Atheist Luke Muehlhauser interviews well-respect cosmologist Luke Barnes about the fine-tuning argument, and the naturalistic response to it.
Luke M. did a good job explaining what was in the podcast. (I wish more people who put out podcasts would do that).
In one of my funniest and most useful episodes yet, I interview astronomer Luke Barnes about the plausibility of 11 responses to the fine-tuning of the universe. Frankly, once you listen to this episode you will be better equipped to discuss fine-tuning than 90% of the people who discuss it on the internet. This episode will help clarify the thinking of anyone – including and perhaps especially professional philosophers – about the fine-tuning of the universe.
The 11 responses to fine-tuning we discuss are:
“It’s just a coincidence.”
“We’ve only observed one universe, and it’s got life. So as far as we know, the probability that a universe will support life is one out of one!”
“However the universe was configured, evolution would have eventually found a way.”
“There could be other forms of life.”
“It’s impossible for life to observe a universe not fine-tuned for life.”
“Maybe there are deeper laws; the universe must be this way, even though it looks like it could be other ways.”
“Maybe there are bajillions of universes, and we happen to be in one of the few that supports life.”
“Maybe a physics student in another universe created our universe in an attempt to design a universe that would evolve intelligent life.”
“This universe with intelligent life is just as unlikely as any other universe, so what’s the big deal?”
“The universe doesn’t look like it was designed for life, but rather for empty space or maybe black holes.”
“Fine-tuning shows there must be an intelligent designer beyond physical reality that tuned the universe so it would produce intelligent life.”
Download CPBD episode 040 with Luke Barnes. Total time is 1:16:31.
There is a very good explanation of some of the cases of fine-tuning that I talk about most on this blog – the force of gravity, the strong force, etc. as well as many other examples. Dr. Barnes is an expert, but he is also very very easy to listen to even when talking about difficult issues. Luke M. is very likeable as the interviewer.
As it says on the main page, my name is Neil Shenvi; I am currently a research scientist with Prof. Weitao Yang at Duke University in the Department of Chemistry. I was born in Santa Cruz, California, but grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. I attended Princeton University as an undergraduate where I worked on high-dimensional function approximation with Professor Herschel Rabitz. I became a Christian in Berkeley, CA where I did my PhD in Theoretical Chemistry at UC – Berkeley with Professor Birgitta Whaley. The subject of my PhD dissertation was quantum computation, including topics in quantum random walks, cavity quantum electrodynamics, spin physics, and the N-representability problem. From 2005-2010, I worked as a postdoctoral associate with Prof. John Tully at Yale where I did research into nonadiabatic dynamics, electron transfer, and surface science.
Science is often considered to be in opposition to religion, because it answers all the questions that religion asks
Thesis: 1) Science and religion are compatible, 2) Science provides us with good reasons to believe that God exists
Definition: what is science?
Definition: what is the scientific method?
Definition: what is religion?
Where is the conflict between science and religion, according to atheists?
Conflict 1: Definitional – faith is belief without evidence
But the Bible doesn’t define faith as “belief without evidence”
Conflict 2: Metaphysical – science presuppose naturalism (nature is all that exists)
First, naturalism is a philosophical assumption, not something that is scientifically tested or proved
Second, methodological naturalism in science doesn’t require us to believe in metaphysical naturalism
Conflict 3: Epistemological – science is the only way to know truth (scientism)
But scientism cannot itself be discovered by science – the statement is self-refuting
Conflict 4: Evolutionary – evolution explains the origin of life, so no need for God
Theists accept that organisms change over time, and that there is limited common descent
But the conflict is really over the mechanism that supposedly drives evolutionary change
There are philosophical and evidential reasons to doubt the effectiveness of mutation and selection
Evidence for God 1: the applicability of mathematics to the natural world, and our ability to study the natural world
Evidence for God 2: the origin of the universe
Evidence for God 3: the fine-tuning of the initial constants and quantities
Evidence for God 4: the implications of quantum mechanics
Evidence for God 5: the grounding of the philosophical foundations of the scientific enterprise
Hiddenness of God: why isn’t the evidence of God from science more abundant and more clear?
Science is not the only means for getting at truth
Science is not the best way to reach all the different kinds of people
There is an even deeper problem that causes people to not accept Christianity than lack of evidence
The deeper problem is the emotional problem: we want to reject God’s claim on our lives
He concludes with an explanation of the gospel, which is kinda cool, coming from an academic scientist.
I am a big admirer of Dr. Neil Shenvi. I wish we could clone him and have dozens, or even hundreds, like him (with different scientific specializations, of course!). I hope you guys are doing everything you can to lead and support our young people, and encouraging them to set their sights high and aim for the stars.
Michael Behe and Keith Fox debate evolution and intelligent design. (See below for link to video)
Michael Behe is professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania and the founder of the modern Intelligent Design movement. His book “Darwin’s Black Box” ignited the controversy 14 years ago when it claimed that certain molecular machines and biological processes are “irreducibly complex” and cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution.
Keith Fox is Professor of biochemistry at the University of Southampton and chairman of Christians in Science. As a theistic evolutionist he believes that Evolution is the best explanation going for the complexity we see and that ID is a blind scientific alley and theologically unappealing to boot.
They debate whether micromachines in the cell such as the “bacterial flagellum” could have evolved by a Darwinian process of evolution. When inference to design is and isn’t acceptable in science. Whether random mutation can mathematically stack up to complex life, and whether God is reduced to a divine “tinkerer” by ID.
Here’s the debate:
Note: the following debate summary is rated “S” for Snarky. Reader discretion is advised.
ID is not Biblical creationism
ID is not religion
ID is a scientific research program
People refuse to discuss ID because of personal philosophical assumptions
ID is like the Big Bang – it is based on evidence, but it has broad religious implications
ID is not Biblical creationism, but it isn’t science
ID is compatible with common descent
ID is only opposed to unplanned, unguided evolution (Darwinism)
ID is not necessarily opposed to long periods of time
Behe’s first book – the bacterial flagellum
Here are a couple of papers that show how parts of the flagellum evolved
They are possible pathways
No, those are studies that show that there are similarities between bacterial flagella in multiple organisms
Similarities of proteins between different organisms do not necessarily imply a developmental pathway
The problem of having the instructions to BUILD the flagellum still remains
Maybe parts of the flagellum had other functions before they were used in the flagellum
Maybe you can use the parts of the flagellum for other purposes
Maybe, one can imagine, it’s possible that!
No, parts have to be modified and re-purposed in order to be used for other functions
But maybe the proteins can be used in other systems for other things
I re-purpose parts from of designed things to other purposes in my house when I do maintenance
Uh, yeah – but aren’t you an intelligent designer? What does your home maintenance have to do with Darwinian evolution?
Is ID another God-of-the-gaps argument?
Well consider the Big Bang… there was a build-up of scientific evidence for that theory
Just because a theory has religious implications, doesn’t mean that it isn’t true
You really have to look at the specific evidence for a theory, and not decide in advance
Keith Fox: (I’m paraphrasing/inventing/mocking from now on)
But the Big Bang is based on discoveries, and intelligent design is based on gaps in our scientific knowledge
What if I did have evidence of a step by step pathway (which I don’t right now)? Then I would win the argument – what would you do then?
Well, if tomorrow you do manage to find expiremental evidence of a pathway, which you don’t have today, then I would be wrong
ID is falsifiable by experimental evidence
But what about your your view? Is that falsifiable by experimental evidence?
Lenski has presided over 50,000 generations, (millions of years of evolution)
The bacterium did evolve and they did get better but not by evolving features, but by disabling features
But those are just LAB EXPERIMENTS! What do lab experiments prove?
What if? What if? What if? You don’t know, it happened so long ago, and you weren’t there! You weren’t there!
(clutches Flying Spaghetti Monster idol tighter and sobs pitifully)
See, the thing is that I have actual experiements, and here’s some more evidence that just got published last week
So I’ve got evidence and then some more evidence and them some other evidence – experimental evidence
And all the evidence shows that adaptation is done losing traits not by gaining traits
And the published observations are what we see in nature as well
But doesn’t Darwinism explain some things that we observe?
Well, I am not saying that micro-evolution doesn’t explain some things – it explains bacterial resistance, and other micro-evolution
it just doesn’t explain macro-evolution, and that’s what the experiments show
But ID is a science stopper! It stops science! You can’t produce experimental evidence to falsify Darwinism – that would stop science!
Well, you have to understand that the Big Bang postulated a non-material cause to the entire physical universe and yet the experimental evidence was allowed to stand because it was testable and verifiable evidence, even if the theory does have religious implications
All explanations in science are design to settle a question and it stops rival explanations that are not as good at explaining the observations
Finding the best explanation stops further study because it is better than rival explanations
Well you have to come up with a materialist explanation because that’s the only kind that a functional atheist like me will allow
Well, what if the best explanation for an observed effect in nature is non-material, as with the Big Bang?
But I have to have a material explanation because I am a functional atheist! (i.e. – a theistic evolutionist = functional atheist)
Well what about the cosmic fine-tuning argument? Do you accept that?
That’s an inference to design based on the latest scientific discoveries
Well I do accept that argument, but I don’t accept design in biology
When you apply it to biology, somehow it’s bad and you can’t do that or you losing research money and get fired
Anyway, your argument is based on a gap in our current knowledge
No, back in Darwin’s time we had a gap in our knowledge – we didn’t know what the cell was – we thought it was jello
Now, we know what the cell is really like, it’s irreducibly complex, and you can’t build up those molecular machines in a step-wise manner
The inference to design is based on the progress of science revealing the increasing levels of complexity
In experiments, Darwinian mechanisms cannot build anything useful, instead genes are disabled or dropped
You guys don’t have the evidence to prove your view that naturalistic mechanisms can do the creating
You keep issuing promissory notes
Well, you’re just seeing design subjectively, because you are a non-scientist
I’m being objective when I tell you that we will discover a materialist explanation later on – really really soon now, maybe even tomorrow, yeah
You won’t accept my speculations and you insist on these published experiments
You’re subjective and I’m objective
Just give me more research money so I can hide the decline better
Uh, you’re the one who is subjective – I cited evidence, and you are the one who is speculating
You have arguments from credulity, and I’ve got the lab experiments
You refuse to be skeptical, I am the one who is being skeptical
Maybe, maybe, maybe! Maybe tomorrow! Maybe in a parallel universe! Maybe aliens from Planet 9 from Outer Space!
Who knows! I certainly don’t know! And that somehow means you don’t know either! See?
Well, to prove me wrong, go into the lab, and run experiments and evolve some new genes (using Darwinian mechanisms) that have new useful functionality
Are there limits to what evolution can do?
You need multiple changes in the genome to get a new helpful feature (let’s say two specific mutations)
One specific change is possible
the odds are against getting multiple beneficial changes are really really small – you need two SPECIFIC changes to occur in order
Well, lots of things are really unlikely – any permutation of dice rolls is as unlikely as any other
Well, we are talking about TWO SPECIFIC mutations that are needed to get a beneficial function – lots of other mutations are possible, but we are looking for a specific outcome that requires two SPECIFIC mutations out of the whole genome
You aren’t going to get useful outcomes unless you direct the mutations
This lecture is special to me, because I bought a VHS tape of it just after I started working full-time, and watched it a million times. It changed my life. The lecture was delivered at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Dr. Bradley received his B.S. in Engineering Science and his Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Texas in Austin.
Dr. Bradley taught for eight years at the Colorado School of Mines before assuming a position as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU) in 1976.
During his 24 years at Texas A&M, Dr. Bradley served as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University and as Director of the Polymer Technology Center, and received five College of Engineering Research Awards. He has received over $4,500,000 in research grants and has published over 140 technical articles and book chapters. He has also co-authored “The Mystery Of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories. He is a Fellow of the American Society for Materials and of the American Scientific Affiliation and serves as a consultant for many Fortune 500 companies.
He currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor University.
The lecture: (63 minutes lecture, 25 minutes audience Q&A)
At the beginning of the 20th century, people believed that the progress of science was pointing away from an intelligent Creator and Designer, and towards naturalism
A stream of new discoveries has shifted the support of science towards theism, and away from naturalism
Richard Dawkins, an atheist, says that nature only has the appearance of design, but that if you look closer, naturalistic mechanisms can account for the appearance of design
When deciding between design and apparent design (“designoid”), it matters whether you think there is an intelligence there to do the designing
Evidence #1: The Big Bang:
an eternal “steady state” universe is more compatible with naturalism, but a created universe is more compatible with a Creator
In 1929, Hubble used telescopes to observe that the light from distant galaxies was redshifted. The further away galaxies were, the faster they were moving away. Therefore, space is expanding in all directions, suggesting an explosive origin of the universe
In 1965, the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation matched a prediction of the Big Bang cosmology, and of the creation event
In 1992, the COBE space telescope allowed us to test four specific predictions of the Big Bang model, especially the predictions for light element abundances (hydrogen and helium), which matched the predictions of the creation model
Evidence #2: Simple mathematical structure of the physical laws
the simple mathematical structure of natural laws allows us to understand these laws, make discoveries, and engineer solutions to problems
early scientists saw the mathematical structure of the universe to mean that nature was designed by an intelligent to be understood
the fundamental equations of the laws of the universe can be easily written on one side of one sheet of paper
Eugene Wigner’s famous paper, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Physical Sciences” makes the point that this simple structure is an unexpected gift that allows is to do science
Evidence #3: fine-tuning of the physical constants and quantities
in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need stars that provide energy within specific ranges for long periods of time
in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need planets with stable orbits that will not suffer from extreme temperature swings as it varies in distance from its star
in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need stable atomic structure
in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need to have chemical diversity and correct relative abundances of each element
organic life has minimum requirements: process energy, store information, replicate, and you can’t fulfill those functions if there is only one element, e.g. – hydrogen
the energy level from the photons from the sun have to match the energy levels of the different elements in order to drive the chemical bonding needed for life
These requirements for life of any imaginable type depend on the values of the constants and quantities. The constants and quantities cannot vary much from what they are, or the universe will lose the characteristics (above) that allow it to support complex life of any imaginable time
For example, ratio of strong force to electromagnetic force:
– if 2% larger, then no stable hydrogen, no long-lived stars, no compounds containing hydrogen, e.g. – water
– if 5% smaller, no stable stars, heavy hydrogen would be unstable, few elements other than hydrogen
Evidence #4: initial conditions for habitability
Universe: expansion rate of the universe must be fast enough to avoid a re-collapse, but slow enough to allow matter to clump together and form stars and planets for complex life to live on
Planet: right distance from the star to get the right climate
Planet: right mass to retain the right atmosphere
Evidence #5: origin of life and information theory
It’s possible to explain every process in an automobile engine using plain old naturalistic mechanisms – no supernatural explanation is necessary to understand the processes
But the existence of engine itself: engineering all the parts has to be explained by the work of an intelligence
Similarly, we can understand how living systems work, but the existence of the living systems requires an intelligence
Even the simplest living system has to perform minimal function: capture energy, store information and replicate
Living systems are composed of objects like proteins that are composed of sequences of components complex such that the order of the components gives the overall structure function
Developing the components for a simple living cell is very improbable – even given the large number of galaxies, stars and planets in the universe, it is unlikely that complex, embodied life would exist anywhere in the universe
Evidence #6: more initial conditions for habitability
Location within the galaxy: you need to be away from the center of the galaxy, because the explosions from dying stars, and excessive radiation will kill life
Location within the galaxy: you need to be close enough to the center in order catch the heavy elements you need for life from the explosions of other stars
Location within the galaxy: the best location is between two arms of a spiral galaxy, where you can get the heavy elements you need from dying stars, but without being hit with explosions and harmful radiation
Star mass: determines rate at which the sun burns, determines the energy level of photons that are used to drive chemical bonding reactions, determines the length of time the star will be stable
Star mass: star mass must be the correct value in order to allow liquid water on the planet’s surface, while still preserving stable orbit
I wish there was more curiosity about science in churches, and young Christians understood how critical science is for grounding the rationality of the Christian worldview. We need to be training up more scientists who think about the big questions, like Dr. Walter Bradley.
Blake Giunta who runs Belief Map brought this lecture to my attention, as he was in attendance and thought it suited my style of apologetics. He was 100% correct, I consider this to be the ideal approach in terms of style and content.
This lecture is 29 minutes long, the Q&A is 15 minutes. I highly recommend this lecture to all audiences of all levels of ability, for the simple reasons that apart from the content, this lecture is a how-to clinic in the tone, body language, slides and so on for you to use when trying to be persuasive when making your case. Science is king in this lecture. The scientific method is defined and applied in a winsome way. Making science understandable should be the bread and butter approach to Christian apologetics, and this lecture rivals the Mike Strauss lecture at Stanford University and the Mike Strauss lecture at the University of Texas – Dallas as the ideal lectures for showing that. It’s not just the scientific material that makes this lecture by Collins work, it’s the narrative and the style that make the lecture work.
Robin Collins (PhD, University of Notre Dame, 1993), is professor of philosophy at Messiah College, Grantham, PA specializing in the area of science and religion. He has written over twenty-five articles and book chapters on a wide range of topics, such as the fine-tuning of the cosmos as evidence for the existence of God, evolution and original sin, the Doctrine of Atonement, Asian religions and Christianity, and Bohm’s theory of quantum mechanics. Some of his most recent articles/book chapters are “Philosophy of Science and Religion” in The Oxford Handbook of Science and Religion, “Divine Action and Evolution” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology (2009) “The Multiverse Hypothesis: A Theistic Perspective,” in Universe or Multiverse? (Cambridge University Press), and “God and the Laws of Nature,” in Theism or Naturalism: New Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). He recently received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to finish a book that presents the case for design based on physics and cosmology, tentatively entitled The Well-Tempered Universe: God, Cosmic Fine-tuning, and the Laws of Nature.
His thesis in one slide:
Thesis: the universe is more intelligible than we would expect it by chance
The regular fine-tuning argument says that complex embodied observers are very rare
But the number of highly-discoverable universes that have complex embodied observers is rarer still
Why do we exist in a highly-discoverable universe?
Can we quantify and test discoverability?
Yes: by varying fundamental parameters and seeing how it affects discoverability
Conclusion of his calculations: The Discoverability-Liveability Optimality range is an even smaller range within the Liveablity Optimality range of the standard fine-tuning argument
Fine-tuning #1: the fine structure constant, governs the strength of the electro-magnetic force
If larger, wood-burning fire becomes impossible because fires won’t stay lit, and therefore forging metals becomes unlikely
If smaller, wood-burning fires won’t go out, e.g. – from lightning strikes, so that wood would be less accessible
Other constraints: smaller value decreases effectiveness of light microscopes, drastically lowers efficiency of transformers and motors
Fine-tuning #2: the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR), radiation left over from the Big Bang
humans need to discover the CMBR in order to confirm the Big Bang creation out of nothing, and it depends on baryon/pothon ratio
his calculations show that the actual value of CMBR is exactly at the peak for detectability by humans
if baryon/photon ratio larger, CMBR is less discoverable
if baryon/photon ratio smaller, CMBR is less discoverable
Fine-tuning #3: parameters related to subatomic particles are fine-tuned for their discovery and usefulness, e.g. – the bottom quark, the charm quark, the tau lepton and the Higgs Boson
the lifetime of the particles affects their usefulness to scientists who want to investigate the Standard Model of physics
decay rates of these subatomic particles are related to several of the finely-tuned parameters
for example, the mass of the bottom quark is finely-tuned for its discoverability by scientists
the tau lepton and the charm quark are similarly fine-tuned for disoverability
the mass of the Higgs boson is finely-tuned for discoverability and for making further discoveries
Conclusion: the DLO thesis is strongly confirmed – this is an even greater degree of fine-tuning that the already astonishing probabilities of the fine-tuning for complex, embodied intelligent beings
The formalized version of the philosophical argument based on this evidence is impervious with some of the traditional objections to the standard fine-tuning argument
#1 multiverse/selection effect: it is not subject to multiverse / observer selection objections
#2 normalizeability: it is not subject to the McGrew-Vestrup objection because the range of possible values is finite not infinite
#3 falsifiability: it makes falsifiable predictions, and in fact Collins’ earlier calculations of the CMBR discoverability contained an error that falsified the thesis – until he found the error and corrected for it
#4 usefulness: it gives clues about the Creator’s purpose for us, namely that the universe was created for us to be able to do science and find evidence of the Creator’s existence – there is no expectation for us to exercise blind faith, trust in God is meant to be a plausible deduction from the progress of experimental science
Earlier, I blogged about a Robin Collins lecture on the fine-tuning that allows complex, embodied life to exist. Another must-see lecture. If you are looking for something to study in university, and you have funding, then physics, mathematics and philosophy are the best places to be for a Christian scholar.