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Fallacy of Fine-Tuning Hardcover – 15 Jun 2011
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Praise for the New York Times bestseller God: The Failed Hypothesis:
"I learned an enormous amount from this splendid book."
-Richard Dawkins, author of the New York Times best-seller The God Delusion
"Marshalling converging arguments from physics, astronomy, biology, and philosophy, Stenger has delivered a masterful blow in defense of reason. God: The Failed Hypothesis is a potent, readable, and well-timed assault upon religious delusion. It should be widely read."
-Sam Harris, author of the New York Times bestsellers, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation
"Extremely tough and impressive...a great book...a huge addition to the arsenal of argument."
-Christopher Hitchens, author of the New York Times bestseller God Is Not Great
About the Author
Victor J. Stenger (1935 - 2014) was an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado and emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii. He was the author of the" New York Times" bestseller "God: The Failed Hypothesis, God and the Atom, God and the Folly of Faith," " The Comprehensible Cosmos," and many other books.
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There is a lucrative and burgeoning market for the kind of book that wallows in this new corner of natural theology. Writers can trade on the reputation of science and have a field day with complex terminology and the latest discoveries in cosmology and particle physics, safe in the knowledge that few of their readers will be either able or motivated to hold the arguments up to rigorous scrutiny. Stenger is more qualified than most of us to pass judgement on these issues, and has "studied a sufficient number of these efforts to have a good grasp of the claims being made" - so that we don't have to. For that service to humanity alone, he deserves a medal. In response to the proponents of fine-tuning, he provides "a plausible explanation consistent with our best knowledge" and suggests it is they who have the burden of proving him wrong.
However, this is tough going in places. Even with two degrees in physics, there are pages of equations and diagrams that I frankly don't understand (Stenger clarifies one point with the gloss - "sort of like a complex conjugate" - which will leave many none the wiser). I don't usually like to draw attention to my ignorance and inability to fully grasp what an author's written, preferring to give the impression of sitting in near-omniscient judgement. But when it comes to fine-tuning, my failure to compute is an important piece of evidence, because I now know just how little the vast majority of theists understand when they trot out "fine-tuning" as if it were some established fact. You may find it hard to credit - religious believers making claims about things they can't possibly know - but there it is.
To defeat the fine-tuning argument, Stenger does not have to give a reason why each parameter has the value it does, he "must only show that life could be plausible under a wide range of parameters". This is important, since fine-tuners make a common mistake: in all the examples of fine-tuning in the theist literature "the authors only vary one parameter while holding all the rest constant" - which inevitably leads to those infinitesimal volumes of phase space. Perhaps theists imagine (mistakenly) that this is a fairer test? Intuitively, you might think that varying one parameter while keeping all the rest fixed is the least restrictive condition, and if that gives a vast improbability, well, you can jump right to the God-what-done-it conclusion. Actually, varying only one parameter is the most restrictive approach and is, according to Stenger, "both dubious and scientifically shoddy". He shows how recognizing that parameters can vary at the same time allows for much a much larger range of habitable universes.
As well as dealing with the more plausible fine-tuning arguments (Stenger concedes that Hugh Ross "has a point about deuterium abundance"), we are still left with the problem of apologists like Dinesh D'Souza claiming that, in "a stunning confirmation of the book of Genesis, modern scientists have discovered that the universe was created in a primordial explosion of energy and light". Stenger patiently enumerates all the rather obvious ways in which "the biblical story of creation bears no resemblance whatsoever to the big bang as described by modern cosmology".
This kind of claim is typical of D'Souza, who is also an expert at mining the Eddington Concession (a rhetorical device identified by Richard Dawkins). Stenger exposes how D'Souza misquotes Hawking to make his case, and provides more evidence that theologians and religious apologists have poor standards of intellectual integrity: inconvenient arguments and facts are ignored, selective quotation is used to make a partisan point, references are not given, irrelevant details are emphasized and out-of-date results are referenced as if still valid.
Being genuinely mistaken is nothing to be ashamed of, so long as you don't just care about truth selectively, whenever it suits you. (See, for example, Lynch's True to Life: Why Truth Matters (Bradford Books).) Some Christians believe fine-tuning proves the existence of God. They happen to be mistaken. Many Christians also make a big show of caring about the truth, when time and again it seems that they care more about their faith. It is a pitiful spectacle to see otherwise intelligent theists clutching at straws in this way, wasting so much energy and time and resources trying to salvage natural theology from the beating it has taken from the physical sciences and Darwinism. It gives a new meaning to faith: never knowing when to give up a lost cause.
This is a worthy book in many ways, although badly let down in places by poor maths typesetting and figure work. For me, however, what was missing was the question, why would a believer want fine-tuning to be true? If God could be bothered to fine-tune the universe, why didn't he do a better job fine-tuning away the huge quantities of suffering? On this planet alone, sentient creatures have suffered for millions of years, thanks to evolution by natural selection. Fine-tuning, it seems, is necessarily a morally repugnant concept and one which any right-minded believer should want nothing to do with.
He begins by pointing out that the values of most physical constants are completely arbitrary and serve only to define the units of measurement. Only dimensionless measures can truly be compared. There is no such dimensionless parameter for gravity and so it cannot be objectively compared to the other forces. This renders meaningless claims about it being fine tuned.
Stenger repeatedly points out that he does not have to disprove claims of fine tuning. The burden of proof is on those who claim that the universe has been miraculously fine tuned. All he has to do is present plausible scientific explanations. He does this in the case of both cosmological parameters and parameters from particle physics, using well established physics and without the need to resort to fanciful speculation.
His main approach is to recognise that many of the parameters of nature are inter-related. By altering two or more simultaneously, it is possible to model a wide variety of universes capable of supporting long lived stars and the heavy element synthesis required for complex chemistry. Indeed, he varies many parameters over many orders of magnitudes and still manages to simulate surprisingly high numbers of universes with the claimed necessary conditions for life.
Finally, the book includes a Bayesian argument that points out that a universe friendly to life is evidence for a naturally occurring universe, not for a deity.
The book is aimed at a general readership, with the appropriate mathematical arguments safely confined to inset boxes. That being said, there are rather a lot of those inset boxes and the more mathematics and physics the reader understands, the more they will learn from this text. As Stenger himself says, "anyone with sufficient knowledge to write authoritatively on fine-tuning should have no trouble following my mathematical arguments."
The book also acts as a very handy and concise summary of the standard models of particle physics and cosmology which Stenger explains in a delightfully direct and insightful way.
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