Monday, May 18, 2009

Arguments XXVI -- Universal Fine Tuning

Once frequent theme is anti-evolutionist propaganda is how fine-tuned the world/universe is for us to exist. The book and video "The Privileged Planet" makes the case by citing examples like: Earth's gravity is just right, the position of Earth form the Sun is just right, and many other examples of so-called fine tuning. According to Gulliermo Gonzalez [author and former ISU tenure track professor] our earth is uniquely designed for its inhabitants to do scientific exploration, and that the universe is similarly designed for us to do that scientific exploration. They point to a number of phenomena that have aided our scientific enterprise, such as the transparency of the earth's atmosphere, the fact that we have a moon that is just far enough from the earth to produce spectacular solar eclipses, and so on.

OK, you should get my point, things are set-up so 'perfectly' that the hand of God, or an Intelligent Designer, must have been involved or it would never have happened. Of course you might have the opinion that I disagree with this, and you are right. Here's why.

First of all, let's discuss 'tuning' with a simple example. You flip on your radio and get static. What you can then do it change the frequency of your receiver . . . i.e. 'tune' . . . your radio until you can get a specific station in clearly. That is a pretty simple example, and one most folks have dealt with many times in their lifetimes.

Now something different could have occurred. Rather than tune your receiver, the transmitting agency could change their transmission frequency until they hit the one your receiver was tuned for, and in that way end up with the exact same result, clear reception from the transmitter to you.

So my point is pretty simple, you can tune one or the other and get the same result. Gonzalez tunes the transmitter when he makes his claims that the universe is so perfectly tuned just for us. Scientists say the receiver gets tuned. So how does a receiver get tuned? m Look at it this way. Evolution has identified many changes in us, the receivers. We are very different than just 40,000 years ago, more different 1,000,000 years ago, and still even more different 10,000,000 years ago. Our environment, through Natural Selection, tuned us. We changed in accordance to the environment. So we appear well-adjusted to the environment, like we have been made for it, or it had been made for us.

So which is it, was the Universe/Earth made for us, or have we adjusted so well that it simply appears like it and actually we were the ones being tuned?

Now comes to the point of evidence. Fossil, genetics, studies of comparative anatomy shows that we have adjusted in many different ways over the course of time. We are still adjusting, since evolution is a process not some end-point in time. There is considerable evidence supporting this. What evidence supports Gonzalez' contention that the Universe and our planet was made for us? None at all. He basically says look at how well-adjusted everything is, it must have been placed here for us.

Dig a hole, fill it with water and water takes the shape of the hole, right? Does that mean the hole was designed to hold that shape of water? No it means water is malleable enough to take the shape of whatever vessel you put it in. That is what life is, malleable. If the environment was different, we would be different. Homo Sapiens might not even be here! Someday in the far future we might not be here. I hate to break the news, but the evidence shows that there were periods in Earth's distant past where our form of life could not have survived. They might come to pass again. Hopefully we are malleable enough to adjust, as a species. If not then we will go the way of many other species and become extinct.

The world isn't fine-tuned, we just are malleable enough to make it appear so. I wish Gonzalez would take a look under the hood instead of just accepting things at face value. With him the glass is neither half-full nor half-empty, but shaped the only way water must look in a glass. If you pour it into another vessel with a different shape, he can't seem to make the leap.


  1. Yeah. Too bad we can't see in the ultraviolet, infrared or xray spectrums. Too bad we don't have another set of eyeballs on the tops of our heads so we wouldn't have to crane our necks to see up. Too bad we don't have an intuitive sense of probabilities so we wouldn't have to mess with all that mathy stuff. Think of how much more perfect this perfect world could be.

  2. Are you hinting that our 'design' is somehow insufficient? :-)

  3. Well, my wife thinks my design could be more, uh, "sufficient". I should have opted for the extended warranty. I got issues with my back that I would like to take up with the Designer.

  4. Agreed! I has a shoulder issue! The whole rotator cuff needs to be redesigned for normal lifelong activity. I'm not a major league pitcher or an orchestra conductor, why do I have rotator cuff issues? Crappy design is the only answer!

  5. Well, in Gonzalez's defense, we are do seem very well positioned to see everything that we happen to be able to see. Can you deny it?
    And I'm sure you'll agree that if our view of it isn't so great*, or that if there're some things we can't see, they probably weren't worth seeing anyway, and don't at all undermine that sort of fine tuning argument.

    My favorite version of a fine tuning argument came from a little pamphlet about a banana. Among the evidence: since the banana curves toward our mouth for easy eating, it demonstrates the benevolence of the creator who made it for us. So, along the same lines, it stands to reason that if bananas had happened to be straight, then evolution by natural selection* would be plausible, and most interestingly to me, if bananas happened to curve away from our mouth, it would demonstrate the mischief/malevolence of the creator...

    *neutrinos, dark matter, things further away than 14GLy, things smaller than a few femtometers, etc.

  6. Yes, we can see through the atmosphere? Does that mean the atmosphere was designed for us to see through or that our eyes and vision evolved based on the ability to see? I doubt natural selection would have worked on vision if it offered no ability to actually perceive things at a distance.

    Ray Comfort is one who calls the banana "An Atheists nightmare" because of how perfectly 'designed' it is. Of course Ray tends to forget that the Cavendish variety (the yellow banana we like to eat) is the result of hundreds of years of selective breeding and wouldn't survive very well without human help. It reproduces by transplanting part of the root material, not seeds. In the wild our favorite type of banana dies off quickly, it's human cultivation allows it to prosper. Purely natural bananas are not so nicely curved, practically inedible, and loaded with large hard seeds. (

    The Atheists Nightmare debunked: