Fine-Tuning Denialism and the Demise of Science

[This is a slightly reworked version of something I posted at Transcending Proof not long ago] 

Christian apologists like me have sometimes been accused of "denialism" regarding certain truth claims that seem dreadfully important to atheists. Among these are the truth claims of metaphysical naturalism, the virtually limitless creative power of natural selection, and the self-evident superiority of the scientific method to every other traditional means of ascertaining truth: philosophical reflection, religious faith, even historical research and deductive logic. Evidently taking their cue from Richard Dawkins, our accusers assert that we are guilty of mindless "personal incredulity" in refusing to acknowledge the overwhelming, indeed mountainous, evidence in support of those claims, and more importantly, their atheistic implications. Now let's park that thought for a moment while we consider another.

Scientists nowadays for the most part agree that the evidence for what has been termed the fine-tuning of the universe is both qualitatively unmistakable and quantitatively abundant. The set of measurable physical constants governing, for example, the fundamental forces of the universe –  gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force –  are so precisely specified for the function of human life against the ranges of their possible values that to alter those numbers even very slightly, in a typical case by as little as one part in ten to the thirty-first power, would render human life physically impossible.*

Atheists by and large have been reluctant, for obvious reasons, to acknowledge either the legitimacy of these findings or their theistic implications, or both. Now recall the bold and insulting assertions of Dawkins and company: Is this not, by their own understanding of denial, sheer fine-tuning denialism? Can refusal to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence for fine-tuning be anything but atheistic personal incredulity at the thought that the initial conditions and natural laws governing the universe were established precisely and purposefully so that human life might emerge and flourish?

In any event, the unusually entrenched bias that apparently underlies fine-tuning denialism spells trouble for the very scientific enterprise otherwise held in such high esteem among atheists and naturalists. I say this mainly because science depends on acceptance of evidence. But even an atheistic reading that accepts the evidence but denies its theistic implications is unfriendly to science, for the particular argument raised against theistic explanation of fine-tuning undercuts scientific explanation at the same time. Consider what appears to be the most common rejoinder to fine-tuning, based on the "multiverse" hypothesis. On the multiverse hypothesis, ours is but one of a vast, if not infinite, number of universes. Given a vast, if not infinite, number of universes, it is not implausible that just one would feature a set of life-permitting physical constants, and that ours happens to be that universe.

The problem is that such reasoning would reduce any explanation for anything to cosmological happenstance. The very laws of nature presumably discovered by careful adherence to the scientific method would be, on the same logic that denies fine-tuning, just a really, really remarkable coincidence. So, for example, if every time that an apple is released above the ground it falls, this does not mean that there is a law of gravity or any other law of science. It only means that, given enough universes, there would be one in which apples happen to fall whenever released above the ground. Presumably there would be other universes in which apples float above the ground consistently, and other universes still in which apples sometimes float above the ground arbitrarily and other times fall, universes in which apples float above the ground only when no one is looking, etc. The same could be said for any other set of observations used to advance the scientific enterprise.

On the premise that otherwise highly improbable scenarios become probable in a multiverse, the following argument can be constructed:

1. It is highly improbable that each of the countless factual observations presumed to instantiate the laws of science in our particular universe actually occurs at random.
2. What is highly improbable in our particular universe is probable in a multiverse.
3. That each of the countless factual observations presumed to instantiate the laws of science in our particular universe actually occurs at random is probable in a multiverse.

The upshot of all this is that decreasing improbabilities by multiplying universes is not an explanation, certainly not a scientific explanation, for anything. Thus a consistent application of the logic behind fine-tuning denialism would entail the demise of scientific explanations, hence the demise of science. But even if my argument appears sound, atheists can still take heart: Given enough universes there would almost certainly be one in which a bunch of letters arranged on an Internet blog post appear to spell out a sound argument that fine-tuning denialism entails the demise of science.

* Robin Collins, "God, Design, and Fine-Tuning," in God Matters: Readings in the Philosophy of Religion (New York, Longman, 2003), p. 121.


Great post Don. I have a fine tuning post that might compliment it I thin I'll post it on Wednesday.
Don McIntosh said…
Thanks Joe. Looking forward to your contribution.

An afterthought here is that given a multiverse, and given that in a multiverse virtually anything goes, the argument against miracles has no force. So for example:

1. It is highly improbable that a man named Jesus rose from the dead in our particular universe.
2. What is highly improbable in our particular universe is probable in a multiverse.
3. That a man named Jesus rose from the dead is probable in a multiverse.

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