Innovative Responses to the Fine-Tuning Argument

Fine Tuning Christianity Several years ago, I attended a lecture by John Lennox, an Oxford mathematics professor turned evangelist. He touched briefly on the fine-tuning argument, only to say that it doesn’t exclude God. Okay, that’s true, but “you haven’t excluded God yet” isn’t much of an apologetic argument.

I’ve discussed the role of the multiverse in dismissing the fine-tuning argument here, here, and most recently here. This time, I’d like to look at a few less-well-known arguments.

Coarse Tuning

The first argument that undercuts the fine-tuning argument comes from the article, “Probabilities and the Fine-Tuning Argument.”

First, start with the fine-tuning argument. We have a handful of physical constants so carefully balanced that if any of them were tweaked by the tiniest amount, life in the universe would be impossible.

Imagine an n-dimensional space, with one axis for each of the different constants we’re considering. Assume that these constants can (in principle) be anything. There’s a tiny volume in this space within which life is possible, but the total space is infinite in size. What’s the probability that you’d hit the sweet spot by chance? Tiny volume ÷ infinite space = 0, so the probability is zero. And that’s the punch line for this argument: if the likelihood of randomly hitting this life-giving sweet spot is infinitesimally small, there must be a designer.

Now, imagine that the volume is actually quite large—that is, that the values that define our universe could be changed in any dimension by ten orders of magnitude. This is the coarse-tuning situation. If we’re in the middle of a sweet spot that’s this huge—it’s 10 billion on each side—who would be making the fine-tuning argument now? But the problem remains! That vastly bigger volume ÷ infinite space is still zero. The likelihood of randomly hitting this sweet spot remains infinitesimally small, but we’ve agreed that this is not remarkable. Conclusion: the punch line that implies a designer fails. Said another way, the fine-tuning argument is no stronger than the coarse-tuning argument. Why then would no apologist make a coarse-tuning argument?

Monkey God

Physicist Vic Stenger directly confronts the fine-tuning argument with his Monkey God experiment (article here and simulation here). He takes four constants from which can be computed the average lifetime of a star, the size of planets, and other traits that would predict whether a universe might allow life. His simulation randomly varies these constants within a range five orders of magnitude higher and five lower than their actual values to see what kind of universe the combination creates. His conclusion: “A wide variation of constants of physics has been shown to lead to universes that are long-lived enough for complex matter to evolve.” We know so little about life that there is little to say about whether life would come from this complex matter, but this seems a strong counterexample.

Atheist Single Universe Hypothesis  

Another response is Keith Parsons’ critique of the Atheist Single Universe Hypothesis (ASUH). The fine-tuning argument says that the ASUH is very unlikely. The multiverse is the obvious atheist response, but the ASUH imagines a single universe. What response is possible if the multiverse isn’t an option?

If there is only one universe, Parsons wonders, what sense does it make to say that the constants that define that universe could be something else? How could they be anything without other universes for them to be in? “If the universe is the ultimate brute fact, it is neither likely nor unlikely, probable or improbable; it simply is.” We don’t have billions of universes to evaluate, some designed and some natural, so that we have some probabilistic framework in which to place our own universe. Therefore, imagining that we can evaluate the likelihood of our own poorly understood universe makes no sense. Our universe looks designed? Compared to what?

We must say that the values of the constants are neither probable nor improbable; they just are. In that case, as the proponent of the ASUH sees it, the only rational expectation of the values of the constants is that they will be whatever we find them to be.

ASUH supporters posit the universe and its laws as brute, inexplicable facts, but Christian apologists do the same. They posit God as a brute, inexplicable fact.

Parsons concludes by turning the fine-tuning argument on the apologist. If we’re insanely lucky to be in a life-friendly universe, there must have been a supernatural Fine Tuner to create this universe. But we must recursively apply this same thinking to the Fine Tuner. There’s a myriad of conceivable supernatural beings. Christians must marvel at our good fortune to have one who wanted us (rather than any of the infinite number of other possible intelligent life forms) and had the power to fine tune the universe so that we’re here to seek out this Creator.

Evaluating all the probabilities

Is the fine-tuning argument even well formed? It says:

1. The probability of Hypothesis 1 is very small

2. Therefore, Hypothesis 2 is true

Wait a minute—let’s find out the probability of Hypothesis 2 before we make any conclusions!

We’re evaluating the probability of our universe with its parameters (H1) against the probability of God (H2) without having any idea what the probability of God is. And since the fine-tuning argument is trying to establish the probability of God, it’s circular reasoning if that’s one of the inputs to the process!

One snappy answer is to say that most people throughout history have been theists, so atheist skepticism at least loses the popularity contest. However, this unanimity falls apart when we ask these theists the most basic questions: How many gods are there? What are their names? Why are humans here, and what is our purpose with respect to these god(s)? Pick any religion, and the majority of the world thinks that its answers to those questions are wrong.

What does the theist admit when using this argument?

Consider the theist’s desperation in advancing an argument like this. For most plausible claims of existence, we are given evidence. You want to know what “the sun” is? Just look up on a sunny day. Sometimes it’s direct evidence, though sometimes it’s evidence through instruments (telescopes, microscopes, etc.).

For God, though, we get just a vague shadow. If God loves us and desperately wants us to know him, he would make his existence known. He doesn’t.

So—option B—we assume God’s existence (for no good reason, but ignore that for now) and say that he wants to be an enigma for his own reasons that are unknowable to us. This thinking is necessary for the fine-tuning argument. But, of course, if he wanted to be hidden, he would be so! If you’re playing hide and seek with God, you will lose. He’s God—he could leave no trace, and there would be no enigma.

That leaves only option C for the Christian: that God deliberately leaves just the vaguest of clues—only enough to tease the seeker. This is rarely enough to give complete confidence, so the Christian is always on edge, never quite sure whether he’s got it right or that he’s going to hell. The Christian is like a pigeon in a B.F. Skinner experiment on intermittent reinforcement.

Mother Teresa wrote about her doubts, “The damned of hell suffer eternal punishment because they experiment with the loss of God. In my own soul, I feel the terrible pain of this loss. I feel that God does not want me, that God is not God and that he does not really exist.”

By arguing for deistic arguments like the fine-tuning argument, apologists argue for this trickster god.

The skeptical mind prefers to rest in the mystery of the visible world
without going beyond it to a further invisible mystery.
— John Hick

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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About Bob Seidensticker