White's Finely Tuned Analogy, Why Pluralism Matters and On William Paley's Watch

Daniel Sanderson
Jun 29, 2018
4 min read

In The Argument from Cosmological Fine Tuning (2012), Roger White asserts we would not be alive if the dials had not been set at very precise values and that this gives us sufficient reason to think it very likely that somebody set the dials at those values. Is he right? If so, is there a disanalogy between the case of the bombs and the case of the cosmological constants? What is it?[1]

One possible way to diffuse the Fine Tuning Argument is to highlight the disanalogy with the finely tuned cosmological constants. By slightly changing the thought experiment the flaw becomes apparent through an exercise of plurality. In the case of the bombs on a building, we could say there were one billion other such rooms with dials tuned uniquely to each room. If we were the only room not reduced to rubble (at the chosen time) then White's argument would look rather silly and rightfully so! We can imagine multiple rooms but multiple universes is clearly a disanalogy simply due to time, space and well the cosmological constants of the universe. No one really knows what happened before the thunderclap of creation and I doubt it's within the scope of any introductory course on philosophy.

Charles Darwin read William Paley and his watchmater arguement. Post Darwin there really wasn't a need to bring up the watchmater, until Dawkins that is.

For me, Paley's perspective is more of an ontological point on how something comes into Being. Starting with the answer, "it's always been there", the chosen refutation does more to defeat the point than provide philosophical value. Or does it? Is it wise to assert that something "that has always been" in existence has a philosophical significance? Or, as Paley suggests, the statement is absurd? Paley stumbled on something significant. Let me define some basic terms. Fundamental to the universe are particles. We are still defining and categorizing these particles but we unanimously know the basic constituents of the universe. If these constituents "were always there", as we know they were, this would provide a foundational consensus for a social agreement on spontaneous creation versus chaos and order. This should be as self evident as life itself. The incipit nature of this point becomes apparent when we apply it to a future instance of something not part of the fundamental particles in the universe. A Boeing 747, although made up of atoms and fundamental particles, doesn't follow the "always been there" logic, at least not in the arrangement as a Boeing passenger plane. The fundamental particles are all there but the arrangement of these particles was unique to that 747. We are not much further ahead than where we started but we have taken one important step forward and that is in the direction of progress. United, we should galvanize around the evidence and not hold onto dogmatic thinking and religious superstitions. We have a mechanism in society for this, it's called education. Coupled with secular societies the combo produces a reliance against ignorance and teaches reason over superstition, fact based claims over speculation, causation over correlation. Science isn't perfect but its leading the pack in terms of valid and sound truth claims.

State of the Argument, William Paley tries to compare the purpose oriented outcome of a watch with the human species. Rather presumptuous that humans even have a purpose.

"It is a perversion of language to assign any law as the efficient, operative cause of any thing. A law presupposes an agent; for it is only the mode according to which an agent proceeds: it implies a power; for it is the order according to which that power acts. Without this agent, without this power, which are both distinct from itself, the law does nothing, is nothing." - William Paley

"It is a perversion of language to assign any law as the efficient, operative cause of any thing. A law presupposes an agent; and that agent is entropy". - Dr. Cory Elliot

The above quotes are contrasted between entropy and power. Power as Paley defines it requires agency. Act II, Scene II - The power play will be performed by the humanoid agency and company. Perhaps insiteful and purposeful for the beginning of the 19th century, Paley's aphorisms remain overshawdowed by the short sightedness of his time. For instance, "The consciousness of knowing little need not beget a distrust of that which he does know.", is a powerful quote that I find delightfully elegent.

Digging deaper...

I am the author of this contrivance, so let's have a dialog...

Paley: There cannot be design without a designer; contrivance, without a contriver; order, without choice; arrangement, without any thing capable of arranging; subserviency and relation to a purpose, without that which could intend a purpose; means suitable to an end, and executing their office in accomplishing that end, without the end ever having been contemplated, or the means accommodated to it.

Athiest: You would consider the opposite absurd?

Paley: Yet this is athiesm?

Athiest: I am the author of your contrivance that is for sure but what athiesm means will have to take some getting used to. Your definition of athiesm is correct. Your pejorative inflection is misguided.

Paley: How so?

Athiest: There can be a design without a designer; contrivance, without a contriver; order without choice; arrangement, without any thing capable of arranging; subservience and relation to a purpose, without that which could intend a purpose; means suitable to an end, without the end ever having been contemplated, or the means to accomodated to it.

Paley: Again this is athiesm.

Athiest: And what if it turns out this is the truth. This is the way reality is.

Paley: God help us!

Athiest: I think you are missing the point.

Paley: What? That a godless world would be filled with chaos and disorder?

Athiest: Ontologically yes, the order we bring to the universe is through sustaining life. Survival.

Paley: Where is the beauty in that?

Athiest: There is no beauty in non-existence.

Paley: Huh?

Athiest: I guess I shouldn't say that. There is plenty of aethetic in fiction. You wouldn't claim a falsehood to be true if you knew it to be false would you?

Paley: Absolutely not!

Athiest: Just as I thought. Your tendency toward the absolute is what got you into this cognitive condundrum.

Paley: I don't understand your language.

Athiest: I hear that a lot.

Paley: What are you saying?

Athiest: You are a truth seeker. Assuming the athiest's perception of reality is the closest interpretation we have to reality. Would you adopt it as truth? Find the beauty in life?

Paley: Whats the point? Life would have no purpose.

Athiest: Your purpose is to pass on your genes, the bonus is your get to have 63 years of fun doing it (reverse foreshadowing).

  1. The question was taken from Lecture 3 of Introduction to Philosophy: God, Knowledge and Consciousness by EDX and MIT. ↩︎

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