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Atheist Meme of the Day: The Universe Is Not Finely-Tuned for Life

Scarlet letterToday’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

The universe is not finely-tuned for life. The overwhelming majority of the universe is completely inhospitable to life, and life on Earth has a maximum of about a billion more years before the Sun heats up to the point where life will be impossible. It makes no sense to think that the universe was carefully designed so life could happen. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Comments

  1. Jim Baerg says

    If someone talks about the universe being ‘fine tuned’ for life, I want to display this picture, point to the ‘pale blue dot’ and note that that speck is the *only* place in the universe that we *know* is suitable for life

  2. says

    A funny thing about the proponents of theistic design (of one sort or another) is that they tend to assume that God couldn’t or wouldn’t have created a universe that is so fine-tuned for life that, in that universe, life emerges on its own. For some reason, life requires at least two creation acts.
    IOW, the fine-tuning argument, while perhaps not outright contradicting, certainly rubs up against the argument that the early Earth was so life-hostile that it needed divine intervention for life to appear.
    Not to mention, of course, that the same lines of evidence for “fine tuning” are inevitibly also evidence for a very old universe, so YECs using this argument are
 well, just about as silly as any YEC, it hardly makes a diff.

  3. llewelly says

    My favorite example is Jupiter, because it’s huge and well known. Everyone knows it has a width of “11 Earths” and a volume of “1320 Earths”, it’s (usually) the third brightest object in the night sky, and it’s inhospitable to human life. More, we’ve discovered thousands of “hot jupiters” in other solar systems, all of which are inhospitable to human life. And then there’s the overwhelming dominance of empty vacuum.

  4. Moxiequz says

    Jim: Did you mean to link to this picture?
    The link you provided shows Saturn (as pictured by Cassini). I mean, it’s a great photo and all but I’m assuming not the one you intended to post!
    And, I do agree with you – our home is a speck (a very, very fine speck but just a speck nonetheless).

  5. says

    Saturday Night Live’s Jack Handey said:
    Regardless of whether we ever find life there, I think Jupiter should be regarded as an Enemy Planet.

  6. jason says

    i think you might be misunderstanding the idea of a fine tuned universe.
    the theory of a fine tuned universe does not propose that any location in the universe is suitable for life nor does it propose that the current location of life will be suitable for eternity.
    what it DOES say and what cannot be denied, however, is that there are numerous universal physical constants (the strong nuclear force, the mass ratio between electrons and protons, the size of the electric charge of electrons, etc…) that fall within a very limited range that permit life. if any one of these constants is altered only fractionally, life would not be possible. furthermore, there is no physical law that disallows these values from being different than what they are. the universe would most likely still exist if these values were different but life would not. science can’t explain why these values fall within the range that they do, they just do. if our universe is the only one that exists, the odds of the universe forming naturalistically with all of these constants falling within these narrow ranges that permit life are extremely improbable.
    i believe this is why multiverse theory is gaining popularity in the cosmologist community.

  7. Lyra says

    @Moxiequz – No, check out the pale blue dot visible on the left between the thick, bright group of rings and the first narrow solitary ring. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.
    @jason – First, we don’t really have a good concept of what conditions are necessary for life. Sure, it’s nearly impossible to imagine life in a universe with no heavy atoms, but it’s impossible to really know. Second, there’s no *known* physical law that requires the various constants to be as they are, but a hundred years or so ago there was no *known* reason why frozen water floats (also a necessary condition for the development of life as we know it). Filling the gaps with God was wrong then, and I doubt it’s less wrong now… none of which is really the point of what Greta was saying; she’s making the different point that if the universe was designed for humans, there sure is a lot of wasted time and space in the system.

  8. jason says

    lyra, a pleasure.
    “First, we don’t really have a good concept of what conditions are necessary for life.”
    if you are saying that we don’t know what conditions were present on the early earth to allow the first life to form, i would in part agree with you, although, scientists that study such things have a better than rough idea. those conditions, however, are a separate matter from the universal constants that ftu theory is speaking about. apart from early earth conditions, though, i would not agree with you as it is well known and documented exactly what conditions are necessary for carbon based life.
    “Second, there’s no *known* physical law that requires the various constants to be as they are…”
    i’ll grant you that science may yet discover a naturalistic explanation that nullifies the fine tuning argument but thus far it has mystified the best cosmological minds. again, the best argument against fine tuning to date is the proposal of a near infinite number of other universes (multiverse theory) which would make the probability of the physical constants that permit life in this universe much, much more likely.

  9. Moxiequz says

    @Lyra: D’oh. I see that now. @Jim: My apologies…I should’ve looked closer.
    @jason:
    but thus far it has mystified the best cosmological minds.
    That may be true but it’s irrelevant. Maybe the cosmological mind that will help unravel the mystery is working her way through kindergarten right now. Or maybe he’s not even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes. There’s no set timetable or expiration date on scientific insight and discovery. Well, assuming we don’t destroy ourselves and our planet first but that’s a separate and more depressing discussion.

  10. says

    jason: I’m not denying that the combination of physical constants and whatnot that allow life are wildly improbable. I’m simply pointing out that this improbability does not imply a designer.
    I talk about this in more detail (i.e., more than 420 characters) in my piece, Why “The Universe Is Perfectly Fine-Tuned For Life” Is a Terrible Argument for God. And I think the strongest point — apart from the one I make here, which is that this supposed fine-tuning for life isn’t actually very finely-tuned — is that something being improbable doesn’t mean you have to come up with an entire philosophy or cosmology to explain it. The odds against you, personally, having been born were astronomically improbable. Does that mean we need to concoct an entire philosophy and theology to explain The Improbability of Jason-ness? Or to use another example: If you roll a die ten times and get the sequence 3241154645, the odds against that sequence are over 60 million to one. Does that mean that this sequence was designed to come up?
    Yes, it’s wildly improbable that, in one tiny speck of the universe, the unusual combination of matter and energy that constitutes biological life would happen. And if it hadn’t happened, something else equally improbable would have happened. We just wouldn’t be here to see it.

  11. jason says

    “Maybe the cosmological mind that will help unravel the mystery is working..”
    granted, maybe. i will point out, though, that the scientific community has been saying similar things about a grand unified theory since the ’70’s. the result? bupkis. some have moved on and rightly so. scientifically, you have to proceed as if these answers aren’t forthcoming and very possibly may never be. to dismiss a possibility – even a distasteful one – simply because the alternate answer you’re hoping for might be presented at some unknown point in the future is bad science.

  12. DSimon says

    to dismiss a possibility – even a distasteful one – simply because the alternate answer you’re hoping for might be presented at some unknown point in the future is bad science.
    Jason, on the other hand, to prefer one particular hypothesis in situations where there’s no evidence for any explanation at all is even worse science.
    If we don’t know why the universe is suitable for life… then that means we don’t know, and that’s it. The multiverse hypothesis and the design hypothesis both potentially resolve the question, but neither has any supporting evidence (as I understand it), so neither currently deserve much attention.

  13. Nurse Ingrid says

    The universe is not “fine tuned” for life.
    Life is fine tuned for the universe.
    Because it evolved…in the universe.

  14. Dick Alstein says

    Greta: “I’m not denying that the combination of physical constants and whatnot that allow life are wildly improbable.”
    The combination is neither probable nor improbable.
    To make a claim about the probability, you would either need to have observed a large (i.e. statistically significant) number of universes, or you would need to have a validated theory about how physical laws and constants are shaped during the formation of a universe. The former is impossible by definition, and the latter has not been thought up (yet).
    That means that, with the current state of cosmological knowledge, we can’t make any valid claim about this probability. We can imagine the constants having different values, but nobody knows if there is a law that allows or forbids that. The fine-tuning argument is not scientific. It’s mere speculation.
    (There are many more ways to refute the FTA, but I’ll stop here.)

  15. ckitching says

    jason wrote: i will point out, though, that the scientific community has been saying similar things about a grand unified theory since the ’70’s. the result? bupkis. some have moved on and rightly so. scientifically, you have to proceed as if these answers aren’t forthcoming and very possibly may never be.

    You don’t seem to understand. We don’t even know enough about the universe to say if it was fine-tuned or not. Yes, there are a lot of constants used by scientists in their work, however most are mere conversion factors that convert from convenient everyday units to cosmological ones. “I don’t know” does not mean “Goddidit.” Going from an unknown to an untestable and unfalsifiable idea is just plain lazy.
    Furthermore, you’re dig at the ‘grand unifying theory’ is groundless. Plenty of fields have become more and more integrated. I can’t avoid pointing out biology, and chemistry, for instance, with biologists investigating ever more basic (and smaller) biological actions that are inextricably linked to chemical interactions. Chemistry has been stepping on the toes of physics for decades. Just because integrating nuclear physics with quantum physics has been a problem for a few decades now, that doesn’t mean that these sciences are little islands all unto themselves.

  16. Frank Incense says

    The Universe is not finely-tuned for life as the Earth is not finely-tuned specifically for us. Check out this quote by Ambrose Bierce. “OCEAN: A body of water occupying about two thirds of a world made for man – who has no gills.”

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