I recently saw an invitation, by someone with the moniker faithwithreason, to read an article by Luke A. Barnes (The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life). Note that this article is located at arxiv.org, which means it has been “endorsed” by someone but it hasn’t gone through the full peer review process (note Luke's comment below in which he provides a link to a journal article in which the article also appears, indicating that it has since gone through a peer review process). Victor Stenger, the author of the book that Barnes uses as his “antagonist”, has also located at arxiv.org. Stenger did not however address Barnes’ motivations. It’s entirely likely that Barnes’ motivations align very closely with faithwithreason’s motivations because, interestingly enough, faithwithreason is also completed a PhD in Astrophysics, “not too long ago”, just like Barnes. For those not familiar with the difference between astrophysics and astronomy, it is worth noting that astrophysics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the physics of the universe – like “the absorption properties of damped Lyman Alpha systems” (Barnes’ refereed articles 1, 2 and 3) or “expanding space” (Barnes’ refereed articles 4, 6 and 7) or “evolving dark energy” (Barnes’ refereed articles 8).
The link to Barnes’ article was provided with the claim that it had no religious bias, a claim which I doubt, given that Barnes has also provided arguments against evolution. However, even if there is a bias in the Barnes’ intent, the result of that bias is already adequately addressed in his response by Stenger, someone who has many years of experience in particle physics.
Barnes, on the other hand, presents his argument after a much shorter involvement in astrophysics from a position that appears to be largely motivated by a creationist agenda. If there was, in the field of particle physics, such obvious evidence for the fine-tuning of universe for life (or for intelligent life as Barnes argues) then there would be more physicists who would have noticed it – but figures show that significantly less than 10% of physicists are believers. Physicists simply don’t see the evidence that Barnes believes to exist and Stenger is one of the very few who have seen it as important enough to even bother devoting time to discussing something that has not been found, as opposed to the more fruitful discussions of what has been found.
I expect to see more efforts in the future from people like Barnes, and faithwithreason, I have no doubt, to argue that some things that we as a species don’t currently fully understand is somehow evidence for their god. As a consequence you will start to see more serious researchers react against the theistic corruption of their discipline – in the future we might even see a cosmologist become the new Dawkins due to the feeling of outrage that Barnes’ sort of shenanigans engenders in people who have devoted their life to a proper search for understanding.
The problem, however, is that the whole argument is an effort at misdirection.
Fine-Tuning centres on a counterfactual, something that even Barnes admits, although he tries to make light of it. He starts off saying that “FT can be understood as a counterfactual claim, that is, a claim about what would have been” and then goes on to talk about playing tennis against Roger Federer, which he has never done.
I’m assuming that Barnes means that we should imagine that there has been a game in which he played against Federer and lost, as he would undoubtedly do, and then imagine all the other possible game outcomes that didn’t happen, but which could have. There are some major issues with the analogy: the rules of tennis are fixed; the implements are predetermined along with the arena; and so on. The implied choice of game however, being tennis, means that the competition is heavily stacked against Barnes. If given a clean sheet we would not be limited to tennis, so we could have chosen tiddlywinks or scrabble or any number of games in which the outcome would not have been nearly so predictable.
Instead of using a limited and entirely hypothetical scenario, I suggest that we should use a real, existent scenario, but something that could be equated to the amazing fact that I am here and able to ponder on the amazing fact that I am here and able to ponder on the amazing fact I am are here and able to ponder on the amazing fact that I am here and able to ponder on the amazing fact that I am here ... I think I have made my point, but here is a graphical representation:
Tiddles (or a being very similar to Tiddles) lives in my house and this is an amazing fact. If a single event out of a multitude of events had been slightly different, Tiddles would live in another house, would be dead or would never have existed. I’ll just take half a dozen:
· Tiddles’ mother could have been desexed – result = no Tiddles
· Tiddles’ breed could never have caught on – result = no Tiddles
· Tiddles could have escaped and been run over – result = dead Tiddles
· Tiddles could have eaten a poisoned rat – result = dead Tiddles
· I could have not visited the breeder the day I did – result = no Tiddles in my house
· I could have decided to get a different type of cat – result = no Tiddles in my house
Now if I had the inclination (and the time), I could develop thousands of variations of my life, and the life of Tiddles, in which we never came to enjoy the relationship we currently enjoy or in which that relationship would have come to a distressing end.
It’s absolutely, gobsmackingly amazing, if one looks at it that way, that Tiddles lives in my house.
However, it’s not really that amazing. I’ve had other cats and on the sad day that I become Tiddlesless, I shall certainly grieve but not too long afterwards, I will be looking for a replacement.
However, my life with the specific feline called Tiddles is a given. It’s a fact and no matter how many other counterfactuals I might want to construct in which Tiddles is not a part of my life, they (neither singularly nor in combination) do not lead to a conclusion that some immensely powerful, transcendent, timeless, spaceless, personal Being guided Tiddles to me.
Similarly, once we are in the position to ponder how amazing it is that we are here – we are here. All the other options that excluded us might have been possible, but if it weren’t possible for us to be here, then we wouldn’t be here to be amazed. And it doesn’t matter how unlikely it is, because once an event has taken place, the likelihood of that event having taken place is 100%.
So, really, the universe could be “finely tuned” in the sense that if it were different then life could not have arisen and this would provide no proof of Barnes’ god. In some ways, Stenger is doing the theists a favour, if they were only bright enough to realise it.
The Fine-Tuning “Argument” suggests that god was limited in how he built the universe in order to make life. This is a rather weak god, one that has to follow imposed laws. If that is the case, then why don’t we just refer to the laws and leave out the middle man? If, however, there is a range of options from which god could choose to build a universe, then god is not so constrained. God could make any sort of universe it wanted with life in it, but chose this one using its enormous powers.