Reading Time: 3 minutes


I’ve discussed the role of the multiverse in dismissing the fine-tuning argument here, here, and most recently here. This time, I’d like to look at a few less-well-known arguments.

Replacing “Science doesn’t know” with “God did it!” as this and other Christian apologetic arguments do, is simply renaming the problem. It’s only an attempt to stop the conversation; it doesn’t tell us anything new. It doesn’t answer the question but simply raises new ones: why did God create the universe? How? Which rules of physics were used, and which were broken? And so on.

1. What probability?

This argument is from Counter Arguments. If God is responsible for everything, both probable and improbable, then probability doesn’t exist. Said another way, the idea of independent events unchanged by any intelligence goes away if God is behind everything. And if there’s no probability, then the appeal to probability in the fine-tuning argument becomes impossible, and the argument collapses.

2. Would God be behind un-fine-tuned universes, too?

Imagine a different universe (Universe X) where the parameters didn’t look fine tuned for life, and life was guaranteed. How would the Christian apologist critique it?

If (hypothesis 1) they are consistent and use the same fine-tuning logic, that divine intervention would be necessary if life were very improbable, then (oops!) God was unnecessary to create life in Universe X. But if (hypothesis 2) they use the opposite logic—the more probable life, the more probable divine intervention is—then God must’ve created it in Universe X.

Which do you suppose they would go with—hypothesis 1 that God was unlikely to have created Universe X or hypothesis 2 that God was likely? They’re in the business of rationalizing their conclusion, so they would pick the one that pleases them most, and that’s possible because “God” is so poorly defined. He’s a clay sculpture that they can shape into whatever is called for so that they can continue to justify their beliefs. That’s great if they want to maintain their belief at any cost, but part of that cost is consistency (Source: Counter Arguments)

3. Coarse Tuning

This argument is from the article, “Probabilities and the Fine-Tuning Argument” by McGrew, McGrew, and Vestrup (paywall).

First, start with the fine-tuning argument. We have a handful of physical constants so carefully balanced that if any were tweaked by the tiniest amount, life in the universe would be impossible.

Imagine an n-dimensional space, with one axis for each of the different constants we’re considering. Assume that these constants can (in principle) be anything. There’s a tiny volume in this space within which life is possible, but the total space is infinite in size. What’s the probability that you’d hit the sweet spot by chance? Tiny volume ÷ infinite space = 0, so the probability is zero. And that’s the punch line for this argument: if the likelihood of randomly hitting this life-giving sweet spot is infinitesimally small, there must be a designer.

Now, imagine that the volume is actually very large and that the values that define our universe could be changed in any dimension by ten orders of magnitude, and life would still be possible. This is the coarse-tuning situation. If we’re in the middle of a sweet spot that’s this huge—it’s 10 billion on each side—who would be making the fine-tuning argument now? But the problem remains! That vastly bigger volume ÷ infinite space is still zero. The likelihood of randomly hitting this sweet spot remains infinitesimally small, but we’ve agreed that this is not remarkable. Conclusion: deducing a designer with the fine-tuning argument fails.

Said another way, the fine-tuning argument is no stronger than the coarse-tuning argument. Why then would no apologist make a coarse-tuning argument?

4. Monkey God

Physicist Vic Stenger directly confronted the fine-tuning argument with his Monkey God simulation. He took four constants from which can be computed the average lifetime of a star, the size of planets, and other traits that would predict whether a universe might allow life. His simulation randomly varies these constants within a range five orders of magnitude higher and five lower than their actual values to see what kind of universe the combination creates. His conclusion: “A wide variation of constants of physics has been shown to lead to universes that are long-lived enough for complex matter to evolve.”

We know so little about life that there is little to say about whether life would come from this complex matter, but this seems a strong counterexample.

This reminds me of physicist Sean Carroll’s observation, “I will start granting that [life couldn’t exist with different conditions] once someone tells me the conditions under which life can exist.”

To be concluded in part 2.

A universe with a supernatural presence
would be a fundamentally and qualitatively
different kind of universe from one without.
The difference is, inescapably, a scientific difference.
Religions make existence claims,
and this means scientific claims.
Richard Dawkins

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 4/30/14.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia


Avatar photo

CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...