The Discoveroids’ Proof of Fine Tuning

More than anything else they’ve babbled about lately, the “fine tuning” argument seems to be the strongest claim the Discovery Institute has for “proving” that the universe was deliberately created by their intelligent designer — blessed be he! — whom they never name as Yahweh, but they don’t leave much doubt about who it is.

Well, they’ve also got William Paley’s watchmaker analogy — if something looks designed, then by golly it is designed. Besides that, they can always whip out the God of the gaps argument — anything not yet fully understood is “best” explained by a supernatural agency. If that’s not enough proof for ya, they’ll attack Charles Darwin, and blame him for Hitler, Mao, etc. So the Discoveroids have a lot of arguments, but they really seem to like fine tuning. The first time we noticed that they adopted it was a few years ago, when we wrote Discoveroids Embrace Fine Tuning Argument.

Their latest effort — besides a recent post by a Discoveroid fellow-traveler, about which we wrote More Creationism in the Wall Street Journal — is now at their creationist blog. The title is Ring in the New Year with a Fabulous Video on Fine-Tuning from William Lane Craig. It was written by Casey Luskin, our favorite creationist. Casey says, with bold font added by us:

If you don’t have plans for New Year’s Eve — or even if you do have plans — take six minutes out of your evening to watch this spectacular video produced by William Lane Craig: .

Who is William Lane Craig, the genius who created the video? According to Wikipedia, he’s “an American Christian apologist and analytic philosopher. He works in the philosophy of religion, philosophy of time, and the defense of Christian theism.” Craig sounds like a great scientific authority. We’ve posted about him before — see Fox Offers “Five Reasons Why God Exists”.

What does Casey say about Craig’s video? Pay close attention, because his article is rather brief:

Yes there’s a Bible verse at the end, but that in no way negates or mitigates the point here, which is the astounding fine-tuning of the universe for life. On the contrary, and this is of interest whether you’re a religious believer or not, it shows that the wisdom of the ancients is being confirmed, not refuted, by the discoveries of modern science.

Oh yeah — you can ignore that bible verse at the end of the video if you like, but science is confirming “the wisdom of the ancients.” Let’s read on:

The video’s argument for design is strictly scientific:

[Casey quotes the video’s “strictly scientific” argument:] If the mass and energy of the early universe were not evenly distributed to an incomprehensible precision of 1 part in 10 to the 10 to the 123rd, the universe would be hostile to life of any kind. The fact is, our universe permits physical, interactive life only because these, and many other numbers, have been independently and exquisitely balanced on a razor’s edge. … The best explanation for why the universe is fine-tuned for life may very well be, it was designed that way.

Is it true that the universe is “fine-tuned for life”? There’s not much of it around, compared to black holes, cosmic rays, and loads of other stuff that doesn’t do us much good. Why don’t the Discoveroids conclude that the universe is fine-tuned for those things? And no matter what the fundamental physical constants of the universe are, the imaginary “odds” against all of those constants having a different set of values would be equally enormous. So what?

We’ve heard it all before, and we’ve also dismissed it before — see the section titled Anthropic Principle, in our Common Creationist Claims Confuted.

The universe is what it is. It existed for billions of years without us, and it will exist for additional billions of years after we’re gone. Why would anyone think it’s all about us? We’re here, and we should certainly make the most of it, but anyone could come up with a list of additional features he would like the universe to have that would make it more congenial. How about two or three more Earth-like planets within easy reach? Is that asking too much? And why is space travel be so darned difficult? It seems that the more we learn about the universe, the more hostile it appears. But creationists insist it was all perfectly tweaked — just for us. Isn’t that sweet?

Casey ends his post with this final line:

What a happy thought to welcome the New Year.

It doesn’t take much to make Casey happy.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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26 responses to “The Discoveroids’ Proof of Fine Tuning

  1. “Fine Tuning” is the best argument (perhaps the only argument) that they have. It is a very weak argument, but if that’s all you have then I guess you go with it.

  2. The fine tuning and the kalam cosmo-illegical are the only two arguments they have and the kalam is totally ridiculous and the fine tuning is just another way of saying ‘I’m stupid as dog schite and too lazy to learn anything.’

  3. And the fine-tuning argument is still just that, an argument. It’s not a hypothesis (Have they recommended a way to test it? No? Then it’s not a hypothesis.), it’s simply an argument. It’s also just a negative argument. It simply says, “All of that science-y stuff does not work because I say it doesn’t work, and here are a bunch of numbers for which I will give you no basis, but they have LOTS of zeros after them, which means it’s science, and therefore everything you say is wrong.”
    It’s at this point that you sic Frank J on’em, so that he can simply ask, “That’s fine (heh). Now tell us your hypothesis for how the universe came to be, when it came to be, and what were the steps involved? And since you’re agreeing with the concept of billions of years (e.g. deep time), how do you reconcile that with those who say the universe is only 6000 years old?”

  4. Off topic (unless it counts as a data point for inexplicable weirdness by The Intelligent Designer, blessed be He/She/It/Them) but who isn’t interested in amphibian sex?

    New fanged frog ‘gives birth to tadpoles’

    N.B. It is indeed a ‘new fanged’ frog and not, as I first read it, a ‘new-fangled’ frog.

  5. Happy New Year, dear Curmudgeon. May your wit ever be razor sharp, your dogs faithful and true, your Drool-a-tron in excellent order, and your Curmudgeonly loins girded for the battle (this is a biblical reference, not a racy one).

  6. And please be kind and fix my typo on word 5. Thank you.

    [*Voice from above*] I am pleased to comply.

  7. Doctor Stochastic

    [Casey quotes the video’s “strictly scientific” argument:] If the mass and energy of the early universe were not evenly distributed to an incomprehensible precision of 1 part in 10 to the 10 to the 123rd, the universe would be hostile to life of any kind.

    But it’s in the rare clumpy parts that life seems to have developed.

  8. It’s like the Wizard of Oz except it’s the Craig of Christian Apologetics.

    Ignore that man behind the curtain!

    The Tooters aren’t even trying any more.

  9. William Paley’s watchmaker analogy. This analogy goes back to before time was told by watches, back at least 2000 years, mentioned by Cicero. It was a commonplace among the 18th century deists, like Voltaire. It would be so familiar to Paley’s readers that he would not have to cite his sources.

  10. William Lane Craig has a long history of misrepresenting science, and has been called on this numerous times by scientists.

    Any “strictly scientific” argument he makes isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, putting it on about the same level as a Casey Luskin endorsement.

  11. Diogenes Lamp

    Craig is a liar who quote mines and misrepresents cosmology and cosmologists, esp. the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem. In a debate against real cosmologist Sean Carroll (watch the video if you haven’t yet), Craig trIED the same BGV misrepresentation he’d done so many times before, Caroll called him out on it, Craig did it again, Carroll called him out again. Craig had no real defense, so it’s not a difference of opinion. He knows he lies about science.

    Another time, in a debate against UK philosopher Stephen Law, Craig knowingly misrepresented Law’s words by falsely claiming Law conceded a point that Craig knew he had not. Craig basically admitted he was lying on video. You can look up the Youtube.

    Another time, Craig, attempted to argue that animals can’t suffer like us, so he falsely claimed that ape brains lack structures that are actually there. A mistake in basic anatomy, so animal rights activists on Youtube corrected his error. Then Craig showed he is a sociopath by lying outright about their argument and going full ad hominem on the people who proved him wrong about basic, easily verifiable facts.

    Craig is scientifically, an ignoramus. Morally, a sociopath. Intellectually, a pathological liar.

    Therefore, a natural hero to the Disco Tute.

  12. The fine tuning argument seems to me to be based on the idea that the defining characteristics of any natural law can be varied endlessly, and all the other variations would rule out life. The argument then goes on to postulate some arbitrarily large number of possible variations in order to make the characteristics we observe arbitrarily improbable. Thus, god.

    However, do we really know that natural laws can be varied? Universes might not arise with random natural laws – there may be only one sort of event, whatever it is, that creates universes, and they may only evolve in one particular way.

    I liken it to the odds of buying a black Model T. in the early 20’s. Sure, they could exist in a whole rainbow of colors, and infinite shades of each of those colors, so one might calculate that the odds are astronomical that the particular Model T. happens to be black. However, despite all the possible colors, Ford only made black Model T.’s. That might be the way with universes.

    I wonder if Craig has ever “calculated” the probability of his god existing, so he could compare it to the probability of the universe existing the way it is. That would seem to be required in order to make his conclusion. I want to see his work.

  13. Dave Luckett

    As an argument, the fine-tuning idea is superficially attractive, though. Bear with me a moment.

    It seems likely that unless a number of universal constants, and also the just-uneven-enough distribution of matter in the early Universe, were exactly as they were and are, that the life that we know could not have evolved. Yes. The life that we know. Could there be life, Jim, but not as we know it? Why, we don’t know. (Weren’t you listening?) So there’s an entire realm of possibilities that the fine-tuning argument simply neglects. I think that is a powerful argument against it.

    The other argument against it is pretty simple: if the Universe we know had not produced life, and us, why, there’d be nobody to calculate the odds and wonder about them. We know only one Universe. That doesn’t mean there are no others. Since we have no idea what the size of the population might be, we have no basis for calculating the odds that one of the population might have developed life; and that one is all we need.

    On the other hand, it’s no good observing that we exist only here and now, have existed for a minute fragment of the time since the Universe began, and will exist as we do now for only a minute fragment of the time until it ends – if it ever does. (I have the impression, possibly mistaken, that “the jury is still out” on the latter.) We still exist, and it is reasonable to ask how likely that existence is.

    The vast odds against our existence – IF those odds are correctly calculated – only serve to make the argument that we are privileged, so citing the vast emptiness and hostility of space and the other planets we can directly observe don’t refute the argument, it only helps it. It doesn’t make the case that the Universe is hostile to life; it only reflects the fact that this particular place is not hostile to it.

    I think a more powerful argument against “fine-tuning” is recent research suggesting that life would occur wherever liquid water and sufficient energy coincide with simple organic chemicals – and we know that those chemicals are abundant in the Universe. Maybe it’s not so “fine-tuned” after all. Let’s get an appropriately-equipped probe to Europa. If there’s life there… well.

    It’s also no use asking “why would anyone think it’s all about us?”, on the simple basis of scale. We think it’s all about us, because we are all we know. But if that isn’t good enough, how about this?: we are unique, so far as we know. Nothing else in the observed Universe is like us. Our immediate forebears to some extent, and a few other life forms on Earth, are the only things in the known Universe that display self-awareness and cognition. These are the only things we know that have minds. Why wouldn’t it be all about us?

    Why no exactly Earth-like planets within easy reach? Why is space travel so difficult? Why are the distances so vast? There may be no intent, no teleology at all – which is perfectly reasonable to argue – or else there is, and it might be ascribed: overcoming the obstacles might be the natural objective of life itself, enjoined by a Creator. Who knows? But if nobody knows anything about intent, the assumption that there is no intent falls back to simply that: an assumption. At this point, the null hypothesis and Occam’s razor can be cited to prefer NO intent, as least assumption, and fair enough, too. But I think they need to be actually cited, and having been cited, it must be admitted that they are rules-of-thumb for preferring hypotheses, not laws of logic in themselves.

    FWIW, I am not trying to make the “fine-tuning” argument. I don’t think it works. I think the arguments I have cited against it are sufficient to invalidate it. I think that some arguments against it are at best glancing blows and for that reason unsatisfactory.

  14. Dave Luckett

    Ed said: “I liken it to the odds of buying a black Model T. in the early 20’s. Sure, they could exist in a whole rainbow of colors, and infinite shades of each of those colors, so one might calculate that the odds are astronomical that the particular Model T. happens to be black. However, despite all the possible colors, Ford only made black Model T.’s. That might be the way with universes.”

    If that analogy were accurate, it would argue for teleology. Ford made only black model T’s by intent, for a reason, the reason being that black paint dried faster, lowering the cost of making them because they spent less time in the dryer.

  15. The Discorrhoids’ FTA also fails for another elementary reason, namely that it’s a very poorly specified probability problem. We simply don’t know what the distributions, and more particularly the joint distributions, of the fundamental constants in question look like across all physically possible universes. Furthermore, we don’t know what those distributions look like for universes amenable to life of any kind. Without knowledge of those details, probability estimates are pure thumb suck exercises because they are based on equally thumb-sucky presuppositions. Taken to the extreme where it is assumed that the relevant values can vary continuously and independently, the probability is zero of our universe existing and having precisely those values that we find.

    Yet, here we are, Discorrhoids’ sham wisdom ‘n’ all.

  16. Doctor Stochastic

    The universal constants are so finely tuned that my legs exactly reach from my torso to the ground.

  17. I can’t even walk outside today without gear finely-tuned by Northface to assist me in surviving cold weather. I could have used more fur, oh marvelous Fine Tuner. And less in the summer. And the ability to grow or shed my fur – and quick!- when I travel across the equator.

    I’m starting to think I was finely-tuned by ear and the Intelligent Designer is tone deaf.

  18. Warning: If you want a job at Biola University, you need to have your faith scrutinised by this same William Lane Craig. Worth remembering when these people scream “intolerance”.

  19. Paul Braterman says: “If you want a job at Biola University, you need to have your faith scrutinised by this same William Lane Craig.”

    Ah, that explains why I haven’t heard from them on my job application.

  20. Actually, there was an article awhile back (I forget whether it was in Discover or Scientific American) discussing efforts by scientists to simulate on computer what a universe would be like with different conditions. Surprise! It turned out that there were alternatives with the fundamental forces set at different strengths which nevertheless might support life as we know it.

    The whole thing reminds me of the flap-and-cluck thirty years ago when one astronomer claimed the habitable zone around the sun was incredibly narrow, so that Earth was within it by what amounted to a miracle. That has long since been discredited, the difference being that scientists (including the original proponent of the idea) have abandoned it, whereas creationists will likely be trotting out he spavined old war horse of “fine-tuning” 150 years from now. (Yes, depressingly, there probably will still be creationists then. Nonsense never really dies, it just evolves conspiracy theories and camouflage to protect itself.)

  21. Richard Bond

    Eric; are you thinking of the late Victor Stenger’s MonkeyGod? See

  22. DiogenesLamp underestimates WLC: “Therefore, a natural hero to the Disco Tute.”
    Look up WLC’s Divine Command Theory applied to the Canaanite Genocide. It’s on his site, Reasonable Doubt. Then compare Himmler’s and Blöbel’s attitude towards the members of the Einsatzgrüppe.
    Yup – besides Hitler’s creationism this provides another link with nazi-ideology.

    Ed contemplates: “The fine tuning argument seems to me to be based on the idea that the defining characteristics of any natural law can be varied endlessly, and all the other variations would rule out life.”
    More specific: it assumes that the goal of the way our Universe developed was human life, on the tiny speck called Earth.

    “do we really know that natural laws can be varied?”
    Of course this has been researched:

  23. OK, let’s take the Fine Tuning Argument seriously for a moment (never mind that it depends on the Cosmological Argument, without which FTA doesn’t make any sense). It’s about natural constants. Well, here is a list:

    That’s about 30 natural constants requiring a First Cause, a Designer, a Fine Tuner. Now let’s confirm “the wisdom of the ancients” a bit more – they understood that one First Cause couldn’t have done the job. Each natural constant requires its own Intelligent Designer. Now I’m leaning back in hot anticipation of all the IDiots reconverting to some form of polytheism …..

  24. @Eric Lipps
    Will there still be creationists 150 years from now?
    Of course, there is no point to arguing this, but my feeling is that there will be very few. At some time, there will be a sudden change, for no particular reason, and shortly thereafter people will be denying that there ever were any significant number of creationists. There will be, of course, some other madness, people being people.
    Maybe China and India will become the leaders of the world, and what North America thinks will be insignificant, and will just be aping China and India, trying to keep only ten years behind. I don’t know.

  25. Diogenes Lamp

    Yes mnb0, I like it. I like it very much.