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Fine-tuning

February 28, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. Normally that means I got a letter in my ongoing religious discussion with a relative or that it was brought up in some forum I visit, but not this time. I really don’t know why I’ve been thinking about it.

As you probably know, the argument is that certain properties of our universe are exactly the values needed for life and the probability of this is so low that there must be a creator god. In my review of Strobel’s book, I pointed out a big problem: we don’t know the probability of a god creating the universe. This is pointed out in some form here and here. More specifically, if you want to say that the universe is too improbable to have happened naturally, you are implicitly comparing that to the probability of a supernatural cause. However, the mere existence of God seems beyond calculation, not to mention calculating the probability of Him creating this exact universe. God’s pretty complex, isn’t he? Doesn’t that make Him improbable? Here we get into strange territory.

As far as I can tell, Christian theologians for the most part see God as infinitely simple, though he appears infinitely complex to us. I can attest to the second part. If He is that complex, the fine-tuning argument falls apart; it seems obvious that the probability of an infinitely complex (or something close to infinite complexity) being is much less probable than our complex, but finitely so, universe. The idea of divine simplicity doesn’t lend itself to such quantification, though. The laws of probability would seem to go out the window (then again, the same thing may happen in the infinitely complex situation). I haven’t asked, but I don’t think a Christian would believe calculating the probability of God is possible or even coherent. So the fine-tuning argument seems to compare two incomparable things. At best, it compares one reasonably calculated (though, I should point out, often exaggerated) probability with a completely unknown one and decides the unknown one is more probable.

I find this objection very obvious. I’m actually surprised more skeptics don’t use it. The most popular objection is the multiverse. That seems to be a valid objection, but we really don’t know if we’re in a multiverse or not. There are a few decent reasons to think so, but we’re on shaky ground. The objection I outlined above is much better. Maybe the multiverse idea seems more conclusive. It’s hard to say that the probability of God is lower than the probability of the universe, which is more conclusive than saying we don’t know the probability of God so we can’t make the comparison. Plus, the multiverse is an attempt to answer the central problem brought up by the fine-tuning argument: how can our universe be this fine-tuned? If we have these probabilities that border on the absurd, there has to be some explanation, right? The objection I outlined rids us of God as an explantion, but doesn’t give us an actual explanation. It’s a bit unsatisfying.

Objections to my argument are welcome. I can think of one possible one, but it may require its own post.

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Categories: Religion, Science
  1. March 1, 2006 at 9:04 am

    ! It’s K2! But in your old style! Bitchin’!

    Anyway, I’ve always found the fine-tuning argument to be as specious as most others. “What are the odds that the conditions on earth would be just right to create humans?” Of course humans are a product of a certain set of conditions: were the evolution of the earth any different, there’d be a physiologically different set of creatures asking “What are the odds that the conditions on earth would create us?”

    It’s creationist arrogance to predicate conditions upon humans and not vice versa.

  2. March 1, 2006 at 11:53 am

    I’m with Heliologue.

    The basic problem of the “universe-is-too-complex-for-chance” crowd is a failure to grasp the size and age of the universe.

  3. Jack
    February 21, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    I know this old but the correct answer was not posted.
    You are making a category mistake when attaching complexity to something non physical, has no parts and are not formed.

    We have probabilities for complex structures precisely because they are Constructed using physical materials. A hydrogen atom is less complex than a dna molecule.

    God is not in this category. To even suggest he is(not by you but by a scientist who knows full well what probablities mean in the building of structures) shows a complete denial of their own medium. Atheistic arguments almost always jump the shark because there is fear involved which causes bias.

    Probablities cannot apply to things that are not formed..and certainly not to things that have no parts(btw…events and ideas are formed

  4. February 21, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    I think this is the oldest post with a new non-spam comment. Congrats!

    I said in the post I didn’t think a Christian would find it coherent to calculate the probability of a god, as you are saying. But if that’s the case, you’re comparing the probability of our universe without a god to, well, what? The nonsensical idea of the probability of a god? Is that just undefined, like dividing by zero? The fine-tuning argument is a comparison of the probability of two states. If one of those states can’t have a probability or has one that’s incalculable, the comparison itself is nonsensical.

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