O Pangloss!

Can I tell you how boring I find the fine-tuning argument? Paul Davies is the latest to use it and in the NYT no less. Davies' argument depends on whether you believe his initial assertion that science fundamentally rests on faith:

The problem with this neat separation into "non-overlapping magisteria," as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. 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. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.

So let me get this straight, science is a system that accurately describes the order in physical world. So far every finding of science points to a rational universe based on physical laws. Therefore it's faith on our part that we will continue to find rational explanations? I'm not trying to be dense or anything, but isn't it the evidence that has pointed towards rational explanations rather than faith?

Davies then goes on to propose the fine-tuning argument:

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. If the laws of physics were just any old ragbag of rules, life would almost certainly not exist.

Almost certainly not exist? How does he know? Why is this axiomatic? Maybe our type of life would have difficulty under different physical laws, but how can one positively assert that life could not possibly exist with different building blocks or different rules? I think if anything the diversity of life on this planet, and its ability to penetrate into so many different niches proves the incredible versatility of living things. I even feel the requirement of liquid water as a prerequisite for life is presumptuous. How do we know that no other physical materials could possibly sustain heritable transmission of information?

Part of the justification for SETI, with which Davies is himself is intimately involved, is that life as an organization principle is a powerful force in its own right. On our own planet we've found life at the bottom of the oceans, and deep within the earth's crust, feeding on radiation no less. I don't think we should underestimate its potential to confound our expectations.

Now Davies goes on to assert that the only way to dismiss the explanation that we exist because of some kind of divine provenance is to believe in a multiverse. After all, in a multiverse why would anyone be surprised to find the preconditions for our existence so neatly arranged? I again dismiss this argument out of hand. You don't need to believe in a multiverse to justify life coming into existence in this universe. It is based on this false axiom that life can only come into existence with one set of rules, and one set of materials. We simply do not know that this is true, and I believe significant evidence on our planet points to a great deal of creativity in the ability of life to problem-solve.

From these false axioms Davies concludes:

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. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.

Actually no. Monotheistic religions have explanations - but they are just fabricated and not very likely. Talking snakes and a sky-daddy who made the universe in 6 days. Science is an intellectual system with the integrity not to assume it has all the answers in the absence of any data. Further, why should science have to provide a complete account to be without faith? It works! Beyond that, why should we care if it is incomplete? Why does lack of completion of scientific understanding of the universe (if such a thing is possible), indicate faith on the part of those who use science because it's such an effective tool and process for understanding the world around us?

I do not buy any of these axioms that Davies presents to make his case for faith in science. The worst of which is this fine-tuning argument that I think Voltaire addressed adequately 250 years ago with Candide:

Master Pangloss taught the metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology. He could prove to admiration that there is no effect without a cause; and, that in this best of all possible worlds, the Baron's castle was the most magnificent of all castles, and My Lady the best of all possible baronesses.

"It is demonstrable," said he, "that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings. Stones were made to be hewn and to construct castles, therefore My Lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Swine were intended to be eaten, therefore we eat pork all the year round: and they, who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is best."

Candide listened attentively and believed implicitly, for he thought Miss Cunegund excessively handsome, though he never had the courage to tell her so. He concluded that next to the happiness of being Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh, the next was that of being Miss Cunegund, the next that of seeing her every day, and the last that of hearing the doctrine of Master Pangloss, the greatest philosopher of the whole province, and consequently of the whole world.

O Pangloss! This is indeed the best of all possible universes, for we are in it!

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"So far every finding of science points to a rational universe based on physical laws."

That's an interesting phrase you use there: "a rational universe." When I read it, I see shorthand for "a universe whose behavior can be studied and described by a rational being." But those who believe in fine-tuning, a variation of ID, assume that the observed regularity of the universe had to be imposed by a rational being. This is nothing but a sophisticate's animism: the attribution of human qualities to the inanimate couched in the language of philosophy.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 24 Nov 2007 #permalink

"So far every finding of science points to a rational universe based on physical laws."

That's an interesting phrase you use there: "a rational universe." When I read it, I see shorthand for "a universe whose behavior can be studied and described by a rational being." But those who believe in fine-tuning, a variation of ID, assume that the observed regularity of the universe had to be imposed by a rational being. This is nothing but a sophisticate's animism: the attribution of human qualities to the inanimate couched in the language of philosophy.

I'm not about to defend Davies' appeals to the fine-tuning argument, which I agree is boring. But I do agree that science is based on faith in the intelligibility of (at least bits of) the world. If you don't like the word 'faith' substitute 'assumption.' The point is that there can be no independent evidence adduced for that assumption, since the very notion of evidence is bound up with the assumption in question; i.e., if the world is unintelligible, then nothing can be evidence for anything.

Even though I think both science and religion are faith-based, religious faith typically goes far beyond the minimalist faith of science. Religionists, like scientists, must believe in the intelligibility of the world, but they go way off the rails when the adopt further "articles of faith" that seem not to be compatible with the intelligibility of the world.

By bob koepp (not verified) on 24 Nov 2007 #permalink

Just a minor quibble. Do not speak of life in the earths core. We have found life a couple of KM down, still clearly in the upper crust. The core is nickle-iron at several thousand degrees.

Equating "faith" with "assumption" reduces the former to a banality. Whether that is a problem is up the individual considering the question, but I don't think it's fair to say that, say, mathematicians have "faith" in the axiom of choice in the same way a Christian has "faith" in the resurrection. One can be justified as a useful and/or important assumption while the other is a belief that rests on thin air. Science makes axiomatic assumptions too, but in the same way I don't think it's accurate to call them "faith".

"science is based on faith in the intelligibility of (at least bits of) the world"

This kind of statement is just always beside the point. Our entire civilization is based on the "faith" that repeated actions bring similar consequences. If you want to follow this further, then scientists are willing to yield more than most people, admitting quantum statistics (even without hidden variables!) makes random (though not unpredictable) things happen. If this basis were untrue, people alive would go crazy, and newborns would certainly grow up very different.

If this isn't your point, then what is "intelligibility"? That simple theories describe some part of complex events is more a consequence of how math "works", and to question why that is so you pretty much have to go off the deep end.

If I equated faith with assumption, it was with a rather significant qualification, namely, that there is no independent evidence for what is taken as "given." This suggests that it's the content of faith, rather than the bare fact of faith, that's relevant to distingusihing science from religion.

By bob koepp (not verified) on 24 Nov 2007 #permalink

MarkH: "It is based on this false axiom that life can only come into existence with one set of rules, and one set of materials."

Whether that axiom is correct or not (perhaps Davies' real error is presenting that hypothesis as axiomatic), that does not justify dismissing it out of hand. These are active debates within physics and other fields of science: the various versions of the Anthropic Principle; the fine-tuning and historically contingent requirements for a viable universe, for life, for intelligence; multiverse vs cyclical universe vs single universe models; contrasting formulations of multiverse; the role of the principle of mediocrity. These are not theological nor philosophical debates. One can come down on either side of these arguments without espousing theism. Is it necessary to list the physicists and biologists - including atheists - who hold positions similar to Davies regarding fine tuning and related issues?

However, I agree that some of the excerpted statements by Davies are logically and empirically flimsy. And Davies' explanation for fine tuning is an eccentric interpretation of quantum theory.

Question: If the question concerns the viability of life within a given set of physical constants, why is it referred to as the "anthropic principle"? Last I checked, humans weren't the only form of life. Wouldn't "biopic principle" or whatever be more fitting?

bob koepp,

"If I equated faith with assumption, it was with a rather significant qualification, namely, that there is no independent evidence for what is taken as "given.""

But like I said, this is an extremely broad definition of "faith" that reduces the whole thing to a banal notion. Assumptions like the continuity principle can be justified by their importance, while the assumption that god exists is justified only by the desire of the assumptee to believe. I don't think equating them is particularly illuminating.

"This suggests that it's the content of faith, rather than the bare fact of faith, that's relevant to distingusihing science from religion."

I don't agree that science and religion are inherently orthogonal anyway. Religion is only separate from science such that the religious construct their claims so as to be impervious to inquiry. So in a backhanded way I actually agree with this statement. You can't operate without assumptions, it's just that religion is on the ad hoc, handwavy and unfaslifiable extreme of assumption making.

Tyler DiPietro - Banal truths are still truths, and the opposite of even a banal truth is a falsehood which might not be so banal. So I'm happy to accept such criticisms. And apart from any notion of intelligibility, what is this thing called justifiction?

While some religious apologists do seem to construct some of their claims so as to be impervious to inquiry, I don't think that can be safely generalized. Some philosophers do that too, with quite a lot of forethought (but I hope, not maliciously).

By bob koepp (not verified) on 24 Nov 2007 #permalink

Anthropic universe and fine tuning: a small sample of various views.

Steven Weinberg
http://www.physlink.com/Education/essay_weinberg.cfm

Richard Dawkins
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-dawkins/why-there-almost-certainl…

Eugene Koonin
http://www.biology-direct.com/content/2/1/15

Robert Lanza (I don't buy this one at all)
http://www.theamericanscholar.org/archives/sp07/newtheory-lanza.html

I wonder if selection of physical parameters in the very early universe deterministically gave rise to an anthropic (and more generically, biopic) cosmos without the need for any kind of multiverse.

Who knows. These questions are interesting, but they have fewer implications than many seem to think.

"Banal truths are still truths, and the opposite of even a banal truth is a falsehood which might not be so banal."

But I don't dispute the basic truth that assumptions can't be avoided. I think there is a difference, however, between "I accept the uniformity of nature because the negation would eliminate any concept of natural regularity" and "I accept that god exists because I want it to be true".

"And apart from any notion of intelligibility, what is this thing called justifiction?"

To be blunt, these are the exact sort of semantic quibblings that give philosophy its reputation for uselessness. In essence this question amounts to demanding that I recursively justify the idea that things can be justified. Yes, without an axiomatic framework things quickly become absurd, and I've already admitted this. What I take issue with is the placement of it on par with faith in god(s), karma, fairies, demons, and the various other supernatural constructs of religion. One has demonstrable usefulness and efficacy (science works, as far as we can tell) one doesn't.

I've simply pointed out that the assumption that the world is intelligible isn't itself susceptible of justification. That's not at all the same as a demand for a recursive justification of the idea that things can be justified. So, to be blunt, philosophy might be useful as an aid in avoiding red herrings.

By bob koepp (not verified) on 24 Nov 2007 #permalink

"I've simply pointed out that the assumption that the world is intelligible isn't itself susceptible of justification."

Or isn't justifiable by means of an analytical deduction, that is not the same thing as not being susceptible to justification.

"So, to be blunt, philosophy might be useful as an aid in avoiding red herrings."

I'll admit I may have misunderstood your question, but asking "what is this thing called 'justification'?" is a bit opaque.

When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order.

They do no such thing. They construct a model to explain the phenomena they observe and a mathematical description is helpful in making the model as novel and precise as possible. Dirac, Heisenberg, Wigner and the others did not discover the formalism of quantum mechanics, they created it.

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.

I've said this several times... the ability to compose a polemic against a method which would not work if not for stability is self-defeating. A world which is cognitively stable must be ontologically stable to a certain degree. If you have the language and logic to present an argument or analogy with which to argue against an intelligible world, you've already conceded defeat.

Skeptics like to claim the stability isn't there, while foundationalists and apologists like to claim that it is there, but that we can't know that it's there apart from taking it on faith, so faith is, in general, justified. Both groups are in need of a hand, and the apologists need to stop trying to execute a proof by example.

Tyler DiPietro says,

Question: If the question concerns the viability of life within a given set of physical constants, why is it referred to as the "anthropic principle"? Last I checked, humans weren't the only form of life. Wouldn't "biopic principle" or whatever be more fitting?

I can't quote Carl Sagan too many times.

There is something stunningly narrow about how the Anthropic Principle is phrased. Yes, only certain laws and constants of nature are consistent with our kind of life. But essentially the same laws and constants are required to make a rock. So why not talk about a Universe designed so rocks could one day come to be, and strong and weak Lithic Principles? If stones could philosophize, I imagine Lithic Principles would be at the intellectual frontiers.

Furthermore, I suspect that Lithic Principles would be great favorites among the philosopher-stones who retain their childhood affection for the great god Volcano, but want to distance themselves from the crudities of Intelligent Sedimentation.

I continue to recommend Robert Kuhn's fantastic Taxonomy of Universes on this matter, because it gives a really good sense of what Davies totally misrepresents: that people who bring up multiverses against ID/fine-tuning are not insisting that we all start believing in multiverses. We're pointing out that a designer is just one philosophical possibility out of MANY alternatives.

I develop this some in my own response to Davies here, as well as talking about the core logical flaw of trying to use fine-tuning arguments anywhere outside of conditions internal to the known properties of the universe.

You should see Blake's Misanthropic Principle.

So the universe looks like it was delicately designed (i.e. created) to make human existence possible? Well, it fits pigs too and bees and trees, rocks, lightning and snowflakes and aspirin molecules etc pp.
This is just a huge piece of circular logic - the universe fits the universe. The universe is the universe, no design or explicit creation needed or deductible.

Considering that virtually the entire universe is utterly hostile to human life, and only a tiny scrap of a single planet is known to possess the precise properties necessary for humans to exist, it is in fact startlingly unlikely that the universe was created for our benefit.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 25 Nov 2007 #permalink

I just finished Paul Davies' The Mind of God which was foisted on me by my Christian parents. I found it to be interesting reading, but as a physicist I couldn't help but notice that it was more a work of apologetics than science.

Davies goes about describing theories that don?t comport with the anthropic principle in such sketchy terms that they are easy for him to deconstruct. It isn't that he truly misrepresents them as straw men but that he plays ultimate arbiter in whether these theories answer the questions he personally finds compelling.

Ultimately the book informs more about Davies than the universe.

Now Davies goes on to assert that the only way to dismiss the explanation that we exist because of some kind of divine provenance is to believe in a multiverse.

And next week, he's going to explain how the existence of lottery winners also requires either divine provenance or a multiverse...

I'd be much more impressed with fine-tuning arguments if life arose before the universe. Since it came after, all you can say is that life was 'tuned' by the universe. Big whoop.

The whole entire point of Brandon Carter's anthropic statement in Kracow, Poland, was that scientists, "skeptics", and anticentrists are ideologically predispositioned to willfully ignore and deny any relevance that features of the universe that enable life, have to its structure. And boy, was he ever right about that!... and I am obviously in right place to find this denialism.

Blake Stacy copied some ill-considered junk that Sagan wrote, and then tried to call it an explanation:
I can't quote Carl Sagan too many times.

Because neither one of you know what you're talking about.

Sagan, as Quoted by Stacey:
There is something stunningly narrow about how the Anthropic Principle is phrased. Yes, only certain laws and constants of nature are consistent with our kind of life. But essentially the same laws and constants are required to make a rock.

No, that is a stereotypically false statement that comes from ignorance of the facts that only occurs because people don't want to recognize what they're faced with. The coincidentally balanced conditions that make up the anthropic physics are not totally inclusive to rocks on mars, for example. Some of them are necessary to rocks and other stuff, but ALL of them are necessary to life, so the arrow passes by Venus and Mars to hit Earth. The anthropic coincidences are also co-incidental to each other, in other words, so the physics does not point toward rocks. You can see this illustrated and explained here:

http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/2007/02/goldilocks-enigma-again.html

Now, are you a reformed denier, Blake? If I went through and corrected, (for the umpteenth time), the rest of the similarly ignorant points that have been attempted in this thread, would that matter to you?... Nope, because Carter was right, baby, and ya'll are totally hopeless.

Question: If the question concerns the viability of life within a given set of physical constants, why is it referred to as the "anthropic principle"? Last I checked, humans weren't the only form of life. Wouldn't "biopic principle" or whatever be more fitting?

Yes, see the page at the address above, because the physics isn't strictly limited to Earth, nor even our galaxy.

I think that Brandon Carter had John Wheeler's observer dependent interpretation in mind when he formalized the principle in 1973, since he started his dissertation with...

"John Wheeler has asked me to say..."

Davies has fallen back on Wheelers interpretation as the "mechanism that must come from within", or whatever, nobody buys it, but that doesn't change the fact that a biocentrically oriented structure principle is still what's being called for by the physics that people conveniently don't know anything more about than what they can deny.

And then comes the fallback manuever when they can't defend their self-imposed ignorance of the facts... "silent denial". This means that all the facts in the world won't correct their erroneous thinking, so the sit in silence and wait for a better argument to come along without any time limit for how long that this takes. In the mean time, they will continue to spread their crackpotish beliefs as if they are facts.

What a sad statement about scientists.

Sorry, Island, but that really isn't a valid argument. You are wrong. Completely. Crack a science book. Read it. Seriously, you are delusional.

In some cases, such as this, the silence you hear is not your audience's inability to answer your stunning prose. It is instead your audience's complete disinterest in your stunning bullsh!+.

Really. You are delusional. Science works because science changes to meet reality. Nothing more, nothing less.

And then in other cases, such as this one, the silence is because everything that I said is easily supported by well known facts that are also linked throughout.

Really you are out of your league sonny, and you don't lie very well either.

I think the article is Paul's weird Templeton-linked way of saying that there is a very natural expectation for a dynamical structure principle that explains why the forces are configured the way that they are, rather than some other way.

It's only when you start believing without any real justification that a multiverse is THE reality that you start practicinig religion. Stringers only have "good reason to believe* if they could qualify that with a valid theory of quantum gravity or a theory of everything.

But they can't and won't, while the anthropic physics is only relevant to scientists as long as we're only talking about anthropic selection from a multiverse of potential.

Nobody except string theorists and creationists talk about the fact that carbon-life oriented physics is still the reality if we completely do away with the multiverse. Weinberg and Susskind think that the multiverse is the only viable answer to creationsts, with Lenny going as far as to say; As things stand now, we will be hardpressed to answer the IDists if the landscape fails.

But the fact remains that we don't live in this multiverse until it is actually justified as previously described, so what physicists are willfully ignoring is the fact that the universe is observed to be very strongly constrained by carbon-life oriented physics.

Brandon Carters words highlighted:
The anthropic principle is a "Line of [cosmological] reasoning" that was put forth as, "a reaction against conscious and subconscious - anticentrist dogma", that he called, "exagerated subserviance to the Copernican Principle":

* http://www.answers.com/topic/copernican-principle

...which leads to absurdities by ideologically predispositioned scientists.

He was talking about counter-reactionism among scientists against old historical beliefs about geocentrism that causes them to automatically dismiss any relevance to features of the universe that also permit our existence, and this leads to equally absurd Copernican-(like) cosmological extensions, which do not agree with observation.

Carter's example was as follows:

Unfortunately, there has been a strong and not always subconscious tendency to extend this to a most questionable dogma to the effect that our situation cannot be privileged in any sense. This dogma (which in its most extreme form led to the "perfect cosmological principle" on which the steady state theory was based) is clearly untenable, as was pointed out by Dicke (Nature 192, 440, 1961).
-Brandon Carter

How Carter's point applies, including the strength of the statement, depends on the cosmological model that is being assumed, so Brandon Carter's own multiverse interpretation differs from what is actually observed, because the closest actual natural approximation to what is actually observed to be in effect is a biocentric structure principle, which produces a goldilocks enigma of commonly balanced habitable zones that appear over very specifically defined region of the observed universe.

It would appear that "being priveledged in some sense" means that we are only as priveledged as the next galaxy over within the intergalactic habitable zone of the observed universe, so there is no established reason to claim that the principle is strictly anthropic.

If anything, Carter's point is even more true and applicable today, than it was then, except that the AP is now the target of the very politicians of science who are interested only in abusing the physics to their own selfish end, and regardless of the lack of integrity that this generates, and no matter how rediculous that it makes them look, as is quite obvious in the case above, where "RL" can't dispute the facts, so he resorts to name calling right from the start.

Creationists are near-exactly only half of the problem.

* http://www.answers.com/topic/copernican-principle
The previously linked article discusses the problems that exist in cosmology that literally destroy the belief system of antifanatics, like "RL", including direct observational evidence which should normally be expected, given the fact that we would already have precedence for just such an expectation if scientist weren't driven by theory and dogma, rather than truth and reality.

Does the motion of the solar system affect the microwave sky?
http://cerncourier.com/cws/archive/cern/44

LambdaCDM cosmology: how much suppression of credible evidence, and does the model really lead its competitors, using all evidence?
http://arxiv.org/abs/0705.2462

Alignment and signed-intensity anomalies in WMAP data
http://arxiv.org/abs/0704.3736

Non-Gaussianity analysis on local morphological measures of WMAP data
http://arxiv.org/abs/0706.2346v1

A note on the large-angle anisotropies in the WMAP cut-sky maps
http://arxiv.org/abs/0706.0575v1

Evidence for a Preferred Handedness of Spiral Galaxies
http://arxiv.org/abs/0707.3793

Some doubts on the validity of the foreground Galactic contribution subtraction from microwave anisotropies
http://arxiv.org/abs/0708.4133v1

Island, you're being ignored, I think, because everyone recognized from your very first post that you are a crank. You gave it away with the "you're the denialist" retort, which is is about 99% sensitive test for imminent crank attack.

We don't argue with cranks.

A small suggestion Mark H.

Instead of "denying" the assertion of fine tuning ... of our observable universe to the emergence of intelligent life .... why not ask why that should be surprising (or not) - confounding our expectations (or not). And if seems statistically surprising / confounding, ask why ... see where it takes you.

If not water, if not carbon ... ask yourself what, come up with a hypothesis.

Don't mistake denialism for debate ;-)

Same to you Ian. There is an actual definition we're working from and I'll give you a hint. It's not refusing to accept illogical and unprovable inferences and link dumps from cranks. Try here.