Fine tuning argument

More and more I hear the apparent “fine-tuning” of the universe being given as an argument to “prove” existence of a god. This goes along the lines that there are a number of critical physical constants underlying the nature of our universe. If either of these had even slightly different values our universe would be very different. Stars and galaxies would not form. Carbon would not be manufactured in the stars and hence life would not occur.

Proponents of this “proof” argue that the chance of our universe having physical constants with these values is impossibly small. Therefore there must have been a divine intelligence to ensure our universe has physical constants with the measured values.

A modern “proof”

This is a relatively recent argument (or “proof”) and has only arisen because modern science itself is asking this question: Why do the physical constants have the values they do? Is it by chance or does it arise out of the nature of matter itself?

These questions arise because of the progress humanity has made in understanding the fundamental nature of reality. This is an ongoing endeavour and the fact that these questions are being posed is an indication that humanity will set about trying to answer them. That is the nature of science. We are at the stage of saying “we don’t know the answers to these questions – but let’s find out!”

These answers will come out of work on unifying relativity and quantum theories, “string” theory and improving our understanding of the very early fractions of a second in the formation of the universe. Inflationary models of “big bang” theory, cycling universes, “big splat” theories, etc. come out of the speculation. We are at the stage of speculating what the answers might be but these are still speculations. We hope current and future scientific research will provide evidence supporting or disproving some of these speculations.

However, I think there are two aspects to the way the “fine-tuning” argument is being used.

Is this a “proof”

Aren’t those who resort to this argument just looking for support for a preconceived belief? A very human action, of course, but not a scientific proof for the belief. Would those people advancing this “proof” renounce their belief in a god if future science established that the “fine-tuned” physical constants was an inherent property of matter itself? That there was no may for the physical constant to be otherwise?

No, of course not!

Answers come from science, not relgion

God is not a scientific explanation of phenomena like this. Humanity doesn’t stop and say “Yes, of course, the physical constants are the way they are because God ordained them to be so!

No, we get to work. Come up with speculative ideas. Advance hypotheses. Test these through experiment and prediction. Advance explanatory theories and continue to refine them by mapping them against reality. Advancing a “god explanation” as an answer would be a science stopper – it would prevent us from ever understanding why things are the way they are.

Fine-tuned universe is still only a speculation

We don’t know if there was any “choice” in the way our universe has turned out. Maybe there was no “choice” – the specific fine-tuning arose inevitably as a result of the way matter is. Maybe conditions in the early formation of the universe did enable a “choice.” Maybe our universe is the only one that exists. Maybe there are multiple universes – each with different values of physical constants. Maybe new universes are being formed all the time.

At this stage these are all just speculations. Interesting speculations – but which ones are viable and which are to be discredited will be determined by future scientific investigation.

See also
The Multiverse – the universe is not enough

Related articles
Intelligent design and depression
Intelligent design and scientific method
Can religion answer the questions science can’t?
Bringing the supernatural into science
Does science involve faith?
Does science involve faith?
Isaac Newton and intelligent design

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4 responses to “Fine tuning argument

  1. Ken, here the anthropic principle can come into play: there might be an array of planets (or universes) where life may or may not form. The fact that we are here talking about this means that we live in such a planet (or universe) despite the very small possibility -how could it be otherwise?!? There is no need to attribute such (apparent to us) fine-tuning to a supernatural entity.

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  2. Hmm, I changed my publicly available nickname from “caisersoze” to “stavros” but it doesn’t seem to do anything in retrospect for previous comments. Anyway, just to clarify things :-)

    stavros

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  3. I posting a reply here as well as the comments section on my blog.

    I was afraid I’d done a poor job articulating what I’m looking for. And I realize that I’m asking for something that really isn’t fair. I’m asking you to prove a negative.

    Let me try to rephrase my question.

    What specifically is it for you, other than the arguments for God not being adequate, that convinces you to believe that there is no God? In other words suppose for a moment that the null hypothesis was “God exists”, how would you explain the antithesis of that statement?

    I ask this question humbly because I completely realize that the burden of proof is on the theist. I’m just really curious if belief in no God is the result of inadequate reasons to believe or belief in no God is self-sustaining. I hope that makes some sense.

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  4. Mootpoints – at the scientific level one has to have an hypothesis to test before one can consider evidence. As Lloyd Geering pointed out: “The question of the existence or non-existence of a god is nonsensical until the god is defined. Without definition it is a stupid question” (Heresy, or common sense?).

    In my experience people who believe in a “god” talk blithely about a “god” without having a common definition. With that situation it is silly to then put the onus on someone who doesn’t have that belief to make any proof. Put up a specific hypothesis and then it can be considered.

    And does it matter anyway. Theists are hardly likely to accept any such proof. Their convictions don’t rely on scientific evidence. (Mind you, good evidence might convince atheists to change their minds).

    Non scientifically – for me when I was standing outside church at the age of 10 or 12 one of my friends commented – “I believe that Jesus existed but I can’t believe there is such a person as God.” That made sense to me and I have not had any reason to think differently since.

    Of course, there may well be experiences in my future, or scientific evidence discovered in the future, which convinces me differently. Hopefully though, I will be sufficiently mentally competent to be able to see a specific hypothesis or theory that makes sense whether I call it a god or not.

    Meanwhile, it really isn’t an important question to me. I judge people on the actions and humanitarian beliefs, not on the specific religious doctrine they may have (as long as it isn’t dangerous).

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