Pharyngula

Faith is not a prerequisite for science

Paul Davies has written a curious op-ed that has been blithely published by the New York Times. I’m not sure why the NYT saw fit to publish it, except that Davies does have a reputation as a popularizer of physics, and as something of an apologist for deism; they certainly couldn’t have chosen to print it on its merits. His argument is the tired and familiar claim that science has to be taken on faith, so it’s just like religion. I recall hearing variants on this back in the schoolyard, usually punctuated with “nyaa nyaas” and assertions about each others’ mothers, and while we may not have said much about science, the principle was the same. Citing a false equivalency is a cheap argument, but not very credible.

Davies lost my respect for his thesis early on, from the first sentence actually, but I’ll focus instead on this claim from his second paragraph: “All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed.” Perhaps this is where not being a physicist has the virtue of a different perspective, because I can say without reservation that he’s completely wrong — in a historical science like evolutionary biology, we have no problem when we encounter a phenomenon that isn’t orderly or rational, and that has all the appearance of haphazard meaninglessness. We’re accustomed to seeing simple chance as a strong thread running throughout biological history.

Pattern and order are important too, of course, but when looking at the appearance of some particular feature we have to be prepared for the possibility that it is not a consequence of some orderly progression — perhaps it just happened that way. I can’t imagine that my physicist colleagues* are any different, and that they would be horrified to discover that physical order was “rooted in reasonless absurdity”. That would be interesting. If that is the way the universe is, that is what science will try to grapple with (admittedly, we might have serious difficulties grappling with total chaos, but no one claims that science can have answers for everything). That Davies seems to believe that order must rule everywhere and at every level is a stronger presupposition than is warranted by a scientific approach, and sounds remarkably theological…and I don’t think Davies would object to the charge of theology, although he clearly thinks the only good science fits his theological model.

But then Davies does have this notion that that the concept of physical laws is derived from Christian doctrine — that science is rooted in attempts to define the actions of a supernatural lawgiver who imposes a kind of universal consistency on everything. As a historical argument, and as a psychological description of the way the minds of people like Newton worked, I can go along with that; but as an assumption that this expectation of a universal order must reflect a universal reality, I disagree. If the laws of physics were subtly different in Egypt than in Greece, we would have developed an empirical physics that took that into account; that certain laws are constant everywhere is just what is, as empirically determined by scientific observation. A geologist, a biologist, an anthropologist, and a historian will also be able to tell you that there are many things that are quite different between Egypt and Greece, and yet variation does not mean those sciences fail.

Alas, Davies also brings up the anthropic principle, that tiresome exercise in metaphysical masturbation that always flounders somewhere in the repellent ditch between narcissism and solipsism. When someone says that life would not exist if the laws of physics were just a little bit different, I have to wonder…how do they know? Just as there are many different combinations of amino acids that can make any particular enzyme, why can’t there be many different combinations of physical laws that can yield life? Do the experiment of testing different universes, then come talk to me. Until then, claiming that the anthropic principle, an undefined mish-mash of untested assumptions, supports your personal interpretation of how the universe exists and came to be is a self-delusional error.

I’m also always a bit disappointed with the statements of anthropic principle proponents for another reason. If these are the best and only laws that can give rise to intelligent life in the universe, why do they do such a lousy job of it? Life is found in one thin and delicate film on one planet in this mostly empty region of space, and even if there are other fertile planets out there, they will be nearly impossibly distant, and life will be just as fragile and prone to extinction there as here. Even on this world, all of the available environments favor bacteria over scientists or theologians, and said scientists and theologians have existed for only about 0.00001% of the lifetime of this universe, and are prone to wink out of existence long before we can get rid of one of the zeroes in that number. If I wanted to argue for a position on the basis of the anthropic principle, rather than trying to pretend that we live in a Goldilocks universe, we should be wondering how we ended up in such a hostile dump of a universe, one that favors endless expanses of frigid nothingness with scattered hydrogen molecules over one that has trillions of square light years of temperate lakefront property with good fishing, soft breezes, and free wireless networking.

Maybe Davies has faith in science, but I don’t. I take it as it comes. I have expectations and hypotheses, but these are lesser presuppositions than what is implied by faith—and I’m also open to the possibility that any predictions I might make will fail. Perhaps if Davies weren’t so obsessed with equating his religion with his science, he wouldn’t be blind to the fact that most scientists don’t see his god in the operation of the universe.


*I see that at least one of my physicist colleagues agrees — Sean Carroll’s reply makes the same point. If you want more perspectives than that, Edge is compiling contributions, and Mark Hoofnagle, Janet Stemwedel, and Dave Bacon have weighed in at Scienceblogs.

Comments

  1. #1 MarcusA
    November 25, 2007

    Inconsistency in religious propaganda techniques is funny to watch. Davies calls science faith, but at the same time prominent religious folk argue that religion is not based soley on faith. Christians really need to get their stores straight; they dodge back and forth faster than a politician.

  2. #2 BaldApe
    November 25, 2007

    I saw the article, and my reaction was somewhere between “bullshit!” and “So what?”

    We have to assume that the laws of the universe are orderly, not because of “religious faith,” but because if we didn’t, there would be nothing to talk about. We can’t operate as if the universe were capricious or illusory; there would be no way to deal with such a world. Fortunately, it seems to work out that way.

    Davies seems to object to the fact that at some point you just have to say “That’s just the way it is.” in answer to the persistent “Why? I don’t quite understand why that bothers some people so much, but I guess it does. Otherwise, it’s “Turtles, all the way down.”

  3. #3 Dahan
    November 25, 2007

    Davies states “Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe”

    Well, no that isn’t clear. Science is NOT founded on the existence of something outside the universe. Man I hate this argument. If you look up the definition of science, you’re not going to see anything about things outside the universe. Your going to get something pertaining to observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. Why is this so hard to understand?

    Thanks PZ for a nice rebuttal.

  4. #4 efp
    November 25, 2007

    I am a physicist, and I don’t take it on faith that “nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way.” It is manifestly otherwise.

    The relevant definition of rational is consistent with or based on reason; logical. If only it were! Ever heard of quantum mechanics? It’s clear by now that nature does not conform itself to our mental capabilities. We are forced to invent new, counterintuitive logics at every turn.

    Rather than intelligible, I’ll consider the stronger statement that nature is lawful. It can’t be intelligible if there isn’t a structure to understand, but assuming there is a lawful structure doesn’t mean we’re capable of understanding it. I take lawful to mean that there exist some local physical invariants, which can be expressed in terms of equations of motion or extrema conditions. This does not preclude there being unlawful, or random processes as well.

    Do we physicists take lawfulness on faith? Some might, but I don’t. It can be considered a hypothesis, just like any other statement. It just happens to receive overwhelming support from experiment. It is difficult to conceive what it would mean for there to be no lawfulness, or how life or cognition would be possible in such a universe, but that doesn’t matter. If you want to ponder necessary conditions for reason and disappear into a solipsistic hole of Kantian metaphysics be my guest. Davies appears to be blind to the difference between a belief, or a working hypothesis, and faith. But he has bigger issues.

    One of our two pillars of theoretical physics, quantum field theory, is manifestly non-deterministic and unlawful (the part Von Neumann called the R-process). We don’t like it, but have been, for now, forced to accept it. One would think Davies would be aware of this fact, but it seems to manifestly contradict his assertion about the nature of science. So is he stupid, dishonest, ignorant, or some combination of the three? Can we design an experiment to find out?

  5. #5 Ric
    November 25, 2007

    Another point is that the religious implicitly admit that faith is undesirable when they make these arguments. They are just disguised tu quoque fallacies: “Well, okay, I am irrational! But so are you!” “I know faith is bad, but you have it too, so you’re bad too!”

    Guess that’s what PZ was getting at with the “nah nah nah” comment.

  6. #6 Falyne
    November 25, 2007

    I’m glad somebody was able to put a more eloquent spin on this. The only thing that could come to my mind was “SCIENCE DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY,” which, while somewhat satisfying to yell at my monitor, doesn’t address Davies’ misconceptions *quite* as well.

    Ric, I like the description of scientific first principles as a “logical axiom” that can be edited rather than an article of faith. That really crystallizes the distinction.

  7. #7 Unstable Isotope
    November 25, 2007

    I think the foundation underlying science is that occurrences can be explained, not that it is always orderly and rational. It’s not a faith, you just don’t take our words for it. It is based on observations and testable hypotheses.

  8. #8 coathangrrr
    November 25, 2007

    This is such a frustrating oped because there is a thin veneer of actual point in it. This guy obviously just read The God Delusion and decided it was necessary to use his feeble command of the philosophy of science, and I do mean feeble, do dispute the objective rationality of science. But really, was the principle of uniformity really the best thing to attack? I mean, why not go for the throat and attack causality. The faith in causality is more of a faith that that in the principle of uniformity. Of course he couldn’t go and do that because regular people believe in causality as well.

    To be fair, I think that there is a critique to be made of those who have faith in science. Not scientist mind you, but those non-scientists who place a sort of religious like faith in scientific studies and the like. I think this is a place where scientists and people who really understand science need to start explaining how this stuff actually works. That and the fact that the social sciences are trying to tag along with the hard sciences when they really don’t belong in even close to the same category, and I say that as someone deeply involved in political “science.”

  9. #9 Jeff
    November 25, 2007

    I love this blog.
    I am not a scientist (musician) but I am very interested in science, evolutionary theory, etc.
    I find religion to be hilarious and sad at the same time.
    People cling to it like a teddy bear or security blanket and try to justify everything in terms of this nonsense that was probably drilled into them as children.
    (I am currently raising a four year old with no religious nonsense! except some Saturday/Sunday sleepovers at his Grandparents where he goes to Sunday School. I don’t like this and This will be an argument soon enough.For now Sunday school is really just a babysitter. He wasn’t baptised and I think they think ‘we’ll get some religion into him’.) Not on my watch!

    Anyway,
    I find the dissections of their(the religious) arguments VERY ENTERTAINING.
    Keep it up.

    I read a lot but don’t post much as I fear I can’t keep up with you sciency folks!

  10. #10 Blake Stacey
    November 25, 2007

    Gee, that fellow in #16 sounds familiar. . . .

  11. #11 island
    November 25, 2007

    Okay, I posted a bunch of links on scientific papers about deterministic quantum mechanics by G ‘t Hooft so that I can find out if the genius physicist, “efp” is…

    stupid, dishonest, ignorant, or some combination of the three? Can we design an experiment to find out?

    But they got picked up by the filter…

  12. #12 island
    November 25, 2007

    I agree with PZ’s “false equivalency”, but why do many of the best physicists (i.e. Weinberg, Susskind) use the Anthropic Principle for the Cosmological Constant?

    And what, specifically, is Lenny talking about when he says that “we will be hardpressed to answer the idists if the landscape fails”…? becuase “the appearance of design is UNDENIABLE”… ?

    And what specifically is Richard Dawkins talking about when he says:

    All appearances to the contrary… the only watchmaker is the blind forces of natuure… albeit deployed in a very special way… ?

    Do you suppose that this means that the physics DOESN’T… “look like a fix”… ?

    Do you suppose that this means that we should NOT give the first most apparent implication of the evidence… EQUAL TIME… and that we should dismiss the guy that’s standing over the dead body holding a smoking gun because we somehow know without looking that he couldn’a done it… ?

    Just don’t call yourselves “self-honest”, nor scientific.

  13. #13 island
    November 25, 2007

    The anthropic principle countersthe fine tuning argument.

    LOL.. anthropic selection from some theoretically speculative multiverse of potential is not a physics “principle”, much less is it a cosmological principle.

    The anthropic physics as applied to most natural expectation for a dynamical structure principle is what gets you a *biocentric* cosmological principle.

  14. #14 TW
    November 25, 2007

    #19 –

    “The direct demonstration that dark matter has the properties inferred on the basis of indirect arguments shows that we are on the right track in our quest to understand the structure of the universe.”

    That’s what bothers me about this stuff. I think it’s too likely that the equipment has been programmed with assumptions that will return ‘evidence’ that fits the assumptions. But I’m the first to admit that I ain’t no rocket scientist.

  15. #15 robotaholic
    November 25, 2007

    It will be alright PZ. Don’t let idiots get to you. It seems like you get all worked up over things… I know, I know – despite the accumulation of information over thousands of years, humans havn’t become better thinkers- but you know mountains more than you would have known had you been born 200 years ago! You can be happy about that!

  16. #16 island
    November 25, 2007

    Dustin, prove your assertion or shut your big mouth.

  17. #17 Stephen Wells
    November 25, 2007

    Island, I’ve looked over your blog and the various references you’ve posted, and I’m deeply unimpressed. You appear to have confused the true statement, “t’Hooft has argued that quantum mechanics might have a deterministic basis” with the incorrect statement “Science has established that quantum mechanics is deterministic.”

    You’ve used a couple of quotemines along the lines of “the appearance of design is undeniable” to claim that the universe is undoubtedly designed, which is profoundly dishonest. The reason for the collapse of “natural theology” is that the superficial appearance of design in, for example, biological systems, is, on closer investigation, better accounted for by the operation of unintelligent, non-forward looking natural mechanisms than by the operation of an intelligent or forward-looking designer, unless such designer is pathologically perverse.

    Finally, the only statement of the “anthropic principle” which has any useful content is this: “The laws of nature cannot be such as to make the universe we see about us impossible.” You cannot, except as an exercise in collossal egotism, make the leap from there to “The laws of nature were carefully picked to allow for the existence of me specifically, me me me me me.”

  18. #18 paul01
    November 25, 2007

    I find it interesting that arguments from the strong anthropic principle seem to assume the truth of materialism.
    Basically they state that with a supply of the basic units of mass-energy, along with a few parameters, all that we know could come to be, including life and mind, etc. If some independent reality were granted to mind then there would be no need to appeal to anthropic coincidences.

  19. #19 Molly, NYC
    November 25, 2007

    So why are you telling us, PZ? You should be telling the Times.

  20. #20 PZ Myers
    November 25, 2007

    Island: You’re a notorious crank. Go babble somewhere else.

  21. #21 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 25, 2007

    Davies do indeed read as an apologist most of the time, whether it is a correct interpretation or not. Here he shows the usual confusions and credulity of such.

    And as any apologist arguments they can easily be shredded, as Coyne, Krauss and Bernstein did. Carroll takes another tack and uses his “non existence is not among the observed ensemble and therefore isn’t a well posed question” argument, which of course works too.

    One can go further and discuss the specifics of Davies confusions. As he touches two of my pet peeves I will pounce on that. (And unfortunately that means I will be repeating myself from many times before. Maybe it’s time to change peeves. :-P)

    First, Davies conflates faith (and meaning) between science and religion. The difference is IMO accentuated and kept by the adage that “trust is earned”, meaning that repeatable observations and testable science lends trust while religious faith is just that.

    Second, Davies brings up what Colugo calls “anthropic fine tuning” and I call the religious “anthropic argument” in its general sense, whether fine tuning or other implicit uses of a priori probabilities.

    Can the mighty edifice of physical order we perceive in the world about us ultimately be rooted in reasonless absurdity? If so, then nature is a fiendishly clever bit of trickery: meaninglessness and absurdity somehow masquerading as ingenious order and rationality.

    Although scientists have long had an inclination to shrug aside such questions concerning the source of the laws of physics, the mood has now shifted considerably. Part of the reason is the growing acceptance that the emergence of life in the universe, and hence the existence of observers like ourselves, depends rather sensitively on the form of the laws.

    The religious disconnect is to juxtapose those two separate questions (meaning and fundamental laws) and pretend that physicists are interested in the later due to the former.

    In reality some forms of anthropic principle argues that one shouldn’t make the religious mistake of conflating (possibly small) a priori probabilities with (possibly large) a posterori likelihoods. The weak anthropic principle (WAP) hypothesises that we are likely to find ourselves in a universe where physics makes life likely.

    Like it or not, we live in a universe that can be described by some form of anthropic principle (AP). If there is only one possible physics, the tautological AP would still be applicable and has in fact been used for effect. (Hoyle and the carbon-12 resonance.)

    Whether something comes out of it in connection with multiverses is another matter, and I wouldn’t want to argue either way as it seems feasible but not, erhm, too likely. ;-)

    But I note that creationists aren’t the only ones confusing the matter. Koonin has speculated in a cosmological model for abiogenesis. IMHO his reasoning is confused, as he proposes to explain what he describes as a low likelihood scenario (“a system of a far greater complexity, i.e., a highly evolved one, appears to be required”) while the WAP concerns itself with high likelihoods.

  22. #22 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 25, 2007

    Davies do indeed read as an apologist most of the time, whether it is a correct interpretation or not. Here he shows the usual confusions and credulity of such.

    And as any apologist arguments they can easily be shredded, as Coyne, Krauss and Bernstein did. Carroll takes another tack and uses his “non existence is not among the observed ensemble and therefore isn’t a well posed question” argument, which of course works too.

    One can go further and discuss the specifics of Davies confusions. As he touches two of my pet peeves I will pounce on that. (And unfortunately that means I will be repeating myself from many times before. Maybe it’s time to change peeves. :-P)

    First, Davies conflates faith (and meaning) between science and religion. The difference is IMO accentuated and kept by the adage that “trust is earned”, meaning that repeatable observations and testable science lends trust while religious faith is just that.

    Second, Davies brings up what Colugo calls “anthropic fine tuning” and I call the religious “anthropic argument” in its general sense, whether fine tuning or other implicit uses of a priori probabilities.

    Can the mighty edifice of physical order we perceive in the world about us ultimately be rooted in reasonless absurdity? If so, then nature is a fiendishly clever bit of trickery: meaninglessness and absurdity somehow masquerading as ingenious order and rationality.

    Although scientists have long had an inclination to shrug aside such questions concerning the source of the laws of physics, the mood has now shifted considerably. Part of the reason is the growing acceptance that the emergence of life in the universe, and hence the existence of observers like ourselves, depends rather sensitively on the form of the laws.

    The religious disconnect is to juxtapose those two separate questions (meaning and fundamental laws) and pretend that physicists are interested in the later due to the former.

    In reality some forms of anthropic principle argues that one shouldn’t make the religious mistake of conflating (possibly small) a priori probabilities with (possibly large) a posterori likelihoods. The weak anthropic principle (WAP) hypothesises that we are likely to find ourselves in a universe where physics makes life likely.

    Like it or not, we live in a universe that can be described by some form of anthropic principle (AP). If there is only one possible physics, the tautological AP would still be applicable and has in fact been used for effect. (Hoyle and the carbon-12 resonance.)

    Whether something comes out of it in connection with multiverses is another matter, and I wouldn’t want to argue either way as it seems feasible but not, erhm, too likely. ;-)

    But I note that creationists aren’t the only ones confusing the matter. Koonin has speculated in a cosmological model for abiogenesis. IMHO his reasoning is confused, as he proposes to explain what he describes as a low likelihood scenario (“a system of a far greater complexity, i.e., a highly evolved one, appears to be required”) while the WAP concerns itself with high likelihoods.

  23. #23 island
    November 25, 2007

    Island: You’re a notorious crank. Go babble somewhere else.

    Blatant lies without support don’t impress me any more than your ignorance of the facts, buddy.

  24. #24 Dustin
    November 25, 2007

    Carroll takes another tack and uses his “non existence is not among the observed ensemble and therefore isn’t a well posed question” argument, which of course works too.

    That was hot.

  25. #25 truth machine
    November 25, 2007

    “The anthropic principle countersthe fine tuning argument.”

    To treat this seriously, and at the risk of emboldening the troll, I don’t see that it does. From my point of view the anthropic principle is either a simple tautology or a trivial statement.

    So what? That the fine tuning argument can be countered by a tautology is all the worse for the fine tuning argument. That is, the fine tuning argument is trivially fallacious.

  26. #26 Blake Stacey
    November 25, 2007

    The thing about Hoyle’s “anthropic” prediction of the carbon-12 resonance is that Hoyle took an observation which wasn’t even specific to human life, or life in general — basically, the observation “carbon exists” — and used it to derive a quantitative prediction for something not yet observed (a carbon resonance near 7.65 MeV). He didn’t just say, “We are this way because we wouldn’t be here to ask the question if we weren’t here to ask the question,” a statement which is rather like saying, “Napoleon had to lose at Waterloo, because otherwise we wouldn’t be asking why Napoleon lost at Waterloo.”

    (Weinberg also has a technical reason why the carbon-12 resonance isn’t that spectacular; basically, he says there’s more room for “slop” in the agreement than is often acknowledged.)

    People like Brian Greene find “anthropic” arguments troubling because, all too often, they don’t follow this track. While it’s perfectly possible that important features of our Universe arose just “because the dice fell that way”, we shouldn’t stop looking for falsifiable predictions. Supposing that the dice did just fall that way, and that another roll could have led to a Cosmos without carbon (for example), what other features of natural law and physical phenomena would we then see?

  27. #27 Thomas Robey
    November 25, 2007

    I appreciated you post, PZ – especially your concluding paragraph. I want, if for just a few minutes before my comment is pushed above the frame, to bring back into the discussion the distinction between metaphysics and methodology (Dr. Free-Ride mentions that in her response)

    When discussing the perspectives of scientists in action, it is important to consider what the practitioners recognize as the foundation of their activities. In the trenches of wet labs, field plots, and modeling suites, there are many more scientists willing to accept the utility of empiricism than a theory of universal existence. Don’t get me wrong: many scientists do nurture their own metaphysical understanding of the universe, but my guess is that the color of those beliefs varies widely between individual. When it comes down to it, I think that most scientists do experiments and leave questions of metaphysics to the philosophers and theologians – often disparaging such questions as useless or without meaning.

    The power of science is its methodology of empiricism and the honesty to which testable hypotheses are held to. For me (I’m a Christian), I see no reason to necessitate faith in such determinations.

  28. #28 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 25, 2007

    We’re accustomed to seeing simple chance as a strong thread running throughout biological history.

    Pattern and order are important too, of course, but when looking at the appearance of some particular feature we have to be prepared for the possibility that it is not a consequence of some orderly progression — perhaps it just happened that way.

    Careful there, probabilistic chance is still described by orderly distributions.

    But yes, contingency is one form of happenstance, that can result from many causes: (initial) boundary conditions, deterministic chaos, not well understood effective descriptions, et cetera. But Davies is concerned with order and he is still wrong.

    First, for the reason discussed in the post – we don’t need to pose universal laws as much as the religious bases their dogma on them. (Because without it, who would need a supreme order giver, and who would notice the assumption of order breaking miracles?)

    Second, because mathematical theory implies observing volumes of order, for example Ramsey theory:

    An oft-quoted slogan for the subject is “complete disorder is impossible” (T. S. Motzkin).

    Volumes of order (such as space-time) would surely be observed, much in the same way that we create volumes of low entropy by dumping entropy elsewhere. Also, in an inflationary cosmology such as ours it is likely that the other volumes doesn’t inflate and are of no consequence.

  29. #29 Bad
    November 25, 2007

    And, of course, PZ beat me to it: even while writing on this, he’s way ahead of the game.

    In any case, here’s my go at slicing and dicing Davies’ diatribe in which I conclude that physicists have gone a bit nutty locked up with each other in the particle lab, and perhaps need a few beers or a good knock in the head to convince them to tone down the poetic pomposity a bit. It’s confusing the heck out of people like Davies, apparently.

  30. #30 Ken Cope
    November 25, 2007

    I think it’s too likely that the equipment has been programmed with assumptions that will return ‘evidence’ that fits the assumptions.

    Newton’s ideas about mass and gravity are a pretty good basis for assumptions–they’ve worked pretty well so far. When models of galaxies rotating are simulated with what we can account for visually, there is insufficient mass to account for what is observed. Add more “invisible” mass, and simulations match observations. Science doesn’t start with an assumption of black matter, it runs with a testable hypothesis, and there has been better confirmation for it recently than for many other hot topics in astrophysics.

  31. #31 John H. Morrison
    November 25, 2007

    There is nothing in principle that requires the universe to exist in such a way as to form intelligent life. There is nothing in principle that insists that humans HAD to have developed. If the universe were to start over again in (almost) the same initial conditions, there’s no evidence that humans would form again.

    With this in mind, I have been able to identify only two types of anthropic principles: the “Anthropic Principle” and the “Weak Anthropic Principle.”

    Examples of the Weak Anthropic Principle: Out of numerous bodies orbiting the sun, only one is capable of supporting life as we know it: the earth. Therefore we can’t be surprised that we find ourselves on the earth and not on any of the other bodies orbiting the sun.

    Out of all the possible stars, only sun-like stars (type G) can support life. (Assume this for the argument; I’m not sure if it’s true.) Therefore, we find ourselves orbiting a sun-like star.

    Galaxies exist in many shapes and sizes, but only the thin disk region of giant spiral galaxies can support life. (Again, assume this for the argument.) Therefore, we find our star in the thin disk of a giant spiral galaxy.

    There is nothing strange about the weak anthropic principle. The universe has all sorts of environments, only a tiny fraction of which can support life. We can’t possibly find ourselves anywhere other than in that tiny fraction.

    The “Anthropic Principle” without the weak adjective is the argument that the universe has certain parameters — perhaps the density of the universe one microsecond after the Big Bang might be one such parameter. If the parameter were outside a particularly narrow region, then life could not have formed, perhaps because the universe would have collapsed on itself or expanded much too rapidly — all the matter would have diffused. The parameter could have been anything, but it just happens to be in the range necessary for life. The Anthropic Principle is the argument that somebody monkeyed with the number to make it precisely this value, in order to allow life to form.

    The problem with this argument is that at its best, people are too quick to jump to conclusions. Is it really true that life could not have formed if the parameter were different? Alternatively, perhaps this parameter is a stable value — inflation might have forced the universe’s density to its critical value.

    At its worst, the Anthropic Principle is infested with lies. Anyone (such as Hugh Ross) who tells you that quarks would not combine if the strong force coupling constant were 2% off, is full of baloney. Anyone (again, Hugh Ross) who tells you that molecules would not form if the electron-proton mass ratio were a little different, is full of baloney.

    There is a third bizarre idea — I might call it the Completely Ridiculous Anthropic Principle — that has slipped in, in defending against the notion that someone designed the universe to make it life-friendly. It violates the truth stated in the first paragraph, by assuming that the universe must have formed to make us while at the same time denying that the universe was designed to make us.

  32. #32 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 25, 2007

    the observation “carbon exists”

    Blake, thanks for expanding on why the TAP is just tautological, based on consistency among observations – I felt my comment was too long as it was.

    As you say, the stronger AP’s, like the weak AP, is forced on cosmologists and theoretical physicists that doesn’t really like it, or so I hear on the younger generation especially. (IIRC, informal numbers such as 80 % non-antro string theorists have been mentioned on their blogs.) It isn’t desirable if we want to maximize knowledge, as you note.

    Btw, you mention falsification. I have been idly thinking on the falsifiability issue, as I have noticed that most people seem to look at this on a single case basis. I.e. it isn’t falsifiable, because any found support, such as Weinberg’s model for the CC or Pogosian et al anthropic prediction of neutrino masses, may later be explained by a fundamental theory.

    But it seems to me naively that it could and perhaps should be used over the board. And then, could not any failure to find a high likelihood region consistent with observations be considered a falsification? (And coincidentally point out the necessity for a better explanation.)

    And at this point I feel it incumbent to note that I’m not married to an AP. I just find most all possibilities for how fundamental physics turns out intriguing. (With the obvious exception of the religious unlawful scenario, so I trust ;-) that observations continue to support lawful science.)

  33. #33 Bad
    November 25, 2007

    I find it somehow charming that island seemed to think that calling him ignorant was committing the logical fallacy of “the argument from ignorance.”

  34. #34 poke
    November 25, 2007

    Davies’ mashes up a whole bunch of stuff in his article. He makes the usual mistakes,

    All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way.

    What the early scientists (Galileo et al) did was measure what was then measurable and express relationships between said measurements as mathematical functions. These results, in turn, allowed them to measure a greater variety of phenomena and with more accuracy. 350 years later and this snowball effect has allowed us to study, scientifically, everything but the smallest gravitational effects and the most complex of physical systems. That we’re fantastically successful is just a raw fact. No scientist need assume that this will continue to work until we have everything in the bag. But if you do hope that the last hold-outs of mystery will eventually fall, you’re hardly expressing much faith; we’ve come a long way in a short time.

    You’ve got to believe that these laws won’t fail, that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour.

    This is a version of the problem of induction. We have two theories, call them T1 and T2, T1 is, say, General Relativity, and T2 is Davies theory that T1 might not hold at time t+1 as it does at time t. T1, of course, makes its own claims for what happens at t+1 (succinctly: it holds). T1 is one of our most highly-regarded broadly-confirmed scientific theories. T2 is, scientifically speaking, Davies’ ability to imagine the future. What Davies’ is claiming (and what the problem of induction claims generally) is that the theory embodied by his imagination should have precedence over our best confirmed scientific theories. Fiction trumps science! That makes perfect sense if you’re an Empiricist philosopher because you take something like sense impressions to be fundamental. But to a scientist, no faith is required to see that this is a deeply ludicrous assertion.

    His other two points about the nature of physical laws and the anthropic principle are equally insipid.

  35. #35 John H. Morrison
    November 25, 2007

    I think that Hoyle got a bit lucky, but there was something to his argument from the fact that “Carbon exists.” The problem is that carbon only forms in stars, through three helium-4 nuclei colliding at once and sticking together. That’s an extremely unlikely event, because of the strong repulsion between the positive charges.

    The existence of an excited state of carbon, equal in mass to the three helium-4 nuclei, makes the reaction more likely to occur. He predicted such a state before it was discovered.

    Reality is a bit more complicated of course. If helium-4 couldn’t fuse to carbon at that point, the core of a star would continue to shrink until something stopped it. If the core didn’t become a white dwarf first, fusion would eventually occur. That is a big IF; the core is almost a white dwarf by the time the helium flash occurs in smaller stars.

    If fusion occured only at that more compact state, probably a helium nucleus would immediately grab the carbon nucleus, producing oxygen instead. Carbon then could never form in stars. (That’s what happens to deuterium: as soon as a deuteron forms in a star, a proton grabs it to form helium-3.)

    There is also the question whether carbon might form in supernova explosions.

    The excited state is 7.7 MeV above the ground state of carbon. When calculated from the mass of three helium nuclei, the energy is 7.3 MeV. That means a certain range is allowed to help the reaction along. There’s no reason to believe that 7.7 MeV is right on the edge, and probably values on both sides of 7.3 MeV work. A 1-MeV range (say 6.8 MeV to 7.8 MeV) is probably allowed.

    The energy states known before Hoyle’s work were ground, 4.4 MeV, and 9.6 MeV. A strange thing is that the higher states are farther apart than the lower states. Usually, the higher the energies, the closer they get. So we should expect a state between the 4.4 and 9.6-MeV states. Its energy should be E satisfying:

    E – 4.4 MeV &lt 4.4 MeV

    9.6 MeV – E &lt E – 4.4 MeV

    These two inequalities lead to 7.0 MeV &lt E &lt 8.8 MeV. (I hope that the less-than signs get through.) This low-precision calculation suggests that right from the start there was a fifty-percent chance of finding an excited state within the range needed to drive the reaction.

    Fifty-percent is far from fine-tuning.

  36. #36 coathangrrr
    November 25, 2007

    It’s interesting that a lot of atheists are making the same error as the theists: namely, conflating anthropic cosmology with design. And so they dismiss such an approach as a trivial tautology or crypto-theism.

    How does anything you point out have to do with arguing that the anthropic principle is a tautology? I certainly don’t conflate the anthropic principle with design and I view it as a tautology.

  37. #37 Mooser
    November 25, 2007

    but no one claims that science can have answers for everything

    Oh, creationists demand that all the time.

  38. #38 Norman Doering
    November 25, 2007

    PZ wrote:

    Maybe Davies has faith in science, but I don’t. I take it as it comes.

    Be careful. You and Davies both may have just stepped on a rhetorical land mine that you’ll both later regret. Both you and Davies are using the word “faith” in a pejorative sense, like it’s automatically a bad thing. Faith is only bad when it’s gotten through bogus means, when it is dishonestly earned the way modern religion tries to earn it.

    Is there something necessarily wrong with faith? In a way I do have a kind of “faith” in science but that is a faith that has earned its credit while religion’s checks have been bouncing since I was in grammar school. Religion is in a deep promise-debt and has no faith-credit left for me.

    I have expectations and hypotheses, but these are lesser presuppositions than what is implied by faith–

    What you have are habits of thought that work for you.

    The key word there is “implied.” Now who really implies this? Davies I think is misusing the word “faith” and missing his own point when he compares religion and science this way:

    … just as Christians claim that the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case, so physicists declare a similar asymmetry: the universe is governed by eternal laws (or meta-laws), but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe.

    I’ve always considered the meta-laws and the universe to be one and the same so I don’t quite grasp who Davies is talking about. I suppose both could change. It’s not “faith” that makes me think in terms of meta-laws, but rather a habit of thought that I can’t break unless I can find a better habit of thought. It’s easy to claim you have a better way to think of things, but show me what that way is or I’m not going to believe you. My faith in “meta-laws” wasn’t earned bogusly (something Davies incorrectly implies), it was earned because it has worked for me, it was earned the same way Newtonian Physics earned its place even though it isn’t entirely right. How are Davies’ ideas about “the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency” meaning anything more or supposed to change my habits of thought?

    And do Davies ideas seem a little too close to endorsing things like Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret”?

  39. #39 Tycho
    November 25, 2007

    @ #102

    Apples and oranges. A particular science book might be tossed if its theories were demonstrably wrong. To compare with the Bible you have to ask if the scientific approach itself would be tossed out if it could be demonstrated invalid.

    The immediately leads to the following questions:

    1.) What test could invalidate the scientific *method*?

    2.) What would we fall back on if it failed us?

    The problems answering those questions are very similar to the problems with *invalidating* the Bible or any other religious text.

  40. #40 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 25, 2007

    Sure methodological naturalism — the assumption that miracles are not so common that they make everything unpredictable — is a required assumption for science. Fortunately, however, it is itself a testable hypothesis, and it is being tested in every single observation (whether of an experiment or not).

    It’s not faith. It’s a scientific hypothesis. :-)

    That’s what bothers me about this stuff. I think it’s too likely that the equipment has been programmed with assumptions that will return ‘evidence’ that fits the assumptions. But I’m the first to admit that I ain’t no rocket scientist.

    Ehem.

    We can see where the luminous matter is.

    We can observe gravitational lensing and calculate from it where the matter is — light or dark.

    The difference is dark matter.

    It’s not rocket science! :-)

    Be careful. You and Davies both may have just stepped on a rhetorical land mine that you’ll both later regret. Both you and Davies are using the word “faith” in a pejorative sense, like it’s automatically a bad thing. Faith is only bad when it’s gotten through bogus means, when it is dishonestly earned the way modern religion tries to earn it.

    If you must, call it “trust”. (Rhyme not intended.) But see above.

  41. #41 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 25, 2007

    Hey, cool. It turns out I just answered the first question of comment 103 before I saw it! :-)

  42. #42 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 25, 2007

    That sounds to me more like an agnostic position.

    More a deistic one. Less pantheistic than Einstein’s.

    He also believes that intelligence such as ours – but not necessarily us – is an inevitable outcome of the way the Universe is ordered.

    This would require such intelligence to arise very often. To prevent our case from happening, it would have been sufficient if, for example, just one kilometer-sized rock had fallen anywhere on or close to Africa anytime within the last few million years.

  43. #43 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 25, 2007

    A “miracle” would only be interpreted as resulting from a previously unknown phenomenon.

    Then replace the word “miracle” by “random”. If stuff appeared and disappeared randomly out of/into nothing, and randomly fell up, down, or neither, if random things became magnetic at random and stopped being magnetic at random, and so on, then the scientific method would have some trouble. (And not just because there probably wouldn’t be anyone who could use it.)

  44. #44 Dahan
    November 25, 2007

    Just my 2 cents, Blake’s in the running for the next Molly if only from the comments on this post.

  45. #45 Dustin
    November 25, 2007

    dialectal materialism

    That’s a new low, even by the standards of threads on the anthropic truism and its many related non sequiturs.

  46. #46 C. M. Baxter
    November 25, 2007

    To sight the supernatural as any sort of cause is to suggest that there is something outside of everything.

    Go ahead, read that ten times without laughing. I dare you.

  47. #47 Michael Ralston
    November 25, 2007

    Tony Jeremiah: No.
    Completely no. I haven’t followed your link, so there could be some validity there, but your argument fails miserably.

    Sometimes there are two stances and the correct stance is in the middle. (the germ theory of disease – since there ARE some diseases not caused by germs) Sometimes the correct stance is only one of them. (plate tectonics! pretty sure that one’s right exclusively compared to the dominant paradigm before it), and sometimes the correct stance is something else entirely.

    And more often, there’s more than two stances, and many are crazy, and the correct stance is nowhere near the middle.

    The point is: “Oh, there’s two sides, the middle must be right” is WRONG, and that reaction is precisely what many deceptive types count on to get their goals accomplished.

  48. #48 Pavan
    November 25, 2007

    I am surprised that I have not found a response which figured out the obvious fallacy in Davies’ argument. Here it is:

    It was said that laws of physics exist and was asked why do these exist(the way they are) or where do they come from. These question are on the same logical ground as the question “why does god exist? where does god come from”. To even approach the later questions the existence of god is assumed which is where the fallacy lies since the laws of physics are verified/tested(at least to some extent), not just assumed.

    In mathematics there are two issues that are addressed while introducing/discussing a new concept/entity. One is that of existence and the other is that of properties once the former is established. The comparison of two different concepts/entities is irrelevant if one concept/entity is proven to exist and the question is about why it exists, while the second entity/concept’s existence itself is not proven(the word is “evidence” for science).

    Mr. Davies said “Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too.”

    It can be noted easily that while the existence of physical laws is not in doubt(being verified day-in and day-out), the source is a mystery. On the other hand the existence of god is in doubt which makes the comparison irrelevant. The proper comparison would the source of the laws and the source of god, for the later, existence is assumed.

    To make matters clear god’s existence is on the same logical ground as Santa’s existence, but is the existence of physical laws on the same logical ground as the existence of Santa?

  49. #49 Marcus Ranum
    November 25, 2007

    You can twist the usage of the same word (“faith”, in this case) far enough to use it for 2 different things (the faith of the woo-tard or the faith of the scientist that gravity works) – that allows you to achieve the ridiculous, i.e.:
    - Nothing is better than a good steak and mashed potatoes
    - Bread crumbs are better than nothing
    Therefore bread crumbs are better than a good steak and mashed potatoes.

    If scientists have “faith” it’s a very different kind of faith from what the religiotards have.

  50. #50 Marcus Ranum
    November 25, 2007

    Say, I was looking at the review of one of Davies’ books on Amazon (“worth reading for yuks?” ‘Naaah’) and noticed the description says the “athropic principle” is about how unlikely it is that the universe is right for human life.

    Is that really what the “anthropic principle” is all about? I thought that it was basically reasoning backwards from our own existence. Wasn’t it Hoyle who reasoned that there must be a process that allowed stars to produce heavier stuff than helium (or whatever it was) and reasoned that “since we’re here, that must happen.”

    In other words, I thought the anthropic principle was just reasoning based on “given this set of conditions” (we’re here) “it must be possible to have this set of conditions occur” The fact that humans are apparently here (though I’m not so sure about the rest of you) doesn’t mean that this is the only universe in which life could arise – it just means that we’re here and we can reason backwards from that, that this universe can support humans. Personally, I think it’s perfectly possible that something we’d consider “life” (albeit amazingly weird to us) could come about in a universe with different natural laws and a different duration. How long does a universe need to exist to produce life? Not that long, as universes go, right?

  51. #51 Marcus Ranum
    November 25, 2007

    PS – forgot to say: since Hoyle reasoned using the anthropic principle, he was able to do observations to prove his reasoning was, in fact, correct. He didn’t stop simply at “we are here, therefore…” — he backed it up with experiment. Something the religiotards consistently forget to do, for reasons known only to them.

  52. #52 steve99
    November 25, 2007

    “We do not know that the physical constants can take values other than those we observe; the type of universe we’re in might be the only possibility.”

    Sure, it might. But that is a big assumption. It reminds me of when people generally assumed there was only one world.

    “Assuming that physical constants of the universe could have taken different values, the AP addresses this nicely: if the constants were different, something other than us might be here wondering about them, or if they were such that no intelligent life could form, then the universe would be here w/o anything wondering about it.”

    Would this be the same AP that Myers dislikes so much?

    “No matter how unlikely any combination of values is, any existence at all is predicated on the actualization of some combination of them, and so it might just be that ours is the extremely improbable reality that came to be. I find it helpful to think of it this way: if you were to roll a 10-sided die one thousand times, you observe some sequence of rolls, the probability of which would have been 0.1^1,000 or 1 x 10^-1,000 (really, really small), yet you would have just witnessed this extremely unlikely event happening.”

    I don’t think that is helpful. Just about all current scientific thinking relies on the fact that we occupy a typical place in reality. If we are an unlikely but special case, that is not inevitable (as it would be in a multiverse model), then that goes against current scientific principles.

  53. #53 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 25, 2007

    Virtual particles appear and disappear at random. Sounds like a great description of quantum reality.

    The funny thing is, they way they do that can be described by statistics. The lightest particles appear most often and live longest before disappearance. And those that aren’t their own antiparticles appear and disappear strictly in pairs. Regularity all over. Which is why quantum physics is still math (horribly complicated math, but still in principle calculable).

    (Oh, man. Caledonian would have torn you to teeny tiny shreds over that one.)

    What is the difference between “faith” and “trust”? Are they not synonyms?

    I thought not. But then I’m not a native speaker, and in German we have only two words where English has three (belief, faith, trust), so I may have misinterpreted something. Or worse, I may have unjustifiedly generalized from the way some, or even most, native speakers use it.

    Would you use “trust” in the same pejorative way that PZ and Davies use the word “faith”?

    No.

    Tony Jeremiah: No.
    Completely no. I haven’t followed your link, so there could be some validity there, but your argument fails miserably.

    I have followed it, and indeed, here’s an example of a mistake:

    In all religions (apart from Buddhism) God is the Judge of the Dead.

    Tsss. In most religions there is no omnipotent and omniscient deity and no judgment. For starters, the Sumerians believed that everyone’s shadow goes to the underworld to live in darkness and depression and eat mud for all eternity — no matter what one had believed in and no matter what one had done.

    In general, the idea that the truth lies in the middle is a logical fallacy. Often the existence of two (or more) opposing hypotheses means there’s evidence for reality lying at one extreme and evidence for reality lying at another extreme, but none for it lying in the middle. (Never mind the cases where reality lying in the middle is a logical impossibility.)

    since Hoyle reasoned using the anthropic principle, he was able to do observations to prove his reasoning was, in fact, correct. He didn’t stop simply at “we are here, therefore…” — he backed it up with experiment.

    Yes, except that — despite his own conviction of the contrary — he wasn’t using the anthropic principle at all. He was using the observation that carbon exists.

  54. #54 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 25, 2007

    If it is the case that most changes in the laws of physics would obliterate rocks as well as humans, then the anthropic principle reduces to the lithic principle.

    Funnily enough, there are probably ways to make humans and rocks but not carbon impossible! Imagine a carbon-rich planet, with a core of silicon carbide, a mantle of diamond, and a very thin crust of graphite, with an atmosphere of methane and carbon dioxide. Life? Unlikely, when all elements heavier than carbon (and perhaps lighter than carbon as well) are so scarce. Complex life? On a planet without plate tectonics and the kind of climate etc. that follows? Highly improbable.

    A carbon-rich planet was discovered a few months ago. Fiddle with Hoyle’s example, and you get more carbon in the universe, so that most or all planets are carbon-rich. No rocks, no humans, but still carbon!

    Sagan was wise. Perhaps even wiser than he himself noticed.

  55. #55 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 25, 2007

    If it is the case that most changes in the laws of physics would obliterate rocks as well as humans, then the anthropic principle reduces to the lithic principle.

    Funnily enough, there are probably ways to make humans and rocks but not carbon impossible! Imagine a carbon-rich planet, with a core of silicon carbide, a mantle of diamond, and a very thin crust of graphite, with an atmosphere of methane and carbon dioxide. Life? Unlikely, when all elements heavier than carbon (and perhaps lighter than carbon as well) are so scarce. Complex life? On a planet without plate tectonics and the kind of climate etc. that follows? Highly improbable.

    A carbon-rich planet was discovered a few months ago. Fiddle with Hoyle’s example, and you get more carbon in the universe, so that most or all planets are carbon-rich. No rocks, no humans, but still carbon!

    Sagan was wise. Perhaps even wiser than he himself noticed.

  56. #56 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 25, 2007

    Oh yeah. On the “In all religions (apart from Buddhism) God is the Judge of the Dead” nonsense, I forgot the most blatant example: IIRC, in Islam the judge is Jesus, but Jesus is not the Son of God in Islam. Here’s merely the prophet Isa. :-Þ

  57. #57 Tony Jeremiah
    November 25, 2007

    @121 (Michael),

    The basic view of dialectical materialism is that of arguing opposites toward a middle. The complicated view is that it is a process of developing a thesis (first position), antithesis (second position), and synthesis (truth of opposites), which itself becomes a new thesis. I think it was meant more as an approach to address philosophical rather than empirical contradictions. Western thinking is fundamentally dichotomous, in contrast to Eastern thinking (such as Buddhism) which is more holistic and seemingly better at dealing with contradictions. Example, I believe the Japanese have strong spiritual beliefs which don’t appear to impede their science. So it might be interesting to examine their culture to see how that works.

    @122 (Blake)

    In continuing with dialectical materialism as described to Michael, no one needs to be killed. Given the logic would be something along the lines of 100%, 50%, 25%, 0%.

  58. #58 Kristine
    November 25, 2007

    Early humans likely saw the world as chaotic, then observed patterns, and finally utilized them. We operate on the methodological assumption that these patterns will persist – and so does Davies. Or else he wouldn’t take it on “faith” the fact that his opinion piece would get printed in the paper for us to read it.

    But if he wants, I could deny that he ever wrote that opinion piece, because it’s only a belief of mind and not a fact witnessed by me. Yes, and let’s let Scott Peterson out of prison, too. Nobody saw him kill his wife Laci, after all. That a good idea, Paul? Of course I only have faith that anyone else will read what I’m writing (if indeed I am writing anything – maybe this is a dream… maybe I don’t exist… maybe…)
    /snark

  59. #59 H. Humbert
    November 25, 2007

    steve99 said:

    I don’t think that is helpful. Just about all current scientific thinking relies on the fact that we occupy a typical place in reality. If we are an unlikely but special case, that is not inevitable (as it would be in a multiverse model), then that goes against current scientific principles.

    Our current scientific thinking relies on the fact that we occupy a typical place in our Universe. Our Universe may be quite special as universes go. Or not. But that has absolutely no bearing on the observations we make inside of it. No scientist I know has ever claimed that we occupy a typical place “in reality.” How the hell could they possibly determine such a thing?

  60. #60 Michael Ralston
    November 25, 2007

    @142) I don’t care what ‘dialectical materialism’ or any other such pomo nonsense says.

    The fact of the matter is that when there two positions strongly held by their adherents, sometimes one position is right, sometimes the other position is right, sometimes some intermediate is right, and sometimes something completely different is right.

    HOWEVER, the simple fact that there are two positions which are strongly held tells you nothing about where the truth is. You cannot, as a general rule, “split the difference” and hope for a high rate of accuracy.

  61. #61 Monado
    November 25, 2007

    Well, having faith that my floor will still be there in the morning is different from faith in the Tooth Fairy, or the Sky Fairy for that matter. The former is an expectation that previous experience is a guide to expectation. The latter is an assumption that the imagined is real. You know: if I can imagine a sky-blue-pink unicorn, then one must exist.

  62. #62 Ken Cope
    November 25, 2007

    My background is in psychology and the social sciences, and so any comment I make is coming from that viewpoint.

    In the past few years, the playing field of American intellectual life has shifted, and the traditional intellectual has become increasingly marginalized. A 1950s education in Freud, Marx, and modernism is not a sufficient qualification for a thinking person in the 1990s.

    –John Brockman

  63. #63 raj
    November 26, 2007

    I haven’t read Sean Carroll’s piece yet, but it strikes me that, if the universe was as deterministic (“order”) as Davies seesm to suggest, there would be no need for a probabalistic theory in physics such as quantum mechanics. Nor would there be an unceertainty principle.

  64. #64 Stephen Wells
    November 26, 2007

    @Tycho: you claim that “One cannot observe something that one has already concluded cannot happen.” Why not? If I conclude that the house can’t possibly fall down, and then it falls on me, am I magically prevented from perceiving that I now have a pile of rubble instead of a house?

  65. #65 coathangrrr
    November 26, 2007

    (Witness, for example, how the luminaries who formulated and/or supported the Copenhagan Interpretation for decades stubbornly resisted the interpretation Hugh Everett proposed in his “Many-Worlds” hypothesis

    Wow, people disagree on two totally unsupported interpretations of observations. What a surprise. Of course the ones who don’t agree with your interpretation are nuts.

  66. #66 PZ Myers
    November 26, 2007

    That post from Mr Knight is in the running for an award for the most pompous bit of ignorant arrogance in a comment.

    It’s pretty clear he didn’t even understand a thing I wrote, since I certainly do not claim that “uniformity of nature is an empirically testable claim”.

  67. #67 frog
    November 26, 2007

    “If I wanted to argue for a position on the basis of the anthropic principle, rather than trying to pretend that we live in a Goldilocks universe, we should be wondering how we ended up in such a hostile dump of a universe, one that favors endless expanses of frigid nothingness with scattered hydrogen molecules over one that has trillions of square light years of temperate lakefront property with good fishing, soft breezes, and free wireless networking.”

    I guess you’d go with Chomsky’s Principle of Malevolent Design (MD)?

    If you liked hemorrhoids, lower back problems, schizophrenia, acne, fallen arches, migranes and clinical depression, you’ll love an empty wasteland of a universe filled with endless vacuum and mind-shattering distances!

    Reasonable deists would at least fall back upon the demi-urge.

  68. #68 PZ Myers
    November 27, 2007

    Like I said, you aren’t reading very carefully. That laws are constant everywhere we look is an observation. If we find a place where the laws are different, that will be an observation, too, and we’ll deal with it if it happens. It is not a statement of what is, but a statement of what we know so far…and that’s all science can deal with.

    I don’t think you get to accuse others of “wildly inaccurate assumptions” when you seem incapable of reading what is plainly written and make insane assumptions on your own. Get over yourself, Mr Knight.

  69. #69 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 27, 2007

    If it is the case that most changes in the laws of physics would obliterate rocks as well as humans, then the anthropic principle reduces to the lithic principle.

    I believe there is an attempt to broaden the conditions for the likelihood estimates to tangible such in the form of so called environmental principles. The Causal Entropic Principle is such an objective attempt.

    Ironically, it is pretty much “the lithic principle”, as dust maximizes the causal entropy and so the likelihood.

    If we should go by elegance, Smolin’s evolutionary principle wins. As for evolution the local probability is all that matters, so it is well defined here. But as for evolution there is still no global measure, and so it seems to result in the same problem as the weak AP anyway.

    Yes, except that — despite his own conviction of the contrary — he wasn’t using the anthropic principle at all.

    Correct or not, it is still described thusly, see J Myers explanation in comment #157. I prefer to distinguish the tautological consistency AP from the weak AP myself. There is a barrage of different formulations of varying strength, from consistency up to teleology. But beyond the weak AP we tread into woo-woo land.

  70. #70 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 27, 2007

    But it seems to me naively that it could and perhaps should be used over the board. And then, could not any failure to find a high likelihood region consistent with observations be considered a falsification?

    Sigh. 2nd time asked, still not a whack at it.

    According to the AP principle of blogs, the likelihood is that the question is ill posed. :-)

    This is why I find all the attempts to do more than Boltzman’s explanation of the arrow of time to be somewhat odd.

    But wouldn’t an eternal inflationary cosmology provide a more evident global arrow?

    And you can currently hand wave away the asymmetric initial conditions if they bother your concept of arrow origination, either by noting that the upper bound on the world lines looking back in time can be moved back indefinitely, or by noting that all it takes is to get one inflationary region going however improbable it was.

    Times arrow may be a broken symmetry, but it is broken to make a point. Anything that stops everything from happen at once is fine by me. I’m more curious why left-right symmetry was broken. There is something sinister here.

  71. #71 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 27, 2007

    But it seems to me naively that it could and perhaps should be used over the board. And then, could not any failure to find a high likelihood region consistent with observations be considered a falsification?

    Sigh. 2nd time asked, still not a whack at it.

    According to the AP principle of blogs, the likelihood is that the question is ill posed. :-)

    This is why I find all the attempts to do more than Boltzman’s explanation of the arrow of time to be somewhat odd.

    But wouldn’t an eternal inflationary cosmology provide a more evident global arrow?

    And you can currently hand wave away the asymmetric initial conditions if they bother your concept of arrow origination, either by noting that the upper bound on the world lines looking back in time can be moved back indefinitely, or by noting that all it takes is to get one inflationary region going however improbable it was.

    Times arrow may be a broken symmetry, but it is broken to make a point. Anything that stops everything from happen at once is fine by me. I’m more curious why left-right symmetry was broken. There is something sinister here.

  72. #72 Neil B.
    November 27, 2007

    Alas, Davies also brings up the anthropic principle, that tiresome exercise in metaphysical masturbation that always flounders somewhere in the repellent ditch between narcissism and solipsism. When someone says that life would not exist if the laws of physics were just a little bit different, I have to wonder…how do they know? Just as there are many different combinations of amino acids that can make any particular enzyme, why can’t there be many different combinations of physical laws that can yield life? Do the experiment of testing different universes, then come talk to me. Until then, claiming that the anthropic principle, an undefined mish-mash of untested assumptions, supports your personal interpretation of how the universe exists and came to be is a self-delusional error.

    This is the kind of sloppy putdown that anti-AGW skeptics put out against AGW, saying that temperatures rise and fall and why assume the current warming is due to mankind etc. Look, the issue of specifically how life-friendly the laws and constants are (especially alpha) has been carefully and almost exhaustively explored and documented by investigators like Barrow and Tipler in The Anthropic Cosmological Principle etc., and there are ways to get a handle at least (so what if it’s not perfectly clear cut?) on just how fine-tuned they need to be. That claim wasn’t just an idle boast, and PZ gives us that clear indicator of a trolling hack here: Instead of even taking any interest in checking things out, he just throws out a derogatory red-meat bit of trash like any talk-radio bully (Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and their ilk, to which he is fully equivalent in approach.)

    BTW, #164: Well, if the number of “universes” doesn’t have to equal one, then what limits what sort of realm they can be? Doesn’t that open up a can of worms of the modal realist sort, since what is to limit “universes” to anything at all like this? Why not then, heavens and hells, the reification of the Warner Brothers cartoons, and even an ultimate being like God him/herself? Once you unleash existability, it’s a madhouse.

  73. #73 Neil B.
    November 27, 2007

    Martin, I don’t think they should need to rigorously find and characterize the entire probability space in which “universes” could be picked from, they went over issues like what range alpha needed to be in, to allow life (and estimated of course.) Much of what the did was to reference the huge amount of previous work in the subject, I suggest you don’t really know how to evaluate that as being the explanation for not “noticing that in the literature” (why don’t you consult their references, it’s easy enough to get ahold of AFAIK.)

    Your last point is *totally* off – “the laws of physics” is taken to mean, the rules applying to our universe and defining its character as such. The idea of modal realism etc. is that all possible descriptions or “possible worlds” exist – that has nothing to do with the laws of a given world, or even a class of such presumptive laws like “the landscape” of string theory etc.

  74. #74 John Knight
    November 28, 2007

    Hello? Anybody home?

  75. #75 John Knight
    November 29, 2007

    Anyone?

  76. #76 Andreas Ö
    December 26, 2007

    Interesting objective and scientific comments a lot of you make. The emotions are not involved at all, that’s great. We have to stay objective here.

    Seriously stop sucking your science-thumbs now.

  77. #77 Luke Barnes
    March 3, 2010

    You may be interested in this response to Myers’ views on the fine tuning of the universe:

    http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/fishing-while-the-world-burns-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-p-z-myers/

  78. #78 phi1ip
    March 3, 2010

    Nothing like coming to the party a couple of years late…

    Well yes, a scientist straying out of their discipline is always an easy target for criticism, and my, didn’t you just baffle Myers with science. Woot! However, equally well physicists have no business being smug about their understanding of biology, philosophy, or theology and to be fair, PZ?s blog was a response to an article that was straddling the same sort of awkward multi-disciplinary ground. The problem with Davies? article is the same as the philosophical position of many of his popular science books (and yes, I’ve read a few), where you have a lot of sound exposition of physics, but tied in with it is also some very handwaving quasi-religious justification of his cosmological views.

    The main argument you make in your fine-tuned-critique is good but seems to be prone to a failure of imagination. You rightly point out that some relatively small changes to the initial conditions and physical constants of this universe would result in it being devoid of the familiar cosmology, physics, and chemistry that underlies the biology of life as we know it.

    But that is not what PZ Myers asked, which was, ?why can’t there be many different combinations of physical laws that can yield life?? You have not addressed that question, which is, what other possible permutation of starting conditions (if these could possibly be permuted, which is not really known) would permit viable conditions for analogues of the cosmological, physical, and chemical properties that might underpin a completely unfamiliar form of life? I don’t think it’s just sufficient to say that tinkering with our universe’s parameters would result in conditions inimical to life of the kind we are familiar with (e.g. one obvious example popularly cited, by Martin Rees among others, is the relative strength of the strong nuclear force giving rise to the distribution of chemical elements in the universe).

    The answer may be that the number of combinations of physical laws that result in life is vanishingly small, thus strengthening the anthropic principle, but if the probability is non-zero, then that doesn’t equate to a convincing demonstration that other life-supporting fine-tuning aren’t possible.