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. From the OP:

    Creationist fine tuning claims are incomprehensible.

    Sorry, but fine-tuning isn’t a Creationist claim.

  2. From the OP:

    Creationists love it, because the big numbers, to them, mean impossible, therefore God. Right?

    I’m sorry, but that’s just silly. Impossible things are impossible. It is absolutely not the fault of any Creationist that you wish to believe in impossible things without any evidence.

  3. GlenDavidson: Well, when you don’t actually have any decent evidence for your claims you can’t do much but throw around big numbers,

    iirc, must of the numbers are actually quite small.

  4. Mung: I’m sorry, but that’s just silly. Impossible things are impossible. It is absolutely not the fault of any Creationist that you wish to believe in impossible things without any evidence.

    Improbable =/= impossible.

    No matter how big you make a finite number, you never jump from rarely to never.

    This lesson in basic logic is brought to you by the mere act of thinking. Try it.

  5. Anyway, let’s take the numbers at face value. What’s the probability a god will fine-tune a universe into the one we see and how do you know?

    So on naturalism, a universe like ours has a probability of 1 in 1^300th power or w/e.
    On theism it has a probability of what and how do you know? It could be even less. Maybe gods love to make universes that collapse on themselves, or only contain lifeless sand and radiation.

    How many gods creating universes have you seen that makes you sure you can extract a general probability that the universe we see is generally of the sort gods are in the business of conjuring up?
    While on that note, how many universes have you seen that makes you think the laws and constants are subject to much, if any, variation? What justifies all these assumptions?

    No theist has answers to these questions that aren’t pulles straight from their rectums, therefore the fine-tuning argument fails as based on unprovable and question-begging assumptions.

    The only thing we can justifiably say about why the laws and constants of the universe are the way they are is “we don’t know”.

  6. Mung:
    From the OP:

    All humans are fine-tuned. Even Shaq.

    Well, I am glad that I no longer be worried that Hitler, Stalin and Mao were the results of Darwinism and/or atheism.

  7. Acartia: Well, I am glad that I no longer be worried that Hitler, Stalin and Mao were the results of Darwinism and/or atheism.

    I’m glad to hear you don’t think your atheism has anything to do with biology.

  8. Rumraket: So on naturalism, a universe like ours has a probability of 1 in 1^300th power or w/e.

    So the proper response to Creationist’s really big numbers is atheist’s really small numbers?

    Atheists think they have found a way to make the impossible probable, but when it comes to fine-tuning they are perfectly willing to claim that chancedidit.

  9. Mung: So the proper response to Creationist’s really big numbers is atheist’s really small numbers?

    Atheists think they have found a way to make the impossible probable, but when it comes to fine-tuning they are perfectly willing to claim that chancedidit.

    I always enjoy it when someone substitutes “atheist” for scientist, mathematician, biologist, or indeed anyone who knows better.

    As for religious scientists who understand what these calculations imply, they are probably atheists in disguise.

  10. Mung: So the proper response to Creationist’s really big numbers is atheist’s really small numbers?

    Mung, I’m confident you didn’t understand what I wrote.

    I was accepting the premise of the fine-tuning argument, that the laws and constants being the way they are, is extremely unlikely. I tried to give an example of how small the chance would be, in total, for the sake of argument. I’m saying “okay, so the probability of the universe we see, on naturalism, is extremely small”.

    You with me so far? I hope so.

    With this assumption taken on board, I then move on to ask for another probability to compare it to: The probability of the universe we see, on theism. I want to know which probability is greater. Do you know, and if you do, HOW do you know?

    When you make a probability argument, you need two numbers to compare. The probability P(a) of X(the universe we see) on theory A(chance), and the probability P(b) of X(the universe we see) on theory B(design).

    If P(a) is 10^-300 power, then P(a) is in the common vernacular, extremely extremely extremely small.

    Now we need P(b) to compare to P(a). Got any ideas? How likely is our universe on theism and how do you know?.

    I want to know if
    P(a) > P(b),
    or if
    P(a) < P(b),
    or
    P(a) = P(b)
    – and in particular I want to know how we even estimate P(b). What assumptions are made and what justifies them? The fine-tuning argument cannot logically succeed before you actually give an estimate for P(b).

    Mung: Atheists think they have found a way to make the impossible probable

    What, in particular, do you think is impossible and which they have found a way to make probable? I don’t see how this crap relates to my post. Explain yourself please.

  11. I always enjoy it when someone substitutes “creationist” for scientist, mathematician, biologist, or indeed anyone who knows better.

  12. Rumraket: I’m saying “okay, so the probability of the universe we see, on naturalism, is extremely small”.

    Do you agree that calculating the probability of something that is impossible is nonsense?

    P_what_we_see(given_naturalism). That’s your baseline? How do you know that what we see is even possible given Naturalism? Do you just assume it?

  13. Mung: Rumraket: I’m saying “okay, so the probability of the universe we see, on naturalism, is extremely small”.

    Do you agree that calculating the probability of something that is impossible is nonsense?

    Are you saying divine intervention doesn’t even have a probability? I almost agree, but then I remember that we don’t know everything so it can’t be totally ruled out.

    But no, I know you are somehow trying to say the universe we see is impossible on naturalism. Explain why.

  14. Mung: P_what_we_see(given_naturalism). That’s your baseline? How do you know that what we see is even possible given Naturalism? Do you just assume it?

    I don’t, I’m accepting the fine-tuning argument for the sake of discussion. I do not claim to know how the universe originated. All I know is that I appear to exist in it. Whether it came about by magic, or always existed, or transformed out of some previous state of existence of whatever you can imagine, I do not know.

    My intent here is merely to show the fine-tuning argument is based on invalid or unprovable assumptions and as such, cannot serve as rational justification for god-belief.
    Since I have been successful in that endeavor, you’ll be correcting all theist friends you have who make the argument in the future, right?

  15. It is tiresome to debate the fine-tuning argument with critics who haven’t bothered to get the basic facts right. A quick Google search reveals that the 10^60 figure is backed up by: (1) physicist Paul Davies in The Accidental Universe, Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp. 88-89, where he points out that the density of matter at the Planck time must have been tuned to one part in 10^60 of the so-called critical density; (2) cosmologist Dr. Luke Barnes (see his essay, “The Fine Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life” where he writes: “sans inflation, the density of the universe at the Planck time must be tuned to 60 decimal places in order for the universe to be life-permitting” before going on to argue that inflation is a “cane toad solution” that may make the problem of fine-tuning even worse); (3) fine-tuning expert Dr. Robin Collins ( see page 215 of his essay, “The Teleological Argument” at http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Collins-The-Teleological-Argument.pdf ); (4) Dr. J. E. Lindsey in “The Bigger Bang”, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 69-71; (5) astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross ( http://www.reasons.org/articles/where-is-the-cosmic-density-fine-tuning ); (6) physicist Dr. Rob Sheldon ( http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/08/to_avoid_the_im089251.html ). The 10^60 figure relates to the mean density of the universe, which has to be fine-tuned from the very beginning to an accuracy of 1 part in 10^60. If it were smaller, then the universe would expand too quickly for galaxies and stars to form; while if it were greater, the universe would re-collapse before stars had time to evolve.

    I suggest you also have a look at the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy titled, “Teleological Arguments for God’s Existence.” See here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/teleological-arguments/#CosFinTun
    Here’s an excerpt:
    “Lee Smolin estimates that when all of the fine-tuning examples are considered, the chance of stars existing in the universe is 1 in 10^229. ‘In my opinion, a probability this tiny is not something we can let go unexplained. Luck will certainly not do here; we need some rational explanation of how something this unlikely turned out to be the case’ (Smolin 1999, 45).” Smolin is an atheist, by the way.

    You (RobC) seem to be fixated on the idea that Intelligent Design proponents are all nincompoops who can’t do science. You might like to ask yourself why ID critics Dr. Ken Miller and Dr. Francis Collins are also fans of the fine-tuning argument.

    Finally, before anyone attempts to argue that fine-tuning doesn’t support theism, I suggest they read my article, “Debunking the debunker: How Sean Carroll gets the fine-tuning argument wrong,” at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/debunking-the-debunker-how-sean-carroll-gets-the-fine-tuning-argument-wrong/ .

    There’s also a very good article online here, titled, “God, Design and the Multiverse,” which I would recommend to readers: http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/design-and-the-multiverse/ .

  16. vjtorley,

    It this simple Vincent: if the laws of nature and the constants are so “fine tuned” that couldn’t be any different, what does that leave for design? Nothing at all. Fine tuning is a self defeating argument, but thanks for playing

  17. Here we go again. Golly, the universe is what it is , therefore the creationist god. QED. And of course, if it were anything else, it would ALSO be what it is, therefore the creationist god. Are we persuaded yet?

    What an amazingly self-serving exercise in post facto rationalization. This is the sort of thing True Believers come up with after they’ve reached the bottom of the barrel and still found no evidence for their Designer.

  18. dazz: if the laws of nature and the constants are so “fine tuned” that couldn’t be any different, what does that leave for design? Nothing at all.

    Are you saying that fine-tuning means “could not have been different than they are”? If so, that’s an odd way to look at fine-tuning.

  19. Mung: Are you saying that fine-tuning means “could not have been different than they are”? If so, that’s an odd way to look at fine-tuning.

    Do you have a Mung tuning argument or what? That’s exactly the fine tuning argument: if you change any constant by a tiny fraction, you supposedly get some weird universe in which nothing can form. So if god can’t pick a different set of constants, who decided what those constants must be like to form a universe like this? Certainly not god according to FTunists

  20. I’m curious: How, exactly, does Paul Davies… or Lee Smolin… or anybody else… know the probability that the universe will be the way it is (have the physical constants it does, etc etc)? Sure, anybody can pull an arbitrarily-small number from their lower GI tract and anoint said number as the Really, Really Accurate And True Probability Of The Universe Being The Way It Is. But since anybody can do that, and no two people are likely to extract from their butts the same Really, Really Accurate And True Probability Of The Universe Being The Way It Is, how do you decide which (if any!) Really, Really Accurate And True Probability Of The Universe Being The Way It Is, is the real McCoy?

    It’s one thing to calculate the consequences of Physical Constant X having a different value than it does here in the RealWorld. It’s something else again to have even a marginally accurate estimate of the probability that Physical Constant X could have had a different value than it actually does. You can make up whatever hypothetical odds you like for any change-in-physical-constants scenario you like, but unless you’ve got some way to tell whether those hypothetical odds apply to the RealWorld, all you’ve done is indulge in fact-free speculation.

  21. cubist: I’m curious: How, exactly, does Paul Davies… or Lee Smolin… or anybody else… know the probability that the universe will be the way it is

    It’s exquisitely derived from the Grand Theory of Pooffing Stuff out of Nowhere by Speaking it into Existence

  22. cubist,

    It’s one thing to calculate the consequences of Physical Constant X having a different value than it does here in the RealWorld. It’s something else again to have even a marginally accurate estimate of the probability that Physical Constant X could have had a different value than it actually does.

    Right. You’d need a full-fledged, general theory of universe formation in order to estimate those probabilities accurately. Lacking that, people tend to invoke the principle of indifference (whether implicitly or explicitly) by assigning equal probabilities to all values.

    There’s nothing wrong with that, provided that they keep in mind that they’re doing it out of necessity, due to ignorance. A uniform probability distribution isn’t the known, correct distribution — it’s a placeholder for whatever the correct distribution turns out to be, eventually.

    Fine-tuning is a legitimate scientific problem, in that we really do want to explain why the constants have the values they do. What’s illegitimate is to infer design when the probability distributions are unknown.

    It’s pure God-of-the-gaps reasoning:

    1. Constant X must be in a certain range for stars to form, or life to exist, or some other special circumstance to obtain.

    2. We don’t know the probability distribution for possible values of X, so let’s invoke the principle of indifference and assume that it’s uniform.

    3. If it’s uniform, then the probability of “landing” in that small range is minuscule.

    4. Therefore God did it.

  23. vjtorley:

    You (RobC) seem to be fixated on the idea that Intelligent Design proponents are all nincompoops who can’t do science.

    Given the remarkably high incidence of gob-smackingly incompetent errors in the works produced by ID-pushers, “ID proponents are all nincompoops who can’t do science” is a very well-supported conclusion.

    Example: In Darwin’s Black Box, Behe resurrected Muller’s decades-old concept of “interlocking complexity” and slapped a fresh new “irreducible complexity” label on it. Behe identified a limited subset of Darwinian processes, which he anointed as “direct Darwinian processes”. He showed that it was not possible for any direct Darwinian process to produce an irreducible complex system. And then, having done all that, Behe concluded that an irreducibly complex system must necessarily be produced by a Designer. But what about indirect Darwinian processes? It is unclear what Behe was thinking, but honestly, is “nincompoop” too strong of a word to apply to the man who literally argued Some “X” can be proven unable to generate “Y”. Therefore no “X” whatsoever, INCLUDING “X”s OTHER THAN the ones to which the aforementioned proof applies, can generate “Y” ?

    You might like to ask yourself why ID critics Dr. Ken Miller and Dr. Francis Collins are also fans of the fine-tuning argument.

    [shrug] That’s easy: Their minds have been colonized by a religious memeplex, and there is no argument so intrinsically flawed, nor yet so preposterous, that it cannot be championed by a mind which has been so colonized. Like the saying goes, “give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man”.

  24. vjtorley: … the idea that Intelligent Design proponents are all nincompoops who can’t do science. You might like to ask yourself why ID critics Dr. Ken Miller and Dr. Francis Collins are also fans of the fine-tuning argument.

    Yet another example of the fundamentally flawed arguments which IDists must resort to, because they are indeed nincompoops who can’t do science (or history, or logic, or even common sense …).

    This argument takes the form of “They hate my ID worldview, but see, even they agree with me on this one aspect of this one issue — so you must admit I’m right!!! ”

    Urrgh.

    Made worse than usual because Torley’s cited “authorities” have no more reasonable grounds to opine about Fine Tuning than I do.

    “I hate your ID worldview, and I am not a fan of the F-T argument — so you must admit you’re wrong!!! ”

    Makes as much sense the way I phrased it as the way Torley phrased it. More, even 🙂

  25. VJTorley: “It is tiresome to debate the fine-tuning argument with critics who haven’t bothered to get the basic facts right.”

    Fine-tuning isn’t a “basic fact.” It is an argument with complex premises, which need to be unpacked and understood by those who make casually throw that argument around as a “fact” that everyone must agree with.

    I discuss the error in the first fine tuning claim that you make, that the “ratio of the electromagnetic force to gravity must be finely balanced to a degree of one part in 10^40.” Without defense of that claim, you’ve referenced another, that the “density of matter at the Planck time must have been tuned to one part in 10^60 of the so-called critical density,” which I take as a statement of the flatness problem. I’m not sure what the list of papers and books get you, as they make the same argument, and most reference Davies.

    Anyway, the simplest way to dispense with this claim of fine tuning is right there in your quote– “sans inflation.” Inflation renders the calculation moot by dynamically flattening the universe. Although detecting the signals of an early inflationary universe has had some hiccups, the theory is very much alive, and we might get conclusive data supporting it shortly.

    There are other thoughts, like that the density and critical density aren’t independent variables. Lee Smolin, who you cite (as an atheist, lol) in support, thinks of universes in terms of fitness landscapes, where perhaps “untuned” universes collapse and die immediately, and “fitter” ones can give rise to increasingly stable universes. He’s certainly not making a design argument.

    So the claim here is that IF the universe isn’t inflationary, and IF the two are independent variables, and IF there is a singularity and not a bounce or Smolin’s universe babies…..then…..we have a number we could discuss the meaning of.

    It is interesting to juxtapose the creationist and scientific mindset here. The creationist takes this number and says “design.” God doing the improbable. Scientists form theories, debate, and launch observatories to collect data, furthering our understanding of the universe.

  26. Cubist and Keith,

    Agreed. I’m sure we’ll see a list of other fine tuning examples. Many, such as the two VJTorley has put forth here, are easily dismissed or very debatable. Others suffer from treating related parameters as independent (like particle masses and lifetimes both depending on the weak interaction coupling constant). I’m still waiting for the killer “fine tuning=design” argument.

  27. vjtorley: It is tiresome to debate the fine-tuning argument with critics who haven’t bothered to get the basic facts right.

    Hey Vincent, you should talk to Mung, he says the fine-tuning argument is invalid since it’s based on the assumption that you can assign a probability to the impossible.

    By the way, you should take a stab at the questions I posed up above.

  28. Rumraket: he says the fine-tuning argument is invalid since it’s based on the assumption that you can assign a probability to the impossible.

    I said that the fine-tuning argument is invalid? Probably not.

    I said that you can assign a probability to the impossible? Probably not.

  29. I think it’s great how we no longer hear all the complaints about moderation and instead just have people slinging insults! It’s so much better now.

  30. Mung: I said that the fine-tuning argument is invalid? Probably not.

    I said that you can assign a probability to the impossible? Probably not.

    You read what he wrote? Probably not.

  31. Mung: think it’s great how we no longer hear all the complaints about moderation and instead just have people slinging insults! It’s so much better now.

    Mung earlier today
    As long as you don’t question this forum. For that you get your threads censored.

    Open, honest, frank, direct, except when it isn’t. A new motto for TSZ.

    I guess it depends on your definition of ” no longer”

  32. Mung: I said that the fine-tuning argument is invalid? Probably not.

    I said that you can assign a probability to the impossible? Probably not.

    That’s the same thing. The fine-tuning argument tries to assign a probability to something you consider impossible. So to you, the fine-tuning argument is an invalid argument.

    Consistency, meet Mung. Mung, this is consistency. It’s time you two met.

  33. I wonder if God could create a periodic table where (say) oxygen was a liquid at 20 degrees C, but nothing else was different? Any thoughts from the fine tuning community?

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