The Illusion of Fine Tuning

Note: This was written in response to an apologist who asked for debate and discussion partners on her YouTube channel, but ignored my offer to debate the ID claim of fine tuning, much as she has evaded debates on other topics:

SJ Thomason @Lead1225·15h

Now that I’ve finally figured out how to best show videos on Zoom, I’ll be making more commentaries. If you’d like to see commentary on any #Christian or #atheist videos or debates, let me know. If you’d like to join me in a video, let me know that too! I’m always up for that.

Jeffrey Williams@jswillims21Replying to @Lead1225

Any time. I’m just sitting here under my bridge.2:59 PM · Oct 26, 2019·Twitter Web App

Anyway, here is my response.

Of all the fallacious arguments for intelligent design, fine-tuning of the universe is the most obvious to anyone trained in logic – it is a tautology. You have to assume that man was intended by a designer in order to conclude man is the intent of the designer. It takes a few steps to demonstrate, so I’ll bid goodbye to all the apologists who will dismiss this at this point and stop reading. For the rest of us:

At the moment of the big bang an array of possible physical laws, constants and causal chains existed; all equally improbable – yet the universe had to follow one of these possibilities. No matter which one occurred, it would be just as improbable as any of those that weren’t actualized. And whatever happened along that path simply happened because it was possible under that set of laws, constants and the causal chain. None of this implies intent.

Take the example of the Powerball Jackpot. The chances of any one ticket winning are estimated at about 1 in 292 million. Any one of the millions of players faces astronomically improbable odds, yet ultimately somebody wins.  From this perspective it is obvious to most of us that it is merely a matter of chance. If we were to assume this winner was intended by god, however, it all looks very different in retrospect. We would be tempted to say it is too overwhelmingly improbable that each tiny movement of the balls in the basket could have come about by chance for that particular person to win (or that our universal constants came about by chance in just the way allows man to live), therefore the path of the balls and related conditions must have been designed by god. Yet most of us realize it was simply an accident of chance for the drawing of balls that enabled that particular winner to beat the odds while millions of others lost, although that winner’s chances were no better than the other contestants. It requires a divine act if we consider how impossible it would be to achieve the target result. When we remove the illusion of a target, however, it appears as mere happenstance.

Now you might object that the chances of our universe having just the right constants for life are much higher than 1 in 292 million, and that might be right. There are 26 constants that define our universe, and if some of them were just slightly different the universe would not sustain life. Estimates for the number of possible types of universes vary greatly, from 6 to in the trillions under string theory. But the part that many people fail to grasp is it doesn’t matter. Whether at the beginning of the big bang there were six, 292 million or a trillion possible ways the universe could be configured, one still had to be realized at whatever odds. And once it is realized, the predictive odds no longer matter. We are here discussing this because our universe just happened to be one of those that could sustain life at this point in time. Exactly like our Powerball winner, we are here because the actualized constants allowed us to be. We are an effect of the realized constants. The universe is not here to enable us. In fact, there is no reason to believe the universe is here for any reason at all, just as there is no reason to believe the universe is here to enable our Powerball winner.

As I pointed out at the start, the universe only appears to be intelligently designed from something akin to a narcissistic human perspective, and as with all narcissistic perceptions it is an illusion. The universe had already existed for 14 billion years before we evolved on this planet. Homo Sapiens have been here for about 200,000 years, which isn’t even a nano-second on the cosmic scale, and we won’t be here much longer, although the universe will continue for eons without us. Our outside limit is when either the sun ends in a glorious burst that will incinerate the entire solar system, or when our galaxy finally collides with Andromeda Galaxy, although we are likely to disappear long before that as a result of a large meteor or comet strike, nuclear destruction, or other catastrophic changes to the planet. In total, we were hardly even a blip. In addition, the universe is about 93 billion light years wide. We aren’t even a particle on the cosmic scale. It is inconceivable that all of that was designed just for us. We aren’t even a noticeable feature of the universe outside of our own perspective.

The fine-tuning argument for intelligent design is but a tautology that any college students completing their first year should recognize. We can only conclude the universe was designed for us if we assume we are the purpose of the universe. External to that narcissism, we are but a brief and tiny event enabled by the happenstance of the constants of an oblivious universe.

Bertuzzi’s Failed Rebuttal

Carmen Bertuzzi is a Christian apologist with a YouTube channel called “Capturing Christ”. On Twitter he recently linked to a video, entitled “No, There’s No Special Pleading”, where he attempts to defend the long-debunked Kalam Cosmological Argument in response to a video by another YouTuber, Stephen Woodford of Rationality Rule, that demonstrates the fallacies of special pleading, false premises and argument from ignorance (god of the gaps). Bertuzzi accuses Woodford of creating strawmen and fallacious arguments as he merely repeats the ham-handed sophistry of the strawmen and fallacies of William Lane Craig and Edward Feser.  I asked Bertuzzi for an opportunity to debate his claims but got no response. It appears he prefers to respond in videos where he is protected from counterargument. Now that I created this blog, I might as well reply here. Everybody, including Bertuzzi, is welcome to reply here. First, it will be useful to watch Bertuzzi’s short video:

The Argument

He starts his attempted refutation of special pleading with an anodyne description of this fallacy as an exception to a generally accepted rule without justification comprising three elements:

1.General Principle

2.Exception

3.Poor Justification

Bertuzzi takes William Lane Craig’s version of the Kalam, which goes:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause;
  2. The universe began to exist;
  3. Therefore.: the universe has a cause.

This first stage argument is an obvious case of special pleading when seen in light of the Aristotelian argument of prime mover on which it is based. Aristotle attempted to solve the problem of infinite regress of causality by positing an unmoved first mover. In this form, the special pleading is easy to describe:

General Rule: Everything that exists has a cause

Exception: The universe was caused by an unmoved mover (uncaused cause)

Explanation: The world must have had a first cause.

The problem is Aristotle’s claim that everything has a cause was based on observation. The exception is exceptional because based on observation no such thing exists. The justification is really a circular restatement of the major premise which is no more than a metaphysical supposition. But since we cannot observe any unmoved mover, we can equally posit other unobservable metaphysical propositions, such as: since we have never seen anything being created, but only transformed, creation is impossible, and the matter and energy of our universe simply always existed. Nobody knows if that is true, but it is at least as plausible as an unmoved mover, even more so as we need not introduce another metaphysical being.

The Kalam revision enables Craig, Feser, and others to slip in a claim of category error by changing the issue of observable causality and the implied problem of infinite regress to an issue of divinity. Aristotle was trying to solve a proto-scientific problem of infinite regress. Apologists are trying to formulate a proof of god. Their seemingly slight alteration to “everything that begins to exist” from “everything that exists” allows them to perform the sleight of hand by implying that if there are things that begin to exist there must also be something that always existed. The category error they claim is that we cannot apply observable generalities to a non-observable god. But in so doing, they disclose the circularity of their reasoning. The underlying reason for assuming the unmoved mover was to resolve a problem existing in our observable universe.  The claim of the apologists comes down to: we posit something unobservable and the way we define this metaphysical proposition precludes you from criticizing it. Left unsaid is that it also precludes any compelling reason to accept it.

The Cosmos

Feser and others resorted to the claim of category error because modern physics obliterates the premises that everything that exists has a cause and that the universe necessarily had a beginning. Theirs was a desperate attempt to put a protective wall around their argument. Since they aren’t really able to counter 21st century scientific discovery, they had no alternative but to claim it is irrelevant because they are talking about the category of divinity and nothing from the category of science can relate to that discussion. The dishonesty of this stance was revealed, however, when we brought to light the scientific basis of Aristotle’s original formulation which started the unmoved mover argument in the first place. The weakness of their position ultimately forces them to attempt to counter to the science anyway, as Bertuzzi does in this next step. Their poor or non-existent understanding of the physics, along with the weakness of their positions inevitably leads to appeal to ignorance, as we shall see.  

Woodford begins to address the pertinent physics by noting a statement by physicist Sean Carroll that “Our understanding of the current laws of physics give out at that moment in time.” Specifically, we can model the universe all the way back to the 10-43  second after the Big Bang, after which central aspects, such as time and gravity, compute as infinite. Almost all physicists interpret that to mean that what existed prior to the big bang was absent our physical laws and time, and therefore unknowable. The major and very important exception is Roger Penrose, who believes those calculations are accurately describing the infinity of the universe going backward, which goes through endless re-birthing of the universe, and that our laws of physics and time always existed. Either way, we either can know nothing of the state of existence before the Big Bang other than that our physical laws and time were not present, rendering the idea of prime mover nonsensical, or there was no beginning which again renders prime mover moot.

Faced with this conundrum, Bertuzzi falsely accuses Woodford of the fallacy of argumentum ad verecundiam by ignoring the reasoning behind Caroll’s claim and counters with a physicist he naively believes to be a counter-example : He quotes Alexander Valenkin: “The answer to the question ‘did the universe have a beginning?’ is, ‘It probably did’. Without any evidence other than the claim there is no basis for such a model.”

Bertuzzi fails to recognize that the beginning of the universe is not the same question as the beginning of the stuff of the universe – the singularity before the Big Bang. Bertuzzi might be shocked to learn that in his book: Many worlds in One: The search for other universes, Valenkin presents the multiverse theory positing that the stuff of the universe is eternal and produces many universes out of quantum fields in a vacuum, each with unique laws, particles, and structures. While each universe has a beginning, the stuff of these universes always existed. He would be further surprised to learn that Valenkin does not believe in a personal god, finds the idea of a more abstract god pointless, and believes the laws of nature are adequate to explain existence.

After making this poor choice of counter-example, he flails even more desperately by claiming that Christians have a duty to reject the notion that causality cannot occur without time and space, thereby reclaiming the possibility of prime mover, on the basis of biblical scripture and points to the existence of angels as proof. I need add no more.

Argument From Ignorance

Inevitably, Bertuzzi retreats to god of the gaps after all. He begins with Craig’s second stage argument:

The universe has a cause of its beginning.

Therefore:This cause must be:

1.Uncaused

2.Transcendent

  -spaceless

  -timeless

  -Immaterial

  -Powerful

3.Personal

As we have seen, the conclusions are not tenable. We don’t know if the universe understood as the state of existence before the Big Bang had a beginning. There are plausible theories of how our universe came about through natural causes. The conclusion that the cause was personal appears out of nowhere and is not only unsupported but unsupportable. Perhaps sensing the impotence of Craig’s second stage argument, Bertuzzi offers his own:

1. If the cause of the universe were non personal, then classical spacetime would either not exist at all or be infinitely old.

2. This thing has been either creating universes over an infinite amount of time or not at all.

3. Science explains the world according to the laws of nature, but the beginning of the universe is the beginning of the laws of nature.

4. In other words, you can’t use science to explain the beginning of the universe. You have to use a person if you’re going to use anything at all.

5, Classical spacetime exists and is not infinitely old.

6. The cause of the universe is personal.

And there we have god of the gaps. Science can’t explain it so it must be god. Bertuzzi might protest that he provided an argument to prove his “it must be god”, but he has done no such thing. He begins by picking up from Craig’s odd conclusion of “personal” and descends from there. He bases his conclusion on the assertion that without “person” classical spacetime could not exist. In a way he wouldn’t expect, he’s probably right about that, but it reveals another gap in his understanding. It was Einstein who first described spacetime in The Special Theory of Relativity. The big problem here for Bertuzzi is Einstein didn’t believe time exists at all but was merely our subjective way of intuiting the universe. For Einstein, past, present and future existed as a static simultaneous unity outside time. But if Bertuzzi insists that if the cause of the universe were non-personal, then classical spacetime would either not exist at all or be infinitely old, I won’t argue. Einstein said it has no existence outside our subjective sense, and Penrose calculates the universe is infinitely old.

On the Question of Christianity as a Pillar of Western Civilization

This a piece I wrote for Eidos at the request of John Mark Reynolds rebutting the often heard claim that the West grew from the two pillars of Athens and Jerusalem. I contend that Christianity was a foreign graft onto the healthy body of Greek Civilization, and went through stages of malignancy and rejection.

I reject the claim that the west was founded on the two pillars of Greece and Jerusalem, but rather stems directly from the single source beginning with Thales of Miletus around 500 BC and developed for the next 700 years through classical Greece and Rome, at which time a strange Asian religion was grafted onto it. When I ask Christians what of value in our beliefs today would we not have developed on the basis of our Greek heritage alone, they usually offer up dignity of the individual or democracy, or other concepts that clearly either date back to Ancient Greece or Enlightenment rationalism. When they switch to the more tenable province of the arts, I have to admit an influence. But through the arts we can also see how this graft clung firmly for centuries and appropriated all forms of art to its own purpose, the process of rejection taking place up through the enlightenment when the graft finally failed, and Nietzsche’s announcement some decades later that God had been killed by those rationalists.

I can appreciate La Cathedrale de Chartres, Bach and other authentic works of the Christian era because they presence a holiness in Being that always transcends the local religion. I can say the same for great Islamic works, such as authentic carpets and mosques. They all point to Being, but in the local dialect. Christianity’s influence on Western art began in the early Middle Ages, started to wane with Renaissance Humanism, and moved to the fringes with the Enlightenment –  a long process of rejection. The late Middle Ages, dominated by the Church, showed their greatest poets in feverish nightmares of Hell and its various tortures; but with the Renaissance the vision turns to the universe and man’s place within. With Shakespeare, of whom it is often said he was certainly a catholic… or a pagan or an atheist, attention no longer centers on God, but rather on this nature of man and his measure of the world. Music clung to its religious tradition a bit longer, and we see Bach in the 17th century creating music for the glory of god through the Lutheran prism. His music is both profound and limited; within tight bounds there is an authentic passion, but also an imposed fussiness – the well-tempered constraint of dogma. Contrast that to Beethoven, whose former teacher, Haydn, attested to his atheism, while others described him as at most Deist or a Spinozan pantheist.

Beethoven’s work combines the great power of clashing galaxies, the lightness of the stars, and slow and uniquely profound passages with slightly discordant and disturbing bass lines that give hint of the chaos on which our brave foundation rests. His work is the most profound and fully cosmic experience of Being yet produced and signals the final emancipation of art from the strictures of religion. It’s direct experience of the scope, depth, and mystery of Being contains more authentic wisdom than Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity – something no earlier work of art saddled with religious dogma ever achieved.

Epilogue

But the world has since turned desolate, you might add. True enough. In section 125 of the Gay Science Nietzsche, through The Madman, announces the murder of God and the ensuing vertigo that yet today afflicts us:

“Where has God gone?” he cried. “I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. We are all his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving now? Where are we moving now? Away from all suns? Aren’t we perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Aren’t we straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Hasn’t it become colder? Isn’t more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s putrefaction? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives — who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games will we need to invent? Isn’t the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it?”

The twilight of the gods is past, and in this dark midnight we search for the poem of Being. As for me? I’m chilling and laughing at the edge of the universe, where space and time escaped through the vanishing point; laughing and dancing with those crazy quarks and bosons. You never know what they’ll do next! And while you’re here, look over the edge! Don’t be afraid – I promise you’ll laugh too. There is no hell full of tortured souls down there after all.

We have yet to reorient ourselves and find a truer path to the grounding of Being. As Heidegger described our desolate time:

Wir kommen für die Götter zu spät und zu früh für das Sein, dessen angefangenes Gedicht ist der Mensch.