Thursday, 3 January 2019

The Anthropic Principle, Dismantled - Dismantled

I got sent a link to a website called 'Rational Religion' with the message
If you want a logical explanation for the existence of god and for to know of god’s existance [sic]. If you don’t then all I can say is that I passed along the message it’s up to you now.

A few minutes before the same person had sent me a link to a YouTube video with the message 'Watch'. To which I replied 'No'. I don't really go in for such demanding instructions.

But given the second link had a better message with it, I decided to have a look. The first thing I found was an article written by (Syed Muhammad) Tahir Nasser. He has an impressive, if somewhat confusing, biography...

a writer, moonlighting as a medical doctor. He also serves as the science editor for the Review of Religions (one of the oldest English-language magazines on comparative religions), writes for national and online media, and is a speaker on University lecture circuits on issues relating to Muslim youth and Islam in the modern world. He has written for the Huffington Post, Patheos and the Guardian.

Tahir is certainly no dummy. Which makes it surprising that he's written an article so flawed and so full of bad arguments. You can read his article here.

As per the title, Tahir claims to have dismantle the Anthropic Principle. Briefly, the Anthropic Principle is the idea that:

 “philosophic consideration that observations of the universe must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes it.”

In other words the universe must necessarily be capable of holding the life within it. 

If the universe were incompatible to life, there would, obviously, be no life. 

It may not be up at cogito ergo sum, but it's pretty robust. 

So what's Tahir's argument against it. Well, you can read the article and decide for yourself but to me it comes down to three points. 1: The anthropic principle doesn't explain where the fine-tuning came from. 2: The anthropic principle is unlikely. 

Firstly, let me explain something. The universe is NOT fine-tuned for life. At least, there's no reason to think it is. To fine-tune something is to make small adjustments in order to achieve desired performance. We used to fine-tune our TVs. Sometimes we still have to fine tune our radios (if we're not on digital) and if we're building a prototype of, say, a robot, we may fine-tune some of the specs. There's no evidence to suggest this ever happened to the universe. There's nothing that shows there was a previous version of the universe where things weren't quite right. There's no evidence that this universe has been tweaked from what was here previously. The universe is as it always has been, as far as anyone knows. For this article, I will continue to use the term 'fine-tuned' but keep in mind what I've said above, and think of it more as the universe being 'just right' AS IS. 

From Tahir's article: 
A finely-tuned universe is one in which the laws of nature are very precisely set so as to permit life to exist. For example, the Cosmic Energy Density, which is a description of how tightly packed the universe was in its early stages is finely tuned to 60 decimal places. In other words, if it was 1 decimal place in 60 too small, all matter would have expanded too quickly in the Big Bang, preventing the formation of galaxies and stars. If it was 1 decimal place in 60 too much, the universe would have collapsed back in on itself and never expanded.
One could easily change "A finely-tuned universe" to "An inhabited universe" where the rest of the paragraph is still true, but no fine-tuning is necessary. There's also an assumption not in evidence here where Tahir says "are very precisely set". Are they? This implies that the 'laws' have been put there deliberately. Which is begging the question. The laws of nature are such that life exists but there's no reason to think they were deliberately set that way. This is not an argument against the anthropic principle, it IS the anthropic principle. 

The 1 in 60 decimal place claim is odd. I'll take it that Tahir is correct in that 1 decimal place in 60 would have been enough to prevent the universe from being as is, but the question I have what? If it were 1 in 40 decimal places would that be okay? How about 1 in 10? Would the chances of the current universe be possible without an intelligent designer then? The 1 in 60 is arbitrary, it's a nothing figure. And still, it doesn't matter! The universe we live in must be compatible with life. It could be 1 decimal place in 6000 and still the anthropic principle applies. We're lucky to be here because we're in a goldilocks universe. The degree to which we're lucky is irrelevant because x chance in n is possible where x is greater than zero.

More from Tahir: 
Yes, we exist and so yes, we must exist in a finely-tuned universe, but that doesn’t at all explain why the fine tuning was there in the first place. After all, the Cosmic Energy Density being finely tuned to 60 decimal places in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang has nothing to do with the life that emerged some 13 billion years later. Our existence does not explain why fine-tuning occurred prior to our existence, because, in philosophical terms, we are not “necessary” beings.

This is really a rambling mess and doesn't address the anthropic principle at all. It's kind of saying that because the universe hasn't always had life? Or is Tahir saying that because we're not necessary, we're not possible? (Which seems odd given we're here). Tahir fails to understand that we are the result (better, we're a step along the pathway) of a series of natural events. We're not a goal. We're not the end product of any plan (though we may well be the end of ourselves). Tahir seems to think that if the anthropic principle is correct, then life should have appeared immediately after the big bang. "the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang has nothing to do with the life that emerged some 13 billion years later". Ah, Tahir, I respectfully disagree! It has *everything* to do with it. As I said, we're a step along a pathway. The big bang and immediate aftermath are the first stones on that pathway. Who's to say that a slight change back then wouldn't have resulted in intelligent life that's different to us, but intelligent life nonetheless? Would those 'people' have invented different gods to worship, would they have invented different creation myths? Would they be warring and murdering of which of their invisible deities is the real one? 

And thus we've come to the main issue with this so-called 'fine-tuning'. God. 

Any god, worthy of the name, could create any life it wanted, in any environment they wanted. If a 'god' wanted, it could create 'Ice' people and have them life on the surface of the sun. No god would be constrained by 'natural laws' no god would need 'fine-tuning' in order to have a universe with life in it. As I said earlier, we are the result of a series of natural processes. It is the NATURAL part of this that requires the 'goldilocks' universe. A 'natural' universe is the only type of universe that is constrained to natural laws. 

So when theists say 'the universe is fine-tuned for life' they're really making a case for a natural universe, not an intelligently designed one.