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Cosmological Constant Not Fine Tuned For Life 536

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the random-is-random dept.
eldavojohn writes "A common argument one might encounter in intelligent design or the arduous process of resolving science with religion is that the physical constants of our world are fine tuned for life by some creator or designer. A University of Alberta theoretical physicist claims quite the opposite when it comes to the cosmological constant. His paper says that our ever expanding universe has a positive cosmological constant and he explains that the optimum cosmological constant for maximizing the chances of life in the universe would be slightly negative: 'any positive value of the constant would tend to decrease the fraction of matter that forms into galaxies, reducing the amount available for life. Therefore the measured value of the cosmological constant, which is positive, is evidence against the idea that the constants have been fine-tuned for life.'"
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Cosmological Constant Not Fine Tuned For Life

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  • Any need for this? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Burnhard (1031106) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @12:47PM (#34917216)
    Doesn't the Anthropic Principle [wikipedia.org] adequately deal with this issue in any case?
    • by mibe (1778804)
      Yes. I can see the rebuttal now: "How can you say the universe is not fine-tuned for us? We're here, aren't we?"
      • by cptdondo (59460) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @12:56PM (#34917338) Journal

        Or...

        Since the universe is clearly *not* meant for us, our very existence *requires* divine intervention. Without it we would not be here!

        • by Pojut (1027544) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @12:59PM (#34917394) Homepage

          So...our "loving" Creator/Father/God put us in a hostile environment where we are considered abominations and have no reason to exist other than because he went on a bender and thought it was a good idea?

          Man...god can be such an asshole sometimes.

          • by Lumpy (12016)

            One mans' asshole is another mans Funny guy.

            I prefer to think that God simply has a very sick sense of humor.

            Honestly, Platypus... How is that animal NOT a joke?

            • by Pojut (1027544)

              Yup...I'll laugh all the way to the grave when god gets bored with humans and decides to give sharks legs and functioning lungs ;)

            • I can only see it one way. God and Devil got really drunk, God doodled it on a cocktail napkin, devil laughed his ass off and between giggles managed to squeeze out "dare ya!"

            • From what I've seen, I wouldn't laugh at Perry.

              Curse you Perry the Platypus!

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perry_the_Platypus

            • by mchugh (627644)

              I prefer to think that God simply has a very sick sense of humor.

              "...and when I die I expect to find Him laughing."

          • by Burnhard (1031106)
            I like what Hitchens says on this: "God created us sick and then commanded us to be well". So yes, he must be a bit of a sadist.
          • by PinchDuck (199974)

            "put us in a hostile environment where we are considered abominations and have no reason to exist"
            Holy crap. I'm no creationist, but I have to ask:did your mommy not love you enough when you were growing up?

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Burnhard (1031106)
          Well, you can't prove a negative ("it wasn't designed"), can you? So the onus is on those who say it was to demonstrate that it must have been. Clearly in the space of all possible universes the anthropic principle rules.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @12:58PM (#34917372)

        Yes. I can see the rebuttal now: "How can you say the universe is not fine-tuned for us? We're here, aren't we?"

        Consider that it might actually be the other way around: we evolved in this Universe, therefore we are fined tuned for it.

    • by Empiric (675968)

      No, because it blatantly and desperately reverses cause-and-effect.

      The odds of you winning the lottery is not made 1 by concluding that if you didn't win the lottery, you wouldn't be thinking about winning the lottery.

      • by mibe (1778804) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @01:05PM (#34917478)
        That's a terrible analogy. Consider instead: There is a lottery to determine whether or not the human race lives or dies. We wouldn't be around to comprehend any losing draws, so we make the (flawed) conclusion that we were always bound to have won.
        • by Empiric (675968)

          And the odds of us living would be precisely what the were--though in the case of your analogy, more easily calculable.

          That is the only question at hand in either argument. The results speak none whatsoever to those odds.

          I find the Anthropic Principle argument literally astonishingly weak in this form, and find it difficult to believe anyone can give it a second thought unless overwhelmingly biased toward a particular worldview, to about the degree they'd deny 2+2=4 if it was similarly incompatible.

          A much

          • by cduffy (652)

            Handwaving to "that's okay because the odds are actually determined by the outcome" is, IMHO, just absurd.

            I've never -- never! -- heard the anthropic principal abused in that manner.

        • That's still not the right analogy. The anthropic principle just says: If we wouldn't have won the lottery, we would not be here, therefore from the fact we are here we can conclude we have won the lottery.

      • The odds of you winning the lottery is not made 1 by concluding that if you didn't win the lottery, you wouldn't be thinking about winning the lottery.

        No, but the odds of you thinking about what a miracle it is that you won the lottery is 0 if you don't actually win.

      • Erh... no.

        The lottery exists. Whether your think of it, whether you win it, it does not matter. It is there.

        The principle states that you COULD NOT even ponder whether it's fine tuned when it were any different.

        If you want to compare it to a lottery, then a more apt comparison would be that the result would only count if "your" numbers were drawn. Else, it would not be announced and the drawing is repeated until your numbers come up.

        Your chance of winning is 1.

    • by Dunbal (464142) *

      A new hypothesis that reinforces previous research is not invalid. In fact quite the opposite. It both reinforces the old, and is more accepted because it "fits" current knowledge.

      Your argument would be like saying that subtraction is invalid because you can subtract two numbers and get the same result as you can obtain by adding two different numbers.

    • by xded (1046894)
      Is the universe tuned to us or it's us tuned to the universe?...
    • Yes, Falsifiability (Score:5, Interesting)

      by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @01:12PM (#34917582) Journal

      Doesn't the Anthropic Principle [wikipedia.org] adequately deal with this issue in any case?

      From the paper I linked in the summary:

      Perhaps a more common view among physicists today is the idea that there is a multiverse with a wide range of values for the constants of physics, and by the selection principle of observership (the weak anthropic principle), we find ourselves in the part of the multiverse where life is possible and/or relatively common (at least compared to other parts of the multiverse) [7]. However, there is still considerable controversy over whether such a multiverse that would be necessary for this explanation really exists.

      And then later the author says (calling this the 'third view'):

      The third view, of observer selection within a multiverse, is hard to prove or disprove directly, since it appears very difficult to obtain direct information about other possible parts of a multiverse. However, if a simple theory were developed that gives good statistical explanations for what we do observe and that also predicts a multiverse that we cannot directly observe, such a theory could become highly convincing (analogous to the prediction by general relativity of very high curvature in black-hole interior regions that cannot be directly observed).

      I believe the intent of this paper was to directly address the claims instead of using the weak anthropic principle. More importantly, his argument is falsifiable (that coveted trait in the scientific process) whereby the other three views are not at this time. As other posters have pointed out [slashdot.org] we can now attempt to reason out this theory further.

    • No, it's a modus tollens argument.
      • Arg.. Can't believe I failed on the meaning of this. It's not modus tollens... I forget the name, but it's another logical fallacy. Basically the result (we exist) does follow from the proposition (ceiling cat created us), but it does not follow in reverse.. Thus our existence isn't proof of ceiling cat.
    • It does in both directions.

      I agree that the fact that life exists under a set of conditions doesn't inherently prove they were created specifically for the life that observes those conditions.

      Nor do I agree with Don Page's suggestion that it is definitively proven that a Creator didn't create the universe, because by his calculations, the universe isn't perfectly optimized for the maximum creation of galaxies.

      If we could stand outside of the universe and definitively record whether or not the universe is ex

    • by ultranova (717540)

      Doesn't the Anthropic Principle adequately deal with this issue in any case?

      No, the Anthropic Principle simply states that the Universe must be compatible with life since life is observed to exist within it. Trying to use it to actually explain why anything is as it is is confusing cause and effect, unless you can prove that every possible universe exists or something to that effect.

    • by digitig (1056110)
      No. The anthropic principle is what this issue is. The question is which version of the anthropic is correct. Martin Gardner did an excellent article [nybooks.com] on this (sorry, most of the article is behind a paywall -- I have a paper copy in his anthology "The Night is Large"). The problem with the cosmological argument isn't "the anthropic principle", the problem is selection bias.
  • I find this somewhat comforting. The Earth is becoming less and less 'special' with new worlds being found nearly every day now--worlds that may sustain life. Now it turns out that the universe is 'flawed' from our perspective, too. In a way, it's sort of optimistic--there's a way that it could be better, and the possibility arises that maybe it'd be possible to find a 'better' place.
    • by Pojut (1027544) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @12:57PM (#34917350) Homepage

      As one of our fellow apartment-dwellers likes to point out, our scientific view of the universe is directly influenced by:

      1. Our own biological bias (meaning the way we, as humans, perceive things)
      2. The fundamental elements that make up life in this galaxy
      3. The math we use

      Were any of these three things different, our scientific view of reality could be completely changed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by vlm (69642)

        As one of our fellow apartment-dwellers likes to point out, our scientific view of the universe is directly influenced by:

        1. Our own biological bias (meaning the way we, as humans, perceive things)
        2. The fundamental elements that make up life in this galaxy
        3. The math we use

        Were any of these three things different, our scientific view of reality could be completely changed.

        Unlikely beyond the level of mere triviality. The bio basis seems to make no sense, kind of a long delayed hangover of the vital humor approach to organic chemistry, "life force theory". The fundamental elements seems to make no sense, in that the fundamental elements seem to reliably and predictably follow our scientific view of reality (that's kind of the whole point of chemistry). The math we use seems irrelevant, binary, hex, octal, decimal, it all comes out equivalent and the "dependency tree" of ma

        • by Burnhard (1031106) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @01:45PM (#34918082)
          Another objection is also the empirical evidence we're able to collect. For example, in 100,000,000,000 years time, the expansion of the Universe will mean that any future civilisation will look out into the sky and only see the Milky Way (stars will still exist then). There will be no evidence of a "big bang", inflation (the cosmic microwave background will have gone) and no evidence that other galaxies exist or have ever existed. Such a civilisation would not even think of dark matter, dark energy, dark flow, or anything else we need to cobble theory to observation.

          I wonder what is missing from the picture now that would otherwise cause us to question and change our understanding of reality? Probably quite a lot!
      • You forgot Ignorance, unless you include that in Biological Bias.

        All scientific statements that pretend to proclaim the "truth" should be prefixed by "Based on what we now know".

        Because:

        a) We don't know everything and sure as hell don't fully understand even that which we "know".
        b) We will know more and/or different in the future.

    • and the possibility arises that maybe it'd be possible to find a 'better' place.

      The definition of "universe" as I understand it means that there is no chance for contact, influence, or observation across its "boundaries".

      As we have no knowledge of what all the cosmological constants are (or whether they are truly constant), nor even the slighest inkling of whether it would be possible to change them (definition of "constant" seems to suggest that, no, you cant), its not really optimistic at all. You seem to be trying to find a silver lining to a speculation where none seems to exist.

    • by Dunbal (464142) *

      and the possibility arises that maybe it'd be possible to find a 'better' place.

            Yet another person fails to comprehend exactly what kind of distances exist between the stars. The answer is no. Unless of course you can find a way to travel significantly FASTER than the speed of light, because even AT the speed it light it would take you hundreds of years to reach stars currently known to have planets orbiting them.

  • Irrelevant .... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @12:50PM (#34917264) Homepage

    The people who want to believe that a creator is pulling the strings in our favor aren't willing to listen to science.

    We don't need to resolve science with religion ... we need to reconcile religion with science. Once your god is outside the big bang where scientists just shrug, or addressing things like an afterlife ... run wild.

    If your religion can't incorporate what science tells us, you're choosing to live in ignorance and take your holy book as literal, factual information.

    I know astrophysicists who are devoutly religious ... first and foremost, they turn to the science to explain the universe as it exists. For them, god answers a completely different set of questions -- and I have no problem with that. If any entity DID create the universe, it's largely going to be beyond our ability to fully comprehend.

    If a god exists, he's such a massively abstract and complex being, that trying to fit him/it/whatever into OUR understanding of the universe is laughable.

    • The really devout ones would probably take this as evidence of intelligent design anyway.

      "Ha ha!" they'd say, "Because the universe isn't fine-tuned for life, the fact that life exists here is clearly a miracle that only god can produce!"

      You can't win. They'll twist any argument around, no matter how logical, to suit their views, and it'll strengthen their belief, not weaken it.

      • Who needs to twist anything. Science is proving this more and more that the "religious fanatics" seem to have been right all along.
      • by gstoddart (321705)

        The really devout ones would probably take this as evidence of intelligent design anyway.

        The ones I know who are scientists who are also religious mostly accept that god isn't micro-managing the day-to-day stuff.

        To me, I picture something more like us being critters in a lab experiment ... "oh, look, the little blue ones are wearing pointy hats this year, how cute! I like it when they wear hats -- uh oh, the purple-speckled ones are fighting again, what a shame -- oops, I think I just stepped on the green

        • by vlm (69642)

          The really devout ones would probably take this as evidence of intelligent design anyway.

          The ones I know who are scientists who are also religious mostly accept that god isn't micro-managing the day-to-day stuff.

          Most of the ones I know see it as a racial heritage. Heck most of the regular people I know see it the same way. For one of them, on a single issue by issue basis, she completely disagrees with everything from Rome. I mean everything, when I write everything. Yet she almost violently defends her identify as an Irish-Catholic, because its a racial heritage issue. Telling her she's not really a catholic is very much like saying her dad is not really her biological dad, if you know what I mean. Or trying

      • Most creation-believing Christians that don't adhere to abiogenesis and billions of years of evolution would, in fact, say that life is clearly a miracle that only God can produce. They have been saying that for many, many years. Your hypothetical quote would not be any sort of twisting; it'd be the same as they have been saying for years. I don't think that would be a case of the creationist twisting an argument, it would be the non-creationist ... um, setting up a strawman, in this case, I think would

    • So ... everyone's religion should reconcile with your view of "a god." :) If it is laughable to fit Him into our understanding of the universe ... then how is it we reconcile Him with OUR science? It seems that you basically have asserted that God cannot exist because He cannot fit into our science while maintaining that if He did exist, He would not be able to fit into our science in the first place? So how is it our science can prove or disprove anything about God?

      I could, of course, be misreading your

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        So ... everyone's religion should reconcile with your view of "a god." :) If it is laughable to fit Him into our understanding of the universe ... then how is it we reconcile Him with OUR science?

        No, I'm saying that if a creator-god put all of this together, the universe as it exists is part of that, and pretending like that isn't the case serves no purpose. Reality exists, and trying to contort that reality to match a belief that, say, the Earth is 6000 years old is kind of loony. If 'he' made it, then w

        • For the most part, I agree... except that I would also argue that if a creator is outside of our science (and yet created our science), then our science is not the highest authority; and, in fact, if our science assumes no God and tries to explain everything from an atheist POV (i.e., everything must be explained naturally), then it could be that science could be wrong.

          Generally, I'd argue that science without God has some issues at it's foundation - why science works in the first place, aside from "because

    • by Dunbal (464142) *

      We don't need to resolve science with religion ... we need to reconcile religion with science.

      Er personally I don't see the need for reconciliation, either. We need to accept that a certain not insignificant percentage of the population will always be prone to manipulation and belief in the incredible. So either you replace it with another lie that keeps them away from explosives and weapons and important decisions, or you shoot them. They refuse to be educated, so there's not really m

    • Re:Irrelevant .... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @01:21PM (#34917704) Journal

      I know astrophysicists who are devoutly religious ... first and foremost, they turn to the science to explain the universe as it exists. For them, god answers a completely different set of questions.

      Well exactly. Personally, I think Science answers the how and Religion answers the why.

      The problem is that most people get mixed up in the difference of the two. How something happens and Why something happens are two different questions. Why often implies some motivation by some entity for the action preformed. How did this post come about? I typed keys and clicked submit and the internet had a bunch of traffic etc etc. Why did this post come about? Because I, as a person, decided to type this out to you.

      As a thought experiment, I would ask you why grass is green. You can go and explain that the chlorophyll is green and a major component. And you can explain that the chemical make up of chlorophyll typically has an Electromagnetic absorption to certain colours and that green is the visible colour it reflects. And you can explain that it's a certain frequency in the EM spectrum that is green and how exactly the absorption of other light works, and you could go on forever explaining the process. All you would be doing is explaining how the grass is green. And you can ask "How" an infinite number of times, and I think that often drives scientific progress.

      But you only need to ask "Why" once, and ultimately you know, that you just don't know. You don't know if there is some omni-potent being who decided exactly how the universe would operate. You don't know if there is anything after all this. Personally I like to think there is, as I find it a bit comforting to know that there'd be something at the end, or else why bother at all. At least, that's my philosophy.

  • by Raffaello (230287) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @12:51PM (#34917278)

    The author of the linked study appears not to have considered that a universe more dense with galaxies would be a universe with many more planet-sterilizing gamma ray bursts [wikipedia.org], which would not be terribly conducive to life.

  • by Even on Slashdot FOE (1870208) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @12:54PM (#34917298)

    Here at /. News, our top story is "An uncaring universe does not care about humanity". News at 11.
    Following this we will have more videos of cats being catlike.

  • This doesn't refute Intelligent Design, it just suggests that the Designer isn't as Intelligent as He's cracked up to be.

    • Or it suggests that He didn't design the entire universe as a habitation for, at least, the same creatures as those on earth; rather, the earth was for that. Very shocking - a specific habitat was created for specific creatures, rather than the entire universe.
  • by Empiric (675968) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @12:56PM (#34917340) Homepage

    ...you can't argue with success.

    Known attempts at permutations of physical constants: 1
    Success at creating intelligent life: 1

    Of course, one could never argue against the line of reasoning suggested by the summary--whatever degree of life exists, arbitrarily declare there should be "more", and conjecture (yes, it's sheer conjecture--the actual results from modifying the cosmological constant would require far more calculation of than is provided) something else would have made it "better".

    Personally, though I'm used to having my code second-guessed, they'd have to come up with a much better criticism than this...

  • Basically, he said the current value of the cosmological constant does not maximise the potential for life.

    Assuming that an omnipotent would seek to create as much life as possible, then the Omnipotent did not set that value. That shows us one of two things:

    1) The omnipotent does not exist

    2) The omnipotent did not want to maximize the chances of life, but instead did what he/she/it wanted to: which is pretty much the definition of an omnipotent.

    So either this omnipotent does not exist, or it is omnipotent.

    • 2) The omnipotent did not want to maximize the chances of life, but instead did what he/she/it wanted to: which is pretty much the definition of an omnipotent.

      Actually, the definition os an omnipotent is that he can do anything he wants, not that he does. An omnipotent god who is too lazy to do anything at all would still be omnipotent.

  • This is biased toward non intelligent design right off the bat. A creator would only need to optimize for life the planet or planets that he intended to deposit life upon. The fact that the universe at large is biased against life makes life here on earth all that more special.
  • "Creating more Galaxies" is not necessarily synonymous with "Creating more galaxies that can sustain life". If increasing the cosmological constant increases the percentage of matter that forms galaxies, but also changes the makeup of those galaxies to be inhospitable to life, then there would be an overall decrease in the universes 'suitability for life'.

    Given that there is no (currently known) method of testing how a change in the cosmological constant would affect other properties of matter and energy

  • and they asked "Why do you want to study the stars?"
  • Science. Religion. They are not a competition. Religion answers questions for us that Science cannot. Science answers questions for us that Religion doesn't address. Many famous scientists from bygone ages were devout believers in God, or Allah, or (insert other deity here), and yet made great strides to science. They didn't see the two as mutually exclusive. I blame arrogance and intellectual hubris for thinking that you can live without one or the other. Learn to accept both, and you will be a muc

    • by Yosho (135835)

      Religion answers questions for us that Science cannot.

      Out of curiosity, like what? What questions can you demonstrate science cannot answer, but religion does provide an answer for? (an actual answer, mind you, not a hopeful guess!)

      It should be kept in mind that many of the famous scientists you could name were products of their times and cultures, where it was unthinkable that somebody could not subscribe to the predominant religion. Many of them invoked their deity as an explanation for questions they did not know the answer to, and yet modern science has

  • by Spazmania (174582) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @01:18PM (#34917670) Homepage

    When they try to tackle the deep philosophical questions, they sound every bit as ridiculous as the creationists do trying to "correct" science.

    Stephen Hawking, I'm looking at you.

  • Before this disintegrates into the inevitable slew of religion bashing...

    From TFA:

    laws of physics contain various constants that have very specific, mysterious values that nobody can explain

    Maybe its because mathematics is (often) an approximation. You can hide oodles of complexity with a constant, especially in a system that is not understood i.e. the universe.

    One explanation is that this is pure accident and that there is no deeper reason for the coincidence. Another idea is that there is some deeper law of nature, which we have yet to discover, that sets the constants as they are. Yet another is that the constants can take more or less any value in an infinite multitude of universes. In ours, they are just right, which is why we have been able to evolve to observe them.

    Wow that's convincing. So basically, constants are either random, hiding complexity, or rooted in some string theory nonsense about infinite parallel universes. Oh yea, or they are created and tuned by God/gods/FSM, which is what this "evidence" claims

  • The Lord IS a rotten bastard!

  • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @02:14PM (#34918410)

    I almost feel silly saying something so obvious, but here goes.

    How do you know a negative constant would lead to any life at all? It seems like things would be so radically different that none of the assumptions and observations you can make in our universe would still apply. This discussion is not serious, it is pure foolishness, just like children sitting around playing make believe. Not that that can't be productive and useful, but at least call it what it is.

  • by Jack Action (761544) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @09:06PM (#34922782)

    TFA does not actually put a stake through the heart of a fine-tuned universe.

    In fact, it actually lends more support to the view that the universe is fine-tuned for one form of life: us.

    The article's conclusion is based on the premise that a God would want to create lots of life, and so the constant should be more positive.

    But the Biblical view is that humanity is unique (for various reasons). The value of the constant being negative would seem to support this.

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