Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fine Tuner

I wish theists would use the “fine-tuning” argument for the existence of god more often. This is not, as some of you might assume, because it is the most easily dispatched of arguments. It is instead because analysis of the fine-tuning argument requires examination of some very cool aspects of physics and cosmology. There are few theist arguments that delve directly into the more interesting aspects of reality. Many theist arguments turn their back on reality, and then start running.

My least favorite theist arguments orbit around scripture. The most honest approach to scriptural arguments is a resounding: “I do not recognize the authority of scripture, and the accuracy of scripture is usually suspect too”. I find this too dismissive in one-on-one conversations, so I am left pussy-footing around the informational vacuity of scriptural references. I court the blatantly dishonest impression that scriptures provide reasonable information.

My least favorite argument that masquerades as a GOD (GOD is the recursive acronym “God Ontology Debate”) often starts with a statement of the type: “I know god exists because I feel him, he speaks to me, and I see him in my dreams”. Engaging this argument is more an exploration of deviant psychology than actual conversation. This exploration is probably best left to medical professionals who have been trained not to bust out a statement like: “how many children has he fathered with you? I understand he does that from time-to-time”. This statement almost never goes over well, especially when the recipient is male and you reply that “all things are possible with god” when they point this fact out.

I am not alone in my preference for the fine-tuning argument. Richard Dawkins called it "The most interesting argument he had so far heard or encountered".

In addition to talking about cool stuff, which is always time well spent, the fine tuning argument tend to suggest a more deist god than most arguments. It certainly discards young earth creationism.

The status of the great physical constants allows for the condensation of matter after the big bang. It has been suggestively proposed that slight deviations from the current values of the physical constants would have matter spreading out homogeneously, or some other sort of progression which would lead to something that would not give rise to us. The basis of the argument is that fine tuning implies a fine tuner; we are here so the universe was fine tuned.

We are here able to talk about the physical constants. Therefore the physical constants were fine tuned for us to be here. If we were not here because the physical constants were incompatible with our existence then you might be able to say god did not exist, but you couldn’t say that because you would not exist.

This is such a tiny circle of logic it is amazing to believe it could encompass anything. God created the universe, therefore the universe is fine-tuned; the universe is fine-tuned, therefore god created it.

The precision of the argument demands precision in the physical constants. The more leeway there exists in what the constants could be the less impressive the argument is. God must be a really fine tuner to be implicated by the tuning.

If I were to look at a random thing that can be precisely measured its specifications would not necessarily make for a convincing argument for the existence of god. If I looked at a new bicycle, and remarked that it weighed in at 15.172 pounds, it would not make a good argument for the existence of god. The bicycle could weigh in at 15.173 pounds, or 15.170 pounds; who cares (except the obsessive rider)? The precision needed for the physical constants is no mere “if things were different they would not be the same” type statement. It must follow that we would not exist if there were minor perturbations in the identified tuned situation. It is hard to picture the universe, and life in particular, depending on the specific characteristics of most measurable things in it. 

The half-dozen or so physical constants typically identified by the fine-tuning debaters are intrinsic not only to the status of the universe, but to the narrative of how the universe became what it is today.  If we have a different narrative the physical constants could be quite different.

If the universe was created exactly as it is now certain of the physical constants would not need to be the way they are. If stars did not need to condense out of nebula the cosmological constant (lambda) could be quite different. Certainly if the world was made with all the galaxies and planets separated by close to their current separation distances the relative importance of gravity and expansion energy in the universe (Omega) could be vastly different. The fact is that the more post big-bang meddling attributed to god there is the less fine-tuning of the physical constants is needed to make the world a place where we are.

If god simply lit the fuse on the big bang and ran off why is religion important? What is prayer? What good does it do to believe in god? The fine-tuning argument at best leads to an impotent deist god. This is the last residue of god left in the mind of the soon-to-be Adult Onset Atheist.

The fine-tuning argument implies that there is no afterlife, that prayers are not answered, that scripture is fantasy, and that most aspects of theism are delusional. The idea of a fine tuner requires the existence of a vastly superior intelligence that acts like it is no intelligence at all. Why propose the fine tuner? What actionable purpose does this philosophical construct serve?

I discard the notion of a fine-tuner god because he is useless.

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