Our Universe and the Faith to Deny God

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Our Universe

The universe is remarkable; teeming with quasars and quarks, planets and parasites, forces and fields; it remains a mind blowing, category exploding, and significance shrinking reality. Then there is our pale blue dot of a planet, adrift in an endless ocean of black; seemingly small and inconsequential.

Yet, our world is also an extraordinary place with its wide variety of breathtaking beauty, awe-inspiring artistry and tremendous cruelty. And here we find ourselves, conscious of our surroundings, naturally curious, and possessing what seems to be an insatiable desire to understand our environment. And it may be argued that science, more than any other human discipline, has aided us in our quest for knowledge and truth about our material universe.

But can science act as signpost directing us towards the existence of a supernatural creator? Many philosophers and physicists have begun to think that, in certain instances, this may very well be the case. In this brief article we will examine one such instance involving the fine-tuning of the universe.

 

Fine-Tuning

In his essay, Evidence for Fine-Tuning, Robin Collins presents 6 cases of fine-tuning that are widely accepted by physicists.[1] When the laws of nature, or the various forces operating in the cosmos (i.e. the Strong and Weak Nuclear Forces, or the Electromagnetic Force), are expressed by mathematical equations you find in them certain symbols that stand for unchanging quantities called constants, which are, for the most part, astoundingly fine-tuned for life.

Throughout the course of Collins brief article he discusses both one-sided and two-sided examples of fine-tuning. For example, the gravitational constant involves two-sided fine-tuning to the degree of one part in 10 to the 36th power.[2] This represents a staggering number larger then the approximate amount of seconds that have passed since the inception of the universe, which is somewhere around 10 to the 17th power (that is, the number 10 with 17 zeros after it). For those who, like myself, have difficulty comprehending the magnitude of these numbers consider these helpful analogies:

For example, Collins suggests that the precision of the gravitational constant is akin to a ruler stretching across the entire breadth of the universe broken down in to one-inch increments. Now, even if you adjusted the gravitational force one inch in either direction no life would be possible. The Gravitational constant, therefore, is an incredible example of two-sided fine-tuning, equivalent to throwing a dart from outer space and hitting a target on earth the size of an atom.[3]

 

One-Side Fine-tuning

There is also one-sided fine-tuning. For example, the so-called Cosmological Constant is a repulsive force implicit in Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity[4], which in a sense regulates, or ‘decides’ the speed at which our universe expands. Dr. Leonard Susskind, a physicist from Stanford, describes this constant as a type of ‘anti-gravity’ force.[5] The expulsive power of this force is relatively minuscule and only exerts its influence on large, large objects in our cosmos; in fact, its relative strength could be written out with a decimal point followed by around 123 zeroes and then a one. The number would look like this:

0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001

To grasp the precision involved think of carpentry; carpenters are often required to make very precise cuts into blocks of wood. At times the carpenter, or the everyday craftsmen, may have to cut a board to within a thousandth of an inch. This is a very precise cut, which would look like this if written out: 0.0001. Obviously, the carpenter’s cut doesn’t even compare with the almost unfathomable knife-edge represented by the Cosmological Constant.

As mentioned above, the Cosmological Constant is an example of one-sided fine-tuning. Though the Cosmological Constant could be weaker, it could not be even the tiniest degree stronger for if it were slightly stronger, matter would not have coalesced and the implications for complex life would be devastating; there would be no stars, planets, or people. The Cosmological Constant exists, therefore, right at the edge of a staggering precipice; more precise than any carpenter’s saw could ever cut.

 

Initial Conditions

Moreover, the fine-tuning also involves certain arbitrary quantities placed in as initial conditions of the universe, which apparently dictate the manner in which the cosmos developed. Examples would include the balance of matter to anti-matter and the level of entropy at the beginning of the universe. Roger Penrose, from Oxford University, predicted that the odds of the low-entropy state existing by chance alone would be in the order of one chance out of 10 to the 10th power to the hundred and twenty-third power; a number that is unimaginably large.[6]

Clearly, the universe is fine-tuned for life in the various ways mentioned above.[7] Though it is debatable amongst the experts, there are around two-dozen or more instances of fine-tuning. And in some cases (like those mentioned above), the miniscule range of life-permitting values is incredible, mind-boggling; so staggeringly precise that it appears far beyond the ability of chance alone to plausibly explain.

 

How do we explain the fine-tuning?

If the universe did not have to be in its current state through some type of logical or physical necessity, which certainly seems to be the case[8], then the fine-tuning would either be due to chance or deliberate design. Philosopher William Lane Craig formulates the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God in this manner:

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to physically necessity, chance or design.
  2. The fine-tuning is not plausibly due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore, the fine-tuning is due to design.[9]

Instead of arguing for the truth of each premise in this article, I will instead respond to common objections that seek to salvage the chance option and avoid the conclusion of a designer.

 

The Weak Anthropic Principle

It is not uncommon to respond to the fine-tuning argument by claiming that the universe must be fine-tuned for life; otherwise we would not be here noticing the fact. This is called the Weak Anthropic Principle and it, by itself, represents a feeble attempt to rescue the chance option. Allow me to explain this by way of an analogy:

In the biblical book bearing his name, a man called Daniel defies the decree of a powerful King. As a result, Daniel is thrown into a den of hungry, ill-treated lions. Given this scenario it is overwhelmingly more likely that he will be torn apart by lions, then emerge from the den unharmed and full of health, especially considering that (likely) no one else has ever emerged completely unscathed.

Therefore when Daniel escapes from his sleepless night with the lions unharmed, some type of explanation is necessary. Did God deliver him by shutting the mouths of the lions? Were the lions to weak from hunger to attack him? Was Daniel’s scent unappealing? An explanation is required!

But imagine if, unlike the biblical story, Daniel returned back to his shared cell after his night in the lion’s den. His fellow prisoner is amazed; ‘you are back alive and unharmed! How did this happen? ‘The ‘gods’ must have favored you.’ But Daniel responds, ‘What do you mean the ‘gods’ favored me, or the ‘gods’ shut the teeth of the lions?’ Of course, the lions didn’t eat me otherwise I wouldn’t be here noticing the fact that I am alive. No other explanation is required.’

Daniel’s statement is, of course, true, but it doesn’t negate the need for an explanation, given the altogether more likely odds that the lions would have overpowered and crushed him.

In a similar manner, our universe must be fine-tuned in order for us to notice that fact, but that doesn’t explain why it is the case; it just repeats the very fact that needs explaining.

The above objection to the fine-tuning argument mistakes a necessary condition for a sufficient explanation of that condition. Again, the existence of conscious embodied beings requires the universe to be fine-tuned for our existence (necessary condition), but the real question is, ‘why is the cosmos life-permitting given the narrow range of life-permitting values, and when it appears incredibly more likely that it would be life-prohibiting?’

*When discussing the improbability of our universe being life-permitting we are not, of course, referring to statistical probability; this would require us knowing how many universes there are in existence and the amount of life-permitting universes contained within that overall number; thereby leading us to claim that the odds of our universe being life-permitting are one in ten (Or one in a million or billion or something like that). Here is what we do mean: imagine the constants that are apparent in the fundamental laws of the universe as various dials that regulate the flourishing of sentient life. Adjust one of the dials, even a tiny degree, and if a life-permitting universe results draw a blue dot, whereas if a life-prohibiting universe ensues draw a red dot. Repeat this process millions and millions of times. Given the narrow range of life-permitting values, we end up with an overwhelming ocean of red dots with only a few blue dotes interspersed throughout the sea of red. It is in this sense that a life-prohibiting universe is far more likely than a life-permitting universe, which is why the fact that we are here at all begs for an explanation.[10]

 

The Multiverse

There is, however, another attempt to save the chance hypothesis and it happens to be the most popular option employed by physicists; it is referred to as the multiverse or the megaverse. In this controversial view, there are potentially an infinite number of universes with different laws and different constants. Our universe is just one member of this larger world-ensemble. And given enough universes and enough time, one universe is bound to be life-permitting and this, of course, is the universe we find ourselves in. In this way, the multiverse theory is often conjoined with the Weak Anthropic Principle to provide an explanation for the fine-tuning.[11]

Before mentioning potential problems with the multiverse explanation a few brief points should be noted: Firstly, the attempt made by physicists to explain the fine-tuning of our universe by invoking a multiverse is a blatant admission of the fact that the precision of the constants must be explained and the explanatory (or probabilistic) resources of our single universe are not enough to accomplish the task by chance alone.

Secondly, God could have created a multitude of universes so we should have no a priori objections to the idea; only, perhaps, a sneaking a posteriori suspicion that the idea is only seriously entertained to avoid the overwhelming appearance of design apparent in the mathematical descriptions of our universe.

Thirdly, as many have pointed it out, it is likely that the mechanism required to produce said multiverse would, itself, be fine-tuned and thereby require a fine-tuner. As a result the problem of fine-tuning is not solved; it is just pushed one step back.

 

Potential Problems

Despite the above points, there are at least two potential problems with postulating a multiverse to explain the fine-tuning: Firstly, the multiverse seems to be an egregious violation of Ockham’s razor,[12] or in the words of Richard Dawkins, “An unparsimonious extravagance.”[13] As philosopher William Lane Craig notes:

The error made by the Many-Worlds Hypothesis is that it multiplies one’s probabilistic resources without warrant. If we are allowed to do that, then it seems that anything can be explained away. For example, a card player who gets four aces every time he deals could explain this away by saying, ‘there are an infinite number of universes with poker games going on in them, and therefore in some of them someone always by chance gets four aces every time he deals and – lucky me! – I just happen to be in one of those universes.[14]

Now, we wouldn’t allow someone to get away with that type of explanation in cards, so why would we regard it as a passable explanation when referring to the whole cosmos?

Secondly, the multiverse model is highly theoretical with no real empirical confirmation and it remains difficult to see how this theory would receive such confirmation in the future making it equivalent to an unjustified leap of faith.[15] As scientist/theologian John Polkinghorne has pointed out, “People try to trick out a ‘many universe’ account in sort of pseudo-scientific terms, but that is pseudo-science. It is a metaphysical guess that there may be many universes with different laws and circumstances.”[16]

More could be said but, in the end, given that all attempts to save the chance hypothesis appear untenable it is more than safe to conclude that, given an atheistic universe; it is very surprising indeed (to speak modestly) that the cosmos would be fine-tuned for conscious embodied life.

Therefore, when it comes to explaining the fine-tuning of our universe, if physical necessity is not a credible option and chance isn’t up for the job, we are dumped by the above argument, in an unceremonious fashion perhaps, at the feet of a cosmic designer.[17]

 

Conclusion[18]

In the end, no one can prove that God exists, and no one can prove that God doesn’t exist; for that would require an exhaustive knowledge of the universe, which no one has. Clearly, to believe in God requires faith, but so does denying His existence (though the atheist would likely fight this claim).

Regardless, I often find myself inclined to think that it takes more faith to deny God’s existence. Perhaps this admission is nothing but a revealing glimpse into my own psychology; yet apart from God’s existence, we may find ourselves forced to conclude that something can come out of nothing, that impersonal matter can create personality, that unconscious matter can created consciousness, and that our minds can emerge from mindless matter, which if true would seem to give us little reason to trust our minds (which makes the whole thing appear self-defeating).

 

And I just can’t muster the faith.

 

In the case of a multiverse, it requires more faith (in my view) to believe that there are potentially an infinite number of universes that we can’t see, touch, taste or feel, and for which we have no evidence, than to simply believe that God designed the cosmos with us in mind.

 

About the Author

Chris Price

Chris Price is the lead pastor at Calvary Baptist church and the author of Suffering with God, published by Apologetics Canada. He lives in Port Coquitlam, B.C. with his beautiful wife Diandra and his two children Kaeden and Mila.


[1] Edited by Neil A. Manson, God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science. p. 178

[2] ibbid. p. 190

[3] Pick whichever image works for you; both come from pen of Robin Collins.

[4] Albert Einstein originally introduced the Cosmological constant into his equations that attempted to describe a steady-state universe. He later called introducing the cosmological constant into his equations his ‘biggest blunder’ and sought to remove it. However, in the 1990’s once it was discovered that the universe’s expansion was actually speeding up, the term was reintroduced as a repulsive force to counteract the force of gravity. In the book by Joanne Baker, 50 ideas you really need to know universe, she writes on this topic: “The supernova results, taken with other cosmological data, such as the cosmic background radiation pattern, showed that a new repulsive force was needed. But it was quite a weak force. It is still a puzzle today why it is so weak, as there is no particular reason why it did not adopt a much larger value and perhaps completely dominate space over gravity. Instead it is very close in strength to gravity so has a subtle effect on space-time as we see it now. This negative energy term has bee named ‘dark’ energy.”  P. 82

[5] See. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cT4zZIHR3s

[6] Many people argue that this type of fine-tuning argument portrays a carbon bias. If the constants of nature were different perhaps other life forms would emerge that are not carbon based as we are. For example, Silicon based life might be an option given different values for the constants. This type of response underestimates the devastating implications for any type of life that would result from adjusting some of these constants. For example, if the strong nuclear force were adjusted slightly there would no heavier elements in the universe. If you made slight changes in some of the various constants you wouldn’t simply arrive at other forms of life, like silicon based organisms, you would have no life at all – just an over abundance of hydrogen dispersed through the universe.

[7] Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator. pp. 131, 132

[8] Theoretical Physicist, Paul Davies writes, “Some scientists have tried to argue that if only we knew enough about the laws of physics, if we were to discover a final theory that united all the fundamental forces and particles of nature into a single mathematical scheme, then we would find that this superlaw, or theory of everything, would describe the only logically consistent world. In other words, the nature of the physical world would be entirely the consequence of logical and mathematical necessity. There would be no choice about it. I think this is demonstrably wrong. There is not a shred of evidence that the Universe is logically necessary. Indeed, as a theoretical physicist I find it rather easy to imagine alternative universes that are logically consistent, and therefore equal contenders for reality. God and Design. Edited by Neil A. Manson. Paul, Davies, Design in Physics and Cosmology. p. 148

[9] Dr. Robin Collins formulates the argument in a different manner. Whereas Dr. Craig’s argument is more of an inference to the best explanation, Collins produce a probabilistic version of the argument:

  1. The existence of a fine-tuned universe with conscious, embodied life (and elegant laws of nature) is not surprising if God exists.
  2. The existence of a fine-tuned universe with conscious embodied life (and elegant laws of nature) is very surprising if God doesn’t exist.
  3. From premises 1 and 2, it follows that the fine-tuning data provides significant evidence in favor of theism over atheism.

In formulating the argument in this manner Collins is relying on probabilistic reasoning. He is not, however, employing statistical probability, but epistemic probability. A discussion of this distinction, though crucial for a proper understanding of Collins argument, is beyond the scope of this article. However, the reader should keep in mind that the above pattern of reasoning is used frequently in the historical sciences. For example, this is how Darwin himself reasoned in The Origin of Species. The geographical dispersion of species, the anatomical similarities between certain species; various ‘design’ flaws, are all much more surprising (or improbable) if one assumes that each species was created by a direct act of God than if one assumes that Darwin’s theory is correct. Therefore, the above observed facts all constitute evidence in favor of Darwin’s theory over and above special creation. Now, regardless of what we think about Darwin’s theory, or his grasp on the creation story in Genesis one, the point remains; the exact same manner of abductive, probabilistic reasoning, is used by Robin Collins to construct his Fine-tuning argument.

[10] This example if often used by Dr. William Lane Craig, but it comes from the pens of Frank Barrow and John Tipler. See. William Lane Craig’s essay “Fine-tuning of the Universe”, in God and Design edited by Neil A. Manson. p. 167

[11] For example, Atheist Dr. Alex Rosenberg writes: “Why does our universe have the laws of nature and the physical parameters that make intelligent life possible? With an indefinitely large number of universes being created all the time, some of them will just happen to have the mix of things and forces that brings us about. To demand any more of an answer than that is like winning a lottery and demanding to know why you won. Every ticket holder had the same chance. Someone had to win. It was you. End of story.” Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions. p. 68

[12] Ockham’s razor is the scientific principle that basically states, don’t unnecessarily multiple your explanatory entities. Or all things being equal, favor the simpler more elegant hypothesis for the observed phenomenon.

[13] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion p. 146

[14]God and Design. P. 173

[15] The only potential evidence for the Multi-verse would be the fine-tuning of our universe. A fact that is better explained by a designer; and since we have other independent reasons to believe in God, and no other reasons to believe in a Multi-verse, the God hypothesis appears to be the most simple, compelling, and satisfactory answer.

[16] As quoted in, God and Design, p. 171

[17] What about flaws in the design? Often when people talk about flaws in the design they are referring to the biological sphere and our argument avoids that. But either way, there are several things that can be said: Firstly, flaws in a design don’t cancel out the need to postulate a designer. What they would suggest is that the designer is incompetent. In the case of nature you have seemingly remarkable precision and design (suggesting a brilliant designer), but also with recognizable flaws. There are several approaches a Christian, or a believer in God, could take when addressing the matter of flawed design: But due to space, let me simply say that the charge of incompetence can only stick to God if everything that is designed is still in the exact same condition in which he originally made it. Christians deny this on the basis of scripture and experience; Christians believe in creation and the fall. When we peer into the world our scriptures would lead us to expect both design and corruption, which is, of course, exactly what we do find. Therefore, the flaws in the design aren’t directly chargeable to the designer. We are now, of course, entering in to the realm of theodicy, which is far outside the original intent of this article.

[18] The fine-tuning argument was never intended to prove the existence of a God that possesses all of the traditional attributes found in full-fledged Christian theism. The goal of the design argument is far more modest. It seeks to show that there is a supernatural designer who is intelligent, wise and creative, which are all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the nature of the fine-tuning argument. This teleological argument does not seek to adjudicate on the moral character of the designer, or whether or not the designer possesses omniscience or omnipotent. The fine-tuning argument is, at its most modest, simply a defeater of naturalism, which insists that no supernatural reality exists outside of the material world.

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