Category Archives: Arguments about God’s existence

The fine tuning argument

The fine tuning argument makes us speculate about things that scared us in high school. We see big numbers with exponents, and hear about loosely reasoned statistical probabilities. Somehow this is supposed to convince us that the universe was created for us, but it shouldn’t.

A finely tuned puddle

potholeA useful quote about the fine tuning argument comes from Douglas Adams’s speech that he gave at Magdelene College Cambridge in 1998:

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.

The unlikely problem

Another thing to note about the fine tuning argument is the talk about probability, and how unlikely our particular life-supporting universe is. It’s like rolling a hundred dice in a row and getting a particular sequence of numbers, and then noting how unlikely it was to roll that sequence. But before we can talk about how unlikely it is to roll a particular sequence of numbers, we have to determine how likely it is to roll any other sequence. What if only a limited number of sequences is actually possible, because certain die can only land certain ways? If this were the case, we would have to know that before we could calculate odds. But let’s say for the sake of argument, that any combination is as unlikely (or likely) as another. What would that say about our roll? It would say that our particular roll is no more likely to have occurred than any other roll, so there is no reason our roll must be the product of anything other than chance. So long as any state of the universe is as unlikely as any other state, the fine tuning argument could be applied to any universe, and therefore applies to none. John Paulos in his book Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences states the problem this way:

… rarity by itself shouldn’t necessarily be evidence of anything. When one is dealt a bridge hand of thirteen cards, the probability of being dealt that particular hand is less than one in 600 billion. Still, it would be absurd for someone to be dealt a hand, examine it carefully, calculate that the probability of getting it is less than one in 600 billion, and then conclude that he must not have been dealt that very hand because it is so very improbable.

The unnecessary problem

Why is a finely tuned universe evidence of divine intervention? Finding life only in the narrow sliver of the universe conducive to life suggests against a supernatural creator, not for one. If life occurred naturally, a universe with specific parameters necessary for life is precisely what we must have for that life to take hold. If on the other hand, life were created and sustained by a supernatural force, why the need for a “Goldilocks zone,” and why is life only found there?

The Euthyphro-like problem

Euthyphro was a guy in one of Plato’s dialogues who around 399 B.C.E. argued that if there are objectively right or wrong moral actions, God would be an unnecessary middleman, needlessly decreeing what we could independently discover on our own. Bertrand Russell, in his essay “Why I Am Not a Christian,” exposes a similar problem with the fine tuning argument, and I close this post with an excerpt from the section called The Natural Law Argument:

Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were, you are then faced with the question “Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?” If you say that he did it simply from his own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others — the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it — if there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary. You really have a law outside and anterior to the divine edicts, and God does not serve your purpose, because he is not the ultimate lawgiver. In short, this whole argument about natural law no longer has anything like the strength that it used to have. I am traveling on in time in my review of the arguments. The arguments that are used for the existence of God change their character as time goes on. They were at first hard intellectual arguments embodying certain quite definite fallacies. As we come to modern times they become less respectable intellectually and more and more affected by a kind of moralizing vagueness.

For more, see Iron Chariots’ article on the Fine Tuning Argument.