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December 09, 2014


Let's start off with this form a scientific point of view:
1) The challenger has no basis for saying whether or not life is rare in the Universe. How does he know? Others are so convinced that extraterrestrial life must be ubiquitous that they are willing to spend significant amounts of money searching for it (Project SETI, for example).

But here's the main thing from a theological stance:
2) Supposing the Universe is fine tuned for Life and that Life is as rare as he asserts, how does the challenger know what God intends for the vastness of the Universe? Why does he assume that if God created the Universe, then He would've made life in it ubiquitous?

Basically, the challenger is saying that since God didn't use the vastness of the Universe they way he would've, then He must not exist.

The challenger (TGS) says this:

life is so rare in the Universe it's astonishing.
Why so astonished? Things that happen all by themselves happen as expected, and there is no room for astonishment. Right?

If I roll the dice a million times and and I get lucky-seven about 170,000 times, I'm not astonished. If I get lucky-seven once, or I get it a million times, I'm astonished and I imagine that someone has fixed the dice.

The challenger himself has indicated that, in spite of what he may say, he thinks the argument proves the existence of God.

Arguments challenging that God "should have" done something in a different way are problematic.

First, the vastness of this universe is only a problem for someone with limited resources. This does not apply to God, who has unlimited resources.

Second, in order to show God is an "incompetent designer", the challenger needs to show (not just assert) that it is actually possible to create a stable universe capable of producing intelligent life with significantly less resources than the universe we observe.

To be precise, the fine tuning argument in its most basic form is that we live in a life-permitting universe. This means that the laws of nature (their mathematical forms + particular values of the fundamental physical constants) are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for life (at least as we know it in our biosphere) to potentially exist. This has to be augmented by a set of initial conditions and boundary conditions so that the universe evolves in just the right way.
The universe we observe is vast because it is also old enough for Population II-type stars to form (these are the metal rich stars, a 'metal' being loosely defined as any element past He :) ). Big-bang nucleosynthesis produced the lightest elements (atomic numbers 1-5), but it took at least one generation of galaxy formation and stellar fusion (the Population I-type stars) to synthesize all of the elements beyond that, and via nova and supernova mechanisms, spread those elements into the interstellar medium, so that the next generation of stars could be produced, along with planetary bodies incorporating those heavier elements.
For biospheres resembling our own, there are even more stringent conditions to get a suitable planet in a stable orbit in the star's Goldilocks Zone.

Rather than indicating incompetence, it shows God's omniscience and omnipotence, that He could both design and implement a universe with the necessary and sufficient conditions to be both life-permitting and life-producing. Astrophysics and cosmology have illuminated that process - as a physicist and a Christian, I have to conclude that it pleased God to do things this way, and that the results suit His plans and purposes for Creation.
The theological question, I think, is 'why did God create beings such as ourselves, to be His image bearers?' The universe, and planet Earth, in particular, is God's stage for the spiritual drama that He and we are producing. Perhaps He only needs one such story for His purposes; perhaps there are many such stories being produced, ones that do not concern us now.

The commenter's criticism of the fine-tuning argument has its source primarily in a mistaken view of how life originates. Life doesn't originate, as the commenter seems to assume, by accident wherever the conditions are right; instead, life arises only where it has been specially created by God. With the fine-tuning of the universe, God has provided himself with a vast, glorious canvas upon which he can paint with the "color" of life wherever he chooses; however, like any artist, God is the one who chooses where and what to paint.

Once we get past the mistaken assumption about how life originates, we can see that in continuing to question why (for example) every planet upon which we train our telescopes isn't teeming with life we are entering into theological territory, because we are asking why God has chosen to act in one way and not another.

To circle back to another assumption, we have to add that the universe is so vast that we can't be certain God hasn't created a magnificent biological masterpiece on a planet 172 galaxies away from us. What we do know is that, if such a masterpiece exists, it is because God specially created each major kind of life in it.

We also know that the fine-tuned laws of the universe and the special circumstances in which our planet has been placed evidences an initial special care for our world. This special care was continued when he filled it not only with living creatures but with a species, humankind, made in his image. And we know from the Scriptures that he crowned his special care with love by sending a Redeemer to die on the cross to save from their sins those who trust in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Actually, I wonder if there is not an unstated premise in the challenge? Is there an assumption that the Christian view of Creation necessarily must be of the young-earth variety, namely a recent, special creation involving essentially supernatural operations?

I would start with acknowledging that the universe is pretty harsh for life in general. Christians would agree with this observation in a couple of ways.

1) God didn't make the whole universe suitable for sustaining life. He only made the Earth suitable for sustaining life. Additionally, he didn't create the universe suitable for creating life. He himself creates life, not the universe. He himself sustains life although he has made the universe suitable for providing for our many needs. There is a difference.

2) Additionally, Christians understand this to be a fallen world. That means that the universe, even here on Earth, became a difficult place to live. However, it was not always so.

That said, our challenger misses the probabilistic point of the argument made by many Christians. That is to say that if we assume that the laws of physics of the universe happened by chance, it would be extremely unlikely that the right combination of properties would come together as they are to support life.

But the challenger makes a claim based on the observation that life is extremely limited in the universe, therefore the universe is actually harsh. This claim isn't supported by scientific discovery or even scientific speculation. Instead, the challenger draws a false scale of universal suitability for life between that which is harsh for life and that which presumably is better for life. The problem is at least twofold:

1) It begs the question that the universe will always be suitable for life. There is no evidence at all for this assumption. Short of a TOE or GUT that links all laws and universal constants to a particular harmonious system of existence there is no reason to assume that the universe must be capable of sustaining life. That's the stated starting point for the argument on unlikely fine-tuning.

2) We so far lack the ability to detect life on the vast majority of the planets in the universe. There is no secular reason to think that there isn't at least one planet in orbit around every sun that doesn't contain abundant life. In fact, if we apply uniformitarianism to the model of the distribution of life throughout the universe, we should be able to speculate that since the Earth is crawling with life (although none of the other planets in our solar system has yet to yield evidence of life) that life should exist similarly in every solar system. His claim is completely unsupported.

This is a gross misunderstanding of the fine tuning argument. However, a few assumptions present in the presentation of the claim need to be addressed first.

“this insignificant volume of life” - Why should the volume of life that is present be the determiner of its significance? Further, one the atheistic rejections of theism is the claim that significance does not require an external source, therefore significance does not require deity. By the same manner that they argue that we may generate our own significance we can also conclude that, God or no God, the quantity of life in the universe is not insignificant. So long as life is capable of generating its own significance (as claimed by the atheist) it is significant. If it is insignificant, then a lack of theism leads to nihilism. If the challenger is willing to accept this, fine. However, it is far more likely that the challenger is not a nihilist and so his statement regarding significance and quantity leads to a worldview with internal contradictions.

“God is an incompetent designer if it takes that volume of universe” – The assumption here is “that volume of universe” is the only method which is available to accomplish the desired task, and that the only desired task was to generate life. (There are a number of probable underlying assumptions for these claims as well.) However, this is like saying that Michelangelo is an incompetent painter because he used “that volume of ceiling” to portray that “insignificant quantity of art.” A more skilled artisan could have compressed the same content, equally clearly, into a smaller space, and thus used the rest of the space for something else, so Michelangelo is a hack. Psalm 19:1 states that “The heavens declare the glory of God.” (ESV) Psalm 8:3-4 also appeals to the idea of the “insignificance” of humans, not because of their size relative to the universe, because of their limitations relative to the one that was able to generate the universe. If the challenger wishes to say that God could have displayed his glory with a much smaller space, than I retort that a truly skilled artist could have presented the same aesthetic impact in the Sistine Chapel with only charcoal.

As for the misunderstanding of the fine tuning of the universe: The argument says nothing about what quantity of universe is capable of sustaining life. What it says is that there are a particular set of constants that, given the observed natural laws, must be precisely as they are for life to exist. In a debate between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss, Krauss said that “we can’t know that.” His position was that life of some other sort might exist given some other set of constants. But here, too, there is a misunderstanding, for it is not just carbon based fleshy life like ourselves that are dependent upon the constants. The existence of matter in chemically reactive forms at all is equally dependent upon these constants given the natural laws we observe. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Krauss claims that the natural laws and the constants are linked, such that the laws are causally determinative of the constants. Craig disagrees.)

A different set of constants with a different collection of natural laws may have resulted in a smaller universe that had a more widespread occurrence of life. However, the assumption that smaller designs that more efficiently utilize available resources is the hallmark of superior design is a human (and largely modern) notion. The statement made by the challenger imposes modern norms (it used to be that larger was superior) on a non-modern agent.

A couple things.

1. I am not familiar with cosmology, and so I am not sure if the fine-tuning argument is arguing for fine-tuning of our small part of the universe, or the entire universe. Regardless, even if the argument is only arguing for the fine-tuning of our small part of the universe, it still makes more sense given theism. Imagine if you were flying in a plane over the Nevada desert at night, amazed at the vastness of desert wilderness. You are struck by how dark and scary it all seems. Then, all of a sudden, you fly over Las Vegas, Nevada. It is a patch of brilliant, dazzling light in the middle of pitch black desert wilderness. The fact that it is surrounded by uninhabitable wilderness is the very thing that makes it shine so brightly. It serves to highlight the genius of whoever engineered the city. Likewise, with our part of the universe so finely-tuned as to be able to allow life on earth, it serves to highlight the fact that someone engineered it.

2. This next point approaches the question from a more theological standpoint. Biblically, what is the purpose of the vast wilderness we know as outer space? God created a "firmament" (or "expanse") in the beginning for the purpose of separating heaven and earth (Gen. 1:6-8). Although this firmament is what we know as three-dimensional outer space (Gen. 1:14-17), in the text it is actually treated like a flat surface (this is why the birds fly "on the face of" the expanse, Gen. 1:20). So the uninhabitable wilderness of outer space was like a curtain separating heaven and earth. Where else in the Bible do we see a curtain separating God and man? How about the Temple? And what happened with that curtain? God placed it there with the intention that eventually it would be removed (Matt. 27:51), and there would no longer be that separation between God and man. The same thing is true of the firmament. It was placed there like a curtain to separate God and man, heaven and earth, with the intention that one day it would be removed, and heaven and earth would be united (Rev. 21). It is similar to the reason why God placed a desert in between Egypt and the Promised Land. If God wanted to give Israel the Promised Land so bad, why did he place this vast uninhabitable wilderness in the way? It was so that his glory could be revealed when he was faithful in taking Israel through the wilderness. Likewise, one reason why heaven and earth are separated by this vast, uninhabitable wilderness we know as outer space is so that God's glory could be revealed when he one day removes it in order to unite heaven and earth.

There are really three aspects of the fine-tuning argument in the scientific literature:
(a) the specifics of the 'laws of physics', that is, the mathematical models/frameworks of the laws, and the associated
fundamental constants that appear in those models,
(b) the auxiliary conditions that need to be specified to generate particular solutions to the dynamical equations of those models, namely,
initial conditions, which specify the state of a system at the start, and boundary conditions,
which specify constraints on the system's dynamical parameters (and their time-derivatives, generally) on some hyper-surface that 'contains' the system, and
(c) specific contingent events and circumstances in localized regions that lead to conditions suitable for life to exist there.

The laws of physics are generally assumed to be applicable to all regions of our
observable universe (that's the simplest assumption), so the fine-tuning argument there is universally applicable.
The initial and boundary conditions apply to our observable universe as a whole.
The contingent circumstances that resulted in our planetary system, making our biosphere possible, obviously apply locally. Whether there are
similar regions elsewhere is another question that can only be answered by observation, and they are still beyond our instruments to resolve

"The universe is not fine tuned for life" yet "Life is so rare in the Universe it's astonishing". Forgive the cognitive dissonance. Why is life so rare? That Life requires so many factors to be precisely perfect that it is rare in the universe (just the right kind planet orbiting the right kind of star in exactly the right kind of galaxy in just the right kind of universe) is evidence of just how lucky we are instead of how precisely planned for we are?

"Insignificant amount of life" yet "life is so rare it's astonishing" Again, cognitive dissonance. If life is astonishingly rare how is any amount of life insignificant? (Let alone life intelligent enough to grasp the concept of "significance".)

God the incompetent designer arguments have a long pedigree. Evolutionists going back to Darwin have used them (See Cornelius Hunter's book "Darwin's God"). In fact "God didn't make the universe the way I would have" arguments can be found in the book of Job (one of the oldest pieces of human literature). It's why the book ends with God showing up and asking Job and his misguided friends to look at the "astonishing" universe God created to catch a glimpse of God's power, imagination, and wisdom. Besides, as some of the other responders here have noted, how do we know what plans God may have for all the rest of the universe?

Besides the "inefficiency" claim is demonstrably silly. How much of the Saturn V rocket actually made it to the moon? How much actually made it back to earth? How much of the spear is necessary when all that is important is the very small point? How much of the large metal box sitting under my desk is necessary for the very small CPU chip to function so I can type this post? Maybe Life is so significant, so complex, so impossible that it requires a support structure as big as a universe to under gird it.

We are somewhat like a gnat sitting on an atomic bomb when we speculate that God cannot be since the universe doesn't make sense to us. But Peter tells us that one day a really "Big Bang" will occur when the elements will melt with a fervent heat and the heavens will pass away with a great noise. Hint; it takes a lot of energy to do this. And then a "New Heavens and earth" will exist without sin and death.

2 Peter 3:10–13 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,

12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?

13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.

Brett gave a fantastic answer.

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