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« God's Sovereignty and Evil (Video) | Main | Letters vs. Myth »

January 25, 2011


Exactly. Happy to accept sound evidence if given, but I would have thought asserting the exact values (across all the available constants) to 'best maximise life' was far more difficult to quantify than proving that a given change in 1 constant would make life impossible. Also, in any ecosystem maximum life potential would increase competition among species, it's reasonable to deduce that the chosen values provide an optimum (perfect?!) balance between increased life potential and sustainability, and reduced competition and thus hardship. Even that assumption though may fall under the same 'no obligation argument' for the Creator, but it could however answer Pages assumption for the obligation for Him to create for 'maximum life potential'.

If we are going to argue on the basis of probabilities, then we must attend to the probability calculus. If we are going to argue on the basis of facts about living organisms, then we should try to include all the relevant facts about living organisms. Consider the following facts:

L1: Intelligent living organisms exist.
L2: Over 98% of species that we know of are now extinct (I just took this from wikipedia, btw, but I think something like this is correct).

Let ‘L’ name the conjunction of L1 and L2. Recall that ‘P(x/y)’ in words says ‘The probability that x is true given that y is true.’ According to the probability calculus, the following ratio obtains:

P(L/T) P(L1/T) P(L2/T & L1)
-------- = ----------- x -----------------
P(L/N) P(L1/N) P(L2/N & L1)

Now I grant that P(L1/T) is greater than P(L1/N), for reasons having to do with the facts about the fine-tuning of the laws of nature. Let the ratio of the first multiplicand be 100, which would mean that L1 is 100 times as likely given theism than it is given naturalism (that might underestimate things a bit, but let it stand for the sake of discussion).

But we can’t just stop there and call it a day. We have to consider the second multiplicand. When we do so, we must consider the person who argues as follows:

P(L2/N & L1) is greater than P(L2/T & L1). If naturalism is true, there is no supernatural agent that cares about nature or providentially oversees its development. Ultimate reality (and even not so ultimate reality) is indifferent to the welfare and flourishing of species. It would not be surprising, therefore, given naturalism and the existence of intelligent life, if 98% of documented species have gone extinct. Given theism, however, a benevolent and omnipotent agent oversees nature. It is highly likely that this agent would see value in the welfare and continued existence of a species, since the continued existence of a species is a very valuable thing. If you doubt this, just consider for the moment how unfortunate it would be if all whales and bears went extinct. Not only would that make the world less interesting to humans, it would seem to rid the world of a great good, namely the presence of bears and whales. This fact about value is certainly something God would attend to, but is not relevant when dealing with blind nature. So, L2 is more surprising on theism than on naturalism

Suppose that reasoning is correct and suppose that P(L2/N & L1) is 100 times greater than P(L2/T & L1). Then we get the result that L is just as likely on theism as it is on naturalism.

The lesson is that when we argue for theism by arguing that the existence of intelligent life is more likely on theism than naturalism, we must also make sure that there are not any other relevant facts about life that are more likely on naturalism than theism. Otherwise we are in no position to pronounce a verdict on the evidence all-things-considered. I’m not interested now in arguing that P(L2/N & L1) is greater than P(L2/T & L1). I’m just supposing that for the sake of illustrating the more important point that we must not self-servingly ignore some facts about life in order to attend to others.

@Malebranche - Interesting, but not relevant to the current topic of the Fine-Tuning of multiple universal constants that enables life to thrife. With all due respect - It also makes the same error as that Melinda points out - that you cannot make assumptions about a 'supposed' Creators character, desires or plans to then argue for its non-existence. Cheers.

I forgot to say that 'T' represents the hypothesis of theism and 'N' represents the hypothesis of naturalism.


As I understand it, the argument from fine-tuning is an instance of a probabilistic argument which takes as its data facts about living organisms. The argument can be cast in a Bayesian framework as follows. Let ‘T’ represent the hypothesis of theism; let ‘N’ represent the hypothesis of naturalism (the hypothesis that there are no non-natural entities capable of causally influencing nature); let ‘L1’ report the fact that intelligent living organisms exist. The following will be a premise in the fine-tuning argument:

The Likelihood Premise: P(L1/T) is greater than P(L2/N)

In other words, one would have greater expectation for there to be living organisms given the existence of God than one would given naturalism. L1, therefore, is evidence for T over N.

Perhaps the remark I made does not directly address Amy’s criticism (or your representation of it), but it is certainly relevant to the broader issue. In order to comment on the all-things-considered state of the evidence, one must make sure that one has investigated whether or not there are other facts about life that are more surprising on theism than naturalism. Perhaps the fact that life is so unbelievably rare in our universe (as far as we know) and the fact that even on earth around 99.9% of species have gone extinct is more surprising on theism than naturalism. Again, I’m not trying to show that this is correct. I’m just pointing out that an adequate treatment of the evidence would have to address this fact as well as many other facts.

I want to explain why it is not a fallacy or blunder to make assumptions about God’s plans or goals, but instead I’ll just explain why endorsing such a view would actually undermine the design argument.

Notice that in order to defend the Likelihood Premise, the proponent of the design argument will have to think that God is at least somewhat likely to make living organisms (as opposed to a world of rational, disembodied spirits, lets say). The reason for this is that we have to assign a number or a range to P(L1/T) between 0 and 1. If we are not permitted to make any assumptions at all about God’s goals or plans, then we will be left saying, “I haven’t the faintest clue how likely L1 is given T since I refuse to make assumptions about what goals and plans God would have were he to exist. Perhaps God would be strongly opposed to making living organisms. Perhaps God would strongly desire to just make a bunch of disembodied spirits. Or perhaps not. We just can’t say anything at all here because we lack independent access to God’s goals and plans.”

Now that is certainly not what someone defending the Likelihood Premise wants to say. The reason is that if you are not going to help yourself to assumptions about God’s goals and plans, then you won’t be able to assign a value or range to P(L1/T) and so the design argument won’t even get off the ground.

Sorry, the Likelihood Premise should have been written as follows(just replace P(L2/N) with P(L1/N)):

Likelihood Premise: P(L1/T) is greater than P(L1/N)

Are we forgetting the intervention of the Flood? It would seem reasonable that such a catastrophic event would alter those variables...changing what was originally created to something lesser and increasing hardship. Certainly life-span is said to have been affected.

I don't see why it matters how many galaxies and stars are created by low or high values of the cosmological constant; God could create life in a universe consisting of one galaxy, or a zillion. How is God's omnipotence constrained by the number of galaxies?

The only way the amount of initial galaxies matters is if you are depending on the neo-darwinian synthesis to create life through random mutation and natural selection; in that case, then yes, more galaxies would on average yield more life, if that the indeed the mechanism by which life arose. So it's interesting to see the assumptions that get smuggled in to his argument.

Don Page could also say that an omnipotent being would want to maximize the amount of ice cream in the world. We could have more ice cream than we have now, so an omnipotent being doesn't exist.


Probabilistic arguments are worthless in such contexts because of their sensitivity to input data. Perhaps you are familiar with the GIGO, the common IT acronym for "Garbage in, garbage out".
Bayesian analysis, too, is inappropriate here for similar reasons.
To address the fine tuning issue. The evidence for this extends well beyond the values of physical constants and is most prolific in the field of chemistry. It in no way, however, supports the notion of any kind of deity. This is the subject of my latest book "The Goldilocks Effect" which is available for free download in e-book formats from the "Unusual Perspectives" website.

The fine-tuning argument is a probabilistic argument of some sort, and so to probabilities we must attend. The Bayesian approach is one of the best tools we have for analyzing probabilistic arguments. I fail to see in what sense L1 and L2 count as garbage.


It doesn't literally mean garbage, it simply means that the input is too imprecise to get a usable output.


I think the fine tuning argument certainly includes more than just the four physical forces. The properties of water, for one, are outstandingly specific to life.

If they in no way point to a deity, then what sort of conclusion do they point to?

What would be useful first is some/any evidence that the universe IS fine tuned for life. Because frankly it's just a ex recto assertion. Heard the one about the water in the hole that thinks the hole was made that shape to fit it?

A case in point.

"The properties of water, for one, are outstandingly specific to life." lol. How about "the properties of life are outstandingly specific to the properties of water" Hilarious myopia.

Anyone care to propose a rational for design while we are at it? Or explain how you guys get round your infinite regress?


The problem with your example seems to be the implication that life would exist if the universal constants were different, just as some other "shape" (like the water which, as a liquid, changes shape to fit its container). Science seems to say otherwise. Whether the conclusion to this is undoubtedly that the universe was created by an unembodied mind or not is up for debate. What is not so easy to question is the claim that life could not exist if the constants were any different than what they are.


Right. I agree. However, when one thinks life is just like any old thing it’s easy to dismiss. Any old things are easy to place on the merry-go-round of “infinite regress”.


Are you familiar with theories about the multiverse? Fine tuning cant be evidence for design or a designer simply because its impossible to re run the experiment with a different set of starting conditions.
"Whether the conclusion to this is undoubtedly that the universe was created by an unembodied mind or not is up for debate." That might be the case when a theist actually comes up with some evidence. None seen so far.


Whats your point? If you are a theist you run into an infinite regress. Most of you just hand wave away said regress with further ex recto assertions about the properties of some deity(ies).

But you are absolutely doing what I suggested in the water/hole example. Its blatant. And illogical.

Cue handwaving

Hey Dodgy, I'm not familiar with the argument you are charging theists with using--the one with infinite regress? Would you mind laying it out for me?


""Whether the conclusion to this is undoubtedly that the universe was created by an unembodied mind or not is up for debate."

It may be up for debate, but the evidence of information is not up for debate. The kind of information that we find within the DNA, being one example, is the kind that can only come from a creative mind capable of designing things. That brings the debate close to a screeching halt, or at worst, to a snail's crawl.

To me this is a simple issue to resolve. We posses minds brimming with creativity. The evidence of that creativity is all around us in the superstructures, cars, ships, planes and even space craft that we have created out of raw materials around us. The complex information systems that circle the globe are mute/loud testimony to the capability of our collective creative minds. All of these things have embedded in them a rich mine of human produced information that is slathered with generous portions of creativity. How do I know this? A mind capable of creativity thought can recognize these traces of creativity in these creations in the same way that a mother can recognize her children. There is not the slightest chance that she can be mistaken that the brood is hers anymore than we can be mistaken about the nature of the creative information rich environment we live in if we are willing to accept the possibility of a creator as the source of creativity rich information that we find in the natural things around us. It is only when any of us decides that a creator would clash with our commitment to a exclusive materialistic worldview that we begin to try filter out the creative elements in our minds in order to make it appear to fit that materialistic worldview. We would do well to remember that what is in the mind and what is in the world do not always agree and when there is disharmony between them, it is the world that will always win. This is because the world is the way it is within itself and does not simply change its nature through the process of changing our minds about it.

"It may be up for debate, but the evidence of information is not up for debate. The kind of information that we find within the DNA, being one example, is the kind that can only come from a creative mind capable of designing things. That brings the debate close to a screeching halt, or at worst, to a snail's crawl."

A poor argument. Define information. Inductive logic fail. Try again Louis.

Brad B - infinite regress argument. Theists say "everything has a cause", then state that god caused the universe to exist, and THEN go onto to say that God doesn't need a cause to avoid the infinite regress. Fastest gun in the west logic fail.


You misunderstand the argument. The argument is "Everything that begins to exist has a cause." It is not, "Everything that exists has a cause." God, being outside of time did not begin to exist.

"God, being outside of time did not begin to exist."

Another ex-recto assertion. What evidence do you have for that?


The part you focused on in your last comment was not necessary.

The first premise of the argument is "Everything that begins to exist has a cause."

We know the Universe began to exist- the second law of thermodynamics, for one, confirms this. Therefore the Universe has a cause.

At the very least, on the other hand, we are uncertain of whether this Cause began to exist or not. Therefore it is not necessary to assert another cause, therefore there is no infinite regress.

PS. Ex nihilo nihil fit. I can use latin words too.

"At the very least, on the other hand, we are uncertain of whether this Cause began to exist or not."

Therefore you dont know whether it is necessary to assert another cause or not. Therefore there might be an infinite regress. You just dont know.

These are difficult questions. But there is no need to start throwing god/gods into the equation just because an honest answer to the questions is "We dont know".

"These are difficult questions. But there is no need to start throwing god/gods into the equation just because an honest answer to the questions is "We dont know".

There's also no valid reason not to - if numerous other lines of 'evidence' suggest its reasonable. Far more reasonable than throwing Multiple Universes at it, (for which absolutely no evidence exists). However that's all way off this topic. Let just agree that Fine-Tuning was not dis-proven by Page.


Its actually better than that. 'Fine tuning' is not a valid argument in the first place. Its an argument from incredulity.

"Fine-tuning arguments rest upon one of two things:

1. Cosmological fine-tuning, which is not the fine-tuning of the universe, but fine tuning of specific parameters in a model, which is to say that if the model is correct, certain parameters have to fall within a narrow range of values. There is, of course, no good reason to suppose that, those parameters having the values they have, that they could, in fact, be any different.

2. The universe supporting life. This is, of course, a vacuous argument, and is pretty nicely answered by the anthropic principle. I'm not an advocate of the strong anthropic principle, but the weak anthropic principle is easily defensible, and is summed up beautifully by Douglas Adams. In short, the universe isn't fine-tuned for life, life is fine-tuned for the universe, by dint of having arisen in a universe with the appropriate physics. Again, there's no good reason to suppose that the physics of the universe could actually be any different."

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