Fine Tuning Argument for Alien Origin of Object as Made by Harvard Astronomer

Interview with chairperson of Harvard Astronomy department who recently published a paper arguing that the interstellar object that passed through the solar system was an artefact of an alien intelligence.

Of interest to this forum because his argument is a fine tuning argument for intelligent design.

I recommend the Rob Reid’s After On podcast from which this is taken for people who enjoy long, in-depth conversations with a variety of scientific and technology experts.

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In what journal was this paper published and who reviewed it?

It was the letters section of a well-regarded, standard astronomy journal and it got reviewed as any paper would be that was published in that letters section (a section which is intended for short papers of immediate interest.) I’d have to listen to podcast again for name of journal. If enough people are interested, I’ll do so and also summarize the argument. FWIW, he also put the paper on arXiv for his peers to comment on as well before submitting.

I should make it clear that I do NOT support ID for evolution. I see this post as a counter argument in the sense that science has no built in bias against considering fine tuning and intelligent design arguments, as long as these meet the standards of the relevant scientific community. What differentiates this example from anthropology and psychology is that it does not involve assumption of human intelligence and our experience with its nature.

ETA: podcast site has journal: “published on the 12th of this month, in the Astrophysical Journal , which is one of the top research publications in all of astronomy”. It’s likely this article,

It is not. It is this paper. Note that despite the popsci coverage, this paper is very light on aliens; there is only one short paragraph on aliens.

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Thanks. That seems much more like a published scientific paper. The first offered is a more general off the cuff discussion of some anomalies combined with some rather iffy speculation. Neither seem to support the idea of fine tuning for an alien object as the OP headline states.

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Alternatively, a more exotic scenario is that ‘Oumuamua’ may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization. Based on the PAN-STARRS1 survey characteristics, and assuming natural origins following random trajectories, Do et al. (2018) derived that the interstellar number density of ‘Oumuamua-like objects should be extremely high, ∼ 2 × 1015 pc−3, equivalent to ∼ 1015 ejected planetisimals per star, and a factor of 100 to 108 larger than predicted by theoretical models (Moro-Martin et al. 2009). This discrepancy is readily solved if ‘Oumuamua does not follow a random trajectory but is rather a targeted probe. Interestingly, ‘Oumuamua’s entry velocity is found to be extremely close to the velocity of the Local Standard of Rest, in a kinematic region that is occupied by less than 1 to 500 stars (Mamajek 2017).

I wonder if any ID theories can help us figure out if it was sent here intentionally :smile:.

Just curious. Who here has read Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama?

That’s the first thing that came to my mind when I first read about this object. Nice to know someone else had the same reaction.

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The arguments he makes in the podcast cover all of those in the pre-print that I linked and so I thought the preprint was for the published version of the letter. Even though this preprint was not published, I still think it is worth reading because of the following:

As with the published paper, in the pre-print he only mentions aliens once, but this is as the conclusion to an inference for best explanation. So once is enough.

The paper claims that existing explanations of six different types of observations make them statistically unlikely. Hence, fine tuning would be needed to explain them as such. The best remaining explanation is alien design. To me these arguments are a first pass at fairly considering all alternatives based on best consensus science.

It is true that the author is careful to label the conclusion of the pre-print as tenable and fallible; as needing further observations; and in particular as demanding extraordinary evidence to justify this extraordinary conclusion. Those desiderata are the signs of good science.

So based on this, my first point is that we should expect all of the above in any argument that aims to conclude that intelligent design underlies biological evolution. That is, we should expect full consideration of existing science as alternative explanations, transparency, fallibility, extraordinary evidence for extraordinary conclusions.

My second point is that the contents of this preprint puts the lie to any argument that mainstream science is prevented by by some “philosophical” constraints like MN from drawing conclusions about non-human intelligent design.

None of the above expectations are new; the point is to demonstrate how to show how a scientists meets them.

In the podcast, the author makes an additional important point about the attitude of some scientists. He criticizes some of his colleagues as being closed to new, creative ideas, even when these new ideas are based on well-grounded scientific arguments.

So he sees them as Kuhnian problem-solvers, working only in the existing paradigm, and not open to considering paradigm shifts.

The relevance to ID for evolution is this: if all scientists can be characterized as problem-solvers only, then theorists regarding ID for biological evolution can point to this limitation as the reason science refuses to consider their arguments. So scientists need to demonstrate an openness to creativity, and instead insist on the scientific approach exemplified by the pre-print.

On a related note: Fermi’s paradox asks that, if alien civilizations are plentiful, why haven’t we detected them? It invites the conclusion that intelligent aliens are in fact very rare. An alternative resolution of the paradox would be to claim that science is too adverse to accepting well-grounded evidence of them.

Here is a link to an annotated Table of Contents for the audio of the podcast. There is also a link to a PDF transcript.

No, the preprint doesn’t conclude space aliens are the best explanation, just that the usual comet explanation is unlikely. The author goes out of his way to make this clear. Just like ID, “we don’t know” does not equal “Design wins by default”.

Science doesn’t say MN puts constraints on non-human Intelligent Designers. MN puts constraints on supernatural Intelligent Designers. Big difference.

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They do. IDers just get mad when science won’t accept “looks Designed to me!” or “science can’t explain this to my satisfaction so ID wins” as positive evidence.

I agree with @PdotdQ and @Timothy_Horton. They are not saying it is inference to best explanation. They are just spitballing in a single paragraph of the discussion, where you are allowed to throw out more “exotic” (their words) scenarios for fun and completeness.

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Sure, ask him directly if alien origin is the best explanation of the evidence we have so far. If it not, ask him which explanation is better. Also ask him if he considers the argument as an example of a fine tuning argument for an intelligent designer for the artefact {ETA: I explain my reason for calling it fine tuning in my post below]…

I can understand that he might be feeling backed into a corner by that line of questioning. So, an answer “no explanation is good enough lacking more evidence” would also be possible. But that does not quite avoid the issue of what is best as of now, all it would say it regardless of what is best, none meets a minimal standard for good.

Of course, best does not mean final or good enough to be considered a closed issue. That’s just the science of creative but scientifically grounded explanations of unexpected observations.

It’s not qualitatively different from saying (say) WIMPs are the best explanation of dark matter while recognizing at the same time that we still need much more evidence before saying we are satisfied with that explanation.

In what way do you think fine tuning applies to this object? I am having trouble seeing the relevance.

I see his argument that it could be alien designed as a fine tuning argument.

Fine tuning argues that an outcome, eg life, would have been exceedingly unlikely unless certain parameters had been fine tuned to a very small range of values. In the case of this object from outside the solar system, the outcome is what we observe about the object and the parameters are those described in the six points of the preprint.

For the case of life, some like to argue that fine tuning implies the universe was designed for life. But there are alternatives: eg (1) multiverses plus anthropic argument, or (2) saying the existence of the universe is a brute fact, with no need of further explanation. Neither of these works for the alien object.

We can also explain fine tuning for life by saying there is only one universe but after we understand its laws more fully, the supposed fine tuning will disappear. That argument does work for the object – it’s the claim that more evidence will eliminate the seeming statistical coincidences.

So then it comes down to which argument is best for the object based on the evidence presented in the paper (which I assume is a fair and complete summary of current state). I read him as saying the alien argument is best under that constraint; that reading is based on his Sherlock Holmes analogy. But of course that could be my misreading. It is great we will be able to ask him directly.

I’m no doubt reading more into this remark than you intended, but that comment seems to me to be saying that an explanation based on alien design is frivolous and unscientific. Such an attitude would be a variant of the sort of methodological constraint some ID theorists complain about in their perception of biology.

That is not what I am saying. I am rather saying that in this case they are not making an inference tot he best explanation. Rather I agree that: non divine design is part of science, but divine design is not.

I see it in the exact opposite way, strangely enough. A fine tuning argument would be where an alien species designed a neubla so that when it collapsed and formed a solar system it would also naturally produce this interstellar object. Direct alien design of the object seems to be the opposite of this scenario.

It would seem that you could find statistical coincidences for every single object in space if you dig deep enough.