Saturday, March 30, 2019

How a remarkable feature of the universe is best explained by God's existence - the argument from the fine-tuning of the universe

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Acts 14b-17 "God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”


In the last post, we surveyed various sorts of arguments for God's existence that focus on perceived patterns and purpose in nature, here: 

Such arguments are referred to historically as "teleological arguments" ("telos" = purpose, "ology" = study of). If readers want to review the first post in this series, which introduces people to what is meant by: "teleological arguments", they can click here:

In this final post of our brief series of posts, we will consider the latest and perhaps most cutting edge teleological argument: the argument for God's existence from the fine-tuning of the universe. To view a video that illustrates the argument for God's existence from fine-tuning, the reader may click here:

Defining and exploring cosmic fine-tuning

Over the last decades, astronomers have been stunned by a feature of the universe they refer to as “fine-tuning”. To grasp this concept, I think of how often I used to bake bread every week. 
Image result for loaf of bread

The recipe I used was “fine-tuned”, with a statistically narrow range of possibilities available to alter the recipe of six ingredients to produce “edible bread” and hundreds of ways to make “inedible bread”. In our fine-tuning of bread example, we would want to know how to explain the production of edible bread, when inedible bread, given all the possible variations, was far more likely. 

When we turn to our universe: with its constants (over 120) and extremely delicate initial conditions, what best explains embodied, intelligent life?  

Astronomers Luke A. Barnes and Geraint F. Lewis define "fine-tuning" in the opening chapter of their book: "A Fortunate Universe - Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos" - 

"Fine-tuning is a technical term borrowed from physics, and refers to a contrast between a wide-range of possibilities and a narrow range of a particular outcomes or phenomenon." 

Robin Collins, a philosopher of science and specialist in the field of fine-tuning, offer his definition in his article on "the teleological argument" in the reference work: "The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology", page 204:

"the claim that the laws and values of the constants of physics, and the initial conditions of any universe with the same laws as our universe, must be set in a seemingly very precise way for the universe to support life." 

The idea of "fine-tuning" is immune from charges of attempting to smuggle God into science or committing what philosophers call a “God-of-the-gaps argument”, since we’re exploring things we’ve already discovered, rather than those things we haven’t. 

As author William Lane Craig once said:

"Science can provide evidence in support of a premise in a philosophical argument leading to a conclusion that has theistic significance."  

Fine-tuning research tests models of variations of the constants, quantities and initial conditions in our universe. 

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To take a specific example, Barnes and Lewis discuss in their book the fine-tuning of stars:  

“Stars….are stable thanks to a balance between the crush of gravity and the push of thermal pressure.” 

They continue:

“This balance requires a star with masses within a certain range. Too small, and the ball of gas will not be squeezed tightly enough by gravity to ignite nuclear reactions. Too large, and the star’s over-excitable core will burn fuel very quickly, and is liable to blow off its outer layers of gas. Our observations confirm these limits: nothing fewer than 1 x 10 to the 56th power particles shines, and no star with more than 3 x 10 to the 59th power particles has been found. That’s the window.”

A chart of the various sizes and ranges in which stars are found (such as the Hertzsprung-Russell chart) illustrates the limits in both size and luminosity of every star we've observed (notice how our sun is near the center of the chart). 

Related image

A metaphor used to describe cosmic fine-tuning is lifted from the nursery rhyme “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. 

Image result for goldilocks and the three bears
I recall years ago reading of how our planet functions in its own “goldilocks zone” or “habitable zone” from the sun. If we were but 10-15% closer or further away, we’d either roast like Venus or freeze like Mars. 

Image result for habitable zone planets
Such examples are a small portion of hundreds of other cases that give evidence for the fine-tuning of the universe. 

What accounts as the best explanation for cosmic fine-tuning?

In crafting a teleological argument based on fine-tuning, one version goes as follows:

Premise #1 The fine-tuning of the universe is due to chance, necessity    
or design

Premise #2 The fine-tuning of the universe is not due to chance or 

Therefore: The fine-tuning of the universe is due to design

The above argument states the optional explanations for fine-tuning in the scientific literature as that of chance, necessity or design. As the first premise states: 

Premise #1 The fine-tuning of the universe is due to chance, necessity or design

So, is fine-tuning due to “chance”? Roger Penrose, a physicist at Oxford University, has calculated the chances of the solar system resulting from a random collision of particles is 1 x 10, raised to the power of 10, to the power of 60 (1 followed by 10, to the power of 10, to the power of 60 zeros, which could not be written out even if the whole universe were a sheet of paper)! So, what about the chances of our universe's fine-tuning arising by chance? Penrose notes that this probability makes the number about the solar system forming from chance look like "utter chicken feed" - namely 1 x 10, to the power of 10, to the power of 123! 

So, perhaps the universe’s fine-tuning is due to necessity, that is, it had to be this way, otherwise, we wouldn’t be here! Necessity advocates fail to realize that the constants in our universe (such as gravity, the speed of light) function independently of the laws of nature, meaning that nature’s laws could had been configured in a vast number of ways. Nature’s laws don’t “prescribe” the universe’s behavior, but only “describe” how it behaves under various conditions. 

Some have attempted to avoid the fine-tuning problem altogether by proposing the so-called “multi-verse” hypothesis. This idea proposes that our universe could be one of a possible 1x10 to the 500 power universes, with enough combinations to produce a universe that would necessarily be just-right for life. The problem with this proposal is that the alleged mechanism for the multi-verse itself would need even more exquisite fine-tuning. 

So, by ruling out “chance” and “necessity” as explanations for the fine-tuning of the universe, we confirm the second premise of our argument:

Premise #2 The fine-tuning of the universe is not due to chance or 

With the argument having valid premises that are sound in terms of their correspondence to known facts, we’re left with the third option which necessarily follows: 

Therefore: The fine-tuning of the universe is due to design

If space permitted, I could bring in other sorts of arguments that consider how this designer would be an immaterial, all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere present, necessarily existing, un-embodied mind – otherwise known as: “God”. Therefore, God is the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe.


My hope is that these last few posts have both informed and equipped readers with the understanding that the evidence for God's existence is abundant. Might these posts contribute, in a small way, toward advancing the cause for Jesus in our 21st century world.   

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