Monday, September 14, 2009

Teleological argument: Cosmological Constants

  1. The universe seems to be fine-tuned for life.
  2. This fine-tuning is either due to chance, necessity or design.
  3. It is not due to chance or necessity.
  4. Therefore, it is due to design.
So this argument attempts to show proof of design just by looking at the kind of universe we live in. What is this fine-tuning exactly? There are a number of constants in the universe that shape reality and makes it suitable for organic life. If one of those values is changed just slightly, life would not be possible. This fine-tunning must be due to design since there's no scientific theory that claims that those constants couldn't have any other value but those, and because the chances of the universe falling into those values by luck alone is ridiculously low.


I'm not a cosmologist, but I don't think there are good reasons to presume premise 3 as true.

My objections to this argument:
  • About the 1st premise, it's life that is fine-tuned to the rules of this universe and not the other way around. This may be only a linguistic detail but still, a universe with different properties might have given rise to life of a very different nature than what we could ever imagine. In a different universe that is stable enough for enough time, the changes allowed by it's rules might give rise to evolving, self-replicating arrangements of whatever kind of concrete things that would be allowed in such a universe. So the point is that it's this kind of life that we observe here that is adapted to the kind of rules that gave rise to them and not the other way around. This attempt to frame the issue backwards would be analogous to saying that food is fine-tuned for our stomachs, or that light is fine-tuned to be captured by our eyes, or that our feet are fine-tuned for wearing shoes.
  • This universe seems very inhospitable for carbon-based life forms. It's an extraordinary claim to suggest that, because we happen to survive in a tiny, insignificant spec of that universe, that the universe is fine-tuned for our survival. Other then the Earth, we don't know of any other place where humans could survive naturally. If the universe was fine-tuned for human life, then that tuning is light years away from the perfection that is attributed to an all-powerful, all-knowing being.
  • About the 3rd premise, it can be due to chance under a multi-verse. It isn't known if this universe is all there is or if it's the only universe there ever was. It's possible that this is only one in a series of universes that have expanded, collapsed and then banged again into a new one. Another possibility is that this universe may be actually embedded within a "bigger" universe (called a multi-verse) where other universes exist. In this sense, a universe would just be a bubble within the bigger frame. In any of these possibilities, chance becomes a very likely cause for those values. If there was a potentially infinite number of universes, before or parallel to this one, then the fact that one of them hit the jackpot is no surprise. In such a view we shouldn't be surprised to be in that universe that's life-permitting because in the cases where it isn't, there's no one to talk about it.
  • About the 3rd premise, it could be due to necessity. Curiously though, the only argument given to exclude necessity, is that science haven't discovered that fact. This is curious because it sets the standards for excluding hypothesis so low that it could be used almost arbitrarily to prove anything. Let's imagine that I'm using this same argument but I change the order in which I check for each hypothesis around. So I say, it's either because of chance, design, or necessity; it's not because of chance because it's extremely low; it's not because of design because science has never discovered that fact; therefore, it must be due to necessity. Due to the way rhetorics are being used to exclude possibilities, I was able to prove the nonexistence of design in the universe with the same argument that was originally used otherwise.
  • About the 1st premise, how much is a slight change? Even though the theist will try to baffle everyone with numbers and say that even the slightest change would have incredible consequences, the truth is that we don't know how those constants could have been different. So, depending on that, we don't know if that slightest change is actually a slight change or an enormous change. Perhaps, by necessity, a certain constant could only have varied below the amount of the supposed "slight" change and perhaps the fact that it happened to arrive at the value we see today, by luck, isn't all that surprising at all. If we don't know how they came about, we have no choice but to say that they could have varied between -infinity and +infinity, in which case, ANY finite change is an infinitely small change. Everything depends on scale, one millimeter change for a human being is a tiny change but for an ant it's a huge change. Without knowing how those values could have varied, all of these calculations become arbitrary and unbounded.
  • How likely is a life permitting universe? It can be argued that the probability of the constants in the universe falling in the life-permitting values by chance alone is incomprehensibly small. However, without knowing how those values could have changed, there's no true boundaries to the amount of possible values those constants could have so the calculation becomes meaningless. If the amount of values a constant could have is infinite, then the probability of any finite range is always zero, it doesn't matter how big or small the range is. This makes any number put forward at this point, completely meaningless if the calculation has no boundaries. It can still be argued that we just need to take an arbitrary finite range of universe-permitting values (where a universe's existence is possible) and compare that with a range of life-permitting values but that just makes the assumption that life could only happen in the way we know it here on earth.
  • What is life? When finding the life-permitting values, we need to make many assumptions. It's probably possible to know what is the set of values in which the kind of life we see on earth could exist. However, is that the only possible kind of life there can be? In this context, we should define life as self-replicating and evolving arrangements of concrete compounds of whatever chemistry would be allowed by a universe born out of a certain set of cosmological constants. Under this view, I think it's very reasonable to assume that life of different chemical basis can exist even in this universe, let alone on other possible universes. Obviously we can't know what those possibilities are so we can't reasonably set a range of life-permitting universes.

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