The non-problem of cosmic fine tuning

There’s a very nice podcast here by Australian cosmologist Luke Barnes answering the common objections to Cosmic Fine Tuning. And very amusingly, too.

His blog is good value as well. It majors on CFT too, and is notable in critiquing even-handedly (if not without scorn when deserved!) arguments not only from physicists, but from atheist apologists like Richard Carrier and Christian apologists like philosopher William Lane Craig and OEC astrophysicist Hugh Ross. I should add that it comes across clearly, but not crudely, that Barnes himself is a Christian theist.

I think GD might like his physicist’s-eye review of Coyne’s Why Evolution is True, in which he rubbishes the poor level of logic and the misdirected apologetic, and asks the kind of pertinent questions that others of us not in the biological guilds ask, like why the random walk of a mollusc over 50 million changing years, finally reducing the shell spiral by half a turn, is the best example of gradualist evolution that can be found in the fossil record, or how natural selection can be both a fundamental concept and a undefinable tautology.

Having heard the podcast, I was walking the dog and idly musing on how I would explain the Cosmic Fine Tuning problem to someone from a previous age: Newton, or Leibniz, maybe. Given the state of their scientific knowledge, I was thinking how one would phrase the fundamental values of weak force, electromagnetism, cosmological expansion and so on. Then I suddenly realised that the real problem would be that these guys would look at me as I floundered around in physics-for-antediluvians, and eventually chip in, “But why do you say this is a problem?”

Even the least of them would explain, “Look, we’re in a contingent universe that’s quite clearly made by the wisdom and power of the Deity, so how would it not be fine-tuned? Does a man build a house without making sure it is suitable for people? It’s what science would predict.”

After all, although it’s usually forgotten, we still base our science on the twin pillars of God’s faithfulness in the universe’s law-like properties, and his freedom in making it contingent and, therefore, in need of investigation rather than just rational deduction. The first level (that we know) of created contingency is CFT, which is no more or less fundamental than the existence of the laws as the outworking of created regularity. Both regularity and contingent order were, originally, the theistic assumptions on which science depended, so why get involved more in apologetics about fine-tuning than about apologetics for the existence of laws? There’s a place for apologetics, of course – but why should it be in the lab, or on Christian web forums?

That reveals to me (not for the first time) that there is something wrong with the mindset of many scientific Christians nowadays. Very often you’ll read people discussing whether CFT really is good evidence for God, or whether it’s insufficient, or logically flawed, or whatever. But it’s always about “evidence for”. Very seldom do you see CFT regarded as a self-evident working truth, given the properly basic foundation of theism, not to mention the personal conviction of a Christian’s faith that, supposedly, defines the deepest level of their being.

As an aside, Paul Davies did an article not long ago, focusing on the strangeness of there being a universe with laws, and how they might originate, with replies in comments from all kinds of celebrity cosmologists like Krauss and Stenger. The saddest was from a scientist asking why anyobody was even interested in asking why there are laws, which are merely an axiom of science. There spoke a man paradoxially too wedded to science to wonder about the world. Perhaps his attitude is not a million miles from the findings of this study, suggesting a link between absence of awe (an emotion in itself closely related to theism) and belief in the explanatory power of science. It seems largely to mean diminishing what warrants explanation in the first place.

But to return to the subject, the fact that a confident assurance in the Christian scientist, simply rejoicing in the specific contingency of the cosmos, is often not the case betrays something, but what exactly? I don’t think the answer is rocket science… well no, obviously it isn’t. That would be silly. I suspect it reveals an inherent soft-scientism, associated with a deistic bias, in which God somehow remains a “hypothesis” even in the presence of faith.

This might explain how the animus of Evolutionary Creationists against ID’s being able to prove scientifically that certain things in life are designed so often seems to conceal a doubt that God actually is behind the design of life at all. Witness arguments like, “Michael Behe’s attempts to prove God’s hand in evolution are poor science, and in any case trying to pretend science can prove God is bad theology, for God hides himself!” So far, so good. But then the argument so often goes on, “And is he going to say that God designed the malarial parasite? (Ha gotcha!)”.

So the “definiton” of Evolutionary Creation, that “evolution is the means God used to create living things”, isn’t true in the case of malarial parasites, apparently: evolution is the means some other power used for that, whilst God used it for the good things like… what exactly? That’s not often spelled out.

Christian Monotheism 101: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible” (Nicene Creed, 325AD).

But we don’t, actually, do we? Like the atheists, in practice practically every article on theistic evolution is about how evolution (Peace be upon it!) explains humanity, the Cambrian explosion, the immune system or any other damned thing quite happily without the ignorant and anti-science ID and Creationist appeal to God. There is no sign that anyone is in the least interested that evolution is no more than God’s wonderful instrument of creation, except in generic statements – usually restricted to debate with Creationists – like, “I believe it’s far more wonderful for God to have set up evolution than to make everything go ‘poof!'” God designed everything in general, but nothing (it seems) in particular.

Can we put this down to the need to rein back the damaging excesses of the Ken Hams and Stephen Meyers of this world? If so it’s a sad reflection on EC’s intellectual confidence if it spends its whole effort attacking the other Christian positions (which at least say a hearty “Amen” to the first clause of the Nicene Creed, excepting of course non-Judaeo-Christian IDists). It’s also strange how their protests so closely track the agenda of the atheist hooray-henrys of evolution (that’s an analogy, by the way), and not infrequently their methodology, against their opponents – all with the Guantanamo Bay excuse that “These are Bad People, you know.”

So if you’re an Evolutionary Creationist, prove it. Don’t give me that guff about, “No Intelligent Designer in sight!” The scoffers ought to be on the other side. Tell the world instead just how your small corner of science shows forth the glory and wisdom of God, just as I anticipate, usually with justification, the Christian cosmologist marvelling at the God axiomatically revealed by Cosmic Fine Tuning.

I want to know what you believe, not what you don’t.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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3 Responses to The non-problem of cosmic fine tuning

  1. GD GD says:

    I enjoyed this,

    ” And having observed what looks like a random walk – a rather generic, vanilla-flavoured statistical process – we are told that Darwinian evolution is the only possible explanation. Your first response might be to ask what alternative hypotheses there are. I’ll have none of that – frankly, I’d like a little more from a scientific theory than: “at least it’s better than intelligent design”.

    His review of FT and discussion of Stenger’s claims is worth reading, even if the maths is a bit difficult at times.

  2. Sy Garte Sy Garte says:

    Here is what I think, since you ask (and I suppose I am some sort of EC). The more we learn, the more clearly God emerges as the Creator. The CFT is one example (although it isnt proof, but that isnt the point). But there are so many others. Why are there any constants at all? (Which is the same as saying why are there laws of physics).

    So, when I was in grad school, a total atheist, with no speck of doubt about it, I learned the details of the protein synthesis translation system. I actually laughed out loud at one point in the class, because I couldnt believe that what I was hearing (about how tRNAs worked) was supposed to be true. The professor didnt seem to think it remarkable that there were enzymes that just happened to be able to recognise the shape of a tRNA molecule that had the anti codon which matched the codon of the mRNA for the amino acid that that same enzyme also could recognize, thus sticking said amino acid onto the correct tRNA so that it could be put into a protein at just the right order (as mandated by the DNA sequence). I was thinking, you have to be kidding. Humans have never built such a complex and remarkable machine. So I said something to which the Professor replied, “yes, what biological evolution can do is truly remarkable”. I duly nodded but something didnt feel quite right. Fast forward a few decades and I began to understand (I am a slow thinker), “Wait, evolution cant explain that mechanism. That mechanism is what operates evolution.” This did not make me a theist, but it cleared a whole bunch of barriers.

    So, what do I believe? Something in between the typical EC (whose positions I think you characterize well) and the typical ID, which I feel is a bit too simplistic. I have come up with a name (names in philosophy and theology are just as important as flags in Eddie Izzard’s brilliant discussion of national identity). Providential Evolution. I will be using this as a title for a blog post soon, and I am looking forward to your comments. Where theistic evolution is simply evolution accepted by a theist, PE is actually evolution plus. I am not sure yet what the plus is, maybe God’s providence. A work in progress, clearly. I am sure that everyone, (with the possible exception of you, Jon) will absolutely hate it.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Sy

      It seems to me tRNAs are as interesting a problem to solve non-teleologically (or even non-miraculously) as most. You need RNA polymerase III to make them, and that presumably contains at least a good number of the amino-acids for which you need the tRNAs.

      So either you have to start with a polymerase with only one or two amino-acid types (good luck with that one), or there was an original alternative system that evolved to translate each codon piecemeal in some unimagined simple way, and then re-evolved using all the amino acids so translated, somehow replacing all the unique systems with one universal system in 20 different flavours.

      I feel a dangerously unscientific sense of awe coming on…

      “Providential Evolution”? Well that sounds a very valid subdivision of “Classic Providential Naturalism/Regularism”. Better bone up on your doctrine of providence!

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