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13 Cards - Evolutionary Probability and Fine Tuning

by epicidiot.com

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From the blog http://helives.blogspot.com/2005_06_01_helives_archive.html#111998330491128939

Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Fine tuning a new result

Cosmological ID is based on two facts:

    1. The fine-tuning of the universe
    2. The uniqueness of the universe

I have argued many times that cosmological ID is falsifiable, by disproving either of these points.

How does one disprove fine tuning?  It is not in the way that is commonly believed.  Take a simple example of fine-tuning: the strength of the strong nuclear force.  If it were about two percent weaker, life-essential heavy elements would be unstable.  If it were about two percent stronger, then quarks would not form into protons, so there'd be no ordinary matter at all.  Two percent either way, and there would be no life.  Does this fine tuning rely on the fact that we do not have a fundamental theory regarding the strength of the nuclear force?  No, not at all. If it did, then it would be legitimately subject to a God-of-the-gaps criticism.  A more fundamental theory that calculated from first principles the strength of the force would not save the day for those who seek to discredit fine tuning.  A theory that predicts the strength of the nuclear force says nothing about the sensitivity of a habitable universe to the calculated value.  We would still have the same fine tuning "problem."  If anything, the appearance of design would be strengthened, for no longer would the "just right" value seem to be the result of a lucky accident, but rather the inevitable result of a highly designed first-principle law.

No, to disprove fine-tuning you have to show that the sensitivity to small changes in physical constants is an illusion.  This will be exceedingly difficult.  The disastrous effects of varying the strengths of the fundamental forces, the expansion rate of the universe, Planck's constant, etc. are straightforward and non-controversial.

And today, via Hugh Ross's daily reason, we have another example of fine-tuning, and example of a type which would still survive an unlikely dismantling of the sensitivity of life to the values of the physical constants.

A little background:

The moon is essential for life for a variety of reasons including the cleansing effects of the tides and the stability of the earths tilt and rotation.

The moon is big enough to provide these benefits, but if it were slightly bigger it would be unstable.

The moon probably formed as a result of a collision of a Mars-sized object with the earth, when our planet was about 250 million years old.  This collision blasted away a poisonous atmosphere and left the earth with a "just right" mass such that its gravity can retain water vapor but not the slightly lighter (and toxic) ammonia and methane.

Here's the fallacy of Item 1.

When one is dealt a bridge hand of thirteen cards, the probability of being dealt that particular hand is less than one in 635 billion.  Yet, it would be absurd for someone to be dealt a hand, examine it carefully, and exclaim, “wow, the odds against getting these exact cards are 635 billion to 1.  I couldn’t possibly have been dealt this hand by chance.  There must have been supernatural intervention.”

That is the fallacy of this idea.  The assumption that the universe and world as it exists was a predetermined outcome.  This is not the case.  It is what it is because that’s the thirteen cards that were dealt. 635 billion to 1 against getting those exact cards, but 1 to 1 odds that 13 cards would be dealt and you would get something.

It's easy to imagine an ammonia-breathing intelligent being somewhere right now saying, “wow, what are the odds that this planet has just the right amount of ammonia in the atmosphere, we are just the right distance from our sun to maintain an average temperature of 180ş F, the three moons provide just the right amount of tidal action, . . .  My, what a finely tuned planet this is.”

Life on this planet seems able to adapt to a variety of atmospheres, contrary to the contention of the blogger.  Under the ocean is a greatly different atmosphere than on dry land.  Plants use carbon dioxide, animals use oxygen.  Archaeons even live in sulfuric acid!  Other environments they can be found in include boiling water, super-salty pools, sulfur-spewing volcanic vents, and deep in Antarctic ice.  It seems obvious that life adapts to what's available and isn't all that picky.

The same extends to the universe.  If the nuclear forces were different, then the laws of physics would be different, atoms (or their equivalent) would form differently, but something somewhere might be posing the exact same argument that their nuclear forces (which are different from what we happen to experience) were just the exact type needed to . . .

Like getting any particular set of 13 cards, the odds are incredibly small that you would get that particular formation, yet the odds are good that you would have gotten something, in which case you would be looking at it and saying what are odds.

Many Intelligent Design ideas suffer this same fallacy.  They look at a biological function and say “wow, what are the odds of that happening.  The odds are too small to have happened by chance.  It must have had supernatural intervention.”  This shows a lack of understanding of the basics of evolution (or is intentionally misleading) in that it falsely assumes that the biological function had a predetermined outcome.  It was not.  It is simply the 13 cards that were dealt.  Nature then adapts and fits itself to the 13 cards that were dealt.  After exiting a room and realizing that you walked through the doorway and not two feet to left and into the wall, you don't say, "Gee, what were the odds that a doorway was just right there were I was walking?"  No, you adapted your actions to your environment.  Had the door been on the left, you would still have walked through the door, just a little differently.  Nature is the same.  Change the conditions, i.e. move the door or deal a different 13 cards, and nature will still exists, it'll just be different.

Evolution does not have goals or predetermined outcomes.  Increased complexity is not a goal.  Sometimes evolution simplifies.  Survival is not even a goal, it’s merely a consequence of the process.  If intelligence is produced, wonderful.  If not, so be it.  It just happened that our 13 cards included an intelligence capable of pondering these ideas.

I think Douglas Adams, author of  "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" summed it up the best:

A puddle wakes up one morning and thinks: "This is a very interesting world I find myself in.  It fits me very neatly.  In fact it fits me so neatly...  I mean really precise isn't it?...  It must have been made to have me in it."

Do we live on a planet that was
specially created for life?

  • Does the size relationship between the Sun and Moon make the Earth unique for scientific exploration?

  • Is the Earth located in the “sweet” spot of the galaxy?

Are these claims valid or pseudoscientific nonsense?

These claims and others are explored in the
"The Privileged Planet"

With thanks to John Allen Paulos, “Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences” for the concept of the bridge analogy.

Closely related to Fine tuning is the anthropic principle.  The term "anthropic principle" was first proposed in 1973 by theoretical physicist Brandon Carter during the symposium "Confrontation of Cosmological Theories with Observational Data" in Kraków celebrating Copernicus’ 500th birthday, as if to proclaim that humanity does hold a special place in the universe after all. [wikipedia]

"The Anthropic Principle says that the seemingly arbitrary and unrelated constants in physics have one strange thing in common--these are precisely the values you need if you want to have a universe capable of producing life." [God the Evidence, by Patrick Glynn]

These views are the basis of the book and video "The Privileged Planet"  Read the review.

More Information

Life that exists in extreme conditions


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2005-11-26 jason wrote:
Interesting, Factual, Biased to Evolution

true other items could result from other conditions but if the strong or weak nuclear forces were diferent then hydrogen and helium might be all we had. Neat analogy though.

2006-06-01 Theistic Evolutionist wrote
Interesting, I'm not sure of the accuracy, Biased to Evolution

2006-06-04 John H. Morrison, Atheistic Evolutionist, wrote
Interesting, Factual, Fair and Balanced
I am concerned about claims that quarks couldn't form baryons if the nuclear force were just a little bit stronger or weaker. At least a quarter-century ago, when the first such claims were made, up to within a decade ago, we were incredibly far from making calculations required for such a claim. For example, in the early nineties, I saw an MIT seminar claim to have measured the QCD coupling constant to within ten percent. A QCD calculation combining three quarks (plus gluons, plus sea quark-antiquark pairs) to form a proton was hopelessly out of reach.

Many other claims of fine-tuning made by the Hugh Ross crowd are also ridiculous.

Even some accurate claims aren't quite as fine-tuning as they appear. For example, 7.7 MeV excited state of carbon is not nearly as fine-tuned as it appears for helium fusion to carbon. And if the nuclear force were sufficently weaker so that deuterium could not form (but tritium and helium-3 still existed as bound states), then straight pp fusion might be ruled out. But supernovas would still occur, and they would provide heavy elements for CNO-type fusion.

2006-10-02 Denis wrote
Your analogy breaks down at one crucial point: the 13 cards are dealt, you start out with a deck of 52 cards and a pair of hands to deal them. Your bridge hand did not evolve, the cards were specifically directed to you...

2006-12-15 Jason, Young Earth Creationist, wrote
Interesting, Factual, Biased to Evolution
I agree with some of the logical points, and have no idea on some of the scientific points. However, not only are you dealt the perfect number of cards to create a bridge hand, you're also intentionally playing bridge. The analogy that life would adapt assumes life is a given.

With life being an assumed outcome in all situations, the article would stand up well, however we have yet to find evidence of life anywhere in the universe. To be sure we only have access to a limited part of it, but we can't even find actual proof of sustainable life currently on Mars. If life is so adaptable, wouldn't it make sense that life would be there also?


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