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. The fine-tuning argument is fairly persuasive…but only when one is uninformed. The more I learn about the world, the less persuasive the argument seems to me.

    How many fossil species are there? How many Mass Extinction events? How many humans die from Natural Disasters (flood, drought, blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis) every year? Large parts of the earth are desert, other parts are too cold, and more than half of it is salt-water. That does not appear, to me, very fine tuned.

    People have begun to proliferate only in the last few hundred years, thanks to Technological advances–Medical advances like Germ Theory, Industrialization, Selective Breeding and Hybridization of plant and animal species…etc, etc. Before all that our numbers could never rise very high thanks to food shortages (due to weather, pests, and crop disease) and disease (and war, of course, but that’s a different topic). That doesn’t sound like a world fine tuned with us in mind.

    Richard Dawkins has a wonderful phrase, saying that the Fine Tuning argument is rather like a puddle of water waking up one day and saying “it is amazing how this hole I’m in fits me EXACTLY”. The fact that “if the numbers for this or that were were different” we wouldn’t be here doesn’t, necessarily, mean anything other than “lucky us”. The Anthropic Principle (another favorite of Dawkins, I believe) works in this case–this must be the kind of universe that can support life, for here We are…and that’s all it means.

    If there was lots of evidence for Creation, or plenty of evidence of some type for an Intelligent Designer, THEN the fine-tuning argument would carry weight. But without any corroborating evidence then it is just one of those things…you know?

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  2. EDIT: unkleE referenced Luke Barnes. He is clearly much more well-informed than I am, and so my statement “The fine-tuning argument is fairly persuasive…but only when one is uninformed” should not be there. It should be rephrased as “the more I have learned about the natural world the less persuasive the FT argument has become”.

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  3. eSell Great comments!

    Another reason could be some educated people just aren’t ready to concede the ancient stories they have been indoctrinated with no longer ring true.

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  4. Ark – Jesus was able to create the universe because before His Incarnation He was the only begotten Son of God the Father. Along with the Holy Spirit that proceeds from the Father, the Triune God, One in essence yet three in persons, created the universe by using their uncreated energy to create the energy necessary for the “Big Bang.” The Triune God fine tuned this energy to bring about the cosmos we experience today, and will continue to fine tune the Creation to a point that even skeptics like you will find quite satisfactory.

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  5. Yes, Marc. Thank you so very much for this wonderful Christian Sermon.
    Now, I shall write slowly as I know you struggle to read quickly,

    Ditch the damn polemic and give me the real scientific low-down.
    Let’s see you use that grey matter of yours, rather than regurgitating all the nonsense you were indoctrinated with by the local Vicar, shall we?

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  6. I know that many Christians don’t believe the universe is 14billion years old and only believe the earth is like 6000 to 8000 years old – believing that god created it all with apparent age, just as he created Adam to look like a full grown man.

    One problem with this is that if held doctrinally, it condemns people unfairly if they actually believe the apparent age; if they believe the signs of old age that god supposedly designed into his creation. It would be like a store clerk placing a big banner at the entrance to his store saying that every customer may have one item completely free, but then having the customer arrested for stealing when they tried. Would the store clerk be justified in sitting back, scornfully mocking the customers for being arrogant and foolish for thinking that they could have something without paying for it, when he left a sign that would lead them to that conclusion?

    Also, and I may be getting off point here, but what about time? Who made that? god seems to be bound by its laws just as much any human. Why did god send a flood if he regretted ever making mankind? If you’re all powerful and in completely control of time, why not simply make it to where you never made man?

    Once something has been done, it’s in the past. God could kill the people, but he couldn’t make it so that he never made them after he had already made them. Past, present and future are the most basic elements of time and god seems to be bound by them. Who or what made laws so strict that even god must abide by them?

    I agree, the more one thinks about all of this, the more a creator (at least one we have read about) makes less sense.

    And to marc, remember what things were like before you were born. I suspect the afterlife will be about the same.

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  7. Well Ark, I was simply completing the sentence that you began and requested me to complete.

    The real scientific low-down seems to be the theory of the Big Bang. I simply offered a somewhat dated possible explanation of what could have caused it. It is true that I share this view with the local rector and a fair number of other human beings.

    If we are agreed that the real scientific low-down is the theory of the Big Bang, and we are agreed that anything outside of time/space cannot be empirically measured, then perhaps you have a more plausible concept to explain the cause of the Big Bang. Please illuminate me.

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  8. Well said William ! god does seem to be bound by time. He is also bound by the printed word of the bible but I find it interesting many christians don’t want to admit this. They have so many reasons why this is not so when it goes against their belief system and yet they bind god to the word when it confirms their beliefs. IE , “We don’t stone people for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, but same sex marriage is wrong”

    The other day on this blogsite I quoted Isaiah 45:7 “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (KJV)

    I was told by a frequent christian blogger on this site that , “I think Isaiah is the high point of the OT, but I think we have to read him very carefully. In the OT, they tended to view God as responsible for everything (including sending evil spirits to King Saul), and in a sense that is true because he made it all. But I don’t believe he is directly responsible for evil.”

    He might be right and I know we can’t take everything in the bible “literally”, therefore we can’t “bind god” to every word, but who decides the ones we can and the ones we can’t ?

    I used this lengthy illustration to accentuate your point, “I agree, the more one thinks about all of this, the more a creator (at least one we have read about) makes less sense.”

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  9. William – Most folks would like to believe that there is life after death, and that they will be reunited with their reposed loved ones. This hope for reunion is also attached to a desire to understand the cause and purpose of life more fully.

    I think that most religions start out as possible explanations to these questions. Once the initial concepts have been developed and become part of a culture, there is a tendency for the leaders of a society to use the prevailing religion to control and exploit others by corrupting the initial concepts. The problems stem more from the general human condition, than religion itself.

    Regarding the scientific discoveries of the macro and micro cosmos, many people see elements of design that point to intelligence. This same scientific understanding causes many truth seekers to reject concepts of origin, such as those held by young earth creationists. Those who hold to an inerrant view of any of the ancient religious writings, are removing themselves further from the truth.

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  10. Marc, I agree, religion is a byproduct of the human condition.

    But because people desire and hope for something, doesn’t equate it to reality – no matter how pleasant it may or may not be – Which I’m sure you know. I just wanted to leave the obvious point regarding what most people like to believe.

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  11. If we are agreed that the real scientific low-down is the theory of the Big Bang, and we are agreed that anything outside of time/space cannot be empirically measured, then perhaps you have a more plausible concept to explain the cause of the Big Bang. Please illuminate me.

    Of course, Marc.
    More than willing to oblige.

    The answer is….I Don’t Know.

    As you are a person who values truth and honesty and will no doubt eschew lies at every turn, this will be your answer too I am sure. Yes?

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  12. @CHope

    First of all, thanks for your kind compliment!

    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 agree with your husband. Despite my outspokenness in the blog world (even having my real name attached to my comments, etc), I don’t go out of my way to broadcast my lack of belief here. I have talked to the administration at my children’s school, however, when religion has crept in there. But even then, I never spell out my exact beliefs.

    If someone asks me what I believe, I tell them. And I’m happy to go into as much detail as they’re interested in hearing. But I grew up feeling the need to help save the “lost.” It’s a tough burden to bear — I always had to be concerned with the beliefs of everyone I met, in case they needed to “hear the good news.” Now, I don’t have to worry about it. So rather than be an evangelist against religion, I can just be a regular guy who simply doesn’t care what other people believe, as long as it doesn’t infringe on me. It’s a nice feeling. 🙂

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  13. @eSell — thanks for the comment! I’ve always loved that quote from Dawkins. Julia Sweeney has said something similar. She compares it to us wondering at how amazing it is gloves fit our fingers. What are the odds?! 😉

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  14. “Julia Sweeney…compares it to us wondering at how amazing it is gloves fit our fingers. What are the odds?! ;)”

    I don’t think that supports your point. The glove was intelligently designed.

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  15. Yes, the glove was, but the fingers weren’t. If I remember correctly, she’s essentially telling it from the gloves’ perspective. Thanks for your comment, btw!

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  16. If live were created to live in this world, and the world were created for us to live in, then I suspect it would work out to where we are well suited for our world, and our world is well suited for us.

    If there were no creator life began essentially by chance and has evolved over time, then I suspect we’d see that life, that is surviving, to be reasonably suited to its world in which it lives.

    Both philosophies seem to have relative sense behind them. I guess we could argue as to how well the world is really suited to us all (death, poison, illness, etc), but this argument wouldn’t phase a fervent believer, so I won’t address it.

    One of the problems I see is that most religious people take position 1 and then make the gigantic leap that life was created by the creator in their book and then use that assumed premise as a justifiable launch pad for the rest of their dogma.

    The glove and hand analogy seems like it could as easily go either way too. The believer will say that both the hand and the glove were designed and created. The nonbeliever will say that the hand evolved (like our world) and the glove (life) was created (evolved) to match its world – like water takes the form of the vessel it’s in.

    I guess I don’t have the answer. I can see where KC is coming from and I have considered Deism myself. It is so far the only faith bases system that I haven’t quite ruled out. Deism is sort of like Mars Hill’s Unknown God. I am just not convinced of it. There have been too many things that were once thought to be unknowable and attributed to god, that are now knowable and explainable by science (tide, light, gravity, etc, etc.). All of those lead me to suspect that everything is the same – and besides, I just cant reconcile the ridiculous problems in the bible now that I’ve seen them. I really don’t mean to be condescending, but you all have got see what I mean by now.

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  17. @William, ” I can see where KC is coming from and I have considered Deism myself. ”

    I identify myself as a Deist in the loosest of terms because I am not ready to concede the Big Bang was a spontaneous event without a cause. I’m also not ready to concede the “cause” was a god either.

    The conundrum is we really don’t know how the big bang started. Science desperately wants to prove it couldn’t have happened with a “tribal creator god” and I can imagine some of the reasons for this and religion desperately wants to claim it did.

    If you read the notes from a Stephen Hawking Lecture , http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html , he does an excellent job explaining the history of the various scientific theories which have been put forth over the past 60 or so years. He also explains why some failed and others have been deemed “plausible”.

    Until we find out, I guess I will remain a Deist (in the loosest of terms) and stuck in the middle. 🙂

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  18. Agnostic, deist, either and both are fine to me. I can get them both – I think i am more of an agnostic who wishes there were a god, but thinks there probably isn’t.

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  19. William and Ken, I really appreciate your posts. I think you are both sincere and intelligent seekers of truth. As my journey has led me through periods of agnostic and deistic perspective, I really relate to what you both have to say.

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  20. Thanks Marc !

    I appreciate your comment . I don’t pretend to know the answers. This is why I continue to read lots of books and visit blogs like Nate’s .

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  21. Hey Nate!

    I know that you, and a lot of your visitors, have posed questions to me about my beliefs. I really DO want to answer all your questions, but I don’t want to give simplistic answers to complex questions. I’m hoping that my blog will give you some idea of my thinking.

    I’ve just posted something new: http://whatisthisthingcalledgod.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/dangerous-lies/#more-33.

    I’d love it if you (and all my other pals that frequent this board) would read it and give me a comment.

    Thanks!

    Paul

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