Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, God, Religion

Fine-Tuning

There was a time when I found the fine-tuning argument alone to be sufficient for belief in god. I still think it’s a pretty good one, though it doesn’t get you anywhere close to the personal god that most religious people believe in. That said, I’ve reached a point where I no longer find it persuasive, not even for a deistic god.

There’s a whole laundry list of details we could rattle off about our universe, any of which, if it had been the slightest bit different, would have prevented life as we know it from existing. That’s staggering to think about, and it’s no wonder that many people find this reason enough to believe in God. But I think the biggest problem with it is that it looks at our situation backwards. It takes the current state of things and projects backwards through time, pointing out all the details that were necessary to get us to this point. But that’s a game we can play with any scenario.

People do it all the time with their personal lives, for instance. They think about their spouse, their children, their job, and they think “how would things have turned out if I had never done X?” Or even consider your own existence. If your parents had married different people, or even if they had just conceived at a slightly different time, you wouldn’t be here. And not just your parents, but their parents, and their parents, and their parents, all the way back through history. If any of them had died young, or made different choices, you would not exist. The odds that you as an individual are here as opposed to all the other people that could have been here but aren’t are astounding. But few people would claim that it took divine intervention to get you here.

When we consider the universe as a whole, if things had been different, then we wouldn’t be here to think about it. Maybe some other species would be wondering at the incredible combination of factors that were needed to them to get here. Or maybe there would be nothing conscious at all.

Our universe was here for 14 billion years before we were able to stand in awe of our existence. Is it reasonable for us to assume that it was all done for us? Just a 14 billion year lead up to feature us as the climax?

60 thoughts on “Fine-Tuning”

  1. @Nate, “The odds that you as an individual are here as opposed to all the other people that could have been here but aren’t are astounding. But few people would claim that it took divine intervention to get you here.”

    I think many christians would make the claim that god made us . I think there is scripture to say we were all predestined by god.

    Thank you for sharing this. I really haven’t looked at it from this point of view, at least not in quite awhile. Your argument makes a lot of sense.

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  2. That’s a good point, Ken. Hopefully none of them would think that such divine intervention is necessary since we now have a good understanding of how reproduction works. I probably should have phrased my point differently…

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  3. But I think the biggest problem with it is that it looks at our situation backwards. It takes the current state of things and projects backwards through time, pointing out all the details that were necessary to get us to this point. But that’s a game we can play with any scenario.

    Yes, that indeed is the problem.

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  4. Hi Nate, I’m not going to get involved in discussion, but if you are interested in reading more on this topic, may I recommend the writings of Aussie post doctoral researcher in cosmology, Luke Barnes, who has published in peer-reviewed literature on this topic, is an open-minded agnostic about God, and who would disagree with some of your statements.

    In case anyone is worried, he doesn’t support any conclusion of the argument for God, but simply tries to get the scientific facts straight. Enjoy!

    Luke’s blog, Letters to Nature.
    His peer-reviewed paper, The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life.
    A post on his blog useful for his summary (at the end) of the views of a whole bunch of eminent cosmologists.

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  5. Nate – I think it is reasonable to assume it was all done for us without any evidence to the contrary. All the cosmological fine tuning necessary to support the many life forms on planet earth remains solid evidence of a Creator. Given that human beings create in a process of continuing refinement, perhaps the revelation that the cosmos was created in a similar fashion points to human beings being created in the image and likeness of their Creator

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  6. No, it’s a 14 billion lead up to the dominance of dogs. Mark my words, they’ll be taking over soon…

    The one thing that gets me about this idea (the idea that the entire universe was made for humans) is why all the wasted time and space? And why make us ignorant (of things like advanced math, physics, biology, etc.)? To test us? But most die failing the test, no? So…what’s the point?

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  7. NEW – If dying is oblivion then your question remains, and it all seems pointless. If there is a spiritual dimension that we enter upon the death of our bodies, perhaps we are all illuminated and have our questions answered.

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  8. @Marc, ” If there is a spiritual dimension that we enter upon the death of our bodies, perhaps we are all illuminated and have our questions answered.”

    I was 99% convinced of this when I was a christian. Now I am 1 % . Having said this, I would think many non-believers would agree this would be a wonderful moment if it happened. I know I would be so stoked upon death to have all my questions answered.

    If you are right, I think everyone will have the same opportunity no matter their religion or lack thereof . If you’re wrong, we’ll just all be taking an eternal dirt nap.

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  9. I’ve always found the fine tuning argument incredibly juvenile. You identified some great points which all lead to the absolute conclusion that the chances of everything being as it is are precisely 1 in 1. We are that chance, and until we have another universe to compare ours to nothing, nothing at all, is going to alter this ratio.

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  10. @Marc

    And what about all the other planets, galaxies and suns/stars in this massive universe? What role do they play? And to NE White’s question — why all the “wasted space?”

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  11. Ken – I think that whatever the ultimate reality is, it will be experienced by all people. Religious doctrines that teach otherwise should all be rejected. The problem for human beings has always been and continues to be death. We can try to convince ourselves that we are no more than the highest order of mammalian life on the planet, but most folks hope for something more lasting than this initial experience of life. The eternal dirt nap strikes most folks as being very illogical.

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  12. Nan – It is not clear on how the size of cosmos contributed to the formation of elements necessary for life. It is also not clear as to how the cosmos might be used in the future by human beings in an advanced life form not limited in the ways our current life form is.

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  13. Marc-

    I think the eternal dirt nap makes perfect sense. I think our abilities to think ahead to our future state, is at odds withour innate desire to survive and live.

    But I do not think the fact that I will die and return to the earth is illogical. It is this fact of life that motivates me to enjoy all that life has to offer and to be good to those who are dear-for I will only have now to enjoy them and show care and love for them.

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  14. @Marc

    but most folks hope for something more lasting than this initial experience of life. The eternal dirt nap strikes most folks as being very illogical.

    Life after ‘dirt’ is one of the tried and tested stalwarts indoctrinated into unsuspecting kiddies, along with all sorts of other nasty things things guaranteed to happen for non-compliance.

    “Turn or burn , Ark”, as one loving Christian Believer told me. Right!

    If I am going to enter some sort of spiritual utopia after popping my clogs then I am going through the gate marked ‘Muslim’ . We all know what lies beyond, Old Mo’s front door, yes? Yummy Virgins!

    I shall leave you to hang put with Jesus and the eunuchs, Marc.

    An eternity with no sex ,drugs or rock n’ roll?

    Best of luck with that….

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  15. All done for us?
    How arrogant that some think so.

    And if this little hideaway was designed with us in mind, why wait 14 billion years to make a squishy life form, merely to mow the lawn and tend a grotty orchard?

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  16. Ark – You need to hang out more with your alter ego, the creative writer.

    It isn’t that hope in life after death is so much an indoctrination, as it is the specific details.

    “Turn and burn,” or “yummy virgins,” are some pretty warped details.

    Perhaps we all will have an opportunity to live up to our potential for love and creativity free from false indoctrination, exploitation, and suffering.

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  17. Nate, this post seems to assume that we humans are mere accidents. That we are not here for any particular reason. That we are really don’t matter and are not important, except the importance that we give to ourselves. Although thinking that God created the universe just for us does sound arrogant, thinking that we can create our own purpose and meaning also sounds grandiose to me. Just my opinion.

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  18. “Turn and burn,”

    The quote was turn or burn, Marc. and was written by a christian.

    Maybe before we discuss the why we should clear up the issue of how?

    Why don’t you tell us how your god, Jesus, is responsible for the Creation of the Universe, Marc?

    Once we have sorted out this detail then the table becomes clear for all of us to proffer suggestions as to the ‘Why?’

    You appear to be the most clued up commenter in this regard so far. Why not give it a shot?

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  19. Noel,

    Why does creating your own purpose seem grandiose? To me, it just seems responsible.

    As to Nate’s thoughts, I’ve always had a tough time with the concept of God knowing the end from the beginning. To me, that just lends credence to any accusations of cruelty that are made toward Him. The idea that He created the cosmos with such exacting detail makes me cringe because of the implications such a belief has on how God would involve Himself in the lives of people. Of course, the Hands-Off approach makes me cringe, too…

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  20. Thanks for the correction Ark. Created and uncreated energy. The Creator is uncreated energy that has the capacity to create energy that can be manifested as light, heat, or matter. That is as close as I can come to the question of “how?”

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  21. The Creator is uncreated energy that has the capacity to create energy that can be manifested as light, heat, or matter.

    Interesting. Now as I initially asked, try it again…with the god you worship, Jesus, and explain how, not merely offer a speculative answer that reads like something my altered ego may have conjured up.

    So, let me help you start…”Jesus was able to create the universe because….” you finish it off.

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  22. christianagnostic says, “It is this fact of life that motivates me to enjoy all that life has to offer and to be good to those who are dear-for I will only have now to enjoy them and show care and love for them.”

    Well said !

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  23. @Marc

    “It’s not clear …” Nice way of avoiding an answer. Seems to me if you believe God did all this for little ole us, you could come up with a more reasoned answer.

    But then again, there are no answers, are there? Even to Ark’s question.

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  24. Hello Nate,

    (I know that this is off topic.) I went to that “brain washing” mom’s blog and I was quite impressed with your last comment. You somehow managed to present your concern in a direct and empathetic manner. I wish a person or two like you had approached me while I was still a Christian. I know I would have at least considered your case.

    Sharing one’s agnostic/atheistic thoughts is quite a difficult task in the areas where you and I live. My husband and I had a long discussion about this last night. Mr. Amazing works for a network of religious hospitals in the Memphis area and is a heavily involved volunteer with our kids’ soccer league. Obviously, he is continually surrounded with Christians and religion. He told me that he has to tread carefully regarding our non belief, not so much because of the fear of losing his job, but because of the devastation it could bring to Christians surrounding him. He doesn’t want to bring them down. We were once like the locals, he understands the sensitivity of the issue at hand. Love is key and relationship takes time. My husband is honest when asked directly about belief, but he will not go out of his way to be an atheist evangelist for he doesn’t want to suddenly shock a Christian’s world.

    I’ve also noticed that many Christians express that they struggle with their faith. I know throughout at least half of my salvation I struggled too. However, in retrospect I see that “struggle” is not the right word for it, “question” is. I questioned my faith, more on than off, for almost 20 years. Christians will not say “question” because questioning leads to doubt and doubt leads to unbelief. To say “struggle” implies that it’s some sort of test or transition or that their brain is fighting for jurisdiction over their body. “Struggle” seems temporary, whereas, to “question” could possibly lead to leaving one’s faith. If I had been honest with myself and used the word “question” I would have left Christianity a long time ago. Once I began admitting that I questioned religion, Church and the Bible, I continued on a journey that led to my deconversion in two year’s time.

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