How the progress of science strengthened the fine-tuning argument

This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is here.

The fine-tuning argument

The argument goes like this:

1. The fine-tuning of the universe to support life is either due to law, chance or design
2. It is not due to law or chance
3. Therefore, the fine-tuning is due to design

What does it mean to be fine-tuned for life?

Here are the facts on the fine-tuning:

• Life has certain minimal requirements; long-term stable source of energy, a large number of different chemical elements, an element that can serve as a hub for joining together other elements into compounds, etc.
• In order to meet these minimal requirements, the physical constants, (such as the gravitational constant), and the ratios between physical constants, need to be withing a narrow range of values in order to support the minimal requirements for life of any kind.
• Slight changes to any of the physical constants, or to the rations between the constants, will result in a universe inhospitable to life.
• The range of possible ranges over 70 orders of magnitude.
• The constants are selected by whoever creates the universe. They are not determined by physical laws. And the extreme probabilities involved required put the fine-tuning beyond the reach of chance.
• Although each individual selection of constants and ratios is as unlikely as any other selection, the vast majority of these possibilities do not support the minimal requirements of life of any kind. (In the same way as any hand of 5 cards that is dealt is as likely as any other, but you are overwhelmingly likely NOT to get a royal flush. In our case, a royal flush is a life-permitting universe).

Examples of finely-tuned constants

Here are a couple of examples of the fine-tuning. Craig only gave one example in the debate and didn’t explain how changes to the constant would affect the minimal requirements for life. But Bradley does explain it, and he is a professional research scientist, so he is speaking about things he worked in his polymer research lab. (He was the director)

a) The strong force: (the force that binds nucleons (= protons and neutrons) together in nucleus, by means of meson exchange)

• if the strong force constant were 2% stronger, there would be no stable hydrogen, no long-lived stars, no hydrogen containing compounds. This is because the single proton in hydrogen would want to stick to something else so badly that there would be no hydrogen left!
• if the strong force constant were 5% weaker, there would be no stable stars, few (if any) elements besides hydrogen. This is because you would be able to build up the nuclei of the heavier elements, which contain more than 1 proton.
• So, whether you adjust the strong force up or down, you lose stars than can serve as long-term sources of stable energy, or you lose chemical diversity, which is necessary to make beings that can perform the minimal requirements of living beings. (see below)

b) The conversion of beryllium to carbon, and carbon to oxygen

• Life requires carbon in order to serve as the hub for complex molecules, but it also requires oxygen in order to create water.
• Carbon is like the hub wheel in a tinker toy set: you can bind other elements together to more complicated molecules (e.g. – “carbon-based life), but the bonds are not so tight that they can’t be broken down again later to make something else.
• The carbon resonance level is determined by two constants: the strong force and electromagnetic force.
• If you mess with these forces even slightly, you either lose the carbon or the oxygen.

Either way, you’ve got no life of any conceivable kind.

Is the fine-tuning real?

Yes, it’s real and it is conceded by the top-rank of atheist physicists. Let me give you a citation from the best one of all, Martin Rees. Martin Rees is an atheist and a qualified astronomer. He wrote a book called “Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe”, (Basic Books: 2001). In it, he discusses 6 numbers that need to be fine-tuned in order to have a life-permitting universe.

Rees writes here:

These six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator?

There are some atheists who deny the fine-tuning, but these atheists are in firm opposition to the progress of science. The more science has progressed, the more constants, ratios and quantities we have discovered that need to be fine-tuned. Science is going in a theistic direction. Next, let’s see how atheists try to account for the fine-tuning, on atheism.

Atheistic responses to the fine-tuning argument

There are two common responses among atheists to this argument.

The first is to speculate that there are actually an infinite number of other universes that are not fine-tuned, (i.e. – the gambler’s fallacy). All these other universes don’t support life. We just happen to be in the one universe is fine-tuned for life. The problem is that there is no way of directly observing these other universes and no independent evidence that they exist.

Here is an excerpt from an article in Discover magazine, (which is hostile to theism and Christianity).

Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life.

The second response by atheists is that the human observers that exist today, 14 billion years after the universe was created out of nothing, actually caused the fine-tuning. This solution would mean that although humans did not exist at the time the of the big bang, they are going to be able to reach back in time at some point in the future and manually fine-tune the universe.

Here is an excerpt from and article in the New Scientist, (which is hostile to theism and Christianity).

…maybe we should approach cosmic fine-tuning not as a problem but as a clue. Perhaps it is evidence that we somehow endow the universe with certain features by the mere act of observation… observers are creating the universe and its entire history right now. If we in some sense create the universe, it is not surprising that the universe is well suited to us.

So, there are two choices for atheists. Either an infinite number of unobservable universes that are not fine-tuned, or humans go back in time at some future point and fine-tune the beginning of the universe, billions of years in the past.

Comment warning

Everybody seems to like to comment on these things without making any claims or citing any authority or evidence. So if you are leaving a comment critical of this post, then cite the part you disagree with, quote someone who agrees with you who is an authority, and link to a piece of peer-reviewed evidence. I’d like to see some observations, please. Some data. If you cannot disagree with a specific point, and cite something specific to support you, then please – don’t leave a comment. Try to keep it short. I’ll delete any comments that go over 300 words, say.

Further study

Here is a paper by Walter L. Bradley that contains many more examples of the fine-tuning, and explanations for what happens when you change the constants, quantities and rations even slightly.

38 thoughts on “How the progress of science strengthened the fine-tuning argument”

1. I can’t see much of a difference between improbably fine-tuned laws and design. Aren’t improbably fine-tuned laws themselves evidence for design?

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2. DLArson says:

One good objection to this argument I’ve come across is that these statistics aren’t like flipping a coin, but that it is like the human body. The average temperature for the human body is 98.6 °F, but no one would say that that was fine tuned, because temperatures like 20 degrees F aren’t a possibility. How do you respond to that?

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1. Body temperature is not one of the finely-tuned quantities that is set at the big bang. Those are the constants that need to be fine tuned because they are not the result of physical necessity. That’s why I gave the example of the strong force. The strong force could have been set to anything. There is no physical reason why it has the value it has – the value of the force is just set at the beginning of the universe. Why that value, and not some other value? And why are ALL (around 50) of these values set within narrow ranges to allow the minimal requirements for life?

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1. DLArson says:

But could you say the same thing for all constants?

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1. If *I* am saying it, it will have to be on a case by case basis, because I am not a physicist. But if astronomer Hugh Ross, or physicist Robin Collins, or quantum chemist Henry F. Schaefer is making the case, then all 50 constants are in play. Yes, they are all like that. If you change any of the constants, you don’t have complex life of any kind.

Robin Collins is the person to read on this, he has two Ph.Ds – one from the University of Texas (Austin) in Physics and the other from Notredame in Philosophy of Science. A funny thing about him is that he has THREE Bachelor degrees – one in Math, one in Physics and one in Philosophy. And analytical philosophy, which is more like computer science, anyway.

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1. What I have read, and I’ll admit I don’t know if this is true or not, from science magazines and the like is that while some of the fine tuning would stop all life from being possible, because stars wouldn’t form, etc. other constant values would possibly allow other forms of life that we can’t imagine. I don’t think we know what would happen if the constants were different. But I could be wrong.

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2. Anon says:

I think it’s bizarre if someone reject God because he/she doesn’t believe there’s any evidence for God, but would rather believe in something that no body (including themselves) could imagine, let alone have any evidence for.

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3. Michael says:

Hey WK, cool article.
What do you think of Ahmed’s response to this argument in his debate with WLC?
His main point is that saying that there are all these other possibilities the universe could have been is like stating that it’s amazing that the coin landed on heads cos there are a million other possibilities- it could have landed on its edge, it could have flown off, it could have smashed when it hit the ground. It’s quite amazing really how this happened!

Yet of course we know that it wasn’t amazing.

Now at first I thought there’s something wrong with this argument yet WLC didn’t seem to adress it. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I’m started to pick up on these things by watching the masters (lol). This one doesn’t seem too hard though. I think that he’s made the mistake of thinking that there is some reason to think that each of these constants has more chance of being at some levels than at others. For example, when you flick a coin, there’s far more chance that it could land on heads than the chance that it would shatter into a million pieces. Yet with the universe it’s not like this. Each outcome is just as possible as the other, and there’s no reason for one level of say energy than another. On-the-other-hand, for coins it is not a matter of chance- it is determined by the make-up of the coin, the wear, the surface that it lands on etc.

While each of the possible levels of these constants is just as likely as the other, clearly the chance of a coin landing on heads is far more likely than its edge. Therefore the coin is not like the universe. Therefore this is a false analogy.

Do you think that is a fair dealing with that problem? Do you have anything further you would add?

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1. I actually don’t like analogies at all, especially this coin one, so I agree with you. The point of the argument is that each constant can talk a wide range of possible values. Each possible value is as unlikely as any other. If you pick a value at random, the value you pick is likely to NOT permit life. For example, if you pick a value for the strong force at random, the one you pick is as unlikely as all the others, but it is far more likely that your value is not going to permit stable stars, which are a requirement from complex life.

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1. Michael says:

Yeah I’ve always been suspicious of analogies for some reason, yet they are often great for explaining things and seeing thigns in a new light.
What do you think of Paley’s watch analogy then?

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1. Michael says:

Cool.
I’ll see if I can think of some other ways that atheists have tried to squirm around the arguments and ask you those ;)

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4. I agree that the multiverse is not yet a scientific theory. How is belief in a deity that “just happens to be there” to create us, more scientific?

I find both possibilities interesting and I don’t even find them mutually exclusive. Just as Francis Collins believes “macro” evolution is the way God created humans, one could believe in multiple-universes created by God.

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1. Anon says:

The difference is that the multi-verse crowd are the ‘show us empirical materialistic evidence or we won’t believe’ kind of crowd. It’s ironic and hypocritical of them then to say they believe multi-verse.

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1. Don’t all theories start out that way? Its different to have a theory and say “we don’t have evidence for this, but its a guess. Let’s prove it true or not using experimentation.” This is different from theists saying: “We have a holy book that has all the answers. We’ll accept evidence (such as fine tuning) that supports our holy book, and ignore other evidence (evolution) that discredits it.”

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1. Anon says:

If you mean by ‘theists’ is ‘Christians’, then I don’t know any Christian that think like that. There may be some out there, but I don’t think it’s a Christian thing.

But I do know a lot of people who for example reject ID just because of it’s design implication, instead of looking at the evidence it presents.

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5. Martin says:

I find the fine-tuning argument to be one of the better ones, but something still bugs me about it.

In order to infer intention behind the constants, don’t you have to have an outcome in mind first?

To use the poker analogy, a royal flush is indeed highly improbable, but that’s because you know what a royal flush is beforehand. If you don’t have an outcome in mind before you deal, then any particular hand you get is highly improbable but you have to get some hand.

Why is life considered to be the royal flush? Why isn’t life just any old hand of cards? Isn’t it being “life chauvinistic” to say that life is a royal flush? Isn’t it possible that some other equally bizarre (although not life) phenomenon might have arisen had the constants been different?

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1. I actually think this is a good objection, except that we have the Bible which talks about God intending to create life, and not just any life, but life that is capable of knowing him and entering into a love relationship with him. But I know that may not be exactly the answer you are looking for.

Are you familiar with Gonzalez and Richards idea of “habitability corelates with measurability”? God places the complex lifeforms in the exact place where they can make scientific discoveries using things like solar eclipses, etc., which are not as measurable/observable in other (lifeless) parts of the universe.

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1. Martin says:

Hmmm. I never see atheist philosophers raising this objection, though, so there must be something about it that I’m missing.

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1. This is amazing! Martin, you’re making the rest of us look good! I think I will write this up as a main post!!! Thanks for telling me Michael.

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2. Lol no worries. By the way this post and some other posts on the “Why I am Christian” page came in really, really useful to use in a debate at school I had against some of my atheist buddies on God’s existence, so I appreciate your hard work =)

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6. Jamie says:

Great article, thanks for putting it up, but I don’t quite understand why the physical constants could have been something other than what they are. Is it possible that the constants could be necessarily what they are and couldn’t have been anything different?

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1. The constants are not determined by physical necessity. E.g. – the expansion rate of the universe.

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1. furcifer says:

The entire concept of constants are to produce “life as we know it”. The scientific consensus is that life, unlike ours can exist. In fact Stephen Hawking goes as far as to suggest there may be life forms so different from ours that they could survive in the heat of the sun or oxygen deprived deep space.

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1. We are not talking about extremeophile life for the fine-tuning argument since single-celled life cannot have a relationship with God. In any case, extremophile life exists and we know about that, in hostile places like Titan, etc. (Titan is a moon on Saturn that has very simple life)

We are talking about complex life, the kind of life spoken of by atheists like Peter Ward in his book “Rare Earth” or physicist Martin Rees in “Just Six Numbers”. Complex life has certain requirements, like long-running stars that produce a constant stream of energy over billions of years, or a sweeper planet like Jupiter that blocks nasty things that fly through our solar system that might hit Earth. We are complex and that is what makes us vulnerable, so that we need this long list of requirements. And even atheists acknowledge these in their own books.

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7. Michael says:

WK- I’ve read it over a few times but I still just don’t get that second explanation from the atheist viewpoint. How could humans have possibly fine tuned the constants and what difference would it make? For them to even delve into the past and change these constants there must have been some fine-tuning in the first place to have allowed for Earth to even have been habitable. For the humans to have even arisen in order to change the constants, fine-tuning would have been requried!
So I guess it’s two points, i) how is it even possible to not only go back in time but also to change the constants and ii) how could life have arisen anyway if the fine-tuning wasn’t there in the first place??

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1. furcifer says:

Martin it’s akin to winning a lottery. In any given week, as improbable as it is for one person to win, someone usually does win. In the time span of the universe on the other hand the likelihood of life “as we know it” to form increases as time “as we know it” goes on. If the constants were any different life, perhaps, could have formed on another planet, with different requirements for life and be completely unrecognizable to what we consider life to be now.

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1. It’s not akin to winning a lottery, because the winner is not specified in advance in a lottery, whereas the requirements for life are specified in advance of the draw.

It’s the equivalent of getting a royal flush as Martin said. Every draw of 5 cards is equally unlikely, as with the lottery analogy. But only one draw is considered an unbeatable hand. It has a special meaning. Similarly, only a few permutations of the cosmic constants lead to a universe with the requirements for life, e.g. stable burning stars, sufficient chemical diversity, etc.

And the passage of time does not help at all, since the cosmic constants are fixed in ONE try at t=0. It has to be fine-tuned at the instant of creation, and there is no physical reason as to why they must take the extremely unlikely life-permitting values that they take. You get one chance to get it right, because they don’t change. And the odds of getting them right are really low.

Consider this video of physicist Roger Penrose, a colleague of Hawking.

Seriously, pick up a book on this by an atheist physicist like Martin Rees and read about it. He understands the problem. His solution is an unobservable, untestable multiverse – an actual infinite number of other universes that are not fine-tuned for life. It’s the gambler’s fallacy, but it shows how far an atheist has to go to avoid the problem.

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1. furcifer says:

The fact that we’re here to observe it means it happened. The improbability means nothing.

In an example from bridge the odds of getting a perfect hand is 158753389899:1 . Despite these odds it still happens and furthermore instances have occurred of all players having a perfect hand at the same time. Disputing the improbability of something occurring while examining it from a post hoc basis, when the event has already occurred naturally dismisses the improbability as a concern.

And since we’re just posting links here’s Dawkins:

P.S. The problem with the multi-verse theory is what exactly?

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1. Let’s re-cap your responses to the fine-tuning argument:

1) Human beings evolved 14 billion years after the creation of the universe and yet they somehow traveled back in time to cause the proper constants and quantities to be selected so that the universe would be life-permitting.
OR
2) There are an actual infinite number of universes not finely-tuned for life that were can never detect, measure or observe – and that explains why our universe is fine-tuned.

I mentioned both of these in the original post, by the way.

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8. WK, wonderful and well done piece of work. Alagorically or not, seems to me that ever since that first bite of fruit we have relentlessly pursued the acquisition of knowledge as a tool to manage what we may never come to understand (infinite complexity, notwithstanding). Late in my years, I choose to focus on relationships here and now since they seem to me to be more “personally manageable” than the universe….think I’ll leave that to God. Don’t really know why science and religion (the spiritual variety as opposed to “organized” structue) have to be at odds with each others existence/practices, except as they may be destructive of our individual and global relationships. Thanks again for some thought-provoking insights!

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9. Keith says:

This is an interesting topic and I have recently become an atheist (from a fundamentalist Christian). I have found some rather convincing argument against the fine tuning as one for the existence of an omnipotent god at least. If the universe needs to be fine tuned in order to produce life like us, then god had no other choice but to create the constants as they are. If so, he is himself is constrained and unable to anything he wants.

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1. Anon says:

The constants just show that the universe did not happen by random chance, because if one is wrong, we won’t have any conceivable universe.

There are lots of smart people on this earth, and none could conceive any other universe if any of those constants is wrong.

The more constants we find, the less argument you have for universe by chance. And we’ve found quite a few.

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2. wgbutler777 says:

Keith,

It’s strange how two people can see the same thing and come to such radically different results.

I was an atheist who converted to Christianity because of the scientific evidence.

Your argument against fine-tuning is incoherent and illogical. You seem to be saying that it is invalid because it implies that God can not operate out of disorder.

So because the scientific evidence shows us that order was designed into the Universe, that means that there is no God? That makes absolutely no sense to me. and I suspect that you are simply unwilling, rather than unable, to see the truth.

wgbutler777

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10. Finite says:

Mr. Wintery Knight

Interesting discussion you have here! Is there anyway of testing one of your assertions that you made in the fine tune argument? Particularly speaking of this assertion:

“◦Slight changes to any of the physical constants, or to the rations between the constants, will result in a universe inhospitable to life”.

In addition, the above quote brought another quote to my attention that I read earlier and it stated:

“Proton to neutron ratio. A proton is a subatomic particle found in the nucleus of all atoms. It has a positive electric charge that is equal to the negative charge of the electron. A neutron is a subatomic particle that has no electric charge. The mass of the neutron must exceed that of the proton in order for the stable elements to exist. But the neutron can only exceed the mass of the proton by an extremely small amount—an amount which is exactly twice the mass of the electron. That critical point of balance is only one part in a thousand. If the ratio of the mass of the proton to neutron were to vary outside of that limit—chaos would result”.

With these two quotes in mind, how can this be tested or explained to be known?

Thanks for your time and efforts!

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