Sunday, January 20, 2013

Is the Universe Fine Tuned for life?

Yesterday I talked about the idea that the Earth is fine tuned for human life, today I wanted to discuss the idea that the universe itself is fine tuned. The idea of course being that things have been fine tuned for us, and therefore it must be the work of a creator God of some fashion. As I argued yesterday, the sheer number of stars and planets out there pretty much destroys this idea when it comes to the earth being fine tuned, every planet is a potential place where life could form, and with so many in the sky it is inevitable that everything will work out somewhere. Things are not so easy when it comes to the fine tuning of the universe.

The argument goes that there are a handful of fundamental constants of the universe that are just perfect for the universe to unfold in such a way that life could exist. Via a quick google search, I landed on the following page which says the constants are:

  • Ratio of Electrons to Protons
  • Ratio of Electromagnetic Force to Gravity
  • Expansion Rate of Universe
  • Mass Density of Universe
  • Cosmological Constant
If any of these constants were every so slightly different from what they are, life would be impossible and therefore the odds of this happening randomly are incomprehensibly low. Therefore, there must be an intelligent God out there pulling the strings so that everything will come out just right. Obviously, I think that apologists jump to the God conclusion too quickly, they claim that God is the only possible answer to this puzzle, I think there are several other reasonable possibilities.

1. All of this is built on the assumption that there is only 1 universe, it is certainly possible that we are part of a larger multiverse, and each universe within the multiverse has a different set of universal constants. Alternatively, it is possible that our universe will eventually collapse into a singularity and there will be a new big bang, creating a new universe with new universal constants. In this case, we are merely one link in a chain of universes, and perhaps many of those links do not indeed have life. In this possibility, the argument becomes pretty much a carbon copy of what I said yesterday. We exist in the universe where we are possible and observe it and say that it is amazing, when really there are many other potentially empty universes that we just can't see. Ancient people didn't know there were other planets, maybe we are in an analogous position today.

2. Fine tuning argues that we are lucky these constants are exactly what they are, but this assumes that it would be possible for them to be any different. Maybe due to things that we don't understand these constants just have to be exactly what they are. Let me try to explain this idea with an analogy, suppose we are looking from above at a piece of glass with a marble on it, and we are considering the odds of that marble sitting exactly where it is sitting. If we want to do a calculation, we could simply figure out how far we will allow the marble to move before we consider that in a different place, compare that to the area of the glass, do a quick division and then give the percentage chance of the marble being in this exact place. What is the hidden assumption here? That the marble is sitting on a flat pane of glass. Suppose instead that glass is in the shape of a bowl, and there is a unique spot in the center that is the lower than all the others. In this case, there is no chance that the marble is sitting anywhere else on the glass, no matter where we set the marble, it will roll to the middle. (since we viewed it from above, we could not tell that the glass was curved) Perhaps the universal constants are the similar, we might ask why the ratio of protons to electrons isn't different, the correct answer might be that due to the way protons and electrons are created, this is simply impossible. We didn't get lucky that the marble was in the exact center of the glass, if it was placed anywhere else it would always roll to that spot.

3. Perhaps apologists are incorrect that a slight change in the universal constants would prevent life from forming. Indeed, Victor Stenger has done computer simulations and has concluded that if these constants are out of the range that apologists claim are required for life to be possible, we still wind up with a universe where life can exist.

The real point here is that the fine tuning argument is supposed to be an argument which proves that God exists. It absolutely fails this task. It relies on several assumptions that it never proves. It's points to a bunch of constants that seem pretty remarkable and then asserts that the only way these constants could be this way is if God set them up. The reality is that we simply don't know why those constants are what they are, but our lack of knowledge does not point to God. As with many apologetics, the fine tuning argument boils down to an argument from ignorance. I, for one, am not impressed.


  1. You covered all my problems with this argument, but I still consider it by far the most convincing argument for God. This has more to do with how awful the other arguments are than how good this argument is. This at least has the potential to be convincing. I even mentioned in my "what would convince me" post that if we could determine that there are not other universes and the constants could vary, I'd become a deist. From my science reading, the consensus seems to be that the constants could vary and that there is a relatively small range that could support life or even form matter. (This may have changed, I'm not sure.) While this makes the argument stronger, more and more scientists are considering the possibility of a multiverse due to ideas like the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Interesting stuff, but hardly conclusive.

    1. Interesting thoughts Grundy. A thought occurred to me while I was trying to formulate a response. Where is God when he created our universe? Since our universe didn't exist, doesn't there have to be another universe that he is inhabiting when he creates ours? When we introduce a God who created this universe, doesn't this necessitate some kind of other universe in some capacity, forcing a multiverse of sorts?

    2. I make that point for the cosmological argument, but you're right that it applies here as well. A when outside time and a where outside space seems to be required, but does that matter if God is immaterial?

    3. Hmm, I think the problem is that I don't really know what immaterial means. Is he just a consciousness in nothingness? That I have real trouble getting my head around. It seems less likely to me than us just being lucky that our universe had the right constants for life. I dunno.

  2. Well said. And I think you could employ your own argument of ignorance against this one. The problem is that we don't really know what we don't know. The burden of proof exists for this fine-tuning argument to say that the way we understand the universe as a whole is now accurate enough such that we can use that information as a basis to determine whether or not a god exists. That is a HUGE leap of faith in my book. ;-)

    1. Well put, they really do seem to be skipping a few steps here.


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