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Mar 31 2010

Why “The Universe Is Perfectly Set Up For Life” Is a Terrible Justification for God’s Existence

Radio_control_knobs “But the Universe is so perfectly fine-tuned for life. What are the chances that this happened by accident? Doesn’t it seem like the Universe had to have been created this way on purpose?”

As I’ve written before: Many arguments for religion and against atheism are so bad, they can’t even be considered arguments. They’re not serious attempts to offer evidence or reason supporting the existence of God. They’re simply attempts to deflect legitimate questions, or ad-hominem insults of atheists, or the baffling notion that “I want to believe” is a good argument, or attempts to just make the questions go away. Or similar nonsense.

But some arguments for religion do sincerely offer evidence and reason for the existence of God. They’re still not very good arguments, and the evidence and reason being offered still don’t hold water…. but they’re sincere arguments, so I’m doing them the honor of addressing them.

Today’s argument: the argument from fine-tuning.

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Thus begins my latest piece on AlterNet: Why “The Universe Is Perfectly Set Up For Life” Is a Terrible Justification for God’s Existence. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

9 comments

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  1. 1
    Maria

    I don’t know why I read the comments over there. The very first comment made me headdesk!
    “Christina presumes to know what perfection is, what life is, where it is, and what space is. If it is perfect, it is perfect, contradictions, tears, snakes and all.”
    In other words, if you have claimed that God has made a perfect universe, and it’s pointed out to you that the universe is, in fact, not perfect, then just redefine the word perfect to include everything that isn’t perfect, and… voila, everything is again perfect, and so God exists!
    *Headdesks again*

  2. 2
    Greta Christina

    Maria, don’t read the AlterNet comments if you want to stay sane. I don’t.
    But yes, you hit the nail on the head. They want to have it both ways. They want to point to the wonderfulness of the universe as proof that God exists… but when flaws are pointed out, they won’t acknowledge that they’re flaws. Head they win, tails we lose.
    Also, I don’t think this commenter read the piece. This piece wasn’t about pain and suffering as proof that the universe is imperfect. This piece was about a very specific argument: the argument that the laws of physics and so on are so perfectly fine-tuned for life to exist that they had to have been set up that way on purpose. It’s hard to argue when people don’t read past the headline.

  3. 3
    Tim Foster

    I think you discount some of the improbability. One sequence of die rolls is more or less interchangable with the next, but if every sequence but yours ended the world, then it would be remarkable if we survived past ten rolls, and we should ask why. Similarly, if some physical constants are tweaked, then stars never form, or nucleii above Z=2 never form, etc. Things seem to work out remarkably well for a complex universe to show up. There are just so many things that could lead to a really boring one.
    I don’t regard this as an argument for the existance of a shaping power (you correctly point out why this doesn’t mean there was a creator), but neither is it resolved by our current natural understanding. Is there some underlying reason things would work out so well? Is there a multitude of universes, so the fact that a complex universe exists is less remarkable (like making 60 million attempts to get that die roll)?
    This is one of the great unanswered questions of science, so I don’t think it is fair to compare it to your birth or a sequence of ten dice. I don’t think those analogues maintain the legitimate mystery surrounding the issue.

  4. 4
    Maria

    Maria, don’t read the AlterNet comments if you want to stay sane. I don’t.
    I know… I must be some kind of masochist!

  5. 5
    Torgo

    For future reference, you might add this to the list of problems with this argument: A fundamental premise of the argument is that life could not exist without this fine tuning. If this is so, then whatever designer made it is not God, since the designer is not omnipotent. If life can only exist under a very narrow range of conditions, then this is a limitation on the Designer, and hence it’s not the God of theism.
    Of course, the theist is likely to reply that God could have created life under different conditions, but that undermines a basic premise of the Fine Tuning Argument, and the argument fails.

  6. 6
    DSimon

    Tim, the big problem there is that there’s no particular reason to think that the universe’s current state was randomly chosen from a set of equally possible states. We really have no idea if the universe could possibly be any way other than it is, so even the initial idea that the universe was a lucky dice roll isn’t warranted by the evidence (as I understand it…)
    That is to say, why the universe fundamenatlly is the way it is, and not some other sort of universe, is a darn interesting topic, but we aren’t really even equipped to know what questions to ask about that topic just yet.

  7. 7
    hyperdeath

    Most of those Alternet comments are just plain weird. They resemble bile-laden streams of consciousness, meandering incoherently between bare assertions, fallacies of relevance, and attempted condescension. The sad thing is, the authors probably believe themselves to be intelligent.

  8. 8
    Emile

    I am an atheist and on your side, but I don’t think this article really addresses “fine tuning” in the way that many creationists use the term…such as the very narrow range of the weak force, gravity, strong force, etc. that are required for life to exist. These are the fundamental mechanisms of the universe that appear to be so finely tuned. The argument about the inhospitably of most of the universe and how humans really aren’t special are good ones, but I don’t fit them into the fine tuning argument.

  9. 9
    ckitching

    Tim, I think the problem is we don’t even understand enough about those physical constants to say anything about fine tuning at all. Some of the things we think are fixed constants may tomorrow turn out to be derived from some other constant in such a way that they’re always properly balanced. We may find that there are very few ‘knobs’ for tuning the universe, or perhaps we’ll find that there are none.
    The correct answer to why do these constants all seem to be properly balanced for matter (and life as we know it) to exist is, “I don’t know (yet)”. The position that says, “goddidit,” doesn’t advance our understanding of the universe at all, and, worse still, often impairs our efforts of furthering our understanding of it.

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