What is the fine-tuning argument for God’s existence, and does the multiverse counter it?

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

One of the best arguments for the existence of a Creator and Designer of the universe is the cosmic fine-tuning argument. The argument argues that individual constants and quantities in nature cannot be much smaller or larger than they are, because it would remove the ability of the universe to support life of any kind. Dr. Michael Strauss, an experimental physicist, explains some examples of the fine-tuning in a recent post on his blog.

He writes:

I liken the finely-tuned universe to a panel that controls the parameters of the universe with about 100 knobs that can be set to certain values. If you turn any knob just a little to the right or to the left the result is either a universe that is inhospitable to life or no universe at all.

Consider the knob that controls the strength of the strong nuclear force that holds quarks inside the neutrons and protons and binds the nucleus of the atom together. If the strength were increased by 2%, the element hydrogen would be either non-existent or very rare. Without hydrogen there would be no water (H2O) or stars that burn hydrogen as their nuclear fuel like our sun.  Without hydrogen there would be no life. If the strength of the strong nuclear force were decreased by about 5%, then hydrogen would be the only element in the universe. That would simplify the periodic table and make Chemistry class very easy, but it would render life impossible.

All known life in this universe is based on the element carbon, which is formed in the final stages of a star’s life. The carbon you and I are made of is the result of the nuclear processes that occurred as previous stars ended their lives. One nice recent study showed that if the mass of the quarks that make up neutrons and protons were changed by just a few percent, then the process that makes carbon as stars die would be altered in such a way that there would not be sufficient carbon in the universe for life. The masses of the lightest sub-atomic quarks are the precise value that is required for carbon to form and for life to exist.

Regarding the multiverse, let me just quote from MIT physicist Alan Lightman, writing in Harper’s magazine about the multiverse:

The… conjecture that there are many other worlds… [T]here is no way they can prove this conjecture. That same uncertainty disturbs many physicists who are adjusting to the idea of the multiverse. Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.

Sound familiar? Theologians are accustomed to taking some beliefs on faith. Scientists are not. All we can do is hope that the same theories that predict the multiverse also produce many other predictions that we can test here in our own universe. But the other universes themselves will almost certainly remain a conjecture.

The multiverse is not pure nonsense, it is theoretically possible.But even if there were a multiverse, the generator that makes the universes itself would require fine-tuning, so the multiverse doesn’t get rid of the problem. And, as Lightman indicates, we have no independent experimental evidence for the existence of the multiverse in any case. Atheists just have to take it on faith, and hope that their speculations will be proved right. Meanwhile, the fine-tuning is just as easily explained by postulating God, and we have independent evidence for God’s existence, like the the origin of biological information, the sudden appearance of animal body plans, the argument from consciousness, and so on. Even if the naturalists could explain the fine-tuning, they would still have a lot of explaining to do. Theism (intelligent causation) is the simplest explanation for all of the things we learn from the progress of science.

It’s very important to understand that if these values were any different, then it’s not like we would bridges on our foreheads, or have green skin, or have pointy ears, etc. That’s what science fiction teaches you. And many atheists form their view of science by watching science fiction entertainment. But the truth is that the consequences of changing these values are much more consequential: no stars, no planets, no hydrogen, no heavy elements, the universe re-collapses into a hot fireball. You’re not going to have complex, embodied intelligent agents running around making moral decisions and relating to God in a world like that.

Questions like the existence of God should be NOT decided by feelings and faith and superstitious nonsense. They ought to be decided by evidence. Specifically, scientific evidence. Everyone has to account for this scientific evidence for fine-tuning within their worldview, and they have to account for it in a way that is responsible and rational. Punting to the multiverse, without any evidence for it, is neither rational nor responsible. Holding out hope that the evidence we have now will all go away is neither rational nor responsible.

By the way, if you are looking for a good book on the cosmic fine-tuning, especially for evangelism and debating with atheists, you really need to get a copy of “A Fortunate Universe“. Although it is from one of the most prestigious academic presses, it is pretty funny to read, and the main points are made clearly, even if you don’t understand the science. Two astrophysicists wrote it – one who believes that God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning, and one who doesn’t. I really think that Christians need to get used to the idea that evangelism can be pretty easy, so long as you are arguing from peer-reviewed facts. When you get a good book on evidence for God that is not in dispute, then you are invincible. Everybody ought to believe in God in a universe with this much overt scientific evidence spilling out everywhere. Whether this Creator and Designer is the God of the Bible, who visited us as Jesus of Nazareth, takes more work to establish. Working through the emotional objections people have to God, and coaching them to take on the difficulties of living out a authentic Christian life (very unpopular!), is even harder.

25 thoughts on “What is the fine-tuning argument for God’s existence, and does the multiverse counter it?”

  1. I find the fine-tuning argument both dishonest and narcissistic, and here’s why.

    A quick inventory of our planet demonstrates that we can’t even live on the majority of the places here. Saying the earth is fine-tuned for us is akin to saying a house is built perfectly for you, only there is just one room you can even survive in, and only a corner of that room you can survive somewhat comfortably.
    We are the only planet with life that we know of in our galaxy with billions and billions of stars. Saying that the galaxy is fine tuned for us is like saying a country the size of the United States is fine tuned for us but we can only survive in a 4′ by 4′ bunker in Kansas, the rest of the country has methane for air.
    We are only one galaxy among billions and billions of galaxies in the universe. Saying the universe was fine tuned to us is like saying that the whole earth is fine-tuned for us, but the only inhabitable place for life is on one single grain of sand in Australia.

    But if you are able to overlook the fact that our “fine-tuned” reality is one of the most insignificant specks on an unimaginably large instantly lethal universe, the argument is still fallacious.

    We are here, so we are pretty impressed that it turned out this way. However, probability doesn’t mean the same thing as reality. The chances of opening a brand new deck of cards, thoroughly shuffling, and then dealing a player a Heart royal flush is 1:2,598,960. The chances of opening a brand new deck of cards, thoroughly shuffling, and dealing a 4C, 7H, 2D, 10H, 6C is ALSO 1:2,598,960. The odds are the same, but we assign value to the royal flush, and not the other hand. We assign value to this universe because we are here.

    And I am aware that in a different universe, we wouldn’t just have green skin. But unless the author of your numbers game has evaluated the other types of universes, he’s just assuming that this one is the only one. Without carbon being the universal molecule-forming element, it could be something else. If the very nature of our mass was different, stars or planets might be bigger or smaller, changing the timeline and even the nature of the universe, but possibly in a way that still resulted in molecules and eventually life.

    So not only is it dishonest to say this universe is finely tuned for us, it’s narcissistic to assume that our way is the only way as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right, so it’s your opinion verses the findings of two astrophysicists publishing in Cambridge University Press. And your comment is why no one takes atheism seriously as a worldview that is bounded by reason and evidence. When confronted with scientific evidence you resort to your own opinions. Anything to muddy up the waters and keep the charade going. You don’t understand the evidence,and you don’t understand the argument. And out of that lack of understanding of science, (and lack of respect for science), you’ve created a self-serving delusional fairy tale that allows you to keep reality, and the reality of God, at a safe epistemic distance.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. WK, I’m not disagreeing with their physics, I’m disagreeing with what they say outside of physics.

        For example, if I can quote a couple of atheist astrophysicists, will you become an atheist?

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        1. One of the co-authors of the fine-tuning book is an atheist. He doesn’t deny the fine-tuning, he punts to the multiverse. But that’s untestable. The fine-tuning itself is not in dispute by anyone who has studied it. The best explanation of the fine-tuning is in dispute. I only want to talk about the science, and then ask everyone to accomodate the science in their worldview. If an atheist astrophysicist says unobservable, untestable multiverse, that’s fine with me. I don’t push my conclusions on people, just the evidence.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. That the world is within a very specific set of ranges or we could not be here is no dispute. I agree.
            That any conclusion can be drawn from this is pure conjecture, I also agree.

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    2. When the author said the universe was fine tuned, he didn’t mean just for humans, he referred to life. And this entire planet is covered in life, theoretically up to a trillion different species.

      Factor that into your argument and you’ll see why it’s invalid.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The issue with the fine-tuning argument is that the conditions have to be just right for life to be able to exist at all. Change the parameters of the universe and life could not exist anywhere. The Creator is under no obligation to make life probable. The improbability of life is part of the reason why people infer design. If life were easy to evolve in many situations, what would we need a Designer for? The naturalist would say “see, life is easy to make, it’s everywhere, no God is needed”. It’s only because most of the universe is hostile to life that we have any need to regard our place as special (and the fine-tuning as special).

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      2. Also the fine tuning only permits life to be sustained for that arguement.

        The appearance of life is a mystery because the more we learn about what is required the further they get from a guess as to how it could start without some kind of intelligence creating it

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        1. I think the origin of life is basically an information problem. How did the amino acids get sequenced to make proteins that can function in a living system? How did the base pairs get sequenced into DNA? The problem is exactly like writing code to run in a computer, or writing a blog post. Most sequences don’t do anything useful. So where did all the information in the first living organism and in all these new body plans come from?

          I’m a software engineer. If my boss wants new functionality, he asks me to write code to deliver it. That’s the only cause we know of that can produce information.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Or putting that otherwise, you NEED an intelligent agent to produce meaningful information (as opposed to noise or a “text” produced by monkeys pounding on keyboards). But as Bill Gates observed about the complexity of life, “”DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created. ” (The Road Ahead) Yup, life is humongously complicated. But that isn’t the end of the story. You still have to account for the origin of the genetic code. Look at it this way WN. Suppose your boss not only asks you to add a specific functionality to an app, but adds in an off-hand way: “But you have to do this with a new programming language no one’s ever seen before (and be more efficient and more stable)”… That might slightly add to the amount of work involved, wouldn’t you agree?

            So if the information coding for all the organisms we see around us demands an origin in an Intelligent Agent, then the problem is compounded exponentially when you add to that the preliminary requirement of a functional code to work with. Functional codes or languages just don’t “appear”… Just DNA by itself DEMANDS an Intelligent Agent… You can’t escape this issue (though evolutionists do their best to sweep it under the carpet).

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Ummm… There might be a misunderstanding here. I think ;you quite correctly pointed out that the origin of genetic information is a MASSIVE problem for evolutionists, but sitting just beside it (actually, logically, it comes before) there is another problem that is just as massive, the origin of the genetic code itself.

            As a software engineer you should get this easily. Each biological species has a genome, that’s comparable to an application or programme, whereas DNA itself is a code, without which there can be no genomes, just like without codes like C++ or Java or Assembler there can be no applications. And then add to that, you still need hardware to make it run (that is, functional and compatible hardware).

            So each time you unpack this Russian doll game, the doll inside is BIGGER than the one you just opened…

            Liked by 1 person

    3. Hello thespartanatheist,
      I find your objection interesting and valid, and requiring a proper answer. There are many reasons why a life form that would use anything else but carbon and water is impossible. You will find some arguments along that line in this article, but there are several other on the same site: http://stag.reasons.org/explore/publications/tnrtb/read/tnrtb/2015/07/28/weird-life-is-ammonia-based-life-possible. And many universes that would result from “slightly turning the knobs” would not even have stars as a source of energy, or a variety of elements to build life from…

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  2. As I commented in a previous article, this still does not prove the existence of the Christian god specifically, only that some higher power possibly created the universe, or multiverses. How can you prove it was also only one god, and not multiple gods? It’s one thing to say someone, somewhere had to create such an ordered universe, but as you mentioned at the end, it needs more work to prove your specific deity was the one who created the ordered world.

    I agree that it should take scientific evidence to put forth any proof or validity of a Christian worldview and reality, and an ordered universe could point to an intentional creator or creators, however, that doesn’t rule out other possibilities. The fine tuning argument only provides one piece of potential evidence, but it’s only one piece in the puzzle to solving the question of a higher power, especially your specific higher power. There are many things we don’t know, and while we cannot say 100% for sure there was no designer somewhere out there beyond our comprehension, I feel equally we can’t say there is solely on not knowing the true answer. “We don’t know and can’t explain it yet” is not a proof for God filling in the missing pieces to the mysteries yet to be discovered in our world. You can come to your own conclusions, but I personally remain skeptical so far.
    https://aladyofreason.wordpress.com/

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    1. You need to read the fine-tuning book and then square your beliefs with that evidence.

      Here, take this:
      https://winteryknight.com/2017/03/12/cosmologist-luke-barnes-answers-11-objections-to-the-fine-tuning-argument-5/

      It’s an atheist podcast interviewing one of the authors of Cambridge University Press book.

      If you agree then that there has to be a Supernatural Creator and Designer, then you’re down to the big three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. You can make the cut there based on the historical argument for the resurrection, which is affirmed by one and denied by two. I already sent you the debate on the resurrection between Craig and Crossley. That’s a start. When you watch that, I’ll ask you which of Craig’s minimal facts you deny, and why. And if you don’t deny any, then I’ll ask you for a naturalistic explanation of them.

      You can believe anything you want. All I ask is that if you’re going to deny theism and Christian theism in particular, you at least check out the case for and against. Whose is your favorite atheist? I can probably link you to a debate with them in it.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. The known universe is not infinite in matter and energy.

    From the origin of the big bang. We have the start of the matter and energy in our universe and the usable energy is in decline. The eventual heat death of a big bang where temperatures become so even little work can occur is going to happen.

    Gravity is incredibly weak, there aren’t enough black holes to silliest all the matter and try and regenerate. The universe is way to big to honestly believe in a big bounce all atheist theories to make an eternal hope of a universe have no shred of science behind them.

    To argue that because the universe is so big it is a dishonest arguement used by atheists. The fact that all the matter and energy is moving apart only decreases the likelihood of this being created not increasing the odds. People act like empty vacuous space has power it is totally useless. The further you move all the objects of space apart the less useful gravity and the many weak forces are to create new things.

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    1. Yeah, I already responded to it here, and this is known science:
      https://winteryknight.com/2018/05/11/is-the-vastness-of-the-universe-evidence-against-gods-existence-4/

      You need three generations of stars to form the types of stars and planets that are life-permitting. (Massive stars, metal-rich planets, etc.) Not to mention the heavy elements in our own bodies, which are produced from dying stars of the right type from previous generations. I quoted him a book from Cambridge University Press on the fine-tuning, and he replies with his personal preferences.

      It’s amazing how many Christians like Greg understand the fine-tuning argument, as it is presented by PhD-credentialed scientists.
      Meanwhile atheists listen to journalists like Christopher Hitchens, and they think “oh, the universe is so big. I wouldn’t have done it that way, therefore there’s no God.”.

      On the one hand, you’ve got the science. On the other hand you have… deliberate and self-serving ignorance of science and incredulity. What the fine-tuning evidence says is that the vast majority of permutations of cosmic quanitities and constants are not life-permitting. What the atheist says is “It’s too big. I don’t like it. I wouldn’t have done it that way.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As a Social Anthropologist, I’d say the multiverse is mythology for mathematicians… After all, science is supposed to be about OBSERVABLE phenomena, stuff you can see and do experiments on…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great article! I tend to believe that there’s preponderant evidence that the universe is built for life, and the evidence can be found everywhere we look.

    There’s plenty of water, frozen and otherwise (such as the plumes on Europa) and just about everywhere we look we find the organic ingredients needed to create biology as we know it. Lots of planets in lots of goldilocks zones and the more there are of those, the higher the odds are of life developing.

    Now whether that implies a deity purposefully creating a habitat for living things is a subject for debate but I would have to say this, after a lifetime of observing organized religion, I feel fairly certain that none of the world’s religions comprehend what the deity really is, if one exists, that is. Not even close. Why do I say that? Because even after thousands of years, the world’s major religions are still basically at war with each other, what could they possibly know about a real deity, they all think they’re the only ones who have it right, for crying out loud.

    I’ve toyed with the idea lately that there’s only one consciousness in the universe, that beings like ourselves merely borrow it in limited quantities, just enough to create the illusion of self, and for a limited time, before it eventually returns to its source. And one thing I do believe, there’s probably a good sci fi novel, maybe even a movie, somewhere in that idea. Someone get me Stan Lee’s phone number!

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    1. A good book on the habitability problem is “Rare Earth”, written by two experts in astrobiology. One is an atheist, the other agnostic.

      Here is a quote that summarizes their investigations of what all is required for complex, embodied intelligence to exist, and our odds of getting that in a universe this large and this old:

      If some god-like being could be given the opportunity to plan a sequence of events with the expressed goal of duplicating our ‘Garden of Eden’, that power would face a formidable task. With the best of intentions but limited by natural laws and materials it is unlikely that Earth could ever be truly replicated. Too many processes in its formation involve sheer luck. Earth-like planets could certainly be made, but each would differ in critical ways. This is well illustrated by the fantastic variety of planets and satellites (moons) that formed in our solar system. They all started with similar building materials, but the final products are vastly different from each other . . . . The physical events that led to the formation and evolution of the physical Earth required an intricate set of nearly irreproducible circumstances.

      Peter B. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe (New York: Copernicus, 2000), p. 37.

      The entire (large) book explains some of the many factors that have to be in place. I recommend the book.

      We have lots of possible places for life, but the requirements are so steep it’s extremely unlikely ANYWHERE.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Are you saying that life came about as a result of physical processes? Do you believe that if the physical constants and quantities are just right, then life will form?

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  7. Another major problem with the multiverse hypothesis (not theorum) is that it doesn’t just require many universes: it requires an infinite number of universes. It sounds much more far fetched than any theistic explanation.

    Liked by 1 person

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