Sunday, December 9, 2007

Out of Tune Thinking

Somewhere along the way, I believe Dr. Dawkins admitted that he thought the fine-tuned universe argument was the most compelling theistic argument he had encountered. I don't know if that's Dawkins's catty way of saying theists have no good arguments, but I think the idea is rubbish.

From wiki: "The fine-tuned Universe is the idea that conditions that allow life in the Universe can only occur with the tightly restricted values of the universal physical constants," which therefore implies an intelligent fine-tuner (I've added this last bit here).

First off, I think it is abundantly clear that the Universe is not fine-tuned to allow life. How much life do you think there is out there in the vastness of space? Sure, there might be countless alien worlds teeming with life. Even so, consider their place in the vast, vast, inhospitable coldness of space. The Universe is not fine-tuned for life, it's "find-tuned" to be a vacuum filled with violent cataclysms and mostly lifeless arrangements of matter.

In trying to visualize life and Earth's physical scale in the cosmos, consider an analogy from the crank pseudo-science known as homeopathy. Practitioners of this new-age nonsense believe that a 1ml solution diluted in water or alcohol the size of a cube 106 lightyears by 106 lightyears by 106 lightyears has special healing powers. It doesn't have healing powers. In fact, the original solution is effectively non-existent after so much dilution.

And that's like us folks. It's kind of ego-deflating, I know, but suck it up. That's life's place in the Universe.

Furthermore, the notion that our "fine-tuned" situation implies an intelligent fine-tuner does not follow. I posit another analogy, this time from that wonderful game show the Price is Right. Now, when I was little, I really wanted --heck, I still really want to play the game Plinko.

In this game, contestants drop disks into a grid of prongs, which then, according to the laws of physics and probability, randomly bump around until they land in either the one winner box or one of several loser boxes. Consider the winning box the existence of life and consider the several losing boxes a non-life state.

Sometimes a disk falls in the winner box. If that disk could think, it might look back on the path it took and say "Gee, look how fine-tuned my existence is! There were so many other possibilities, but here I am. There must be a mind behind this." But that thinking disk is actually ignoring all the other possibility states, isn't he? Matter or energy emerge and self-organize all the time, but they rarely produce life. Life isn't special, it's just lucky. And I mean no offense to the contestant, but his or her involvement in this process does not equate to mindful, intelligent will. The contestant has no idea where that plinko disk is going to land after he or she releases it!

Life won the luck of the draw and that's it. improbability does not equate to impossibility. This Universe is not fine-tuned for life, and even if it was, even if life was everywhere, it would not imply an intelligent tuner.


Jay Fuller said...

In re-reading this, I think I should apologize to my regular readers for the tone of this blog post. Also, I have a few misgivings about the plinko analogy. I think it's appropriate, but I may not have explained it well --or perhaps someone can help me see why it doesn't work?

Daniel said...

Plinko is the shit and by no means should you change it.

I've always had the same thought about that Designer argument. I don't even think life is luck. It's inevitable when you consider that there have been a seemingly infinite number of conditions for life to exist and there have been a seemingly infiinte number of lower, single celled life forms in this universe that failed to evolve. Our existence isn't luck, it's statistics.

But the Plinko analogy is an interesting one, and I think I suspect why you're uncomfortable with it (though I, in fact, like it very much for this reason). In the Plinko model, we still have a designer (The Price is Right contestant). Granted, that designer isn't intelligent (Have you ever watched the Price is Right?) and he isn't omniscient, but he is that initial spark from which all life sprung. And this is the wall I think you're hitting--something has to put everything into motion.

Now we can go back and forth on the semantics of calling this spark God, but by some definitions of the word, this would qualify. It could be simply a force or an energy that isn't even conscious of what it's doing, but, at the end of the day, that thing is still responsible for everything, and I for one am comfortable accepting it's necessity for this world to make sense.

Turoq-a-lock said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SuiginChou said...

It is a logical fallacy (though I don't know the precise term to describe it) to argue that "We exist; and the physical constants required by a Universe to produce life are very specific; and they are the constants we find in our Universe; therefore, Design." Therefore nothing, it is INESCAPABLE that a Universe in which we (as living beings!) find ourselves will turn out to be a Universe which is permissive to the existence of life. I mean, for fuck's sake (agitated), do you seriously realize what you would be suggesting otherwise? You'd be suggesting, "It was possible for us as living beings to find ourselves in a Universe that does not permit life." No! No, it was not possible! -_- By definition, living beings must exist within a Universe permissive of life! That is no surprise! That is a ridiculously base and simple logical conclusion to reach, not some grand theological find! Goodness gracious, how audacious, someone has been most fallacious (to steal from Graeme Base) in suggesting that "a Universe which permits life proves a conscious decision to conceive life."

I think your Plinko analogy makes sense, but yes, it does seem to feel a little miscalibrated for the argument presented before it, i.e. I think that it would not serve you well in a debate with ID proponents because they would pick it apart for not perfectly matching up with what you stated earlier.

Also, one of your TED videos (perhaps even one of the ones you linked us to already?) already made it painfully clear that astrophysicists do not argue that the Universe is one optimally conducive to creating Life -- for if it was, there would be a lot of things different in the natural world! -- but that it is actually one optimally conducive for creating black holes; and that any such universe which is optimally (i.e. 100%) conducive for creating black holes will permit -- though not be optimal for! -- the existence of life.

SuiginChou said...

I should clarify, the "you" I'm arguing with at the beginning is a hypothetical You representative of the people you tend to argue with, and is by no means you, Jay Fuller. That should be obvious from the arguments presented, but I don't want to chance it that you get offended and think that I have mistaken you for an ID-er.