Fine-tuning arguments for god

Religious people sometimes complain that scientists do not take their arguments for god seriously. I think that the opposite is true, and that scientists have gone out of their way to argue within the narrow framework set up by religious believers, when it is the whole premise that should be rejected.

Take, for example, the so-called anthropic principle/fine tuning argument that goes roughly as follows: We know that the conditions on Earth are conducive to the creation of life. Small changes in initial conditions of the universe would likely have made life impossible. Furthermore, the laws of physics and the associated fundamental constants seem to have just the right values to enable life to exist. Such ‘fine tuning’ is highly unlikely to have occurred by chance and thus points to the existence of a god who must have chosen those values in order to allow for life as we know it to come into being.

Some scientists have argued against god while staying within this framework, saying that fine-tuning does not imply the existence of god. After all, we don’t know whether other and different forms of life exist on undiscovered planets in this vast universe. Changing the laws and constants may simply mean that different forms of life have come into being that were suitable for those constants on other planets. Others have pointed out that the fine-tuning argument rests on what happens when you change only one parameter slightly while keeping all the rest fixed. Victor Stenger points to studies (God: The Failed Hypothesis, p. 148) that show that if you allow all the constants to change simultaneously, even by orders of magnitude, then you can still construct cosmologies in which stars, planets, and intelligent life can plausibly arise.

The willingness of scientists to do all this work shows how far they are willing to bend over backwards to accommodate religious arguments. So rather than scientists disrespecting religion, people like Stenger and Dawkins are actually granting it excessive respect by to treating these technical questions seriously when the big conceptual questions expose the silliness of the whole premise.

I have never understood the appeal of the anthropic/fine-tuning argument for god. Think for a moment what it requires us to believe. We are asked to believe that god first created humans (or at least had the idea of what humans should be like), an organism that needed very special conditions (such as oxygen and water) in order to exist. God then had to solve the problem of how to create a planet that had the ingredients to support the existence of the preplanned humans, and then had to fine tune everything else in this vast universe to enable that planet to come into being a long time after he triggered the big bang. We are being asked to believe, in effect, that the entire universe was reverse-engineered by god to meet the needs of humans as currently exist.

Reverse engineering is what we mere mortals have to do because we have no choice. We have to take the universe and life on Earth as given, and the best we can do is try and figure out how they got to be that way. But why would god have to do this? If he was the original designer, present right at the beginning, surely it would have been easier for him to design humans who were robust enough to be able to survive in all kinds of environments. Why would he needlessly box himself in, as the anthropic/fine-tuning seems to imply?

As Stenger astutely points out (p. 154) “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 hard vacuum if he wanted to.” “

POST SCRIPT: George Bush, comedy writer

Some time ago, President Bush famously asked: “Is our children learning?” Well, he now has the answer.


  1. Zar says

    I like how Religiosus people are contrasted to Sicnetists. You say Rleigious peopel complain that Scoentists do not take their aruments for God seriously, then argue that Sicntists do. This is in and of itsself a blatant attmeot to link Sicnece with Atheism, and to rpetend one uses either religion (Beleif in an intervensionsit God, as you misdefine the term) or else uses sicnece. But what about Scientists who beeliv ein an Interventionsist God?

    Its not like you are either religious, or a Sceintists, you know, and many Scientists are deovut beleivers of a range of rleigious beleif systems.

    The enture premise, then, form the outset of this essay, is wrong, as you seem to asusme a cnflict between Scientists and religiosu folks that doesn’t exist.

    But you seem to want to pretend Siocneitsts as a whole aren’t religious, and do not beelive in God.

    THen you use the usual poor, biased sampling from Athiestic writers, such as Dawkins, and STenger.

    You do realise that simply reading Atheist writers like Dawkisn isn’t goign to give you any good arguments agaisnt rleigiosu beelif, right? Dawkisn is compleltey ignroant of theology, and doens’t relaly understand any of the ocncepts he is tryig to refute. Sicne he declares THeology a Non-subject, he boasts rather happily of never havign studied it. THen he set sout to discredit the argumetns base din theology.

    STanger does basicllay the same hting.

    And thats the scariest part abotu this New Ahteism of yours, its iwllignness to create misrepresentitive arugmetns abut religion and rleigious beleifs to suit an agenda. Just liek you do when you claim a difference between religious peopel and aicnetists, as if there is a conflcit between two camps, the religious, and the Scientists.

    Do you not admit that there are Christian Sicnetists? What about Jewish ones? Muslim sicneitsts? Are all Scientists atheists?

    You act as if Sicnetisst as a whoel argue agisnt the eixstance of God, which is just not true.

    No, religious peopel do not critisise sicneitsts for not takign argumnts for God seriosuly, since many Sicneitsts do, inf act, ebelive in God.

    Also, you got the Anthopic argument wrong. Firts off, the Anthropic Principle is argumed as an indicator of a posisble designer base dupon the spacific balance of the Universe, nto an absolute.

    Although I am nt endorsing the Anthropic arugment, I will summerise it.

    And the argument rests more on the exact balance of natural forces that allow things like ice being able to float, or for Hydrogen particles to be combustable, which didnt need to develop in a Nascent universe.

    It slso poitns ot a lack of any plsuable explanaiton for a stable structure to develop, as no such Mechansim has been found.

    Its not simply that we hae changes in distribution of goods int eh Universe, but hat the Univers itsself is highly improbabely int eh spacific goods it produces and the laws that Govern them.

    This suggests soem orginisign principle whoch can be intpereted as God, but, it is conceeded, need not be God.

    I presented a website below, for the purpose of sharign the anthropic argument in mroe detail.

    All your doign is reading books by Dawkisn, Stanger, and others, and then blogging thoguths base dupon those argumnts as ifthose arugments have any real subsyance. SInce your own midn is made up that rleigion is Nonsence and God dosnt’ exist, you happily ignore any argument to the contrary. SIcne you have decided Sicnece and rleigion ar eoposites, you think everyone else agrees withthe proposition,a nd create a war between the rleigious peopel and the sicnetists.

    THis is foolheardy and wrong.

  2. Zar says

    I do hope though that the poitn isn’t missed that you contrast “Religious people” with “Scientists” and say that religious people critisise Sceintists for not takign their argumetns for ‘god” seriously.

    You act as if no scientists beleives in God, and pretend as if scientists as a whole are Athesist, which isn’t truthful, and set up a false image of what in reality happens in the world.

  3. says

    I think Mano Singham has been very insightful here. It would be incredibly egocentric of us to believe as though we exist exactly as we are because God made the environment around us livable in a way that suits us perfectly rather then the other way around where we had to evolve to a point where we could live suitably in the environment. This egocentric view isn’t new though. For the most part people had been conditioned throughout the centuries to believe that we were alone in the universe, the Sun revolved around the Earth etc…

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