The Big numbers game: Fine Tuning

The big numbers game: Fine Tuning

Creationist fine tuning claims are incomprehensible. I know certain physicists argue for cosmological fine tuning (I’m not sold, for reasons I may discuss later). I believe the claims we’ve seen lately are far removed from any serious claim of fine tuning, and reflect a lack of comprehension of physics or basic math by those that use them.

Here’s a typical claim: “The force of gravity is determined by the gravitational constant. If this constant varied by just one in 10^60 parts, none of us would exist.” (1). You will find this claim repeated in the UD comments section, and even their own glossary of definitions (2-5). Creationists love it, because the big numbers, to them, mean impossible, therefore God. Right?

But wait. Humans have only measured the gravitational constant “big G” to parts per million accuracy (with variations between measurement methods at hundreds of parts per million (6)). So, using Chem 101 terminology, the statement above says that we know a constant to about 6 significant figures, but if the value was different at the digit 54 decimal past the frontier of human understanding, we’d be hosed. Where did this precise value come from? What math-a-magics creates precision from fine air?

Some smarter creationists tip their hat (though still obfuscate, and never show their math). VJ Torley for example, say this: the “ratio of the electromagnetic force to gravity must be finely balanced to a degree of one part in 10^40.” So that is interesting, but what does it mean?

Well, not much, because gravitational and electromagnetic attraction are dependent on things like charge and distance and mass and stuff. So the general statement of a ratio of the two forces is absolutely meaningless. Probably what Torley means is the ratio between, say two electrons, or an electron and a proton. The calculations for this aren’t hard (8).

But, watch what happened. We’re now not talking about one contestant. Torley et al. are talking about the ratio of two values which may not be independent of each other. They also (sneakily) have taken the ratio of something large (electric force) and small (gravity between very light objects) and produced a huge number (the electric force is 4.1 x 10^42 times bigger than gravity for 2 electrons). So what does “one part in 10^40” of 4.1 x 10^42 mean now? A percent or so? Not impossible odds.

But worse, think about the operation here. Shaquille O’ Neil might have had a very different career if he was 1 part in 10^27 smaller (where I took the ratio between the diameter of the observed galaxy and Shaq’s height) Therefore, Shaq was fine tuned. Right? And he had a probability of playing professional basketball of 1 in 10^27? Wow. Divine intervention.

Surely, we can’t take the one part in big big numbers that are ratios of things as an ordinary probability like 1/6 for dice 1/2 for coins. But Creationists do.

There may be some very fine fine-tuning arguments out there. But they’re buried behind a mountain of misunderstanding and obfuscated arguments.

62 thoughts on “The Big numbers game: Fine Tuning

  1. Mung,

    Allan: Any thoughts from the fine tuning community?

    Mung: Then it would not be oxygen, it would be something else.

    That’s a thought, is it? Oxygen’s defining characteristic, the only thing that makes us call it oxygen, is the fact that it is not a liquid at 20 degrees C …

    My point is that the entire properties of the periodic table are determined by the same basic parameters of quarks, gluons, electrons, photons. That plus constraints on filling orbitals determine the entirety of chemistry. It’s quite remarkable – the exact same components give us gaseous oxygen [or whatever you choose to call the element with atomic number 8], solid carbon, liquid mercury, green chlorine etc, and all molecular behaviours, including ours.

    So, in one’s opinion, is an omnipotent being stuck with a periodic table which is entirely dependent on those basics, and invariant given a particular set of values, or can a little thing be varied without touching the rest? If God made mercury liquid and metallic, could He also make oxygen liquid without affecting anything else? Is this omnipotent being constrained? Or could He fine tune at element level?

  2. Allan Miller: Is this omnipotent being constrained?

    Theists do not have a problem with a God that is constrained. The elements are constrained. They cannot be other than they are. Such is God.

    If physics were different the elements would probably be different. But then they would not be the same elements because they would not have the same properties.

  3. Mung: Theists do not have a problem with a God that is constrained.

    That is absolute fucking gibberish and you know you are only saying this for the sake of this particular discussion. The vast majority of theists who believe in an omipotent god really do believe god is absolutely unconstrained. In fact many of them contend god made logic itself, such that it is possible that god can do even the logically impossible.

    Mung: They cannot be other than they are. Such is God.

    He called you and said this? Or do you just have a “strong inner experience” of your “relationship” with god that convinces you this is so? What’s that like, do you hear voices? Do Hebew teksts form in the clouds? Or English in your oatmeal?

  4. Mung,

    If physics were different the elements would probably be different. But then they would not be the same elements because they would not have the same properties.

    I guess. But that’s the interesting thing. If carbon didn’t act as carbon and hydrogen didn’t act as hydrogen, etc, no life. And yet there evidently exists a setting of those fundamental constants that permits life. On your view of theism, it “just-so-happens” that life is possible with these settings; you need a God merely to find that exact setting and tune the parameters to expose it. Even God can’t make mercury and chlorine liquid at the same temperature and pressure, or give carbon a valency of 3. But isn’t it remarkable that there is such a setting at all? That there is a simple set of parameters for matter and force that permits biochemistry in toto – and yet you need a God to just stumble on it, or know where to find it?

    I do find that a bit inconsistent. God fine tunes where he can, but just takes the rest of nature as being ‘how things are’. I wonder if he thinks there’s a meta-God at the back of it all.

  5. What is fine-tuning? Says Wikipedia, “In theoretical physics, fine-tuning refers to circumstances when the parameters of a model must be adjusted very precisely in order to agree with observations.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-tuning

    Looks like we are not talking about fine-tuning the universe, but fine-tuning the model to make it agree with observations about the universe. Does anybody understand the distinction between the model and that which is modelled?

    Both sides of the debate are just dancing over a category error. This is a norm in analytic philosophy, so I have found.

  6. Erik,

    Looks like we are not talking about fine-tuning the universe, but fine-tuning the model to make it agree with observations about the universe. Does anybody understand the distinction between the model and that which is modelled?

    No-one appears to me to be using ‘fine-tuning’ in that sense. When one party says ‘the universe is fine tuned for life’, a critic can discuss that argument without either party being accused of an inability to distinguish map from territory.

  7. Agreed. I think the fine-tuning argument, in so far as it speaks about predictions from models, is actually a valid argument. It’s just that it’s based on unjustified assumptions. But the structure of the argument and the understanding of what kind of fine-tuning it refers to is actually totally valid.

  8. Allan Miller:
    When one party says ‘the universe is fine tuned for life’, a critic can discuss that argument without either party being accused of an inability to distinguish map from territory.

    A good critic would understand when the argument involves an inability of distinguishing map from territory, and criticize that.

  9. Erik:
    What is fine-tuning? Says Wikipedia, “In theoretical physics, fine-tuning refers to circumstances when the parameters of a model must be adjusted very precisely in order to agree with observations.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-tuning

    Looks like we are not talking about fine-tuning the universe, but fine-tuning the model to make it agree with observations about the universe. Does anybody understand the distinction between the model and that which is modelled?

    Both sides of the debate are just dancing over a category error. This is a norm in analytic philosophy, so I have found.

    Erik, I’m not sure I’d say both sides are committing a category error. The point of my post is that creationist deployment of fine tuning claims never reference how the big number came about–is the big number truly the fine tuning of a constant, or it it a ratio of constants,or the product of a equation that is a law, or some pet model of the development of the universe?

    I’d wager they haven’t a clue.

    It seems we’re in agreement, but I don’t see the second edge to this sword.

  10. Erik,

    A good critic would understand when the argument involves an inability of distinguishing map from territory, and criticize that.

    You are free to criticise the argument any way you see fit. As am I.

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