Why I am a Christian (Part Three): Fine Tuning (or, Design of the Cosmos)

In my previous article about the evidence I see in nature of a creator God, (Why I Am a Christian (Part Two): Because There Is Stuff) I talked about the beginning of the universe and how a beginning requires a beginner. It turns out that not only does the scientific evidence seem to indicate an absolute beginning to the universe, but that the universe itself has been finely tuned in order to allow life to exist. Taken further, the conditions of our little corner of space (the planet earth) seem to be tuned in order to allow intelligent observers (us).

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This universe is juuust riiight…

Scientists have observed that the properties of the universe seem to be uniquely “fine tuned” in order to make life possible. Sir Fred Hoyle, an English astronomer and the person credited with the term “Big Bang”, famously said

Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question. [Emphasis mine]

And this is just regarding the formation of the carbon atom (which, incidentally, is an absolute necessity for carbon based life)! Some other examples of fine tuning (there are many) include the strong and weak nuclear forces (that determine what kind of atoms are possible), gravitational forces (too much and everything collapses, too little and everything flies apart), spectrum of light (our sun provides just the right wavelength), distance of planet from sun (the earth is just the right distance)… the list goes on and on. Because of these “just right” conditions, some have said that the earth is located in a ” Goldilocks” zone.

There have been several different approaches by science to avoid what they see as “the problem of fine tuning“. One of the answers that has been proposed goes along the lines of “The only reason we can question these things is because we are here to observe them.” That is correct, as far as it goes, but given the overwhelming odds that all of these values are what they are, and that if any one of them had been off by the smallest fraction life and indeed the universe as we know it would not exist, we are entirely justified in asking “Why?”!

Another attempt to avoid this problem is the “multiverse hypothesis”, which I have addressed in “Patch” articles  here and here. Briefly, the argument goes that if there is an infinity of universes created at random, then it comes as no surprise that our particular universe has the parameters we find in it. This hypothesis, however, also fails to totally avoid the issue for both scientific and philosophical reasons. Scientifically, a multiverse generating mechanism must itself be “fine tuned.” Philosophically, God is still the most plausible explanation for the origination of the multiverse.

The “problem” of fine tuning remains. The universe and our planet give the strong appearance of having been designed to support life. Now those who have been following my blog can probably anticipate my next thought: fine tuning requires a “tuner”, and of course design implies a designer. If your view is that of a materialist (the physical is all there is) then these things may present a “problem.” For the Christian, it is another “evidence of things not seen.” We also see that taken together, the evidence we have for the beginning of the universe coupled with the evidence for fine tuning begin to build a more solid foundation for the reasonableness of God’s existence.

I’d love to discuss these things with you. Any questions and comments that are in line with this page’s Commenting Policy will be published and responded to (to the best of my ability).

For more information on how I keep my worldview informed please go to Cross Roads Church.

Previous articles in this series:

Why I Am a Christian (Part One)

Why I Am a Christian (Part Two): Because There Is Stuff

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16 Comments

  1. My issue with the fine-tuning argument is that its proponents ascribe an arbitrary teleological goal to it with absolutely no reason to establish that link.

    That is, I have no problem with wondering why the universe seems finely-tuned. I have a problem with those who assert that this fine-tuning was done explicitly to foster life.

    My usual reductio ad absurdum goes something like this: the universe is finely tuned for the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. The initial entropy of the universe, the strong and weak nuclear forces, the gravitational and electrostatic forces, the distance of the planet from the sun, the intensity of the Sun’s radiation, et cetera, et cetera. If even one of the many, many constants of the universe was altered slightly in any direction, the Great Red Spot could not have formed. It is highly improbable that these things were due to chance. Therefore, we can conclude that some super-intelligence deliberately designed the entire universe for the express purpose of hosting a 400-year-old hurricane on the fifth planet orbiting the Sun.

    The only reason to think that the universe is finely-tuned specifically for life is blind anthropocentrism.

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    • BP, thanks for your commentary.

      A couple of quick points:
      1. Perhaps God finely tuned the universe to allow for BOTH life and the Jovian hurricane. That would certainly be within His power as the creator of the universe. Perhaps He’s just “showing off” and in the meantime giving us something interesting to study.
      2. I do see your point and don’t want to seem to make light of it. (I wasn’t, I was being serious, but I understand how it could be misinterpreted.) What would you say to the design that seems to be specific to our planet i.e. Distance from sun, size of moon, tilt of axis and rotation, presence of water and etc. All of which is also necessary for life in general and humankind in particular? Do these examples of fine tuning have anything to do with the Jovian hurricane (or the other reductio arguments you might present)?

      Also, I don’t know much about the chemical makeup of Jupiter’s atmosphere and surface. How prevalent is carbon there? Would the absence of carbon affect the red spot?

      These are just a few thoughts I had in response to your comment.

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      • There are, indeed, a great many precise things which sustain the Great Red Spot on Jupiter similar to those things which contributed to the development of life on Earth. The distance from the Sun, the gravitational effects of Jupiter’s moons, the composition of Jupiter’s atmosphere, the precise mass of its core.

        I certainly agree that there are a great number of things which seem fairly unique to Earth which contributed to the development of life, in general, and human intelligence, in specific. I actually wrote an article recently along these precise regards. I explicitly argue that the emergence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is far less likely than many commentators would imply.

        However, it does not follow that this uniqueness therefore constitutes evidence for specific teleology, which is the intention of my Jupiter analogy. The circumstances surrounding Jupiter or Mars or Fomalhaut b are certainly no less unique than Earth’s, That’s why I consider attempts to link fine-tuning with teleology to be unjustifiably anthropocentric.

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        • BP, let me see if I can boil down your argument against fine tuning.

          The “problem of fine tuning” is caused from an unjustifiably anthropocentric view: thus- no problem. Does that pretty much sum it up?

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        • Almost. The “problem of fine-tuning” is real, in that it is absolutely legitimate to question why the constants of the universe are as they are.

          My objection is to those who would say that, since we do not know why these constants are as they are, the constants must therefore have been deliberately constructed by an intelligent agency.

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          • However, the Theist would say that we do know why the constants of the universe are as they are. Therein lies the rub.

            I understand your position, however (yes this is an appeal to authority) many prominent scientists have tried to explain (or, explain away) the appearance of fine tuning. They don’t just simply claim that “it’s unjustifiably anthropocentric, nothing to see here, move on.”

            You have mentioned Sean Carroll and seem to hold him in some regard. He has weighed in on the subject as well by giving four explanatory options to what he calls fine tuning:

            “1. Life is extremely robust and would be likely to arise even if the parameters were very different, whether or not we understand what form this life would take.
            2. There was only one universe with randomly chosen parameters, and we just got lucky that they are among the rare values that allow for the existence of life.
            3. At different regions of the universe the parameters take on different values, and we are fooled by a selection effect. That is, life will only arise in those regions compatible with the existence of life.
            4. The parameters are not chosen randomly but designed that way by a deity.”

            (Note, Carroll is not trying to explain Jovian hurricanes or the existence of the crab nebula, but life.)

            Many others have weighed in as well. So, while I respect your position, I also disagree with it, and so, apparently do many others who are obviously not friendly to my theistic position.

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          • A theist would claim to know why the constants of the universe are as they are. However, claiming to know a thing is very different from demonstrating that thing to be true.

            There are certainly some scientists who have associated fine-tuning with life, and I would argue that these people have just as much an unjustifiably anthropocentric view as any apologist.

            However, there are other scientists who have made statements regarding fine-tuning as a direct answer to theist claims. The quote you offered from Dr. Carroll is an example of this. He is responding directly to a theist’s claims, as regards the existence of life in the universe. He is not saying that the universe actually is finely-tuned for life. In fact, in his debate with Dr. Craig, Carroll states that it is ridiculous to assert that the universe is finely-tuned for life, since we have no idea what parameters are necessary for life, in the first place.

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          • The lengths to which some people will go to refute something they consider “ridiculous” in the first place has always amazed me. (This is as much a condemnation on my own character as anyone else’s.)

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          • claiming to know a thing is very different from demonstrating that thing to be true.

            However, would you agree that most of what we say we know cannot be demonstrated to be true?

            There are certainly some scientists who have associated fine-tuning with life, and I would argue that these people have just as much an unjustifiably anthropocentric view as any apologist.

            I would argue that those who disagree with the fine tuning of the universe to support embodied conscious agents as having an unjustifiably unanthropocentric view as an atheist.

            it is ridiculous to assert that the universe is finely-tuned for life, since we have no idea what parameters are necessary for life, in the first place.

            If we don’t know at least some of the necessary parameters, then why is there any disagreement in the first place?

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          • I’ll agree that most of what an individual knows cannot be demonstrated to be true. However, if that person is attempting to persuade someone else of their view, they should be unsurprised if a demonstration is requested.

            On fine-tuning, the problem is that people are attempting to prove anthropocentrism by assuming an anthropocentric view. If the only argument for anthropocentrism is the improbability of human existence, then the exact same argument can be applied to anything which is at least equally improbable. Hence, my Jovian hurricanocentric example.

            We know some of the parameters necessary for the life which we have observed, on Earth. However, we do not know if this is the only way in which life could arise, which turns most anthropocentric fine-tuning arguments into Arguments from Ignorance.

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          • If the only argument for anthropocentrism is the improbability of human existence, then the exact same argument can be applied to anything which is at least equally improbable. Hence, my Jovian hurricanocentric example.

            1. There is a slight difference between the existence of a natural phenomena such as the Jovian hurricane and mankind, namely conscience. The JH can’t question the reason for its existence, nor explore the conditions that made its existence possible. We can. (This concept will be explored more fully in my next article.)

            2. In your estimation, are the probabilities of the emergence of a natural phenomena such as a Jovian hurricane and the emergence of intelligent life by the means of purely unguided natural processes equally probable, as you seem to assert in your last comment?

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  2. Reblogged this on Entertaining Christianity and commented:
    A clear, concise, and eel resourced post about why everything works. This is one fine tuned song of an article! Proud to post it as toddy’s reblog. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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    • I’m honered Mr. Crigler. Thank you sir!

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    • Hey Andrew- if the articles interest you at all, I have written one on Tattoos in general and am writing on on Christians and Tattoos. I’d like your feedback as a younger and (presumably) more liberal Christian. It could be that I’m just an old fart who’s too set in his ways. Let me know what you think!

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  3. Perhaps God finely tuned the universe …

    Using the term ‘God’ seems like a presuppositional statement – especially by including the capital ‘G’ which automatically denotes a pronoun – that has no evidence to back it.

    Would you be able to clarify this please and demonstrate how your use of the term ‘God’ would differ from a Muslim’s or any other ( non-Christian) religious person who also posited a creator deity within the same context.

    Also, what verifiable evidence could you provide to show that
    your god should be accepted over any other?

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    • Thus far in this series of articles I have not yet presented evidence that Christianity should be preferred above any of the other theistic religions. So far, my efforts have been centered on providing evidence for a creator God. I hope to be able to offer evidences specific to the God of the Bible in future articles.

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