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.

3 thoughts on “The fine tuning argument

  1. So, if the universe were not fine-tuned, and the dice were rolled in any number of ways, and life was to be found anywhere or everywhere, such as the center of the universe, wherever that may be; if we were anywhere but here, then possibly we could say that God exists, or does not exist. Do rational arguments for a fine-tuned universe prove or disprove the existence of God? We could be the product of natural causes. Just because life could exist by natural laws or forces, does not exclude evidence for a creator of those conditions which allow life as we know it to exist. And chance, it is a concept, and does it even exist? Nothing ever occurred by chance, there an endless number of variables behind any act that are dependent on preexisting actions for anything to exist as it is. Merely to arrive at the conclusion that because things are the way they are disproves the existence of God is somewhat pretentious, although a possibility. It is said that anything is possible, or is it? To say that anything is possible is to say that events occur by chance and not some preordained plan. Why does the earth suspend on nothingness rather than on the tails of elephants or the shoulders of Atlas? Because, in the present reality, not everything that is possible is real. The earth appears fine-tuned, so this means God does not exist, and life occurred naturally? Maybe? Does anything occur naturally? How could you prove that there was not a force behind that which appears to happen naturally? The Greeks had an altar to an unknown God, just in case they missed one. The Apostle Paul proceeds with a sequence of events and assigns God as the reason for the exact times/place for everything. He goes on to dispute the idea some of the Greeks had, that God was like gold or silver made by the hand of man. This discourse does not prove or disprove the existence of God, but modern man had put in the place of idols fashioned by gold and silver, idols of the mind, fashioned by enlightened rational arguments stemming from the Age of Enlightenment and science that exclude the need for a creator. Science and technology are great, but if you notice they are a double-edged sword. For every problem solved, new doors are opened, and other problems occur. My contention is not to debunk the idea that a fine-tuned universe disproves the existence of God, but it does not necessarily rule it out either. We look at the universe and question why it is this way and not that way, making ourselves the final arbitrators of whether God exists or not based on what makes sense or doesn’t make sense to us. This is exactly what you would expect in a fallen world, where man now exists outside of a peaceful existence and must fight the very nature of which he was supposed to have command over. And Russell and the Euthyphro dilemma, it is a logical dilemma that can also be construed as a semantic debate. …”If there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself is subject to the law [that he created]? In this ambiguous world, there will always be logical dilemmas, but this does not disprove the existence of a creator; absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence.

    1. The apostle Paul assigned God as the reason for the times/places of events because he believed in a real God, the God of the Hebrew scriptures. He thought he believed in that God when he was still traveling around Israel and Syria for the purpose of rounding up and jailing, and/or killing, Christians, people who followed Jesus and believed He was/is the Son of God who had been resurrected after being killed by crucifixion. Paul met Jesus in a vision on his way to Damascus. He heard Him speak, he was physically blinded for a time, and he was changed instantly and permanently. It is the most astonishing and compelling conversion account I can think of, period, because it occurred obviously entirely and completely against his own will.

      Paul was not some uneducated country hick. He was among the most sophisticated, highly educated people of his day; PHD level in our day. He would not have been subject to silly tales, and in fact, his focus in life at the time was specifically to completely stamp out what he considered a completely false narrative that had been spreading around through the Jewish towns and surrounding areas; the story that Jesus, who Paul knew beyond the shadow of a doubt was dead, was actually very much alive. When he met Jesus on the road, he was with a group of officials and soldiers who were all on the same mission as Paul; to stop the nonsensical and false talk of Jesus being alive.

      I submit that all discussion about the fine tuned universe, (and it obviously is) while very interesting and somewhat intellectually stimulating, along with a multitude of similar discussions/arguments, will never convince or un-convince anyone of the existence or non-existence of God. People believe what people believe, they only THINK they are wisely following the evidence…..

      I also submit that the ONLY subject in this vein truly worth discussing, because it is the only one that is truly and ultimately IMPORTANT, is this: Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Is He the Son of God? Because if so, it is the singular event in all of history, important without equal.

      Paul believed it happened, staked his entire future on it, changed all things in his life, endured unimaginable hardships and deprivation at times, and eventually was killed because of it.

      If that event happened, if Jesus rose from the dead and is alive, then the God of the Bible exists and the Bible is true. And I have a problem…..

      The buck stops there.

  2. Your right Gary, my post does not prove there is no god behind it all. It merely shows, I hope, that the fine tuning argument fails as a proof for the existence of God.

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