Sunday, January 6, 2013

Paley and the fine tuning argument for God's existence

To: Francis M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Paley and the fine tuning argument for God's existence
Date: 9th February 2013

Dear Frank,

Thank you for your email of 27 January, with your essay for the University of London Philosophy of Religion module, in response to the question, 'How does the so-called 'fine-tuning' version of the teleological argument differ from the more traditional Paleyan version? To what extent does it represent an improvement thereon?'

This is a well researched essay which sticks to the question (how do the arguments differ, how does fine-tuning improve on Paley). Your method of dealing with the second question is to rehearse Hume's objections to the design argument and see how well they apply to the fine-tuning version. I can't quarrel with this, although it seems that in all the objections and responses the key point is the one about Darwin -- the one argument Hume wasn't able to give.

Paley is absolutely right that we need to explain why there is so much observed 'order'. However, Darwin offers a powerful model for the creation of complex structures through the operation of cause and effect and blind chance.

Again, although it is useful to see how the fine-tuning argument stands up to Hume's criticisms, the central issue concerns the idea of many worlds. This deserves a lot more discussion than you give it.

There are different versions of the fine-tuning argument. You give the argument in relation to the existence of a cosmos. Another version of the argument focuses on the conditions necessary for the evolution of intelligent life.

The multiverse response (and variations on that theme) is not the only response to the challenge, and arguably gives too much away to the supporters of the fine-tuning view.

'It is only by incredible chance that we are here' is met by the response, 'If we weren't here we wouldn't be asking the question.' If an objection is made that such a response is inadequate (because question begging) consider a similar question with regard to your own existence. It is only by incredible chance that FMcG is here (your parents had to meet, and their parents had to meet, and their parents had to meet... multiplied by tens of thousands of generations). Well, they did. And you are here. Fancy that! We don't think that this is begging the question. We don't look for some answer, like 'God wanted me to be here' (you can if you want, but no-one would seriously put any weight on this).

There is something rather than nothing. That in itself is a huge problem (and the start of the cosmological argument) but the whole point of the teleological argument is that it doesn't look to be propped up by the cosmological argument.

So there is something. It can be anything. A black and white king poodle suspended in empty space. A gigantic bag of fish and chips covered with salt and vinegar.

If you are looking for more, then there are two versions of the multiverse explanation. The first assumes the David Lewis view that all possible worlds are equally 'real'. There are serious objections to this, on the grounds of ontological parsimony. However, given the incredible explanatory power of this theory (given the truth of the theory, there is, literally, NOTHING that needs to be 'explained') that would surely count in its favour.

An alternative multiverse approach would be to start with the idea of 'something coming from nothing' as a brute given, allowing a potentially infinite variety in the kind of beginning (e.g. big bang). Every universe, however long or short lived is an actual universe. If only one big bang in 10 to the 60 creates a stable universe, that's an awful lot of big bangs. But there's plenty of time. Infinite time, in fact -- enough for an infinite number of stable universes. That's the way it is with numbers.

I would question your claim that the issue of 'degree of order' 'segues into the problem of evil'. This looks to me like a red herring. The problem of evil is an objection to belief in an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful god. It is an objection to arguments for the existence of god only to the extent that these arguments yield a 'god' with the required specifications. (Hence, it is an objection to the ontological argument.) From Paley and from fine-tuning we get a very powerful and very knowledgeable designer, not more. (Hence Kant's claim that all arguments for God's existence ultimately rely on the ontological.)

From the point of view of the fine-tuning theorist, nothing is in fact 'disordered'. The laws of nature run perfectly in their course. The laws of chemistry and biology which yield the marvel of procreation also yield cancer.

In response to the challenge, 'Why can't God make the laws better? (to rule out the possibility of cancer, earthquakes, etc.) I would think that it is acceptable to say that this is asking for something which is logically impossible. Every possible set of laws and every possible set of initial conditions will give rise to the bad as well as the good. But if you just want to make happy smiley people you don't need laws at all. You can just make them out of plasticine and give them consciousness, then bask in their praise and adoration.

All the best,