The Fine-Tuning Argument and the Base Rate Fallacy.

0. Introduction

The Fine-Tuning Argument is used by many apologists, such as William Lane Craig. It is a common part of the contemporary apologetical repertoire. However, I argue that it provides no reason to think that the universe was designed. One does not need to look in too much detail about actual physics, and almost the whole set up can be conceded to the apologist. The objection is a version of the base-rate fallacy. From relatively simple considerations of the issue, it is clear that relevant variables are being left out of the equation which results in the overall probability being impossible to assess.

The Fine Tuning Argument starts with an observation about the values of various parameters in physics, such as the speed of light, the Plank constant and the mass of the electron, etc. The idea is that they are all delicately balanced, such that if one were to be changed by even a very small amount, this would radically alter the properties of the universe. Here is how Craig explains the point, in relation to the gravitational constant:

“If the gravitational constant had been out of tune by just one of these infinitesimally small increments, the universe would either have expanded and thinned out so rapidly that no stars could form and life couldn’t exist, or it would have collapsed back on itself with the same result: no stars, no planets, no life.” (Quote taken from here)

This phenomenon of ‘fine-tuning’ requires explanation, and Craig thinks that there are three possible types of explanation: necessity, chance or design.

Craig rules out necessity by saying:

“Is a life-prohibiting universe impossible? Far from it! It’s not only possible; it’s far more likely than a life-permitting universe. The constants and quantities are not determined by the laws of nature. There’s no reason or evidence to suggest that fine-tuning is necessary.” (ibid)

Chance is ruled out by the following:

“The probabilities involved are so ridiculously remote as to put the fine-tuning well beyond the reach of chance.” (ibid)

The only option that seems to be left on the table is design.

So the structure of the argument is as follows (where f = ‘There is fine-tuning’, n = ‘Fine-tuning is explained by necessity’, c = ‘Fine-tuning is explained by chance’, and d = ‘Fine tuning is explained by design’):

  1. f
  2. f → (n ∨ c ∨ d)
  3. ~n
  4. ~c
  5. Therefore, d.

1. Tuning

It seems from what we currently know about physics that there are about 20 parameters which are finely tuned in our universe (if the number is not exactly 20, this doesn’t matter – for what follows I will assume that it is 20). For the sake of clarity, let’s just consider one of these, and assume that it is a sort of range of values similar to a section of the real number line. This would make it somewhat like radio-wave frequencies. Then the ‘fine-tuning’ result that Craig is referring to has a nice analogy: our universe is a ‘radio station’ which broadcasts on only an extremely narrow range. This range is so narrow that if the dial were to be moved only a tiny amount, the coherence of the music that was being broadcast becomes nothing but white noise. That our universe is finely balanced like this is the result that has been gained from physics.

It is important to realise that this fine-tuning is logically compatible with there being other radio stations which one could ‘tune into’. Imagine I tune my radio into a frequency which is broadcasting some music, and that it is finely-tuned, so that if I were to nudge the dial even a tiny amount it would become white noise; from that it does not follow that there aren’t other radio stations I could tune into.

It is plausible (although I don’t know enough physics to know) that if one varied only one of the 20 or so parameters, such as gravity, to any extent (not just a small amount), but kept all the others fixed, then the result would be nothing other than white noise. Maybe, if you hold all 19 other values fixed, every other possible value for gravity results in noise. However, it doesn’t follow from this fact (if it is a fact at all) that there is no combination of all the values which results in a coherent structure. It might be that changing both gravity and the speed of light, and keeping all the others fixed, somehow results in a different, but equally coherent, universe.

In mathematics, a Lissajous figure is a graph of a system of parametric equations. These can be displayed on oscilloscopes, and lead to various rather beautiful patterns. Without going into any of the details (which are irrelevant), the point is that by varying the ratio of the two values (X and Y), one produces different patterns. Some combinations of values produce ordered geometrical structures, like lines or circles, while others produce what looks like a messy scribble. There are ‘pockets’ of order, which are divided by boundaries of ‘chaos’. This could be what the various combinations of values for the 20 physical parameters are like.

Fine-tuning says that immediately on either side of the precise values that these parameters have in our universe, there is ‘white noise’. But it does not say that there are no other combinations of values give rise to pockets of order just as complex as ours. It doesn’t say anything about that.

2. The problem of fine-tuning 

It might be replied that there could be a method for determining whether there are other pockets of order out there or if it is just white noise everywhere apart from these values, i.e. whether there are other radio stations than the one we are listening to or not. And maybe there is such a method in principle. However, it seems very unlikely that we have anything approaching it at the moment. And here the fineness of the fine-tuning turns back against the advocate of the fine-tuning argument. Here’s why it seems unlikely we will be able to establish this any time soon.

We are given numbers which are almost impossible to imagine for how unlikely the set of values we have would be if arrived at by chance. Craig suggests that if the gravitational constant were altered by one part in 10 to the 60th power (that’s 10 with 60 ‘0’s after it), then the universe as we know it would not exist. That’s a very big number. If each of the 20 parameters were this finely tuned, then each one would increase this number again by that amount. The mind recoils at how unlikely that is. This is part of the point of the argument, and why it seems like fine-tuning requires an explanation.

However, this is also a measure of how difficult it would be to find an alternative pocket of order in the sea of white noise. Imagine turning the dial of your radio trying to find a finely-tuned radio station, where if you turned the dial one part in 10 to the 60th power too far you would miss it. The chances are that you would roll right past it without realising it was there. This is Craig’s whole point. It would be very easy to scan through the frequency and miss it. But if you wanted to make the case that we had determined that there could be no other coherent combination of values to the parameters, you would have to be sure you had not accidentally scrolled past one of these pockets of coherence when you did whatever you did to rule them out. The scale of how fine the fine-tuning is also makes the prospect of being able to rule out other pockets of coherence in the sea of noise almost impossible to do. It would be like trying to find a needle in 10 to the 60th power of haystacks. Maybe there is a method of doing that, but it seems like an incredibly hard thing to do. The more the apologist adds numbers for the magnitude of fine-tuning, the more difficult it is to rule out there being other possible coherent combinations of values out there somewhere.

Thus, it seems like the prospects of discovering a fine-tuned pocket of coherence in the sea of white noise are extremely slim. But this just means that it seems almost impossible to be able to rule out the possibility that there is such additional a pocket of coherence hidden away somewhere.

Think about it from the other side. If things had gone differently, and the values of the parameters had been set differently, then there might be some weird type of alien trying to figure out if there were other pockets of coherence in the range of possible values for the parameters, and they would be extremely unlikely to find ours, precisely because ours (as Craig is so keen to express) is so delicately balanced. Thus the fine-tuning comes back to haunt the apologist here.

We have a pretty good understanding of what the values for the parameters are for our universe, although this is obviously the sort of thing that could (and probably will) change as our understanding deepens. But I do not think that we have a good understanding of what sort of universe would result throughout all the possible variations of values to the parameters. It is one thing to be able to say that immediately on either side of the values that our universe has there is white noise, and quite another to be able to say that there is no other pocket of coherence in the white noise anywhere.

The fine tuning result is like if you vote for party X, and your immediate neighbours on either side vote for party Y. You might be the only person in the whole country who votes for party X, but it doesn’t follow that this is the case just because you know that your neighbours didn’t.

If the above string of reasoning is correct, then for all the fine tuning result shows, there may be pockets of coherence all over the range of possible values for the parameters. There are loads of possible coherent Lissajous figures between the ‘scribbles’, and this might be how coherent universes are distributed against the white noise. There could be trillions of different combinations of values for the parameters which result in a sort of coherent universe, for all we know. And the magnitude of the numbers which the apologist wants to use to stress how unlikely it is that this very combination would come about by chance, is also a measure of how difficult it would be to find one if it were there.

3. The meaning of ‘life’

It seems that if the above reasoning is right, then other pockets of coherence are at least epistemically possible (i.e. possible for all we know). Let’s assume, just for simplicity, that there are at least some such alternative ways the parameters could be set which results in comparably stable and coherent universes as ours. Let’s also suppose that these are all as finely tuned as our universe is. For all we know, this is actually the case. But if it is the case, then it suggests a distinction between a universe is finely-tuned, and one that is fine-tuned for life. We might think that those other possible universes would be finely tuned, but not finely tuned for life because we could not exist in those universes. We are made of matter, which could not exist in those circumstances. It might be that something else which is somehow a bit like matter exists in those universes, but it would not be matter as we know it. Those places are entirely inhospitable to us.

 

But this doesn’t mean that they are not finely-tuned for life. It just means that they are not finely-tuned for us. The question we should really be addressing is whether anything living could exist in those universes.

Whether this is possible, of course, depends on precisely what we mean by ‘life’. This is obviously a contentious issue, but it seems to me that there are two very broad ways we could approach the issue, which are relevant for this discussion. Let’s call one ‘wide’ and one ‘narrow’.

Here is an example of a wide definition of ‘life’. For the sake of argument, let’s say that living things all have the following properties:

  • The capacity for growth
  • The capacity for reproduction
  • Some sort of functional interaction with their environment, possibly intentional

No doubt, there will be debate over the conditions that could be added, or removed, from this very partial and over-simplified list, and the details do not matter here. However, just note one thing about this list; none of these properties require the parameters listed in the usual presentations of the fine-tuning argument to take any particular value. So long an entity can grow, reproduce and interact with its environment, then it is living, regardless of whether it is made of atoms or some alien substance, such as schmatoms. Thus, on such a ‘wide’ definition of ‘life’, there is no a priori reason why ‘life’ could not exist in other universes, even if we couldn’t.

On the other hand, we might define ‘life’ in terms of something which is native to our universe, such as carbon molecules, or DNA. If, for example, the gravitational constant were even slightly different to how it is, then DNA could not exist. Thus, if life has to be made of DNA, then life could not exist in any pocket of coherence in the sea of white noise apart from ours.

So there are two ways of answering the question of whether an alternative set of values to the parameters which resulted in a coherent universe could support life – a wide and a narrow way. On the wide view the answer seems to be ‘yes’, and on the narrow view the answer is definitely ‘no’.

It seems to me that there is very little significance to the narrow answer. On that view, the universe is fine-tuned for life, but only because ‘life’ is defined in terms of something which is itself tied to the physical fine-tuning of the universe. The meaning of ‘life’ piggy-backs on the fine-tuning of the physical variables. And this makes it kind of uninteresting. The same reasoning means that the universe is fine-tuned for gold as well as life, because the meaning of ‘gold’ is also tied to specific things which exist only because of the values of the variables, i.e. atoms and nucleus’, etc. Thus, if we want to say ‘fine-tuned for life’ and have that mean something other than just ‘fine tuned’, then we should opt for the wide view, not the narrow one.

But then if we go for the wide view, we are faced with another completely unknown variable. Just as we have no idea how many other potential pockets of coherence there may be in the sea of white noise, we also have no idea how many of them could give rise to something which answers to a very wide definition of ‘life’. It might be that there are trillions of hidden pockets of coherence, and that they are all capable of giving rise to life. We just have no information about that whatsoever.

 

 

5. Back to the argument

What the preceding considerations show is that the usual arguments taken to rule out the ‘chance’ explanation are missing something very important to the equation. I completely concede that our universe is extremely finely-tuned, to the extent that Craig explains. This means that if the values of the parameters were changed even a tiny amount, then we could not exist. However, because we don’t have any idea whether other combinations of values to those parameters would result in coherent universes, which may contain ‘life’, we have no way of saying that the chances of a universe happening with life in it are small if the values of these parameters were determined randomly. It might be that in 50% of the combinations there is sufficient coherence for life to be possible. It might be 90% for all we know. Even if it were only 1%, that is not very unlikely. Things way less likely happen all the time. But the real point is that without knowing these extra details, the actual probability is simply impossible to assess. Merely considering how delicately balanced our universe is does not give us the full picture. Without the extra distributions (such as how many possible arrangements give rise to coherent universes, and how many of those give rise to life) we are completely in the dark about the overall picture.

This makes the argument an instance of the base-rate fallacy. The example on Wikipedia is the following:

“A group of police officers have breathalyzers displaying false drunkenness in 5% of the cases in which the driver is sober. However, the breathalyzers never fail to detect a truly drunk person. One in a thousand drivers is driving drunk. Suppose the police officers then stop a driver at random, and force the driver to take a breathalyzer test. It indicates that the driver is drunk. We assume you don’t know anything else about him or her. How high is the probability he or she really is drunk?”

Because the ‘base-rate’ of drunken drivers is far lower than the margin for error in the test, this means that if you are tested and found to be drunk, it is a lot more likely that you are in the group of ‘false-positives’ than not. There is only one drunk person in every 1000 tested, and (because of the 5% margin for error), there are 49.95 false positives. So the chances that you are a false positive is far greater than that you are the one actually drunk person. It’s actually 1 in 50.95, which is roughly a probability of 0.02. Thus, without the information of the base-rate, we could be fooled into thinking that there was a 0.95 chance that we had been tested correctly, whereas it is actually 0.02.

With the fine-tuning argument we have a somewhat similar situation. We know that our universe is very delicately balanced, and we know that we could not exist if things were even slightly different. But because we effectively lack the base-rate of how many other possible combinations of values give rise to different types of life, we have no idea how unlikely it is that some such situation suitable for life could have arisen, as it were, by chance. As the above example shows, this rate can massively swing the end result.

6. Conclusion

The fine-tuning of the universe is a fact. This does not show that the universe is fine-tuned for life though. It also does not show that the universe must have been designed. It is impossible to know what the chances are that this universe happened ‘by chance’, because we do not have any idea about the relevant base-rate of coherent and (widely defined) life-supporting universes there could be. Thus, we have no idea if we can rule out the chance hypothesis, because we have no idea what the chances are without the information about the base rate.

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15 thoughts on “The Fine-Tuning Argument and the Base Rate Fallacy.”

  1. My biggest issue with the fine-tuning argument is that it tacitly assumes that all of these parameters can in fact be tuned like a radio dial, and that the fine tuned ranges are very small, not just in terms of numerical representation, but also relative to how far the knobs will turn. I’m not arguing that this is not the case, but I’m aware of no justification that it positively is. How does Craig know? Does he have the physical formulæ for universe construction? From a frequentist point of view, a probability is a measure of incidence over trials; since we have a sample set of one, we have no information beyond the knowledge that at least our values are possible. If you eschew the frequentist view…well, how do you describe this in terms of probability?

    Wikipedia tells me that the gravitational constant is 6.67408(31)×10−11 m3⋅kg−1⋅s−2. If it’s “fine tuned” to one part in 10^60, that’s very impressive if the actually possible range is, say, 0 to 10^6. It’s a lot less impressive if the possible range is 6.67408±0.00001, still less if it could only vary by one part in 10^59, and not at all if it isn’t free to vary at all.

    The claim seems to rest on the fact that no restrictions are currently known, and that the parameters are mathematically free to vary, but this seems to rest on a conflation of the conceivable with the actually possible that some philosophers seem to like, but I never found compelling.

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  2. Why be pleonastic: “why it seems like fine-tuning requires an explanation” – “seems” already means “like”. Try writing “why it seems fine-tuning requires an explanation.”

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  3. A couple of comments:

    1) the fine-tuning argument relies partially on the idea that the universe must be fine-tuned as ours is in order to produce the complexity required for life — atoms, the heavier elements, etc. Complexity is a consideration that would run through all possible combinations of the physical constants. Perhaps only our combination offers the required complexity.

    2) Using your radio station analogy, if we enter a room and find a radio tuned to a very narrow frequency range the allows for clear reception of a particular radio station, then the fact that there are other radio stations on the dial need not trouble us greatly — as long as the white noise settings astronomically outnumber the station settings, it seems reasonable to ask who set the dial rather than to assume that the dial was randomly set.

    3) The definition of life: I have heard theistic commentators address this issue, and their position is that the operative definition should not be the biologist’s definition — the existence of amoebas somewhere in the universe, for example, doesn’t seem to require invocation of an intelligence to explain. What is thought to be remarkable is the development of an intelligent observer — someone who can ask “What the hell am I doing here? How did I get here?” and then go out an examine the universe closely enough to discover the fact of fine-tuning. As an aside, the existence of an observer is thought by quantum physicists to be objectively “special” because under the Copenhagen Interpretation, it takes an observer to collapse the quantum wave function. (Hugh Everett and Max Tegmark dsagree, however).

    4) Two possible explanations for fine-tuning that you didn’t mention in this particular article:
    i) the multiverse hypothesis (which may soon become testable)

    http://bigthink.com/robby-berman/stephen-hawkings-final-paper-is-an-astounding-farewell

    “If there are an arbitrarily large number of universes with randomly varying physical constants, a life-permitting universe is inevitable, and we find ourselves in such a rare universe because as life forms we could find ourselves in no other.” To use the radio analogy, it would be like a zillion radios with random settings, each in its own separate room. We her music coming out of one of the rooms and are curious, so we enter the room to investigate — but if we hadn’t heard music, we wouldn’t have bothered to enter the room in the first place. And then we’re like “Wow, what a coincidence that we happened to enter just this particular room with all those other rooms putting out only white noise.”

    ii) the participatory anthropic principle, which is utterly fascinating:

    https://www.britannica.com/science/participatory-anthropic-principle

    According to this idea, the universe (of which our consciousness is a part) selected itself into “existence” (existence here referring to a collapsed quantum wave function) resulting in a closed causal loop consisting of consciousness and the universe. This type of revere-temporal causation has been observed in the laboratory,

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  4. Thanks for your comments.

    You say: “Perhaps only our combination offers the required complexity.”

    Perhaps our world is the maximally complex world. But perhaps not. What’s the argument that it is?

    Also: “as long as the white noise settings astronomically outnumber the station settings, it seems reasonable to ask who set the dial rather than to assume that the dial was randomly set.”

    I agree that if I come across a radio that is playing coherent noise, AND that I also know that it is “astronomically” unlikely to have this happen by chance, I would look to see explanations that were intentional in nature. I agree with all that. I’m simply questioning the antecedent assumption in your claim. What’s the reason for thinking that “the white noise settings astronomically outnumber the station settings”? If we don’t have a good justification for that assumption, we should drop it from the argument. And if we do drop it, the situation changes drastically. Now it becomes:

    You go into a room with a radio playing music, and the following two things are true:

    i) You know that if you touch the dial a tiny amount in either direction, then the music will turn into white noise (‘fine tuning’ phenomena)

    ii) You DON’T know anything about what happens if you move the dial MORE than a tiny amount.

    In THIS situation, one can draw no conclusions from the fact that the radio is playing. The fine tuning phenomena in i) is not enough to conclude that the radio has been intentionally set. You also need to know something about what happens if you move the dial more than a small amount for that conclusion to follow. That’s all I’m saying.

    People who put forward the fine-tuning argument have to say something about why ii) is false, i.e. how we know anything about what happens if we move the dial more than a tiny amount. And when you look at the physics examples used by proponents of the FTA, they are almost always addressing i), i.e. what happens with just a tiny change.

    You also say: “… the existence of amoebas somewhere in the universe, for example, doesn’t seem to require invocation of an intelligence to explain. What is thought to be remarkable is the development of an intelligent observer — someone who can ask “What the hell am I doing here? How did I get here?” and then go out an examine the universe closely enough to discover the fact of fine-tuning.”

    That is interesting. So the idea is that the phenomena to be explained is not ‘life’ as such, but ‘intelligent life’ (self-aware, reflective life). Interesting as this is, it only makes the case harder for the defender of the FTA I think.

    Let’s grant that if gravity were just a tiny bit greater or lesser in degree, then complex physical objects, like brains, could not exist. This means that the universe is ‘fine tuned for brains’.

    But, for this to entail that the universe is also fine-tuned for intelligent observers, we have to insist on a very strong relationship between the mind and the brain. It needs to be that minds cannot exist without brains. Someone who held that the mind does not depend on the brain (a dualist, or someone who believes in eternal souls, etc) would hold that even if brains did not exist, there could still be minds. So merely showing that the universe is fine tuned for brains does not show that it is fine tuned for intelligent observers.

    The argument needs the following premises to work:

    1. The universe is fine-tuned for brains
    2. The mind is dependent on the brain (ADDITIONAL PREMISE)
    3. The universe is fine-tuned for minds

    Without premise 2, the inference is invalid.

    To block the dualist objection, the defender of the FTA has to insist on premise 2. But the cost is that it makes the final appeal to a divine intelligence that designed the constants unsustainable. If you rule out minds existing without bodies in one part of your argument (premise 2), you can’t then go on to posit a mind existing without a body in a later part, even if that mind is divine.

    So I think that move is out of the frying pan, into the fire.

    I am aware of the other two responses to the FTA, but they get way more attention than the issue I was bringing up in my post.

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  5. One other objection I heard to the FTA is that if the values of the physical constants were set by an omniscient intelligence, you would be able to find a pattern in how the values were set within the life-permitting range (exactly halfway between the minimum and maximum values for each parameter, for example). Yet we find that the values of the physical constants seem to vary randomly within the life-permitting range, suggesting that the placement of the exact value was accidental.

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  6. You didn’t present correctly, or fully, the breathalyzer illustration for your argument. The problem you presented, stripped to its core, is this:

    A person can be either from group A or group B. And there is a device that measures whether a person has one specific attribute, an attribute X. If the device is used on a person from group A, it will detect attribute X in 100% of the cases. If the device is used on a person from group B, it will detect attribute X in 5% of the cases. The question is, what is the probability that randomly selected person will be shown to have an attribute X when measured?

    The answer to the above problem is 50%. There is no need for base rate fallacy if we apply probability. The reason why the answer is 50% is because we don’t know whether the selected person is from group A or B nor do we know the correlation between the two groups. Since we don’t have that information, success rate for the device doesn’t give us usable information other than it’s not 0% or 100% in both groups all the time, so we can redefine success rate to that. We are left with a person randomly selected between the two uncorrelated groups and a device that may or may not detect attribute X, so the probability is 50%, or 50-50.

    Now, if we get more information, we can change resulting probability to reflect new information, with our calculation being more precise. In above example, if we add the claim that there is 0,1% chance that randomly selected person is from group A, we have a correlation between groups and we get the result you presented.

    So, it’s not really a matter of base rate fallacy but of available information. We can calculate the probability with any information we have, and we would be correct in our calculation because that’s what probability is – a method to make a rational conclusion based on incomplete information.

    You lead your readers to assume that if we don’t have certain level of information about a situation, which can be a level arbitrary to one’s liking, the conclusion about the situation results in a base rate fallacy, so we should disregard all the information we already have and not try to understand probability until some time in the future when we somehow get more information at some arbitrary quantity or level, or never, if we never get that information.

    That’s not logical reasoning. From whatever information we have, we can calculate the probability to reflect reality based on what we know up until this point.

    Not only that, your argument that result will change in the future when we get more information is in itself an assumption. The result could change, or not, and it could change in any way, so it’s a pure guesswork. For every guess you make that “it might be that in 50% of the combinations there is sufficient coherence for life to be possible” other person can cancel out your guesswork with his own guesswork that there might be an absolute or practical 0 of such combinations.

    Second thing, you claim base rate fallacy but in case of our universe not only do we know enough information to make a reasonable conclusion, we also have what is effectively base information. The base for this discussion is the known source of our universe as accepted in mainstream science. And the base is – a random collection of unconscious forces working on dead, non-living elements.

    We don’t even have to know what the values are, nor what the forces are, nor what precisely non-living elements are. We know, from an untold number of experiments, that random collections of unconscious forces working on dead elements do not produce life. We cannot claim that as an absolute law, but based on what we know about our reality, if the source of life is chance, that’s a rare occurrence.

    In any case, if it is true what the mainstream science tells us about the known source for our universe, we can calculate, in many different ways, near 0% probability that the source of life in our universe is chance.

    Not only that, we can say that as far as we know and understand what random, unconscious and dead means, in all or practically all universes which start with a random collection of unconscious forces working on dead elements there is a small or near 0% chance that life will get to exist. But it doesn’t even matter what’s happening in one, trillion or none parallel or theoretical universe. Our universe is not dependent on those universes, as far as we know, while we have a claim for what is the source of our universe.

    Our rational conclusion, therefore, based on data provided by science, is that there is an almost 0% probability that the source of life in our universe is chance. That means that there is an almost 100% probability that the source of life in our universe is means other than chance. That’s conclusion based on information we have.

    Does this conclusion leads to God? Of course it does, in a big way. At the same time, the source for understanding existence of God, when we think about it logically, has nothing to do with our actions, including making conclusions like ones discussed here, so this is, ultimately, the wrong way to go about understanding existence of God.

    The problem here is for an atheist. One who does understand that God exists can make an error and try to argue for God’s existence using better or worse logical arguments in order to appeal to an atheist. But this person already has an understanding that God exists so he or she is not in the dark even though they can argue for God’s existence in a wrong way. An atheist, on the other hand, who thinks that he can somehow research, test, calculate, think about stuff in order to come to a conclusion about God’s existence is not only in the dark but is also going about it the wrong way, effectively stepping even deeper in the dark.

    It can be shown, logically, that it’s impossible to come to a reasonable conclusion about existence of God based on one’s own actions. The first takeaway from that, I would say, is to not demand that your action will produce you with the answer.

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    1. Thanks for your reply. Let’s say you are right that I presented the argument incorrectly. You put this:

      “Our rational conclusion, therefore, based on data provided by science, is that there is an almost 0% probability that the source of life in our universe is chance. That means that there is an almost 100% probability that the source of life in our universe is means other than chance. That’s conclusion based on information we have. Does this conclusion leads to God? Of course it does, in a big way.”

      So, if not chance, then God? It seems to me that if I accepted everything you said up to that point, I would have reason to think that fine tuning is not the product of chance. Ok, I’m fine with that. How does ruling out chance mean that God exists? Why couldn’t something other than God be the explanation? That seems like at least as big a logical error as the one you accuse me of, even if I accepted all your criticisms.

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      1. I didn’t write – if not chance then God. I wrote that “there is an almost 100% probability that the source of life in our universe is means other than chance. That’s conclusion based on information we have.”

        That conclusion does point to God, but I didn’t define God in my reply, so “point” is not used with some defined degree of certainty.

        This all doesn’t matter at the end of the day. As I wrote, the source for understanding existence of God has nothing to do with our actions, so making conclusions like ones discussed here are ultimately a wrong way to go.

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  7. Well, I agree that the explanation of fine tuning is not ‘chance’. I don’t think I’ve ever said that it was just chance. Please correct me if I did.

    Anyway, you missed off your very next line (which I quoted). I’ll remind you:

    “Does this conclusion leads to God? Of course it does, in a big way”

    So you say that fine tuning couldn’t be merely chance, and the very next thing you say is that ‘this conclusion’ points to God, ‘in a big way’.

    I characterised that as: if not chance then God. That’s not far off what you said. Your ‘conclusion’ was that it couldn’t be chance, and it pointed to God. I’m just saying that ‘not chance’ doesn’t point to God. Thinking that it does is a big logical error. It’s exactly like saying: if not chance then God. The only difference is ‘pointing in a big way’ is a vague term.

    I also don’t know why you are talking about ‘actions’. Do you classify inferences as actions? If so, are you saying that we can’t come to know about God through inferences? Im wondering how ‘not chance’ can ‘point to God in a big way’ if that was right.

    If you just want to say that you don’t know God through reason, then cool. You can’t make that claim and also advocate that fine tuning justifies your belief in God though. That’s having your cake and eating it too.

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    1. As I said, I didn’t say who God is in my reply.

      Here it is: God is the creator of all reality who can do everything that is logically possible.

      “Chance or God” is a rather undefined statement, by itself. And it is not really necessary. I argue that it can be shown, based on data we accept as mainstream, that there is near 100% probability that God, the one claimed above, exists. And that this can be shown with a number of different approaches.

      The problem here, in discussions or presentations like ones on this site, is that giving you near 100% probability that God exists is a bridge too far.

      You first need to stop being an atheist. It is absolutely impossible, under any imaginable circumstance, to logically, rationally reason that there is less than 50% probability that God exists. So atheism goes out of the window by default, if one is claiming reason for his or her position.

      If someone thinks otherwise, I would say that I don’t think they appreciate what the claim for God means.

      As for knowing that God exists, we surely can’t come to know that God exists through inferences.

      I am not talking about estimating or calculating a probability. I am talking about knowing that God exists, as a fact of the same quality that the sun will rise tomorrow. Mind you, I am not saying that a person cannot know that God exists. I am saying that no person can do something, an action, in order to get to know that God exists.

      Your sentence said, “know about God.” Yes, you can know something about God’s identity or characteristics through reasoning. But it is impossible for you to know that God exists through reasoning, research, examining evidence, observation etc. One can say, “I have never seen God.” That tells absolutely nothing about God’s existence, but it can mean that if God exists, God doesn’t want to be seen by that person, at least within a certain timeframe.

      If finding God is something that can be the result of our action, that would mean that the more observations we make and don’t find God, the higher the probability that God doesn’t exist. And one would be correct in saying that the probability for God’s existence diminishes as the time goes on, since we are searching more and more, and discovering more and more, and are not finding God. But that’s not how it works with God. It’s impossible to do something, anything, in order to know that God exists, because of the claim for God. You can search high and low however you want, it means absolutely nothing in terms of God’s existence.

      So, as an atheist, you first have a problem that it’s impossible to come up with one good, logical reasoning that there’s less than 50% probability that God doesn’t exist. And after that, you cannot do anything to actually know that God exists. That’s the first bridge to go over.

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      1. Correction, at the end I wrote “less than 50% probability that God doesn’t exist,” but it should be “less than 50% probability that God exists.”

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      2. So, you “argue that it can be shown, based on data we accept as mainstream, that there is near 100% probability that God, the one claimed above, exists. And that this can be shown with a number of different approaches.” But giving me “near 100% probability that God exists is a bridge too far.” A ‘bridge too far’? What does that mean? Does it mean you can show it, but not to me? Why not? Because I am an atheist? So you can prove it, but only to people who already believe it?!

        Look, in your original comment you said: “Our rational conclusion, therefore, based on data provided by science, is that there is an almost 0% probability that the source of life in our universe is chance. That means that there is an almost 100% probability that the source of life in our universe is means other than chance. That’s conclusion based on information we have. Does this conclusion leads to God? Of course it does, in a big way.”

        I just think its pretty clear that you are conflating the “almost 100% probability that the source of life in our universe is means other than chance” (which I’m not objecting to) with the “near 100% probability that God, the one claimed above, exists” (which I don’t accept). I have asked you twice already (this is the third time) whether you think that you can infer that God exists merely by ruling out fine tuning being a product of chance. You have just danced around this question instead of answering it. To me, the second (the existence of God) doesn’t follow logically from the first (ruling out chance as the explanation of fine tuning). I’ll ask it directly for you:

        Do you think that ruling out chance being the explanation of fine tuning does imply that God (as you define it) exists?

        That’s basically a yes or no question. I’m happy for you to explain why you think whichever option you prefer, but please (if you do reply to this) indicate which option, yes or no, you think is the right answer to my question. Based on your comments in the first thread, you gave an emphatic ‘yes’. If you want to stick with ‘yes’ as your answer, explain how it is a logical consequence of it not being chance. It seems to me that doing so requires you to argue that the only two options are that God did it or that it happened by chance. I don’t see that these are the only two logically possible options though. That’s my problem with concluding God by eliminating chance.

        Your argument is basically: the explanation is either chance or God; its not chance; therefore it’s God. But I need some reason to think that the first premise is true. Otherwise it would be irrational to accept the conclusion of the argument.

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  8. A bridge too far is that atheism has no rational standing. None whatsoever. So, an atheist is standing opposed to reason on the subject. What can be shown to such person?

    I would say that an atheist first has to become, at least, an agnostic, and say, “I just don’t know, it’s 50-50.” Maybe agnosticism could be labeled “lazy reason”, in a sense that an agnostic gets off at the first floor of reasoning, so to speak. If he or she continues to think about this subject, they have to come to the conclusion that reality shows at least somewhat higher chance that God exists than that God doesn’t exist. With that said, agnostic is at least not in opposition to what reality shows.

    What can one say to an atheist, whose position is not based on good logical reasoning at all, but on something else? No need to go into what is “something else”. The problem is even worse with an atheist who proclaims that his or her position is actually reasonable one, which is absurd.

    I think that’s a big gap, and to argue with an atheist for a case above 50-50 is not fruitful, I would say, in a vast majority of cases. If one is at 50-50, sincerely, there’s no barrier to discussion.

    Back to your question, does ruling out chance being the explanation of fine tuning implies that God (as defined) exists?

    I will answer with a slight change to your question, because I actually didn’t argue about the correlation between fine tuning and God, at least I didn’t intend to. In my first reply, relating to fine tuning, I was arguing that the fine tuning argument itself is not a base rate fallacy. I actually don’t like fine tuning argument much, but not for reasons an atheist might not like it.

    So I would change the question to this: does ruling out chance being the explanation of the existence of life implies that God (as defined) exists?

    My answer is that yes, of course, it does imply that God, as defined, exists.

    This needs an explanation to be precisely understood, so we can know what we are talking about. And I would have some questions about some comments you made in your reply. But, again, I don’t think it is fruitful to enter into back and forth because an atheist is already not listening to any good reasoning in setting his or her position on the subject of God.

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    1. “A bridge too far is that atheism has no rational standing. None whatsoever. So, an atheist is standing opposed to reason on the subject. What can be shown to such person?”

      This is bad reasoning in itself.

      Just because someone holds an unjustifiable and irrational belief, that does not mean that they are unable to be shown through reason that they should correct their mistake. Consider teaching a child how to count. Imagine that the child believes that 2 + 2 = 5. This is clearly a mistake, but also it is a position that could not be rationally justified. In effect, the child has a belief that “has no rational standing”, “none whatsoever”, so the child is “standing opposed to reason on the subject”. We might shrug our shoulders and say to ourselves “what can be shown to such a person?”, and stop trying to teach them mathematics.

      But that is all wrong. Just because the child has made a mistake, which from our point of view means that they an utterly irrational belief, that does not mean we give up on them. Your attitude towards atheists is that they have hold an irrational belief, and therefore we cannot hope to engage with them through reason at all. That is itself a bad bit of reasoning.

      There are loads of times when intelligent, well educated, informed and rational people disagree. Think about when professional mathematicians disagree with one another. In the Monty Hall problem, for example, there were famous professional mathematicians, physicists, etc, on both sides of the debate, each declaring that it was obvious that they were right and that the other side was wrong. This sort of thing happens every day. Each side in such a debate could in principle say that the other guys are not just wrong, but are so wrong that they are not even rational. But so what?

      And I could say the same to you. Imagine that I said that there is no rational way to justify belief in God. That anyone who believes in God is therefore irrational, and so there is no point even engaging with their arguments. I know people who think that. (I’m not one of them, by the way.) It just seems like it is obviously wrong. Not all the people who take one side of *any debate* are idiots. Even really smart people have irrational beliefs, which they have not been persuaded about, but which they would do if they found convincing reasons. Just being a theist doesn’t mean you own rationality. Just being an atheist, even if it is an intellectual mistake, doesn’t mean that they don’t have any rationality at all. I am an atheist, yet I have a PhD in philosophy. Do you think I am incapable of rationality?

      Even if you think that I am incapable of changing my mind about God, because I have some deep seated psychological reason that I am unwilling to let go of, that doesn’t stop you presenting the rock solid arguments and evidence you said you had. You said it could be known to “100%” certainty. You could pretend that I’m not an atheist if it makes you feel better. Imagine I’m a Christian who said “Hey, HP, I passionately believe in God, and Jesus, etc, but I forgot what those amazing rational defences of the faith are – can you remind me of them please?” You could answer such a request. So there is no reason you can’t say the same words to an atheist.

      To me, insisting that atheists are by definition irrational is just a way of justifying not explaining these difficult arguments to them. Ironically, to me it is a product of bad faith, just like the way you probably think my professing to be interested in hearing those arguments is bad faith on my part. At the end of the day, we need to just drop all this meta-psychological stuff and just get into the arguments.

      Look, you are here, reading an atheist philosophy of religion blog, making comments. If I am incapable of reason: why read this blog? Why post comments? Why not just get on with doing other things? It seems to me you are not as harsh as your comments in your views on the rational capacity of atheists.

      “I actually didn’t argue about the correlation between fine tuning and God, at least I didn’t intend to. In my first reply, relating to fine tuning, I was arguing that the fine tuning argument itself is not a base rate fallacy. I actually don’t like fine tuning argument much, but not for reasons an atheist might not like it.”

      You may not have intended to, but I repeatedly quoted your words where you unequivocally made the connection. Fine tuning couldn’t be chance, you said. That conclusion leads to God in a big way, you said. But when I brought that up, repeatedly, you didn’t seem to realise that I was just taking your words for what they mean. I’m happy if you don’t think that the fine tuning is evidence that established that God exists. I don’t either. But it shouldn’t take me repeating your assertion that it does three times for you to admit that you don’t think it does.

      As for the new question, “does ruling out chance being the explanation of the existence of life implies that God (as defined) exists?”, you say that the answer is yes. But that means that the only two options are that it was chance or that God exists. I don’t see why those are the only two options. Any argument which works by saying ‘A or B, not-A, therefore B’ has to justify the first premise. Why think that the only two possible explanations of life existing is chance or God?

      “But, again, I don’t think it is fruitful to enter into back and forth because an atheist is already not listening to any good reasoning in setting his or her position on the subject of God.”

      You can hide behind this if you want, but if you are going to use this as a way of not explaining yourself, then I would prefer you don’t respond at all. You have come this far, you can continue to lead me towards the light if you want to, but don’t tease me with an argument and hold back the reasoning when I ask questions. That would be extremely bad etiquette.

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      1. I didn’t say that in effect nothing can be shown to an atheist. I asked, “What can be shown to such person?” I already provided replies with an amount of information, starting with my first reply. Even a seed of new information or insight can be enough. How much information is enough? Sometimes just a question from a person lead me to new revelations.

        I would say that most fruitful thing to discuss with an atheist regarding their position is to point out how and why their position is not rational at all. That’s something close an atheist can cross over. If an atheist does not see that, rejects seeing that, maybe even mocks at seeing that, I would say that other bridges are probably quite far at the moment. That doesn’t mean that in some cases it would pay off to go further, but chances are slim we would get there.

        Although you are not a child, to use your example of teaching a child that 2+2 does not equal 5: if a child does not add 2+2 correctly, the solution is not to try to explain to a child what are differential equations.

        Every day there are atheists who come to an understanding that God exists. But this doesn’t happen as a result of a good argument from the other side. It comes from God, and God uses whatever means God wants to use. God can even close eyes that are opened. So I for one iota do not think that you are incapable of changing your mind about God. It is just not necessary on me to prove things to you. And it might very well be that it’s not for me to be a part of it, apart from what I have already written.

        You said, “Imagine that I said that there is no rational way to justify belief in God.” You could say that, but it is impossible to show that there aren’t people who testify that God exists who used rational reasoning for their testimony.

        At the same time, it is possible to show that absolutely not a single atheist is using rational reasoning for their position.

        I am not saying here that anyone is an idiot. Nor that you, as you asked, are not capable of rationality. I specifically said that an atheist is not using rational reasoning for this subject. A highly intelligent man can be an atheist. He can have, for example, a bias against God, which would result in skewed thinking on the subject, while on the other things he performs with a highly rational mind. Having a rational mind doesn’t guarantee that rationality is available to us for every thing we think about.

        There are great things we can discuss regarding the subjects started in this thread. But maybe what’s already written is enough, for this moment, given the circumstances. Furthermore, you keep adding words to what I have written and making conclusions based on what I have not said, so that’s not useful either. But as I said, sometimes just a question from a person lead me to new revelations, so even if I posted minimal information, that can be useful.

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