designer to an already complicated situation may fulfil our immediate need for an explanation of fine-tuning, in the long run, however, it complicates matters unnecessarily because it shifts the unknown to the designer, and the question “who designed the designer?” arises. Theism attempts to reconcile this problem by attributing the quality of being “beyond human understanding” and “eternal” to this designer: these features are suspiciously convenient and entirely unwarranted, much like his invisibility. All in all, compared to all of the other explanations for fine-tuning, the design hypothesis seems illogical and superfluous, and thus far less feasible than its competitors.
Returning to Collins argument, if he were to consider Unifying Theory instead of the Brute Fact hypothesis, he would have found that fine-tuning is equally as probable under both Unifying Theory and Design and thus constitutes evidence in favour of neither. In fact, a Unifying Theory may reveal necessary values of the constants, upon which fine-tuning will no longer need to be considered as a phenomena which calls for competing explanations.
Even if it could somehow be shown that the only competing hypothesis was the Brute Fact hypothesis, this still would not prove sufficient for accepting C2. The PPC only considers the extent to which a single observation can count as evidence for a hypothesis. Favouring the design hypothesis because of one piece of supporting evidence and neglecting to reflect on the plausibility of the hypothesis itself is logically unsatisfactory, though this is not obvious in the formulation of the argument. Applying the PPC to the following anecdote best illuminates the error in such thinking.
I am waiting at the lights, in my car. Due to being incredibly impatient, I yell a threatening message at the traffic light demanding that it turns green this instant. The light turns green directly following this threat. This “response” is my observation, and the two explanatory hypotheses are “Coincidence” (C) and “Traffic lights respond to verbal abuse” (T). In and of itself, the observation is best accounted for by the latter hypothesis. Fortunately, despite this confirming evidence, I am able to weigh up the plausibility of both hypotheses. After considering information beyond the single incident, (T) seems much less plausible than (C). The lesson here is that although PPC is not logically flawed, it can lead to flawed conclusions because only one event is considered, whilst all other relevant information, including the plausibility of the hypotheses themselves, is neglected. Fine-tuning in and of itself could be shown as evidence for the Design Hypothesis to the extent that it is more probable under said hypothesis, but when Design itself is incredibly unlikely, all information considered, this “evidence” becomes insignificant. “If the choice is between chance and design, where talk of … design is incoherent babble – even comforting, incoherent babble – chance wins every time.”
Even if we assume that fine-tuning requires explanation and is improbable under the Brute Fact hypothesis, the second conclusion still fails to justify resorting to the belief of a Designer. In addition to this, fine-tuning requires no explanation because we have no evidence that the constants could have been otherwise and cannot simply assume this. The Design argument from fine-tuning fails at logically upholding both of its major inferences, and therefore fails to show any evidence of Intelligent Design.
If the argument were able to somehow recover from its logical blunders and provide any such evidence, a designer whose sole involvement in the universe has been fine-tuning would be very distinct from the God of any known religion. Rather, our designer would be more like a child who sets up a game and soon looses all interest in playing; or dies soon after. Any inference from fine-tuning to design is unfounded, and further inference from design to a God in the Christian sense is even more unsubstantiated.
The prominence of Intelligent Design arguments despite the absence of logic in their inferences can be accounted for by mankind’s confirmation bias and constant search for meaning in life. Intelligent design opens the gates for a plethora of self-satisfying conclusions/delusions about purpose, God, and the possibility of eternal life for those who are unsatisfied with accepting such things on faith alone. However, despite proclaiming the use of scientific deduction and physical evidence, Intelligent Design arguments are just a new and more complex form of delusion for the cluey masses of the modern world.
Collins, Robin. (2003 )”The Teleological Argument” from The Rationality of Theism, London/New York: Routledge Press.
Himma, Kenneth. (2006) “Design Arguments for the Existence of God”, http://www.iep.utm.edu/d/design.htm#SH2c, last accessed October 4, 2006.
Leslie, John. (1986) “Anthropic Explanations in Cosmology”, in Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, Volume One: Contributed Papers.
Ross, Hugh. “Evidence For Design In The Universe” http://doesgodexist.com/Charts/EvidenceForDesignInTheUniverse.html, Last accessed October 4, 2006.
Schlesinger, George. (1987) “Miracles and Probabilities” in Nous, vol 21, No. 2, page 219-232.
Shanks, Niall (2006) “God, The Devil, And Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory” Oxford: Oxford University Press.
† The Fine Tuning Argument is also known as the argument from fine-tuning for intelligent design, in case you were confused.
* footnotes and direct quote sources were lost when I copied and pasted from word, I doubt anyone actually cares but in case you do, my policy is : deal.
© 2006 Aisia Kouznetsova
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