Friday, November 19, 2010

On fine-tuning

Inspired by a recent slew of posts at Common Sense Atheism, specifically this one.

The “fine-tuned Universe” is the one theistic assertion to which most atheist rebuttals sound like special pleading. In nearly all other domains of argument, it’s the religious who find themselves saying things like, “Well,
maybe it works like thus-and-such, how do you know?” For example, Alvin Plantinga has argued that a natural evolution of the human brain could lead to thoroughly erroneous conclusions about the world, and therefore if naturalism is true, we shouldn't trust our own minds. (He's actually used the example of a caveman who has evolved both the desire to be eaten by tigers and the belief that any given tiger will not eat him, thus leading to his survival. This is grade-A nonsensical pleading, here.) And there's always the standard-issue mystery-card played in discussions on the problem of evil. But when it comes to fine-tuning, it’s the atheist proposals (especially the many-worlds possibility) that sound like empty insistences.

Some of this may simply be a reward for the side that showed up first. It’s possible that had the many-worlds view somehow become predominant before the rise of monotheism, then the latter would resemble, in the public’s eye, a desperate attempt to avoid the former. (In other words, it would feel like people were making up this bodiless-male-human-who-creates-one-universe because they didn’t like multiple-worlds.) In any case, the many-worlds concept is a nice resolution to certain puzzles of quantum mechanics, an idea proposed well before the fine-tuning argument came about, so it’s kind of silly to tar it as something cobbled together to deny deism. (Come to think of it, this view of that argument is rather like a common creationist view of evolution, as something that Darwin invented in order to avoid the implications of having a Creator in charge.)

Still, when it comes to denying theism, many-world is not really “necessary” one way or the other, for this simple reason: The God hypothesis is no hypothesis at all, lacking any sort of mechanism and ridiculously violating Occam’s razor.

The only reason people don’t think it’s guilty of the latter charge is that we think of minds as somehow “simple” or basic, but science has shown that nope, minds are quite complex. Logic alone does that trick. Consider this: If God existed before “anything else” in the universe, but was capable of
imagining many worlds in full and perfect detail — how different is that from the actual existence of many worlds? And if it is different, how is it any simpler?

As for my charge that theism is mechanism-free, this one basically goes without saying. It almost seems that God is mechanism-free by definition — a God who fiddles with molecules and/or acts predictably won’t really “be” God anymore.

When I consider the nitty-gritty of how divine creation “works”, I can't help but lose distinctions between pantheism and “ordinary” monotheism. I've heard it said that the Universe is a fleeting idea in God’s mind, and I’ve come to feel that
if God exists, then logically, our situation can’t be anything other than that. The Universe can’t be anything other than God’s mind, which would in turn make it equal to God. This, of course, is an idea sufficiently vacuous as to justify atheism. It would come to make more sense to ask "How does the Universe work?" than "Does God exist?"

On top of everything else, the deism of fine-tuning renders the God argument content-free. What is God? God is a being with the desire and the ability to make life-supporting universes. Brilliant! If you add any other attributes (such as omnibenevolence), the various atheist arguments are more than enough to whittle that being away.