Also for the benefit of other readers, a little background. Luke and I have had a brief exchange in the comments section to A Doctor a Day – A Response which is on the topic of Fine Tuning. I’ve brought this out into an article, for the most part, because his latest response quoted a chap called John F. Donoghue. I know what you are all thinking, but it is not the urologist John F. Donohue that we are talking about, but a different guy, with a “g”.
This particular John F. Donoghue, who writes about the multiverse solution to the fine-tuning problem, is the self-same John Donoghue whose name is on a list of people who have sought and been granted funding from the Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi). But when you look at his CV, in the section titled “Funding History”, he doesn’t refer to the funding as coming from FQXi (as he had noted in the section before) but rather he says that he got a small grant from the John Templeton Foundation (JTF). Now, Donoghue might mean that he got another, separate grant from JTF, but searching the JTF website produces exactly one result – the grant from FQXi. Does that mean that FQXi is just a puppet organisation of JTF (like the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) is a puppet organisation of the Church of Scientology (CoS)) and that a grant from FQXi is a grant from JTF in all but name?
Apparently not. You have to dig around a bit at the FQXi website in order to find that the Institute is funded by a seed grant from the JTF, but when you find the relevant page, it’s quite revealing. There has been quite some effort expended on pointing out that:
the Institute is seeking a broader base of donors – this is mentioned a couple of times, first at the top of the page, where “to diversify our funding base” is cited as the motivation, then towards the end where there is an indication that JTF has “strongly encouraged” the Institute to seek additional donors. Interestingly, the copyright declaration on the website’s lower banner is as of 2009, while the FAQ appears to have been posted in June 2010, which is after the funding from JTF expired (in December 2009). The search for other donors does not seem to have been successful, or those donating want to remain quiet about it, and I’ve not yet been able to establish FQXi’s current source of funding.
the Institute operates in accordance with its scientific charter – a charter that talks of “deep or ‘ultimate’ nature of reality” with the word “ultimate” neatly bracketed by quotation marks, or scare quotes as they are sometimes called, unlike over at JTF where their mission is to act as “a catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality” and “ultimate” remains an integral part of that mission.
But hang on a second. A condition of the JTF grant is that the activities of FQXi are consistent with their scientific charter – that sounds a bit like control to me, but perhaps it is just “influence”.
(Also, interestingly, the current Scientific Director of FQXi has been involved with JTF over a longer period. He was overseeing a JTF funded program during the Guillermo Gonzales affair – or possibly overseeing a JTF funding program, the wording is a little unclear. But rest assured that Max Tegmark is not religious, as he himself declares, so I doubt that he is a JTF puppet.)
However, all that aside, the John F. Donoghue quoted by Luke Barnes directly credits the Templeton Foundation for his grant rather than the totally independent Foundational Questions Institute which actually gave him the money. Why would he do that?
There are plenty of reasons why a serious scientist would try to avoid an overly close association with JTF, much as FQXi attempts to do in their FAQ, despite spending JTF money and much as JTF itself attempts to avoid association with the Discovery Institute.
(The interested reader might want to look up some comments on the Foundation by Sean Carroll, Peter Woit, Jerry Coyne and others - including possibly biased commentators such as AC Grayling, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. It’s interesting to see that our old friend Vilenkin is also a recipient of FQXi funding while Guth is on the Advisory Council. There’s no sign of Borde though.
It might be worth noting that JTF is behind the Templeton Prize for progress in religion which was, for more than a decade (1999-2011), given to a scientist or academic who was somehow pro-religion – to the bemusement of the 2000 recipient, Freeman Dyson, who describes himself as a “practising Christian but not a believing Christian”.
While I am doing an aside, I’ll also slip in another curiosity. How does one go from “Foundational Questions Institute” to the acronym FQXi? There’s a FAQ entry on that too. By a staggering coincidence “Xi” also appears in the name of a scientific research society that was founded in 1886, Sigma Xi. One shouldn’t read too much into that, there was already an institute with the potential acronym FQI – the Federal Quality Institute – although that institute doesn’t seem to have staked its claim on the acronym.)
I find the willingness, on the part of John F. Donoghue, to be associated with JTF interesting, because it is akin to Luke Barnes’ equanimity in the face of becoming the poster boy for certain types of god-bothering apologists. Both are slightly odd positions for a serious physicist to take, but not so odd if the physicist in question is a god-botherer himself. Perhaps Donoghue and Luke are not actually in either the theistic or apologist camp, but when one hears something quacking madly like a duck, one can be forgiven for thinking that one is confronted with a duck.
I am led to pose a number of questions to Luke:
Why, given his statement "I do not attempt to defend any conclusion based on the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life", did Luke put so much effort into responding to Victor Stenger's popular level book which directly addresses the misuse of fine-tuning by theists, many of whom argue precisely that point?
Why, given the above, does Luke’s paper, titled "The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life", include the term "intelligent life" nineteen times and contain only one clear statement that he is not attempting "to defend any conclusion based on the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life".
Why is that clear statement placed in the abstract, as the second last sentence where it could easily have been inserted as an afterthought (much as the very last sentence could have been inserted as an afterthought), rather than being in the body of the paper?
And why, in that paper, does Luke repeatedly misrepresent Stenger's argument?
For example, Luke states that Stenger
"claims that the universe is not fine-tuned."
While Stenger himself states that he
"concluded that while the precise form of life we find on Earth would not exist with slight changes in these parameters, some form of life could have evolved over a parameter range that is not infinitesimal, as often claimed"
"I agree that life, as we know it on Earth, would not exist with a slight change in these parameters."
Stenger clearly indicates that he is arguing against non-technical claims that the universe is so finely tuned that changing any single parameter
"by one part in 10^40 or more would mean that no life of any kind was possible".
In the conclusion to his response to Luke, Stenger clarifies that his
"intent was to investigate the claim found in much theistic literature that carbon-based life, as we know it, would be impossible if any one of thirty or so parameters of physics and cosmology changed by an infinitesimal amount. Five of these are critical parameters for which it is claimed no form of life would be possible without the posited fine-tuning."
Luke posed a question regarding my use of the concepts “strong fine-tuning” and “weak fine-tuning”.
The sort of vulnerability of the universe to infinitesimal levels of change as mentioned above (a variation of one part in 10^40 would lead to no life whatsoever in this universe) is what I mean by "strong fine-tuning”. Now it is possible that "weak fine-tuning” is really what Luke is arguing for. As Stenger puts it:
The remaining parameters are also supposed to be fine-tuned to many orders of magnitude. I show that they are at best fine-tuned, if you want to call it that, to 10-20 percent. Barnes seems to want me to reduce this to maybe 1-5 percent. But nowhere does he show that they should be 10^-40. My essential point is, when all parameters are taken together the region of parameter space that should allow some form of life to evolve is not the infinitesimal point that the theist literature would want us to believe.
So, you could say that Stenger is arguing against “strong fine-tuning” (1:10000000000000000000000000000000000000000) and conceding “very weak fine-tuning” (1:5 - 1:10) while Luke is arguing for “weak fine-tuning” (1:20 – 1:100).
However, because Luke makes his arguments the way he does, his efforts make him appear like an apologist or, at best, someone writing for an audience of apologists. For an example, apologists in the vein of WLC love to cry fallacy and will pepper their arguments with accusations of "straw man", "equivocation" or "genetic fallacy". Luke feeds right into this fixation of theirs by making his very first section after the introduction a smorgasbord of plump juicy fallacies.
Luke also fails, in his paper, to clearly indicate that the claims of apologists with respect to fine-tuning are overblown, thus allowing those apologists to interpret Luke’s work as supporting “strong fine-tuning”. In fact, he follows the standard apologist approach by presenting two “tidy explanations” (which he graciously admits are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive), one which is basically the anthropic principle and another which relies on a “transcendent, personal creator”. Note, he doesn’t say a “divine being” or “a god”, Luke uses a term which could have been lifted directly from William Lane Craig or the Institute for Creation Research or Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator”.
And then Luke immediately deals with the anthropic principle (AP) concluding with “Similarly, AP cannot explain why life and its necessary conditions exist at all” while leaving the transcendent, personal creator untouched.
Later in the paper, in section 5, The Multiverse, Luke quotes Stenger (my emphasis):
“Cosmologists have proposed a very simple solution to the fine-tuning problem. Their current models strongly suggest that ours is not the only universe but part of a multiverse containing an unlimited number of individual universes extending an unlimited distance in all directions and for an unlimited time in the past and future. … Modern cosmological theories do indicate that ours is just one of an unlimited number of universes, and theists can give no reason for ruling them out.” [The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe is Not Designed for Us p22, p42]
Then he (Luke) goes on to assert or imply that:
multiverse hypotheses are not science
the “Boltzmann multiverse is … definitively ruled out”
“we cannot conclude that it survives the test of the principle of mediocrity” (where “it” means “the predictions of an inflationary multiverse”)
a “cold big bang” fails to imply that “cosmology need not be fine-tuned to be life-permitting”, and
“any multiverse proposal that creates more small universe domains than large ones” die “the same death as the Boltzmann multiverse”.
Curiously enough, there is no corresponding section addressing the tidy explanation that involves a “transcendent, personal creator”.
So, is Luke Barnes a fifth columnist, a(n old-earth) creationism inclined theist who has risen in the science community with the intent of driving a theistic agenda? The evidence is inconclusive since he could just be a bit clumsy or misguided, but I would like to say in closing, speaking directly to Luke:
You, sir, quack very much like a duck.