Two weeks ago we had quite a healthy discussion of the “fine-tuning” argument for a designed universe. In today’s follow-up post, I want to try to clarify some of the issues of framing. Some of you were bringing up standard arguments or analogies whenever these types of debates occur, but I think a lot of you were using them inappropriately.
First of all, many of you immediately jumped to, “Well you still need to prove there’s a God.” Right, of course. The fine-tuning argument by itself just claims that there is a designer or designers. For all we know, we could be living in The Matrix, or maybe this is the real deal (HT2 Daniel Kuehn).
Incidentally, this is why I think it’s so funny when people automatically say that the “intelligent design” movement, or the fine-tuning argument, are by their nature “unscientific.” Suppose we really did live in The Matrix. Surely our scientists would be involved in discovering this truth about our empirical observations. If Morpheus tried to tell them to revise their cosmological explanations, they wouldn’t dismiss his claims as being outside the bounds of science per se.
Second, let’s work through a different analogy just to clarify the issues of probabilities and framing. Suppose a guy has trained his dog to go in his garage and fetch a bottle of beer. The guy has 1,000 bottles in his garage, and the dog goes and grabs one. The guy throws it back and keeps watching his sporting event on the television.
The crazy thing is, it turns out that the beer distributor has to recall the batch of beer bottles, because somehow poison found its way into the last shipment leaving the plant. Scientists go and test the remaining 999 bottles in the guy’s garage, and they are all poisoned. It turns out that the 1 bottle, of the whole 1,000 in the garage, that wasn’t poisoned, was the one the dog grabbed.
This seems like a pretty interesting coincidence. The scientists try to come up with theories to explain how the dog could have known. E.g. maybe he smelled the poison, or maybe the poison masked some smell that the dog liked in the normal beer, etc. But try as they might, the scientists can’t come up with any reproducible explanation for what happened.
Now: Would it be satisfactory to just say, “Well, it was a freak thing. The guy just got lucky.” ?
I think if this is the whole scenario, most people would say, “No, that’s not a very good theory. We don’t have to cite a miracle, but we can’t simply say, ‘Hey the guy lived, so it must be he got lucky.’ Prima facie, if there were only a 1/1000 chance of that happening, then it is unlikely that ‘sheer luck’ is the explanation. There must be something else we don’t know about.” (If you don’t see that, change it 1 out of 1 million or 1 billion beer bottles. At some point, surely you see that “dumb luck” is a terrible theory.)
But wait a second. Suppose I give you more information. It turns out that there are 1,000 guys who each bought 1,000 bottles of beer from the tainted batch. They all sent their respective dogs out, and 999 of those guys died. The one guy we first learned about, is the only one whose dog grabbed a safe beer. Scientists go out and determine that for each of these guys, 999 of the bottles of beer in their garages were tainted, while 1 was safe. (This result itself isn’t due to randomness. There is a specific reason that the beer plant specifically sent out batches that had 1 safe and 999 tainted bottles. I am not going to bother inventing a story for this specific part of my analogy.)
Now in this new scenario, I think everybody would agree that it’s perfectly fine to explain the one guy living, by reference to “dumb luck.” There’s no reason to keep searching for the hidden explanation of how his dog somehow “knew” what the safe beer was, because 999 of the other dogs didn’t know. Given that we had 1,000 guys in this situation, we would expect 1 of them to survive just through dumb luck.
I hope we can all agree on the above handling of the two scenarios. I’m sure in the comments people will tweak my story in order to get across what they want to stress, regarding the fine-tuning argument. Sure, that’s fine. But I claim that some of you weren’t obeying the above, obvious precepts when dealing with the argument. In particular, some of you didn’t seem to realize just how crucial the many-worlds theory is, if you want to cite the
anthropomorphic anthropic principle for explaining fine-tuning.