Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Heddle on ID

Here's something I never thought I'd write: I agree completely with David Heddle's latest post. Well, almost completely. But the few nit picks I have pale in comparison to the points where I agree with hin. He is expressing his disagreement with various strategies used by ID proponents in promoting his views. He writes:

The first strategy I disagree with is proclaiming ID as science. Philosophical discussions aside, I will accept ID as science when I read something like this:

A scientist at (some respected research university) has been awarded a grant to do experiment X. ID predicts the result of the experiment will be Y. Non-ID predicts the result will be Z.

And don't tell me this cannot happen because the secular scientific community would never allow it. I was a practicing scientist before I was a believer, and we never had any secret meetings where we discussed our true agenda of destroying Christianity in the guise of science.

And later:

The second strategy I disagree with is attempting to get ID placed in the science curriculum.

And later still:

The third strategy I disagree with, and this is the most germane to this post, is to deny that ID is religiously motivated. I don't personally know any ID advocate who is not religiously motivated—and I don't know one (personally) who is a strong ID proponent based solely on the physical evidence, although I am told such people exist.

Couldn't have said it any better myself. Expect the ID folks to whip out David Berlinski or Antony Flew in response to that last statement, but Heddle's point remains valid.

Heddle goes on to discuss what he thinks ID is, since he evidently does not consider it to be science:

[ID] is a scientifically-based apologetic. It is part of God’s general revelation. That’s what I think ID is, and that is where I think it is most effective: bringing glory to God, and showing men how they are without excuse. It can be an effective form of witnessing—it worked for me, and I have seen it work for others. Not because it proves God, but because it suggests God.

This is admirably forthright, but it also contradicts the the following statement, from elsewhere in the same post:

Also, anecdotally, when I look at fine tuning I see design because I believe God designed the universe, while someone else sees multiverses because they don't share that belief. (Emphasis in religion).

As far as I know, the fine-tuning argument is the only ID argument Heddle endorses. He describes this as an effective apologetic, one that leaves people without excuse for atheism. But he also asserts that fine-tuning suggests design to him only because he already accepts God's existence. If that is the case, then fine-tuning is not a reason for an atheist to change his views. Moreover, it makes it hard to understand the sense in which fine-tuning was an apologetic that “worked for him.”

I would also reject the idea that an atheist “sees multiverses”. Speaking personally, what I see is an interesting question about why the fundamental constants of the universe have just the properties they ought to have to make life possible. I note that one possible explanation is based on the idea that we are just one small part of a larger multiverse, in which case the apparent fine-tuning is explained via simple principles of probability. I note that physicists have been talking seriously about multiverses for decades, and that such ideas have a pedigree going back well beyond anyone's use of fine-tuning as a religious argument. Finally, I observe that multiverses can claim some support from currently popular theories in physics. That is evidentially slim, but it is an improvement over the nothing at all that God belief can claim. For these reasons, I believe that multiverses are a better explanation than God belief for fine-tuning.

As far as I can tell, Heddle has no reason beyond his prior faith commitments for finding the God hypothesis more reasonable than the multiverse hypothesis for explaining fine-tuning.

In the past, Heddle has been linked to favorably by other ID bloggers. I predict that this post will not be treated so kindly.


At 1:41 PM, Blogger Ginger Yellow said...

"As far as I know, the fine-tuning argument is the only ID argument Heddle endorses. He describes this as an effective apologetic, one that leaves people without excuse for atheism. But he also asserts that fine-tuning suggests design to him only because he already accepts God's existence."

To be fair to Heddle, which I'm disinclined to be, this may have more to do with his Calvinistic theology than any intellectual inconsistency. He's repeatedly said that you're only going to believe in God if God wants you to, if in some sense you were always going to. So any apologetic is only convincing after the fact.

At 7:32 PM, Anonymous John M said...

"Fine Tuning" seems to me to be a vacous arguement. Life arose and evolved in the universe as it is. If the universe was "tuned" different who can say that life could not arise. However that life could very well be much different.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with john. Why does "fine tuning" need to be explained? Why did that ant walk across my path this morning, just for me to see it? Isn't the puddle silly to marvel that the hole fits it perfectly and was therefore designed for it? Why is there something rather than nothing? Some things just are.

At 12:11 PM, Blogger trrll said...

There is a reason that the puddle fits the hole--it happens that the puddle fits itself to the the hole rather than the other way around.

However, there does not seem to be any reason why the universe needs to be able to support life. According to current theories, most sets of parameters produce a universe incapable of supporting structures of even minimal complexity, rendering any conceivable form of life impossible, rendering "water fits itself to the hole" explanations likewise nonviable. So the question of why we happen to have the good fortune to find ourselves in a universe capable of supporting life requires explanation. Intentional fine tuning provides one explanation. But the fact that there is no known rule of physics that requires the universe to be singular, combined with the fact that quantum mechanics suggests that our universe likely exists a quantum superposition of all possible sets of parameters points toward an anthropic principle explanation of the apparent fine tuning.

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Alejandro said...

I found myself in a curious position recently regarding the fine-tuning argument. I used to think that it was the only half-decent, if unconvinicing, argument for the existence of a deitiy. But in this discussion I was persuaded by serious Christian philosophers that the argument is in fact fallacious. This may serve as a reminder that there are religious people that have intellectual honesty and are not up to defending their beliefs with sloppy reasoning.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger David said...


Actually, the writer made a common mistake.

The fine-tuning arguments have nothing to do with probability--all of the physical constants could have probability 1 for their present values (meaning they can be derived) and it would change nothing.

The relevant point is not their a priori probability, but the fact that habitability is extremely sensitive to their values.

The value of the cosmological constant is constrained if we are to have a universe with stars and planets. Thus the universe is fine-tuned to a remarkable degree independent of our ignorance of an explanation for the CC's value. It's only a question of whether we exhibit surprise that a random draw produced the needed value (a la Susskind) or the laws of physics are such that they produced the same, spectacularly fortunate, number. (The hope of physics)

At 10:22 PM, Blogger Argy Stokes said...

People who argue for both cosmological fine tuning and biological intelligent design confuse me. On one hand, they say the universe is perfectly fine-tuned for our existance, but then turn around and argue that it is too improbable for life to have come about without God's intervention. Did God make a rounding error 30 digits past the decimal of the CC or something, and had to make a little tweak?

At 12:08 AM, Blogger Bill said...

So, Heddle, before I continue, two questions:

What do you accept as the age of the known Universe? 13.7 billion years?

What do you accept as the age of the Earth? 4.5 billion years?

At 4:38 AM, Blogger David said...


Probably you did not mean your comment as applying to me, but just in case you did, I don't argue in favor of biological ID.


~14 bY and ~4.5 bY, as you indicated

At 5:14 AM, Blogger Alejandro said...

David, I don't understand your claim that the argument has nothing to do with probability. Surely if we could derive all the values of "fine-tuned" paramenters from a fundamental theory and show that they must have the values that they have (so their probability is 1) there is no fine-tuning argument for the existence of God anymore. How can "the fact that habitability is extremely sensitive to their values" matter in absence of any considerations of probability of different values?

At 7:05 AM, Blogger David said...


Suppose there is some constant c, and if the value of c were not within, say, 1 part in a million of its actual value life couldn’t exist because, for example, there would be no stars or planets.

Our experience with such constants is that we don’t know where they come from. But do the fine-tuning arguments depend on that fact?

Imagine a different scenario:

Suppose we first found a fundamental theory explaining c long before discovering how sensitive life is to its precise value. Before realizing the constraint on c, there would be no fine-tuning argument, and no fine-tuning ID. After we discovered the sensitivity—would we lack surprise? Would we say—“so what? What’s the big deal—we know that it has to be that value.”

No we wouldn’t.

Well, some might. Some of us would say: we are incredibly lucky, but who cares?

Another group, I think the majority of physicists, would be unsatisfied with that view. They would breakdown into two subgroups.

One subgroup would look to things like multiple universes, each with different fundamental laws—so that naturally we are speaking and reasoning from one with a lucky set of laws that produces the lucky values.

The other subgroup would say that there is only one universe, and God designed the laws of physics to produce the necessary values.

In other words: we’d be pretty much in exactly the same state we are in now, even though the probability for c was, in some sense, unity.

Personally I think ID would be strengthened (and, not unrelated, some multiverse theories would be dead).

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Alejandro said...

You say: "After we discovered the sensitivity—would we lack surprise? Would we say—'so what? What’s the big deal—we know that it has to be that value.' "

Yes, I would say exactly that. And I would not add "we are incredibly lucky, but who cares?" beacause I can't talk about this being "lucky" if there is no remotely plausible way of defining a probability metric on a space of possible alternative "fundamental laws" to judge whether the set of laws we have (which entail the value of c) is probable or not. (We don't even know how to do this for parameters holding laws fixed).

In fact, if we first developed the theory that explained the value of c from fundamental principles, then any observation about the effects of varying c becomes moot. In the context of the larger theory, c is now as fixed as Pi is in mathematics. Varying it is not on the table. A different fundamental theory might be on the table, but in a different fundamental theory there would be probably nothing that corresponds to that particular paramenter c in our accepted theory, so the fine-tuning argument still cannot be made.

At 10:47 AM, Blogger trrll said...


To eliminate the fine-tuning argument, it is not sufficient to show that the laws of physics enforce a particular value of a constant; that just pushes the problem back a step: Why are the laws of physics such that the universe is required to be hospitable to life? To banish the problem, one would have to show all logically consistent sets of physical laws result in a universe hospitable to life. This seems quite unlikely--there are plenty of mathematical universe models that yield universes that are empty, or that exist only briefly. While they may not correspond to our physical reality, we are still left with the question, "Why not? Why our set of physical laws and not another?"

At 4:42 PM, Anonymous Alejandro said...

Tgibbs, that is exactly the kind of argument I used to make, until I was convinced that it is invalid in the thread I linked to in my first comment.

The problem with the argument is that, if there is no probability measure in the space of possible sets of fundamental laws (and how could there be one? and if there were, how could we know it?) then we can't ask sensibly "why is the actual universe suited to life?" because life is not a "suprising" feature. For it to be surprising, there has to be a probability measure that defines universes that allow life as "less likely". In absence of it, "life-compatible" becomes just an indicator for the actual laws of the universe, and does not add anything to the brute question "why these laws and not others?"

The same reasoning holds at the level of parameters, actually. You don't need the parameters to be deducible from a fundamental theory, for the fine-tuning argument to fail. It was David who allowed for that assumption.

At 1:13 AM, Anonymous tgibbs said...

No, I don't see that raising the question of the probability distribution allows us to evade the issue. If the probability distribution is not uniform, then we ask, what biases it toward universes suitable for life? And we are back to the same puzzle.

Nor do I think that quibbling about infinities offers an escape from the problem. First, it is not obvious that the number of alternatives is infinite. For example, the "quantum superposition" version does not involve infinities, just very large numbers. And it does not make sense that a problem that exists if there is a very large but finite number of possible universes, only a tiny fraction of which are habitable, should somehow vanish as the number of possible universes approaches infinity.

At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say all af you are much more learned than I, and your arguments much more complex than what I understand, but what I can tell from your discussions is that regardless of your theory you are depending on chances or "luck" to exlain the vastness of the universe and the complexity of a single cell of DNA.
I'd give an eternity to figure it out, but now correct me if I am wrong (I'm only a simple man), isn't science defined at knowledge based on obsevation? I'f that is so, then have we ever observed information arising from matter? Or in your arguments, do we find LAWS of physics defined by chance?

At 8:27 PM, Blogger David Reinertson said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 12:53 PM, Blogger BeingHuman said...

The Discovery Institute, as you well know, aggresively supports ID. In the 70's the Discovery Institute pursued teaching "creation science" in schools.

Creationsists have been shut down by the courts repeatedly and even they will admit that they haven't given up. Now we see their support has shifted to ID.

It is foolish and dishonest to claim that ID is unrelated to religion.

At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Fine-tuning." What is it?

Alejandro linked to a description, but I'll like press something which hasn't been posted here yet.

Beyond all the terminology and long paragraphs, "fine-tuning" is xenocide, for a lack of a better word. Consider the many dinosaur extinctions for example.

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I think a God that is smart enough to create a working cosmos is probably smart enough to create one where evolution is the operative mechanism. That's the sort of God envisioned by, for example, Pandeism.

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