Biological Fine-Tuning

© Sharlene Jackson, freeimages.com

It’s reasonably common to hear physicists and astronomers talk about ‘fine-tuning’, or the ‘anthropic principle’. The idea is that a large number of physical properties (such as the strength of gravity, or the forces within the atom) need to be at very, very precise values or life as we know it would not exist. The numbers are incredible – probabilities with more decimal places than there are atoms in the universe!

Is there any evidence of fine-tuning in biology? Biology is a much newer science than astronomy and the systems involved are far more complex, but even so, there are a few glimmerings of fine-tuning on the biological horizon. There has been a good deal of interest in Cambridge Palaeobiology Professor Simon Conway Morris’s research on convergent evolution. In his popular level book, ‘Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe’ (CUP, 2003), he describes how the course of evolution navigates towards fixed points in the total space of biological possibilities. This winding path towards higher levels of complexity, and ultimately intelligent life, is entirely consistent with the Christian belief in the purposeful sustaining of the universe by its Creator.

So has anyone else approached the subject of fine-tuning in biology, or is Conway Morris a lone voice? Theologian and biochemist Alister McGrath has spent time on this subject (see A Fine-Tuned Universe and a less technical reworking of similar material in Surprised by Meaning). The main point McGrath makes is that the biological world relies on the same fine-tuned physical and chemical properties that astronomers spend so much time discussing.  Without compounds such as carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and phosphorus, life simply wouldn’t exist.

McGrath also points to an interesting paper in the April 2003 issue of the International Journal of Astrobiology. In it, astronomers Bernard Carr (St Mary’s, London) and Martin Rees (Cambridge) give an account of a 2002 conference on biological aspects of the anthropic principle. Even in a conference with this title, issues of chemical evolution took up part of the proceedings, but what was most interesting was the section on ‘evolution of biological fine-tuning’. The research in this area was all too tentative to be published more fully, but covered areas such as robustness in biological networks, and the ‘choice’ of DNA and proteins as information carrying molecules in biological systems.

Biological systems are enormously complex, which is why it’s taken us so long to get around to even beginning to understand things at the level of whole organisms. But there is a trend, in that although the total ‘space’ of possibilities (for example, for the sequence of a protein of a particular length) is usually enormous, in reality the number of variants present in nature is relatively small. At times it is possible to pinpoint why certain solutions have been arrived at – for example, the camera eye is quite simply the best way to see light. At other times the reason why a particular solution has been arrived at is less clear, as in the origin of biochemical systems and cellular life.  Whether the existing systems we see are an accident of history (i.e. where a number of potential solutions could work) or are another example of fine-tuning, is yet to be determined. What is clear to me, however, is that the astonishingly fertile chemistry of life and evolvability that we see is entirely consistent with the existence of the God revealed in the Bible who provides us with a rich source of teaching and guides us though the process of learning by our mistakes.

55 thoughts on “Biological Fine-Tuning

  1. Joseph Jimmy Hardcastle December 1, 2011 / 10:16 am

    Fine-tuning is very poor thinking. Why would anyone be surprised we exist in a universe that allows for life? What would really be miraculous is if we were to exist in a universe that did not.

    To paraphrase Douglas Adams, it’s like a puddle marvelling at how exactly it fits it’s pothole.

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    • Ruth Bancewicz December 1, 2011 / 10:44 am

      Thanks for the comment. That’s certainly one criticism of fine-tuning arguments, but I would argue back that the evidence is so overwhelming. It’s not like surviving a bullet wound, it’s like surviving a firing squad of thousands. It just looks rigged. It’s not proof for God, but so far, looking at the science that we see it makes complete sense. If you do the thought experiment, what would you expect if God existed?

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      • Joseph Jimmy Hardcastle December 1, 2011 / 12:14 pm

        Well the argument seems to rests on the premise that a the universe that we see around us is unlikely, but in reality this is exactly exactly what we would expect to see. We really should be observing a universe that allows the observer, because the contrary is impossible.

        (Nevermind that to a close approximation the entire universe appears hostile to our life.)

        Coincidentally I was thinking about your hypothetical last night. If Gods existed I would expect lightning bolts and burning bushes and gods fighting and sending their kids down to slum it with the humans and all that magic we read about in fantasy and religious literature (that’s not a dig, gods feature strongly in a lot of fantasy literature). In short; I expect it would be undeniable.

        I definitely would not expect to find the situation wherein it appears that they do not exist, which is in my opinion what we find in reality.

        Thanks for the response, I really didn’t intend to impinge on your no doubt limited time. I just hear this argument a lot and find it a little dishonest.

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        • Aaron LaPointe December 2, 2011 / 3:06 am

          Joseph, it seems to me that your critique of fine-tuning harbors an unstated premise. The only way not to be astonished by the finely-tuned nature of the universe would be to assume that our universe is one of many. In other words, given the indefinite number of (perhaps infinite) universes possible, it shouldn’t be surprising to find ourselves in a universe that is “finely-tuned” for observers. But, given the lack of evidence in support of the multiverse hypothesis (for all we know, our universe is the only universe that exists), why shouldn’t we consider a criticism of fine-tuning based on it as anything but weak?

          And are you really proposing a relevant critique when you say that it is impossible to observe a universe where observers cannot exist? If our universe is as singular as we understand it to be, and if we can accurately determine the odds of the precise initial conditions of the cosmos arising by chance (we can: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhGdVMBk6Zo), shouldn’t we be able to grasp the implications of those odds apart from our status as observers? Further, if we can accurately determine the chances of a universe arising that is thermodynamically suitable for life based on the relatively tiny range cosmological constants that allow such a state, shouldn’t we be able to grasp the implications of those odds apart from our status as observers as well? Yes.

          In short, there is ample reason to be surprised that our universe is finely-tuned for life.

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          • Joseph Jimmy Hardcastle December 5, 2011 / 1:54 pm

            Not really Aaron it’s not necessary to posit a multi-verse, perhaps there is only one universe, perhaps there are many, perhaps it is completely random, perhaps it was tuned (or being as I’m quite the determinist, perhaps it was inevitable). In all of the above cases we would expect to see the situation we do see, so at best this situation is irrelevant or neutral in regards to whether the universe had us in mind or not. No conclusion can be drawn from conditions being so and this situation doesn’t lean in any particular direction.

            I don’t really get along that well with probabilistic arguments either. We’ve only got one universe to study and we don’t yet know why the various forces, constants and laws are the way they are. This does seem to render a probability calculation impossible. I’d like to see some of the reasoning behind any such calculation.

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        • Ruth Bancewicz December 2, 2011 / 11:54 am

          No problem! I’m always happy to discuss. Ok the thought experiment doesn’t always work. God has a knack of doing unexpected things – like choosing for his son to be born into a poor family (for a reason – to turn our assumptions about power and the value of people upside down). As far as I know http://www.rejesus.co.uk/ is a pretty decent description of Christianity.

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  2. clint wood December 2, 2011 / 1:30 pm

    I think a very important statement in this article, and in the overall argument for biological fine tuning, is that “life as we know it would not exist.” in the absence of many physical properties being at “very, very precise levels…” There is no genuine ground upon which to refute the idea of biological fine tuning, or perhaps more appropriately, I’m not intelligent enough to put one together. But the ground upon which the basis for our impressions of biological fine tuning is planted should be examined. The primary assumption that seems to serve as this ground is that we believe ourselves capable of identifying the boundaries within which life could exist. If life as we know it exists only because of a very precise alignment of physical properties, it would stand to reason that in a different set of relational values given to these respective physical properties, life would exist as we do not know it. As I pointed out, this does not refute biological fine tuning, but it does point to the looming specter of anthropomorphic assumptions regarding the nature of the possibilities present in biology.

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    • Ruth Bancewicz December 2, 2011 / 2:28 pm

      Yes, the key is ‘as we know it’. that’s the limit on the argument, and it remains for exploration or imagination (and testing) to reveal otherwise – and I’m all for it! It would be fascinating if we did discover – say microbial life on Titan. Would it have DNA, or something similar with a slightly different chemical structure – or would it be identical, so we have a common ancestor? Or would it be completely different? Come on NASA!

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      • clint wood December 2, 2011 / 3:28 pm

        I find NASA’s research into Arsenic based life forms to be a small glimpse into the limitations of what we know of life. This is a profound possibility. I realize this research is still quite new, and needs to be subjected to rigorous peer review, but at the very least that idea that an element previously considered far too unstable and reactive to serve as one of what we consider the six essential ingredients in life can actually be shown to be quite viable turns every assumption we have about biology on it’s head. If nothing else, it raised the possibility that our impressions of life are a product of random chance occurring out of a field of innumerable possibilities to a slightly more tenable position (sorry for the awkward wording). Perhaps, in an very tenuous manner, this possibility requires us to consider more deeply the thoughts on the possibility of a multi-verse that Aaron LaPoint spoke of in earlier posts. Again, for me, the primary fallacy of biological fine tuning is that it, by necessity, rules out possibility without a precisely defined need to do so, other than to satisfy the observer’s need to hold the theory as viable. I’m rambling though, I too share your enthusiasm for what lies ahead in the realm of discovery. As you said, “Come one NASA!”

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        • clint wood December 2, 2011 / 3:31 pm

          And I apologize for mis-using “it’s” as the possessive form of its.

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          • Ruth Bancewicz December 2, 2011 / 4:05 pm

            Forgiven :) I still think that the possibility that a rival of carbon-based life will emerge is remote enough for fine-tuning arguments to be viable. But of course I’m cautious – I would say no more than that they are consistent with the idea of a creator. Have you read McGrath’s “A Fine-Tuned Universe’? It goes in great detail into the chemistry and it was interesting (to someone who studied biochemistry). I’d be interested to see what you think of it – no doubt there are lots of books on both sides of the argument out there but that was one that tackled the question of fine-tuning in a lot of detail.

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        • Aaron LaPointe December 3, 2011 / 7:01 am

          “Again, for me, the primary fallacy of biological fine tuning is that it, by necessity, rules out possibility [of a multiverse] without a precisely defined need to do so, other than to satisfy the observer’s need to hold the theory as viable.” ~ Clint

          I would argue that the inverse is true; namely, that the many-worlds hypothesis is necessary in order to remove the need to explain fine-tuning. There are, of course, many problems with positing a vast multiverse in order to explain the eccentricities of the only known universe. Not to mention that the many-worlds hypothesis exhibits several fatal flaws all its own that (presently) render it implausible (Craig, Reasonable Faith, pp. 168-170). The Standard Big Bang Model, in my view, is far more relevant to the evidence, and much more in keeping with the law of parsimony than the multiverse hypothesis (why it’s survived a century of refutation at the hands of the most brilliant physicists humanity has to offer). There’s no reason for proponents of fine-tuning to deny the possibility of a multiverse, only the plausibility.

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          • clint wood December 3, 2011 / 3:37 pm

            To be more precise, I was not attempting to illuminate possibilities of a multiverse, specifically, in the quote you posted, but rather simply other biological possibilities. I think it’s a hell of a reach to claim that any possible flaw in biological fine-tuning speaks towards a multiverse. Primarily, I find biological fine tuning operates on the assumption that an alternative to carbon based life is not possible. NASA’s research into the possibility of Arsenic based life forces us to at least acknowledge possibilities outside of what we currently understand about life.

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            • Ruth Bancewicz December 7, 2011 / 10:06 am

              The arsenic bug (http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/02dec_monolake/) is interesting, but it’s still carbon based life – it’s not a radical departure. I’d be fascinated to see non-Carbon based life, but time will tell if those solutions really exist – perhaps sooner than we thought – http://bit.ly/s8hSAe. Just give us a few decades and we can clear this one up… :) As far as I can see, so far there are reasonable grounds for being astonished that we’re even here, but lets see…

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    • Aaron LaPointe December 3, 2011 / 5:48 am

      “If life as we know it exists only because of a very precise alignment of physical properties, it would stand to reason that in a different set of relational values given to these respective physical properties, life would exist as we do not know it.” ~ Clint

      Definitely, but even given a certain range of values (a “green zone”, if you will) wherein life, in some form, is possible, relative to the significantly larger possibility of a universe not having values that fall within that range, the odds of a universe thermodynamically suitable for life remains vanishingly small. Perhaps the universe is the way it is by necessity and couldn’t have been otherwise, but this would mean that a life-prohibiting universe is impossible (Craig, Reasonable Faith, p. 161), and why think that? Given its contingency, everything we take for granted about our universe we ought to demand an explanation for (e.g., its intelligibility via mathematical reasoning (“our experience hitherto justifies us in believing that nature is the realization of the simplest conceivable mathematical ideas” (Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, p. 300)); the integrated complexity and depth of organization within nature; that the universe exists at all, when it need not; the various cosmological constants, etc., etc.) (Davies, The Mind of God, pp. 161-197). Why is it this way and not another? If not because of chance or necessity, what are we left with? I would argue that ‘design’ is the most rational alternative.

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      • clint wood December 3, 2011 / 3:46 pm

        I completely concur with your final statement that “design” is the most rational alternative. Examine a pair of Malono Blahniks and see if you are able to determine anything about the designer, or extrapolate anything about a different item he designed. You won’t. You’ll likewise fail to identify anything quantifiable about God by looking at nature, other than the fact that God sure seems to be behind things. However, I also believe an additional rational statement to be “the universe is complex beyond our ability to understand it”. If one allows the previous statement to be true, one has to accept that other possibilities are likewise complex beyond our ability to understand them, and then by necessity complex beyond our ability to determine their probabilities.

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        • Ruth Bancewicz December 5, 2011 / 9:40 am

          ‘You’ll likewise fail to identify anything quantifiable about God by looking at nature, other than the fact that God sure seems to be behind things.’
          I agree the some extent – though from looking at the universe you can see that God is big, powerful, and worth some serious attention! To get further than that yo have to look at Jesus.

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        • Joseph Jimmy Hardcastle December 5, 2011 / 2:04 pm

          Have either of you (Clint or Aaron) got an actual probability calculation to hand? I’m interested in how it’s constructed as I don’t think such a calculation is possible.

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    • michala June 13, 2012 / 1:12 am

      its beyond any comprehension,how a ‘random accident’ could produce such order/fine tuning in Nature & the Natural Laws.As there are supernatural elements in physics/nature,surely this is an indication of some kind of intelligence!?whether or not it is God or unknown force in physics is another question & one scientists will always gaze at the sky and wonder-are we really alone in the universe or not.until we find another earth with intelligent life,we can say we are alone & the universe is for us to discover other scientific laws/elements which may help our understanding of earth.

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  3. Leigh Jackson January 12, 2012 / 3:57 am

    Aaron, we know that our universe exists, we don’t know whether God or other universes exist.

    God is not the most reasonable explanation of fine-tuning unless one believes or desperately wishes to believe that God exists and/or believes that only our universe exists.

    Nothing in science says that only one universe can exist or only one universe does exist. On the contrary. The “anthropic” constants in the laws of nature, as far as we know, could take many different values, implying that universes with different values can, in principle, exist.

    Many more universes with many different values for their laws means we don’t have to forsake physics for metaphysics. A multiverse is epistemologically more parsimonious than God.

    Science is even able to offer an account – speculative and sketchy as it is – of genesis within the background fabric of the multiverse: quantum fluctuations in the inflaton field. Note that string theory and inflationary cosmology both generate multiverse scenarios independently of one another and of the fine-tuning question. We have three coherent aspects suggestive of a plurality of universes.

    In 1606 Johannis Kepler – a devout man – considered the possibility that God was directly responsible for the appearance of what we now know to have been a supernova in 1606. In other words he wondered if the event was a miracle. He rejected this explanation, preferring ignorance to the abandonment of all thought.

    Although he believed a divine harmony underlay the order of nature he was wary of assuming that what he did not understand was intelligible only to God. He had good reason to be wary because after years of toil he had discovered what no human mind had ever conceived and which he found almost too incredible to be true: the elliptical orbits of the planets.

    In a few hundred years we have come such a long way on our cosmological adventure. I would not bet against Kepler. I would not bet that we will not go a lot, lot further on this adventure, as long as we keep thinking.

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  4. Leigh Jackson January 12, 2012 / 1:16 pm

    The inference to design introduces serious, probably insurmountable, scientific problems. Religious folk are primed to see no problem – the designer is obviously God. However, if we are to take take the idea of design seriously we have to consider other possible kinds of designer. We have to consider the possibility not just of God but of gods. Gods both good and evil and who are gods merely because of their power to design and create life-containing universes for whatever reasons they choose. If we had such powers we would be gods.

    Again, we must take seriously the possibility that we might be living in a virtual universe. Unaided reason must allow these possibilites equal status. That is to say reason unaided by any means of deciding between them. Religion can claim divine revelation to help decide between them but science cannot. I don’t see how science could make progress in deciding between these possibilities. It would first have to eliminate the possibility of designer gods before holding up its hands and saying Allelujah! I don’t see how it could ever do that.

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  5. Leigh Jackson January 12, 2012 / 1:33 pm

    The inference to design is probably a scientific dead end. The Discovery Institute has produced nothing of scientific value to date. Intelligent design equals god-of-the-gaps equals giving up on intelligence.

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    • Ruth Bancewicz January 12, 2012 / 4:58 pm

      But there’s a difference between ID and the anthropic principle – the latter came out of mainstream science, when physicists (who are not believers in any sort of God – like Hoyle and Rees) started to ask ‘why is the the world the way it is!? String theory etc remain in the realm of metaphysics. Of course it’s not proof for God, but it’s intriguing, and it makes sense in the light of Christian faith.

      If people want to say ‘it just is’ or ‘there might be a scientific reason that its’ that way – I don’t mind. I put a lot more value on other types of evidence when it comes to deciding whether Christian faith is worth exploring.

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  6. Leigh Jackson January 12, 2012 / 11:14 pm

    I agree that fine-tuning is interesting and worth thinking about. If one chooses one can interpret it religiously, as suggestive of intelligent design. Many cosmologists have wondered about it. Some who are religious are content to point to God as the explanation. I cannot help wondering what Kepler would have thought of that. It’s interesting when a cosmologist interprets fine-tuning as evidence of God since they are assuming that other universes do not exist. Cosmological caution thrown to an almighty wind.

    String theory and inflationary cosmology are speculative scientific theories. Essentially they are mathematical experiments. They are incomplete and certainly haven’t yet gained experimental confirmation. It was never going to be easy to get a theory of quantum gravity mathematically consistent with general relativity, quantum mechanics and the Standard Theory. After all, the whole point is that brilliant as it is, GR is incomplete.

    When string theory and inflationary theory were initiated nobody had any idea that they would both end up pointing to the possibility of many universes. Which just happens to be one interpretation of what fine-tuning might mean.

    Is the multiverse a metaphysical concept? Yes, I would accept that. As were atoms once, and neutrinos and anti-matter. The God particle (Higgs) still is, (but perhaps not for much longer). All are valid scientific concepts. It requires great effort and deep understanding to reach a point where we posit their existence.

    Fine-tuning may make sense in the light of Christian faith, if there is only one universe. We currently have no way of knowing if that is the case but we have intriguing hints that it may not be.

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    • Ruth Bancewicz January 13, 2012 / 9:28 am

      I tend to avoid the words ‘intelligent design’ because most people use them to refer to the rather controversial Intelligent Design movement that is largely about calling into question the evidence for evolution – but that’s by the by.

      The multiverse question is interesting. Rodney Holder, a cosmologist at the Faraday Institute, (and I think many others) says that even if there is a multiverse the question of why our universe is fruitful for life is still an urgent one – so in a way you have to ask how the multiverse is fine-tuned. So it just pushes the fine-tuning further deeper into the equations. He explains it in his Faraday paper:
      http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/resources/Faraday%20Papers/Faraday%20Paper%2010%20Holder_EN.pdf

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      • Leigh Jackson January 17, 2012 / 1:37 am

        Rodney Holder does say, “Inflation itself needs fine-tuning!”

        He doesn’t show that fine-tuning is pushed deeper into the equations, however.

        He only means that inflationary models have evolved considerably since Alan Guth first proposed the idea. In this sense the theory of evolution is fine-tuned, for it has evolved considerably since Darwin first proposed natural selection as the mechanism of evolution. Ditto the atomic theory – electrons first embedded like plums in a pie, then like planets orbiting the nucleus, finally to become probability waves!

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        • Ruth Bancewicz January 19, 2012 / 4:13 pm

          ah ok – but he has said it to me – perhaps it’s in his God the multiverse & everything book.

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      • Leigh Jackson January 17, 2012 / 3:59 am

        Far from pushing fine-tuning deeper into the equations Holder gives an example of how the idea of the multiverse combined with the anthropic principle can remove fine-tuning from them.

        He tells how Weinberg employed anthropic reasoning to derive the correct value for the cosmological constant. A very impressive feat.

        Holder doesn’t tell how inflation can account for the fine-tuning of critical density to 1 part in 10 to the power 60, which he mentions. This fine-tuning cannot be explained by non-inflationary models. Guth explains all here:

        http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0702178v1

        Guth also lists the extraordinary achievements of inflationary cosmology:

        (i) Exponential expansion is the most efficent way to create 10P90 particles out of nothing very, very quickly.
        (ii) Inflation provides exactly the kind of force needed to propel Hubble expansion of the galaxies: repulsive gravity.
        (iii) The extraordinary homogeneity and isotropy of CBR cannot be explained by any cosmological model which does not include inflation.
        (iv) The extraordinary flatness of the early universe (Planck time) is predicted by inflationary cosmological models but not non-inflationary models.
        (v) Inflation virtually eliminates the magnetic monopoles which swamp non-inflationary cosmological modles.
        (vi) Inflation models fit observed CMB anisotropy beautifully. Other models fail.

        This theory which is so successful at explaining our universe predicts the existence of others. This theory is not to be dismissed lightly with no good alternative to hand. Holder is fine with the achievements in cosmology before inflation but mentions none of these achievements. Guth is convinced that the inflation theory is essentially correct.

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        • Ruth Bancewicz January 19, 2012 / 4:17 pm

          Interesting – though I’m getting out of my depth now, as a biologist. You’ll need to engage directly with Rodney Holder if you want any mere explanations! The main thing that I’m trying to get accross is that Christian scholars have a range of views on the multiverse, but it doesn’t threaten faith – it’s just interesting, and whether fine tuning exists or not is interesting – but not essential for belief in God.

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      • Leigh Jackson January 17, 2012 / 4:07 am

        Now to deal with Holder’s list of problems with multiverses.

        (i) Unobservable in principle.

        False. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/blog/2011/12/seeking-signs-of-the-multiverse/

        (ii) Mean density of the universe is a problem for multiverse.

        False. Quite the contrary. See Guth (iv) as above. Mean density is a problem for non-inflationary (non-multiverse) cosmological models but not for inflationary models.

        (iii) The probability of a particular universe having life in a multiverse is zero, therefore the explantion fails.

        False. The fraction of pocket universes with any particular property in an eternally inflating universe is infinity divided by infinity – a meaningless ratio. To obtain a well defined answer, one needs some method of regularization. We can obtain non-trival answers which will vary according to the method used. Guth addresses this in the above paper.

        (iv) ?

        (v) We are far more likely to find ourselves in a small pocket of order like the solar system, surrounded by total chaos, than to find ourselves in the totally ordered universe we observe.

        False. This is the so-called Boltzmann’s brain paradox. Albrecht and Sorbo demonstrated inflation is overwhelmingly more likely a fluctuation than a standard big bang fluctuation, and that a standard big bang fluctuation is overwhelmingly more likely than a fluctuation which produces a naked brain. See John Gribbin’s section on Boltzmann’s Brain in “In Search of the Multiverse”.

        (vi) Anything that can happen does happen given an infinite number of universes. If this were the case then doing science would be a complete waste of time.

        That is a personal opinion not a scientific argument against the existence of the multiverse.

        (vii) Multiverse theories violate Ockham’s razor.

        The multiverse emerges as a prediction of inflationary cosmology. The multiverse emerges as a prediction of string theory. The multiverse emerges if our universe is infinite, as observations indicate. Quantum mechanics may mean there is a multiverse. Fine-tuning could imply a multiverse.

        In short modern physics and cosmology has the multiverse emerging from here, there and everywhere.

        If there is no multiverse that is not the fault of science. Science follows the evidence where it leads and it leads to the multiverse.

        If one is going to infer intelligent design as the explanation for fine-tuning in the teeth of the scientific evidence for the multiverse then Ockham’s razor should also apply to God.

        Intelligent designers have brains. At least the only intelligent designers we know of. Intelligence is a function of neural complexity. How much more shall our brains and computers be capable of in a million years time, assuming we live that long? What will computers not be able to do by then? If we can work out exactly how universes are created we might be able to do it too. This is likely to happen with life soon. Perhaps we will figure out a way to create quantum fluctuations in the false vacuum.

        Ockham’s epistemological razor requires that we infer super-advanced natural before supernatural intelligence since we don’t have any evidence that a supernatural intelligence exists.

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        • Leigh Jackson January 19, 2012 / 3:56 pm

          In my post above dealing with Holder’s list of problems with multiverses I placed a question mark against (iv). This is because I could not understand how Stephen Weinberg’s correct prediction of the value of the cosmological constanst, on the assumption of a multiverse, could be considered a problem. The problem is not for the multiverse hypothesis but for quantum physics, which is spectacularly wrong in its prediction for the value of the cosmological constant. Quantum physics predicts that we absolutely shouldn’t be here.

          I now realise that I should have added the cosmological constant to my list of evidence for the multiverse. I also realise that I was wrong to agree that the multiverse hypothesis is metaphysical.

          Weinberg predicted that the value of the CC was likely to be close to an upper limit of 10 to the power -121. Current measurement puts it at 10p-124. Had measurements found the value to be greater than Weinberg’s limit the multiverse hypothesis would have been falsified. As would the existing model of the formation of the galaxies which Weinberg calculated could not happen with CC values greater than his limit.

          The God hypothesis make no empirically falsifiable predictions.

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          • Ruth Bancewicz January 19, 2012 / 4:27 pm

            Hmm, again I can’t engage with the physics, but I think my view is that while discussion about evidence for God in science may be interesting and raises questions of fine-tuning which may or may not be valid, that’s not why I believe in God – far from it, I only found that out later in life.

            I think there is empirically falsifiable evidence for God, but like any of the really important questions in life (like does my Mother love me) the existence of God isn’t something you could prove with a mathematical formula.

            The sorts of evidence I’m thinking of – did someone find Jesus’ body? Are prayers answered? Does belief in Jesus change lives for the better? Does God interact with people? Does the Bible stand up to historical scrutity?

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            • Leigh Jackson January 19, 2012 / 6:02 pm

              What empirical evidence would falsify God’s existence?

              Weinberg made a falsifiable prediction based on the existence of the multiverse. How to account for the value of the CC being what it would be if there existed 10 to the power 124 universes with a spread of values for the CC, if there is only one universe? God would appear to be playing jokes. He allows the value of the CC to be deducible from the multiverse hypothesis for a laugh?

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              • Leigh Jackson January 19, 2012 / 6:05 pm

                I should have said Weinberg made a falsifiable prediction based on the hypothesis of the multiverse.

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              • Leigh Jackson January 19, 2012 / 6:19 pm

                More relevantly for the purpose of this discussion, let me put it another way. What empirical test would falsify the hypothesis that God is the explanation for the apparent fine-tuning of the CC?

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                • Ruth Bancewicz January 20, 2012 / 9:57 am

                  I have no idea. I’m sorry, I really didn’t intend to hang my argument on the fine tuning of the universe. I don’t mind if it’s fine-tuned or not, it’s just that people like Martin Rees et al think it is – and then the debate gets into finer points of equations and multiverses – so I thought it was worth pointing out that the discussion was there and there are some people that think the fine-tuning is real. It was just an introductory point – and if you think it’s not a convincing argument, I won’t mention fine tuning in the universe again if it annoys and distracts my readers that much :)

                  I can see that you’re up for a discussion of fine-tuning, but you’re on a biologists’s blog, I’m sorry not to be abel to answer your questions! As I said, you’ll need to talk to Rodney Holder about his paper, I’m sure he’d appreciate the feedback.

                  The real point of my blog post was to mention people’s ideas about biological fine-tuning, and say that in what we see of science so far, it makes sense in the light of the God hypothesis.

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                  • Leigh Jackson January 20, 2012 / 10:48 pm

                    Martin Rees thinks we may be part of the matrix rather than the physics. If by fine-tuning being real you mean taking it as an indication of the universe being designed by God, then I don’t think it’s a convincing argument. It does annoy me when scientists approach what is a genuinely interesting phenomenon in a non-scientific way.

                    Religious scientists would be prudent to treat “fine-tuning” scientifically rather than theologically, IMHO. I see the multiverse shaping up to be the next chapter of the Copernican Revolution.

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                  • Leigh Jackson January 20, 2012 / 10:54 pm

                    I am not familiar with fine-tuning in biology. From the scientific perspective what might this mean. Can you give some examples?

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                    • Ruth Bancewicz January 23, 2012 / 9:28 am

                      I gave some in my blog post – It’s worth reading the McGrath book on fine tuning for that, he goes into great detail on it. But again, I don’t set much store on it in terms of building faith, it’s merely interesting – please don’t search for definite proof for God in McGrath and critique it on that basis, that’s not what he’s trying to do. It’s more that if you believe in a big generous risk taking creator God what we see makes sense in the light of what we know of God from other areas of life. I’m always happy to dialogue on that :)

                      In response to your other comments – I think it’s ok for scientists of faith to make comments on their science and their faith, but never to say ‘this is proof for God’ that’s not what science or faith is for…

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                  • Leigh Jackson January 21, 2012 / 12:50 am

                    Incidentally, Martin Rees, doesn’t believe that traditional religion and science have anything useful to say to one another.

                    I think that searching for or believing one can see signs of God in nature – scientific pareidolia – is simply poisoning the well. Atheists laugh when they see commonplace examples of pareidolia. Believers are deeply moved. Science should steer well clear.

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        • Ruth Bancewicz January 19, 2012 / 4:19 pm

          Interesting – again, you’ll need to engage with Rodney directly (I’m afraid he doesn’t do blogs) with these criticisms of his paper – I’m suer it would be an interesting debate!. thank you for all your input.

          The point I wanted to make in my blog though, is summed up at the end:

          ‘What is clear to me, however, is that the astonishingly fertile chemistry of life and evolvability that we see is entirely consistent with the existence of the God revealed in the Bible who provides us with a rich source of teaching and guides us though the process of learning by our mistakes.’

          Ruth

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      • Leigh Jackson January 19, 2012 / 4:56 pm

        Finally, I will point out an obvious if not odious contradiction in Holder’s paper. He emphasises that the vastness of the universe in no way undermines the significance of life. It’s not a problem if it requires a vastly uninhabitable – generally dead – universe to create us. He then says that a vastly dead multiverse is not redeemed by the presence of universes where there is life!

        If life is the only important thing to God then why is the vast majority of our universe so completely dead and boring? Why not just have the sun and the earth and be done with it?

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        • Ruth Bancewicz January 20, 2012 / 9:49 am

          I thought we needed the universe the size it is for the earth to be around long enough for life to evolve?

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          • Leigh Jackson January 20, 2012 / 10:18 pm

            And it looks like we may need the multiverse to be the size it is for our universe to be around at all. However, dead and boring.

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  7. Leigh Jackson January 13, 2012 / 11:27 pm

    But to explain fine-tuning in terms of God is to explain it in terms of intelligent design. It’s to say that if the phenomenon is not trivial, if it is significant, it may not be the result of natural processes but may be evidence that the universe is designed – by God. But this is a dangerous tack to take. Because the primary inference being made is to intelligent design, and furthermore it is made because science cannot explain something. It is a god-of-the-gaps claim.The ID movement is, as you say, essentially an anti-evolution movement. Their primary claim is that evolution cannot explain the whole of biology. Science has no other explanation. Ergo God. Though that’s not the way they advertise it, of course. But they also appeal to fine-tuning as additional evidence of intelligent design.

    Thanks for the link.

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    • Ruth Bancewicz January 16, 2012 / 4:36 pm

      Yes your’e absolutely right, the god of the gaps issue is an important one. For fine tuning, it has been said that it’s not a gap – it comes from knowledge rather than an absence of it – and in particular the issue was raised by atheists first of all, which to me makes it more interesting. But I think that in discussion of the data, equations, the multiverse etc., I’m beginning to get out of my depth! Rodney Holder’s ‘God, the multiverse and everything’ (http://www.amazon.co.uk/God-Multiverse-Everything-Cosmology-Argument/dp/0754651169) deals with these question in more detail, and he’s convinced that fine tuning is not a gap.

      As I said, I’m very cautious about scientific arguments for God – people want ‘proof’, and I don’t think putting your faith in science is terribly helpful. You’ll only get as far as some hints. I’d look for evidence for God in other places…

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      • Leigh Jackson January 17, 2012 / 2:04 am

        I not aware of any hints of God found by science. And I would say to anyone inclined to see fine-tuning of the laws of nature as such, that it is a deist God only that they can properly infer.

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      • Leigh Jackson January 30, 2012 / 4:35 pm

        I’ve been thinking about whether the inference to intelligent design is a god-of-the-gaps.

        Compare fine-tuning with evolution.

        When Darwin proposed natural selection acting on genetic variance from a common ancestor as the driver of evolution, many religious people refused to accept this as a viable explanation for the origin of species. They continued to prefer God as the direct cause of origin. Many people still continue to prefer God as the direct cause. The ID movement distinguishes between micro and macro evolution. Evolution of characteristics within a species is accepted because it can be observed in the laboratory; evolution of species themselves, however, is not accepted. The evolution of species cannot be observed and evolution cannot account for certain biological phenomena, it is claimed. The only alternative scientific explanation is intelligent design, and the intelligence can only be God’s. Any other kind of intelligent agent is too incredible to be true. God, however, is not considered too incredible to be true.

        It seems to me that Holder is saying much the same thing about the multiverse. We cannot observe it and at best inflation can only account for fundamental cosmological features of our universe; though it’s not absolutely clear to me whether he accepts even this. The demand from ID believers to see macro-evolution happening before their eyes before they will believe it is absurd. A myriad of biological facts are rendered coherent if evolution is true which otherwise have to be accepted as inexplicable facts. The same is true of the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology. The myriad examples of fine-tuning are removed at a stroke if the inflationary mechanism which explains the list of observed cosmological facts given by Guth above is correct in its prediction of the existence of the multiverse.

        The inference to intelligent design may not be a god-of-the-gaps argument so much as an argument from incredulity. At rock bottom though, it’s really nothing more than an argument from faith.

        Without religious faith, evolution and the mutiverse don’t seem so incredible. There are no inexplicable lacunae in our understanding of biology and cosmology. There’s no problem with science filling the gaps in our understandng. That’s its job.

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        • Ruth Bancewicz February 2, 2012 / 5:02 pm

          I don’t think that’s the train of though Rodney would take – though as I said, you will need to ask him directly. He thinks that even if we have a multiverse, you have to ask why one of those universes is fruitful. From your comments, I think you wold really enjoy his book:

          http://www.amazon.co.uk/God-Multiverse-Everything-Cosmology-Argument/dp/0754651169

          And to take this discussion any further I think you would need to read it – he addresses many of the points you are making.

          At bottom, I think you’re inferring from this debate that Christian want evidence for God from science, and we’ll be upset if there’s a multiverse, but I know lots of Christians who think there probably is a multiverse, or if there was one it wouldn’t really make a difference God make hundreds of millions of galaxies. If he decided to make hundreds of millions of universes, that only makes him even greater! I know no Christian who believes in God purely because of science – they believe because of historical evidence, evidence in people’s lives, the reliability of the Bible, effect on their lives, answers to prayer etc. The science is interesting and worth mentioning because if God created the universe, of course it would fit with the existence of a God. But if God decided to leave no direct evidence for himself in nature, then for me that’s no big deal – either way I’m happy.

          As I said, I promise to try not to mention fine-tuning again – I really didn’t intend to put that red herring in there!!

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    • michala June 13, 2012 / 2:23 pm

      evolution or natural processes cannot explain the ‘jump’ from species to species,hence the ‘gaps’.If evolution was absolutely correct,we would see half-formed fossils,the earth must have been full of dying,half-formed animals,a painful experience for every creature & cruel.But we see perfectly formed animals & in some species no evidence of evolution even though there was climate change etc.May be God did use evolution,but not in the way Darwin illustrates.

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      • Leigh Jackson June 14, 2012 / 4:23 am

        If, for the sake of argument, we suppose that an intelligent agent is responsible for the existence of life on earth, then how shall we find out who the agent is and how it was done? Are there any clues to work on which offer us hope of answering these questions? If we are allowed to consider supernatural agents how do we determine the nature of our creator? The boundless suffering involved in life would certainly appear to support the possibility that our creator is extremely malevolent. To assume that an intelligence did it and stop there is to explain nothing. A supposed gap in our understanding or in the evidence is filled with an assumption. But we understand not a thing about the nature or the of the intelligence, if it exists. We haven’t advanced our understanding unless we have better evidence for and understanding of the intelligence than we have of evolution.

        All of this is nonsense, however, for the fact is that the evidence for and our understanding of evolution is immense and there is no trace of any intelligent purpose at work in nature in the present or past. The assumption of one and only one universe is unwarranted. Cosmological constant “fine tuning” is evidence against it.

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  8. Leigh Jackson January 25, 2012 / 10:05 pm

    In an infinite multiverse every possible physical reality is guaranteed. Every universe appears fine-tuned from within. It may be that an infinite number of forms of life exist – each perfectly suited to the universe which perfectly suits it.

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