March 9, 2007

Fine-tuning, determinism, and Fig Newtons

"Intelligent design" (ID) proponents are fond of observing the "finely-tuned" nature of our universe and counting this as evidence for the inference to an intelligent "tuner." Of course this idea and other variants of the anthropic principle (AP) have been discussed and dissected ad nauseum. Which introduction can only mean that I intend to contribute my own ruminations to the billiousness.

A formulation of the fine-tuning concept I recently came across expressed it as a probability (of the "tuned" constants) argument:
"It still seems striking that these constants should have just the values they do have; it is still monumentally improbable, given chance, that they should have just those values; and it is still much less improbable that they should have those values, if there is a God who wanted a life-friendly universe."
Let's run with this a bit. If we accept as a given (for the purposes of this discussion) that these physical constants are important, that they are particularly tuned such that life in our universe can be accommodated, and that their combinatorial probability of being so tuned is so low that inference to a "tuner" is necessary - then where is the warrant for stopping there?

I mean if we follow the sequence of events, for example: universal creation/finely tuned constants --> earth --> life, is it not reasonable to then extend this to: universal creation/finely tuned constants --> earth --> life --> man? Sure it is (after all, we just lowered the probability immensely), and I doubt the idea that God intended man to be a consequence of his universal design would cause much consternation amongst those who propound ID (though, of course, they would not want us to get any silly ideas about ID being a religious concept).

Now as see it there is no inherent stopper for the logic of this argument. In other words, if the above is reasonable, then so must be:
  • universal creation/finely tuned constants --> earth --> life --> man --> art, or
  • universal creation/finely tuned constants --> earth --> life --> man --> science, or even
  • universal creation/finely tuned constants --> earth --> life --> man --> atheism
Heck, if "man" is a probabilistic inevitability, then so must be any individual man, thus we can reasonably suggest: universal creation/finely tuned constants --> earth --> life --> man --> my parents --> me! (Think of how low that probability must be.)

Okay, I'll admit it may be a bit of a stretch to argue that God's purpose in creating the universe was that it should result in me sitting here at my computer reluctantly gnoshing on these barely passable whole wheat Fig Newtons (Mmmm...real Fig Newtons...argleargleargleargle). But inside this silliness is a serious point.

It seems to me that the positing of an involved and interested omniscience fiddling with natural law such that intelligent humans are the result must imply as a logical consequence a kind of determinism that many theists would find disconcerting. What force do those arguments about our supposed freedom to choose to be moral, or to be saved through his grace, then have?

Granted, there is still a related difficulty with even the simple postulation of a deistic sort of God who winds the whole thing up then lets it go. But it seems to me that, absent the notions of fine-tuning and probability which go such a great distance in detailing God's will regarding "us," the idea that a rigid determinism is not obligated becomes much easier to swallow.

Unlike these whole wheat Newtons.


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