Atheist Luke Muehlhauser interviews well-respect cosmologist Luke Barnes about the fine-tuning argument, and the naturalistic response to it.
Luke M. did a good job explaining the outline of the podcast.
In one of my funniest and most useful episodes yet, I interview astronomer Luke Barnes about the plausibility of 11 responses to the fine-tuning of the universe. Frankly, once you listen to this episode you will be better equipped to discuss fine-tuning than 90% of the people who discuss it on the internet. This episode will help clarify the thinking of anyone – including and perhaps especially professional philosophers – about the fine-tuning of the universe.
The 11 responses to fine-tuning we discuss are:
“It’s just a coincidence.”
“We’ve only observed one universe, and it’s got life. So as far as we know, the probability that a universe will support life is one out of one!”
“However the universe was configured, evolution would have eventually found a way.”
“There could be other forms of life.”
“It’s impossible for life to observe a universe not fine-tuned for life.”
“Maybe there are deeper laws; the universe must be this way, even though it looks like it could be other ways.”
“Maybe there are bajillions of universes, and we happen to be in one of the few that supports life.”
“Maybe a physics student in another universe created our universe in an attempt to design a universe that would evolve intelligent life.”
“This universe with intelligent life is just as unlikely as any other universe, so what’s the big deal?”
“The universe doesn’t look like it was designed for life, but rather for empty space or maybe black holes.”
“Fine-tuning shows there must be an intelligent designer beyond physical reality that tuned the universe so it would produce intelligent life.”
Download CPBD episode 040 with Luke Barnes. Total time is 1:16:31.
There is a very good explanation of some of the cases of fine-tuning that I talk about most on this blog – the force of gravity, the strong force, etc. as well as many other examples. Dr. Barnes is an expert, but he is also very very easy to listen to even when talking about difficult issues. Luke M. is very likeable as the interviewer.
This lecture is special to me, because I bought a VHS tape of it just after I started working full-time, and watched it a million times. A lot of people come to their convictions about God’s existence because of parents or church or intuitions, but for me it’s all about the scientific evidence. This lecture changed my life. I wish more people taught their children about this evidence! This lecture was delivered at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Dr. Bradley received his B.S. in Engineering Science and his Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Texas in Austin.
Dr. Bradley taught for eight years at the Colorado School of Mines before assuming a position as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU) in 1976.
During his 24 years at Texas A&M, Dr. Bradley served as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University and as Director of the Polymer Technology Center, and received five College of Engineering Research Awards. He has received over $4,500,000 in research grants and has published over 140 technical articles and book chapters. He has also co-authored “The Mystery Of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories. He is a Fellow of the American Society for Materials and of the American Scientific Affiliation and serves as a consultant for many Fortune 500 companies.
He currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor University.
The lecture: (63 minutes lecture, 25 minutes audience Q&A)
At the beginning of the 20th century, people believed that the progress of science was pointing away from an intelligent Creator and Designer, and towards naturalism
A stream of new discoveries has shifted the support of science towards theism, and away from naturalism
Richard Dawkins, an atheist, says that nature only has the appearance of design, but that if you look closer, naturalistic mechanisms can account for the appearance of design
When deciding between design and apparent design (“designoid”), it matters whether you think there is an intelligence there to do the designing
Evidence #1: The Big Bang:
an eternal “steady state” universe is more compatible with naturalism, but a created universe is more compatible with a Creator
In 1929, Hubble used telescopes to observe that the light from distant galaxies was redshifted. The further away galaxies were, the faster they were moving away. Therefore, space is expanding in all directions, suggesting an explosive origin of the universe
In 1965, the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation matched a prediction of the Big Bang cosmology, and of the creation event
In 1992, the COBE space telescope allowed us to test four specific predictions of the Big Bang model, especially the predictions for light element abundances (hydrogen and helium), which matched the predictions of the creation model
Evidence #2: Simple mathematical structure of the physical laws
the simple mathematical structure of natural laws allows us to understand these laws, make discoveries, and engineer solutions to problems
early scientists saw the mathematical structure of the universe to mean that nature was designed by an intelligent to be understood
the fundamental equations of the laws of the universe can be easily written on one side of one sheet of paper
Eugene Wigner’s famous paper, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Physical Sciences” makes the point that this simple structure is an unexpected gift that allows is to do science
Evidence #3: fine-tuning of the physical constants and quantities
in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need stars that provide energy within specific ranges for long periods of time
in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need planets with stable orbits that will not suffer from extreme temperature swings as it varies in distance from its star
in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need stable atomic structure
in order for any kind of complex life to survive, we need to have chemical diversity and correct relative abundances of each element
organic life has minimum requirements: process energy, store information, replicate, and you can’t fulfill those functions if there is only one element, e.g. – hydrogen
the energy level from the photons from the sun have to match the energy levels of the different elements in order to drive the chemical bonding needed for life
These requirements for life of any imaginable type depend on the values of the constants and quantities. The constants and quantities cannot vary much from what they are, or the universe will lose the characteristics (above) that allow it to support complex life of any imaginable time
For example, ratio of strong force to electromagnetic force:
– if 2% larger, then no stable hydrogen, no long-lived stars, no compounds containing hydrogen, e.g. – water
– if 5% smaller, no stable stars, heavy hydrogen would be unstable, few elements other than hydrogen
Evidence #4: initial conditions for habitability
Universe: expansion rate of the universe must be fast enough to avoid a re-collapse, but slow enough to allow matter to clump together and form stars and planets for complex life to live on
Planet: right distance from the star to get the right climate
Planet: right mass to retain the right atmosphere
Evidence #5: origin of life and information theory
It’s possible to explain every process in an automobile engine using plain old naturalistic mechanisms – no supernatural explanation is necessary to understand the processes
But the existence of engine itself: engineering all the parts has to be explained by the work of an intelligence
Similarly, we can understand how living systems work, but the existence of the living systems requires an intelligence
Even the simplest living system has to perform minimal function: capture energy, store information and replicate
Living systems are composed of objects like proteins that are composed of sequences of components complex such that the order of the components gives the overall structure function
Developing the components for a simple living cell is very improbable – even given the large number of galaxies, stars and planets in the universe, it is unlikely that complex, embodied life would exist anywhere in the universe
Evidence #6: more initial conditions for habitability
Location within the galaxy: you need to be away from the center of the galaxy, because the explosions from dying stars, and excessive radiation will kill life
Location within the galaxy: you need to be close enough to the center in order catch the heavy elements you need for life from the explosions of other stars
Location within the galaxy: the best location is between two arms of a spiral galaxy, where you can get the heavy elements you need from dying stars, but without being hit with explosions and harmful radiation
Star mass: determines rate at which the sun burns, determines the energy level of photons that are used to drive chemical bonding reactions, determines the length of time the star will be stable
Star mass: star mass must be the correct value in order to allow liquid water on the planet’s surface, while still preserving stable orbit
I wish there was more curiosity about science in churches, and young Christians understood how critical science is for grounding the rationality of the Christian worldview. We need to be training up more scientists who think about the big questions, like Dr. Walter Bradley.
Recently, I picked up the audio book version of “The Privileged Planet”, which is a book by philosopher / economist Jay Richards and astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez. This book is different from books about the origin of the universe and cosmic fine-tuning. It talks about what it takes to make a habitable planet. And it talks about how the habitable places in the universe are also the best places to make scientific discoveries.
Christian scholar Jay Richards was interviewed by Brian Auten of Apologetics 315.