The Case for a Creator: Strange New Worlds

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 6

The cosmological fine-tuning argument is one of the more interesting claims in the intelligent-design movement’s toolkit. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s the best argument they have. I’ll let Robin Collins make the point as strongly as he can:

“Over the past thirty years or so, scientists have discovered that just about everything about the basic structure of the universe is balanced on a razor’s edge for life to exist. The coincidences are far too fantastic to attribute this to mere chance or to claim that it needs no explanation.” [p.131]

The fine-tuning argument usually takes the form of claiming that the underlying physical constants of the universe need to be precisely calibrated for beings like us to exist, and even a tiny change one way or another would result in a cosmos completely incompatible with life. ID advocates will point to examples like the strength of gravity, the value of the cosmological constant, the binding energy of protons and neutrons – and they love to stack up the zeroes when describing the allegedly inconceivable odds:

“The fine-tuning has conservatively been estimated to be at least one part in a hundred million billion billion billion billion billion. That would be a ten followed by fifty-three zeroes. That’s inconceivably precise.” [p.133]

I said that the fine-tuning argument is the best argument ID has. Of course, this isn’t to say that it proves the existence of a god, just that it’s not blatantly wrong like the design argument or the ontological argument. It does seem to be true that a small change in the physical constants would result in a drastically different universe and would make life like ours impossible. This doesn’t prove the existence of a god (or some other superintelligence that controls the values of the constants), but that is one possible way to explain the observation.

However, there’s a follow-up question that needs to be asked. Assume for the sake of argument that the constants can vary at random. Now the question is this: How many different sets of physical constants would allow for life of any sort?

After all, if you’re going to calculate how likely it is that the laws of the cosmos would allow for life to exist, you need to know two things: how many possible sets of laws are there, and how many of those sets of laws permit life. Strobel and Collins assume that the first number is a very large one (Strobel says the odds against any particular set of values are “infinitesimal” [p.135]), but never even ask how large the second is. If there are a trillion trillion possible universes, but two-thirds of those could give rise to intelligent beings of some kind, then the odds against our being here are not very large!

Granted, any kind of life that could exist if the physical constants were altered would probably be extremely different from us. We might not even recognize it as life if we encountered it. But Collins is far too hasty in dismissing the possibility out of hand without any real evidence. For instance, he says, if the force of gravity was stronger relative to the other fundamental forces:

“As astrophysicist Martin Rees said, ‘In an imaginary strong gravity world, even insects would need thick legs to support them, and no animals could get much larger.’ In fact, a planet with a gravitational pull of a thousand times that of the Earth would have a diameter of only forty feet, which wouldn’t be enough to sustain an ecosystem. Besides which, stars with lifetimes of more than a billion years – compared to ten billion years for our sun – couldn’t exist if you increase gravity by just three thousand times.” [p.132]

Granted, those would be serious problems for life like us. What about life not like us?

The American physicist Robert Forward, who died in 2002, was a prolific scientist (he published hundreds of papers during his lifetime, far exceeding the scientific output of the entire ID movement so far). He was also a science fiction writer. Among his novels was Dragon’s Egg, which describes an intelligent species living on the surface of a neutron star. They’re made of ultra-dense matter and are the size of sesame seeds, so the massive gravity and smaller diameter of their world aren’t problematic, and because nuclear reactions occur much more quickly than chemical reactions, their existence is greatly accelerated relative to ours (their “year” is about 30 seconds long), thus answering Collins’ concern about shorter stellar lifespans. Although this is obviously speculative fiction, nothing in it is impossible according to our current understanding. Forward described his book as “a textbook on neutron star physics disguised as a novel”.

Collins also says that if the strong nuclear force were slightly weaker, our universe would be composed purely of hydrogen, and:

“…regardless of what they may show on Star Trek, you can’t have intelligent life forms built from hydrogen. It simply doesn’t have enough stable complexity.” [p.134-135]

Fred Hoyle – the astronomer whom Strobel favorably quotes earlier in this chapter as recognizing the apparently fine-tuned nature of the universe – did not agree with this. Like Forward, he was both a scientist and a science fiction writer. His 1957 novel The Black Cloud depicts an enormous alien intelligence in the form of a sentient interstellar cloud of hydrogen (plus, to be fair, some other trace elements). Hoyle said of the novel, “there is very little here that could not conceivably happen” (source).

Neither of these novels are science textbooks, of course. It may well be that Hoyle’s or Forward’s visions of alien life are ultimately not possible in our universe. But even if you believe their conclusions are unfounded, there is little more reason to believe Collins’ strategic pessimism. If we had known only the physical laws of our universe, we could hardly have predicted, from first principles alone, that it would contain life. We simply don’t have the knowledge to proclaim with confidence what other interesting possibilities may be inherent in other sets of physical laws. In the set of possible worlds, there may be strange lifeforms we’ve never even dreamed of. There are no grounds for Strobel’s confidence that our universe is the only possible one that could give rise to life and sentience.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Polly

    The fine-tuning claim fails from lack of imagination. As if only carbon-based primates should qualify as intelligent life.

    It also fails for another reason that I don’t have a ready term for. I read an analogy somewhere about a believer who stood in awe at the odds that out of the acres and acres of green in the golf course, the ball happened to land right where it lay. Calculate those odds! “conflating the improbable with the arbitrary”?

    Do we know for sure that the constants aren’t all connected somehow? That in order for any subset to be different would require that the rest all change, too in order for the universe to exist? And that those possible alternatives wouldn’t also generate some kind of life? This is really an argument from ignorance AND an argument from personal incredulity.

  • Mark.V.

    Which came first, the universe producing life as we know it, or the universe being created to suit life as we know it? Science argues the former, ID argues the latter.

  • Tacroy

    “Oh”, says the puddle, “This pothole fits me like a glove! Surely, it was designed for me! After all, any pothole that was even slightly different from this one would be incapable of supporting puddle-kind.”

  • Alex Weaver

    Mark, did you even read the article?

  • Ambrosia

    @ Polly:

    It also fails for another reason that I don’t have a ready term for. I read an analogy somewhere about a believer who stood in awe at the odds that out of the acres and acres of green in the golf course, the ball happened to land right where it lay. Calculate those odds! “conflating the improbable with the arbitrary”?

    People play cards all the time, and poker is all about estimating odds. When a low-odds winning hand comes up, no one insists that it was impossible because the of the very large inverse number. They also buy lottery tickets against some pretty astonishing odds. Someone once spoke to me about the odds of Beethoven being born, as though the odds of the speaker being born were not on the same order. Your chances of being killed in a car accident are greater than your odds of having a fatal reaction to a vaccine, but which one causes the greatest worries?

    Probability is not intuitive, and if more people understood it better, maybe society would operate more sanely.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Yup.

    I would also argue that, in fact, the universe isn’t very well fine-tuned for life. (Parts of this are cross-posted from a previous comment I made on this blog.)

    Life on earth has only existed for a little less than 4 billion years, and human life has only existed for a couple hundred thousand… compared to the universe’s 14 billion. And as the sun continues to heat up (no, I’m not talking about global warming, I’m talking about the astronomical process of the sun itself changing), life on earth will only exist for another billion years or so at most… while the universe itself will spin on for many billions of years after we’re all boiled into space. Plus, the universe itself is going to expand into virtual nothingness eventually.

    How exactly is that “fine-tuned”?

    It’s like saying that a hurricane is “finely tuned” for the tenth of a second that an uncanny likeness of Jon Stewart appeared in a puddle in the middle of the deluge. A steady-state universe, in which the sun never burns out, would have been a much more life-friendly design.

    To argue this is very much like arguing that, because the odds against you personally having been born were astronomical, and yet here you are, therefore all of creation has to have been designed and balanced so you could come into existence. It’s like saying that, because you rolled a die ten times and it came up 6334522253, and the odds against that were astronomical, therefore the dice were loaded for that sequence to come up.

    Yet another example of human-centrism. “We exist, therefore the entirety of the unimaginably massive universe must have been designed in order for us to exist.” It’s Douglas Adams’s puddle fallacy: the puddle thinks to itself, “This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” The hole was not shaped so the puddle could exist — the puddle formed because the conditions of the hole allowed it to form. And similarly, there’s no reason to think that the entire unimaginable vastness of the universe was designed so that the peculiar biochemical process of conscious life could develop on one tiny rock orbiting one tiny star. We’re just one improbable outcome among many. If circumstances had been different, then something else, something equally improbable, would have happened — possibly, as Ebon points out, some entirely different form of life. And we wouldn’t be here to worry about it.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    The cosmological fine-tuning argument is… the best argument [Creatards & IDiots] have. … Of course, this isn’t to say that it proves the existence of a god, just that it’s not blatantly wrong…

    Phew! I thought I was going to have to bust out some abusive cosmology on you. Great job illustrating another abject failure to think critically! For the record, though, I think the CFT argument is exactly as blatantly wrong, once your two-variable comment is pointed out and the anthropic principle is properly understood (as Greta and Adams before her have shown, above). It’s just that the reasons why it’s so blatantly wrong require a bit of learning to apprehend; in this way, people who go in for such nonsense literally don’t understand just how wrong they are. So when they hear something that sounds sciency and backs up their preexisting worldview, they take it on board and stop there, and think they’ve got evidence that they’re right.

    Except they don’t understand the source of that evidence, so they don’t understand that it’s abused science, so they don’t understand that it’s wrong and they thus don’t understand that it doesn’t in fact support their worldview, which is still wrong. It’s like a person refusing to believe that the Necker Cube is an illusion, clinging to the fantasy that it actually flips and isn’t merely perceived in an uncomfortably ambiguous way. Hooray for psychological illusions, eh?

  • jtradke

    @Polly – That sounds sort of like the anthropic principle. “What is the probability that the universe would be created such that it would support life like us?” The answer is quite obviously 1, since, well…here we are!

    Or maybe a good term would be the “puddle principle”, as in Douglas Adams’ fable: “Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’”

  • Stephen

    I’m far from convinced that life could occur in a universe consisting only of hydrogen, but it seems to me that the fine-tuning argument fails for at least two other reasons.

    Firstly it is just a variant of the ‘god of the gaps’. Reduced to its essentials, it just goes: “we don’t know why these constants have these values – therefore God exists”. Why would anyone find that convincing?

    Secondly, suppose that we could determine that the sets of values of these constants which enable life are indeed highly improbable. The fine-tuning argument still has no force until you can also place a value on the likelihood of an omnipotent god spontaneously arising, and show that this is significantly more likely. How one would do this in a convincing fashion I have no idea; I am very confident that the theologians of the world have no idea either.

    Lastly I would observe that religion did not help in any way in discovering that these constants existed in the first place, let alone in determining their values. Science may not be able to provide all the answers but, without parasitising science, religion is not even able to ask most of the questions.

  • Entomologista

    Science may not be able to provide all the answers but, without parasitising science, religion is not even able to ask most of the questions.

    Ha! I love it.

  • prase

    Anthropic principle and fine-tuning argument are almost certainly flawed. After all, nothing useful ever came from speculating about why the world is exactly the way it is. I’d like to point out a few facts:

    1. Our latest theories of the universe are the Standard model of elementary particles (SM) and General relativity (GR). SM and GR are not well compatible, but that put aside, they have 29 or so independent parameters (the gravitational and cosmological constant in GR and 27 various coupling constants in the SM). It is believed by some people that slight variation of any of these constants would change the universe drastically so that any complex structures would be impossible. But people don’t usually realise how weak the basis of such beliefs is. In particular, nobody has succeeded in calculating the mass of the proton (or of any other composite particle) from basic principles of quantum chromodynamics. It is believed that in priciple the fundamental equations determine the mass of the proton – and there are good arguments that they do – but the concrete calculations are too difficult to be performed. Knowing our physical theories, we are unable to derive much of the already observed data about our world with our values of fundamental constants. About half of the constants in the SM have unknown values, since no presently feasible experiment can determine those values. What can we say about hypothetical worlds where the constants attain different values than in our world, apart from worlds with completely different physics? I think that “nothing” is a quite good approximative response.

    2. If the observed universe presents evidence for God’s existence by the fine-tuning argument, there must be a different conceivable universe where the fine-tuning argument doesn’t apply. (If all conceivable universes look fine-tuned, then such appearance tells us nothing.) What would such universes look like? Intuitively I would say that in any universe its intelligent inhabitants can theorise about other universes where life can’t exist.

    3. It’s sad that a lot of scientists pay too much attention to anthropic reasoning. I was very disappointed when Steven Weinberg (himself an atheist) in his talk at Mathematical physics congress this August mentioned anthropic principle twice as a possible solution of current problems in physics. It may be the influence of the string theory with its landscape which makes anthropic principle so popular.

    Nevertheless, anthropic principle isn’t science. It’s theology, even when used by atheists.

  • Siamang

    Here’s a simple argument against fine-tuning.

    God, if he exists and is all powerful, can create life in any universe he wants. Fine tuned, not fine tuned, whichever. The constants could be any value at all and we’d get life.

    Let’s look at two models: Model one is a life-friendly universe. Since there is life in our life-friendly universe, WOW, Yay God, it’s a miracle!

    Model two is a life hostile universe. If there is life in a life-hostile universe well then REALLY Yay, God! Life should be impossible in this universe, but since it exists anyway, SUPER Miracle there, God! Good on you!

    (For a moment I’ll ignore the fact that ID physicists believe we live in model one, and ID biologists believe we live in model two.)

    God could create a universe where up was down, gravity repelled, atoms changed their mass constantly or whatever. And if He was really God, it wouldn’t matter… He could still have life in it.

    That He DIDN’T tells us something. If we assume that our universe was fine-tuned, we must assume that there are possible settings that are not fine-tuned for life. That is, we must assume that God chose these constants for the reason that different constants would not create life.

    Which is to say that God HAD NO CHOICE as to what constants produce life.

    If this universe is fine-tuned, then He was following a recipe for life that He didn’t (couldn’t?) veer from.

    And since design implies a designer… ;-)

    So WHO is God’s god? Who created the recipe that God had to follow to get life in this fine-tuned universe?

    In any universe where life existed, beings using this argument are only extrapolating a God from the fact of their own existence.

    “I exist” is the ONLY data point from which they extract “therefore God exists.”

    You don’t need to run this supposition through physics to come to this conclusion. That’s running around the barn to get a tool you’re already holding.

    It’s nothing but the design argument dressed up in astrophysics.

    Running the argument through physics is mere slight-of-hand.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    I thought the CFT argument depended on the impossibility of any other configuration allowing anything at all (i.e., I am one of the beleivers in Prase’s #1). So the possibility of some other kind of life doesn’t seem important; it is the existence of organization, any kind of organization at all, that is the miracle.

    To which, of course, the response is the poker-hand answer. “Yes, it’s unlikely I would have drawn these cards, but I had to draw some cards, and these are what I drew. And I if hadn’t drawn precisely these cards, I would have folded at the turn, and consequently we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.”

  • Alex, FCD

    The fine-tuning has conservatively been estimated to be at least one part in a hundred million billion billion billion billion billion. That would be a ten followed by fifty-three zeroes. That’s inconceivably precise.

    I don’t know how he calculated this, but I can be pretty confident that it’s invalid because the variables can’t be shown to be independent. It certainly seems that, say, the strength of the electroweak force in a universe should be independent of the force of gravity, but before Maxwell it also would’ve seemed like the speed at which radio-waves propagate is independent of the speed of light.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Ebonmuse: The cosmological fine-tuning argument is one of the more interesting claims in the intelligent-design movement’s toolkit… I said that the fine-tuning argument is the best argument ID has. Of course, this isn’t to say that it proves the existence of a god, just that it’s not blatantly wrong like the design argument or the ontological argument.

    I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but the biological design argument and the cosmological fine-tuning design argument make for a nice one-two punch of the “heads I win, tails you lose” variety. Biological ID says that the universe is NOT suitable for the naturalistic appearance of life as we know it, therefore God exists. Cosmological fine-tuning says that the universe IS suitable for the naturalistic appearance of life as we know it, therefore God exists.

    Polly: Do we know for sure that the constants aren’t all connected somehow? That in order for any subset to be different would require that the rest all change, too in order for the universe to exist?

    No we don’t know that. But I confidently predict that if the answer to that ever becomes known, it will also be used as evidence for the existence of God, no matter which way the answer turns out.

    Strobel: “The fine-tuning has conservatively been estimated to be at least one part in a hundred million billion billion billion billion billion. That would be a ten followed by fifty-three zeroes. That’s inconceivably precise.” [p.133]

    Wowie zowie, such huge numbers! I am so impressed. Now, take a deck of cards and shuffle them to randomness.* Flip them over one at a time to form a sequence of 52 cards. What are the odds of that particular sequence having occurred? 1 in 52! (52 factorial) ~= 1 in 8 x 10^67. That would be 8 followed by 67 zeros. I win the contest of scary big numbers, and it was as easy as dealing a deck of cards.

    * Of course pure randomness is difficult to achieve. Presume a mechanical card sorter with a quantum computing circuit to determine the order of the cards.

    Victor Stenger’s home page. Includes “The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: How the Universe is Not Designed for Humanity.”

  • Ritchie

    Polly -

    I believe the name for the term you are describing is ‘the lottery fallacy.’

    The lottery fallacy runs like this: just because something improbable happens, does not automatically give you grounds to assume the odds have been tweaked deliberately in favour of it happening.

    The golf course example you gave was a good one. What were the odds that the ball would land precisely THERE? Tiny, to say the least. Yet it happened – and that alone gives us no reason to believe the ball was ‘destined’ to land there, or that anything ‘made’ the ball land there. Other examples include your birth (what are the odds that your mother would meet your father, decide to have a child, and that, of all the sperms and eggs they produced, the two that made you were the ones to actually fuse?) and winning the lottery (which alone gives you no reason to believe the lottery has been rigged in your favour – the example which gives the terms its name).

    Just as a final point, I’d like to draw attention to a huge flaw in the fine-tuning argument that Dawkins drew up in the God Delusion – however statistically unlikely a naturally-occurring universe is, a God-created universe is EVEN LESS likely. Why? Because if God is a being powerful enough to design and create the universe, then he must be more complex than the universe, and MORE STATISTICALLY IMPROBABLE than the universe. The fine-tuning argument that ‘a naturally occurring universe is highly unlikely, therefore it must have been created by God’ is the same as saying ‘Don’t bet on this horse because the odds of it winning are very low. Bet on this other horse instead (even though the odds of THIS one winning are even lower).’

  • lpetrich

    I’ve explored the dependence of several important features on various fundamental parameters, like the largest possible cold object (Jupiter) and the most massive possible cold object (the Chandrasekhar limit, about 1.44 solar masses). It turns out that Robin Collins was finding an upper limit to the strength of the gravitational force.

    Furthermore, some of the estimates of extreme improbability seem inadequately explained — where do the numbers come from?

    I can guess where some of them come from: the expansion of the Universe, which has the “flatness problem”. For the Universe to have its present-day size, its expansion rate in the early Universe must have been VERY close to the boundary value between closed and open expansion. Too slow, and it would have collapsed long ago, while too fast, and its density would have gotten too low for galaxies to form.

    However, there’s a line of theorizing that makes fine-tuning unnecessary: inflationary cosmology. In the early Universe, when the expansion timescale was about 10^(-36) s, the Universe expanded exponentially, which flattened it out, thus producing the appearance of fine tuning.

    Inflation also explains the primordial fluctuations very nicely — they were quantum fluctuations that got frozen by the expansion when they got stretched beyond the horizon size.

    Should we be surprised that fine-tuning advocates often omit such pesky details as that?

  • Brian Westley

    My reply to the fine-tuning argument is to ask how the person using the argument determines which universe(s) can sustain intelligent life. Nobody has such an algorithm, of course.

    Also, here’s a thumb’s up for Dragon’s Egg, it’s a very fun read. It even has a messiah who is executed!

  • http://1939to1945.blogspot.com NoAstronomer

    Science may not be able to provide all the answers but, without parasitising science, religion is not even able to ask most of the questions.

    That *is* a darn good quote.

  • Bob Carlson

    Lawrence Krauss addresses the issue of fine tuning in this 65-minute video on cosmology titled A Universe from Nothing:

    http://www.youtube.com/v/7ImvlS8PLIo&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0

    I watched it twice.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    1) To me, puddle analogies actually highlight the strength of the design argument: water uniformly fits its container regardless of the specifics; not so with life.

    2) Nice comment, Prase.

    3) I find it ironic that nobody screams for William of Ockham in this thread. “Occam’s, Occam’s,” the atheist cries, whenever it seems to behoove them.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    To me, puddle analogies actually highlight the strength of the design argument: water uniformly fits its container regardless of the specifics; not so with life.

    This says more about the limits of analogy than it does about design. A fluid in a container is a simple system, life isn’t, nor is the “container” so easily described.Life arises where life can, water settles where it has to, both adapt to the circumstances they “find” but through very different mechanisms (I suppose if you really want to stretch the analogy the fluidity in life is within the genome and the topology of the pothole is reflected in the virtual landscape of possible successful phenotypes…)

    Occam’s razor? are you really suggesting a designer is the simpler answer?

  • Ritchie

    cl

    1) To me, puddle analogies actually highlight the strength of the design argument: water uniformly fits its container regardless of the specifics; not so with life.

    If life did perfectly ‘fit its container’ you would doubtless be claiming it as a decisive blow in favour of the design argument – ‘See how perfectly suited life is to its environment.’ And now you claim this is NOT the case, and you still think it supports the design hypothesis?

    On a related note, how exactly does life not ‘fit its container’? Life cannot break the rules of physics, can it?

    3) I find it ironic that nobody screams for William of Ockham in this thread. “Occam’s, Occam’s,” the atheist cries, whenever it seems to behoove them.

    ??? Totally lost here. Occam’s razor is still perfectly applicable. And it will still cut away the superflous ‘creator’. If you want to hear an atheist apply it to the fine tuning argument, then let me do so now…

    Is it easier to attribute the fine balance of natural forces on our planet, or indeed in our universe to God, or to a massive coincidence?

    Well, using the principal of Occam’s razor, we should still opt for the massive coincidence. This is because no matter how unlikely a naturally occuring universe is, the existence of a being capable of creating our universe is even MORE unlikely. So let’s go for the simplest explaination – the massive coincidence.

    What makes that particular argument even more attractive is that perhaps it is not such a massive coincidence after all. Perhaps the laws of physics HAVE to be set at the perameters they are now at. And when you consider the of billions of galaxies, each containing of billions of planets, is it really so surprising that life has begun on just one of them?

    Occam’s razor still removes the ‘creator’.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    cl,
    Your perspective on puddle analogies is a valid one, and testament to the facts that analogies aren’t arguments and they cut both ways. This makes me intensely curious, though: what evidence, if produced, could convince you that there is no designer at all? Or, in other words, if it is the case that you are in fact wrong (which is a possibility for all of us), then what measures are you now taking to make sure that you would be able to recognize your hypothetical error, should you be given the opportunity to do so?

    Your third point on the Razor belies a critical misunderstanding of it. When speaking of parsimony, ideas like “simplicity” and “complexity” can cause trouble because these are subjective terms in the common parlance. I am assuming here that you think the Razor should cut away our suppositions of other possible worlds with other possibly physics and other possible lifeforms, which I freely admit constitute a preponderance of ontological whimsy – but if this is not the case, please correct me on your meaning and I’ll start over.

    Barring that, opinions differ between whether “a wizard did it” is a simpler or more complex explanation than “ain’t no wizard, it happened on its own.” Parsimony isn’t about these common-sense ideas of simplicity and complexity, though; it’s more about economy of assumption. A rough-and-ready version of the idea is: the more observations you can explain with reference to the least amount of assumptions you can’t back up, the better. If I say that a giraffe created the Universe, that’s just as simple as “a wizard did it,” but I can put a giraffe on a slab and show you what I’m talking about; in turn, others can show how giraffes do all kinds of interesting things, but creating the Universe isn’t one of them. I have posited Creation powers among the giraffe’s repertoire to explain the observation that there is a Universe, but without a demonstration of such powers, I have assumed unnecessarily. Similarly, if I say that a wizard did it, but supply no wizard and propose no mechanism by which it might have done Creation, then I have also assumed that the wizard exists in the first place (in addition to assuming that it has Creation powers). Compare this to a naturalistic explanation that examines repeatable and testable phenomena: no additional entities are assumed to exist, and the mechanisms we identify are demonstrable in some of the coolest ways imaginable. To meaningfully compete, a theistic explanation would not only need a deity to point at, but also a fairly robust account of the mechanisms by which such a deity could go about creating Universes. In short, we need the wizard and his spellbook and some demonstrations before the Razor can stop cutting away such superfluities; then and only then will theism be a better explanation, rather than a maybe-coherent but unsupported alternative.

    This is entirely distinct from the point that life may in fact be possible under different laws of physics in different possible worlds. It may in fact be possible, as far as we know, explicitly because we don’t know. While it would be foolhardy to assume that particular possible worlds are actual worlds, or that particular alternative life templates are actually alive anywhere at all, no one here has done any such thing. The Razor just doesn’t apply to honest (and mere) speculation. The difference is that we acknowledge that our speculations are mere unactionable fantasy – no razors required.

  • http://commonsenseatheism.com luke

    This is an excellent series, by the way. Keep up the good work!

  • Dan

    I just read this article, and I think it is wonderful. I’m a devout Creationist and am currently writing an informative speech on Intelligent Design, but the way the information is presented here is ideal. Very unbiased and pesents both views. I’m glad to know that there is at least one–evolutionist I assume–out there that doesnt want to rip our ID guts out (give or take). Thank you.

  • Simon David Allen

    As a theology student, I have to say that we all KNOW that we cannot prove that God exists. God’s existence is a matter of faith.
    However, it is useful, philosophically to have these debates.
    If nobody challenged the scientific viewpoint then scientists would not need to be as rigorous as they are.
    Equally, scientists challenging religious viewpoints forces theologians to think rigorously about their conception of God.
    There is no reason why these debates cannot be healthy for everybody so long as people are civil and respect each other.
    History has shown that both science and religion can do an immense amount of harm if their advocates are left to run unchecked.

  • DSimon

    As a theology student, I have to say that we all KNOW that we cannot prove that God exists.

    Proof is for math and liquor. Strong evidence is enough to justify practical belief. All the religious claims I’ve encountered so far lack both proof and strong evidence.

    God’s existence is a matter of faith.

    How’s that useful? You seem to be saying you don’t need to show evidence for God’s existence because you’ve arbitrarily defined God as something whose existence doesn’t need to be demonstrated.

    History has shown that both science and religion can do an immense amount of harm if their advocates are left to run unchecked.

    Science doesn’t hurt people, people hurt people. Sometimes they do it with science, sometimes they do it with religion, sometimes they do it with big heavy rocks. Out of those three, however, science is definitely the best at helping us figure out the universe.

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