Happy New Year! The January Philosophy Book of the Month is The Runaway Species. Discuss it now.

The February Philosophy Book of the Month is The Fourth Age by Byron Reese (Nominated by RJG.)

Discuss "The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning" by Victor J. Stenger

We choose one philosophical book per month to read. Then we discuss it as a group.

January 2019 Philosophy Book of the Month: The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World by David Eagleman and Anthony Brandt

How do you rate The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning by Victor J. Stenger?

1 star - poor, recommend against reading it
1
25%
2 stars - okay, fair
1
25%
3 stars - good, recommend it
2
50%
4 stars - excellent, amazing
0
No votes
 
Total votes: 4

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bluegreenearth
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Re: Discuss "The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning" by Victor J. Stenge

Post by bluegreenearth » January 6th, 2012, 3:26 pm

'Fine tuning' implies a tuner and a tune. Many of those who dispute 'fine-tuning' are not disputing the numbers, or the narrow bands of possible 'tunings' that might allow us to be in existence, or the interesting co-incidences that allow our existence. Rather, they dispute the interpretation of the facts that suggests a special hubristic status for us and/or an assumption that design or intent is relevant.

The fine-tuning view suffers from a posteriori reasoning:

A quote in Paul Davies' book Superforce (in a chapter sympathetic to the idea of a cosmic plan), that I liked back when I was an undergraduate in 1985, is:
"Consider, for example, the following passage from the book Life Beyond Earth by Gerald Feinberg and Robert Squire:
'A geographer with a predestinist viewpoint might eventually be struck by just how fit the Mississippi River was for its valley. It flows in exactly the right direction, with exactly the needed contours and tributaries, to ensure the drainage of waters of the central United States into the Gulf of Mexico. In doing so, it passes conveniently by every wharf and under every bridge in its path. The geographer might hen attempt to replace the Mississippi, hypothetically, with the Amazon River. Superimposing he Amazon onto a map of the United States, he might notice at once that it flows west to east. This would not work, as it would have to flow over mountains. Even when he turned the river in the "right" direction, he would notice many difficulties. New Orleans would be flooded by the |Amazon Delta, and an endless number of roads and towns would be submerged. He would concluded that the Amazon was unfit, and the Mississippi eminently fit, for its purpose.
'Let us restrict the situation further. Assume that the geographer had no knowledge of other river systems but had studied the Mississippi extensively. He would notice that any major change in the river's shape would cause damage and dislocations, and conclude that this shape was the only one possible for a functioning geological system. If other rivers existed, they must have the same general shape.'
Now, Davies points out that this kind of analogy does not necessarily apply. Yet he has no good argument for why it may not, instead, in my view, opting for special pleading or, rather, simply ignoring it and moving on to the more interesting hypotheticals around design. Interesting, of course, does not equal true (or false).

I agree that one need not be a creationist (or believe in ID) "to believe the universe is finely tuned for the possibility of life". However, I do think that the fine tuning argument is in need of evidence of a different sort. At present, the 'tune' seems appropriate to deem coincidental, and a 'tuner' seems to me to be uncalled for except as a space-filler for a better explanation (or proof of a tuner).

Tim

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Re: Discuss "The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning" by Victor J. Stenge

Post by Xris » January 7th, 2012, 9:02 am

Two questions must be asked initially. Is it fine tuned and by how much?

Then if it is extremely fined tuned to such an unbelievable degree what does that indicate? This magical word becomes evident, chance. If you say it is chance you have to ignore every other observable act that indicates nothing occurs by chance. You also have to invent thousands of other universes where we observe this chance fine tuning does not occur.

We are placed in position of speculative reasoning where anything is possible and equally impossible. So what is valid and who can comment with any sincerity or certainty? In my opinion no one. That is why this book is about belief rather than objective reasoning.

The river analogy is childish and not relevant because up till now no one has found another universe to compare ours with another. It just another multi universe excuse to ignore fine tuning.

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bluegreenearth
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Re: Discuss "The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning" by Victor J. Stenge

Post by bluegreenearth » January 7th, 2012, 9:55 am

I don't believe the river analogy actually _requires_ multi-universes, it requires, rather, an ability to speculate and ask 'what if?' questions. These _may_ unearth ideas, hopefully some testable, that show us otherwise hidden structures and configurations. The 'true explanation' regarding geology and river pattern is 'plain' to those of us who have seen other evidence (of strata, rock hardness, topography, other river systems): how might the geographer have come to a clearer view if he was, say, on a planet with one giant continent and one massive river system? By looking at the pattern of the river, he probably wouldn't get the necessary insight - by looking at its dynamic change over time, it's underlying rocks, the interaction over time with that geology, etc, he may have. Assuming a tuner, something tunable, something tuned, etc, explains nothing and is akin to the geographer saying the same of his singular and single time=frozen snapshot of a river system. It gets us no further, we dead-end on the 'unexplained explanation'.

Nor does it 'ignore' fine tuning: my point is that 'fine tuning' conceptually requires something special to tune to / to tune it. Looking backwards, we posit that that something special is us: we exist: the universe appears to be run according to constants, limits and algorithms that would only need to be slightly off for us to _not_ exist... and conclude that _therefore_ it is fine tuned especially for us. Now, clearly, this anthropological argument makes a certain psychological sense: we each of us, anyway, have only our very own perspective - psychologically, it makes a certain sense to go further and contend that the universe is fine-tuned especially for 'me' (which is part of why death and finitude give us such existential shocks when first we meet them, and realise they apply to us also).

However, I think it a hubristic and unproven form of argument. Sure, we would not be here otherwise. But, is there any other than a psychological reason (of comfort) that is a strong enough reason to 'prove' (as opposed to be a piece of potential evidence toward a proof) the contention that, rather than 'we are here because of the values for the constants, limits and algorithms that define our space', 'we are here because the values for the constants, limits and algorithms that define our space are chosen, designed, tuned specifically in order _to_ lead to us / me'?

This is not to dispute a logical possibility that the 'tuning' is not only that (tuning), and to a theme (us), but is also enacted / caused with the _purpose_ of leading to 'us' by a 'tuner' (creator; god; intelligent space monkey, Cthulhu...). But, I see no _proof_ of the contention, nor sufficient weight to the purported evidence to convince me that it is so.

Conversely, that it is not so also has a proof gap, and given the lack of outside-the-rules action in the world no chance of filling it.

My position of not only skeptically doubting the design/fine-tuning/anthropological argument is only tipped, for myself, over to a slightly firmer conviction that the fine-tuning argument is fallacious by application of Occam's razor with a side order of Popper:
Karl Popper argues that [...] Our preference for simplicity may be justified by its falsifiability criterion: We prefer simpler theories to more complex ones "because their empirical content is greater; and because they are better testable" (Popper 1992). The idea here is that a simple theory applies to more cases than a more complex one, and is thus more easily falsifiable. This is again comparing a simple theory to a more complex theory where both explain the data equally well.

(en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam%27s_razor#K ... arl_Popper)

I see the razor as a tool or rule, not a law, but nevertheless one to be taken seriously. Thus, if two competing theories each have a very different series of questions begged by them, applying parsimony makes sense, and then to successfully argue for the _less_ parsimonious will only be viable when good reason can be given to expect _more_ implications, factors, background assumption or whatever rather than less.

Applied to fine-tuning, both the argument that 'the universe is fine-tuned' (and one of the corollary goals of that fine-tuning may be our very existence) and the argument that 'it is not a case of "fine-tuning", but, rather, just a coincidence whose "staggering" nature is not objective but merely a projection of human hubris', are question begging.

The latter uses empirical data and scientific proof as limited to direct and indirect mathematical requirements and physical measurements etc, which it is generally agreed 'cannot speak' to the 'outside' of their picture (assuming instead a gap they may one day fill, as more coherent than expecting said gap to be filled already by the already increasingly absent seeming and rather non-specific and material-property-less catch-all of a 'god' or other super-natural idea).

The former requires, at minimum, unproven and possibly unprovable teleology / purposiveness, plus the entity science cannot interact with as mentioned in parentheses above - an entity that somehow acts on the physical world, or did at some initial point at least do so, but upon which the physical world cannot act; that purportedly 'prayer' or 'meditation' may be able to influence, leaving the goal-posts moved to (again) a part of each of [physical and thinking beings] that somehow acts as a bridge between a physical world and the special other reality implied by the need for a 'tuner'. The unsatisfactory nature of this kind of rule-free dualism has meant that I have never been either comfortable nor convinced of the possibility. The logically 'cleaner' 'solution' of co-incidentalist dualism, wherein no interaction takes place between two posited realms of which only one can we 'know', 'explains' nothing, and, unlike science (which has areas it cannot yet explain, but it at least holds open the possibility of future knowledge [not through death or rapture]) does not seek to 'explain' - it is, in fact, surely, the end of thought and the death of reason.

So, no neat tidy answers we can cleave to as proven fact, this is still firmly in the realm of us philosophers on several counts, but for myself I definitely fall on the side of the debate that treats 'fine-tuning' as a fallacy. As a rationalist with materialist tendencies, I can, like Dawkins, safely say I would alter my view if appropriate new evidence / argument appeared - but, also like Dawkins, I think this nominally open-handed and magnanimous gesture to be a safe bet on my part, and thus potentially disingenuous! Nevertheless...

Tim

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Re: Discuss "The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning" by Victor J. Stenge

Post by Xris » January 7th, 2012, 11:44 am

The river uses comparisons just like the multi universe argument would like to if it could find them. You have changed the term chance to coincidence but the same argument applies. We only see one river with no others to make comparisons. I am not making a conclusion only admitting that chance has no active part in the natural laws. Fine tuning is relevant when asking if engineering is to be considered. It is not just finely tuned it is amazingly fine tuned and to dismiss it as pure coincidence requires me to question that assumption.

When we examine the layers of opportunity for life to exist and place it here is fortuitous for us and you can make that assumption of amazing luck or say it had to happen at least once in the universe. Then I have to say how opportune for the formula or the chance of life to evolve and then be capable. Capable of measuring that chance and debating the question. Yes you are entitled to discount all those chances piled constantly one upon the other and never see a determined path. But when will those amazing chances add up to more than you can imaging? Chance, coincidental occurrences remember never occur or are observed in nature but you want them all to be reclassified as one long eternal chain of lucky coincidences.

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Re: Discuss "The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning" by Victor J. Stenge

Post by bluegreenearth » January 7th, 2012, 3:46 pm

Xris wrote: When we examine the layers of opportunity for life to exist and place it here is fortuitous for us and you can make that assumption of amazing luck or say it had to happen at least once in the universe. Then I have to say how opportune for the formula or the chance of life to evolve and then be capable.
OK, say it did 'have to happen at least once in the universe'. With the amazing amount of time and space, and the possibility that some things we think are fixed may be special cases (speed of light, etc), then, again, if many phases exist, and in one set of phases that 'have to happen' leads 'inevitably' to 'us' (or life somewhere, anyway), I would still argue for objective coincidence where you might posit (what I see as a subjectively defined) design.

There are lot of 'if' statements either way, but science and related forms of strict investigative logic, is intended to find out the how of these things may come about, develop, evolve, with hopefully predictions (via complexity etc, so 'pattern recognition' not 'specific location' predictions), and to find some form of proof, either direct of by inference from other things (ideas as 'fact', relative to development of ideas at time x), etc. The more assumptive and faith-like supposed obviousness of 'not just coincidence' (which turn out to be deterministically true, once we understand more) and the more question-begging designer 'explaining' the 'coincidences' is not open to open-minded investigation.

Of course, again, perhaps our scientific investigations will eventually create a new awareness that _does_ make the requirement for a designer less a matter of opinion than true logic. But right now, I am certain we are not in that position yet. My hunch that this designer idea is flawed may be incorrect, but at this point in time I see precisely no _reason_ to think so.

'Opportune' _for us_ would be the case at any time in cosmological history that we or other, perhaps inconceivable to us or unrecognisable as, forms of life crop up. The egoist hubristic anthropological viewpoint is not proven by the facts., it is an interpretation, and a fairly clearly psychologically explicable one. If it ends up to be essentially right, it will be through no virtue of the reasoning that leads most of those who argue for it seem to use. I will acknowledge that _without more and better data_ my own position is not wholly dissimilar: but, just as no all theories are equal, I think my approach is a more useful one from a philosophical and scientific rationalist perspective. This is, in my view, enough to trigger debate, but not enough to reasonably draw strong battle-lines, as both perspectives may be flawed, or if right, right for entirely other reasons.

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Re: Discuss "The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning" by Victor J. Stenge

Post by Xris » January 7th, 2012, 4:10 pm

I can or could agree if the opportunity for life was easily obtained. I am not advocating we search for a designer or admit god. I do object to this attitude that fine tuning is an illusion and even we should admit as much, only consider it as a chance with some incredible odds. At what point, as the evidence unfurls, do we admit it is worthy of consideration. We in a hundred years may be able to manipulate matter, would that make us the impeccable engineers?

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