The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Friday, November 10, 2006

Update on Fine-Tuning Argument

I received an email from a friend about this post from last year "How the Evidence for God Screwed up my Paper" seeking an update. Here's the reply.

Sure, I'd like that because my views are in flux. I haven't stopped grappling with this for a week sense I wrote that. I've attached the most recent version of the paper. A snapshop of my evolving views now actually favor Dembski's argument. His books are extremely well-written, erudite, and well-argued (there are of course holes, but isn't there always). Sadly, they are virtually unread. They're pretty sophisticated and even new-wave lay apologists typically don't get it, and the usual suspects of the United Atheist Front (Southpark joke) don't seem to have given it a fair shake (Dawkins, Dennett, Kitcher, Sober, et al.).

Sadly, a lot of people who totally don't get the argument jumped on board the "Intelligent Design" bandwagon and broke the axel. This is extremely unfortunate because they seemed to verify the stereotype of the Dawkins tribe. I think it will be another decade before we really understand the impact of Dembski's work. (I started to say he's ahead of his time, which he is in many ways, but at the same time Norm Geisler was using Hubert Yockey's work in the 80's.

One of the first things I did when I went to the University after studying with Norm was to find in the stacks the Journal of Theoretical Biology and copy Yockey's 1983 article. Norm's book _Creation Science_ had quite a bit about specified complexity. I'd have to look back to see if this was before or after Denton's book.However, I'm very interested in self-organization scenarios.

My main beef with them as with the FTA is that if their premises were true I'd expect life to be more abundant in the universe. This is bound up with a lot of other issues, in particular the nature of quantum indeterminacy. Like Lewis, I'm not very happy about design arguments, they make surprisingly powerful assumptions and they always speak with a forked tongue due to redness of nature's tooth and claw.

Some versions of the FTA are consistent with both the rarity of life and quantum indeterminacy, but only at a cost of the sort of inefficiency we find all over nature when it comes to generation, but then again we're stuck with that anyway. The inefficiency of which I speak is how nature tends to produce very many times more seed/offspring than is necessary to compensate for the low rate of success.

The only models of "fine-tuning" I can think of consistent with both rarity and quantum indeterminacy are of this kind (for example God makes a gazillion universes and one of them spawns life).The fact is I don't think we have anything like the scientific data necessary for hard and fast conclusions on these matters. However, this version of the paper seeks to show that any of the serious possibilities lead to a good argument for theism, which is an interesting result.


At Thursday, April 12, 2007 1:52:00 AM, Blogger Øystein said...

Dear Trent,

I remember you saying somewhere (on this blog or elsewhere, although for some reason I can't find the right post) that it will be at least one strong design argument for God. So here you mean that the possibilities are fine-tuning and I.D.? And then you find fine-tuning the strongest (perhaps even much stronger) than the other?

If not, what other arguments were you referring to?


At Thursday, April 12, 2007 1:56:00 AM, Blogger Øystein said...

Also, I see now after re-reading more thoroughly, that you favors Intelligent Design at the moment. Actually, the only problems I have with that approach is really the theological problems with I.D.

I will get into details later.

At Thursday, April 12, 2007 3:29:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

An earlier and much longer version of the paper also had a section pressing theological problems for ID. The considerations which I find in favor of and opposed to each argument are, unfortunately quite complicated. I'm sure it's going to sound strange: the difficulty of providing a semantics for probability on which the FTA works means that it would be easier for us to recognize his fingerprint by acting *during* the development of the universe in which the origin of life is highly improbable. Note that this is a theological argument for what we would expect God to do and, to boot, one that depends on an extremely technical bunch of "philosophy crap" that doesn't prevent ordinary folks from appreciating the FTA, so my point depends on God's caring about there being philosophically technically correct arguments. Not everybody's going to think that's so plausible.

At Friday, April 13, 2007 2:09:00 AM, Blogger Øystein said...

Yes I see your point, and I agree that it would be "expected" for God to fine-tune when the universe "boot". And that is one problem with Intelligent Design. It tends to be some kind of constant miracle working.

Why didn't he just do all naturally? I am sure he is capable of that? Or did he do it this way to give us a shred of evidence for his existence?

By the way, I would be very happy if I could read your paper some day. I am also going to buy right now a "little" (500 pages) anthology called "Perspectives on an evolving creation". Unfortunately, it is just one part of the book dealing with theological troubles with theistic evolution. Yep, I am having trouble there too actually, and thus regard that theme as the most important one. But I guess it will make interesting reading.



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