This is a continuation of a critique of Frank Turek’s arguments in favor of Christianity from his book Stealing from God. See the beginning of the discussion here.
Let’s conclude the critique of Turek’s first argument, Cosmos.
Fine tuning of the universe
Turek says that if the expansion rate from the Big Bang were different by 10–15, the universe would have either collapsed or never developed galaxies. What explains this fine tuning?
Good question. Why does the universe look finely tuned? This is a scientific question, not incontrovertible evidence of the hand of God. Replacing “Science doesn’t know” with “Well, if you don’t, I do—it was God!” doesn’t help. Advancing a god as the cause of the universe simply moves the question back one level: if we assume that a deity did it, where did it come from? How did it create the universe out of nothing? What laws of nature did it break, and what as-yet-undiscovered laws did it use? We’ve resolved nothing. It is merely one more supernatural claim that science must set aside on its way to finding the truth.
And what is the universe finely tuned for? There is life on earth, a tiny speck in an inhospitable and inconceivably vast sea of space. Most of the mass in the universe isn’t ordinary matter, and almost all of that isn’t part of a habitable world. It’s hard to call the harsh wasteland that is the universe “tuned for life,” so why imagine that life was what it was finely tuned for? There are probably trillions of black holes in the universe—you could more logically say that it was fine tuned for them.
Turek argues that we have two possibilities: (1) that our universe just got really lucky with its constants or (2) a supernatural being created it. He concludes: (1) is really improbable, so therefore (2). But what is the probability of (2)?? How can we compare these two options when we haven’t even analyzed one of them? He doesn’t even acknowledge the problem.
Of course, the in-your-face response to the fine tuning argument sidesteps the question of whether the universe was finely tuned by arguing for a multiverse—uncountably many universes with varying cosmic constants, of which ours is just one. A very unlikely universe will pop up eventually if you have enough of them. In fact, Alexander Vilenkin, the cosmologist that Turek praised earlier, makes clear his view on the multiverse question in an article titled, “The Case for Parallel Universes: Why the multiverse, crazy as it sounds, is a solid scientific idea.”
(Does Turek still want to cite Vilenkin as a reliable source?)
Just to hit this a little harder, Jerry Coyne wrote a post subtitled with the very question that I had been asking: “Is the multiverse a Hail Mary pass by godless physicists?” No, the multiverse is not just a “well, it’s possible” gambit for which atheists admit they have no evidence for but which they toss out simply to annoy apologists. He quotes physicist Sean Carroll, who makes clear that the multiverse is a prediction made by other well-accepted theories. It wasn’t pulled out of a hat; it is a consequence of accepted physics.
Cause and causelessness
Turek says, “If the universe had a beginning, it must’ve had a Beginner.” Does everything have a cause? When an electron comes out of a decaying nucleus or a photon comes out of an electron dropping to a lower energy level, what was the cause? Nothing. Quantum events (like the Big Bang presumably was) don’t necessarily need causes. “Everything has a cause” sounds right coming from our experience, but common sense isn’t a reliable tool at the edge of science.
Turek has one final salvo for this argument: “Either no one created something out of nothing or someone created something out of nothing.” Huh? So we’ve already established that the universe came from nothing? That’s possible, but there is no consensus. Why imagine that nothing was more likely before the Big Bang than something?
Lacking evidence but not confidence, Turek picks the latter option, as if it makes more sense that someone created something out of nothing. But how does anyone make something out of nothing? Turek falls back on an uncaused god, without evidence.
And even if we grant fine tuning, a supernatural agent creating the universe is just one of lots of explanations. Maybe our universe was created by powerful but limited aliens. We could be in the Matrix of a computer designed by an alien race. And so on. No need to imagine an unlimited god.
Unless there’s evidence, of course.
Continue with the discussion of R = Reason.
“In God We Trust.”
I don’t believe it would sound any better if it were true.
— Mark Twain
There’s a phrase we live by in America: “In God We Trust.”
It’s right there where Jesus would want it: on our money.
— Bill Maher
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 8/1/13.)
Image credit: Seigner, CC