Is There a Reason the Universe Seems Fine Tuned for Life? Pt. 3

This is the last in a series of 3 posts,  and a long one. All posts were taken from an essay I wrote in 2009. You can read the previous posts on my homepage, or just read on!

I said that the reason the multiverse hypothesis arose has more to do with metaphysics than the data. Why do I say this? Because it is a commitment to materialism and a defense of the “Anthropic Principle” that underlies the theory. Examine this statement from Max Teggmark:

Cosmologists infer the presence of Level II parallel universes by scrutinizing the properties of our universe. These properties, including the strength of the forces of nature and the number of observable space and time dimensions, were established by random processes during the birth of our universe. Yet they have exactly the values that sustain life. That suggests the existence of other universes with other values (1)

So, first, Tegmark (and many others) assumes that the birth of the universe is a random occurrence (“established by random processes”), this automatically excludes the possibility that there was a Creator with a purpose for creating it. Then, he infers the presence of other universes to circumvent the implications of design in our universe with zero evidence. I realize the quote above is not an exposition of his research method, but it is a pretty straightforward summary, and this criticism stands no matter what data is collected. This is why Van Inwagen writes that the choices between whether the origin of the universe is “Chaos”, or a “Mind” (interpreted, to me, as a creator), “can be emotionally attractive to certain people” (2)

Is not the most natural explanation for the apparent fine-tuning of the universe that it has actually been fine-tuned? I’ll address two concerns that may provoke knee-jerk reactions against this conclusion. One is that we cannot “scientifically” verify the existence of a Creator, the other is that belief in a Creator is somehow irrational.

earth_med

In addressing the first concern, can we “scientifically” verify the existence of a multi-verse? No, but nonetheless many physicists are bent on validating it. Leonard Susskind has stated “It would be very foolish to throw away the right answer on the basis that it doesn’t conform to some criteria for what is or isn’t science” (3). I agree with Susskind but wonder why this truth is not also applied to the answer that the universe is in fact the product of a Mind, a Creator? Perhaps because of the second concern, that belief in the existence of a Creator is somehow irrational. This is a hard concern to address in a short post, because I don’t expect a majority of people to be able to give an air-tight definition of what makes a belief “rational”, but I’ll take it to mean that someone is “warranted in their belief about something”.

I will borrow an argument from Plantinga and apply it to this problem. The argument is essentially this “…the existence of other minds is, for each of us, a sort of scientific hypothesis” and if we believe that there is enough evidence for us to believe in other minds, there is enough evidence for us to believe in a Designer. I cannot deal with all the details of this argument, but will give a general sketch. “Minds” here means something like a conscious, emotive, thinking individual.

We believe there are other minds (other people who think and feel) because it is “more probable than not on my total evidence”(4). What is our total evidence? Plantinga calls it “analogical evidence”. We can use any emotion as an example. Take pain, when I do anything in a set actions “x” (say scream and hold my arm, or moan and hold my stomach) it is usually because I feel pain in that part of my body. Other human bodies do the same things I do when I feel pain. Therefore, when other human bodies do those things it is probably because they also have minds and feel pain as well.

But, how do we confirm that other human bodies’ actions actually have a mind behind them and not just rest on “probably”? We never directly experience others’ emotions or mental life. The only emotions and mental life we experience are our own. If we base our conclusion solely on what we absolutely know, we would have to conclude that “I am the only mind in existence”. Because of this, the existence of other minds is doubtful on strict logical necessity. But does this make it irrational for us to believe that there are other minds? No, because we may rationally hold beliefs without absolutely certain modes of gaining evidence for them.

The argument further states that the proposition “The author of the universe is an intelligent being” has support on “teleological evidence”. This evidence would be all the values that we referred to in the first post. The fine-tuning is there, and we can infer the existence of a Creator from observing that the universe resembles other things that are created by intelligent beings. There’s no undisputed evidence for the existence for a Creator (in the same way that one could dispute the existence of other minds). Plantinga thus argues that the existence of a Creator is as probable on the relevant evidence of the teleological argument, as the proposition “There are other minds” is probable on the evidence relevant to the analogical argument. Though this does not show that “the two are on a par…there is nothing to choose from between them so far as evidence or reasons go; the teleological evidence is the evidence appropriate to the teleological argument”(4).

The final move is to ask: If we took analogical evidence from our first-person experience, like the argument for other minds, how probable is the existence of a Creator? Well, just about the same. On analogical evidence, one can say: “The things I create are the product of an intelligent being, me. The universe resembles these things in that they are suited to produce specific results. I did not produce the universe. Therefore probably the universe is the product of another intelligent being.”

So, it seems that this hypothesis is as probable on the teleological evidence as it is on analogical evidence. This is now the conclusion: If the existence of a Creator (call this “p”)is as probable on the teleological evidence as the existence of other minds (call this “m”) is on the analogical evidence, and (p) is just as probable on the analogical evidence as it is on the teleological evidence, then p is just as probable as m is on the analogical evidence. To end this, Plantinga states that

…there may be other reasons for supposing that although rational belief in other minds does not require an answer to the epistemological question, rational belief in the existence of God [the presumed creator here] does. But it is certainly hard to see what these reasons might be. Hence my tentative conclusion: if my belief in other minds is rational, so is my belief in God. But obviously the former is rational; so, therefore, is the latter

Now let’s tie this all together.

The universe seems to be fine-tuned in so many ways that it compels us to explain why it is the way it is. The answer that “we shouldn’t be surprised by how the universe is because it’s as improbable as any other possible universe”, as we have seen, does not stand up to scrutiny. The answer that the universe could not have been any other way seems very unlikely, and the possibility of an infinite among of universes leads to absurdities. Even if the multiverse was a verifiable hypothesis, the question could be raised “Why does this ‘field’ have the properties that fit it for generating random cosmoi?” One may just ask the questions further “Why is it there”, “Where did it come from?” The possibility of a Creator seems to actually have more weight because, as Plantinga pointed out, if we already believe in other minds, the belief in a mind responsible for fine-tuning is just as rational. So, I end with my belief that the universe is actually the product of a Designer, and this is more probable than any alternative explanation of the facts.

(1) Tegmark,
Max.
Parallel
Universes.
Scientific
American.
May
2003.
 <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=parallel‐universes&gt;.

(2) Van
Inwagen,
Peter.
METAPHYSICS.
Westview
Press.
2009

(3) Brumfiel,
Geoff.
Our
Universe:
Outrageous
fortune.
Nature.
January
05
2006.
 <http://creationism.org.pl/groups/ptkrmember/filozofia‐ przyrody/2006/document.2006‐01‐30.0746182444>.

(4) Plantinga, God and Other Minds

Is There a Reason the Universe Seems Fine Tuned for Life? (pt.1)

These posts are excerpts from an essay I wrote in 2009 on topics that have come full circle. It’s not super-technical philosophy, but has some arguments I thought were kind of creative (even if over-simplified). More and more the “multiverse theory” or  “Everett interpretation” of quantum mechanics  has come into vogue, a theory that, I argued here, is one of the worse options for explaining the universe we live in.

The teleological argument gives an answer to the question: “What explains the apparent ‘fine tuning’ of the universe that makes it a place suitable for the existence of human life?” Some versions of the argument also claim to answer the question, “Is there a purpose to the existence of human life?” The argument’s answer to both questions is that the universe was purposely designed by a volitional, intelligent Creator (or, many creators, though this seems to go yet another step beyond Ockham’s razor and belief in a creator, arguably, already violates this principle), and at least one of the Creator’s intentions was that the universe be hospitable for the existence of intelligent life. By implication the question of “purpose” would be connected to whether there were any such ideas in the Mind from which the universe was birthed. I will look at alternative explanations to the presence of fine-tuning, objections to the Creation hypothesis and reasons for why it is the better explanation.

Before we go on, what do we mean by the “fine tuning” of the universe? Physicist Stephen Hawking put it this way in A Brief History of Time:

The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and electron…if the electric charge of the electron had been only slightly different, stars either would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium, or else they would not have exploded…there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers that would allow the development of any form of intelligent life”

These are the sorts of things that the teleological argument attempts to explain by saying “The reason why these things are so, or happened as they did, is because a Creator purposefully brought them to be.”

Now, what are some objections to this explanation? The first one I’ll address goes something like this: “There is no reason that this universe was fine-tuned because the fact that all these laws are as they are is as unlikely as any other set of values for those laws. The only difference is that if they were different we wouldn’t be here to notice” (Van Inwagen, Metaphysics, 190). Metaphysician Peter Van Inwagen gives a good reply to this objection by providing a way to guide our determination of whether something came to be by utter chance or if something explains its’ existence. I’ll paraphrase the principle:

Say a possibility, call it (x), is actualized (meaning it happens) out of a large set of possibilities that are exhaustive (meaning there are no other possibilities),  inconsistent (only one of these possibilities can be true), and all are about equally probable. If we can think of an explanation for why (x) actualized and “no parallel explanation” would apply to the other possibilities, then we cannot off-handedly say that it was a matter of chance that (x) was actualized (Van Inwagen, 191). 

Applying this to the teleological argument we can say that (x) is the universe we live in with all of its constants. It is one out of a large number of possible universes with different values for their fundamental constants. We can think of an explanation for why this universe was actualized: An intelligent agent who, among other possible motives, wanted intelligent life to develop purposefully designed it. Could a parallel explanation be applied if other universes were actualized? No. At least as a general rule no,  because most of those universes would not allow for life to develop, and almost all would not have developed any kind of intelligent life, and still less would have allowed for anything remotely as complex as the human body. So we cannot just assert that it’s as statistically improbable that any other universe exist, and that our universe existing requires no further explanation because of this.

A second objection Van Inwagen cites is the possibility of discovering a “theory of everything”. What this means is that there may be some law of physics that makes it so there is no other possible way for things to be, and so there is no need to invoke a Designer (192). He states, I think accurately, “The motivations of those physicists looking for an ‘only possible theory of everything’ are pretty clearly aesthetic and metaphysical…the existence of such motivations should not be taken to imply that there is any evidence that reality is going to cooperate with them” (194). Hawking is actually doing work now on discovering this so called “theory of the universe (Folger, 4). The biggest contender at the moment is string theory. “But it has one huge problem: its fundamental equations have a near-infinite number of solutions, each corresponding to a unique universe” (4). At the moment, the “theory of everything” is still elusive, and String Theory is flexible enough to be used in support of an alternate hypothesis.

This alternate hypothesis is that our cosmos may be one of a vast array of other cosmos that actually exist now (Van Inwagen 202). Referring back to the “principle” I stated in response to the first objection, this belief implies that even if that principle is true, we are not in a situation where it applies. The reason is that those other universes that we said are “inconsistent” with the one we live in, are actually real universes, not mere possibilities. If it is the case that we live in one universe among many then it is “a statistical certainty” that some are “suitable abodes for life” (202).

In the next post, I’ll give a few reasons why the existence of a creator is the better hypothesis.

Additional Source:
Folger,
 Tim.
Stephen
Hawking
Is
Making
His
Comeback.
Discover.
September
11,
2009.
 <http://discovermagazine.com/2009/jul‐aug/11‐stephen‐hawking‐is‐making‐his‐ comeback>.