Do Androids Dream of Anthropic Sheep?
I doubt that will feel like a satisfying answer. Even if the universe is not perfect for us, the fact that we’re even here seems too good to be true. Isn’t it more likely that unintelligent life should be here instead of us? Why is there something instead of nothing?
I think I can answer that through a series of questions.
What would this universe look like if it was inhospitable to life? This is clear nonsense, since there’d be no life around to ask the question, let alone answer it. We can use our theories of the universe to guess, but as pointed out above we’d need to assume they can be tuned, guess what settings we could change, and then via some assumptions rank their friendliness to life. This leads to an important point: life can only bloom in a universe that is compatible for life, and only life can ask questions.
What would this universe look like if it didn’t allow intelligent life? This is an equally silly question, for the same reasons. Because we can ask it at all, our universe must be compatible with intelligent life.
Time for a tricky one: How can we tell a compatible universe from a tuned one? If we’re lucky, the answer will be buried in either the initial state or the laws of the universe. If not, we could check if we’re in the best possible universe, and argue that’s unlikely to happen by chance. Failing that, we’ll have to tally up the tunings better than ours, calculate the odds of our particular tuning, and decide if it’s sufficiently unlikely to happen by chance.
In all three cases, we’re not only dependent on the missing information I pointed out earlier, we may need to add more, like the odds of a specific tuning happening. Worst of all, in one case we’re forced to consider when we transition from “unlikely to happen by chance” to “impossible to happen.” Even if the odds were a million to one against something happening, it could still happen by chance. It’s like a lottery winner claiming they were destined to win the lottery, because the odds of anyone winning the lottery are so low that no-one should have been able to win it.
Faced with so many unanswered questions in the way, both believers and unbelievers have simply made up answers to the compatibility problem. And when the answers are invented, the conclusion is predictable:
Design advocates argue that the universe seems to have been specifically designed so that intelligent life would form. These claims are essentially a modern, cosmological version of the ancient argument from design for the existence of God. However, the new version is as deeply flawed as its predecessors, making many unjustified assumptions and being inconsistent with existing knowledge. One gross and fatal assumption is that only one kind of life, ours, is conceivable in every conceivable configuration of universes.
However, a wide variation of constants of physics leads to universes that are long-lived enough for life to evolve, although human life need not exist in such universes.
(“IS THE UNIVERSE FINE-TUNED FOR US? ”, Victor J. Stenger , Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of Hawaii)
Stenger attempts to show that our universe isn’t really fine-tuned by showing that long-lived stars are not unusual. He fails for five reasons. 1.) He gets his formula wrong, and in so doing ignores an important case of fine-tuning. 2.) He fails to consider the effect of altering the strength of gravity. 3.) He “cherry-picks” a very favourable fine-tuning example to suit his purposes. 4.) His probability claims are vacuous, following trivially from his unjustified hidden assumptions. 5.) He rightly exhorts us to consider varying multiple parameters at once, but commits the opposite mistake: he fails to consider multiple life-permitting criteria. Even if he were right about long-lived stars, it doesn’t follow that life-permitting universes do not need to be fine-tuned. I conclude that Stenger’s claims are worse than mistaken; they are misleading.
(“No Faith In MonkeyGod: A Fine-Tuned Critique of Victor Stenger (Part 2),” Luke Barnes, Postgraduate Researcher at the Institute for Astronomy at ETH Zurich, in Letters to Nature, April 18, 2010)
A compatible universe can look like a tuned one, if you invent the proper answers. Refuse to do so, and all you can conclude is that the universe is compatible with intelligent life, because intelligent life exists.
Carts and Horses, Meet Cranes and Skyhooks
There’s one more assumption floating around behind this pseudo-proof: the universe is tuned for life.
Is that really the case, though? In the Design proof, I discuss evolution and how it works. Specifically, I pointed out that the products of evolution are tuned to the environment around them by the environment itself. Life, from all indications, is a product of evolution.
Thus, life tuned itself to the universe, and not the other way around. This explains why the two seem unusually compatible: life has adjusted to the challenges thrown down by the universe, altering itself appropriately. If it had not, you wouldn’t be around to ask why the two seem so compatible.
Douglas Adams compared the Fine Tuning pseudo-proof to a puddle:
It’s rather is if you imagine a puddle, waking up one morning and thinking hmm this is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, it 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 onto the notion that everything’s going to be all right 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 maybe something we need to be on the watch for.
Indeed, lest we push a proof that isn’t one at all.
 Notwithstanding the old astronomy joke about searching for intelligent life in the universe.