This is a guest post, part of a series of guest posts addressing the question of whether we can discern purposefulness in the natural world. As such the opinions expressed below are highly likely not to reflect my opinions, as you’re sure to hear in more detail later this week.
You are a highly unlikely creature. The fact all your body works together is amazing, how is it all your cells know what to do and where to be? Not only that but half of you is one of millions of sperm that just happened to be in the right place at the right time when the other half of you was one of thousands that could have come down the correct fallopian tube at the right time. And the same goes for your billions upon billions of ancestors (not all human!)
The odds are truly astronomical.
Wow, you think to yourself, I am so unlikely that I must be here for a purpose. But then you realise you’re not. Had one of the other sperm reached the egg first, had it been a different egg, had your parents had sex a different night, it would have been someone like me, but not me, who would exist. Had that happened to one of your ancestors before humans evolved then something would be here but slightly different, maybe a similar simian, but not human? Or even further back maybe a reptile?
Why do you think that you are not here for a purpose in spite of the phenomenal odds of you being who you are? Because you understand the process. Because you see other people and they’re not you. You see other creatures and know that evolution goes many ways and we’re simply one of those branches but did not have to be.
How does this fit in to what Lukas has posited in the original thread? He thinks that because the universe is so unlikely, that all the universal constants are just perfect, that it must have been done by an agent with a purpose* in mind.
Is there any way to know what possible values the universal constants could have had? Is there some way of knowing whether any other combination might be able to produce life**, since life is what Lukas appears to believe the purpose of the universe to be? Are there other universes we can compare this one to, maybe there are an infinite number trying out all combinations of the universal constants? In short, how do we know that the universe is unlikely? We don’t because we are working with a sample size of 1, and we don’t know a heck of a lot about that 1 either.
What Lukas is doing is taking what is here already and looking back to see how unlikely it is that it would have happened this way. We have already seen by our own existence that a hugely unlikely event does not have to equal purpose once it has happened, however, had there been a prediction of what was going to happen, then we can start to assume purpose or agency. So telling me the day after the lottery what the numbers were it is unlikely that I’d think much of it, tell me the day before and I would start to investigate.
And that’s where we’re at. Science and non-theists notice that the universe has certain constants and they investigate what they are and why, people like Lukas notice the universe has certain constants and assumes they’re unlikely to have come about by chance and posits purpose and from purpose assumes agency. Since we don’t yet know if the universal constants could have been different, or if they’re part of a system of universes that is exploring all sets of universal constants, it is a real leap of faith to assume agency or purpose, regardless of the (unknown) odds of it having happened. After all, don’t ID people claim evolution is like a tornado going through a junk yard and leaving a 747? We don’t take that seriously because we understand the workings of evolution and we shouldn’t take this argument seriously either.
* And that purpose is life, specifically human life. Never forget that they are arguing for this so they can extrapolate to a personal God.
**There is only one planet known to support life, but even if there were billions that number would pale into insignificance compared to the number of supernovae. Maybe the creator simply likes bangs and made the universe as it is to produce supernovae. Or maybe the creator has a thing for black holes, there are lots of those. Such hubris to assume this was all done for us.