Sunday, June 3, 2012

Poke it with a stick - Dr. Craig's Fine-Tuning Argument

This is the third in a number of posts reviewing, line-by-line, the 1995 debate on "Does God Exist" between Dr. William Lane Craig and Massimo Pigliucci, held at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

The prior post covered Dr. Craig's "argument from first cause". This post focuses on "The complex order in the universe" ... a "fine-tuning argument".

Two notes:

1) In case you wondered why I didn't pick a more recent debate of Dr. Craig's, there are several reasons. A) I wanted to find one that addressed the "Does God Exist?" resolution and that had Dr. Craig speak first. The reason was that I wanted to put together another imaginary debate between he and I, where I get to respond to arguments that he's made in a real debate. I got sidetracked into this review, because, frankly it's interesting, and will be good preparation. B) The Craig-Pigliucci debate was the first one that I found that had a written transcript; C) I didn't feel that the age of the debate makes much difference in the arguments that Dr. Craig makes. He himself declared in 2010 that he's been making "the same five arguments ... for 20 years".

2) I know I'm not the first to point this out, but Dr. Craig can present his arguments quickly because his audience - most of the actual audience members - already "know in their hearts" that god exists, so his more technical-sounding arguments can omit rational and evidentiary support. His target audience never misses them because reason and evidence are not part of the world view that arrives at the "goddidit" conclusion. Opponents such as Massimo Pigliucci likely have more technical and unfortunately lengthier arguments to make when developing a positive case for non-belief. Pointing out the logical fallacies that Dr. Craig employs will satisfy a qualified debate judge, but may be over the head of, or simply uninteresting to, a lay audience. I've not seen a debate in which he's appeared that used judges.

Second Argument

2. The complex order in the universe. During the last 30 years, scientists have discovered that the existence of intelligent life depends upon a complex and delicate balance of initial conditions given in the Big Bang itself. We now know that life-prohibiting universes are vastly more probable than any life-permitting universe like ours. How much more probable?

As I said, this is a "fine-tuning" argument - a version of the well-known teleological argument - or "argument from design". There are LOTS of sober, clear counterarguments against this (see the appendix at the end of this post), not the least of which is that the universe is preposterously hostile to us. Human beings are unable to exist on 70% of the Earth's surface because it's water, and the other 30% contains deserts and mountains in which life is not ideal. Add that there are approximately 410 nonillion cubic light years in the universe, and we occupy less than 394 septillionths of a single cubic light year. I believe that says we occupy less than one in 1.6 x 10^59th part of the universe. Please check my math! If the universe was truly fine tuned for our existence, we'd just require one patch of land, and the all knowing all-loving creator could feed and clothe us via god mail or carry-out. We'd hardly expect that at least a septillion stars spread out over at least 410 nonillion cubic light years was required so that we - god's creation - could exist. The big guy wasted 162 octodecillion times more space than he needed to. Evidence of design? Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad design maybe. Or maybe bad planning - could be either.

Also - did you catch that Dr. Craig posits "universes" (plural)? "We now know that life-prohibiting universes are vastly more probable...". If he's copping to the possibility of multiple occurrences of universes, this implies that the possibility for occurrences to be realized are endless. Endless occurrences in which to realize a specific combination of parameters having a non-zero probability means there are endless occurrences of life-permitting universes. Surely he doesn't want to go down that road.

The answer is that the chances that the universe should be life-permitting are so infinitesimal as to be incomprehensible and incalculable. For example, Stephen Hawking has estimated that if the rate of the universe's expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have re-collapsed into a hot fireball.{5} P. C. W. Davies has calculated that the odds against the initial conditions being suitable for later star formation (without which planets could not exist) is one followed by a thousand billion billion zeroes, at least.{6} John Barrow and Frank Tipler estimate that a change in the strength of gravity or of the weak force by only one part in 10100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe.{7} There are around 50 such quantities and constants present in the Big Bang which must be fine-tuned in this way if the universe is to permit life. And it's not just each quantity which must be exquisitely fine-tuned; their ratios to one another must be also finely-tuned. So improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers.

Honestly, I believe he's just thinking backward here. Even if we accept his numbers - and we have no idea whether he knows what he's talking about - the facts that we can determine are 1) we are here; 2) any a priori probability he throws out is irrelevant once we affirm that we are, indeed, here. He might as well argue that we're not here.

If it was physically impossible that we exist in the universe, and yet we did, then positing the existence of "something else" that makes life possible would be understandable. It still does not indicate that his formulation of that first cause - God - is required, because God is even more improbable than we are. The Christian God layers more improbability on top of improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers. Sorry for making fun of you Dr. Craig! :-D

Since Dr. Craig himself does not claim that we are an impossible occurrence, it is not impossible that we exist. That we do exist just indicates that we are the realization of that non-zero probability.


There is no physical reason why these constants and quantities should possess the values they do. The one-time agnostic physicist Paul Davies comments, "Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact."{8} Similarly, Fred Hoyle remarks, "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics."{9} Robert Jastrow, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, calls this the most powerful evidence for the existence of God ever to come out of science.{10}

This deft quote-mining doesn't yield anything that says "Davies, Hoyle and Jastrow all provide undeniable evidence of the existence of god". Not one quote says, "this is the smoking gun". The first guy "believes", the second guy claims a common sense interpretation but gives us no clue as to whether he thinks it is a correct interpretation, and the third guy (Jastrow) gives you a relative value without telling us what "best" means in absolute terms. If previous evidence of god was non-existent, then even the most trivial but plausible tidbit can be claimed to be "best". If this is truly "the most powerful evidence for the existence of God ever to come out of science" - then we can go home and enjoy a Pete's Wicked Ale right now, comfortable in the knowledge that apologists have no more evidence now then they had 2 and 3 thousand years ago.

So once again, the view that Christian theists have always held, that there is an intelligent Designer of the universe, seems to make much more sense than the atheistic view that the universe, when it popped into being uncaused out of nothing, just happened to be by chance fine-tuned to an incomprehensible precision for the existence of intelligent life.

The paragraph above is one of my favorites - Dr. Craig applies some "so, the universe just popped out of nothing" ridicule to non-believers, and substitutes it with some "the universe popped out of nothing because god did it" jujitsu.

I mean absolutely no disrespect when I say: "sometimes you just gotta say 'What the Fuck?' "

We can summarize our reasoning as follows:
1. The fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe is due to either law, chance, or design.
2. It is not due to either law or chance.
3. Therefore, it is due to design.

What you see here is:
1. The first premiss is technically incomplete, thus a False Choice. To be complete, we can include evolution of the universe (on the conjecture that the universe evolves like biological life evolves); we can include the idea that the universe is cycling through all combinations of parameters that have non-zero probabilities in a natural manner; and as long as we're positing the supernatural, we can include any supernatural entity performing anything that might result in a universe. The Great GoogaMooga's kid Skippy could have been tweaking dad's etch-a-universe, and had an accident.
2. The second premiss is a bare assertion - there is no reason why this is so. Dr. Craig hasn't argued that, until now.
3. The conclusion is false because premisses 1 & 2 are fallacious.

This concludes his second argument - I'm stunned that it's so full of holes so far.


Here are some links that I ran across and used during my analysis of the fine-tuning argument:
...and here's a discussion of Time that affects Dr. Craig's Cosmological Argument from previously: Infidels - the Intractable Problem of Time

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