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

  1. RodW: 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.

    So why does this make it less likely a God created the world? That’s bizarre.

    It certainly doesn’t make it MORE likely that it was just random chance.

  2. phoodoo: What the fuck kind of logic is that?

    Again, who decided what nature can or can’t do?, who decided nature can only produce a life permitting universe if the constants are precisely the ones we find?

    If it was a design decision, the fine tuning argument is bunk because any other set of laws would do. (FT premise busted)

    If it wasn’t a design decision, then if there’s a God, the laws are imposed on him, he’s not the designer of nature and can’t explain why nature works the way it does: nature is just the way it is

    Either way, God fails as an explanation for the natural world

  3. RodW: This sounds like an argument I made to a friend after watching a Wiliam Lane Craig debate on the topic:

    The theist imagines God walking up to a big panel with multiple dials and setting each one at the right value. But the theist also claims God made the dials in the first place and even the very concept of ‘dialness’ I think yours is a much clearer presentation of the idea

    I actually think that your analogy is very useful, but I appreciate your opinion.

    As I mentioned in the OP, my first exposure to the Fine-Tuning Argument was from a William Lane Craig debate that I watched.

    An example of a similar vein is the idea of someone guessing the combination to an impossibly complex safe on the first try. If I remember correctly, William Dembski used just such an example in ‘Design Revolution’ (I haven’t read it in a while). The problem, as your example points out, is that if the person in question is also the one who designed and installed the safe then it proves nothing.

  4. Mung: You’re in a failed universe.

    Yep. Despite the “intelligent” designer pronounced it to be “good,” forgetting, for the moment, about that tiny glitch that would make it into a huge failure at the first act of disobedience.

  5. RoyLT,

    Again, you are getting confused with thinking the fine-tuning argument is about what God can do, rather than it showing just how unlikely unintelligent processes are to come up with everything required for life.

  6. phoodoo: Again, you are getting confused with thinking the fine-tuning argument is about what God can do, rather than it showing just how unlikely unintelligent processes are to come up with everything required for life.

    Please be more specific.

  7. phoodoo:
    RoyLT,
    Again, you are getting confused with thinking the fine-tuning argument is about what God can do, rather than it showing just how unlikely unintelligent processes are to come up with everything required for life.

    To make the argument, the creationists tell us that the universe is finely tuned. Often ending with “for life” (otherwise, finely tuned for what?). That means that they’re using “God” as the explanation for what the universe can do. The caveat, of course, is that what the claim to be impossible is for the universe to be the way it is. In that sense you would be right (half right, let’s say), since the claim is that the universe required fine-tuning in order to be able to do what it does. The universe could not have naturally set up with these constants.

    Either way, your claim doesn’t solve any of the problems that Roy is talking about. The claim is still that the universe required fine tuning by some magical being, the magical being is still supposed to be able to do anything (unless you’re arguing for a non-omnipotent god), limited by what nature can do–see? Kettle logic!), even a nature that would produce life-allowing universes each and every time regardless of constants. So, the argument still suffers from kettle logic.

  8. dazz: Again, who decided what nature can or can’t do?, who decided nature can only produce a life permitting universe if the constants are precisely the ones we find?

    If it was a design decision, the fine tuning argument is bunk because any other set of laws would do. (FT premise busted)

    Exactly. To refer to colewd’s slightly bizarre (at least in my opinion) example of mason jars, it is absolutely true that only a lid of a specific diameter, height, thread depth, thread pitch, etc. will fit a particular jar. However, there are essentially an infinite number of jar/lid pairs that could be made which, while matching perfectly with each other, are completely incompatible with any others.

    There doesn’t seem to be any explanation for why God couldn’t create an infinite number of universes each with their own set of interlocking physical constants that make the emergence of complex life possible. In that case, the intelligent life in each Universe would see what we see – a coherent set of apparently inviolable laws dictating the behavior of their surroundings. The problem is that the residents of one Universe have no way of knowing if they are in just one of the myriad Finely-Tuned Universes or if they are the only Universe in an ensemble of 10^”Unreasonably Large Exponent” Universes that happens to be able to support life.

    Occam’s Razor clearly favors the latter assumption.

  9. phoodoo: Wrong. If we use your logic, we have a 50/50 chance of it being God.

    That is some absymal attempt at logical thinking.

    You are trying to put a number on the probability that God would decide to create life through the physics of the universe, versus the probability that God would decide to do it through direct divine intervention and sustenance.

    An analogy could be that we are trying to put a number on the probability that a person biking along some path, would decide to go left or right at some point where it splits in two. The fact that two options exist does not mean it’s a 50/50 split on the odds. There could be something about the split that makes it so 99.9999% of people who bike on that path, choose to go left. Maybe the other one goes under water. Most people wouldn’t want to bike straight into a lake.

    The same thing with God and how to decide to create life in a universe:
    It could be 99.99999999999999999999 vs 0.000000000000000000001, or 75/25, or 49/51, or anything else in between 100/0. Since you have no clue which one, you can’t just assume it’s 50/50. That merely begs the question.

    You can’t just make up a number you find convenient. Some times we simply dont’ know what the probability is. I’m sorry that this leaves the fine-tuning argument ineffective, but that’s just life I’m afraid.

    Also, there is no such thing as “my logic” and “your logic”. There is just logic, and one of us is not doing it correctly, and it’s you.

  10. Entropy: The claim is still that the universe required fine tuning by some magical being, the magical being is still supposed to be able to do anything (unless you’re arguing for a non-omnipotent god), limited by what nature can do–see? Kettle logic!), even a nature that would produce life-allowing universes each and every time regardless of constants.

    You beat me to it 😉

  11. phoodoo: Why? Why can’t I compare highly highly highly unlikely to itself?

    I rest my case.

    LOL.

    WHAT THE FUCK LOL.

    DID A GROWN MAN WRITE THAT?

    HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH

    Okay, my days of not taking phoodoo seriously have come to the end of the beginning. It is moving into the long phase of the middle. Have a nice weekend.

  12. Joe Felsenstein: Not if The Designer is changing the chemical and physical properties of water.

    And who is claiming that The Designer is changing (or ever changed) the chemical and physical properties of water?

    So that’s one reason your argument is a horrible argument, in that it erects a straw-man.

  13. Here are some evaluations of cosmological constant (the fine-tuned acceleration of the expansion of the universe) by some well-respected cosmologists:

    “What then are the alternatives? We may reject the interpretation of de Sitter space
    based on complementarity. For example, an evolution of the causal patch based on standard
    Hamiltonian quantum mechanics may be wrong. What would replace it is a complete
    mystery.
    Another possibility is an unknown agent intervened in the evolution, and for reasons
    of its own restarted the universe in the state of low entropy characterizing inflation.

    However,even this does not rid the theory of the pesky recurrences. Only the first occurrence would evolve in a way that would be consistent with usual expectations. Subsequently
    the recurrences would be extremely unlikely to be consistent, in this sense. Thus the
    anthropically acceptable part of spacetime would be dominated by peculiar, incomprehensible
    conditions. This could be avoided if the system is not ergodic, so that trajectories
    which pass through inflation remain in a bounded part of the phase space, and rarely or
    never enter the “inconsistent” regions. This seems very unlikely, and even if true, it only
    involves a tiny subset of all the possible trajectories, leaving us with the still difficult task
    of explaining why we exist in such an unusual part of phase space. It is also possible that
    we are missing some important feature that picks out, or weights disproportionally, the
    recurrences which go through a conventional evolution, beginning with an inflationary era.
    However, we have no idea what this feature would be.
    We wish to emphasize that the above conclusions appear to be the inevitable consequence
    of the following assumptions:
    • There is a fundamental cosmological constant.
    • We can apply the ideas of holography and complementarity to de Sitter space.
    • The time evolution operator is unitary, so that phase space area is conserved.
    cosmological constant. ”

    https://arxiv.org/pdf/hep-th/0208013.pdf

  14. Mung: And who is claiming that The Designer is changing (or ever changed) the chemical and physical properties of water?

    If the Designer did not ‘tune’ the properties of water to allow complex life to emerge, then what was his function in the process?

  15. RoyLT,

    Did you watch that debate between W Lame Craig and Sean Carroll, where Carroll mentions several problems with the fine-tuning argument? That was pretty well presented.

    Unfortunately, creationists seem to be unable to hold more than one idea in mind when presented with refutations. That’s why they might not understand why you call the argument kettle logic. They might not be able to put together and contrast those items you listed, even after you did that for them.

  16. RoyLT: If the Designer did not ‘tune’ the properties of water to allow complex life to emerge, then what was his function in the process?

    To me the question is nonsense.

    How do you go about tuning the properties of water, give it one fewer hydrogen atom?

  17. Mung: To me the question is nonsense.

    How do you go about tuning the properties of water, give it one fewer hydrogen atom?

    No. To refer back to Joe Felsenstein’s statement, the properties of Hydrogen and Oxygen which give rise to the characteristics of water are inherent in the values of physical constants which govern matter in the Universe. You cannot adjust one value without affecting everything else. The question at hand is, how did the constants get to their present value in the first place? Were there multiple values available or just one for each?

  18. Mung: To me the question is nonsense.

    I suspect that’s the point Mung.

    Mung: How do you go about tuning the properties of water, give it one fewer hydrogen atom?

    Ah! The designer is limited by nature! Got it!

    Thank you Mung.

    😀

  19. Entropy: Did you watch that debate between W Lame Craig and Sean Carroll, where Carroll mentions several problems with the fine-tuning argument? That was pretty well presented.

    I didn’t watch it, but I did read some partial summaries. That debate was the topic of vjtorley’s post on UD about Fine-Tuning which RobC cited in his post last year. I intend to watch it one of these days.

  20. RoyLT,

    No. To refer back to Joe Felsenstein’s statement, the properties of Hydrogen and Oxygen which give rise to the characteristics of water are inherent in the values of physical constants which govern matter in the Universe. You cannot adjust one value without affecting everything else. The question at hand is, how did the constants get to their present value in the first place? Were there multiple values available or just one for each?

    The constraints are part of the overall design of matter. Matter is very predictable in how it bonds with other matter to create complexity. If I want to make a room temperature liquid I simply change the mix of molecules and miraculously it works.

    As the screw top lid and jar analogy precision is required for designs with multiple parts that fit together. Remember these components (atoms) are capable of assembling 37 trillion components that build species that can observe the universe 🙂

  21. RoyLT: The question at hand is, how did the constants get to their present value in the first place?

    That’s a different question. You can’t actually tell me what it means to “tune” the properties of water so you change the subject. So you agree the question you asked was nonsensical?

  22. Entropy: I suspect that’s the point Mung.

    So that makes at least two of us who think the question was nonsensical. See, you can I can actually agree on something.

    Miraculous!

  23. RoyLT,

    If the Designer did not ‘tune’ the properties of water to allow complex life to emerge, then what was his function in the process?

    The matter God created was designed with finely tuned properties. Humans design semiconductors with finely tuned properties that work together. Without finely tuned atoms semiconductors would not work.

  24. Mung: …How do you go about tuning the properties of water, give it one fewer hydrogen atom?

    You try to use materialist thinking to answer a divine, godly question?
    Heretic !
    Blasphemer !
    Scientist !

  25. Mung: derplogic

    There’s a syllogism right there for you to examine and refute if you can. But you know you can’t so you’ll resort to your usual retarded tactics.

    I’ll take that as a tacit admission of defeat. Thanks for playing though

    P.S.: DEEEEERP

  26. To repeat a point made a while back:

    Creotard: “Look at the wonderful complexity, intricacy, precise regularity in nature and tell me God didn’t do it”

    Sensible person: “Why would that follow?”

    Creotard: “Because without God it’s all randomness, chaos, unpredictable nonsense!”

    #kettlelogic

  27. “There is no need to tinker with the properties of water because hydrogen bonds are quantum in nature therefore they have quite short lifetimes, possibly even close to zero and not higher than 15 ps. This means that the structure of water clusters can change very rapidly in response to any environmental changes such as change of temperature. Due to the very short lifetime of hydrogen bonds water clusters can change the variety of structures, sizes, shapes; they can decay and form new clusters with the speed close to the speed of light…

    This is one of the fundamental ways that ought to be considered when attempting to explain all the 67 anomalies of water…

    No tinkering required…It’s all built into the laws of quantum chemistry explained by generalized Stokes–Einstein equation…

    No Shrodinger Wave Equation has been mentioned…

    “Quantum Cluster Equilibrium Theory of Liquids:  Temperature Dependence of Hydrogen Bonding in Liquid N-Methylacetamide Studied by IR Spectra”

    If I were you Roy LT, I would try to learn first the many different aspects of fine-tuning of the physical laws and not refer to them as general– fine-tuned…
    Some aspects of Quantum Mechanics are random and based on probability amplitudes (particle duality) the probability to find a particle at a position at some time is the absolute square of the probability amplitude.
    They are infinitesimally fine-tuned for life, and any, even an miniscule deviation would mean no earth, no universe and definitely no us ….

    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jp971575u?src=recsys&journalCode=jpcbfk

  28. “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.”

    Craig is not far apart from ID movement. He used to cooperate with Dembski at some point.

    I have not heard about Spitzer earlier, but looks like his arguments involve DNA and “information theory”, so I strongly suspect that his thinking is very close to ID theory.

    Fine-tuning is a natural given for ID line of thinking. In classical theism, fine-tuning would be necessary only if there were some error or deviation in the creation process earlier; but since that cannot be, fine-tuning is ruled out.

  29. Why is fine tuning for a unique universe presumed?

    Maybe the multiverse is akin to some celestial popcorn maker where universes pop into existence but extinguish as fast as they arise…

    … while survival of the most “finely tuned” permits our universe (maybe not only ours) to persist long enough for its emergent life forms to waste time and bandwidth on futile exchanges

  30. Erik: Fine-tuning is a natural given for ID line of thinking. In classical theism, fine-tuning would be necessary only if there were some error or deviation in the creation process earlier; but since that cannot be, fine-tuning is ruled out.

    I agree with you on both counts. The ID approach to Fine-Tuning is a bit different, and I’m happy to discuss that.

    However, just for clarification, why do you feel that Fine-Tuning is ruled out in Classical Theism? I agree that it makes no sense in terms of classical Theism, which is the entire gist of my post.

  31. J-Mac: If I were you Roy LT, I would try to learn first the many different aspects of fine-tuning of the physical laws and not refer to them as general– fine-tuned…

    Luckily, you’re not me. I wouldn’t wish this ugly mug and male-pattern baldness on anyone.

    The quantity of Fine-Tuned values and degree of Fine-Tunedness of each is irrelevant to the discussion. The point of the discussion is whether an infinitely powerful God who created the Universe from scratch, was somehow restricted on the parameters that he could set for said Universe, and then made occasional departures from that design is a logically coherent being.

  32. colewd: The matter God created was designed with finely tuned properties. Humans design semiconductors with finely tuned properties that work together. Without finely tuned atoms semiconductors would not work.

    Correct. Humans need to fine-tune designs because they are working with already extant materials. What is God’s excuse?

  33. RoyLT: If the Designer did not ‘tune’ the properties of water to allow complex life to emerge, then what was his function in the process?

    Mung: So you agree the question you asked was nonsensical?

    I agree 100% for the reasons listed in the OP. A Designer working with a tabula rasa should not have to ‘tune’ anything if there are no limitations on their power.

  34. Maybe the laws and constants of physics are themselves dictated by even more fundamental general principles. This would render all this “fine-tuning” to be only apparent – no differently than the apparent and exquisite adaptations (aka fine-tuning) of flora and fauna which elicited so much marvel from Victorian Naturalists … until that is, Darwin employed Ockham’s razor to good advantage, no differently than Newton before him proved once and for all the planets did not depend on angels to maintain elliptical orbits.

  35. TomMueller: Maybe the laws and constants of physics are themselves dictated by even more fundamental general principles.

    I don’t see that as posing much of a problem for Theists who find the Fine-Tuning Argument persuasive. The moment of ‘tuning’ just gets pushed back one remove.

    At whatever level we end up appealing to brute facts, God can be inserted as an explanation.

  36. I’ve said this before but…
    (As a devil’s advocate for fine-tuners) allowing God’s omnipotence, etc., for the moment, why should those qualities pass to what God creates? God creates the properties of a Universe and those properties are then emergent from the particles of that creation. God may be magic but water isn’t; just the emergent property of particles.

    On the other hand, fine tuning always seems half an argument. It attempts to justify the idea of a creator. OK but that’s stage one. I never seem to hear an argument for stage two that links the universe’s creator to the whole baggage of a God – whichever God – that requires worshipping and so on.

  37. Tom Mueller :Maybe the laws and constants of physics are themselves dictated by even more fundamental general principles.
    RoyLT: I don’t see that as posing much of a problem for Theists who find the Fine-Tuning Argument persuasive. The moment of ‘tuning’ just gets pushed back one remove.

    At whatever level we end up appealing to brute facts, God can be inserted as an explanation.

    yes – but that would simplify the discussion greatly as alternative physical constants would no longer on the table…

    ITMT – you did not address my multiverse popcorn metaphor

  38. TomMueller: Maybe the laws and constants of physics are themselves dictated by even more fundamental general principles.

    Oops! I see I’ve been scooped!

  39. Alan Fox: I never seem to hear an argument for stage two that links the universe’s creator to the whole baggage of a God – whichever God – that requires worshipping and so on.

    The kind of universe creating god that creates a universe that happens to be capable of supporting the kind of creatures that would worship.the universe creating kind of god.

  40. RoyLT: I agree 100% for the reasons listed in the OP. A Designer working with a tabula rasa should not have to ‘tune’ anything if there are no limitations on their power.

    Wow. Three people who agree the question made no sense! The number of miracles is increasing. 🙂

    Oh, and that question you asked Erik? You just answered it yourself. Congratulations.

Leave a Reply