Over the years NASA has sent four different robotic vehicles to Mars called rovers. These rovers have produced images of the surface of Mars that give NASA greater information about this planet as they try and understand its geological history and climate. They also want to see how this planet compares to earth and see if Mars does, has ever, or could potentially host life. Imagine if the next series of images from the current Mars rover Curiosity showed a biosphere, which is an enclosed habitat that can host life. Imagine further that Curiosity was able to get inside that biosphere and found that there is a control room with a series of dials that were all set to specific points so that everything inside the biosphere was perfect for its inhabitants. The rest of the surface of Mars is not ideally conducive to supporting life, so the biosphere’s construction and settings had to be exactly right. Were this to happen, head scientists at NASA would not assume that this biosphere had always existed or that it came about by chance. They would conclude rather quickly that an intelligent agent built this biosphere and finely-tuned the dials to promote the existence of life within it.(1)
In a similar fashion, all of the “dials” of the universe have been finely-tuned to permit and sustain life. Given this, would it not appear evident that this reality reflects a grand Designer?
What is Fine-Tuning?
When speaking of the fine-tuning of the universe it is meant that, “many aspects of the universe are closely calibrated and make human life possible.”(2) If any of these physical laws of nature which govern the universe were altered by the smallest degree then life could not exist. Beyond the remarkable fact that this beautiful universe exists at all is the fact that it is a life-permitting universe. It is far more likely that our universe would be a life-prohibiting universe rather than a life-permitting one. And yet, it hosts and sustains life. Can this be explained by necessity or chance? Or is the best explanation that there is a God who created the universe and finely-tuned it for life?
The Apostle’s Creed states that God is the “maker of heaven and earth.” This means that God exists and created the entire universe and everything in it. The fine-tuning argument looks at cosmic constants and quantities to argue that the chances of this universe supporting life are infinitesimally small. The tiniest shift from the laws of the universe would prohibit life. All of these numbers, which allow for life, are perfectly balanced on the edge of a razor. Therefore, the existence of this life-permitting universe is not adequately explained by necessity or chance, but makes the most sense if there is a God who created all things.
Assessing the Argument
When assessing this apologetic argument it is easy to get bogged down by the specific numbers and details if you don’t have a deep scientific knowledge (which I do not). But you don’t have to have your PhD for this argument to make sense and carry metaphysical weight. We can look at the evidence presented by trustworthy scientists and draw an inference to design because both theistic and atheistic scientists observe and marvel at the fine-tuning of the universe. The difference is that one camp allows the evidence to lead them to belief in a Creator God. The other camp does not.
Examples of Fine-Tuning
The universe is governed by laws of nature which are straightforward facts about the cosmos. There is no reason that these mathematical constants exist they way that they do—they could have been different. But if they had been changed in any way then life on this universe would not have happened. One such constant relates to the big bang. Physicist Stephen Hawking says,
“If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million, million, the universe would have recollapsed before it ever reached its present size. On the other hand, if the expansion rate at one second had been larger by the same amount, the universe would have expanded so much that it would be effectively empty now.”(3)
It was also necessary that the big bang’s structure was constrained to a great degree so that “thermodynamics as we know it should have arisen.”(4) This required other independent and unlikely factors, of which it is improbable that they occurred by chance. These factors were so improbable that Oxford physicist Roger Penrose commented on the odds that this would occur (the odds are one part in 10^(10^(123))) , “I cannot even recall seeing anything else in physics whose accuracy is known to approach, even remotely, a figure like one part in 10^(10^(123)).”(5) He says that,
“This is an extraordinary figure. One could not possibly write the number down in full in the ordinary deanery notation: it would be 1 followed by 10^123 successive “0”s! Even if we were to write a “0” on each separate proton and on each separate neutron in the entire universe—and we could throw in all the other particles as well for good measure—we should fall far short of writing down the figure needed. [This is] the precision needed to set the universe on its course.”(6)
In fact there are just six numbers that are required for human life, says Astronomer Sir Martin Rees, and these were inherent in the big bang. If these numbers were changed, “even to the tiniest degree, there would be no stars, no complex elements, no life.”(7) These numbers are not dependent on any of the others but all exist independently and exactly as they should for life to exist.(8) You cannot predict any of the numbers from any of the others, making the unlikelihood of all of these necessary numbers existing in exactly the right way vastly improbable.
Other examples of fine-tuning are that if the nuclear force were any stronger or weaker than it is then either hydrogen would not form or it would be the only element that could form. Also, stars would burn out too quickly to foster life on other planets if gravity were any stronger. But if it were weaker surrounding planets could not have been built because there would not have been enough heavy elements.(9) Furthermore, the matter in the universe is evenly distributed to an accuracy of 0.1 percent. “Such an accuracy is antecedently improbable and slight variations would rule out life.”(10)
Philosopher Robin Collins, who was also trained at the graduate level in theoretical physics, is one of the world’s leading experts on the fine-tuning of the universe. He is particularly impressed with the cosmological constant and believes that this factor alone points to the reality of a grand Designer if it cannot be explained on a naturalistic worldview. The cosmological constant, “is the part of Einstein’s equation of general relativity that deals with the expansion rate of the universe.” This constant is fine-tuned to a remarkable degree of specificity, and if this had not been so then the expansion rate of the universe would have been too quick for matter to form at all.“According to Collins, the likelihood of this constant occurring by chance is that of randomly hurling a dart from outer space and hitting a bull’s-eye on earth that is less than the size of one atom.”(11)
Necessity, Chance, or Design?
These are but a few examples to show that the universe is so finely-tuned that it appears virtually impossible that it came about through necessity or chance. While the fine-tuning of the universe existing by physical necessity is theoretically possible, it is highly improbable. This would mean that a universe that is life-prohibiting is basically impossible. Rather, our life-permitting universe would have to necessarily be the only option. Few choose this explanation since it requires such a high degree of proof that seems impossible given how even the tiniest variation in the laws of our universe would prohibit life. There is no reason or evidence to support the claim that the fine-tuning of our universe is necessary. Some, however, are trying to find a “theory of everything” that discovers a fundamental natural law that ties all of the other ones together in a nice, neat package. But this theory is speculative and no such fundamental natural law has been found.
A similar response can be given for anyone who proposes that our finely-tuned universe came about by chance. It is highly unlikely that all of these very specific constants just happened to be contained within the big bang by chance. The odds are strongly against it. It makes far more sense that God created this universe and finely-tuned it for life. Because of this, scientists of various stripes and fields have come to the conclusion that the fine tuning of the universe suggests a Supreme Being or God who brought it into existence.
But even those who deny design still acknowledge that our universe appears extremely finely-tuned. However, because they are not theists many of them attempt to come up with an alternative theory that bypasses a Designer. One such theory that has received the most attention is the multiverse theory. This will be looked at in the next blog post, which will look at the argument for God’s existence based on design.
God Fine-Tuned The Universe
The best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe is that there is a creator God who fine-tuned it in exactly the right way to permit life. The scientific evidence supports this conclusion better than the alternatives of necessity or chance. Like a master Designer, God’s creativity and attention to detail are on display as you survey the science surrounding fine-tuning. David was able to detect design when he says in Psalm 19:1-2, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”
-By Kevin Tapscott
1. Example drawn from Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: a Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 249.
2. Ibid., 248.
3. Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything (Beverly Hills, CA: New Millennium Press, 2002), 104, quoted in Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 250.
4. J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.:InterVarsity Press, 2003), 483.
5. Roger Penrose, “Time-Asymmetry and Quantum Gravity,” in Quantum Gravity 2, ed. C.J. Isha, R. Penrose and D. W. Sciama (Oxford: Calrendon, 1981), 249, quoted in Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations, 483.
6. Roger Penrose, The Emperor’s New Mind (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 344, quoted in Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 250.
7. Martin Rees, quoted in Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 251.
8. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 251.
9. William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: the Bridge between Science and Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 265.
10. J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: a Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987), 53.
11. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 252-53.