The Discovery Institute has a definition of intelligent design at their website, which we analyzed a few years ago — see Intelligent Design Redefined. But as we shall see, it’s one thing for them to define their claim as a theory, and another to support it with verifiable evidence.
We have often before pointed out that two of the Discovery Institute’s principal arguments for their “theory” are: (1) the God of the gaps — anything not yet fully understood is “best” explained by a supernatural agency; and (2) William Paley’s famous watchmaker analogy — if something looks designed, then by golly it is designed.
But recently they’ve been promoting the claim that the universe seems to be “fine-tuned” so that we could be here. This is their latest “evidence” that their intelligent designer — blessed be he! — intentionally created the universe and everything in it, including our planet and our wonderful selves. See Discoveroids Embrace Fine Tuning Argument, and also Klinghoffer: Fine Tuning Proves Design, and most recently The Discoveroids’ Proof of Fine Tuning.
And as everyone knows, a fine-tuning argument was used in the Discoveroids’ big breakthrough, when they got their “theory” into a respected newspaper. That was the recent column by a Discoveroid fellow-traveler, Eric Metaxas, about which we wrote More Creationism in the Wall Street Journal. But what’s the fine tuning argument all about? We’ve discussed it several times, so we’ll have some repetition here. We’ve said:
It shouldn’t surprise us that everything we discover about the universe is consistent with our existence — were it otherwise we wouldn’t exist. But it doesn’t follow that the universe exists for the purpose of our existence.
What makes you think that without supernatural tinkering, the universe would have been different? How does one compute the odds against this specific universe? From where we sit, the odds favoring the universe seem to be 100%. Where is the evidence suggesting that this particular universe shouldn’t exist, or that its attributes should have been different from what they are?
Nevertheless, the Discoveroids claim that fine-tuning is virtually proof that their magical designer set things up for us — although as we’ve remarked about all their other “evidence,” it can be used just as effectively to argue that Zeus was responsible. In other words, it’s evidence of nothing.
It’s true that we evolved to live here, but that in no way demonstrates that the universe was designed so that we could live here. Yet the Discoveroids claim that the universe was “fine-tuned for life.” Is it? We’ve pointed out before that there’s not a lot of life 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 was fine-tuned for those things? The more we learn about the universe, the more hostile it appears. But creationists insist it was all perfectly tweaked — just for us.
They also toss around numbers allegedly demonstrating the huge “odds” against all the constants of the universe being what they are. But they had to be something. And no matter what the fundamental constants are, the imaginary “odds” against all of those constants having a different set of values would be equally enormous. So what? Nevertheless, the Discoveroids continue to flog the fine-tuning argument. Well, why shouldn’t they? It’s useless, but it’s their only claim to having any evidence for their “theory.”
They have another post about it at their creationist blog: The Fundamental Equation of Chemistry Is Itself Fine-Tuned. The author is Granville Sewell, about whom we once wrote Granville Sewell — the Best Discoveroid Thinker. He uses the Second Law of Thermodynamics as an argument for creationism.
His article seems to be scientific, but only because it mentions a lot of facts. However, as an argument for their designer it’s as useless as all the others. Here are a few excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:
It is well known that all of the fundamental constants of physics are finely tuned to make life possible in our universe … .
BWAHAHAHAHAHA! A more accurate (and unloaded) statement would be what everyone already knows: Life is possible in our universe. Granville continues:
What is not so widely noticed is that not only are the values of the constants of chemistry (the masses and charges of electrons, protons and neutrons, the strengths of the nuclear and electromagnetic forces, etc.) critical for life to exist in our universe, but the fundamental equation of chemistry, the Schroedinger equation, is itself critical for life.
Ooooooooooooh — the Schroedinger equation! That’s science! Then he talks about Planck’s constant. Even more science! He goes on and on like that, and concludes the essay with this:
Any of the changes listed — and others not listed — would fundamentally alter the nature of the solutions, and chemistry as we know it would not exist. The fundamental equation of chemistry appears to itself be fine-tuned.
What did he say that has anything to do with a supernatural intelligent designer? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Granville’s argument is no different than that of a little old lady whose proof of God is to point out the window at the trees, the grass, and the sky. “There’s your proof,” she says. Granville is doing the same thing, but he’s using a chemistry book instead of the view from a window.
The more we think about it, it seems to us that this fine-tuning argument has two very different aspects to it. First, they babble about the fundamental constants of the universe. Okay, but so what? Electrons are electrons, and they have a specific mass ratio compared to protons. And gravity has a specific value compared to the nuclear strong force. That’s all very nice, but there’s no way to demonstrate that anyone, or any thing, intentionally set things up this way.
But then their argument careens off in another direction when they talk about how wonderful our little planet is. It’s The Privileged Planet argument. Here, their argument is about how unique our world is. That’s very different from how the fundamental constants require uniformity regarding electrons and protons. How can our world’s uniqueness be part of the same argument?
And what’s so surprising about our world’s uniqueness? Every astronomical body in the universe is unique. Even the asteroids, which seem to be debris sloppily left drifting around after the designer’s work, are individually unique in their mass, composition, and shape. So what? And while we’re talking about uniqueness, what about our fingerprints? Everyone has different fingerprints. Does that suggest the intelligent designer is toiling away, like an engraver of plates for printing currency, fashioning each finger to be different from all others? The same is true of our genome — no two are identical.
Where does that leave us? All electrons are the same, therefore design. All fingerprints are unique and so is the Earth, therefore … what? Oh, therefore design. What kind of a theory is that? The Discoveroids say it explains everything, but as anyone can see, it explains nothing.
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