Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Fine-Tuning and God

Is the universe supernaturally fine-tuned for life? Was someone behind the scenes at Creation Central fiddling with the knobs and dials?

That question is more and more at the fore these days in any discussion of origins. Why? Because scientific evidence is mounting that the universe is in fact fine-tuned for life.  But how can that be? That now becomes the more pressing question.

To be honest, the observation that the universe is fine-tuned should be a no-brainer. The fact is here we are, and we are doing quite well, thank you. But scientists are not satisfied with relying on mere common sense. They want to know whether there is real evidence for that inference and whether there was  a Tuner. Many scientists are concluding that there was. Here is a short list of some who have come to the conclusion that the universe is fine-tuned and that there was someone behind it all.

I must insert here a small disclaimer. I have not read each of these men or collected these quotes from my personal acquaintance with the sources. There is always the danger that quotes collected by others might be cherry-picked and used out of context to support an idea that is not the original author’s.

But I am acquainted with several. Among them is Michael Denton, PhD biochemistry, whose book Nature’s Destiny I read with great interest; Hugh Ross, PhD. Astrophysics, whose books Creation and Time and The Fingerprint of God I read early in my quest for better understanding of the universe; and Richard Dawkins, PhD., biology, whose several books The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion I read with interest. In all of these whether written by agnostic, Christian, or atheist there has been agreement that intelligent design is apparent (or the appearance of design) and deeply embedded in the universe. 

So what is the evidence? 

Before proceeding I want to establish the parameters of my discussion.
First, evidence can be either direct or indirect. Direct evidence in science is the observation of a fact. Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius at sea level, for example, is something we can directly observe.  If you don’t believe the evidence, you can do the experiment yourself. 

Indirect evidence, sometimes called circumstantial evidence, is a set of facts (direct evidence) which is used to make an inference that an assertion is true. For example, the assertion that evolution is true is inferred from the fact that genetic mutations can result in speciation. Evolution is not observed and cannot be repeated in an experiment, but the fact of speciation (and other observations) is considered to be sufficient support for the assertion that evolution happened. 

The fine-tuning of the universe by a supernatural Tuner is such an assertion. It was a one-time event. It cannot be observed. It cannot be repeated in experiment. But there is sufficient evidence to infer that the assertion is true – or so many have concluded. 

Secondly, indirect evidence is sufficient for an inference when there is a collection of facts that together support the inference. 

Thirdly, counter inferences (arguments) must conform to the same standards as our inference of supernatural fine-tuning. In other words, they must deal with all the evidence; they must be logically consistent and not based on a logical fallacy, such as begging the question; They must not be speculative and based on what we don’t know - an argument from ignorance - rather than what we do know. And they must not redefine the terms, something  that Amir D. Aczel, PhD. mathematics,  in Why Science Does Not Disprove God claims Lawrence Krauss does when he redefines nothing as a pre-existing medium of quantum foam.

Finally, we acknowledge that an inference from indirect evidence depends on probabilities. The question will always be how probable or improbable is the inference.  How can we say that the probability of an event is 1 in 10 to the 45th power? (Douglas Ell makes sense out of the probabilities in his book Counting to God.)Nevertheless, even though indirect evidence is not absolutely certain it is how we make almost every inference and has logical basis in what has been called the prime principle of confirmation. 2

Why is it important?
The question of supernatural fine-tuning is of more than theoretical interest. It is an existential question. If the universe and life is wholly natural, if the cosmos is all there is, all there has been, and all there ever will be and we are convinced of that, it has implication in society, politics,  international relationships, medicine, science,  inter-personal relationships and morality. On the other hand, if the universe has a Tuner, that too has implications that affect every area of life. It makes a difference. 

The evidence.
May I reiterate that there is hardly any dispute that the universe is finely tuned. Even those as philosophically opposed to the idea of a supernatural tuner as Roger Penrose acknowledges that the universe is finely tune to a degree that is beyond most of our abilities to appreciate.3

Evidence 1.  The force of gravity is just right for the universe to exist and host life such as ourselves. The strength of gravity affects the rate of expansion of the universe. If is too weak the universe would expand too rapidly for stars to form. If too strong, the universe would collapse before life had a chance to appear. Leonard Susskind estimates that if the rate of expansion varied by as little as 1 in 10 to the 37th there would not be a single galaxy or habitable planet in the universe.4

Is that fine-tuning simply fortuitous? If it were the only example, it would be interesting but not decisive.

Evidence 2. Carbon is fundamental to life as we know it. But carbon was not in existence at the beginning of the universe. Carbon is created in stars and distributed in the universe by the explosion of supernovae.5 The process of carbon formation depends on extremely narrow parameters of the light quark mass: “just a slight variation in the light quark mass will change the energy of the Hoyle state, and this in turn would affect the production of carbon and oxygen in such a way that life as we know it wouldn’t exist.”6

Just a slight variation.

Michael Denton develops the connection between carbon and life as we know it in his book Nature’s Destiny. It is more significant than most of us imagine.

Were we just lucky? 

Evidence 3. Even the shape of our galaxy, the Milky Way, is crucial for life. Elliptical and irregular galaxies for various reasons will not support life. And those galaxies make up 95 percent of the galaxies in the universe.7  Galaxies larger than ours produce too much radiation for life. Smaller galaxies are heavy metal poor and would not produce the elements necessary for planets such as ours and life. Spiral galaxies such as ours are just right for the formation of those elements and for the reduced radiation that allows for life. 

In the case of our galaxy, the earth is positioned just right for protection from radiation. Earth is located in a relatively low density space in a spiral arm away from the strong radiation at the center of the galaxy and from stars close enough to affect us negatively by their gravitational fields. The facts are that there are such places. We call them the Goldilocks zone. Life is possible.

I must skip many evidences related to our place in the galaxy and the unique conditions of our solar system to focus on the earth.

Evidence 4. The percentage of oxygen in earth’s atmosphere (21%) is just right for life to develop here. Slightly greater and life functions for advanced life would proceed too quickly. If slightly less life functions would proceed too slowly.8 If oxygen were 25% fires would break out spontaneously. If 15% human beings would suffocate. 9   

Evidence 5. The moon. The best guess at the moment for how earth acquired its moon is that our planet was struck early on in its history by a  Mars-size  planet. The glancing impact created a debris field that circled the earth and gradually congealed into the moon. (See )  Regardless how, it was fortuitous, for  Earth’s relationship to the moon is critical for life as we know it. Its size and distance from the earth is just right to stabilize earth’s orbit and rotation.  The moon stabilizes the wobble of the earth and thus the climate of the earth allowing for life like ourselves. But it does much more.  Paleontologist Peter Ward and astronomer Donald Brownlee discuss many of those unique conditions in their book Rare: Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe.

One reviewer of Rare Earth quoted Dirty Harry: “Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya?” That is a good question. It’s a good question because as we add up the conditions of the universe, our galaxy, our solar system and our planet, that must obtain for there to be life like ourselves, 200 now and counting, the odds that there should be even one place in the universe like ours is very close to zero. Yes,despite that fact that we are discovering new planets almost daily,none of those so far discovered even come close to meeting all the conditions necessary for life like ourselves. 

Some have gone even further to say that based on the probabilities there should not be one planet capable of supporting life like ourselves.  So were we just lucky? Or was the universe and the earth fine-tuned?

Evidences 6-200. There are too many to cover them all here. However, some of the additional evidences for fine-tuning may be found here:

How could all those conditions come together to the end that we are here? One answer is that it was all planned, and that inference would seem to be very well supported. But what of other inferences?

One such inference is that this all is the result of chance.  Beyond the gambler’s intuition that the odds are crazy, this argument relies on a version of the special pleading fallacy. It is saying that against all odds we live in a special place. Good luck with that, but don’t place a bet for me. 

Another inference is that our universe is one of an infinite number of universes in which all these conditions might vary. The infinity of universes virtually guarantees that at least one will be like ours. But what is the evidence? There is none. But the really cute refutation of this idea is mathematical.

Infinities are useful mathematical concepts but are absurd in real life. There simply cannot be real infinites. Mathematician Amir Aczel of Boston University explains in his book Why Science Does Not Disprove God. His argument is too mathematical for me to fully understand, but his conclusion as a mathematician is clear: “the notion of the infinite multiverse – an invention so favored by the New Atheists – is absurd.”11
The final alternative inference is that the conditions of fine-tuning are necessary. In other words because the laws of nature are as they are no other universe would be possible. It is therefore inevitable that we should be here. This is interesting because it is what Michael Denton seems to be suggesting in Nature’s Destiny. But that inference begs the question not only as circular reasoning but because it leaves the real question unanswered: Why are the natural laws as they are?

Michael Denton, who was not then at least, a theist is careful about the implications, but he ends with this:
But although the journey [to man] was long, the route often slow and tortuous, the evidence increasingly suggests that the end was never in doubt. That we followed a path already charted to an end foreseen and that our success was not a matter of contingency. Like pilgrims seeking the source of their own transcendence, we have been drawn along a predetermined path from discovery of fire to the birth of science to the revelation of our own centrality in the order of nature. We have deciphered the  meaning of the constellations, and in science the cosmos has called us home. 11
My absolute all time favorite science writer anthropologist Loren Eiseley concurs:
It is not sufficient any longer to listen at the end of a wire to the rustlings of a galaxy: it is not enough even to examine the great coil of DNA in which is coded the very alphabet of life. These are our extended perceptions. But beyond lies the great darkness of the ultimate Dreamer, who dreamed the light and the galaxies. Before act was, or substance existed, imagination grew in the dark. Man partakes of the ultimate wonder and creativeness. As we turn from the galaxies to the swarming cells of our own being, which toil for something, some entity beyond their grasp, let us remember man, the self-fabricator who came across an ice age to look into the mirrors and magic of science. Surely he did not come to see himself or his wild visage only. He came because he is at heart a listener and a searcher for some transcendent realm beyond himself.12
Physicist  Arno Penzias sums up the evidence: “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe that was created  of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.”13

1) Aczel, Amir D. Why Science Does Not Disprove God. New York: Harper Collins, 2014. p. 129.
2) Himma, Kenneth Einar. “Design Arguments for the Existence of God.”  Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. August 17, 2016
3) Penrose, Roger. The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe. New York: Kropf, 2005. pp. 762-65.
4) Susskind, Leonard. The Cosmic Landscape: Sting Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. Back Bay Books: Back Bay Books, 2006. P 9.
6) “Carbon – 12. Does Its Creation in Stars Suggest a Universe” Fine-Tuned for Life? The Daily Galaxy. August 28, 2013. < >
7) Ross, Hugh. The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Latest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God. NavPress: Colorado Springs, 2001. p 177.
9) Hugh Ross quoted in In Plain Sight, <>
10) Op. Cit. p. 228.
11) Denton,  op. cit. p. 395.
12) Eiseley, Loren. The Unexpected Universe. 1970.
13) Penzias, Arno. “Creation Is Supported by All the Data So Far.” Cosmos, Bios, and Theos, ed. Henry Margenau and Roy Abraham Varghese. Peru, Il: Open Court, 1992, p. 78


Miriam Arul said...

I'm doing Gen 1 with my 6th graders right now and we are talking about this in class! Thanks for sharing this :)

mediawingnuts said...

This is both profound and (in places) poetic. The fine tuning of EVERYTHING from the universe and microbiology to quantum physics says design, design, design! Unfortunately, the arguments for other Biblical truths are more difficult to come by ... scientifically!