Saturday, 7 May 2011

Billion Dollar Lottery

This is a response to the YouTube video:  William Lane Craig not understanding math and science, in which Craig argues that the universe is so narrowly tuned that it must be the work of God. Craig claims that the four fundamental forces -- strong and weak nuclear, gravity and electromagnetism -- operate in such a narrow band that the smallest fluctuation in any parameter would mean the universe was not conducive to life or might not even be able to exist at all.

Imagine a lottery with a $1billion dollar prize. Along with billions of other people you find it too tempting to resist and buy yourself a ticket.

The day of the draw arrives and you sit down to watch ...

Well sorry my friend but you didn't win. You're a little disappointed but you can hardly be surprised when you consider the absolutely enormous odds stacked against your winning.

But wait! Someone out of all those billion of people who bought tickets has won!

Now for that person the win may well appear miraculous and the result of intervention by some designer, but actually it's just about a statistical certainty that someone will win.

This is of course an analogy. Think of this universe as that lottery winner and Craig as part-owner of the winning ticket is looking around and says "it can't be chance! It must be designed!" But it's no more designed than the $1billion dollar ticket owner's win is designed: It can be very simply explained in terms of probabilities.

Consider the following proposition. The Big Bang was not a single isolated event but rather just the latest in a potentially infinite series of expansions and collapses of a process analogous to the scientifically observed quantum fluctuation, though obvious on an enormous scale.

Well if there were a gazillion previous bang/crunches before OUR Big Bang* then what Craig says is miraculously, and just right, and fine-tuned, isn't any of those things: It's almost surely the case that  over such a sequence on some occasion the ingredients will ignited "just right", then BANG! There's your lottery winner!

Anyway, "we're living in a universe which is fine tuned to us," is like visiting the Galapagos Islands and saying "isn't it wonderful the way God made all these animal to be ideally suited to the conditions in this peculiarly isolated place!" Well no, the animals adapted to the conditions surely, not the other way round. Or at any rate, which is the more likely scenario?

Who knows? In that perhaps infinite chain of universes each bookended by bang and crunch, and each with some difference or other, perhaps there has even been a precursor to William Lane Craig looking about and saying "isn't it just amazing how the universe is so perfectly fine tuned to Strontium-based life forms! There must be a designer!"

Now both our explanations are speculation of course, but mine is surely much more plausible than a claim that involves a completely undetectable being that fine tuning the universe for us, and that, itself, then needs an even bigger explanation  ...

* Before OUR Big Bang is of course a meaningless term since space-time emerged from the Big Bang. This is a failure in the English language, not the principle being speculated upon.