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Book Review: The Fallacy Of Fine Tuning by Victor J. Stenger

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Some of my readers may recall that my favorite story from the H.G. Wells short story collection The Door In The Wall was “The Moth,” a tale of an academic squabble that ended in insanity. A strong part of the build-up of that story was the fact that the two academics wrote books and papers for the sole purpose of contradicting points that the other had made in a previous one. And that’s what The Fallacy Of Fine Tuning feels like: an academic rebuttal.

Basically, the arguments that he spends the whole book contradicting state that as certain aspects of quantum physics and relativity are so delicate that if you could tinker with them just a tiny bit, then life as we know it would no longer exist. The idea behind this book is to prove why that is wrong using reasoning and scientific equations and diagrams. 

When one reads through the book, there’s a strong feeling that the author wasn’t quite able to furnish examples of why fine-tuning is a fallacy at a debate (and thus the hypothetical debate was won by the other guy), so when he got home he started writing like crazy and in great detail.

It is said that Stephen Hawking was told by an editor that every time an equation was included in A Brief History Of Time, it would halve the amount of sales. By that logic, The Fallacy Of Fine Tuning would have no sales whatsoever. Scarcely a page goes by that does not have some impenetrable equation on it. At one point the author states, “you have to take a lot of mathematics to get a doctorate in physics, and we know what we are talking about.” Well, they might know what they are talking about, but I’m afraid I do not, and therein lies the problem.

I am sure that somebody more qualified than I am would be able to attest to the scientific accuracy and the claims made within. However, they would have to be qualified to a post-graduate level to wrap their heads around this book, because I certainly wasn’t able to. I did try and read the thing, but I gave up after 170 pages because none of it was sinking in.

I’d like to point out that I agree with the author’s viewpoint that just because something looks fine tuned, doesn’t mean that it was. And that does not necessarily lead to a creator God (other creator beings are available). However, it strikes me that the people he is trying to convince would probably not be able to understand the viewpoints and arguments anyway (i.e, the very people who use the fine-tuning arguments in the first place).

I liked the author’s style of writing, and I’m always keen to learn new things (I praise him for teaching me about the whole Einstein “cosmological constant” incident, where he called assigning it a value out of thin air “the greatest blunder of my life”). But if you’re looking for an easily-understandable guide to fine tuning and physics, ooh, boy you’ve come to the wrong place. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that perhaps the reason that people tend to be a bit mistrustful of science these days is because they don’t understand it, and books like this are what they dread reading.

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About Scott Varnham