The Fine-Tuning Argument – Kettle Logic on a Cosmological Scale

As a relatively recent arrival here at TSZ, I am somewhat intrigued to still see the Fine-Tuning Argument in regular rotation.  It appears often in comments, but the two most recent OP’s that I have come across dedicated to the topic are Mung’s ‘The Wonder of Water‘ and RobC’s ‘The Big Numbers Game‘.

That I find the Fine-Tuning Argument completely unconvincing will not come as a surprise to anyone who has read any of my comments on TSZ.  But I think it is worth taking a moment to explain why that is as my reasoning differs slightly from that of others whose comments I have seen.  In a comment on the ‘Wonder of Water’ thread, Joe Felsenstein comes closest while referring to the ability of the Schrodinger Wave Equation to model all of the properties that we see expressed in Chemistry:

“If Michael Denton’s Intelligent Designer wants to fine-tune properties of water she has to do it by tinkering with the SWE. Which would mess up a lot else.”

In a UD post cited on RobC’s OP, vjtorley argues (with his emphasis) that God fine-tuned the universe because He wants us to discover His existence through the fine-tuning of the cosmos.

I will circle back to Joe Felsenstein’s comment momentarily.

For starters, it is important to make certain that everyone is familiar with the idea of Kettle Logic as expressed by Sigmund Freud in “The Interpretation of Dreams”.  That is, using multiple arguments which are inconsistent with one another.

The example used by Freud is that of a man who is accused of returning a borrowed kettle to his neighbor in a damaged condition.  He responds with the following 3 arguments:

1- The kettle was undamaged when he returned it.

2- The kettle was already damaged when he originally borrowed it.

3- He never borrowed the kettle in the first place.

Individually, any one of these arguments might be true.  However, used together they represent an absurdity since they are each mutually exclusive of at least one of the remaining two.

To relate this to the Fine-Tuning Argument, I will put forth 3 statements that reflect the position of proponents of the argument as I understand it.  We can hash out semantics in the comments.

1- An infinitely powerful being, God, created the Universe ex nihilo.

2- The same being carefully tuned a number of fundamental physical constants to extremely narrow ranges outside of which life as we know it would not be possible.

3- God’s creative hand is clearly visible in the structure of our Universe and its properties.

As with the Kettle Logic example above, any one of these three arguments might be true by itself.  However, also as with the previous example, I don’t see any way that all three can be true simultaneously.

Scenario A: Assume statement 1 is true – If God is infinitely powerful and God created the Universe from nothing, then there can be no limit as to which values God could set physical constants to.  If he literally sets the rules, then he would be able to make any combination of values work for his desired outcome (If 1, then not 2).  And whatever set of values he chose, it should appear to any observers who might emerge within the Universe to be a brute fact (If 1, then not 3).

Scenario B: Assume statement 2 is true – If there are only very narrow ranges of physical values that will allow life to emerge, then God could not have created the Universe from nothing.  In that case there must be a pre-existing substrate upon which reality is built which limits the creative actions of God (If 2, then not 1).  And similarly to Scenario A, if the constants were set at the beginning, they would appear to any observers in the Universe to be an unchanging brute fact (If 2, then not 3).

Assuming that statement 3 is true brings me back to Joe Felsenstein’s comment that I quoted above.  The chemical properties of water are indeed exceptional.  However, as Joe points out, changing anything about the properties of water would necessarily change the nature of all of chemistry since water is made up of components which are common to all elements.

Deducing the creative action of God would require the observation of something that did not follow the established norms of the universe.  The divine nature of Jesus is not believed based upon the observation of his normal habits of respiration and digestion for example.  It is rather believed based upon the accounts of miraculous events in the Gospels which stand out from everyday commonplace events.

One way to look at it is as the difference between what I have occasionally heard described as tuning (setting of initial conditions) and tinkering (on-the-fly adjustments).  Experiencing a miraculous event could lead one to deduce Divine action in the Universe.  However, the mere fact that the event is miraculous means that it departs from the expected pattern of natural occurrences (If 3, then not 2).

Since this is my first OP, I apologize in advance for any formatting errors.  I also apologize if I have misrepresented the position of proponents of the Fine-Tuning Argument.  I would be happy to have my understanding enlightened.

My exposure to the argument has come primarily by way of Christian Apologists such as William Lane Craig and Fr. Robert Spitzer.  Therefore, my statements here are primarily informed by that mindset versus more esoteric versions of Christian belief or by ID.

466 Replies to “The Fine-Tuning Argument – Kettle Logic on a Cosmological Scale”

  1. RoyLT
    Ignored
    says:

    William J. Murray: There is a huge, qualitative difference between something being a prescriptive “law” and a something being a “description of regular patterns of behavior”.

    Your consistent harping on the word “law” in Natural Law is silly. ‘Law’ in that sense is simply shorthand for the observed patterns of behavior in our Universe. We disagree on enough without bickering over pedantic details that miniscule.

    William J. Murray: It doesn’t mean God cannot perform the miraculous here, but he must do so in a manner that is suited to the purpose this universe serves.

    My problem is that you are using ill-defined terms. What counts as ‘miraculous’ by your definition and how will it appear to intelligent observers?

  2. William J. Murray
    Ignored
    says:

    RoyLT said:

    Your consistent harping on the word “law” in Natural Law is silly. ‘Law’ in that sense is simply shorthand for the observed patterns of behavior in our Universe. We disagree on enough without bickering over pedantic details that miniscule.

    It’s not silly when your arguments all utilize the perspective that something is being “violated” and that these violations can “crash the system” There is no “system” to crash, and nothing is being “violated” by miraculous occurrences in any meaningful sense.

    My problem is that you are using ill-defined terms. What counts as ‘miraculous’ by your definition and how will it appear to intelligent observers?

    I’v been pretty clear about this. If someone honestly draws ten straight flushes in a row in a non-rigged card game, nothing has been “violated” and it still meets the definition of “miraculous” in my book.

  3. William J. Murray
    Ignored
    says:

    Then suggest a better one. But you might want to check with the Christians first before you define the Resurrection and Ascension as non-miraculous events.

    Are you even bothering to read what I write?

  4. Entropy Entropy
    Ignored
    says:

    William J. Murray:
    No argument or evidence can penetrate a closed mind. At least you can admit yo have one, which is better than most here.

    If being unwilling to consider a fantasy seriously just because people use words like metaphysics or theology to refer to them is to be closed minded, then sure. I am closed minded. Evidence would convince me otherwise, but mere claims about some version of the fantasy to be a childish mischaracterization, with no explanation, followed by mere claims about fine-tuning to be a straw-man, again with no explanation, when both are what Christian apologists present, won’t work very well.

    William J. Murray: Already have.

    No you haven’t. All you’ve done is talk about “God” not being able to do illogical stuff, about constraints coming from this fantasy being’s nature, etc, but no fine-tuning argument.

    William J. Murray: That you think the basis for the fine-tuning argument is that the laws and constants are prescriptive – some kind of hardwired system – demonstrates your lack of comprehension into the nature of the argument and why such “challenges” always begin with bad premises and pursue straw-man arguments.

    Then explain what this fine-tuning argument of yours is, because every time I explain those idiots that the “laws” are descriptive and that changing constants only make the description wrong, they get all angry and talk about this “law giver” bullshit, quote physicists who also mistake the descriptions for prescriptions. But Christians never get to understand, or admit, that playing with the models does not mean anything. Fine-tuning, as presented by apologists, is nothing but that, playing with the models that describe our universe. Such playing assumes prescription, rather than description. Yet, that’s exactly what WL Craig presents, and that’s exactly what I’ve read anywhere. So no straw-man on my part. If anything, it would be the apologists own construct.

    So, stop telling me that I’m arguing against a straw-man and explain the “real” thing. Where is this other argument of yours? How does it work? What’s exactly finely tuned?

    I’d insist that you did an OP about it, not to derail this thread, but it seems like you’ve already derailed it.

  5. William J. Murray
    Ignored
    says:

    Then explain what this fine-tuning argument of yours is…

    I think I stated it pretty well in my response to Roy via the example of a universe that is entirely hostile to life, but wherein god manifests a miraculous human. Whether or not so-called “miracles” occur in this universe is entirely irrelevant to the fact that the behaviors of this universe follow patterns that support and allow for the existence of intelligent life, whereas most other arrangements of physical patterns would not (as per prior discussion about there being exponentially more paths to failure than success).

    Another point to ponder is that even though the patterns in this universe are finely coordinated in order to support the existence of intelligent life, the actual appearance of that life even in such a universe is still miraculous. No amount of fine tuning of patterns of behavior can originate semiotic code.

  6. Erik
    Ignored
    says:

    If entropy and the second law of thermodynamics is a thing, then life forms should not exist. Fine-tuning theory/argument exists to counter-balance entropy. This makes God a tinkerer, but this is in full harmony with Paleyism.

  7. Entropy Entropy
    Ignored
    says:

    William J. Murray,

    That’s no argument. It’s just claims with no basis.

  8. Entropy Entropy
    Ignored
    says:

    Erik,

    Nope. If entropy and the second law are a thing, that’s what makes life possible. Even tinkering would not be possible without entropy. Entropy is what “ensures” that energy flows in a main, if not a single, direction. Without such direction, no work would be possible.

  9. RoyLT
    Ignored
    says:

    William J. Murray: I think I stated it pretty well in my response to Roy via the example of a universe that is entirely hostile to life, but wherein god manifests a miraculous human.

    I actually really like the example and think it worth dwelling on it to clarify where our differences lie.

    William J. Murray: Another point to ponder is that even though the patterns in this universe are finely coordinated in order to support the existence of intelligent life, the actual appearance of that life even in such a universe is still miraculous.

    Please clarify what you mean by miraculous here in the context of your ten flushes in a row example. Does the emergence of intelligent life in the Universe represent a statistically unlikely event (i.e. ten straight flushes in a row unrigged), or an event which cannot occur without divine action?

    Or is there no difference in your definition of miracle between something that is unlikely and something that is impossible? That is an honest question for me to try to understand your position a little better.

  10. RoyLT
    Ignored
    says:

    William J. Murray: There is no “system” to crash, and nothing is being “violated” by miraculous occurrences in any meaningful sense.

    Whether the Universe is self-sustaining or whether it requires God’s Conservation at every moment, the predictable progression of matter and energy inside the Universe is what I refer to as “the system”. Do you agree that matter and energy in our Universe follows a predictable progression?

  11. RoyLT
    Ignored
    says:

    Erik: This makes God a tinkerer, but this is in full harmony with Paleyism.

    So from the standpoint of mainstream Christianity, God made a design for a highly precise watch including building the materials of construction for the watch from scratch. However, the watch cannot run on its own and needs to be constantly sustained by him (Conservation). In addition, he occasionally needs to make minor adjustments to the watch aside from his normal sustaining activities.

    Most importantly, as soon as he rolled out the key feature of the watch (morally free beings), that functionality failed entirely and the watch has been running poorly ever since despite his adjustments and constant sustaining.

  12. OMagain
    Ignored
    says:

    Erik: If entropy and the second law of thermodynamics is a thing, then life forms should not exist.

    So say you. Care to demonstrate that with, you know, some sort of reference to physics?

  13. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    Entropy: That’s no argument. It’s just claims with no basis.

    So?

  14. Entropy Entropy
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung,

    So, there’s no argument to discuss. Obviously.

  15. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    Entropy: So, there’s no argument to discuss.

    Why must we argue?

  16. Entropy Entropy
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung,

    Well, Murray claims that Roy was working with a straw-man of the fine-tuning bullshit. Roy was working with a fine-tuning bullshit as presented by Christian apologists. So, if that’s a straw-man, then the Christian apologists built it. The straw-man claim implies that there’s a “real” fine-tuning argument for the existence of some magical being. So I asked what that argument is. Murray presents a bunch of claims, not an argument. Therefore, Murray is arrogantly full of shit.

    Clear now my illiterate friend?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.