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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