The Heavens Declare (RJS)

One of the commonly invoked arguments in any discussion of natural theology and the evidence for God is the Anthropic Principle – or put simply, the fact that the universe in which we live is incredibly finely tuned to support the existence of life as we know it. Tim Keller brings this up as one of his clues pointing to God in Chapter 8 of The Reason for God. I skipped over this in the last post emphasizing instead Kellers argument based on morality and justice. As I am a scientist however, this argument is worth some consideration. Several years ago Karl Giberson posted on the anthropic principle at The Biologos Forum and I was asked by a reader in an e-mail if, given my rather skeptical attitude toward Intelligent Design (capital I capital D) in biology, I was equally skeptical here and thought that the anthropic principle was an expression of bad science. This post is a repeat of the answer I gave then. The short answer, simply, is no. It isn’t bad science, it is one piece of evidence for the existence of God, it is not proof for the existence of God.

Stephen Hawking (a highly respected theoretical physicist and not a religious person) put it like this in his 1988 book A Brief History of Time (link is to the updated 1998 edition – I have and quote from the 1988 original):

The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and electron. We cannot, at the moment at least, predict the values of these numbers from theory – we have to find them by observation. It may be that one day we shall discover a complete unified theory that predicts them all, but it is also possible that some or all of them vary from universe to universe or within a single universe. The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life. For example if the electric charge of the electron hes been only slightly different, stars either would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium, or else they would not have exploded. Of course, there might be other forms of intelligent life, not dreamed of even by writers of science fiction, that did not require the light of a star like the sun or the heavier elements that are made in stars and are flung back in space when the stars explode. Never the less it seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values that would allow the development of any form of intelligent life. Most sets of numbers would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at that beauty. One can either take this as evidence of a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the laws of science or as support for the strong anthropic principle. (p. 125)

Does the fine tuning of the universe impress you as evidence of divine purpose in Creation?

Image: Star-Birth Clouds in M16. This eerie, dark structure is a column of cool molecular hydrogen gas and dust that is an incubator for new stars. The color image is constructed from three separate images. Red shows emission from singly-ionized sulfur atoms, green from hydrogen, blue from doubly- ionized oxygen atoms. Credit: Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University), and NASA (public domain) http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/photo_gallery/photogallery-astro-nebula.html

The nature of the universe alone – the fine tuning for life – will not convince anyone of purpose or design. Richard Dawkins – while admitting that the fine tuning exists – finds the evidence for creation absent:

The theist says that God, when setting up the universe, tuned the fundamental constants of the universe so that each one lay in its Goldilocks zone for the production of life. It is as though God had six knobs that he could twiddle, and he carefully tuned each knob to its Goldilocks value. As ever, the theist’s answer is deeply unsatisfying, because it leaves the existence of God unexplained. A God capable of calculating the Goldilocks values for the six numbers would have to be at least as improbable as the finely tuned combination of numbers itself, and that’s very improbable indeed – which is indeed the premise of the whole discussion we are having. It follows that the theist’s answer has utterly failed to make any headway towards solving the problem at hand. I see no alternative but to dismiss it, while at the same time marvelling at the number of people who can’t see the problem and seem genuinely satisfied by the ‘Divine Knob-Twiddler’ argument. (p. 143 The God Delusion)

Dawkins goes on to describe how biologists have had their consciousness raised and suggests that a form of natural selection may even explain the fine tuning of the universe – taking a cue from a theoretical physicist Lee Smolin (p. 146).

Owen Gingerich, Professor of Astronomy and of the History of Science, Emeritus, Harvard University, in his excellent, readable little book God’s Universe says:

To believe in a designed universe requires accepting teleology and purpose. And if that purpose includes contemplative intelligent life that can admire the universe and can search out its secrets, then the cosmos must have properties congenial to life. For me part of the coherency of the universe is that it is purposeful – though it probably takes the eyes of faith to accept that idea. But if a person accepts that understanding, the principle that our universe must be well suited to life also becomes the evidence of design. (p. 77)

John Polkinghorne (a theoretical physicist and one time Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge – he resigned to become an Anglican Priest) also comments at length on the anthropic principle and the evidence for design in the fine tuning of the universe in his book Quarks, Chaos & Christianity – another readable short book. He ends his chapter Is Anyone There? as follows:

Asking and answering the questions, “Why can we do science at all?” and “Why is the universe so special?” have given us a nudge in the direction of religious belief. The answers we’ve found do suggest that there’s a Someone there. I’ve already agreed that it doesn’t amount to proof, but I think that there aren’t many really important things that can be established in this kind of logical and necessary way. (p. 47)

In The Language of God Francis Collins suggests that the fine tuning of the universe leads to one of three possibilities: (p. 74-75)

  1. There are many universes (essentially an infinite number) and we (of course) happen to be in the one capable of developing and supporting intelligent life.
  2. There is only one universe – and it just happened to be right.
  3. There is only one universe – but it is right because it was designed to support intelligent life and reflects the action and purpose of the creator.

He goes on to say:

One must leave the door open to the possibility that future investigation in theoretical physics will demonstrate that some of the fifteen physical constants that so far are simply determined by experimental observation may be limited in their potential numerical value by something more profound, but such a revelation is not currently on the horizon. Furthermore, as with the other arguments in this chapter and those that precede and follow it, no scientific observation can reach the level of absolute proof of the existence of God. But for those willing to consider a theistic perspective, the Anthropic Principle certainly provides an interesting argument in favor of a creator. (p. 78)

Polkinghorne, in response to a suggestion by Paul Davies that science can provide a surer path to God than religion can, puts it quite well:

Well I think that this really is bizarre for, although we can learn something of God from the pattern and development of creation, there are many other things we shall only learn about God if we take the risk and accept the insight of a more personal form of encounter. Meanwhile let’s note that, although the scientific detail of this chapter would have surprised (and I’m sure interested) St. Paul, its general thrust would not have seemed unfamiliar to him. He once wrote, “Ever since the creation of the world God’s invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). (p. 47-48)

As I think about this – even if the constants are determined by a new unified theory to be exactly those required for the formation of life – would this “natural” explanation negate the significance of design and purpose? I don’t think it would – we would still have the wonder and grandeur of a creation designed for our existence.

What do you think? Is the the fine tuning of the universe for the development of life evidence for the existence of a creator? Do you think it should be avoided as a God of the gaps type reasoning?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

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  • Rick

    It is interesting here that the focus in the various quotes is on the universe as a whole. In the past it seems that the principle was focused more on Earth. If this is indeed a shift in focus, it would have less of a problem explaining life on other worlds.

  • http://scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies

    RJS writes in her article – ‘Is the the fine tuning of the universe for the development of life evidence for the existence of a creator? Do you think it should be avoided as a God of the gaps type reasoning?’

    I think it’s impossible to answer your questions, RJS, except on the basis of opinion. My opinion, if it’s worth anything, is that the fine tuning is evidence for the existence of a creator.

    But if the Creator arranged the properties of the universe to be exactly right in this way, it seems that the usefulness of their rightness as an argument was also deliberately reduced. Perhaps another significant feature of the universe is that faith is essential in order to believe in a Creator!

    :-)

  • T

    I think Collins has it right. As we’ve discussed here many times, scientific method is just one way to make rational conclusions, and thankfully so considering how many decisions we must make for living which simply don’t allow for scientific inquiry. There are innumerable conclusions we make every day that are rational, and most of those are far less so than inferring a designer from the world we in which we live. I’m with Collins and Paul and the psalmist: the heavens do declare his glory, and the earth shows off his skills.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    This is a very alluring argument, but it is entirely inconclusive. Why?

    Well, Dawkins hints at it, and so does Francis Collins. But let’s do the following thought experiment:

    Imagine a system where you take a random number, put it through a function that depends on that random number, and then take the output, and repeat (a dynamical system). Then you go on – and on and on… and after a couple of billion repeats, you notice intricate patterns in the numbers, sudden jumps, etc etc. You go to a specific little pattern, and that pattern speaks back to you (this is a thought experiment, remember :) ), and say – this was all designed for me! Well – yes and no, largely no. Because the pattern is an outcome of the system, but was there a different random choice in the beginning, that pattern may or may not have been there, it may have popped up somewhere else, or another one altogether, but similar, may have existed somewhere…

    This is not design in the traditional sense. In a sense, one could say that the “God” of this system is not other than the God of Spinoza. To insert a antropomorphised God here is to pick a God of the Random number, so to speak. A variant of the God of the gaps.

    Any response?

  • phil_style

    @Klasie, you take on the argument is indeed worth considering.

    I sometimes wonder though, would it even be possible, under an other system for similar patterns to emerge? It seems to me that we really have no way of knowing, because the only system within which we can test/compare likelihoods is bound by the very properties of that system… which govern likelihood.

  • BPRjam

    I was introduced to the anthropic principle when I read “A Brief History of Time” in the early 90′s. In the past few years, I’ve been visiting the idea again and concur wholeheartedly with both sides who say that the anthropic principle is far from conclusive.

    I’ve also come to be disturbed by Paul’s comment in Romans (“Ever since the creation of the world God’s invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made”) and Polkinghorne’s use of it. Isn’t it precisely the problem that Paul believed creation must have a Creator in order for it to exist (and therefore creation testifies to the eternal existence of God the creator), but modern science brings both the eternal nature of the universe, and the mechanism by which the universe came into being into question. The idea of God being “clearly perceived” through creation doesn’t seem to ring true when there are doubts about how the universe came to be. The anthropic principle as even “A” proof of God starts to smack of a ‘God of the gaps’ argument, and Paul comes off as ignorant in light of the competing truth claims (coming from modern science) about the origin of the universe.

    Thoughts?

  • T

    Klasie,

    I see what you are getting at, but, to me, your experiment (as well as the actual theories of how the universe came to be that mirror it) requires a host of assumptions, especially if we push it toward actual explanations for design, and only creates additional versions of the same ultimate question.

    We have a fine tuned universe. How did that happen? For my part, it is less reasonable to conclude, in essense, “happy accident” than to conclude “intentionally made.”

    But, as many have stated, this is not a matter of conclusive proof. We’re talking about reasonable inferences.

  • BPRjam

    T:

    By what criteria do you say it is “less reasonable” to conclude happy accident than “intentionally made”, and how is criteria different from a ‘God of the Gaps’ type of argument?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    T, I’m not sure what you are getting at, if you are doing anything else than saying we need God for our assumptions ( a God of the assumptions, then, in the same family as the deities of gaps and randomness…).

    And could you demonstrate how it is less reasonable to conclude that “intentionally made” is better than “happy accident”? While I understand the emotion behind such a statement, I have difficulty in qualifying any logic behind it.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    I see BPRjam and I had the same thoughts, nearly simultaneously….

  • BPRjam

    Klasie, I’m starting to think that we are nearly the same person. At least, as it comes to this topic. :-)

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Well, some patterns are repetitive in a Dynamical system. Especially the good ones ;)

  • phil_style

    @BPRJam, #6, I think we can let Paul off in Rom 1.

    He’s not trying to argue that creation will always prove God. He’s arguing that the natural world gives clues to God’s character. He’s basically saying that nature ample metaphors by which we can describe, or perceive God.

    Put another way; God, being invisible can be understood through metaphor. If God was “eternal” but there was no way of conceptualizing eternity from our reality, then it would be nonsensical to expect humans to understand that God could be eternal. However, nature provides us with examples of eternal, or at least incredibly vast from which we can make the jump to eternal – so we have the conceptual framework available, and are therefore without excuse.

    Paul’s point is further explained when he says that the “fools” are the ones who, rather than using metaphors fro nature to understand God, took the metaphor AS a god. He’s having a go at pagans here, not atheists.

    It’s really only apologists who try to use Rom 1:20 as some kind of argument that atheists are “without excuse” and therefore must be immoral or something. I think they misread Paul.

  • T

    Klasie,

    I’m not saying we need God for our assumptions. I was saying that your thought experiment, in order to have any bearing on the issue we are discussing, has to assume something like what Collins mentioned as the first or second possibilities, given our finely tuned universe.

    Regarding why I think it is more reasonable to infer a designer: the more that someone like Hawking says how “remarkable” it is that each one of several “fundamental constants of the universe . . . lay in its Goldilocks zone for the production of life” the more inclined I am to disbelieve that each of these constants are what they are by happy coincidence. Again, I’m not saying that other inferences are irrational, only that I find the atheist answer of “They just happened that way, eventually”, to use Dawkins’ phrase, deeply unsatisfying.

    But, because I find belief in a very specific deity, namely the Father, Son & Spirit, to be reasonable for a host of other reasons and experiences, my conclusion here is part of a larger web of inferences and deductions, just as it is for everyone. Further, I don’t generally infer, when I see intricate interdependent systems which are “finely tuned” so as to be able to achieve a remarkable result, that such a system and its parts came into being at random.

  • Phil Miller

    But, because I find belief in a very specific deity, namely the Father, Son & Spirit, to be reasonable for a host of other reasons and experiences, my conclusion here is part of a larger web of inferences and deductions, just as it is for everyone.

    I think this is a good point. These sort of apologetics are more designed to show Christians that their experience with and belief in God can be squared with reality more than they are to convince people of the reasonableness of God’s existence in general. It’s analogous to something like this. If I go home today and find the mail sitting on my dining room table, I would infer that my wife brought it in even though I would have no hard evidence that’s what happened. It is possible that a stranger broke into my house and put the mail there and left without a trace, of course, but it’s not very likely.

    I’d also say regarding Collin’s three choices, I think proving any of them definitively is going to be near impossible if not completely impossible.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    T, your argument still boils down to “chances are small, therefore God”, or more psychologically “I prefer to think of things in this way, because they gel with what I already believe and find comforting”. Perfectly understandable, but doesn’t prove anything.

    Having spend a little time studying and thinking about statistics, error, probability etc. as well as having studies dynamical systems (chaos theory) a long time ago, as well as observes myself, I have grown highly suspicious about “feelings” when it comes to these things.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Phil – you cannot even prove them vaguely probable. The only thing you can do is to prove them not too incompatible.

  • Phil Miller

    “I prefer to think of things in this way, because they gel with what I already believe and find comforting”. Perfectly understandable, but doesn’t prove anything.

    At the heart of it, how is this sentiment any different than what an atheist says when they insist certain supernatural events can’t happen?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Phil @18: I think an atheist (which I am not) would say that they reject them because there is no evidence, and they cannot be accounted for in any logical manner. Thus they are of no greater persuasive power than the statement “Last night the leprechauns pranced on my roof.” You might attack that by saying that that assumes that Reason and evidence are the only sources of knowledge. Well, to quote Chesterton –

    ‘You attacked reason,’ said Father Brown. ‘It’s bad theology.’

  • Phil Miller

    Phil @18: I think an atheist (which I am not) would say that they reject them because there is no evidence, and they cannot be accounted for in any logical manner.

    I know you’re not an atheist…

    Regarding proof for miracles, all I can say is that I’ve seen plenty of things that have happened that have no good natural explanation. The logical thing for me is not to jump and say, well, that can’t happen. I’m not attacking reason, but rather I’m simply saying that it can only take us so far in explaining what is observed in the universe.

  • Phil Miller

    Klasie,
    Also, as an addendum to my last post, do you consider revelation a legitimate source of knowledge?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    “Regarding proof for miracles, all I can say is that I’ve seen plenty of things that have happened that have no good natural explanation”.

    A primitive tribesman seeing an airplane for the first time, is quite likely to say the same. I’m not insulting you, but merely saying that by experience, experiment, evidence etc we’ve discovered the mechanisms behind a lot of inexplicable phenomena, and have discovered the phoneyness behind others. Merely because we don’t know yet, doesn’t imply Miracle!

    Revelation: Can you define Revelation, and describe why Item A is revelation, and Item B not? For instance, why would the NT be revelation, and the Koran or Bhagvad Gita or the Book of Mormon not be revelation?

  • Phil Miller

    Merely because we don’t know yet, doesn’t imply Miracle!

    And that’s not what I’m implying. But throughout the church’s history, it has been “standard practice”, so to speak, for the Holy Spirit to intervene in certain ways. And there is all sort of documentation for these events. Perhaps some can be explained through naturalistic phenomena, but there’s a lot that can’t, and I struggle to see how it ever will. For example, I have had the experience in several Pentecostal churches where a complete stranger comes up and speaks something very specific to me about my life that they would have no way of knowing. These people weren’t hucksters. They are almost always just plain and unassuming people who essentially trying to mind their own business. I’ve heard so many stories about these things happening, that it’s hard to know where to start.

    As far as defining revelation, I’d say it’s knowledge revealed directly to humans through divine means. As far as why I’d consider the Bible to be revealed apart from the other writings, I’d say one thing that sets the Bible apart is its interaction with the natural. But I actually wouldn’t say it’s completely out of the question that those other writings don’t contain some amount of revealed truth in them. All truth is God’s truth, as the old saying goes.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Phil, have you gone to some trouble, asked yourself if the detail they spoke of is generic, common, or highly individual? Did you investigate if they could have known about it through some other way?

    Furthermore, there are also lots of stories about fairies, UFO’s etc etc. I’m sounding a bit facetious, and maybe I am, but word of mouth is not the best evidence, and personal impressions can be highly misleading: Spoken as someone who’s been there, done that, got the T-shirt and the scars.

    Your second paragraph: You already assume the divine. Belief in itself cannot be used, even directly in an argument for the validity of belief. Mere interaction or correlation do not prove anything – correlation does not prove causation. We are getting into a complex matters here (wheels within wheels, to quote Bertie Wooster), but we have to recognize that to justify a supernatural belief because it fits with a world fundamentally viewed in terms of that belief, leads to the type of argument that makes atheists role in the aisles. You haven’t demonstrated anything validating supernatural belief, even as just another piece in what amounts to be a “proof by weight of evidence” approach, which is what RJS is going for here, I think.

    Now a “proof by weight of evidence” approach is not wrong, BUT: Not when you can show each piece to be irrelevant. If each piece was inconclusive by itself, but conclusive seen as a member of a set of evidence, that is something else. But I highly doubt that we are close to that point yet.

  • http://misoriented.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    Back to the fine-tuning issue, I have two questions. First, do the three possibilities (multiverse, incredible luck in a single universe, or designer) cover all the bases? I guess you could include under “incredible luck” the possibility that some deep, yet unknown physical principle determines all the parameters in the right way. Are there any other major possibilities, or does everyone pretty much agree that these are the choices?

    Second, one of the criticisms leveled against the multiverse theory is that it exists mainly to explain this anthropic problem. I think there was a Scientific American column a year or two ago about that controversy. Can anyone speak to this from the cosmologist’s point of view — does the multiverse idea–and I know it’s not just a single hypothesis–stand on its own, or is it a fudge factor?

  • Phil Miller

    Phil, have you gone to some trouble, asked yourself if the detail they spoke of is generic, common, or highly individual? Did you investigate if they could have known about it through some other way?

    In short… the information was pretty detailed, and there really was no way the person would know it. I’ve heard of this sort of thing happening semi-frequently.

    The fact of the matter is for some people who have had these experiences (and yes they are subjective) nothing an atheist says will ever convince them otherwise. Do you think a person who was healed by Jesus while He was on earth doubted if they were really healed by Christ or if it was just a coincidence? I’d think that it would be a hard sell to convince such a person it was just a coincidence.

    What kind of indisputable evidence are you looking for to bolster a belief in the supernatural, anyway? I guess at some point skeptic are left on their own. Even Jesus had people who didn’t believe Him while He was right in front of Him. I guess these are why ultimately I feel kind of empty after engaging in these types of threads. I don’t see much of a point. I mean, I don’t think Christians need to retreat into an anti-intellectual ghetto. But I also think that we shouldn’t shy away from being honest about our worldview, nor do I think we should accept the assertion that a naturalistic worldview is somehow more reasonable.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Phil, to be completely honest, I have very little patience with Pentecostal (and similar) claims to the miraculous. All my interactions with this type of thing has demonstrated emotionalism, manipulation, scheisters etc. I am not saying this is always the case, but I will withhold further comment on the matter.

    You are again assuming too much: When we discuss the possibility of the existence of God, quoting Jesus’ miracles is the wrong kind of argument. We are talking First Principles here – the topic of this post was, after all, if the apparent fine-tuning of the Universe is part of a “weight of evidence” proof for the existence of God. I’m saying no, others yes. Talking about belief in reports on miracles etc. that happened 2000 years ago is already assuming the outcome of this argument. We need to remember what the subject matter is.

  • RJS

    Mike,

    I am not sure the multiverse theory exists mainly to explain the anthropic problem, cosmologists are a pretty creative lot, your question is worth some investigation. And as Collins notes, it is possible there is some underlying reason we don’t know yet why the constants “had” to be right for life. There are many mysteries here, that even the Higgs won’t resolve. Just think about “dark matter” and “dark energy” – which is basically part of the Universe we don’t detect directly, but know must be there. It would be premature to hang one’s hat on any specific complete (unified) theory at this time.

    I think there are hints of God in nature and in the structure of the universe, but no proof, no ‘smoking gun’. The proof for God is in relationship with his creatures. It is subjective experience of persons. The story we have in scripture is of a God who spoke to the patriarchs, the prophets, to Joshua and Moses, through Jesus in relationship with his disciples (and here we add incarnation). All of this, of course, is second hand and can be dismissed by those who didn’t have the experience. Phil Miller and T point to just this kind of experience.

  • T

    Klasie,

    In fairness, feelings are not what my argument boils down to, but neither was I saying that God was proved and any case closed by our fine tuned universe. My statement was that inferring a designer from a design is reasonable. Indeed, we all conclude such everyday. When I walk into my office and a stack of papers is sitting neatly on my desk in order of date, face up and corners aligned, I conclude that someone arranged it that way. I could be wrong, but it is a reasonable inference, and my feelings have little to do with it. (In fact, before I hired my secretary, my feelings would have been anything but positive, as I would be concerned about who had been in my office. But regardless of whether my feelings were positive or my conclusion concerning or reassuring, inferring that someone had arranged the papers on my desk would be abundantly reasonable.)

    Further, you seem to be thinking that things are either rock-solid proof of X or they are totally irrelevant. The inferences from the fine-tuned nature of our universe are not of either variety. They are relevant to the issue of whether there is a God, and are based in reason, but they do not carry the case by themselves, but I see no one here arguing that they do. They are one part of the puzzle, one bit of evidence, with more persuasive power for some than others, as with most evidence.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    T: You have missed the point of my thought experiment entirely. Furthermore, you mischaracterise my arguments – I have clearly said that I have no problem with weight-of-evidence arguments.

  • Morber

    A lot of the discussion tacitly hinges on the assumption that the “tunable constants” really are arbitrary parameters of the universe, rather than artefacts of the our formalism of the standard model. Scientific theories will always be empirical, and we will therefore always be able to ask “Why does the universe behave this way, as opposed to some other unrealised behaviour”.

    The equivalent theological question would be “Why is there a God, rather than nothing?”

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    RJS: Am I correct in saying that you are using a weight-of-evidence approach in building an argument for the existence of God?

  • TJJ

    I remember the first time I read about String Theory as a possible unified theory. That struck me immeadiately and powerfully that at the most basis and foundational level, the universe might be one very large, beautiful symphony.that reasonated deeply with me and fits perfectly with The belief of a Creator God, in fact, it struck me as being extactly what I would have expected all alone!

  • RJS

    Klasie,

    I am not all that interested in arguments for the existence of God. I prefer the ideas of “echoes of a voice” as discussed in my post Tuesday, following Wright. Perhaps one can get to a weight-of-evidence approach here.

    I am more interested in the arguments used against the existence of God. Many have claimed that we have outgrown the need for a God, or we have disproved the existence of God, there are no gaps for God to fill and so forth. I think a careful analysis shows that all of these arguments are weak and arise out of a philosophical mindset as much as religious belief arises out of a philosophical mindset. More than that, these arguments generally miss the essence of the claim of the Christian faith.

    Rather than “prove vs disprove” we need to move the discussion to a different level.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    RJS – good. Proving God doesn’t exist wouldn’t be possible. But at the same time, so would disproving that Hefalumps don’t exist. Richard Dawkins himself concede that (he says he is only a 6 on the Dawkins scale). To look for echoes sounds better, but that could lead to confirmation bias, couldn’t it?

    So, if that’s the case, we could examine the internal logic of Christianity/Theism, and/or we could examine the entire history/anthropology/psychology of religion, from the neolithic till now. We have to ascertain that we are not merely seeing/hearing an echo rhat is of our own fabrication.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Sorry: echoes that are..

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I find equal fascination in god using a multiverse for creation as opposed to a single universe. It seems to me that we are conditioned by our lives we have created to believe that something specifically designed is more elegant than building a system that is capable of finding the right solution. Said another way, why is it less of an echo that god created a system that could find its own optimum rather than create it as we see it in our own instance?

    If I were to let my imagination run with this a bit I would (do) envision that there is much more for us in the future (or for others in other universes or in other times) that we will experience given the richness of a multiverse. Perhaps this method enables us to warp space or time travel in the future. Perhaps it allows us to experience alternate realities that give a more profound sense of god’s grandeur in a distant time.

    Francis Collins is right with his broad categorizations, but he implies that number 1 is somehow random or meaningless. Perhaps we just aren’t able to appreciate the meaning yet.

  • RJS

    Klasie,

    We do need to look at the internal logic – and record of experience. This is where the next several posts on Keller’s book focus. I am sure that there will be disagreement in the discussion, but the construction is as important as the deconstruction. I think that most of the arguments against Christian faith set up a faulty construct and dismiss it. This doesn’t mean that a more sophisticated and accurate view will be convincing, but that we must deal with the strengths not some cartoon. Comparison to Hefalumps and Spaghetti Monsters is a technique designed to ridicule and thus dismiss without serious consideration.

  • norman

    I think both sides are taking Rom 1:18-24 out of context in trying to bolster their arguments. Many in discussions like this read this section out of context by proof texting as has been done here today. This section is not Paul’s attempt to enter into our materialistic universe discussion but is Paul’s Jewish perspective about how biblical people of faith as illustrated in the OT set aside the demonstrations of God’s faithfulness; especially to His chosen people. And how they knew His power of deliverance but consistently turned their backs on Him and constantly turned to idolatry as Paul alludes from OT scripture. Paul’s theme has to do with how the Jews dishonored God after knowing Him and lost their witness to the Nations. Explore the full context for the first three chapters before jumping to conclusions about Paul’s ignorance. Romans is an early Christian Jewish perspective and acts as an overview commentary on where Israel came from and where through Christ she is heading while incorporating the Gentiles alongside. Only the Jews originally knew God and turned from Him bringing condemnation on their lack of faithfulness. Gentiles did not know YHWH as Israel did and Paul says in Eph 2 they were lost and without God outside of Israel until Christ united these two humanities into one.

    Eph 2:11-12 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, … remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

    Rom 1:18-24 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although THEY KNEW GOD, THEY DID NOT HONOR HIM AS GOD or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and EXCHANGED THE GLORY OF THE IMMORTAL GOD FOR IMAGES RESEMBLING MORTAL MAN and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,

    Here is just one verse of many from the OT illustrating the Jews prostituting themselves to Idols in Ezekiels famous Chapter 16 against Israel’s unfaithfulness.

    Eze 16:17 You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore.

    When Paul says … “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world” he is not talking about the same examination that is going on here today. He’s talking about the Hebrew revelation of their “world view” and its being sustained by God through providence of their creative deliverance time after time. The Jews looked at their existence as a called people as a demonstration of the existence of God. They looked at the preponderance of the evidence through faith and determined that God exist.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I clearly believe some of these modern observations can be added to the faith equation if that is how we want to describe it. But it’s a total holistic and ethical story of deliverance that most of us graft onto for our faith and not just our recognition that this universe and its complexity that brings us to existence points to something incomprehensible to most of us. I realize that some fully grasp this incomprehensibleness and don’t worry about the power that sets it in motion if we can even describe it in that manner; and therefore they think not about what we call God. The Jews had the same awe but it was much simpler and elementary as far as physical examinations go but again that is not the gist of Paul’s presentation in Rom 1-3 IMHO.

  • Phil M

    Mike @25 and DRT @37,

    I don’t think the multi-verse theory resolves the issue in any way. In fact, if anything, it supports the concept of a god-like entity.

    Dawkins states that the existence of God “would have to be at least as improbable” as the finely tuned universe arising by chance. The idea is that a multi-verse would ensure that any kind of possible universe (no matter how unlikely) would exist at some point.

    If we rely on a multi-verse scenario to arrive at the finely tuned universe then we must also allow that a universe in which an unlikely omnipotent, omnipresent entity such as God would, at some point, exist. And if that universe allowed for such an entity then that entity would (by definition) exist across all universes in the multi-verse.

  • http://misoriented.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    @RJS, I’m slowly coming to better understand some of these less-tangible arguments for faith, such as “The proof for God is in relationship with his creatures. It is subjective experience of persons” and that we aren’t Christians because we believe the Bible, but we know Christ, etc. I’m a bit slow figuring them out because I have a modernist, rational mindset, but can appreciate at least the motivation behind them. In fact, my own motivation in this quest is partly the personal-social-identity stress caused by my changing beliefs.

    However, even granting all these more personal evidences of God, what I arrive at is something like, “God has spoken to people in many ways through the ages, and people have tried to make sense of his revelation and to follow him, in their own imperfect ways, as best they can.” So we are left with putting together the evidence of who God is and what he wants for us through assembling a web of knowledge and experience from living and historical people. I have to try to listen to Spinoza and Dawkins and my Pentecostal friends and Muslim neighbors, all of whom have rich experience and a sense of knowing the universe. I think it might be true, but it hardly leads me back toward an evangelical faith which makes certain propositional claims.

    Phil M @40, surely even a multiverse is governed by some laws of physicality and logic. I don’t see how a large number of universes would open the door to an “omnipotent, omnipresent entity” who is not bound by the laws. The whole theistic idea of God is that he is above and causally prior to nature, so it would be a contradiction to say that he could arise from physical principles. Certainly many physically-possible godlike entities would arise, but that is not that the same thing.

    Why is a multiverse relevant? Because it solves the anthropic problem for atheists. Could God work through a multiverse? Sure. Could there be other solutions for the fine-tuning? Sure.

  • Phil M

    Mike @41,

    I didn’t say such a being wouldn’t be bound by any laws. The possibility of an omnipotent omnipresent being’s existence was not the question. Could you confidently state that it is impossible that in all possible universes such a being could never exist? We don’t even have any way of discussing what is possible or not in an alternate universe.

    The point is, that if a multi-verse is being raised as a tool to explain away the fine-tuning argument then it must also recognise that it may be possible in one of those universes for a god-like entity to exist (who could then manipulate matter to create more universes).

    I agree with the comments above that it is not about trying to prove God’s existence. But if an argument against God’s existence is raised, then any weaknesses should be shown.

    I also agree with your comment that the Christian God is transcendent from physical creation. But Dawkins’ argument is not specifically against the transcendent Christian God, it is against the idea of any kind of sentient being creating our universe.

  • Phil M

    In fact, I should probably have left out the “omnipotent, omnipresent” bit – which is specifically Christian.

    All that is required is the acceptance that a being might arise in an alternative universe that is capable of manipulating matter to create universes themselves (fine tuned universes, no less).

    If such a being is possible then, in a multiverse, such a being must exist. If such a being exists then it is possible that our particular universe is the product of that being’s fine tuning.

  • Paul D.

    As has been noted by other people (but not here), the Fine-Tuning Argument is self-defeating if one uses it to demonstrate an omnipotent creator deity. The reason is straightforward: it implies that God could only have created life on a planet with very specific properties, could only have created inhabitable planets in a universe with very specific properties, and so on.

    If God is actually omnipotent and not constrained by the laws of physics, then there exists *no* set of conditions that could be considered fine-tuning. Are you really going to argue God couldn’t create life on Venus, or in a universe with a different value for Planck’s Constant?

    The best this argument can do is to suggest the existence of some kind of non-omnipotent demiurge or advanced race of creator aliens.

  • http://misoriented.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    Phil @42. You may be right about Dawkins denying the possibility of any intelligent being creating the universe, I don’t know. However, I do know that it is one of the possibilities that has been tossed about and I see no reason Dawkins would reject it. Rather, it seems self-evident when put as you put it. However, such a being is *far* from God in the theistic sense. In fact, some writers (I don’t know about Dawkins in particular) will bring up that very possibility–a super-intelligent advanced creating the universe–as a reason why we do *not* need a God who definition exists outside the physical realm. Sure, our universe could just be an experiment or demonstration or even a toy, but that does not mean that there must be a moral, eternal, omniscient “God” behind it.

    Paul @44, I don’t see this, though I think maybe we’re starting to debate about angels dancing on pinheads. God cannot do what is logically impossible. Presumably, he could create a life-form based pure energy if he wanted, in a universe that existed for 1 nanosecond, as long as the universe did not involve logical contradictions. So the constants we observe do not constrain God in any way. Furthermore, the very constants themselves only apply to a specific physical model; perhaps God could have done something totally different that did not even include the forces we see in this universe. Finally, maybe we should not stretch the omni- attributes too far in order to prove or disprove things. I don’t think a Christian necessarily has to be committed to those in a philosophically absolute way.

    Rather, it is the converse that is the problem. If there is *no* God, and we exist in a solitary universe which *does* have its observed, why on earth are the relative forces etc. so precisely balanced that they provide the conditions for sentient life, if nothing seems to require such balance? Granted, there are ways around this, as Victor Stenger and others argue, but that is the basic argument as I understand it.

  • http://misoriented.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    Actually, the origin of life poses the same type of problem. Even atheist (I suppose) biologist Eugene Koonin, in “The Logic of Chance: The Nature and Origin of Biological Evolution,” makes a quick calculation that the probability of life evolving by the best process he can guess at the moment, in any given observable universe, as 1 in 10^1018. Of course, that doesn’t mean he believes God created life; he seems to see it as evidence for the multiverse model. The other non-theist possibility is that we’re still missing something fundamental about how life could begin, or, I suppose, that it’s an experiment by non-God super-beings.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    RJS @ 38 – I used the “hefalump” example merely to point out that the tactic used by some to say that since we cannot absolutely claim the non-existence of X, belief in X is not necessarily wrong, is not a very useful argument.

    Mike @ 46 (and others): Earlier I made a point about probability. Small chances does not equate to impossibilities. Something we need to remember is what Douglas Adams termed “puddle thinking”. I have of late been reminded of natural phenomena, and their mathematical bases, that would, simply put, lead to the creation of “order” from “chaos”/randomness. On a popular level, I might suggest reading (or listening to) James Gleick’s two books on these topics – “The Information: A history, a theory, a flood”, and “Chaos: The making of a new science”, as well as “Sync: how order emerges from chaos in the universe, nature and daily life”. Note, they are popular level, but one’s initial fear of immense odds and implausibility might be allayed, a bit.

  • Phil Miller

    Regarding “hefalumps” and the like, isn’t the concept of multiverses sort of in the same category? The “evidence” we have for multiverses mostly comes down to the fact that the math works out in such a way that it seems to indicate something like that. But by definition, getting actual physical proof of the existence of other universes is an impossibility by all accounts I’ve read. The closest thing to proof is certain things we observe in our universe that could be explained by the existence of other universes bumping into ours. So once you start talking about things existing outside of our universe, it seems you’re in the realm of metaphysics whether you like it or not.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Phil, I’m not a cosmologist, so I don’t know.

  • LarryRR

    This may the best Patheos thread I’ve read yet! One can look at the vastness of the cosmos and think there was/is some fine-tuning going on and we’re all there is, or one could think ‘if life could happen here, it could happen elsewhere’. Of the billions of galaxies containing billions of stars, it’s not hard for me to believe there might be a number of exoplanets capable of harboring life. But even if that life is microbial, would that not change everything? What if we find that evidence on our closest planetary neighbor or on one of Saturn’s or Jupiter’s moons? Would that point more surely to God, or away? That life thrives in some indescribably harsh conditions on earth makes me think there could be other places that life, once established, could hold its own. And if that’s the case, do the conditions change enough to allow for for evolution or are the conditions so static that life never advances past the soup stage? We can’t know, yet, if there are others like us in other solar systems because of the scale involved, and perhaps we never will, but it’s not hard to imagine they’re out there, just like it’s easy to imagine God is ‘out there’.

    I do find it fascinating that as our knowledge and understanding increases, our God becomes more complex (finely-tuned?) as well. The frequently jealous and genocidal God of the OT, so obsessed with ritual and adherence, has given way the kinder, universalist God of (some) today. To me, this apparent evolution of an unchanging God points more to a God made in our image (and in our mind) than to one in whose image we were made. Put me in the ‘lucky’, life-is-opportunistic, camp. For now.


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