Fine-tuning argument

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{{Arguments for god}}
{{Arguments for god}}

Revision as of 00:58, 14 March 2010

In cosmology, fine tuning refers to the precise balance of cosmological constants that allow the observable universe to exist as it does. These constants include the speed of light, the rate of expansion of the universe, the force of gravity, the nuclear strong force, the electromagnetic force, and many other parameters of the observable universe. These constants exist in such a state of precise equilibrium that any variation to their values would have resulted in a drastically different universe. The fine tuning argument states that these values occurring in such a precise state by mere chance is highly improbable, and that there must have been a creator to fine tune these values in order for our universe to exist as it does and for life to exist on Earth.



The argument of fine tuning is a rather new one. It has only become popular since the mid-1990s with recent observations about the observable universe and cosmological constants. Cosmologists have theorized that even minute variations in the values of these constants would have resulted in a radically different universe or one altogether unsuitable for supporting life as we know it.

  • Example 1: The rate of expansion of matter after the Big Bang had to occur at precisely the right rate to allow our universe to form as it has. If it had expanded any faster, matter would have dissipated too quickly for stars and solar systems to form. If it had occurred any slower, the universe would have collapsed upon itself shortly after the Big Bang, resulting in what is known as a Big Crunch.
  • Example 2: The strong nuclear force is the force which binds protons and neutrons together in the nucleus of an atom. Scientists have calculated that variations in the strong force of as little as ±1% would have drastically affected the breakdown of naturally occurring elements in the universe, prohibiting the formation of stars, black holes, and other natural occurring phenomena.

There are studies of numerous other constants with similar results.


Deists cite this remarkable balance of cosmological constants as evidence of a creator, being a far too unlikely set of circumstances to have occurred naturally. This is quickly becoming the argument of choice of creationism proponents like Lee Strobel. Strobel presents this concept as incontrovertible empirical evidence of God in his book The Case for a Creator.


  1. Essentially this argument is just a variation on the argument from design. The key difference here is that it misrepresents actual scientific evidence in such a way to support an unscientific conclusion. A more scientific conclusion would be to state that there is some unknown natural phenomenon to explain this apparent "fine tuning". See below.
  2. A problem arises from the premise that the cosmological constants are in fact 'fine tuned' at all. This premise assumes that there is a certain range of values that each constant could assume. The greater these ranges, the more unlikely that a given set of constants would have assumed the values we observe. However, to simply imagine a certain range of possible numerical values that each constant could assume and calculating the probability that this value would be arrived at by mere chance is fallacious for two reasons. Currently, we have no access to data that would tell us a) what range the constants could possibly assume in reality and b) how many trials there were in which the constants assumed certain values. If in a lottery one number were drawn from a pot of five numbers, then winning the lottery would become comparatively likely. Likewise, even if a trial with an extremely unlikely outcome - say winning an actual national lottery - were repeated a sufficient number of times, the outcome would become likely to occur overall. (See next point)
  3. Scientists theorize that given the infinite nature of time and space, an infinite number of other unobservable universes could exist parallel to our own, each with infinite variations of constants. This is known as the multiverse theory. Given infinite possibilities, the formation of a universe such as our own is not so inconceivable.
  4. Another flaw with this argument is that it assumes our universe is finely tuned for the sole purpose of supporting life. This is not the case at all. Given the laws of our universe, scientists theorize that our universe is composed of less than 2% baryonic matter, that is matter consisting of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Dark matter is by far the most common form of matter in our universe. Our universe, if anything, is far more suited for the creation of black holes than it is for supporting life. Life on our planet constitutes only an insignificant portion of our universe.
  5. The Earth's total mass is 5.9736×10^24 KG while the estimated total biomass on Earth is around 7×10^13 KG. This means that the percentage of life on Earth is 1.17182269 × 10^-9. That is .00000000117%. The Earth, let alone the universe, is hardly fine tuned for life. Man has created and tested much more finely tuned mediums for simple life in the form of specialized agar solutions that support life/medium ratios far greater than .00000000117%.
  6. In order for the probability argument to be valid, the fundamental constants under consideration have to be independent. That is, one cannot claim that the gravitational constant and the speed of expansion of the universe were individually tuned, since they are clearly related. The electromagnetic force is mediated by massless photons which travel at the speed of light, so therefore the strength of this force is likely related to the speed of light. Similar relationships may yet emerge between other constants.
  7. If there were a creator who "fine tuned" the universe for our existence, who "fine tuned" the universe in order for said creator to exist? The argument of a creator is infinitely paradoxical.
  8. The initial premise of the argument is that in order for life to exist, the universe must have such properties that warrant a designer. However in this line of reasoning, the designer of those properties would exist in a state where none of these properties were true. Therefore any properties deemed to require a designer can't be necessary for existence in the first place, as the designer can exist without them. The argument is self-refuting.
  9. If one starts with the assumption that humanity is an accident, the fine tuning argument makes no sense since if we are an accident, no fine tuning was necessary. For the fine tuning argument to make any sense, one has to start with the assumption that humanity is not an accident, which begs the question of a creator. But since the purpose of the argument is to prove that there is a god who created us, any such assumption renders the argument circular.

Firstly, it has to be pointed out that for an omnipotent God the fundamental constants would be irrelevant. An omnipotent God could have created us in a universe with any set of constants had he chose to. But this is not the line of thinking the theist takes. The constants had to be what they are because, as they claim, if they were different we would have no life. If the constants necessarily had to be what they are than that implies that there is some set of governing rules that even God must follow, that supercede his power. If God HAD to fine-tune the universe to these particular set of constants because not doing so would not have allowed him to bring life into existence (and as they claim in their argument, a different set and theres no life) then God is indeed NOT omnipotent.

Not withstanding the obvious fact that the universe really isn't very congenial towards life, as 99.999% of the observed universe is uninhabitable, Vic Stenger in his book God: The failed hypothesis, quotes a private communication with Martin Wagner in which he points out that:

"In fact, the whole argument from fine-tuning ultimately makes no sense. As my friend Martin Wagner notes, all physical parameters are irrelevant to an omnipotent God. 'he could have created us to live in a hard vacuum if he wanted.'"

Bertrand Russell:

"Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others? If you say that he did it simply from his own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others -- the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it -- if there was a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary."

We can view the universe as one of those massive safes that banks keep in their vaults, with a number of dials that must be set to specific values in order to open it. However, in our example, these dials can be literally set to any number, so that an infinite number of combinations are possible. The one combination that will open the safe is analogous to the values of the physical constants of the universe that allow the existence of intelligent life.

The "fine tuning" argument claims that it is, for all intents, impossible to randomly set the the values of the dials and, simply by chance, arrive at the correct combination that will open the safe. Only someone who actually knows the combination can open it. In the argument, this requires the existence of a god who knows the precise setting that will allow life to arise.

However, if this god is the creator of the universe and everything in it, then he is not limited to simply turning the dials on the safe. He must also have been responsible for building the safe itself, and setting the coimbination that allows it to be opened. This means he also has the ability to adjust the locking mechanism of the safe so that any combination he wants will open it. Therefore, it can no longer be said that only one combination is capable of opening the safe. Now, there is a literally infinite number of combinations that can open it.

Restated in the form of the argument itself: The (apparent) fact that only a specific combination of values of physical constants allows life to arise is, itself, an expression of a fundamental law of the universe. If God can change the values of those physical constants, there is no reason to believe he cannot also change the more fundamental laws that limit the conditions under which life will arise.

This has two fatal consequences for the "fine tuning" argument:

1) If God can, in fact, adjust the "combination" of the safe to any values he wants, this completely refutes the claim that life can only arise under a very specific set of circumstances. Rather, if such a God exists, life should be able to arise under any set of circumstances whatsoever, with infinite possibilities. The "fine tuning" argument, therefore, can no longer be used as evidence for the existence of such a God.

2) If, on the other hand, God cannot adjust the "combination", then this raises a situation that most theists would find unacceptable. It raises the question of who or what actually is reponsible for creating the safe, and deciding on its combination. God, in this scenario, is reduced to being a low-level employee of the bank, who is able to open the safe, but is not responsible for the operation of the safe itself, nor entrusted with the ability to set the combination of the safe. Those responsibilities must be taken over by some entity more powerful and important than God. This is incompatible with most theistic beliefs, particularly the Abrahamic monotheistic ones.

The theist can of course object that God is unchanging (as an appeal to his nature; the universe's laws are a part of his nature) and always chooses a certain combination (as a personal choice), but then the question why is the universe is the way it is? is the same as the question why is God the way he is?- a meaningless statement.

"What I have done is to show that it is possible for the way the universe began to be determined by the laws of science. In that case, it would not be necessary to appeal to God to decide how the universe began. This doesn't prove that there is no God, only that God is not necessary". [Stephen W. Hawking, Der Spiegel, 1989]

"One does not have to appeal to God to set the initial conditions for the creation of the universe, but if one does He would have to act through the laws of physics". [Stephen Hawking, Black Holes & Baby Universes]

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Affirming the consequent

The Fine Tuning argument presupposes that the phenomenon of life and it being presumably only possible in a universe with physical constants exactly like the ones in ours is what qualifies this as special or sublime, however, this is based entirely on nothing other than the entities that determine what qualifies this universe as special or sublime are living (humans). This is an affirming the consequent fallacy. It could also be seen as a confirmation bias fallacy. In a hypothetical universe with different physical constants, there may be an emergent natural phenomenon that is vastly more complex than the emergence of life, the evolution of life, and the ecology of life. This phenomenon, we will label "phenomenon x", would be impossible in our universe because our physical constants may not permit phenomenon x to occur. There is no objective reason why the possibility of life demands a fine tuner more than phenomenon x. There is also no objective reason why any natural phenomenon, no matter the complexity, should demand a fine tuner any more than another. Hypothetically, if it were shown that life of some kind is possible in most possible universes, but the phenomenon of lightning is only possible in this one, then an apologist might assert that because we occupy the only possible universe with lightning, this universe must have been finely tuned.

See also

External links

v · d Arguments for the existence of god
Anthropic arguments   Anthropic principle · Natural-law argument
Arguments for belief   Pascal's Wager · Argument from faith · Just hit your knees
Christological arguments   Argument from scriptural miracles · Would someone die for a lie? · Liar, Lunatic or Lord
Cosmological arguments   Argument from aesthetic experience · Argument from contingency · Cosmological argument · Fine-tuning argument · Kalam · Leibniz cosmological argument · Principle of sufficient reason · Unmoved mover · Why is there something rather than nothing?
Majority arguments   Argument from admired religious scientists
Moral arguments   Argument from justice · Divine command theory
Ontological argument   Argument from degree · Argument from desire · Origin of the idea of God
Dogmatic arguments   Argument from divine sense · Argument from uniqueness
Teleological arguments   Argument from design · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Laminin argument · Argument from natural disasters
Testimonial arguments   Argument from observed miracles · Personal experience · Argument from consciousness · Emotional pleas · Efficacy of prayer
Transcendental arguments   God created numbers · Argument from the meaning of life
Scriptural arguments   Scriptural inerrancy · Scriptural scientific foreknowledge · Scriptural codes
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