New Scientist: the force of gravity is fine-tuned to permit life

The article from the New Scientist is here. (H/T ECM)

Excerpt:

The feebleness of gravity is something we should be grateful for. If it were a tiny bit stronger, none of us would be here to scoff at its puny nature.

The moment of the universe‘s birth created both matter and an expanding space-time in which this matter could exist. While gravity pulled the matter together, the expansion of space drew particles of matter apart – and the further apart they drifted, the weaker their mutual attraction became.

It turns out that the struggle between these two was balanced on a knife-edge. If the expansion of space had overwhelmed the pull of gravity in the newborn universe, stars, galaxies and humans would never have been able to form. If, on the other hand, gravity had been much stronger, stars and galaxies might have formed, but they would have quickly collapsed in on themselves and each other. What’s more, the gravitational distortion of space-time would have folded up the universe in a big crunch. Our cosmic history could have been over by now.

Only the middle ground, where the expansion and the gravitational strength balance to within 1 part in 1015 at 1 second after the big bang, allows life to form.

I know you guys look at my big list of objective evidence for Christianity, and you think “Wintery! Those evidences are not admitted by the majority of scientists!” I keep trying to tell you – my goal is to give you arguments and evidence that will work in the public square. These are mainstream evidences accepted by most or all non-Christian scientists as fact, and they used in public academic debates.

When I tell you about evidences from the big bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, etc., I am telling you evidence that should compel anyone to deny atheism, so long as they are not irrational and emotional. These are not Christian tricks. They do not address felt needs. They are not there to help you to be happy. They are not optional, depending on how you feel about them.

But there is another way to recommend Christianity to people, which is not rationally compelling, but instead relies on intuitions and experiences.

A different approach to apologetics

Some people offer Christian doctrines to others as a way of interpreting the human condition, etc. And it’s true that the Bible gives you an accurate description of your own inner life, and your rebellious attitude towards God. So these well-meaning Christians try to “persuade” non-Christians to consider whether the words of the Bible “ring true” with their intuitions and experiences.

Consider this quote from G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”:

And now we come to the crucial question which truly concludes the whole matter.  A reasonable agnostic, if he has happened to agree with me so far, may justly turn round and say, “You have found a practical philosophy in the doctrine of the Fall; very well…. If you see clearly the kernel of common-sense in the nut of Christian orthodoxy,why cannot you simply take the kernel and leave the nut? Why cannot you (to use that cant phrase of the newspapers which I, as a highly scholarly agnostic, am a little ashamed of using) why cannot you simply take what is good in Christianity, what you can define as valuable, what you can comprehend, and leave all the rest, all the absolute dogmas that are in their nature incomprehensible?” This is the real question; this is the last question; and it is a pleasure to try to answer it.

The first answer is simply to say that I am a rationalist. I like to have some intellectual justification for my intuitions. If I am treating man as a fallen being it is an intellectual convenience to me to believe that he fell; and I find, for some odd psychological reason, that I can deal better with a man’s exercise of freewill if I believe that he has got it.  But I am in this matter yet more definitely a rationalist.  I do not propose to turn this book into one of ordinary Christian apologetics; I should be glad to meet at any other time the enemies of Christianity in that more obvious arena.  Here I am only giving an account of my own growth in spiritual certainty.  But I may pause to remark that the more I saw of the merely abstract arguments against the Christian cosmology the less I thought of them.  I mean that having found the moral atmosphere of the Incarnation to be common sense, I then looked at the established intellectual arguments against the Incarnation and found them to be common nonsense.  In case the argument should be thought to suffer from the absence of the ordinary apologetic I will here very briefly summarise my own arguments and conclusions on the purely objective or scientific truth of the matter.

If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, “For the same reason that an intelligent agnostic disbelieves in Christianity.”  I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence.  But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts.  The secularist is not to be blamed because his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy; it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind. I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and one old friend.  The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion.  Now, the non-Christianity of the average educated man to-day is almost always, to do him justice, made up of these loose but living experiences.  I can only say that my evidences for Christianity are of the same vivid but varied kind as his evidences against it.  For when I look at these various anti-Christian truths, I simply discover that none of them are true. I discover that the true tide and force of all the facts flows the other way.

The problem with Chesterton’s view is that it is not rationally compelling. It is apprehended in a subjective way, depending on whether the person likes it or not. This pragmatic approach is popular today because people want to have their felt needs met. But this approach doesn’t allow you to demonstrate the truth of Christianity in the public square, using objective evidence, as Chesterton admits.

This rejection of objective apologetics has marginalized Christianity as subjective. I think we need to emphasize hard evidence. We need to have studied science, analytical philosophy, New Testament and history. We need to offer evidence that is objective, not subjective, like the fine-tuning of the gravitational force, so that our opponents are clear that Christianity is objectively true.

I think that Chesterton is a bad example for Christians to follow. In the Bible, I see Jesus constantly providing physical evidence for this claims by employing  miracles. We can do something similar to Jesus today, by leveraging past miracles, such as the fine-tuning of the gravitational force, in our public debates. We don’t need to invent new ways of evangelizing based on intuitions and experiences.

Further study

You can read more about the fine-tuning of the gravitational force from Robin Collins, who is the best we have on the topic. Collins started a Ph.D in Physics at the University of Texas at Austin, but ended up completing a Ph.D in philosophy at Notre Dame, under Alvin Plantinga, the greatest living philosopher today, in my opinion. I heard Collins speak at the Baylor ID conference in 2000.

Here is a textbook on physics and philosophy for high-schoolers written by David Snoke, a professor of Physics at University of Pittsburgh. He homeschools his own 4 children with this very book. The book contains Bible study and philosophy sections.

16 thoughts on “New Scientist: the force of gravity is fine-tuned to permit life”

  1. Much as I am generally disposed to agree with your positions, in the case of Chesterton, I think you overreach. I wouldn’t class him with those who argue for Christianity on the basis of pure subjectivity such as “You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart.” He employs a subtle rationality that may be elusive to some minds, but very persuasive to others. I would argue for a multiple-apologetic approach, in which G.K. Chesterton occupies an honored place. Are you familiar with his biographies of St. Francis of Assisi and Aquinas? His work produces the kind of “cumulative argument” for Christianity that adds color and depth to one’s understanding and appreciation of Christian faith.

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    1. I agree with you. I am arguing for an ordering here, not an exclusive either/or. I say that my evidence should be the tip of the spear. Then we can talk about existential concerns. I agree Chesterton and Lewis have value (Gag!), but that is not how I would lead.

      However – Francis of Assisi? BLEH! That is just beyond the pale! Heresy!

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        1. 1) There are real scientific evidences out there in the world to support theism
          2) There is a real historical case to be made for the resurrection that doesn’t require faith to believe
          3) We should prefer those real evidences over appeals to intuitions and experiences
          4) Once the real evidence has been accepted, then we can talk about intuitions and experiences

          That’s what.

          I was only kidding about Assisi. NOT! He’s a witch! Call the police! Call the church!

          Call the church police!

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          1. Wintery, I have a question. Did you start looking for real evidences in support of your Christian faith after acquiring that faith or is it only after seeing real proof did you start believing that Christianity is one true faith?

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          2. Aaaagggh! Don’t ask me that question, you clever person!

            But seriously, I converted because of the cosmological argument (which I apparently knew in Grade 3 intuitively) and the moral argument (which I definitely knew by Grade 9) and by reading the New Testament (during grades 5 through 8). It’s all in my testimony.

            I know what you are saying – I am trying to make a case that we need to address the culture a certain way because Christianity is no longer a live option. We need to make truth the main issue! The culture is just too hostile right now. And the church is already 90% committed to Christianity as self-help. We need to get away from felt needs and emotions and focus on the evidence first.

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          3. Each person operates in in a different way Wintery. Though I am not in complete disagreement with your views, you have to understand for some people even to have the conviction to declare their faith openly and look for evidences in support of their so they can show the whole world, the felt needs and emotions need to be addressed. God works differently in different people. The same approach need not necessarily work for all kinds of people.

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          4. I always believe faith in God is the path towards truth. You seem to believe you’ll have to show proof of truth to obtain faith. Sigh!

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      1. I love your bluster. You are nothing if not opinionated. Ha. But sometimes one can cut oneself off from a lot of good things by being peremptorily dismissive. For example, if I had not read Chesterton on St. Francis, I would not have come across the following excellent description of one phase of the early Middle Ages:

        “What had happened to the human imagination, as a whole, was that the whole world was coloured by dangerous and rapidly deteriorating passions; by natural passions becoming unnatural passions. Thus the effect of treating sex as only one innocent natural thing was that every other innocent natural thing became soaked and sodden with sex. For sex cannot be admitted to a mere equality among elementary emotions or experiences like eating and sleeping. The moment sex ceases to be a servant it becomes a tyrant. There is something dangerous and disproportionate in its place in human nature, for whatever reason; and it does really need a special purification and dedication. The modern talk about sex being free like any other sense, about the body being beautiful like any tree or flower, is either a description of the Garden of Eden or a piece of thoroughly bad psychology, of which the world grew weary two thousand years ago.” (From ch. 2, “The World St. Francis Found)

        Whether you like St. Francis’ theology or not, it doesn’t hurt to become familiar with the personal and historical situation that to some extent propelled such a remarkable figure on to the world scene. The humanities, my good brother, have their place!!

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        1. You’re right of course! Actually, I secretly do love wisdom from Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, but I would never admit to it! I’ve read all of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries at least three times each, but I won’t admit to that either. And don’t get me started on Alexandre Dumas! I love adventures! I thought there was a lot of meaning in those as well. But keep it under wraps! And what about J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis? Well, that’s boilerplate for any Christian. But don’t tell people about it!

          Bluster is my way of getting people to try to change my mind.

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      1. Tell me in short, do you think a person cannot believe without evidence? Or are you saying it’s better to have knowledge that supports your belief?

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