Historical fine-tuning

I would like to bring a hitherto much-neglected example of divine fine-tuning to the attention of the public: the fine-tuning of human history. Moreover, this fine-tuning is reaching a critical point now.

Let us set aside religious sources as interested parties, and restrict ourselves to arguments with a secular pedigree. Even with this restriction, it is clear that we live in times where we can anticipate great transformations, ranging from the utopian to the apocalyptic.

On the negative side, we are facing a future of severe environmental degradation, where a collapse of biodiversity and global warming is just the beginning. Nuclear annihilation is always a non-negligible possibility. Our present political and economic systems are clearly incapable of dealing with such concerns. Even as neoliberalism leads us into economic downturns, even these mini-crises only produce opportunities for moneyed elites to further entrench themselves. Right-wing religious populism with fascist overtones haunts the political landscape.

On the positive side, transhumanists envision a future where science and technology bring us closer to realizing utopia. We look forward to downloadable personalities, and even a “singularity” where machine intelligence pushes into horizons we can barely imagine. We—or our bioengineered and cyber-enabled descendants—may yet travel to the stars.

But no one knows what is likely to happen. Indeed, it all appears very finely balanced. Seemingly insignificant individual events can push us from looming catastrophe into a brave new world or vice versa. This balancing on a knife-edge is not what we would expect from a “normal,” naturalistic development of history. It seems exceedingly improbable; it certainly calls for an explanation.

In the spirit of all fine-tuning arguments, we can take our current delicately poised balance as compelling evidence of supernatural intervention in human affairs. Furthermore, we can do better than invoking the “God did it” non-explanation, as scientific materialists so often accuse intelligent-design proponents of resorting to. The fine-tuned balance between prospective catastrophe and possible utopia tells us something about the character of the supernatural agencies shaping history.

Now, I should pause to point out that what I am about to suggest will satisfy no one among our traditionally warring parties. I can hear the sound of materialist minds already slamming shut against the possibility of supernatural intervention. But to understand the forces shaping our history, we have to move beyond the dogmas of the monotheists no less than the dogmas of the Darwinian materialists.

A finely-tuned balance between catastrophe and utopia is not the sort of thing you expect from the morality tales and apocalyptic fantasies of the monotheistic tradition. History is not being shaped by one divine actor with a single purpose! Instead, the fine-tuned balance indicates multiple purposes that compete and cooperate in shifting alliances.

We should be talking about gods. Moreover, these gods use humans as their playthings. As with any exciting game with multiple players and unstable alliances, no one option can predominate as a clear future for long. Shifting alliances continually drive the game into an unstable equilibrium, which can be resolved only by crises of which the outcome is highly uncertain.

We are clearly approaching another point of crisis in the game of the gods. And we can but hope that luck will break the way of those gods who have some further use for us humans.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University