On Christmas Day of last year, the Wall Street Journal published a short piece by Eric Metaxas called “Science increasingly makes the case for God” (The subtitle is “The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?”). If the WSJ link takes you to the subscription page, just Google the author’s name and the article’s title, and you’ll find a link that’s free.
Metaxas’s piece was wildly popular. It got about 400,000 Facebook shares and likes, and as of this morning there were 7,008 comments! Metaxas, described by Wikipedia as “An American author, speaker, and TV host” appears to be a believer, for there’s also this: “On February 2, 2012, Metaxas was the keynote speaker for the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast.”
Given its message, it’s not surprising that Metaxas’s article went viral, for it purported to give scientific evidence for God’s existence. Or rather, it claimed that science could not explain the existence of life on Earth in any convincing way, and so the only option must have been God’s creation. A few quotes will give the tenor of his piece; it’s all based on the supposed improbability of life coming into being:
Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.
. . . Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?
Metaxas then raises the “fine-tuning” argument—the supposed improbability of the universe having the right physical constants in place to allow life, and finishes off like this:
The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something—or Someone—beyond itself.
Notice that “Someone” is capitalized, and of course what Metaxas means, and what accounts for the article going viral, is that “something or Someone” simply has to be God—preferably the Abrahamic God.
The article’s popularity also shows that although many believers claim that they don’t need evidence for God, when something that seems to be evidence crops up, they seize on it avidly. Religious claims are claims about reality, and thus could conceivably be supported or refuted by evidence. If anybody says otherwise, just show them how many people liked Metaxas’s piece.
Well, I can imagine what I’d feel if I were Lawrence Krauss reading it. Along with Sean Carroll, Krauss has spent a lot of time showing that we can explain the universe without invoking God, something that is a major theme of Krauss’s most recent book, A Universe from Nothing. So Krauss, who isn’t timid, sat down and wrote a rebuttal to Metaxas’s piece. It appeared in yesterday’s online New Yorker under the title, “No, astrobiology has not made the case for God“; I’m surprised, given the magazine’s penchant for coddling faith, that it appeared at all.
But good for Krauss. He takes apart every probabilistic argument given by Metaxas, and cites new work showing that the origin of life may have been nearly certain given the chemical conditions on early Earth. I still haven’t been able to get through the arcane paper describing that work, but Krauss summarizes it nicely:
Furthermore, a recent interesting, if speculative, proposal suggests that, when driven by an external source of energy,matter will rearrange itself to dissipate this energy most efficiently. Living systems allow greater dissipation, which means that the laws of physics might suggest that life is, in some sense, inevitable.
Maybe Krauss will write a sequel to his book called A Biosphere from Nothing. He adds this:
Beyond this, two exciting scientific advances in recent decades have identified new ways in which life can evolve, and new locales where it can do so. First, we have discovered a surprisingly diverse group of new solar systems. And we now understand that, even in our solar system, there are a host of possible sites where life might have evolved that were long considered unlikely. Moons of Jupiter and Saturn may have vast oceans of liquid water, underneath ice covers, which are heated by gravitational tidal friction associated with their giant hosts. On Earth, scientists have had to revise old rules about where and how life can survive. The discovery of so-called extremophiles—life forms that can live in extreme acids, or under extreme heat or pressure—has vastly increased the set of conditions under which we can imagine life existing on this planet.
And, finally, Krauss takes apart the fine-tuning argument for God, something that Sean Carroll has also been attacking. Here’s Krauss:
The constants of the universe indeed allow the existence of life as we know it. However, it is much more likely that life is tuned to the universe rather than the other way around. We survive on Earth in part because Earth’s gravity keeps us from floating off. But the strength of gravity selects a planet like Earth, among the variety of planets, to be habitable for life forms like us. Reversing the sense of cause and effect in this statement, as Metaxas does in cosmology, is like saying that it’s a miracle that everyone’s legs are exactly long enough to reach the ground.
Krauss doesn’t discuss two other explanations for fine-tuning (the one above seems to presume that the constants were simply a given that we don’t understand, perhaps just a matter of “luck”). Those two are 1.) there could be a deeper physical principle showing that the constants more or less had to be pretty close to what they are, but we don’t yet understand that principle (this may be implied in Krauss’s emphasis on the progress of cosmology), and 2.) there might be multiple universes that (according to physical theory) have different physical constants, and life happened to have arisen in one universe that had the right constants. The “multiverse” idea isn’t just something cooked up by physicists determined to kick God out of the picture, as it arises naturally from some theories of physics; and there is evidence for some of the conditions conducive to a multiverse.
But the real flaw in Metaxas’s piece is that it’s a big fat God-of-the-gaps argument, claiming that if science doesn’t understand something by now, God must have done it. That is, of course, a dreadful way to argue in view of all the “gaps” in our understanding (most notably the origin of species) that over the centuries have been caulked not with God, but with science. And so Krauss pwns Metaxas in his final paragraph:
In the meantime, both believers and non-believers are done a huge disservice when people promulgate biased and disingenuous claims that distort what current science implies and can imply about the universe. In a society in which the understanding of science is already marginal—and where, at the same time, the continued health of modern society as it meets the challenges of the twenty-first century depends, in some sense, on our ability to utilize our scientific knowledge, both to create new technologies and to help guide rational public policies—this is the last thing we need.
Another thing we don’t need is people claiming that when science encounters a hard problem that it hasn’t yet solved, God is peeking out of that lacuna.
260 thoughts on “Lawrence Krauss rebuts “Science increasingly makes the case for God””
“…Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids…”
It seems silly for Someone to create all these deadly asteroids, then get credit for drawing most of them away.
I thought I had read somewhere that Jupiter attracting all the asteroids is not the case and that in many instances, Jupiter flings them toward us. I can’t remember where I saw/read this but I seem to recall NDT saying something to this effect.
Perhaps someone will correct me/point me to the right place.
There is also this *ahem* 100X bigger and much closer thing called the sun which pulls asteroids toward us. Thanks a lot, God! [shakes fist at sky].
Ha ha! Watch out – if the Sun is god, like other religions have espoused, it will send you a big CME to smite you!
ID would be more convincing if there were something like a force field around earth that disintegrated large objects.
No, no, no. The Designer knew that humans would eventually get into space and didn’t want a force field to hinder us. See? The absence of a force field is even more evidence for ID!!11!
Some IDers do argue that the K-T impact was planned by a god, so that mammals would take over and make us.
Google books has this excerpt from his book “Death by Black Hole”:
Probably showing my ignorance here, but…
Wouldn’t Jupiter’s gravity also deflect some comets that weren’t headed toward earth into a new direction, such as toward earth? Other than the comets that hit or are captured by Jupiter, it seems like the “good” and “bad” deflections would be a wash, given enough time.
That would probably be true if comets came from random directions, but I don’t think they do.
Oh. I hadn’t considered that. Thank you.
I suspect it’s less about direction than about energy.
Without Jupiter, all comets are long-period comets, passing through Earth’s neighborhood only rarely. But gravitational interaction with Jupiter can have one of two effects: it can add energy to a comet, flinging it out of the system altogether, or it can steal energy from the comet, dropping it into a lower orbit with a much shorter orbital period.
Such short-period comets pass near Earth repeatedly, on a timescale of decades. So even if they represent a numerical minority of comets, they still carry the bulk of the collision danger, because they have many more chances to hit us. And short-period comets basically would not exist without Jupiter in the picture.
Astrophysicists Dr. Horner and Dr. Jones: “The idea that the planet Jupiter has acted as an impact shield through the Earth’s history is one that is entrenched in planetary science, even though little work had been done to examine this idea. In this work, we detail the results of simulations that reveal that Jupiter’s influence is not so straightforward. Indeed, it seems that the presence of Jupiter actually increases the rate at which asteroids and short-period comets impact the Earth. The traditional idea of ‘Jupiter – the shield’ only holds true when one considers the long-period comets, which are so efficiently ejected from the solar system as Jupiter gains in mass that few remain to threaten the Earth. Given that these comets only make up a small fraction of the total impact threat, our startling conclusion is that, overall, Jupiter is not friend but foe!”
So yeah, as far as I’m concerned this Eric Mataxas’s apologetics don’t deserve our serious attention.
(Whoops, not trying to break Da Roolz. I just meant that if someone says something as ludicrous as that Jupiter decreases our impact rate by a factor of a thousand, they should be taken as seriously as Ken Ham.)
Thank you! I was aware of some of this, but I had missed the review – it will be nice reading. And since I commented on it below, I don’t need to dig up the reference I had now.
Note also that the gas giant that maximizes impact ratios is more normal in mass (0.2 Jupiter masses), since Jupiter (and Saturn) are unusually large gas giants. So the doubled impact rate will be felt in more systems, that have such giants placed outside the terrestrials, than the lesser rate we have to survive.
Thanks for this reference. I knew I read or heard it but didn’t have a citation!
It’s astonishing how, all these centuries after especially Galileo but also Copernicus and Aristarchus, people like Metaxas can still be convinced that they themselves are personally at the very center of the entire Universe, that their own lives are the ultimate point of it all.
We are in so desperate need of a Total Perspective Vortex. Anybody got any faery cake?
Remember the Rare Earth book? I think I still have a copy around here somewhere. Wasn’t it exposed as pushing a Christian agenda?
I remember I read it and took it seriously then found out its background & got annoyed that I was somewhat duped. I tend to have a sadistic need for there to be no intelligent life anywhere else. I suspect this sadism is why I read apocalyptic novels as well.
This reminds me of something that annoys me to no end: novels that surreptitiously turn out to be proselytization tracts. Twice in recent years I’ve read novels that purported to be sci-fi but G*d shows up in the last few pages to resolve all problems. Nothing on the covers or blurbs or anywhere in the first 200 pages to alert the reader.
One of them was an apocalyptic novel, by the way.
I don’t know. I was especially fond of this one book where not just Jehovah but a few other gods show up at the end, just before the main entree is served at Milliway’s….
I’d love to make a TPV, but I have no idea how I’d test it!
Easy. Put somebody egocentric in it. If they’re still sane when they emerge, it’s not working right.
I agree, and I think nobody is explicitly holding Metaxas to task for the implicit assumption that he has a handle on all the ways life *could* exist. He has to assert what I call “comprehensive imagination” for his argument to work at all…but that kind of hubris doesn’t mix with theology so well. If you want to dig further, I wrote this idea up at http://wantonempiricist.blogspot.com/2015/01/recently-opinion-piece-by-eric-metaxas.html
Can anyone tell me the URL of the link they get from Google that gives this article for free? When I google “Eric Metaxas” “Science increasingly makes the case for God”, in the 1st couple of pages of results, the only one that is the article rather than a discussion of it is the wsj.com one itself; when I click on that, I get a ‘subscribe to see full article’ message (and there’s no Google cache available for it.
I’ve seen this before – someone says “just google the title of a WSJ article, and you’ll get a link that allows you to read it without a subscription”, and it’s never worked for me. This time, I made sure I didn’t try to follow a direct link from this site, in case the WSJ sets some kind of cookie to stop people using the work-around, and it still hasn’t worked. Is there meant to be some mirror site that everyone knows about, but won’t mention for fear of the WSJ shutting it down? If so can someone give some clues to its name?
I just did the Google like you did, and the first thing that came up was a free site. If you email me I’ll send you the text.
The title of this post is from Opposite World. Having religion was understandable when we didn’t know much about the world, and now that we do there is no need to evoke Gods.
The subtitle is “The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?”
If even the subtitle is nonsense why would anyone read further?
A universe with more inhabitable planets just increases the chances of life emerging by accident.
And do these planets have their own Jesus? Given the vastness of space and the low probability of two civilisations encountering each other relying on space missionaries to spread the gospel doesn’t seem feasible – so are these civilisations beyond ‘salvation’?
I think I misread the odds there because as far as I know the odds are actually shortening.
A few years back we didn’t even have evidence planets existed outside the solar system.
Maybe someone with a lot of discretionary time(and energy) can find an early Metaxas article construing that (then) lack of planets as evidence of ID.
There’s a video of 10-15 min duration on Youtube of Hitch locking horns with Metaxas on some cable news show. I wonder if they ever had a full-length debate.
Surely there’s at least one more Hitch debate/speech/interview out there to be seen. I’ve learned quite a lot via Professor Hitchens.
Krauss’s talk about gravity reminds me of an old “Hagar the Horrible” cartoon: Hagar is arguing with the wizard, “Zook”, and says, “If the Earth isn’t flat, then how come people don’t fall off?” The next panel shows Earth with a tiny Viking figure spinning off it into space and Zook says, “Some do!”
It never ceases to amaze me that the religious will bash science left and right when the data does not support their religious claims, but as soon as one article hints at confirmation, they jump up and down over how conclusive the “science” in this instance is.
When the shroud of Turin was dated and shown to be too new to be christ’s burial shroud, they balked, but when someone suggested the science supported their belief, they cheered the “correct” science.
Over and over they repeat this cycle, science is bad, unless it confirms their beliefs. Maybe some day I will understand.
I know, that drives me crazy too and so blatantly shows the bias.
Well if it makes you feel any better, they do the exact same thing with their own supposedly God-dictated scriptures. Add making bullsh**t up out of wholecloth and you have theology – Sophisticated™ and unleaded – in a nutshell.
This likely does not make you feel any better.
It not like the religious to pick and choose!
Yes indeed, that is a big fat meaty flaw. But God-of-the-Gaps has some contenders for the coveted title of Real Flaw.
For one thing, there’s this:
Yes, these people don’t really accept statistics and likelihoods. To them it’s all magical because it just feels that way. I met a guy with the same birthday as me! Must be because there is some hidden meaning to this meeting. I bought a car and saw there were so many more just like it on the street! Must be a sign I made a good choice!
They also don’t want to buy that in a great big, old universe a lot of things that are unlikely to happen actually can happen.
They call it “synchronicity,” which is more or less defined as “any coincidence which trips over an arbitrary and constantly shifting line of specialness.”
Everything happens for a reason. It’s all connected. It all has meaning. It’s all trying to tell you something. Connect the dots. Listen to the universe. Hear the message.
Get into that too far and it turns into a mental illness. I have a cousin who is reputed to have solemnly informed my other cousins that Leonard Nimoy was secretly sending special verbal signals to her during his big speech at a Star Trek convention. Even to relatives wearing pointy ears and costumes, this rang alarm bells and raised concerns.
Ouch re: the Leonard Nimoy story! I imagine he runs into some unusual fans.
I did read somewhere that the brain is wired to find patterns but in schizophrenic people, they see patterns everywhere. An example of this is John Forbes Nash Jr as portrayed in the movie, The Beautiful Mind
A great movie, that one, and one of Crowe’s best performances.
The sad thing is, there *are* patterns everywhere – but some are absolutely irrelevant to even our curiousity.
Also, *explanations* of such patterns can be delusion – or just incomplete – because data is incomplete.
Maybe s. is best understood as a premature attempt to explain.
“It’s the creation of the ‘gap’ itself.”
It’s teleological egocentrism. Just because there may be long odds against YOU existing, that doesn’t mean you were a goal – a goal toward which god must’ve guided the arrow, because it was just an impossible shot otherwise.
Yes. I always wonder why the religious apologists dwell so much on a universe being fine-tuned for “life” when God’s glory is made even more glorious if they simply continue on and point out that our universe has clearly been especially fine-tuned for religious apologists.
After all, we all know that’s where they’re really going, staggered as they are with humility and gratitude.
Indeed. They might as well make the bullseye as small as possible.
You can make the target as small as an oocyte. In one of his books Dawkins makes an argument along these lines that the apologists might find useful. The odds are vanishingly small that any particular sperm out millions of competitors will succeed, and yet the very sperm that was required to make them exactly as they are was chosen. Clearly the universe was arranged so their penetrating insights would someday be heard.
“penetrating” insights. Nice.
I have a mundane example of that sort of thinking: the total bill at the supermarket comes out to an even dollar amount (e,g., $87.00).
Some tellers, new ones I imagine, ooh and ahh at how unusual that is. I observe that it probably happens about once every hundred customers, on average. Then I ask how often the bill ends in exactly 23 cents, which is just as unlikely as 00 cents.
I have a bad reputation at that store.
It’s cases like those where I wish I were good at math. How fun it would be to whip out pen & paper and actually do the math!
The math is $1.oo = 100 pennies. It think.
I think the math works out to be, you need 68 or 69 customers before the chance of seeing someone’s bill end in 00 is around 50%. Its basically 0.50 = 0.99^X, solve by taking the logarithm of both sides: log(0.5)/log(0.99) = X.
Of course bills are only semi-random, since many more items end their pricing with 0.99 or 0.95 than any other number of cents. I don’t know what the net effect of that is when you buy many items, but as a first approximation 69 customers is probably (heh) good enough.
Heh. That reminds me of a quote by Richard Feynman:
If ARW means Astronomically Rare World, he would have needed all those other worlds to explain why that one actually exists without having to resort to the explanation that is was just astronomically good luck.
I don’t know if I’m getting through here or if there’s something I’ve missed.
Your story reminds me of the taxicab number
@Sastra: You beat me to it. I was going to post that quote from Feynman.
Great post. At its heart, most fine-tuning arguments I’ve encountered seem to be based on the assumption that the “purpose” of the universe is to be amenable to the existence of life. But we can flip that logic around and look at life as simply a byproduct–albeit an awesome one–of a universe whose laws allow it to exist.
I think a good, visual riposte to the “what are the odds?” argument is to lay down a shuffled deck of cards one by one, calculate the odds of that excact sequence occurring (52! or course), and then declare that the sequence just laid out cannot in fact exist since the odds against it clearly show it is impossible.
Very nice. I like that.
Another riposte when a creationist lays some “impossible” odds number on you (one in 10E80, one in 10E200, whatever) is to divide the power by 0.6 and roll that many number of six-sided dice (I do it virtually using Excel. Randbetween, copy into whatever number of rows youn need). That will give you a sequence of events as improbable as the one they just claimed was impossible.
Alternatively, as E. Sober has pointed out, some event being improbable to whatever degree is not a “didn’t happen”, but rather such ONLY when compared to alternatives. (The dice illustration can be turned into this sort of explanation, by mentioning that other alternatives, e.g., the dice all staying on their corners for minutes, are massively less likely.)
Except that, if the 52! different shuffled decks represents the number of possible universes and, if only one of those shuffled decks represents the universe in which life can evolve, then you would have a 1 in 52! chance of getting that universe.
I don’t of the life of me see how that is so difficult for everyone to understand.
I have never understood why multiverses are at all logically necessary
for buttressing the anthropic explanation of “fine tuning”.
Suppose there is only one universe, formed in a big bang which set the
various physical constants. It does not matter how minuscule the /a
priori/ odds were that those constants would be hospitable to life. It
so happened that we got lucky, maybe very very lucky; if it weren’t for
that luck then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
I’ve concluded that although multiverses are not logically necessary
they seem to be rhetorically useful. Some people (maybe the majority)
believe that their chances are better in a lottery where someone is
guaranteed to win, even if their /a priori/ odds of winning are
actually the same as a lottery where no-one might win.
Have I seriously missed the boat here? If so, please try to enlighten me.
 That is an informal statement of the “weak anthropic principle”.
I think “luck” is a deepity. It can be interpreted two ways.
“Luck” can simply indicate a series of random chances which just happened to end up a way someone likes.
“Luck” can also be a mysterious and magical spiritual force which sets up favorable outcomes.
If there’s only one universe then many people simply swoon and fall over because second definition!!! But apparently a whole bunch of universes allows at least a few people in this group to think “okay, now it’s just a type #1 coincidence.”
Frankly, I don’t see why us ending up in the one and only possible universe among zillions and zillions of real other universes in the multiverse which is hospitable to Me-Right-Now wouldn’t evoke even more fainting fits and heart palpitations.
Remember the most important rule in religion: “If things are like X, then this indicates the existence of God to any rational person; but if things are NOT-X, then this is even MORE indicative of God than the other one!” Heads we win; Tails we win. All it takes is the attitude of faith and never say die.
Not sure what you mean here.
“Luck can simply indicate a series of random chances which just happened to end up a way someone likes”
A lotto draw is random and the odds of any particular set of numbers coming up are a million to one. So, the only way for the numbers to “end up the way someone likes” is if there are lots of players. So, this is an argument in favour of a multiverse.
“Luck can also be a mysterious and magical spiritual force which sets up favorable outcomes”
Yes, although someone has to win every week, the actual person who wins the lotto is extrordinarly lucky and they will sometimes read into that some magical mystery force.
Sastra’s simply observing that the term “luck” can be interpreted as having two distinct definitions, one true but trivial, the other extraordinary but false:
True but trivial: “luck” is just what we call it when something goes our way, and we don’t necessarily attach cosmic significance to it.
Extraordinary but false: theists insisting that the “luck” of our universe being hospitable to life requires a supernatural explanation.
In the analogy to luck being ‘random’ the one single universe is equal to the ‘draw’ and the “various physical constants” with each one having miniscule odds is the pool. There is nothing remarkably astonishing or ‘lucky’ about the universe in itself because the system was not set up as a lotto draw with many players and a lucky winner. It’s more like a single hole with one shape which might have had millions of other shapes. Luck = ordinary coincidence.
As you point out, the feeling of special, magical “luck” is always read back into it. The puddle realizes that it fits the hole too perfectly for the hole to have just been an ordinary coincidence. It’s magic!
Still not clear.
Any universe containing intelligent life is the “draw”, and all the possible universes that do not contain intelligent life is the “pool”. And, if the “pool” is extraordinarily large then a multiverse would supply that “pool” of universes.
Where am I going wrong in your opinion?
Now I’m getting confused. I don’t think you’re going wrong. Maybe it’s more a question of framework and emphasis.
If we’re going to think of ‘intelligent life’ as the lucky outcome then you’re right, technically it shouldn’t matter whether there was a ‘pool’ of millions of possible constants (for the one and only universe) or a ‘pool’ of millions of actual universes (multiverse) in which we find ourselves in one. Someone who thinks of the result AS a result, a pick or choice which just “happens” to have us in it, is going to get all hot and bothered about the fact that it can’t be just a coincidence, it’s magic.
A cosmologist calmly surveying a situation and remarking that any result — happy or not — in a multiverse is less singular and extraordinary than THE happy result given only ONE universe is taking a broad, clinical assessment of “luck.” As you said, it’s rhetorically useful.
Is picking the number 751 out of a bucket with a million numbers less “in need of explanation” than a bucket with just one ball, “751?”
I don’t know. That’s kind of a loaded question. Obviously, the first situation seems to “explain” the “coincidence” better than the second — but does it? Aren’t both scenarios equally boring if “751” has not, in advance, been compared to “winning the lottery” or “a royal flush” or something else emotionally loaded into the question and then pulled out of the bucket with a flourish? What if ‘life’ is the consolation prize for a field containing far more wonderful outcomes of mind with no need to fuss with clunky reproduction and metabolism?
The term “luck” can be applied to random chance which will make people pleased, like atheists wishing Diana “good luck” with her operation. Or it can invoke the idea of some sort of “healing energy” or “wishing will make it so” supernaturalism.
That’s why if I were approached by a magic genii and allowed to pick one personal characteristic to live my life with, it wouldn’t be beauty or wealth or even wisdom or health — I’d ask to be “lucky.” It’s hard for that one to go wrong because it would be so unfortunate if it did.
There is no such “personal characteristic,” of course. But then again there aren’t any genies, either.
Well, but in the lottery example you need to know the odds of winning to calculate an estimate of the odds of a winner given a certain number of (randomly generated) bought tickets.
In the universe case, we don’t have the odds of winning. IOW, we do not know whether the fundamental constants are tightly constrained around the values we see or not. We don’t know if all values within those constraints are equiprobable, or whether they follow some gaussian or other distribution. And so on.
The fine tuning proponents assume a very bad or worse case in order to generate their high improbabilities. IOW, they assume that the constants can vary widely and any value is equiprobable. This is sort of like someone saying “well, I don’t know the odds of winning this lottery, so to be conservative I’m going to assume its a zillion to one.” Well, maybe it is…but maybe it isn’t.
IF the probability is what Metaxis says it is then, yes, you would need a mutiverse.
Here is why:
Shuffle a deck of cards.
Note the sequence of cards that it produces.
Shuffle the deck of cards again.
The chance that you will get the same sequence is one in…
Its never going to happen a second time unless all 6 million people on Earth shuffled a deck of cards every second for a trillion trillion trillion years.
So,IF Metaxis is correct about the probabilities, and IF there is only one universe, then the odds are extraordinary that that single universe would have produced intelligent life.
Or consider a lotto draw. The chance of winning the million dollars is a million to one. If there was only one contestant, it would take a few hundred thousand draws on average for that one contestant to win the million bucks. But, because there are millions of contestants, someone wins almost every time.
So either the universe got extraordinarily lucky or there are an extraordinary number of universes. And, of course there is no limit to the number of universes you can have in a multiverse.
Whatever the probability is, you don’t need a multiverse (though I’m not saying there isn’t one). The point is that ANY universe is equally unlikely. That’s all.
To borrow your Lotto example, a winning draw is millions to one. But WHATEVER the draw is would be millions to one.
If there is only one universe and we’re in it, you could say that’s extraordinarily lucky, if you like. But that’s anthropocentric. A universe that had different constants (equally precisely specified)that did not allow life would also be extraordinarily lucky (but there would be nobody there to appreciate the luck).
I don’t think you quite got the point.
Maybe read my explanation again.
You don’t need multiverses to deal with fine-tuning.
One way of refuting it is to point out that it reverses cause and effect, and is teleological. Douglas Adams’ puddle and Krauss’ legs that miraculously reach the ground both do this.
Another way to refute it is to point out that long odds just don’t matter in this context. This is what brandonrobshaw is doing. Say you and your friend each buy one lottery ticket. You got 132435 and your friend got 152437. One of those is the winning ticket (producing human life in this analogy). But the odds of you getting ticket 132435 were THE SAME as the odds of your friend getting 152437. In this context, every outcome is equally probable or improbable. So there are constants that allow human life. That’s no more improbable than a universe with constants that don’t allow life or allow a different kind of life.
I tend to think of it this way: However unlikely a universe that allows life may be, we can have a discussion about this only in a universe that allows life. Therefore, the probability of such a universe hardly matters.
The odds do matter.
I thought the card shuffle and lotto draw analogies would explain this clearly, but apparently not.
So let’s look at a couple of extremes…
What if physicists found that, no matter what type of universe you could come with, they all produced life as a matter of course. Then it’s obviously no surprise that the only one we know of produced life.
On the other hand, if only one of 10^500 possible universes had any chance of producing life…well, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to need a multiverse to explain that one.
You can certainly invoke the multiverse to deal with long odds, but that’s orthogonal to my point.
My point was that refuting the fine-tuning argument can also be accomplished without invoking the multiverse.
My analogy does work, but I was a little sloppy in expressing it. Here’s a better version: You buy one ticket. It happens to be 15342. The odds of you getting 15342 are the same as the odds of you getting any other ticket. Whether it wins it not is beside the point. Each individual outcome is equally rare. We only attach significance to one of those outcomes – the production of human life – because we are human and we are biased.
Hmmm…I think we’re getting nowhere.
Your ticket would have to win to be analogous to the one universe in which life could evolve.
The point I’m trying to convey is that “winning” is a matter of perspective. We are impressed by a universe that produces human life because we are human. What if the universe had produced only some kind of life we can’t even imagine? Or to make it more concrete, what are the odds that the universe would eventually lead to that rock by your left foot being where it is right now? Just as longvss the odds against human life. But no one would say the precise position of a rock is something that requires explanation at the cosmic level; no one would say the universe is fine-tuned by some supernatural dial-fiddler for that rock. But the emergence of human life and the position of that rock are equally improbable, just as whatever number ticket you get is equally improbable. Fine-tuning dissolves when you get rid of the biased emphasis we put on life. Everything is improbable.
We don’t know that it’s improbable. For all we know, it may be necessary. For all we know, a deeper theory than we presently have may show that this is the only possible universe. Or that it’s one of 7 possible universes. Or 29. Or a googolplex. And by a deeper theory, I mean one that has been subjected to at least one empirical test without falling on its face.
I am sort of granting the theists an Eddington concession here. *Even if* we assume a life-producing universe is improbable, fine-tuning still makes no sense.
Yeah, Steve, you’ve lost track of the argument. And we’ve already made the point you’re making several times over.
Hmmm…I’m starting to see your point. I’ll give it a bit of a tumble around the old cranium and see if it comes out dry.
And your lotto analogy doesn’t work.
It would go more like this:
If the odds of winning an intergalactic lotto draw was 1 in 10^500, and the lotto man sold only one ticket, what are the chances that that ticket would win the $10^500 prize
Billy Joe, you wrote: “What if physicists found that, no matter what type of universe you could come with, they all produced life as a matter of course. Then it’s obviously no surprise that the only one we know of produced life.”
The current state of our knowledge does not allow us to discriminate between this scenario and the one in which any of 10**500 universes are equally possible. As Eric pointed out above, we don’t (yet) know how tightly constrained the initial conditions are. We don’t know if the putative creator had any more choice than your kid does when assembling a model airplane.
Thats not the argument here. Here we are assuming that fine tuning is a fact and considering the implications. Some here are claiming it is irrelevant.
I think it is something to do with cosmic inflation which we know is true based on the results of BICEP2. I however cannot explain it in detail. We need Torbjörn, Ant or Ben to help out.
I think you are referring to the speculations about a multiverse.
If so, yes, this has to do with inflationary theory. WMAP produced a map of the CMB which shows that the universe is remarkably flat and isotropic.
This was difficult to account for, but inflationary theory does the trick. And a natural extension of this theory is the existence of a multiverse.
Oh good I am on the right track. Yes, I was talking about the multiverse part.
The BICEP2 results look to be flawed, and so they are considered not useful. That may change as new experiments are being done.
We knew of good evidence for inflation before BICEP2. The cosmic microwave background is a kind of early image of the universe a couple hundred thousand years after the big bang. The wavelengths of this background glow are incredibly close to uniform, which means that the universe stayed smooth and not clumpy for a long long time. The only way to explain that was that the early universe ‘inflated’ to smooth out the incipient lumps that would have occurred due to gravity. Without inflation we would likely not be here since there would be fewer long-lived stars, etc.
It was hoped that BICEP2 would have detected the incredibly faint gravitational waves in the form of minute, organized ripples in the cmb. I am not sure why such things would mean ‘inflation’.
Torbjörn? Are you there?
It’s a bit complicated, but essentially inflationary theory would account for the flat, isotropic nature of the CMB radiation (which is otherwise difficult to explain).
But physicists would like to verify that inflation actually occurred by detecting the particular type of polarisation in the CMB radiation that would have been produced by the gravitational waves associated with inflation.
Bicep2 was thought to have provided this evidence but there have been questions about this and further verification will be required before this evidence will be accepted
Well crap and here I have been running around telling everyone multiverses were it because of inflation because of BICEP2.
Yes, BICEP2 is outstanding. Planck may or may not predict that some or all of the signal is dust, and that is outstanding too. The teams are cooperating on the combined data set, I think.
Why primordial gravity waves (PGW) would be interesting? They would be interesting of themselves of course, the only other observation is on pulsar binaries slowing down. And they would imply inflation happened at high energies, with interesting physical implications of various kinds.
But mostly, yes, cosmologists consensus is that PGW is “the smoking gun” for inflation. Inflation is accepted in practice, because it makes some predictions that are hard to do in other theories. Mainly the near-but-not-quite gaussian spatial fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background (and so the galaxy clustering) are nearly unique.
The PGW are even harder to predict just right (but not quite unique there either), and those two observations together would be strong evidence. But I think inflation would survive if the PGW generating mechanism (drive by inflation) happen to make them too weak to observe.
Watch out Ben. It’s a trap.
Don’t bother. Ben can’t help himself. No freewill.
Never mind the free willies. No time. Like, over 200 WEIT comments since yesterday afternoon….
A slightly separate tangent, which I give credit to the late great Vic Stenger for getting me to at least think about.
The argument from astronomical unlikelihood takes a severe hit when one simply considers that the various parameters are not necessarily independent. Cosmologist dilettantes (like me) run a serious risk when we hitch our wagon to a ridiculously tight error estimate (as Eric Metaxas did).
At the same time, we risk compounding our colossal screw-up when we assume that all the various so-called fundamental parameters are necessarily independent. Adjust one parameter, and who is to say that another one won’t adjust to make some kind of a stable system. We don’t have bulletproof theories of everything to make such pronouncements.
I think Stenger was playing around with models and parameters when the Great Beyond called. 🙁 …but was of the opinion that all this argumentation was much ado about nothing, whether or not multiverses were involved. Unfortunately, Victor is not available to check me on this (he lived part-time in Longmont, about a two-hour drive from me — we corresponded a tiny bit, but I didn’t get to meet him time). He had released a few popular books alluding to such considerations, though.
I await my next spanking from Torbjorn with much trepidation.
I remember him writing about this issue in The Fallacy of Fine Tuning. Understanding his arguments was a bit of a stretch for me, but I could understand his point: That one could not arbitrarily change one physical constant without effecting other constants since (I think) energy was allocated into this or that constant from a set amount of energy available just after the Big Bang. So more energy for this constant meant less energy for another constant. I thought it was very clever.
That’s right. Why should our models behave like one-armed bandits, anyway? In fact, we should expect that they would not. The whole fallacy relies on a naive conception of reality as being like a radio with a bunch of dials having to be set *just-so* for a friendly universe to appear. We still haven’t a clue as to why these so-called fundamental constants take on the values we observe (let alone that they should be independent, necessarily – which seems to me to be heaping a kind of certainty on greater unknowns).
Which Krauss dealt with in this bit:
“By considering each of these many factors and imagining the probability of each separately, one can imagine that the combination is statistically very unlikely, or impossible. “Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart,” Metaxas writes. “The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.”
Such a claim is fraught with statistical perils, however. The first is a familiar mistake of elaborating all the factors responsible for some specific event and calculating all the probabilities as if they were independent. In order for me to be writing this piece at this precise instant on this airplane, having done all the things I’ve done today, consider all the factors that had to be “just right”: I had to find myself in San Francisco, among all the cities in the world; the sequence of stoplights that my taxi had to traverse had to be just right, in order to get me to the airport when I did; the airport security screener had to experience a similar set of coincidences in order to be there when I needed her; same goes for the pilot. It would be easy for me to derive a set of probabilities that, when multiplied together, would produce a number so small that it would be statistically impossible for me to be here now writing.”
I think Metaxas got his >200 figure from a quick Google of the number of constants out there, many of which are either reformulations of each other for different purposes, or are not fundamental in the sense that they form the basis for models of reality. I await enlightenment on this point, but I thought there were only a handful of such parameters.
Ah, the perils of armchair physics.
I’m not sure what you mean by “logically necessary”.
The physical realization of the weak anthropic principle, which is consistent with an inflation multiverse with differing physics over it, would mean a distribution of universes out of which a narrower subset is picked by (having) observers.
Your variant of WAP seems to be a singular random outcome. But if there is a process that makes universes (such as inflation), it would by definition be very finetuned to make only one (or zero or a few) universes. It seems to me to be some philosophical idea, and empirically uninteresting.
You can view the 1-universe case too as being “a distribution of universes [i.e., the one] out of which a […] subset [in the current case, also the one] is picked by (having) observers”. Otherwise we would not be having this conversation, if the one universe did not contain observers.
Regarding what is pejoratively philosophical, there is currently no compelling empirical evidence either for or against multiverses. So both notions are currently “philosophical”. And regarding what is or is not “empirically interesting”, you are certainly entitled to your own sense of that.
And the point of my post was not to argue for or against multiverses, but to show that they are not necessary (i.e., “logically necessary”) in order to apply the WAP.
You seem to agree that your realization of WAP is a singular random outcome. But the generic WAP is statistical and so compatible with empirical observations.
I would say that your philosophical proposal is not realistic, and even so multiverses are generally tied to the WAP.
“there is currently no compelling empirical evidence either for or against multiverses”.
That will be a surprise to cosmologists, who notes that inflationary cosmologies naturally makes multiverses, and have to be very finetuned to not do so.
[If I am pejorative against philosophy it is because I don’t think it has anything to say on empirical matters.]
Again, my argument against fine tuning is simply: An all-powerful God wouldn’t need it.
Rght. If there were no distinction between living and inanimate, and the world were like Toy Story or Night at the Museum, then you would have evidence of a supernatural orchestrator. And a supernatural orchestrator shouldn’t require mushy, bloody meat and its train of suffering to populate a world – rather than “finely tuned,” I think what we have is a world that is limited by laws a creator needn’t have imposed on herself and her special favorite beings.
Absolutely. The idea that the universe is finely tuned to allow us to exist assumes that god is given a very particular set of tools with which to work, and is viciously constrained by the laws of physics into the bargain, all of which flatly contradicts the theistic(and the deistic) picture of god as omnipotent.
The fact that life exists on such a preposterous knife edge would be, to any honest theist, strong evidence that it was NOT created by an all-powerful god.
Why are we dependent on these parameters for our existence? Why is 99.9999999999999etc% of the universe instantly fatal to our species? Why does the rest of it exist in the first place? Religious apologetics seems to consist of thinking so far and absolutely no further.
This point was made by Ikeda and Jeffreys many years ago. Assume naturalism: the parameters, if there are any, *have to support life*, given that we are here. Assume superanturalism. Then what? Nothing at all can be concluded.
Max, yes, I think that is a great counter-argument to theists’ use of the fine tuning argument. I have another: Theists clearly do believe in intelligent disembodied life. This means theists cannot consistently argue from fine-tuning, since according to their own beliefs, ANY values of the universal constants would be compatible with intelligent life.
Unfortunately this still leaves non-theists with the fine-tuning problem.
I’d love to see Krauss address this:
Do you really think he would have any problem demolishing this nonsense?
Big deal, the bible got it right, the universe had a beginning. I mean, either the universe had a beginning or it didn’t. So the bible won a coin toss! Big deal! And it got genesis all wrong. Win. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Great science text book!
Also, science has always entertained and continues to entertain both possibilites. The big bang suggests the universe had a beginning. The multiverse, on the other hand allows for a possibility that the universe (or multiverse) did not have a beginning.
And maybe we do need the laws of physics to start off a universe that has a beginning, or maybe the default position is that there is more likely to be “something” rather than nothing. Maybe “nothing” is what requires an explanation.
In any case there is no point in re-labelling “the laws of physics” and calling it “god” as the author does. We need explanations, not name changes. Alternatively, if he is saying that god caused the laws of nature, he now needs to explain “god”. So, he has achieved nothing Fail. Fail.
The dude has no clue. The Big Bang is not generally recognized as the beginning of all existence any more, just as some form of a phase transition that represents the beginning of our corner of existence.
Even if it is the beginning of all existence, that means the first three words of Genesis are correct, but the idiotic faery tale that continues with the next two words are completely batshit fucking insane. I mean, really? An enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard? A reluctant hero who gets magic wand lessons from a talking plant (on fire!)? The zombie king of the undead gets his rocks off by having his intestines fondled through a gaping chest wound?
Life in the Universe might be ubiquitous. Intelligent life may not be. The Chicxulub asteroid (which did in the non-avian dinosaurs, and if repeated today would also cause our extinction) did not cause extinction of Life on Earth.
I’ve always wondered why it’s claimed that gas giants such as Jupiter are necessary to draw away asteroids (and comets) from colliding with the Earth. Jupiter is just as likely to perturb the orbits of comets in the Kuiper belt dropping them into the inner solar system. Similarly for asteroids. Jupiter is in a very large space. It isn’t going to attract asteroids and comets away from the Earth if it’s on the other side of the solar system.
Possibly what is necessary for intelligent life is a moon similar in size to the Earth’s Moon, which keeps the Earth’s tilt reasonably constant (unlike Mars’ which flips periodically) keeping the climate at a given location reasonably constant.
As well as a relatively thin crust allowing tectonic plate geology (as a result of Theias’s collision with the proto-Earth) and oceans, allowing a relatively stable climate over long time with the carbon cycle.
How likely was Theia’s collision with the proto-Earth? Was God an expert billiard player?
Apparently collisions of planets like the proto-Earth and Theia aren’t unusual. All that’s necessary is to have two planets forming in the same orbit relatively close together and eventually in a relatively short time gravity will draw the two together in the glancing low velocity collision necessary.
Metaxas claims that SETI hasn’t found intelligent life after a long period of looking, so it doesn’t exist elsewhere in the Universe. All that SETI has found is that there doesn’t appear to be a human-like intelligence of 20th century technology within 60 light years of the Earth. Radio signals are weak, unless deliberately directional and high-powered, and we’ve only sent a high-powered directional signal twice, once to a star cluster 25,000 light years away (we’d be waiting 50,000 years for a reply…). Leakage of TV signals won’t have much of a range.
We wouldn’t be able to detect civilisations with pre-20th century technology though.
We have more chance of detecting life on extra-solar planets once we’re able to determine the atmospheric composition of extra-solar planets. Certain atmospheric atmospheres (such as those with oxygen) are suggestive of bacterial life. And it only be a mater of time before we’re able to do this.
Distance is a big problem. Even if there is intelligent life out there, we may not be able to contact it; photons sent toward one another could pass in the night as it were since it could take thousands or millions of years to reach one another and by that time civilizations could rise and fall.
I also wonder how intelligence would develop elsewhere. We are apes; we have ape brains that constrain our ape thinking. What would a society that wasn’t ape look like? How would those creatures think?
They would think like Metaxas. Only they would be zeppelin-like hydrogen breathers, thinking that God made a universe with hydrogen as its most common atom because, you, know, xyzerbian Jezus.
Yes and I remember Krauss’s book said something to the effect of we are living in a good time because we can ascertain things about the universe where in the future, beings in our space in the galaxy won’t see the evidence we found.
Yes, the universe is expanding at an increasing rate and, eventually, all the galaxies visible from Earth at present will have moved beyond our horizon and the night sky will be pitch black.
Robin Collins uses this and other things to argue that since the laws of physics are especially discoverable now, right when technologically adept humans emerge, this is evidence of a god who arranged things so that we would discover the laws and infer his existence!
Not working out very well, as physicists and biologists have the lowest rate of god-belief out of any profession, I think.
Like a society of lions, d*gs, dolphin, or ravens, none of which are apes. 🙂 I’m not claiming aliens would resemble other Earth species, my point is simply that there are plenty of “alien thinkers” right here on Earth if by ‘alien’ you are considering things that show powerful cognition but which are not social primates.
Personally, I think it would make for some fun sci-fi or speculative fiction to explore the idea of how the evolutonary orgin of intelligence influences how that intelligence operates. Our own intelligence is probably socially-fixated: i.e., an adaptation that evolved to help us climb the hierarchical ladder and compete for mates within a troupe or tribal group. But what if intelligence in some other species was a result of sexual selection like a peacock’s tail and had nothing whatsoever to do with succeeding in in-group social relationships? Or what would it be like if it evolved in a nonsocial animal, like a tiger? Such an intelligence might get the same answer to 2+2 (in whatever base it uses), but it might have wholly different priorities, biases, etc…
It’s interesting to speculate about possible intelligent species out there somewhere. But as I was reading your descriptions it kept coming back to me that intelligence as we understand it may be highly constrained. Could there actually possibly be a nonsocial intelligent species? It seems to me human intelligence arose out of society and social interaction including communication via language. Without these ingredients, how would a species come up with logic and reason? Sexual selection and the peacock’s tail phenomenon work in many species, and it is quite possible they are involved in human intelligence too. But they are mediated by language.
I can’t imagine intelligence evolving that did not utilize society and language of some kind. Not that that is a complete refutation. Perhaps a good sci-fi writer could gin something up. Who knows.
To impress the chicks/dudes! Imagine some species where one sex devises mathematical proofs to impress mates the way some birds use song to do it. Or imagine sentient bower birds, driven to become superb engineers and scientists not out of curiosity or land use or profit, but because they have an instinct to want to build really big engineering marvels to impress mates. Or imagine the, um, “welcome” we might get from a species that collects unusual trinkets for its mates. Why, a human in a jar is just what I need to complete my seasonal courtship display!
I’m being somewhat silly. I agree with you that a high level of intelligence and sentience might be so different in a species that didn’t evolve it for social interaction, that we might not even recognize it or classify it as intelligence. Because their thought processes and motivations would be so different. Still, though, it might not be impossible. We don’t have to agree with the bower bird about the importance of a bower or with a cat on the importance of marking territory in order to understand why those critters do what they do.
The requirements for having lots of oxygen in an atmosphere of an exoplanet would be photosynthesis which was an invention of cyano bacteria. Oxygen is needed for more advanced life forms and in the form of ozone helps block an overdose of UV light, which is also required to allow for higher forms of life on land. That is if life out there follows Earth’s pattern.
There are estimated to be at least 500 million planets in the habitable zones of their stars in our galaxy. The search has just begun for these planets and already a hand full are thought to be good candidates for life. It seems to me the probabilities of extra solar life to be increasing all the time.
Free oxygen would be supporting evidence that life has evolved along lines similar to our planet’s, but given that life here evolved without it and did without it for something like half a billion years, the absence of atmospheric O2 doesn’t preclude life.
And that is just for life as we know it. There may be life forms in the universe of which we have no conception.
Yes, for all we know we could be an extreme minority biomass compared to other forms. On the other hand, lets not forget, carbon based, “Earth-style” life might be the only style in existence. Hard to say.
Carbon based is pretty likely to be the case, if we assume a chemistry-based life. A purely physics (e.g., plasma) based life does sort of make sense loosely. On the other hand, if you want alternative chemisties, my father (an organic chemist) speculated that ammonia rather than water as the biosolvent might be interesting to think about. Requires outer-solar system like temperatures, needless to say.
Isaac Asimov addressed this question: http://www.bigear.org/CSMO/HTML/CS09/cs09p05.htm
Thanks. Asimov certainly would argue for keeping the search for exo-life broader rather than “as we know it.”
Metaxas is just repeating the “Texas marksman” theory: find a barn wall, shoot at it several times, draw a circle around the points of impact, and call that circle the target. [Apologies to Texans – that’s the name I heard given to it.]
Krauss does a wonderful job of dismantling it, with more than a few quotable moments – my favorite is the one on the Chicxulub asteroid: “Had that not happened, however, maybe giant intelligent reptiles would be arguing about the existence of God today.”
Actually, Krauss doesn’t deal with the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy at all – because it doesn’t apply.
His whole post is about rebutting Metaxas’ claims that recent advances in science have increased the fine tuning necessary for life to have evolved in the universe. Krauss explains that the reverse has actually happpened.
Seems to me that the chance that life exists in the universe is 100%, as we are here. Odds only exist before something happens. Once it happens, it is a done deal.
Well, yes, the argument is about the odds of life evolving in any universe.
If the odds of life evolving in any possible universe is 1 in [a very large number], then, it’s extraordinarliy unlikely that life would have evolved in the only universe there is (assuming thsat there IS only one universe).
The most convincing evidence for the multiverse is the Dogbutt Jesus. What are the odds that the universe will even have dogs much less dogs with butts that look exactly like Jesus?
In another universe there’s a dog licking the True Likeness of Ben Affleck. Checkmate atheists.
It seems to me that there’s an important piece of information missing from this debate. Before anyone can possibly suggest that the improbability of the configuration of the universe and our planet suggests an intelligent, omnipotent designer, don’t we first need to calculate and compare the odds that such a designer could exist?
Yes, the elephant in the room.
The debate has centered around whether recent scientific discoveries are increasing the fine tuning needed for life to evolve in the universe (Mataxas) or if the reverse is true (Krauss).
But, yeah, what is the probability of that eternal, omnipotent, omniscient supernatural being exists. The odds are incalculable.
More to the point, how could this obviously very complex* entity even be an explanation for the existence of the universe, when it itself requires an even greater explanation for its existence.
*some religionists are now claiming that god is simple!…tell that to an islamist!
They’re confusing “simple” with “simplistic.”
Well, they say god is simple because he is not composed of any parts – I mean, they know this somehow; and, apparently, having no parts means that you get to be eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent.
It’s just obviously true.
It must be a little dissapointing when your god is only good for filling in the gaps.. useful, but not much as the hurricane that is empirical science is blowing your house down.
I like the term non random that is to say once the big bang had started the process of galaxy and stella creation and evolution, the making of the heavier elements, something was inevitable. That something happened to be carbon based life for one. Lots of it. No mystery, no god requried.
Empirical science is our way of understanding it and I hasten to add, is critical to our (earths)future, we can just as easily dissappear than stick around.
God thinking is severe short term thinking and in this context acting more like a plug to advancing our knowledge and is a threat to this planet and it’s non random subjects.
I’ve dug up an apt Douglas Adams quote:
That’s a sweet quote. To long for a T-shirt but just fab!
I learned in high school that “alright” was a diction error and every time I run into it, it’s like chalk on the chalkboard. I see from Merriam Webster, however, that it’s pretty well accepted, although possibly less formal than “all right”.
Tough to unlearn.
I think that means that life evolved to fit into the universe but that the universe is actually pretty hostile towards life.
After all, less than o.ooooooooooooooooooooo1% of the universe contains life, and if it dares to stray much beyond those limits it’s pretty well stuffed.
So much for fine tuning.
Not just a big fat God of the Gaps fallacy but a false dichotomy too.
What theists never address is the simple fact that the question of life’s existence, and sentient life at that, can only be asked in a Universe in which sentient life exists, therefore, asking the question defines the Universe in which it is being asked.
A universe in which this debate is taking place is inevitably conducive to the development of sentient life.
We have no idea how many Universes there are in which this question could not be asked.
I still think everyone is missing the point.
Let me try this:
If there were a trillion tickets in a lotto draw but only one winning ticket, and if only one ticket was sold, what’s the chance that ticket would win?
If there were a trillion different possible universes, but only one in which life could evolve and if only one universe ever appeared, what’s the chance that universe is the one in which life could evolve?
Right, that is why the multiverse hypothesis is needed.
As the lawyers say, this assumes a fact not in evidence. We don’t know the number of possible universes. Perhaps, when our understanding of fundamental physics is greater, we will discover that the number is One.
But, as every good lawyer will the jury, you must go on the available evidence. At present the evidence is that fine tuning is required and, therefore so is a multiverse.
Sorry, I don’t agree that that is the state of our knowledge. Remaining by our legal analogy, there is insufficient evidence to make a case. We lack a theory that has even begun to be tested empirically. Until such a thing exists, it is premature to speculate about the need for fine tuning, extra dimensions, the multiverse, or anything else beyond the standard model. IMO these concepts have no more claim on our intellectual allegiance than theology.
Extra dimensions and the multiverse and many worlds “fall out” of most of the leading contenders for what will supplant the Standard Model. We’re a ways from having justified confidence in any of them, but we’re also at the point where it would be most peculiar indeed if the Big Bang is all there is. If nothing else, it would reverse the constant trend in physics since Copernicus: the realization that we’re nowhere near the middle of anything.
So why is that so hard for the other posters around here to understand. So far it’s you and me against the rest.
That just happens to be the outcome in this universe.
Now if there were a trillion universes in which it were possible to have this discussion…….
Everything that the universe contains – ‘universe’ defined as all there is – is subject to the laws of physics. But there is no reason why the universe itself should be subject to the same laws.
In trying to discover the origin of the universe we can only apply the laws we have found by investigating the universe’s constituent parts. But why should these laws should apply to the origin of the universe as a whole? Laws that govern an entity’s parts are rarely relevant to an investigation of the entity itself.
The attempt is valiant, though; a lot of math(s) and physics will be learnt on the way.
Personally, I think the concept of the universe having always existed has been abandoned too soon.
I think at least the multiverse idea captures this notion of an eternal universe once again. A single universe with a big bang as a “beginning”, does not necessarily obviate a cycle of “before” either. So take your alarm as being offered too soon.
Not the same laws, but laws none the less. The objection is: where do these laws that govern the birth of the universe come from?
But, yes, in a sense, the universe has always existed because space and time came into being with the universe, so the universe has existed as long as time itself.
I do have a problem getting my head around an eternal universe though (eternal universe in meta-time)
I’ve long since relaxed on the question of “where do the laws come from?” Seems to me they come from us. The problem seems to be a linguistic one, as us humans pegged a stupid name (Law) to what are essentially emprically discovered relationships.
We don’t stop at red lights because of relationships we have empirically discovered. We do that because we agreed to put some laws on the books with penalties for disobeying them.
Physical laws are a different kettle of fish, but laypeople find it impossible to separate the notion from something that is somehow set up in advance by some supreme lawgiver. It’s apples and oranges which, unfortunately, use the same word — based on a long history of scientific thought that presumed a clockwork universe set up by a lawgiver.
I see your point. The laws of physics are simply our descriptions of what happens in nature, not laws nature must obey (of course, finding laws in nature is only possible if the universe behaves in a predictable way).
So, I guess, a better question is the usual one: why is there “something” rather than “nothing”? Of course I’m not sure that that question is a legitimate one either…
An alternative question could be: why would “nothing” be necessarily the more likely state of affairs than “something” – in other words why couldn’t it be the case that “nothing” requires more explanation than “something”.
I’ve heard it described as “because nothing is unstable”. But the way I think about it is: “nothing is impossible.”
And not in the Disney/Tony Robbins sense, either. We’re back to linguistics, IMHO. “Nothing” is merely a philosophical concept with absolutely no empirical basis, whatsoever. It’s merely a logical negation of the state we find ourselves (or anything) in… not some kind of Platonic possibility that could possibly actually be any kind of state of affairs.
We also invented “nothing”. In our minds.
This is why the common criticism I’ve read of Krauss’ “something from nothing” makes no sense to me. People go AHA! But you didn’t really explain getting something from nothing, you only got something from a vacuum state. Well what the fuck did people expect? It, to me, is like asking how we get atoms from some kind of Platonic SQR(-1) floating out there.
Besides, “A Universe From a Nearly Vacated Vacuum State” really doesn’t have such a snappy ring to it. 🙂
“nothing is unstable” is good, but “nothing is impossible” is better – I’ll have to remember that one.
Even the empty spaces between the galaxies, and between the stars and planets within these galaxies, and between the nuclei and electrons of every atom in the universe is a seething caldron of virtual particles flitting in and out of existence.
Nature seems to abhor…I was going to say a vacuum…”nothing”.
Yup. When we veer away from the scaffold of mathematics on such topics, our metaphors can get pretty wild. The “nothing is unstable” comment referred to the concept known as “symmetry-breaking” – analogous to a pencil on a table, balanced on its sharpened point. The tendency to fall over one way or another is just too great in this conception of an early universe… “nothing” is like this asymptotically-low-entropy state beyond which none of the models make sense anymore. (“before” t= 10^-43). Getting into Lie groups & creation of Hilbert spaces & whatnot is so far beyond my pay grade, it’s not even funny. Suffice to say the modern cosmological discussion goes into the genius territory of Emmy Noether and conceptions of symmetry (and the inevitable breakings of it in various ways that lead to what we observe now).
Really wacky stuff, especially as we veer from the raw maths and try putting words and images to it. …which seems to me to be precisely why a Big Kahuna frequently enters this discussion by laypeople (and the few physicists that seem to have lost their marbles). We just want a SIMPLE picture that we can point to, instead of all these #*$&^#& abstractions.
Nothing is what exists north of the North Pole. Anybody who tries to get anything more out of nothing is either a theologian or a philosopher and practicing either philosophical or theological apologetics in favor of one of the usual superstitions favored of either clan.
It’s just plain intellectual laziness, dishonesty, and failure to think about the issue logically resulting in confirmation bias.
Victor J. Stenger has commented often on the fine-tuning arguments, especially in “The Fallacy of Fine Tuning”. Most fine-tuners simply consider adjusting one free parameter at once, and observing that any significant change would disrupt the evolution of life. Now, firstly, as Stenger argues, these arguments have been exaggerated, in that many physical constants can actually be changed quite significantly without disrupting the prospects of life; more importantly, however, a change in one physical parameter can compensate for an adjustment in a different one–thus, if all the different variables are adjusted simultaneously, a significant portion of “phase space” (about 30 percent) would be compatible with life, as changes in variables can compensate for each other. Additionally, many of the fine tuning arguments, concerning for example the expansion rate of the early universe, have been explained by inflationary cosmology.
Yes, Stenger pretty much finished off this tuning argument it seems to me.
I bought Stenger’s book and had high expectations for it. Much of it was pretty good, but like Krauss, in his eagerness to fight theism he reached conclusions that were not completely convincing. Yes, if we played with changing the values of a couple of constants simultaneously, we get much more life-supporting phase space than if we just adjust a single one. But when he does that, he is implicitly simultaneously maintaining many other constants in their “life-supporting” zones. The bit of suitable phase space for two variables quickly gets reduced to almost nothing when the variations in the many additional variables are considered.
I had put Lawrence Krauss’s latest book at the top of my comment on Best Books of 2014, but my iPad ate my comment and I didn’t have strebgth to type it all over again. If you haven’t read it, do!
The universe is not the greatest thing that has ever happened, it is the ONLY thing that has ever happened, as far as we can know. The Big Bang and the origin of life on earth are not separate, comparable events; the latter is a constituent characteristic of the former, in short, a member of the set of states and events representing all space + time.
It seems to me the only plausible “gap” in which to insert a creator is prior to the Big Bang. We can only ever speculate as to what is outside of this reality and this dimension, so any assertion is just as good as anyother, once the mechanism was wound up and intimated, there is no need for, and even less proof of, an interventionist supreme being.
Inserting a god into nothingness is pointless, though, and not only because there is no evidence of its existence. There is nothing in the observable universe that should require a posited “creator” to be immortal, or to be a mind reader, or to care whether creatures live or die – or to care how we treat each other, how we prepare or meals, whether we expose our naked flesh, etc. If anything, the evidence is that nature is utterly blind and indifferent to our wants and needs.
It’s a leap – of faith! – to assert that the posited creator is Judeo-Xtian-Islamic one, as the very nature of that being entails all of the above characteristics, plus human-like emotions including a need to be respected and liked. I would submit that a person can believe in the God(s) of scripture OR in a conceivable creator of THIS universe, but not both: the posited God has no reason to intervene, and the traditional interventionist one could not have so omnipotent as to create this vast and magnificent universe and yet be as pliable by ass-kissing as s/he is made out to be.
I’m an insugnificant human and I could care less about flattery and ass-kissing, yet I do care less and less every day. Am I supposed to believe I am better adjusted and more forgiving than unimaginably powerful super being? Please.
I agree with Krauss’ general conclusions, but in his haste to defeat religious arguments he too often overstates his case and makes bogus arguments. I think he does more harm than good.
His answer to the fine-tuning argument did not honestly grapple with the very real dilemma of the values of those constants. It’s rhetorical bullshit to say that no explanation is needed because “it is much more likely that life is tuned to the universe rather than the other way around.” Check out any place that is just slightly different from earth—do we see life adapting to conditions on Jupiter? The moon? The sun? Asteroids? No, we don’t. The limits of life are really quite narrow, and most values of the fundamental constants would indeed not support life as we know it. Most values wouldn’t even support sustained biological evolution (at least of the chemistry-based kind that we are familiar with), because for most sets of constants, stars would either not form appropriately or would not last long enough for this to happen. I know Stenger shows that the set of suitable constants is actually large than theists claim, but the set is still unimaginably small.
The fine tuning problem is real, and as Jerry suggest, it deserves better answers than the poor argument that Krauss gave.
This is not the only bullshit argument he has given; his redefinition of “nothing” as a quantum vacuum with lots of physical laws embedded in it is another cheap bit of sophistry and question-begging that provides fodder for theists.
We atheists need to be humble and admit we don’t yet have all the answers; it does no end of harm to let our hubris get the better of us. As Feynman once said, tolerance of uncertainty is one of the things that distinguishes science from religion.
I think you are right that Krauss does get a bit hyperbolic on occasion. But I think his argument that “life is tuned to the universe…” has merit. Of the number of possible universes, those with “life” are those which allow some sort of development of complexity such as would enable something like Darwinian evolution. Within the subset, each would develop in unknown ways. With perhaps much different results. Thus, what we here and now consider “life” could have been very much different adapting to what ever laws of physics prevailed.
I think this overturns the expectation that there is only one shape that “life” can take. A good move.
He’s right to suggest that we should not take too narrow a view of life. But this is only a tiny step. As you can see by looking at our own universe, Darwinian evolution is quite fragile, and the adaptability of life is miniscule relative to the conditions of even this favorable universe. When you start playing with the constants that determine the lifetimes of stars, it is hard to see how evolution can even get off the ground in many of them.
Hard to see is not necessarily hard.
By the way, I think multiverses are the most reasonable explanation for the appearance of fine-tuning, and I think there is even some weak empirical evidence in favor of them. Since we all agree that most settings of the fundamental constants are not favorable to life, most universes that are suitable for intelligent life will be just barely suitable for it. Our universe conforms to this prediction; the volume of this universe that is suitable for life is vanishingly small.
Yes, the weak anthropic principle (a statistical distribution over livable universes) would be consistent with what we see. I think this is Bousso’s stick (on even days =D).
“His answer to the fine-tuning argument did not honestly grapple with the very real dilemma of the values of those constants.”
To me it seems a bit provincial (narcissistic?) to use the existence of life as we know it as the only yardstick for determining whether a particular universe is interesting or not.
Perhaps there are other potential universes that have space filled with plasma-based entities that couldn’t exist in ours.
Yes, certainly. But again, the distribution of life (of any kind) in our own universe shows that its adaptability, at least in this universe, is very limited. This universe thus falsifies Krauss’ explanation.
Disagree. The distribution of life in our universe is largely unknown. We don’t even know if it exists, or existed, on mars or titan. What about the galaxy? Or the local cluster?
Remember, rickflick, that we are talking specifically about intelligent life. There does not now seem to be any other intelligent life within several light-years of us. I have no doubt that there is intelligent life out there somewhere, but it is clearly scarce.
Scarce is relative. Depends on your expectations.
One part in 10^30 or so is scarce by any reasonable definition. Remember the point at hand—even in our “favorable” universe, evolution is not very flexible relative to the range of physical parameters available here. Most of this universe is not currently suitable for the evolution of intelligent life. This conclusion has nothing to do with expectations.
I don’t know the significance of “One part in 10^30OK”. If there were found to be 5 technological civilizations in the Milky Way, would you consider that to be scarce? But I see your point. There is very little chance that higher orders of life could arise in the space between the stars, or within black holes, etc. This probably accounts for most of the volume of the universe. So, in that sense the universe is, overall hostile to life. My point is only that we only know for sure that life does not exist in places we have explored or studied in some detail, such as the moon, mercury, and the sun. Simple life could exist on many planets outside the solar system. Higher orders of life could exist on a handful of planets in each of billions of galaxies, giving us a handful of billions of advanced lifeforms. We just don’t know.
I think you misrepresent Krauss a little.
Metaxas’ argument is that advances in science have tended to increase the need for fine tuning. Krauss says that the opposite is true.
I, however, agree that fine tuning is still a problem and I agree that the multiverse is a solution to this problem.
Also, it’s a natural extension of inflation theory and actually requires no extra concepts to be true.
That was comment #100 🙂
Yes, I was only commenting on this particular argument of Krauss’.
He could have made his argument that “the opposite is true” quite nicely by pointing out the increasing theoretical plausibility of inflation/multiverses, rather than making the bogus argument Jerry quoted.
Fair enough; and I agree.
The point of saying “it is much more likely that life is tuned to the universe rather than the other way around” is that life was not a goal, which the fine-tuning argument implies. Krauss is saying life simply happened in the areas where it could happen; that there’s no reason to think life is something that really shouldn’t have happened at all, and the fact that it did means something.
I’m not sure what the dilemma is.
True, life is tuned to the universe, but you first need a universe in which life is possible. That’s where the fine tuning comes in.
Krauss also points out that the universe looks the way it would if its organization was not intelligently designed. As if life was an accident. This is to point out, I think, that if the universe had a designer, there would be clear evidence of a plan and a direction and a goal. Current cosmological models conflict with this teleological view. Particularly, the idea of the heat death of the universe. If that’s true, it doesn’t look like there was much careful planning involved.
Yes, I agree with that argument of K’s.
The set of livable universes isn’t “small” as I understand it, Stenger varies the constant ratios over several orders of magnitude and he gets ~ 50 % of universes livable. One can argue why we would expect to vary them around the values that we see, but it is one “important” outcome.
And if one pokes the finetuning claims they tend to fall apart. The “weakless” universe is livable. And the vaunted Hoyle carbon resonance isn’t necessary either, large red giants produce plenty of carbon by the low temperature ‘unlikely’ triple reaction.
I don’t think I can claim finetuning isn’t necessary to get life. However, the outcome doesn’t seem as constrained as people paints it.
As I mentioned in response to Comment 23, if I recall correctly, Stenger arrived at that 30% or 50% figure considering only a couple of variables (“constants”). But there are more variables and laws than that. The more you add, the smaller that viable area of phase space gets, and it gets smaller very fast as you add them. I don’t think Stenger is terribly convincing. He reminds me a bit of Krauss in his crusade-like form of argument. I’d rather see someone admitting the uncertainties rather than trying to overpower the other side with rhetoric. It reminds me of the way some Christians argue for the reality of divine creation, rather than the arguments of a careful scientist.
I would like to see references to “The more you add, the smaller that viable area of phase space gets, and it gets smaller very fast as you add them.” As I remember it, Stenger’s two parameters encapsulate all that is necessary for life (chemistry).
I agree that if Stenger has misrepresented his results it would be serious.
I’m not sure that Krauss’s redefinition is “sophistry” anymore than making the extraordinary claim that there was a “nothing” in the first place. His is a relabeling which fits our increased understanding of the vacuum.
But that is an aside. I wanted to point out that there is something fishy here. Replicator thermodynamics [see the England’s article, but better Russell et al’s latest review “The drive to life on cold and wet worlds”] makes life both inevitable and finetuned. Life has but one opportunity, and that is to kick in as a cooling planet no longer has the heat energy to freely oxidize water and reduce carbon dioxide. It is a tight span of liquid water existence, where metabolic engines can kick in and do that work by spending heat driven redox/pH differentials on pushing electron and ion currents.
Life couldn’t exist in a more “life-friendly” universe of liquid water (and the rest of CHNOPS) filling it. It seems to me life depends on finetuning, every bit as much as a weal anthropic multiverse finetuning would arise out of having life.
No it wasn’t. I thought it was a darned good explanation. 😉
“I’m not sure that Krauss’s redefinition is “sophistry” anymore than making the extraordinary claim that there was a “nothing” in the first place. ”
Sophistry is sophistry even if the other side does it too.
Yes, but the rest of that paragraph rebutted that Krauss’s argument was sophistry.
God? Why just one? So many life-forms look like, if designed, it was by a committee with some disagreements that led to weird compromises.
There is a multi-god theory out there. [I think it was written up on the Panda’s Thumb blog, but i can’t find it now.]
Yes, it had test statistics and it was found to be a much more likely explanation than the abrahamistic single god idea.
That’s hilarious! I can see it now… the really fringe theory might involve Group selection (with a capital G) within the population of deities.
I suppose a more conventional theory around these parts would involve the biggest, most bad-ass G*d beating out all the others, eventually leading to Jesus’ descent (with modification, of course).
“There is a multi-god theory out there.” It’s called Hinduism.
At least, that’s the one I know of. Quite possibly there are others, among the thousands of religions, most of which will also have their own particular creation myths.
Why do the monotheists get to dominate their side of the discussion?
Metaxas puts God straight into metaphysics: an unchanging argument from the beginning of conscious attempts to justify the supernatural.
Assume there is a god that was the first cause of the universe and of life. What then? As Krauss and Carroll and others have pointed out: a god (any god) that starts everything but has no participation points (i.e., no evidence) is a cipher. It is a null result.
But religious people do assume there was a first creator of the universe and life. And they attribute some classically horrible attributes to it. I cannot allow Metaxes any luxury to remove himself from the category of some prejudicial Christian who thinks that all homosexuals should be killed. All because the Christian thinks there must be a god and he is allowed to consider that his god must want him to hate.
If you give people (false) reasons to think their is a god they invariably use this justify their actions.
Kudos for Krauss for speaking out on the probability of life and against fine tuning nonsense. That said, I dislike that he used the MIT research about entropic flow as an argument about the inevitability of life in the universe–it’s embarrassing. This hypothesis is extremely tenuous in its conclusions and has barely left the womb. It’s like saying ‘string theory may unify physics soon.’
I actually dislike when physicists try to do biology, they routinely try to model everything mathematically and come up with theories of the most outlandish sort.
Until we understand the primordial chemistry that birthed the RNA world (assuming that is correct), we have no idea if the formation of starting materials (like chiral ribose) or self-replicating molecules is incredibly improbable or not. Since we only know of one self-replicating prebiotic polymer (RNA and DNA) the gentle flow of entropy won’t be animating very much if the building blocks aren’t available to make them in the first place.
England has made a contribution in an old area of astrobiology which has long been promoted, by geoscientists especially, ever since the cellular mechanism of chemiosmosis was discovered. Russell [ http://science.jpl.nasa.gov/people/Russell/ ] especially, but also Pross [ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/addy-pross/what-is-life_b_4992980.html ] and Pascal [ http://www.dsbc.univ-montp2.fr/r_pascal_en.html ] has made huge inroads. Russell, for one, predicted the existence of alkaline hydrothermal vents before they were discovered just from knowledge of chemiosmosis and serpentinization.
I recommend Russell et al’s recent review on replicator thermodynamics and its relation to the submarine alkaline hydrothermal theory. [“The Drive to Life on Wet and Icy Worlds”, http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/ast.2013.1110 ]
Re chiral ribose, chirality has to kick in latest as the ribosome evolved a genetic code under coevolution with mRNA. More likely ribose was racemic before that, as the root metabolism seems to have had inorganic metabolic engines. [Ibid.] The root metabolism takes us to 2C compounds, where the modern metabolism has a 2/3C bottleneck with many pathways. One that looks achievable from the same type of catalytic engines is ketogenesis.
And of course, as soon as we have 3C compounds we get glucoses & pentoses (and so soon purines) for free. In a Hadean ocean – hot, anoxic, iron rich – we have the Keller et al pathway-like reaction chain, as efficient and side-reaction free as the modern cellular metabolic pathway. [“Non‐enzymatic glycolysis and pentose phosphate pathway‐like reactions in a plausible Archean ocean”; http://msb.embopress.org/content/10/4/725 ]
I don’t think these concerns are problem any longer. The problem is to test these high pressure, high temperature geochemistries. Russell’s lab made a first reactor 2010, but the results are slow coming…. :-/
Thanks, very interesting.
Another reason to think initial nucleotides were racemic is that it is easier to make replication pools of strands. The current shortest replicator is a D strand replicating L strands and vice versa.
“Chiral inhibition is avoided because the 10^6-fold rate acceleration of the enzyme only pertains to cross-chiral substrates. The enzyme’s activity is sufficient to generate full-length copies of its enantiomer through the templated joining of 11 component oligonucleotides.”
[“A cross-chiral RNA polymerase ribozyme”,
Jonathan T. Sczepanski & Gerald F. Joyce; http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v515/n7527/full/nature13900.html ]
Seems to achieve replication coevolution of strands is easier.
I haven’t kept up with this literature for some time. Some interesting new developments to be sure. I’ll grant you racemic pentose and hexose abiotic synthesis and conjugation with conveniently proximal nucleoside bases. But I’m not understanding your point about the ribosome coevolving with mRNA:
“…chirality has to kick in latest as the ribosome evolved a genetic code under coevolution with mRNA. More likely ribose was racemic before that”
I seriously doubt whether the ribosome (homochiral protein world) had racemic nucleic acids baked into it. This presents all kinds of problems if you know the concept of diastereomers. Maybe I misunderstood you.
Question: Do you think that the slightly L-enriched amino acids found in space seeded Earth’s proto-proteome (panspermia) or were they made in situ on Earth? I very much favor the latter and think the amino acids found in space (e.g. on carbonaceous chondrites) is evidence for the ubiquity of those chemical reactions and end products rather than “coming” to Earth. I’m not denying the viability of panspermia as a theory, just that it appears to create a finite regress to some ancient niche (say on Mars) when Earth had a trillion available niches to accomplish the same thing and in the right place to begin with.
PS: Really like the CH4->CO2 cycle. That makes a ton of sense.
Sorry for late answer, I have been so preoccupied and this got pushed to the right many times.
“I seriously doubt whether the ribosome (homochiral protein world) had racemic nucleic acids baked into it. This presents all kinds of problems if you know the concept of diastereomers. Maybe I misunderstood you.”
I know that diastereomers is a problem, but I don’t know how large. I was referring to the chiral constraint that surfaces among (presumably competitive) ribosomes. [ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3155382/ ]
I agree with you on the local production of amino acids and how meteorites supports its plausibility, it is a much more likely source.
“Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?”
Kudos! – amazing that everyone missed that bit till 130 comments into the thread!
Metaxas magic-in-the-gap argument revolves around the stupid Rare Earth analysis and the religious finetuning argument, pushing religious apologists (Hoyle, Davies, Lennox) in at the end.
That RE is stupid is because one can pick factors to insert in its baysian model of likelihood for life and get any value one wish in the [0,1] range. Certainly there isn’t any “200 known parameters” that people agree on, Metaxa is bluffing.
But while Krauss’s response is certainly eloquent, and contains the replicator thermodynamics I personally see as exciting progress [but see Russell rather than England on that], he makes some mistakes.
– That Jupiter would be lower impact rates was shown to be erroneous when people started to actually model it. It increases the impact rates in the inner system by flinging impactors towards the Sun. If Jupiter had been 1/5th its current mass, it is unusually large for a gas giant, it would have maximized the impact rates so that even early life would have been threatened.
– And Krauss repeats an old value on the mismatch between naive estimates and the cosmological constant: “it appears to be over a hundred and twenty orders of magnitude smaller than our theories suggest it could be.” Latest estimate is much closer:
“In particular, we show that the properly renormalized value of the zero-point energy density today (for a free theory) is in fact far from being 122 orders of magnitude larger than the critical energy density, as often quoted in the literature. … Firstly, we
notice the large mismatch between the theoretical expectation (516) and the above, observationally determined, number (548), something like 54 orders of magnitude (but much less than the 122 orders of magnitude often quoted in the literature). This is of course nothing but the cosmological constant problem …”
[ http://arxiv.org/pdf/1205.3365v1.pdf ]
So naively ~ 50 oom mismatch. Throw in supersymmetry, and the original 122 oom would drop to ~ 60 oom. I think the current mismatch lies in the interval 10-60 oom, depending on if supersymmetry is valid or not.
This Metaxas guy elides the distinction between two questions – whether it’s surprising that earth is ‘perfect’ for life(assume for the moment that describing a planet, the vast majority of which is fatal to human beings, as perfect is reasonable) on the one hand and on the other hand whether it’s surprising that the universe is ‘perfect’ for life(again, a very strong argument could be made that our universe points to a god that loathes life, such is the universe’s overwhelming inhospitability).
They are completely separate questions. The first question has a perfectly logical, uncontroversial and straightforward answer – there are something like 100,000,000,000 galaxies in the observable universe, all of which contain hundreds of millions, hundreds of billions, sometimes hundreds of trillions of stars. Even taking into account the difficulties for life if the planet is part of a binary solar system, a (very)conservative estimate, knocking off at least two or three orders of magnitude, might put the number of planets in the universe at a quintillion(1,000,000,000,000,000,000).
The onus is on people like Metaxas to demonstrate that our planet and the solar system in which it’s embedded are so unique that even searching through a quintillion planets we would be unlikely to find anything like the earth.
Considering how wildly variable the outcome of many-termed probability estimates are; how they depend on, and are incredibly sensitive to, the subjective estimates of the people making them, the ‘perfect’ conditions of earth are not in the slightest bit surprising. It’s a non-issue that even most professional apologists have stopped using in their arguments. And along with ‘the second law forbids evolution’ it’s a very good signpost that the person using it in their argument hasn’t read many arguments against their own position.
The fine-tuning argument for the universe is different, in that it’s a genuine puzzle. Lawrence Krauss, along with Vic Stenger and a few others, disagrees with the idea that it should be puzzling in the first place. I don’t agree with their arguments, or perhaps I just don’t quite understand their arguments.
There are lots of analogies that try to explain why it should be surprising, some of which seem too inexact to apply. My inevitably flawed attempt would be this – try imagining you wake up in a house. You look around and see that it has chairs, and tables, and a bed, fridge, stocked larder, central heating, etc…
There is no reason to expect, given the undirected mechanism which brings the house into existence, anything but complete chaos – the materials that make the chair, fridge, food, etc. would, in the vast majority of hypotherical house-instantiations, be randomly strewn around the house. Yet we find ourselves in a comfortable, semi-detached building with all mod cons.
The probability of this house appearing is admittedly identical to the probability of any other configuration of house, but that’s not the point. The point is that the vast majority of configurations are higgledy-piggledy, chaotic, completely uninhabitable houses.
The relevant comparison is therefore between the population of houses that through chance are habitable and the population of houses that through chance are not – the previous population vastly outnumbers the latter and the probability of finding yourself in a habitable house(which is the important part) as opposed to an uninhabitable one drops precipitously.
Of course this applies only if the ‘house-instantiation’ event is a one-off. If the multiverse is brought into the picture then it’s just as unsurprising to find ‘fine-tuning’ in the universe as it is to find ‘fine-tuning’ in many of earth’s parameters.
The fine-tuning argument is deeply flawed, but I don’t think its premise, ie. that in a solitary universe fine-tuning is surprising, is flawed.
Besides, considering how many different physical theories either predict or imply the existence of multiple universes, and that these multiple universes are often simply the logical consequence of following the maths, I can see the fine-tuning argument falling out of favour as time goes on.
ninth para: “the previous population vastly outnumbers the latter” should read “the latter population vastly outnumbers the former”.
Oops. As the number of words in a post increases so the probability of an error-free post diminishes. Add in general laziness and incompetence and it diminishes even more rapidly.
Fine-tuning arguments for life are based on the fallacy “improbable to exist, therefore meant to exist”. It could be less fallacious to argue that the universe is fine-tuned to be devoid of life, the tiny specks being just a statistically insignificant anomaly.
Do you know how unlikely it is that I’d be on earth using the internet? Out of 4 billion years, the internet has only existed for a few decades, yet here I am, writing this comment. The odds are so vanishingly small that obviously God created the internet.
By inventing the concept of God we are not answering the basic philosophical questions about how life originated. We are just running away from that question by saying god created us. Just because the answer to this question is very complex doesn’t mean you should loose the hope and submit unto so called god. Even If someone answers god, it poses a even serious question about who created god. These are the kind of the questions we can never answer completely yesterday we thought everything is made of electrons protons today we say strings tomorrow maybe something even more deeper. There will never be an end to it. In short wherever our knowledge ends to put a pause there we invent god.
“what are the odds that the universe would eventually lead to that rock by your left foot being where it is right now? Just as long as the odds against human life. But no one would say the precise position of a rock is something that requires explanation at the cosmic level; no one would say the universe is fine-tuned by some supernatural dial-fiddler for that rock. But the emergence of human life and the position of that rock are equally improbable, just as whatever number ticket you get is equally improbable. Fine-tuning dissolves when you get rid of the biased emphasis we put on life. Everything is improbable”
Note to Steve and others:
We are assuming fine tuning is a fact and the question is: do we need a multiverse to explain why life evolved in this universe?
The answer is yes.
In a lottery of a trillion tickets, it is true that one ticket must win, but it is also true that whichever ticket wins had a 1 in a trillion chance of winning. If that ticket was “a particular rock at a particular set of coordinates in spacetime”, then the odds were 1 in a trillion that this would have occurred in this universe. Same for life. So, in order to be guarnateed to have life and/or that rock, we need a multiverse.
There is really no way around that fact.
But why do we need a guarantee? Infinitesimal odds or not, it did happen; we’re no longer dealing with probabilities.
You might have noticed that I said that the odds WERE 1 in a trillion that this WOULD HAVE occurred. I was especially careful not to use the present tense, but somehow you read it into my post anyway.
I get that you’re making that assumption. I’m arguing that you have no empirical basis for it. Right now no attempt to go beyond the Standard Model is anything more than a bunch of pretty mathematics without expermental support. Yes, as you noted earlier, many of these attempts require features like extra dimensions and a multiverse, but not all do: loop quantum gravity, for example, does not. As a layman who is incompetent to make a contribution to the research enterprise, all I can do is stand back and wait until the wheat has been separated from the chaff.
There are posters here who say that EVEN IF fine tuning was real, it would be irrelevant. I’m arguing that IF fine tuning were real we would need a multiverse to explain why this universe produced life. Do have any opinion on that? If not, you are irrelevant to this discussion.
No, I don’t. It would be an opinion based on speculation, and I don’t do metaphysics. If that makes me irrelevant to a discussion that I think is based on nothing concrete, then so be it. With any kind of luck, the next runs at the LHC will place constraints on or even eliminate some of the candidate theories. Perhaps we’ll have something to talk about then.
In the mean time, some of us are interested in looking at the science as it stands at the present time and making sure we are coming to the correct conclusions based on that knowledge. And, actually, it’s a lesson in basic statistics which many in this thread have failed to learn. Of course, your irrelevant commentary has made it impossible for me to tell if you are one of them.
Actually, the mistake is the one I alluded to earlier.
Improbable alone doesn’t entail “didn’t happen”. Only in the contrast with something else does one say that X is *more likely* than Y. For example, if one rolls 100 ten sided dice, one gets an event of massive improbability – but certainly not an impossible one, since it just happened. An event *of that improbability* was, in fact, pretty certain.
Note that also we don’t know that the supposed “physical constants” can vary. No mechanism is present to change them in any well established physical theory, so why think they are?
Further, since the universe is eternal, even assuming that somehow they have to be set for each hubble volume, one runs into: that may well be an operation a child can do, with her “My first hubble expansion playset” – we just don’t know.
““My first hubble expansion playset””
Keith, nice & clearly stated explanation and I hope BillyJoe will take some time to think about it.
BillyJoe, I too am interested in the science as it stands. But again, our knowledge is not yet sufficient to draw conclusions, correct or otherwise.
I swear, some of my Christian friends are more tolerant of my skepticism than you are.
Krauss writes this:
Metaxas writes. “The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.”
Such a claim is fraught with statistical perils, however. The first is a familiar mistake of elaborating all the factors responsible for some specific event and calculating all the probabilities as if they were independent. In order for me to be writing this piece at this precise instant on this airplane, having done all the things I’ve done today, consider all the factors that had to be “just right”: I had to find myself in San Francisco, among all the cities in the world; the sequence of stoplights that my taxi had to traverse had to be just right, in order to get me to the airport when I did; the airport security screener had to experience a similar set of coincidences in order to be there when I needed her; same goes for the pilot. It would be easy for me to derive a set of probabilities that, when multiplied together, would produce a number so small that it would be statistically impossible for me to be here now writing.
Let’s note that Krauss considers this interplay of probabilites “statistically impossible,” hence recognizing that it isn’t necessary to travel all the way to “zero” before reaching certainty about highly improbable events. He says the same thing about a tornado passing through a junkyard and building a 747 (Hoyle’s famous quote).
So, Krauss is saying that there is a cut-off of improbabilities beyond which “randomness” is ruled out.
Let me point out that: (1) it is Krauss as an intelligent being that allowed him to be at the airport in San Francisco, not random forces; (2) the sequence of “stoplights” the taxi had to traverse were installed by intelligent beings, and timed by intelligent beings; (3) his taxi was being driven by an intelligent being; (4) the airport screener was, himself, an intelligent being capable of navigating himself just as Krauss did; (5) the pilot was an intelligent being.
So, Krauss is postulating that the odds of all that he laid out happening by “chance” was “statistically impossible” (thus ruling out random forces), and, yet, these “statistically impossible” results, this unthinkable limit to what random forces alone can accomplish, is EASILY overridden by “intelligent beings.”
What is the difference between saying that, “The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing,” and saying that, “It would be easy for me to derive a set of probabilities that, when multiplied together, would produce a number so small that it would be statistically impossible for me to be here now writing”? It is the same view of improbability. Krauss simply points by his exampled that these kinds of “astonishing odds” are everyday easily overcome by intelligent beings. So, according to Krauss, if we want to explain how “astonishing odds” are overcome, we should presume we’re dealing with “intelligence.”
No, I think Krauss was just using elements of his life in civilization to give a common-experience perspective. He could just have easily told a story about a natural process like the formation of a lake at the base of a mountain. The rocks had to be positioned just so and the rain had to be exactly this much or the lake would have never been formed here in this spot to this depth.
Now, the fish in the pond…that’s another story.
I don’t disagree that Krauss was using a, perhaps as he wrote, on-going, common human experience.
The problem I see is that, like most people, he doesn’t allude to the use of his, and others, intelligence in surmounting obstacles in everyday life. The point he wants to make is that highly improbable, “statisticaly impossible” things happen all the time, and nothing seems to get in the way of them happening. But he overlooks the fact that we, as intelligent beings, have no problem whatsoever overcoming such astronomical improbabilities through the use, and only through the use, of our intelligence. That’s what intelligence does. And we do it so effortlessly, and naturally, that we don’t even notice. (E.g., Krauss didn’t notice what was really going on as he gave his example)
Yet, if we do notice, then we see that the only manner in which “statistically impossible” odds (‘impossible’ only in terms of random search) are overcome is through intelligence. Why shouldn’t we notice this, and use this ‘fact’ in a ‘scientific’ way?
I think you underestimate Krauss’ ability to know what he’s saying. He is certainly aware that intelligent beings navigate the world and generate states that are otherwise improbable. What you are promoting sounds profound but actually asserts a triviality on one level and something meaningless on another.
With all due respect, this sentence of yours might seem ‘profound,’ but remains completely opaque.
What is ‘trivial,’ and what ‘meaningless’?
Wow, Anthony, you were *so* close to getting the point, then you blew it. Krauss’s argument is *very* different than that “the odds of life occurring is astonishing.” The key statistical peril is assuming all the events are independent (and can therefore be multiplied to produce ridiculously improbable odds). Living things just don’t evolve that way. They take one step (say, a genetic system), *then* another step (say, glycolysis) then another (say, photosynthesis) then another (say, multicellularity). Having all those happen at once *would* be astonishing; what actually happens is that once one step is accomplished, then the whole population has, say, a genetic system, and you are only concerned about the odds of the next step, however it might occur. That life would instantaneously be adjusted to all the physical parameters on Earth would also be astonishing, compared to what actually happened: a stepwise evolution of living things to those parameters one at a time.
If you still don’t get his analogy, the point is that all the steps in his path to the airplane were robust and sequential. He obviously didn’t have to get through the lights in one particular way to get to the airport; he just had to get there on time. He didn’t have to have the particular screener he did; he just needed to have one on duty. Get it?
Do you have ‘proof’ of this independence, or are you just assuming it ‘must’ be there?
All the ‘steps’ you provide are simply mental steps that we can take. Is this scenario you present anything more than merely a “just-so” story?
No, I must say I don’t “get it.”
Everything you state above is simply an instance of intelligent beings being able to navigate themselves somewhat easily through ‘random’ problems that have been made more orderly via the use of intelligence.
For example, what if the taxi cab driver was new to San Francisco and decided to keep driving until he stumbled upon San Francisco Airport (random mutations)? Would Krauss have arrived on-time? What is the probability of his arriving on-time if the taxi driver did as I said?
Do you get what I’m saying?
I don’t think it’s fair to beat up on Lawrence for coming up with a rather good but still imperfect analogy for describing the interplay of statistics in evolutionary biology. He is, after all, a theoretical physicist and not an evolutionary biologist.
If you can let go of the fact that he was describing the actions of humans as opposed to biochemistry and just focus on the interdependence of the actions rather than the nature of the actions themselves, that might help. Or, better still, you could get your evolutionary biology from an evolutionary biology such as our host.
Do you really think that the odds of life evolving without a guiding intelligence are insurmountable? If so, we could move this discussion along much faster by leaving Lawrence’s analogy behind and getting straight to the biology.
Anthony – The assumption of independence is the *problem* here. It is pretty fundamental to fine-tuning/intelligent design arguments. A realistic account of the evolution of living things is full of non-independence; maybe the best way to make this clear is to point out that not all adaptations happen at once, but rather that later adaptations build upon the particular adaptations that came before in a lineage of organisms. That is most definitely not independent, and you *can’t* just multiply probabilities.
I think you’re getting hung up on the non-relevant part of Krauss’s analogy, that there are lots of people in his scenario. One could come up with a parallel story full of non-sentient steps that might make the point clearer. What Krauss is trying to say is that the path from hotel->plane does not have to be the particular path he took, but just one that works. The probability of any particular path (taken to really high levels of detail, like a particular cab, security screener, route, etc.) is rather small, but that’s not the point; the point is that there are many ways Krauss could have gotten on the plane, and that *in sum* they turn out to be pretty probable and we should not be surprised he made his flight.
Could you provide one?
It appears Krauss does, since the “odds” he considers “statistically impossible” are as nothing compared to the odds of life arising randomly.
Again, Lawrence would accuse you of stretching his analogy past the breaking point; and, again again, it’s entirely irrelevant because he’s a theoretical physicist and not an evolutionary biologist.
I’m asking you, Anthony Linovitz, if youthink that the odds of life evolving without a guiding intelligence are insurmountable.
If you do, we’d all here be happy to take up that discussion directly with you. If not, we can just leave Lawrence’s analogy as a less-than-ideal one outside of his area of expertise and leave it at that.
I find this entire statement problematic; however, the bolded section is the most critical. What evidence supports this claim?
Anthony – It’s clear you need to study some biology, but here goes. Let’s examine photosynthesis. One bacterium develops the ability to extract chemical energy from light. This huge increase in its fitness causes it to become very common. Later, another cell absorbs this bacterium…and we’re off to chloroplast land. Even later, some of these cells become multicellular and eventually we have land plants which have chloroplasts and can photosynthesize. Let’s end with some plants that develop roots which can draw water from soil.
If you want to multiply the probabilities of “photosynthesis” and “development of roots” together to get their overall probability, you have to assume that there were lots of independent developments of photosynthesis and lots of independent developments of roots, and only by sheer chance did they happen to occur in the same organism. That would be treating them as independent characters. Of course, this is not how it happened; photosynthetic organsisms became very common because of that trait, and then root development happens *starting* from an ancestor that’s already photosynthesizing. There aren’t lots of plants sprouting roots “hoping” that maybe they’ll also develop photosynthesis. See how absurd treating those as independent is?
The folks who like to argue “impossible odds” have to willfully ignore the step-by-step nature of the evolutionary process to get away with multiplying probabilities. I hope this example gets through to you, but I’m not going to dumb it down any more.
How do you know that I don’t have a Ph.D. in biology?
The “steps” you gave are all “macroevolutionary” steps, not “microevolutionary” steps. You presume that “macroevolution” is brought about by neo-Darwinism—hence via small, possibly, independent steps—and, then, offer that as proof that evolution happens via ‘independence,’ the ‘proof’ of which is the ‘independent’ steps of “macroevolution.”
By what logic do you offer as proof that which is being assumed?
The macro- v micro-evolution distinction generally isn’t used at all by biologists, and when it is, it’s emphatically not used in the manner your words would suggest.
Since you’re using non-standard terms in a non-standard manner — and, especially, since you’re using them in ways commonly used by Cretinists — you’ll have to precisely define the terms if you expect a meaningful answer from anybody.
And by that usage Anthony really answers his own first question!
Well, OK, I will dumb it down. First there were bacteria. Then there were sponges. Then there were chordates, then amphibians, then reptiles, then mammals, then us. They were not all independently arisen; the mammals had a reptilian ancestor, which had an amphibian ancestor, etc. It’s really that simple; coming from an ancestor with a working set of traits means you don’t have to start from scratch each time. Treating characters or adaptations as independent means assuming that every organism starts from scratch (like, prebiotic soup). Get it yet?
OK, I thought of one more that may help. Imagine you’re playing poker. One player gets dealt five cards and cannot discard anything; they are stuck with what the dealer gave them. The second player gets four rounds of unlimited discards. Who will have the better hand, in general?
The player who just gets five random cards can calculate the odds of any particular hand by multiplying, because the cards are independent. The player who gets to choose cards to discard based on which other cards are in his/her hand, and build up a good hand based on what they already have, is like the evolutionary process, and the cards exchanged are *not* independent of each other, because they are chosen in the context of the other cards. And before you even bother, no, you don’t need an intelligence to make this work; natural selection is perfectly capable of choosing out good combinations (of genes, in this case) through differential survival and/or reproduction.
Get it yet?
If you’re going down that road…
…first imagine a typical decent combination lock where you have to get the right numbers in the right sequence with no indication at any step of the way how well you’re doing.
Now imagine a very cheap combination lock where, if you tug slightly on the padlock as you spin the wheel, it’ll stop at the first number; spin it the other way as you keep tugging on it and it’ll stop at the second number; and reverse the direction again and it’ll pop open when you get to the third number. (My high school locker room padlock worked exactly like that.)
With the first one, the odds really are insurmountable that you’ll get the lock open just by randomly spinning the dial. But, with the second one, it’ll pop open by itself just by the way one might normally stand there idly playing with it.
Evolution works like the cheap locker room padlock does.
“Evolution works like the cheap locker room padlock does.”
Thanks! But Richard deserves most of the credit for it. He’s where I first heard of a sequential lock analogy, only his was more abstract. I only added the detail of the actual padlock I had in high school.
…hmmm…perhaps I should drop him a line and mention that there really are locks that work like that….
Oh, Dawkins. Well, it goes without saying then …
(I had one just the same.)
This is a fine “just-so” story. I’m sure it worked like that with your high school lock.
However, if you try to say that evolution works like my high school gym lock, well, this surely isn’t a scientific argument.
Apparently, this discussion is no longer welcome. Cheers to all.
You clearly haven’t read the Roolz.
You are absolutely right. Any analogy, once again, can quickly be pushed to and beyond its limits, as you have done with your short dismissal.
So let’s dispense with the analogies, shall we?
Instead, let’s consider the actual, real evolution of that most wonderful of animal organs: the eye.
First, permit me to refer you to chapter six of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, in which the first modern scientific model for ocular evolution was proposed:
Darwin wasn’t, of course, in a position to himself confirm or invalidate his theory, but, as it turns out, he was spot on.
Here is a young Richard Dawkins presenting a Christmas Lecture at the Royal Institute:
His presentation includes excellent visual aids that make the theory that much more visceral. Of course, it’s an introductory lecture intended for a school-age audience, but I can’t think of a better…well…introduction than one such as this.
Finally, if that’s not formal enough for you, we can start digging up peer-reviewed journal references for you — but that’s generally inappropriate for these sorts of discussions.
Your entire argument hinges on your contention of ‘small, independent steps’ as leading to the entirety of evolution. But you offer no proof of this.
There is a recent paper out on virus capsule protein formation. There are 30 segments of nucleotides, each 19 nucleotides long. For the protein to form properly, each of these looped segments have to have the right nucleotides extended out on the loop. Four are critical, and of these, two play the most critical part. The authors do a simulation and arrive at a figure of each of these 19-nucleotide (nt) long segments having the right ‘nt’ ends by chance is around 8.3%. In their paper, they deal with 5 of these segments. I could be interpreting their results wrong, but my impression is that for the entire capsule protein to be replicated, 30 such segments are needed (and, of course, if the protein cannot form a capsule, then it cannot, in all likelihood, spread).
The odds of getting all 30 segments having the right nt’s is (1/12)^30. And the odds of getting these 30 segments in the correct order is 30! (factorial). Both of these numbers are around 1 in 10^32. So, the odds of getting a virus protein capsule protein properly produced is 1 in 10^64, roughly.
If you had a trillion, trillion viruses replicating a trillion times a day from the beginning of the universe, there would be 10^36 x 365 x 15 x 10^9 replications, or, roughly, 6 x 10^48 replications. This is one quadrillion times less than the number of replications that would give us the likelihood that this arrangement of segments, with the proper ends, came about by chance.
What, then, is your explanation for how this virus came about?
I tend to frown on one-on-one discussions when they get this long. Could you folks please continue this on private email, or elsewhere?
Oops. Saw this too late. 😬
Fair enough. I’m getting a bit tired of walking Anthony through the basics of natural selection, anyway. Thanks to Ben and Ant for taking up the slack!
Not by chance! (But by evolution, which is !*not*! a purely stochastic mechanism.)