The Fine-Tuning Argument for the existence of God has been acknowledged as one of the most powerful arguments for theism. Proponents of this argument, also known as the teleological argument note that our universe is “spooky.” So many facets of our universe appear designed. It is startling to me to read about many of these in literature and realize that the very fingers of God seem apparent in these qualities of our universe. The way that these pieces fit together should not be viewed as independent variables. Any theory which seeks to explain the features of our universe must take into account the full range of factors.
The Argument Stated
The fine-tuning argument for the existence of God can be stated fairly simply:
1) The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design
2) It is not due to physical necessity or chance
3) Therefore, it is due to design (Craig 1, 161 cited below)
The first premise turns on the notion of “fine-tuning”–something which is widely acknowledged to exist. It is the explanation of this fine-tuning that becomes controversial. Before trying to offer a way forward in this controversy, it will be prudent to list some of these evidences for fine tuning. Finally, before diving it it should be noticed that this argument can be seen probabilistically: that is, one should view it in light of which is more probable- are the properties we observe more probable in a universe that came about by chance, design, or necessity?
Various Evidences for Fine-Tuning
There are any number of independent, fine-tuned factors which make our universe capable of sustaining life. Without these factors in place, our universe would be uninhabited, and we would not exist.
If the entropy in our universe were high, then the energy required for life to function would be distributed in such a way as to make the complexity required for life impossible. In order to determine the likelihood of a life-permitting range for a universe, Roger Penrose calculated the total entropy in our universe as “equal to the total number of baryons (protons and neutrons) in the universe… times the entropy per baryon… which yields a total entropy of 10^123.” This means that our universe falls within a range of accuracy regarding entropy of one part in 10 to the 10th to the 123rd power, 10^10^123. As Penrose put it, “the Creator’s aim must have been… to an accuracy of one part in 10^10^123” (quoted in Spitzer, 58).
The Existence of Matter
The very existence of matter is something which cries out for explanation. Why? Well, to put it as simply as possible, the basic particles of matter, quarks and anti-quarks form via pair production. They annihilate each other.
However, during the Big Bang, a slight asymmetry in this pair production resulted in approximately 1 extra particle of matter for every 10 billion produced.
It turns out that this 1 in 10 billion ratio of “leftover particles” happens to be the exact amount of mass necessary for the formation of stars, galaxies, and planets. As much as 2 in 10 billion, and the universe would have just been filled with black holes. As little as 0.5 in 10 billion, and there would not have been enough density for galaxies to form. (Bloom, cited in Rodgers).
The Nuclear Binding Force
If the nuclear binding force were much about 2% stronger, then the universe would form mega-elements which would make life impossible. Our universe would be filled with black holes and neutron stars. Furthermore, if it were weaker by about 5%, we would eliminate a large portion of the periodic table…. in fact, it would reduce it so much as to make the universe composed entirely of hydrogen (Bloom, cited in Rodgers).
Water is required for life. Don’t take my word for it: just look into the works of those who are working on investigating the origins of life, people like Iris Fry or Paul Davies. Yet water itself has a number of very unique properties. Water is a simple compound to form, but it is enormously versatile and unique. For example, it takes up more space a solid than as a liquid, which is extremely strange. This allows there to be liquid water that doesn’t freeze from the bottom of the oceans. If water froze from the bottom, it would turn planets like Earth into a frozen wasteland because the water would never melt–there wouldn’t be enough energy to melt all the ice. Furthermore, the chemical structure of water suggests that it should be a gas as opposed to a liquid at the temperatures that it remains a liquid. Water being liquid at its temperature range also makes it optimal for life, because the temperature that other compounds would be liquid would be prohibitive for life. Water also has an unusual specific heat, which means that it takes a lot of energy to change its temperature. Water also becomes more dense when it is liquid than when it is solid, which is highly unusual.
Water also has high adhesion which is critical for plants to grow. They rely upon capillary action with cohesion to grow upwards. This would be impossible if water were less cohesive. Water is a universal solvent, which is important for life because life relies upon a medium for chemistry to occur. If the medium were gas, the interactions would be too far apart, while if it were solid the interactions would occur to slowly or there wouldn’t be enough movement within the substance for chemical interactions needed for life to occur. Perhaps most “spooky” of all, a more recent discovery hints that water has quantum effects which cancel each other out, reducing the effects of quantum indeterminacy on the covalent bonds in water. This allows for water to have many of the properties outlined above.
There is no set number to assign to this chemicals of water, but it should be seen that property after property regarding water lines up exactly with the needs for life.
For a more in-depth discussion of the “spooky” properties of water, see the RTB Podcast on the topic.
If gravity were increased by a significant margin, complex life could not exist due to their own weight. Even if life only came to be in water, the density of such life would have to be high simply to resist gravitation, which would again make complex life impossible. The lifespan of stars would also be reduced if gravity were increased by about a factor of 3,000 (or more). Robin Collins, in noting gravity as fine-tuned, argues:
Of course, an increase in the strength of gravity by a factor of 3,000 is significant, but compared to the total range of strengths of the forces in nature… this still amounts to a… fine-tuning of approximately one part in 10^36 (Collins, 190, cited below).
There are more of these requirements for fine tuning found in a number of the sources I cite below. But even looking at those I have outlined here, the possibility for our universe to exist as a life-permitting universe is absurdly low. It is so small that it baffles the imagination.
The Fine-Tuning is Neither Chance nor Necessity
Robert Spitzer outlines the argument which leads from these constants to design:
1) The values of universal constants… must fall within a very narrow, closed range in order to allow any life form to develop
2) …the possible values that these universal constants could have had that would have disallowed any life form from developing are astronomically higher (falling within a virtually open range)
3) Therefore, the odds against an anthropic condition occurring are astronomically high, making any life form… exceedingly improbable. This makes it highly, highly unlikely that the conditions for life in the universe occurred by pure chance, which begs for an explanation (Spitzer, 50, cited below)
Thus, the argument turns on this contention: is it reasonable to think that the fine-tuning we observe in our universe is based merely upon chance? Now it is important here to realize that any of the three proposed explanations for the fine-tuning of our universe must carry the burden of proof for their position. That is, if someone puts “chance” out there as the explanation for the fine-tuning in the universe, they must defend their position as being more probable than the hypotheses of necessity and design.
Therefore, it is not enough to simply say that “anything is possible.” The key point is that any theory must take into account the full range of intersecting evidences for fine tuning. To make the inference for design, furthermore, is not a failure to attempt explanation. Instead, it is itself an explanation. The argument is that design is the best way to explain the evidence for fine-tuning in the universe.
William Lane Craig notes that it is important to take into account that the probability in play in the teleological argument is epistemic probability. That is, is it reasonable to believe that our life-permitting universe occurred merely by chance (Craig 2, 169)? Again, turning to Spitzer’s contention above and taking into account the enormously huge range of possibilities that turn against a life-permitting universe, one has to take into account the fact that it is almost infinitely more probable that a universe would be lifeless than to be one that has life. Yet Spitzer’s point is also that there is a “closed range” for values which are life-permitting. That is, there is only a limited set of values which will allow for their to be life. Yet the range of values which are life prohibiting is essentially open–that is, it is infinite. Therefore, the fact that our universe exists and is life permitting makes it reasonable to believe that it was designed. Design is the only explanation which can account for the full range of the evidence, for it explains why our universe would fall within a specific set of parameters which all must be aligned in order to meet the end of life. In the set of possible worlds, purposeless chance would give us an extraordinarily higher probability of having a lifeless universe, while necessity fails to provide any explanation at all. Only design provides a reason to believe that a life permitting universe would be the one to be brought into existence.
One may object by saying “well of course, but our universe is life permitting, so it appears that we hit the jackpot.” It should be seen now that that just begs the question. The person who makes this argument is in fact assuming that chance is the explanation without providing any evidence to think this is the case. Again, when one considers how vastly improbable our universe is, the most reasonable conclusion is that it is not, in fact, a random occurrence. As John Bloom put it, it would be like throwing a dart from outer space and hitting a bullseye on the surface of the earth that is smaller than a single atom. In other words, it is statistically impossible.
One may also object by noting that all universes are equally improbable, so our universe had to have some values. But again this misses the point. The argument is not that our universe is improbable, but rather that our universe, as life-permitting, is part of a limited set of possibilities against the much larger realm of possible worlds. In other words, the fact that our universe is life-permitting rather than life-prohibiting is what is surprising–not the brute fact of its existence. Although the fact of the universe’s existence is itself something in need of explanation.
Yet what about necessity? Is it possible that our universe simply has the constants that it has due to some kind of necessity? Here, mere physical necessity will not do as an explanation. For something which is physically necessary is not metaphysically necessary. That is, something can happen due to laws of nature and the like, while not being something required by logical necessity. Thus, it seems the burden of proof in this case is upon the one claiming that the universe is metaphysically necessary to show their case to be more reasonable than the chance and design hypotheses. Frankly, I think that the prospect is quite bleak.
We have noted a number of scientific evidences for the fine-tuning of the universe. These form our data set that any theory needs to explain. Chance has been found epistemologically wanting. It is simply not reasonable to say that chance is the explanation. Necessity seems to fare no better. There is no way to account for the necessity of the universe, and in fact our universe seems to be apparently contingent. Therefore, the most reasonable explanation for the apparent design in our universe is to infer that there is, in fact, a designer. Our universe is not so much spooky as it is spectacular.
Evidence for God: A Fine-Tuned Universe– Matt Rodgers gives a great summary of a talk by John Bloom I attended as well. This post gives a really concise summary of a number of the evidences for fine-tuning.
The Teleological Argument– I present Robin Collins’ version of the fine-tuning argument and briefly defend it against a few objections. The Past, Probability, and Teleology– I answer a few objections to the teleological argument.
What about the multiverse? I have answered a number of issues related to the multiverse in my previous posts on the topic.
Max Andrews offers a discussion of the multiverse and the fine-tuning argument, wherein he notes that the existence of a multiverse does not undermine the argument.
Sources and Further Reading
John Bloom, “A Fine-Tuned Universe.” Lecture given at the EPS Apologetics Conference, 2012.
Robin Collins, “Evidence for Fine Tuning” in God and Design (London: Routledge, 2003),178-199.
William Lane Craig 1, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).
William Lane Craig 2, “Design and the Anthropic Fine-Tuning of the Universe” in God and Design (London: Routledge, 2003), 155-177.
Fazale Rana, “Science News Flash: ‘Water Fine-Tuned for Life'” (October 27, 2011). Reasons to Believe.
Matt Rodgers, “Evidence for God: A Fine-Tuned Universe.”
Robert Spitzer, New Proofs for the Existence of God (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2010).
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The most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing. -Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, 135.
Is this so reasonable? Is it true that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing? The Kalam Cosmological Argument is one of the most compelling arguments for theism. The broad opposition to the Kalam (or, more specifically, to its implications) from atheists has lead to some sophisticated arguments (like those of Graham Oppy or J.L Mackie), but it has also lead to some pretty poor arguments. Below, several objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument have been outlined, along with rebuttals of varying lengths.
Some have objected to the Kalam by raising the possibility of a multiverse. They say that this counters the Kalam because it’s possible that our universe is one of nearly infinite past universes, generated as another “bubble” among untold trillions of other bubble universes. There should be one glaring difficulty with this objection that most can see immediately: “Whence the multiverse?” If the multiverse is proposed as eternal, then every objection about actual infinites applies to the multiverse. Not only that, but the multiverse itself would have to account for entropy. How is it that all the energy in this (nearly) infinite multiverse has not been used if it has existed for all eternity?
Ways around these difficulties have been proposed. For example, regarding entropy, some have argued that perhaps different laws of nature apply to the multiverse as a whole. Clearly, this is an extremely ad hoc theory that is really only invented to try to get around the argument. Once we’re allowed to modify reality to our every whim, we could indeed create anything we like–including (nearly) infinite universes.
Another problem with the multiverse objection is that we have startlingly little evidence for such a hypothesis. While there are many hypothetical scientists proposing bubble universes and the like, it’s shocking to read just how little evidence there really is for such a hypothesis.
Finally, even were there an infinite multiverse–as some have proposed due to string theory–this would not avoid an absolute beginning for the entirety of the multiverse. Bruce Gordon points out that the standard inflationary models still use inflation with a finite duration, which would entail that regardless of the number of universes which exist, there would still have to be an absolute beginning to the multiverse (Gordon, cited below, 86-87).
Perhaps, however, this multiverse (or the universe) is finite, but it created itself. There are a number of proposals suggesting just that.
The Universe Created Itself
I don’t think I can do much better than Edgar Andrews did over at his blog when he asks “Could a universe create itself?” He points out that the difficulty with each scenario proposed in which the universe creates itself is that it presupposes the existence of either matter, energy, or the laws of nature–the very things which this objection is supposed to answer. Andrews writes,
Stephen Hawking [who recently proposed the universe created itself] falls into this dilemma by claiming that the universe was created as a result of quantum mechanical fluctuations (in a vacuum) which became stabilized by gravitational forces [Hawking pp. 131-135; Hawking review]. He thus requires the laws of quantum mechanics and of gravity to have pre-existed the universe… But what is the law of gravity but a description of the way materialbodies interact — either with one another or with the space-time continuum? To claim that such a law existed in the absence of matter, energy, space or time stretches credulity and is incapable of demonstration. Only ‘mind of God’ and ‘non-material blueprint’ arguments remain and these are theological not scientific.
Similarly, suppose we took the claim of Smith (above) seriously–that the universe created itself from nothing. Does this even make sense? William Lane Craig writes, “…if prior to the existence of the universe, there was absolutely nothing–no God, no space, no time–how could the universe possibly have come to exist?” This is an extremely important question for the atheist to answer. Most often, however, atheists have instead changed the meaning of “nothing” to mean quantum vacuum or some other physical reality. This is hardly “nothing” that would have existed before the universe. Before the universe, there was no space, no time, no anything.
Edgar Andrews points out the confusion that some atheist philosophers and physicists perpetuate with this conflation of “nothing”:
[Victor Stenger] begins by utterly confusing the pre-creation ‘nothing’ that lies outside of space-time with the ‘nothing’ of a vacuum within space-time. Next, without making it clear which ‘nothing’ he is talking about, he claims that ‘the transition from nothing to something is a natural one, not requiring any agent.’ (Andrews, 97, cited below).
The problem isn’t solved when one lends it the idea of a multiverse, either. Oscillating universe models still imply a finite beginning (Gordon, 86ff). The idea that an infinite number of universes caused each other in a causal loop does no better–it leads only to a vicious regress. Ultimately, such proposals must be rejected for what they are–fiction.
Who Caused God?
Another trite response to the Kalam is the classic “Well fine, you say the universe is caused, well who caused God?” line. Here the atheist commits a number of classic blunders, to steal the phrase from “The Princess Bride.”
First, as in all scientific (and otherwise) inquiry, once one has reached the best possible explanation for an event, one has reached the end of the inquiry. An inference to the best explanation does not require an explanation of that explanation. There’s a reason that scientific inquiry can appeal to laws: they best explain how the world works.
Second, the first part of the Kalam is that “Everything which begins to exist has a cause” not “Everything is caused.” The atheist has merely misread or misinterpreted this principle. Should the atheist want to press the second point–that everything is caused, they have already conceded the weaker principle (that everything which begins has a cause), and they must further argue for a much stronger metaphysical claim. I leave it to the atheist to establish this claim.
“But,” the atheist may object, “you’re just denying the antecedent!” Not quite. I’m not saying that God didn’t begin, therefore God was uncaused–rather, I’m arguing that because God did not begin, this argument does not apply to God. There could be other arguments made to establish that God is caused, but to do so would require, as I pointed out, arguing for the metaphysical principle that “everything is caused.” Again, I leave the atheist to make this argument.
While many objections to the Kalam might be made in good faith, it is clear upon examination that they all fall far short of defeating the argument. The Kalam Cosmological Argument succeeds in its goal: to show that the universe is caused. What is this cause? That’s a question we must all consider with fear and trembling.
Those interested in a broad outline of the Kalam Cosmological Argument can read my post on the topic.
For a discussion of one both Richard Dawkins’ and Graham Oppy’s objections to the Kalam, read Dawkins and Oppy vs. Theism: Defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument.
Edgar Andrews, “Could a universe create itself?”
Edgar Andrews, Who Made God (Darlington, England: EP books, 2009). Reviewed here.
Bruce Gordon, “Inflationary Cosmology and the String Multiverse” in New Proofs for the Existence of God by Robert Spitzer (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2010).
William Lane Craig and Paul Copan, Creation Out of Nothing (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004).
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Robert Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God (hereafter NPEG) presents in rigorous detail, five arguments for the existence of God, a section discussing the plausibility of multiverse/string universe scenarios, and some philosophical discussion on methodology.
Before continuing the review, I should note that the “New” in NPEG is nuanced. Spitzer notes this himself (my guess is that it was a marketing technique. “New” refers to the evidence from cosmology and further research in philosophy which lend new power for these arguments.
Chapter 1 presents a cosmological argument. Spitzer cogently argues that “(1) If there is a reasonable likelihood of a beginning of the universe… and (2) if it is apriori true that ‘from nothing, only nothing comes,’ then it is reasonably likely that the universe came from something which is not physical reality” (Spitzer, 45). This conclusion is supported by explorations of current cosmological theories about the origins of the universe.
Chapter 2 presents the teleological argument, which Spitzer bases on the universal constants. The argument leads to the conclusion that “the odds against an anthropic condition occurring are astronomically high, making any life form… exceedingly improbable.” It is a probabilistic argument, the likes of which I defend in my article Past, Probability, and Teleology (Hope’s Reason 2011-1).
Following chapter 2 is a chapter which discusses the possibilities of inflationary cosmology and the string multiverse written by Bruce Gordon. It is extremely technical and will provide readers with cogent arguments against the possibility of a multiverse scenario circumventing the previous arguments.
Chapter 3 presents Spitzer’s metaphysical argument for the existence of God, which is full of sound argumentation along with some interesting Thomistic Philosophy wherein he discusses God’s simplicity in the most coherent way I have read. I greatly encourage readers to look into this chapter, if only for the discussion of this oft-neglected doctrine.
Spitzer follows this with Chapter 4’s metaphysical argument derived from Bernard Lonergan’s Insight, which is a subtle version of the argument from reason. This chapter was particularly good because it focuses on a little-used type of arguments for the existence of God–that if our universe is intelligible, that can only be explained by God’s existence.
Chapter 5 is an argument from contingency similar to the Leibnizian cosmological argument.
Chapter 6 engages the question of method in philosophy along with whether atheism is actually rational. I was intially put off by the title of this chapter (“Methodological Considerations and the Impossibility of Disproving God”), but happened throughout the book, I was pleasantly surprised by the rigorous arguments and enlightening conclusions Spitzer laid out.
Finally, the last two chapters outline some more considerations about the universe and the relation of humans and God.
NPEG was a surprising read for me. I went in with neutral expectations, and those were blown away. Spitzer’s knowledge of the topics in the work runs deep, and his writing style is clear and cohesive. It is genuinely exciting to read. Readers will be challenged by the arguments for the existence of God, and engaged in the details and philosophical explanations of these arguments. I highly recommend this work to those interested in advanced books on arguments for God’s existence.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.