Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Egotism of the Fine Tuning Fallacy

Please click here for the comic before reading the rest. It's a big image, and I think it demonstrates the point quite well.

The Fine Tuning Argument strikes me as rather egotistical, as you probably guessed from the post title. It's not a problem for us skeptics and atheists. We can accept that the universe could have turned out differently. Even if you can show how improbable our familiar constants and laws of physics, that's not a problem. If they were different, we wouldn't be here complaining about it. It's possible that if they were different some other, entirely different form of life could have cropped up and possibly have members performing the same fallacy while others point out that our hypothetical selves might have had this conversation.

Of course, I see no reason why a universe-creating event could only happen once. Run a lottery long enough and someone's bound to win, eventually. Just because we may have won the universe lottery is no reason to get a big head.

A particular troll named vjazz ended up inspiring this post when I realized the nature of the argument. It goes something like this:

IDiot/Fundie/Troll: "Why does this universe exist with us in it, instead of some other, different universe?"
Atheist: "No particular reason. If it was different, we wouldn't be around to care, anyway."
I/F/D: "No, I'm too special and important to just be a product of as yet unpredictable forces, therefore I must invent an intelligent entity whose purpose for existing is to create me. I will call this entity a 'god.'"

Thanks go to the Calvin & Hobbes Extensive Strip Search for telling me where to find the comic, my brother for scanning in his image, and, of course, major, major props for Bill Watterson for making it. Buy his books. Do it. Now. I said now.

21 comments:

Dunc said...

Douglas Adams: "Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for."

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Yakaru said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MWchase said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James K said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
djfav said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Laser Potato said...

That cartoon was pure win.

Dark Jaguar said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bronze Dog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MWchase said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MWchase said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bronze Dog said...

Let's move it over here. Further off-topic comments on this derail will be deleted.

Copying over existing comments to the main post, since I'd rather have this be about, you know, the Fine Tuning Argument.

MWchase said...

Back on topic, I saw a similar way of addressing the argument:

Suppose you draw ten cards out of a deck. Now, there are fifty-two cards in a deck, so there are 52*51*50*49*48*47*46*45*44*43/(10!) = 158 billion possible hands of ten.

The odds against drawing a particular hand, while they could be higher, are astronomical. If we hold that improbably events cannot happen without divine intervention, then presumably god intervenes at the start of every round of bridge.

Just because an event is massively improbable, doesn't mean it's physically impossible. Not until we get into the kind of probabilities that thermodynamics deals with.

That rather obviously segues into somebody sensing that I said that and claiming that evolution violates thermodynamics. Anybody who says that the Earth is a closed system is invited to live through last month's horrendous heat-wave up here.

Tom Foss said...

MWChase: That example also brings up two important points: generalizing from too small a sample size, and assigning significance after the fact. It's more likely that you'll get a royal flush than a hand consisting of the two of diamonds, the six of clubs, the ten of clubs, the four of hearts, and the Jack of Spades, because in any deck there are four possible royal flushes but only one possible hand like the one I described. A person dealt that latter hand could conclude that the hand is too improbable to have happened by chance, and so it must have been intentional. The problem is that they're assigning significance to that particular combination after it has been dealt, which is part of why it's not worth anything.

The problem is that, while any particular outcome might be highly improbable, the existence of some outcome is virtually a given. Yes, the probability of getting any particular combination of cards is infinitesimal, but the probability of being dealt five cards is pretty well assured.

The problem is that the only reason any outcome has significance is because we've decided on that significance before the outcome occurs.

When trying to determine the odds of life forming exactly as it has, we're trying to do the same thing--assigning significance after the fact. We're sitting there with the royal sampler, trying to argue that it's a worthwhile hand after it's been dealt, when the fact is that we could make the same argument for any outcome.

It's the same problem as interpreting predictions after the fact. A prediction is only valuable if it gives you non-trivial information that you can interpret before the event happens. A prediction that only makes sense after the events it purports to describe is worthless.

Anonymous said...

Karl, dort ist ein toter mensch in unserem haur

King of Ferrets said...

According to Google Translator, that means "Karl, there's a dead man in our haur."

I have absolutely no idea if that has anything to do with this post. Probably not.

Dweller in Darkness said...

It's a quote from a band called Lamas mit Hüten as well, at least once you turn the last word into something that's, y'know, actually German. The websites that mention them, I can't access at work, but they some comments seem to indicate associations with white supremacy and Ayranism.

Jacqueline said...

"Anonymous said...
Karl, dort ist ein toter mensch in unserem haur2



Anonymous, du bist ein schiessekopf.


I reckon this is Gabe trying to inflict some of his "superior" Aryan brotherhood upon us.


JS;)