Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Name that (fine) tune

Talk about your mixed signals—just what did God expect us to think when we started to investigate the universe?

A long, long time ago, humans assumed that the world erratically wandered about, wrecking havoc as it chose, or granting benevolence at its whim. And the humans petitioned the gods of nature to increase the benevolence, and reduce the detriment through whatever means the humans thought were the most persuasive.

But over time, the humans started to notice that the tides always went out at a certain time, the sun always came up in the same spot, that light always increased in summer, and decreased in winter, regardless of how one petitioned the gods.

Humans started to take these repeated events into account, and observational science (in the roughest degree) was born. Instead of petitioning their god for good fishing, they observed the tides, and made their own decisions as to when it was time to fish, and when it was not. The conflict between what the gods set in motion by creating nature, and what the gods actually did on a day-to-day basis was introduced.

And through the course of history, technology has allowed humans to improve their understanding of the world about us. We eventually conceded that despite all appearances, the sun and stars don’t revolve around us. That other planets have gravity, and can also have moons. That light travels at a constant speed. And there are billions and billions of galaxies with billions and billions of stars.

And as we studied, God seem to do less and less. He isn’t holding the earth in space, the sun is. He isn’t holding atoms together, gluons are. He isn’t sending plagues to punish sins, nor demons to cause illnesses. More and more, these are things that are set in motion by a God, and let travel through the course of history. God is reduced to no longer controlling the universe, but on occasion interacting within it. It becomes so rare, we invented a word for it—“miracles.”

I recently became aware of Carl Sagan’s comparison of history to a year. This statistic fascinates me, with how puny our existence really is. If the course of the known universe’s history was compared to one year, placing the Big Bang at the first second of January 1st, do you know when humans would appear? We would have started walking upright at about 5 minutes to midnight on December 31st. That’s it. The Pyramids would have been built at 12 seconds to midnight. Christ would have been born at 5 seconds to midnight.

That impressed upon me, just how little time we have actually been around, and for how long the universe has been cooking, just to bring Humans to boil. A creator would have had to work for (or set in motion) billions and billions of years, the equivalent of 363 days, 23 hours and 55 minutes of a year, just to bring about 5 minutes worth of humanity.

Theists are equally impressed, and developed the “fine-tuning” argument. That the earth was so rare, and the conditions so perfect, that it took this long for God to finally arrive at his ultimate masterpiece—humanity.

The theist will then introduce some astronomical number so large it takes three people just to read it, saying, “The chance of life forming, given the conditions of the universe is 1 in 10 to the gadzillionth, being a 1 with a billion zeros behind it.” Therefore, they will proudly state, God must have created life.

However, isn’t this saying that your god is incompetent? If I told you I was doing something, and not too worry, there was only a one in a gadzillion chance that X would occur, it would be safe to say I had no intention, desire, or expectation that X would happen. If it did, I would call it an extreme fluke, and a mistake.

Yet that is what the theists claim God did. That He created a spectacular singularity, which due to the tremendous amount of speed necessary to keep it from immediately collapsing into its own gravity, the direction and position of the particles were equally tremendously impossible to predict their position. Therefore, life (or whatever the universe would have become) would have been completely unpredictable.

That certain events had to happen, at specific times, in specific sequences, or the whole shooting match would fall apart. And these developments would continue for billions of years, just to get to where we are today.

“Wait,” the theist may cry, “You are making my argument for me that it would so remotely possible for life to develop.” Here is the problem with statistics. Even impossibly large ones. What are the chances of a person winning the tour de France seven times? I have no idea. But after Lance Armstrong did it, what are the odds? Exactly 1 to 1. Because it happened. Long odds are interesting for future events. For past events, no matter how bizarre, they are exactly 1 to 1.

What are the odds of life developing to the point humans appear? Since it happened, we know (with or without a god)—exactly 1 to 1. If it didn’t happen, we wouldn’t be talking about it, now would we? The fact that it took so long, and required intricate steps, does not eliminate this possibility from occurring. Once it happened, the odds remain 1 to 1.

The hidden agenda of the huge odds against life in the fine-tuning argument is not whether it could happen, but whether it did happen. It is similar to seeing Bob win the lottery three times in a row. The odds of it happening are (now) 1 to 1. The fine-tuning argument is claiming that the odds Bob winning three times in a row are so impossibly high, so impossibly unlikely, that the lottery must be rigged, or there is something nefarious afoot.

And here is where I get the mixed signals. I start to look at the evidence of the impossibility of Bob winning the lottery, and I keep getting told by the theist that I must assume Bob cheated, and look at all the evidence in light of that presumption. Which I am inclined to do, but then the theist, rather than introduce specific evidence of Bob’s cheating, simply reiterates over and over the impossible odds:

“It is impossible that Bob could win lottery three times in a row. He cheated.”
“Did Bob know someone who works for the lottery?”
“Look, the chances of Bob winning at all are remote.”
“True, but that is taken into account in your huge number. Did Bob cheat on the first lottery? What evidence is there for that?”
“Hey, the chances of winning the lottery twice are even more astronomical.”
“Yes, I know, we covered that in your huge number. Is there something in the second win that is so similar to the first win that we should look at it as cheating?”
“The chances of winning twice in a row are even more remote.”
(Exasperated) “I KNOW. We have covered this. What evidence do you have that Bob actually cheated?”

See how the fine-tuning argument is NOT an argument for God, but rather an argument that the chance of life coming about is extremely remote? It never introduces evidence that there must be a creator, just skepticism that it could occur naturally. That’s it. Something even science recognizes.

So at this point the theist may say, “No, you have to look at it as if God intervened at the right moment, and the right time. Intervening numerous times within that first second. Pushing our galaxy out this far at the right time. Forming the sun, Jupiter and the moon at the right rate and instant. Time and Time again, God must correct, re-correct and correct again the universe to keep the plan for humans to appear.”

How do we see this God? What parameter do I use to measure a natural event vs. a supernatural event? I see natural developments that take billions and millions of years to develop very slowly, and in an un-straightforward sequence, as if there were no God at all. Every time the theist needs a god, it interjects one without rhyme or reason. Have we reverted back to gods with whim and unpredictability?

So let’s play the same odds with this Creator. If we desire, we can figure out the odds of chance of a meteor the size of Texas hitting the eighth planet from the star Persei. There may have to be a few guesses, and approximations, but we can come within a range. Now figure the odds of a unicorn appearing over London in the year 2006. You can’t. That’s the problem with supernatural, non-empirical evidence. We have no baseline, no ability whatsoever to make any prediction about supernatural interaction.

What are the odds that the creator intervened at the right moment to keep inertia spreading? Since we do not even know if the creator DID intervene here (or earlier, or later) there is no possible way to determine this. The odds of the universe developing life may be gadzillion to 1, but they are still less than the calculated odds of a god intervening. Because those odds are deliberately incalculable.

If the fine-tuning argument desires to be convincing, the theist must use the same methodology and provide support for the odds of a god interacting with “miracles” (non-natural events) at certain times and certain places. As we cannot even get the confirming data to support this claim—good luck!

If there was a god that started the mess, the very odds the theist is citing demonstrate that life was not on this god’s agenda. I start using what scientists tell me is true about the beginning of the universe, and lo and behold, the theist is right—life is extremely unlikely. Therefore, if a god started this universe, the only possible conclusion we can come to is that it did not desire, plan or intend life to happen.

Can I use science or not? I am told that using what science tells me, I should realize that it is an impossibly long odd for life to occur. O.K. Then I use the same science to realize this equally means we would have a creator that did not intend life to therefore occur. And I am told to stop using this science, and start using faith that a god must have intervened at certain times. I then ask the theist, if I am supposed to use odds to realize how unlikely life could naturally occur, what odds do they propose are applicable under their scenario? As there is no way to determine what God intervenes in, and what God doesn’t, they have no odds. Not even a gadzillion to 1.

1 comment:

  1. Things exist because they can. The Earth is not fine tuned to human existence. Humans, and every other Earthly life form, evolved because they fine tuned themselves to the Earth.