Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Fine-Tuning: Barnes vs Malpass (p. 2)

Fine-Tuning: Barnes vs Malpass
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The Eye

Malpass notes that we don’t accept a design inference for the eye; people once thought the eye was designed but now we know it’s the product of evolution; so couldn’t the same thing apply for cosmic fine-tuning (1:04:54 to 1:07:51)? The implicit question seems to be, since we were wrong about the design inference about the eye, shouldn’t we also doubt the design inference of the universe?

Although Malpass doesn’t explicitly make this argument, one could object that since we were wrong about the eye being designed, shouldn’t we doubt the design inference for cosmic fine-tuning? I think this sort of reasoning proves too much. Consider the following conversation between persons A and B:
A: I think Stonehenge was designed.

B: We should be skeptical of that design inference to the point of not accepting it.

A: Why?

B: There are some things that we thought were designed but actually weren’t, like the eye. Because our design inferences are so fallible, we shouldn’t accept a design inference for Stonehenge. Perhaps, like the eye, we will discover some way for natural processes to create it.
The reason we don’t find this sort of argument convincing is because not all design inferences are equal. The grounds for thinking the eye was designed is different from that of Stonehenge, the Rosetta Stone, and various other artifacts. Despite claiming that the design inferences of the eye and cosmic fine-tuning are “extremely similar” (1:06:33 to 1:06:36) there are some pretty stark differences (indeed, the two inferences aren’t even in the same branch of science). Unlike the case of the eye, the case for design for cosmic fine-tuning is based on hard numbers and rigorously defined models of physics. The scientific case for design in cosmic fine-tuning seems much stronger than the case for the eye. It isn’t clear how the two inferences are similar enough in a way where we should doubt a design inference for fine-tuning.

Barnes points out that, if cosmic fine-tuning is the result of design (1:07:52 to 1:09:22) the eye not being designed isn’t necessarily true (though it would be less direct). As an analogy, suppose a watch came from a watch factory; the watch itself was not directly designed but the watch factory was. Another objection he makes is that the physics of the universe is basically where naturalism “ends,” asking “What would be the case….” while staring at the fundamental laws of the universe.

It’s still possible a non-design hypothesis could explain fine-tuning sometime in the future, just as it’s possible that a non-design hypothesis could someday explain Stonehenge. There’s also an outside chance that we are mistaken about fine-tuning as Luke Barnes concedes, since we’ve already been mistaken about one instance of fine-tuning (albeit the example Barnes offers was made on weaker grounds, done intuitively instead of on models like various other fine-tuning instances; see 1:15:53 to 1:17:20), though the instances of cosmic fine-tuning made on fairly strong grounds are quite numerous it seems relatively unlikely they will all be overturned.

At any case, pointing out fallibility of human design inferences clearly seems insufficient, as does offering promissory notes of a future explanation. Claiming that the design inference for cosmic fine-tuning is similar to the design inference for the eye in a way that should make us doubt the design inference for fine-tuning isn’t terribly convincing, and indeed almost seems like an act of desperation if one doesn’t go into sufficient detail.

The Multiverse Hypothesis

By my lights, the best bet for the atheist to avoid a design inference is a multiverse explanation in which there are so many universes with varying constants and quantities it’s likely that at least one of them would be life-permitting. This is one of the most popular responses for atheists to avoid a design inference among those who accept cosmic fine-tuning. It is, for example, the response atheist physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow use in their book The Grand Design.[2] For a multiverse to satisfactorily account for a life-permitting universe despite fine-tuning there are four desiderata:
  1. Varying constants and quantities. Obviously, the multiverse should have varying parameters across universes.
  2. Avoid the Boltzmann brain problem. The probability of a life-permitting universe (more specifically, one with intelligent interactive life) is so incredibly small that it’s far more likely for a universe with randomly-generated parameters to contain a single brain that briefly emerges from random fluctuations and has conscious experiences, such that on average there’d be far more Boltzmann brains than regular observers. On a multiverse hypothesis with this Boltzmann brain problem (and many such hypotheses do have this problem) it’s overwhelmingly more likely we’d be observing a different reality.
  3. Not require fine-tuning. If whatever mechanism generates a World Ensemble itself requires fine-tuning, this would merely push the problem back a step instead of solving it.
  4. Independent evidence for it. To illustrate why this is needed, imagine a scenario in which we switch the fine-tuning from intelligent interactive physical life to a meteor shower text on the moon that read, “Yes, there is a cosmic designer; I fine-tuned certain parameters so that this message would appear.” Suppose we discover that yes indeed, if certain initial parameters of the early universe were altered even slightly, no meteor shower text would appear. A sufficient multiverse hypothesis (with varying parameters etc.) would explain the meteor shower text, but would be severely ad hoc if there were no independent evidence for it. Design would be the best explanation.
It’s difficult to find a multiverse hypothesis that meets all four desiderata. Barnes specifically focuses on the third criterion, perhaps implicitly thinking of the fourth criterion if only to some limited degree (thinking only of those multiverse hypotheses that fit in with known science) at around 1:21:06 to 1:21:16.

On the Attack

While Luke Barnes does well for the most part, the one where he faces real difficulty is Malpass gives his objections in 1:25:06 to 1:29:48 in which Malpass attacks the idea of an atemporally timeless God creating the universe.

Malpass asserts that a mind is necessarily a linear sequence of phenomenological experiences (1:27:17 to 1:27:24), such that a mind outside of time (outside of time there would be no change; only being and non-being) cannot exist. Malpass also claims a timeless being (1:27:53 to 1:29:48) causing something (somehow) requires that being to enter into a temporal relation in a way that makes it not timeless, thereby generating an inconsistency. Barnes didn’t offer much of an objection against this, but I have one.

My objection isn’t that Malpass gave bad arguments for these claims, but that he gave no arguments for these claims. Malpass gave no argument for his claim that a mind is necessarily a linear sequence of phenomenological experiences. At first I thought his inability to personally conceive of it might be one of his reasons for thinking this (see e.g. 1:26:44 to 1:27:46), but from the comments on his YouTube channel this doesn’t appear to be the case, despite sort of acting as if this were a reason to doubt such a timeless being in the debate (see 1:29:27 to 1:29:31). Malpass also offered no argument for his claim that a timeless entity causing events requires that entity entering into a temporal relation in a way that makes it not timeless. In my humble opinion, Barnes should have pointed out that Malpass’s claims weren’t justified here.

Malpass was kind enough to briefly reply to me on one of my YouTube comments on these two matters. I’ll discuss those two claims in more detail next as well as explain why I am skeptical his claims holds water.

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[2] Hawking, Stephen; Mlodinow, Loendard. The Grand Design (New York: Random House, Inc., 2010), p. 165.