Jump to content

Agnostics And Atheist

Recommended Posts

  • Replies 45
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

  • ardillacid


  • Credo in Deum


  • Anomaly


Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Posts

Josh you have just given evidence that a character limit does NOT exists on this site.   Thank you.   Ps. Now I have to fight the temptation to copy/paste the entire Bible with commentary.  :idea2:

The absolute hands-down definition of TL;DR I mean.... You include a table of contents dude... :)

Cosmological arguments for the existence of God
A philosophical perspective on findings of science

by Albrecht Moritz 
(2009, revised December 2013)

The apparent extreme fine-tuning of the laws of nature, necessary to allow for physical evolution of the universe and evolution of life, and affirmed with broad consensus by cosmologists regardless of their worldview, is reviewed. The article shows that all naturalistic non-design proposals fail to explain the apparent fine-tuning. 

These are:
a) Brute chance or brute fact
b) Necessity or high probability of the laws of nature
c) Life as we do not know it
d) The multiverse

Therefore, the most rational explanation is that the fine-tuning is due to actual design, pointing to the existence of God. As also demonstrated here, scenarios of a naturalistic origin of the universe blatantly contradict, or are not at all supported by, observations from science about actual matter, energy or fields. The physical realm does not behave in a way required for naturalistic origins. This further points to a completely different, immaterial source for the origin of the universe – lending additional support to the concept of a designer God. 

Furthermore, it is discussed why the hypothesis of Cosmological Natural Selection is an insufficient alternative to the argument that the laws of nature must be designed. 

A few years ago my theism was challenged after discovering that, apart from the fact that evolution "all worked by itself", probably the origin of life had natural causes as well (I became so enthusiastic about the topic that I wrote an overview of the research on the origin of life which is posted on the evolution website Talkorigins.org, and which I plan to update from time to time). I became interested in atheistic explanations of the world. After analyzing all these, I decided that, from my perspective, they fell far short of providing the most rational explanation of the world, and what is more, that the philosophy of theism still did. While I still consider the issues regularly and am open to new input, I currently see no serious challenge that would lead me to change my theist position. Certainly, I am well aware that theism and religious belief are not without difficulties – but in my view the difficulties of the atheistic position are much greater, by a wide margin. Also, while I respect it when others feel compelled to do so, I see for myself no reason to adopt an agnostic position. In any case, my study of atheistic views has further deepened my interest in rational arguments for the existence of God, a type of argument that had already played a central role in my belief in God for a long time.

Divine revelation is important evidence, but if that would be the only evidence available, without convincing evidence for God from the world around us, it would not suffice for me. It is the dual, combined evidence from both rational arguments for the existence of God and divine revelation that forms for me an unbeatable combination and keeps me firmly grounded in theism (in my personal case, Catholicism) and also excludes deism.

Important arguments for the existence of God outside of divine revelation are for me the kinds of cosmological arguments that I will discuss below, and the Argument from Reason, which holds that the mind must have an immaterial component in order to be rational, even though it uses, and is dependent on, the brain as an instrument (mental states correlate with brain activity). It thus suggests a more direct involvement of God in the creation of the human mind. For web literature on the argument, see for example this article:


Of particular interest are the logical relation of ground-consequent as opposed to the relation cause-effect, and the contradiction between determinism and rationality, as outlined there *).

*) While overall I find it a very good article and worth reading in its entirety, I do not agree with all of it. Qualia, for example, might well be explained by a non-reductive physicalism.

An excellent, more extended presentation of the argument is C.S.Lewis’s article:

The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism

(The text may require repeated careful reading to fully grasp the issues; there are attempts at rebuttal of this article on the web that do not even understand what they aim to refute. Lewis's ponderings of quantum mechanics at the beginning can be safely ignored, he does not use them in his argument anyway.)

I also recommend Victor Reppert’s book C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea, as well as Stephen Barr’s outstanding discussion of rationality, which more concentrates on recognition of abstract and absolute (e.g. mathematical) truths and the issue if the mind is just a computer, in the section "What is Man?" of his book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith.

As for the conflict between rationality and determinism, it can also be seen when more closely examining the claim "Naturalism is true", see my essay:

"Naturalism is true": A self-contradictory statement

Other than when it comes to the human mind, I am a ‘die-hard’ evolutionist throughout, and I also hold, following the scientific evidence which grows ever stronger, that the origin of life must have had natural causes *).

*) There will be those who claim that I am a proponent of ideas of so-called 'Intelligent Design' (ID) after all; while not when it comes to the origin of life and general biological evolution, then at least when it comes to the human mind. Yet this not the case. The issue has little to do with the 'irreducible complexity' of ID, with the complexity ofmaterial organization of life in general and the brain in particular. Rather, it has to do with the question if mere matter is able to organize itself to (paraphrasing Thomas Nagel) successfully aspire to thoughts or thought processes of universal validity, also driven by laws of logic, even though in some concrete cases they may still be prone to errors – or if this is possible only if the mind has also an immaterialcomponent. Referring to computers as an example of matter capable of exhibiting ‘objective thought’ is not a valid counterargument. The functioning of computers is dependent on human rationality – even if they are induced to 'learn' and in the process to create output 'on their own' – since they are programmed by humans according to the rules of logic and reason that these apply. Instead of being programmed to calculate 9 x 7 = 63, a computer could just as easily be programmed to calculate 9 x 7 = 126 – also obeying the laws of physics. It would not know the difference.

For me who is coming from theism, the idea of God – principally as eternally existing spirit, i.e. immaterial being, that is infinite and all powerful, the ultimate cause of existence, yet personal at the same time – makes good sense from a philosophical perspective (it certainly is not the "white-bearded old man in the sky" of religious folklore). Many of the great philosophers through history are actually theists, as are many scientists today and as were all of the great scientists who started the scientific revolution (yes, including Galileo Galilei). This leads me to a different weighing of observable, rational facts about the world than an atheist may perform who has a priori decided that the God hypothesis is not a viable alternative (perhaps some may consider this alternative more reasonable after reading the arguments below). An atheist might argue that his/her positions are scientific and objective, since they are an extrapolation from what science tells us about the world. This, however, overlooks the fact that this extrapolation, while it may claim to be based on science, is a philosophicalextrapolation, not a scientific one, since it transcends the realm of strictly scientific knowledge. The atheist’s position is no less philosophical than the theist’s position – which, when it comes to a cosmic designer, can also be, as in my case, an extrapolation from what science tells us about the world (no, I am not talking about the Intelligent Design position that denies the science of evolution).

Related link:

How can a scientist believe in God?

The arguments presented here are based on observations from science, yet especially the arguments in Section 2 may show a certain resemblance to classical philosophical arguments, like some the five ways of Thomas Aquinas.

Obviously, like any other arguments for the existence of God, the arguments presented here only apply to the God of the philosophers (contained in the attributes of God in the three great monotheistic religions), not to the God of any specific religion. Choices in favor of a particular religion will best be argued on the basis of historical and theological considerations – how divine revelation developed – rather than on philosophical ones.


1. The laws of nature require a designer
1.1. The argument of the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature
1.2. Addressing three common objections
1.3 Proposals to explain apparent fine-tuning without design
1.3.1. Brute chance or brute fact
1.3.2 Necessity or high probability of the laws of nature
1.3.3. Life as we do not know it
1.3.4. The multiverse
1.4. The multiverse does not solve the design problem
1.5. Conclusion
1.6. The Rare Earth hypothesis: a design argument?

2. The origin of the universe: eternal God, eternal matter or eternal fields
2.1 Eternal matter
2.2. Eternal field
2.3. A universe from nothing?
2.4. Conclusion

3. Critique of Cosmological Natural Selection
3.1. The hypothesis
3.2. Objections
3.3. Conclusion

4. The uncaused universe

1.1. The argument of the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature

In support of their position, atheists like to point out the fact that physical and biological evolution are self-sufficient processes. However, when it comes to a comprehensive consideration of the issue, this fact is only part of it. Further questions are: is the very existence of evolution self-explanatory? Why can evolution occur in the first place? And here the atheistic position is confronted with grave problems.

Physicists know since a few decades that the laws of nature have to be exceedingly special to allow for any form of life to develop, and in fact for any kind of chemistry and complexity in the universe. The fortunate apparent coincidences in the laws of nature that allow for life in the universe are called ‘anthropic coincidences’ ('anthropic' means related to mankind; perhaps a better term would have been the more general ‘biophilic', life-friendly). Physicists say that the laws of nature are extremely ‘fine-tuned’.

Actually, the scientifically neutral term would be the sometimes used ‘apparent fine-tuning’, since ‘fine-tuning’ already implies a fine-tuner, which is moving away from strict science into the realm of philosophy. However, the consistent use of ‘apparent fine-tuning’ becomes kind of awkward at the latest when it comes to extending it to the phrase ‘apparently fine-tuned’. Thus, I will use the common expression ‘fine-tuning’ here, with the just mentioned caveat.

Since, as shown below, chemistry and complexity in general would not be possible without exceedingly special laws of nature, evolution would not be possible without them as well. Therefore, even though the power of physical and biological evolution is awesome, at least as wondrous appears to be the fact that there is evolution at all. This fact is thus not self-explanatory, it is in dire need of an explanation.

The fine-tuning argument per se, when it just comes to pointing out the extraordinary special character of the laws of nature which appear to be balanced on the knife’s edge, is not a religious argument, contrary to what many atheists claim. No, the fine-tuning of the laws of nature is pointed out with broad consensus by leading cosmologists, many of them agnostics or atheists. I would think that everyone should take experts in the field of physics and cosmology seriously and be informed about what they have to say. It is remarkable and rather curious how many atheists conveniently ignore or even dismiss mainstream science when it comes to cosmological fine-tuning, thus committing the same mistake they rightfully accuse creationists of when it comes to evolution. Certainly, the further extension as a design argument is theistic, while atheistic scientists often see no other choice than to posit the multiverse (see below) as a non-design explanation.

(Alas, many theists and apologists of the faith use the fine-tuning argument in conjunction with the anti-evolutionistic Intelligent Design argument. This is unfortunate, since a powerful philosophical argument from science is mingled with an argument from scientific ignorance, and thus it can be more easily discredited by atheists – not by lack of merit, but by association.)

What follows are some quotes from experts, all of them apparently atheists or agnostics (I chose them deliberately over theistic physicists to make the point).

The different sources that I quote use different expressions to denominate the term "10 to the power of n". I will uniformly rewrite this as "1En", since this is a standard formulation on computers and avoids the confusion of different denominations for the same thing from different sources (the best would be scientific notation, yet it uses superscript which is not reliably read on an html page from all browsers and on all computers). For example, "10 to the power of 6", i.e. one million, becomes 1E6, which is 1 with 6 zeros behind it, "10 to the power of -6" becomes 1E-6 which is 1/millionth. 1E9 is thus one billion (a 1 with 9 zeros behind it), 1E12 is one trillion, 1E40 is a 1 with 40 zeros behind it etc.

Lee Smolin, a leading theoretical physicist, points out in The Life of the Cosmos that stars are necessary for life. They are the energy sources that prevent everything from falling into a homogeneous thermal equilibrium, in which life as an entity that necessarily operates outside any thermal equilibrium could not exist.

He then says (here is the link to the chapter on stars):

"What is the probability that the world so created [with random values of the parameters] would contain stars? The answer is that the probability is incredibly small. This is such an important conclusion that I will take a few pages to explain why it is true. In fact the existence of stars rests on several delicate balances between the different forces in nature. These require that the parameters that govern how strongly these forces act be tuned just so. In many cases a small turn of the dial in one direction or another results in a world, not only without stars, but with much less structure than our universe."

He then discusses for several pages the parameters that need to be ‘just right’. Here is a brief summary:

1) Protons, neutrons, electrons and neutrinos interact via four basic forces. These are gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces.

2) Newton’s gravitational constant is incredibly weak. This is vital for stars because the weaker gravity is, the more protons must be piled on top of each other before the pressure is strong enough to produce nuclear reactions. Stars are therefore so huge because the constant is so tiny. If they were not huge then they would not be able to burn for billions of years (they usually burn for 10 billion years). If it were stronger by only a factor of 10, stars would only burn for 10 million years (not enough time to get life out of that). If it were stronger by another factor of 10 then the lifetime of a star would be 10,000 years.

3) Stars burn through nuclear reactions that fuse protons and neutrons into a succession of more massive nuclei. For this to happen the masses of the elementary particles must be chosen very delicately. Were the electron’s mass not about the same size as the amount that the neutron outweighs the proton (which is about 0.2 %), and were each of these not much smaller than the proton’s mass, stable nuclei could not be formed (according to the standard model of physics, the masses of these three particles are set by completely independent parameters). The strengths of the different forces must also be carefully tuned to obtain stable nuclei. Stars cannot burn if nuclei are not stable.

4) The neutrino mass must be very small for the nuclear reactions that energize the stars to happen.

5) Why is the universe big enough for stars? Why does it live for the billions of years needed for stars to form? This depends on the cosmological constant which can be no larger than about 1E-40. If it were not, the universe would not live long enough to produce stars. (The value of the cosmological constant given here appears somewhat different from other sources cited below, but it is just based on other units.)

6) If it were not for the strong nuclear force, nuclei would be blown apart. Remarkably, the attractive nuclear force actually balances the electrical repulsion of the protons. If there were not this fine balance there would be no stability and no nuclei. Our existence depends on it. The strong nuclear force must also be short-ranged, otherwise there would be the danger that all the protons and neutrons in the world would be pulled together into one big nucleus.

7) The weak nuclear interaction must be set up in order to govern the basic nuclear reactions on which the physics of stars is based.

Smolin concludes that the chances that a universe created by randomly choosing the parameters contains stars that are suitable to sustain life are ridiculously small. He calculates it to be infinitesimally smaller than one against the sum of all neutrons and protons in all the stars of the observable universe combined, which is 1E80. The number he comes up with, one chance in 1E229 *), comes from a straightforward calculation, explained in the notes to the chapter of his book. A common objection against this sort of calculations is that it is fallacious to vary only one parameter while holding all the rest constant, and probability space would be considerably widened were several parameters allowed to co-vary. Yet as cosmologist Luke Barnes shows in his in his article from p. 19 onward, with impressive graphs for a number of cases, this objection does not generally hold.

*) that is one chance in 10 trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion. No, this is not a joke. (You can do the math yourself: a trillion is 1E12, a trillion trillion (or a trillion times trillion) is 1E24, and so on.)

Max Tegmark writes:

"For instance, if the electromagnetic force were weakened by a mere 4%, then the sun would immediately explode (the diproton would have a bound state, which would increase the solar luminosity by a factor 1E18). If it were stronger, there would be fewer stable atoms. Indeed, most if not all the parameters affecting low-energy physics appear fine-tuned at some level, in the sense that changing them by modest amounts results in a qualitatively different universe.

"If the weak interaction were substantially weaker, there would be no hydrogen around, since it would have been converted to helium shortly after the Big Bang. If it were either much stronger or much weaker, the neutrinos from a supernova explosion would fail to blow away the outer parts of the star, and it is doubtful whether life-supporting heavy elements would ever be able to leave the stars where they were produced. If the protons were 0.2% heavier, they would decay into neutrons unable to hold onto electrons, so there would be no stable atoms around. If the proton-to-electron mass ratio were much smaller, there could be no stable stars, and if it were much larger, there could be no ordered structures like crystals and DNA molecules."

Leonard Susskind writes in The Cosmic Landscape:

"To make the first 119 decimal places of the vacuum energy zero is most certainly no accident." (The vacuum energy relates to the cosmological constant.)

Stephen Hawking writes in A Brief History of Time, p. 125:

"The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers (i.e. the constants of physics) seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life" (p. 125).

Cosmologist Andrei Linde says:

"We have a lot of really, really strange coincidences, and all of these coincidences are such that they make life possible. […] And if we double the mass of the electron, life as we know it will disappear. If we change the strength of the interaction between protons and electrons, life will disappear. Why are there three space dimensions and one time dimension? If we had four space dimensions and one time dimension, then planetary systems would be unstable and our version of life would be impossible. If we had two space dimensions and one time dimension, we would not exist."

In discussions atheists often quote an article by Steven Weinberg who suggests that some of the constants are less fine-tuned than they appear. Yet even he is forced, in the same article, to acknowledge at least the apparent fine-tuning of the cosmological constant (see below). Also, the multiverse, discussed later, is seen by him and many other physicists as the only way out of the design problem, and he was quoted as saying in a discussion with Richard Dawkins:

"If you discovered a really impressive fine-tuning ... I think you'd really be left with only two explanations: a benevolent designer or a multiverse."

Astrophysicist Martin Rees writes in Just Six Numbers about six parameters that need to be right (this does not say that there are not more than these six that are important, Smolin for example uses others as well). His conclusion is that the idea that these six numbers all coincide by chance is unsatisfactory (p. 164 f.):

"I'm impressed by a metaphor given by the Canadian philosopher John Leslie. Suppose you are facing a firing squad. Fifty marksmen take aim but they all miss. If they hadn't all missed you wouldn't have survived to ponder the matter. But you wouldn't just leave it at that – you'd still be baffled, and would seek some further reason for your good fortune."

(As a consequence, just like Smolin, Weinberg, Tegmark and Linde, Rees is an advocate of the multiverse hypothesis, see below.)

The chances for a universe like ours that allows for living observers are thought to be incredibly small by others as well.

Leonard Susskind says in an interview:

"The discovery in string theory of this large landscape of solutions, of different vacuums, which describe very different physical environments, tipped the scales for me. At first, string theorists thought there were about a million solutions. Thinking about Weinberg's argument and about the non-zero cosmological constant, I used to go around asking my mathematician friends: are you sure it's only a million? They all assured me it was the best bet.

"But a million is not enough for anthropic explanations – the chances of one of the universes being suitable for life are still too small. When Joe Polchinski and Raphael Bousso wrote their paper in 2000 that revealed there are more like 1E500 vacuums in string theory, that to me was the tipping point."

(This number of vacuums, 1E500, each corresponding to a potential universe, is a 1 with 500 zeros behind it! Even a gigantic number like the before mentioned 1E229 (Smolin, probability of stars) does not even come close to that.)

There is one dissenter from the broad consensus among cosmologists, the physicist Victor Stenger, who gained considerable popularity as a spokesman for the atheistic cause. He writes:

"I have made some estimates of the probability that a chance distribution of physical constants can produce a universe with properties sufficient that some form of life would have likely had sufficient time to evolve. In this study, I randomly varied the constants of physics (I assume the same laws of physics as exist in our universe, since I know no other) over a range of ten orders of magnitude around their existing values. For each resulting "toy" universe, I computed various quantities such as the size of atoms and the lifetimes of stars. I found that almost all combinations of physical constants lead to universes, albeit strange ones, that would live long enough for some type of complexity to form. […] Note that in well over half the universes, stars live at least a billion years."

However, the calculations are extremely flawed. As Stenger outlines in another article, they come from his program MonkeyGod. Here is an incisive refutation of the calculations by cosmologist Luke Barnes:

No Faith In MonkeyGod: A Fine-Tuned Critique of Victor Stenger (Part 2)

Furthermore, the calculations use only four parameters. Most notably, while many other constants are absent too, the calculations lack constants that decide about the behavior of the universe as a whole, for example the cosmological constant and the ‘primordial ripple’ constant Q which critically decides on the formation of galaxies (it describes the minute density contrasts in the early universe, which have the unnaturally small numerical value of 1E-5, see Susskind’s comment).

Here is what physicist Stephen Barr writes about the cosmological constant:

"In the equations that govern the gravitational force (Einstein's equations), there are two numbers. One of them is called Newton's constant, and is conventionally presented by the symbol GN. It says how strong gravity is. The other number is called the cosmological constant and is conventionally represented by the Greek letter lambda. The cosmological constant tells how much gravitational pull is exerted by "empty space." (This may sound absurd, but in quantum theory empty space is not as empty as it seems – it seethes and bubbles with "quantum fluctuations.") As we saw in the chapters on the Big Bang, the value of the cosmological constant is important to how the universe as a whole behaves. In discussing the size of the cosmological constant we shall use what are "natural units" for gravity, in which Newton's constant is exactly 1. It has long been known that the cosmological constant (when expressed in these natural units) is less than about 1E-120. In decimal form this would be written 
This is an amazingly small number. It is so small that physicists have long assumed that the cosmological constant is really exactly zero. But it is hard to tell whether a physical quantity is exactly zero, or just too small to be measured with available techniques. Recently, there have been astrophysical measurements that seem to imply that the cosmological constant is not exactly zero, but rather is a number about 1E-120.

"In either case, whether the cosmological constant is exactly zero or just fantastically small, physicists are confronted by a very deep puzzle. In physics, if a number is either exactly zero or extremely small there is usually a physical reason for it. For example, the mass of the photon is believed to be exactly zero; that is understood to be the consequence of a fundamental symmetry of the laws of physics called "electromagnetic gauge invariance". So far, no one has been able to find the physical reason why the cosmological constant is small or zero. This failure is the so-called "cosmological constant problem," and is considered by many scientists to be the deepest unsolved problem in physics. […]

"It turns out to be a very fortunate thing for us that the cosmological constant is so small. If it were not, the universe would not have been able to have a nice steady existence for the billions of years required for life to evolve.

"One has to consider two cases, because the cosmological constant is allowed by mathematics to be either a positive or a negative quantity. Suppose, first, that the cosmological constant had been negative and equal to some number that was not particularly small or particularly large, say -1. Then the universe would have gone through its entire life cycle of expansion and collapse in the incredibly short time of 1E-43 seconds. That is, the universe would only have lasted a ten-millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second. This very short time is called the "Planck time," and is a fundamental length of time in physics. In essence, the Planck time is the shortest period of time that any physical process can happen in and still be described in terms of our usual notions of space and time.

"If we suppose instead that the cosmological constant had been negative and equal to about minus one-millionth (i.e., -0.000001), then the universe would have lasted for a thousand Planck times, namely about a ten-thousandth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second. Not a great improvement from our point of view. If the cosmological constant is negative, and the universe is to last for the several billion years required for life to appear, then the magnitude of the cosmological constant has to be less than about 1E-120, the terrifically small number mentioned earlier.

"Now suppose that the cosmological constant is a positive number. If it had been positive and not too large or small, say about + 1, then the universe would have undergone an incredible "exponential" expansion, in which it doubled in size every ten-millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second – that is, in every Planck time. The universe would have lasted forever, but always expanding ferociously. Even if the cosmological constant had been as small as +1E-48, the universe would have expanded so fast that it would have doubled in size in the time it takes an electron in an atom to orbit the atomic nucleus once. In such a situation, even atoms would be ripped apart by the expansion of the universe. Even if the cosmological constant had the much smaller value +1E-80, the universe would have expanded so fast that it would have doubled in size every thousandth of a second or so, which would be so fast that your body would be ripped apart by the expansion. If the universe was to have a sufficiently gradual expansion over billions of years to allow life to evolve, then the cosmological constant had to be less than or about + 1E-120. In order for life to be possible, then, it appears that the cosmological constant, whether it is positive or negative, must be extremely close to zero – in fact, it must be zero to at least 120 decimal places. This is one of the most precise fine-tunings in all of physics."

From: Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, p. 129 f.

(My addendum: it has now been shown that the cosmological constant, while being so small, is a positive number.)

For a change I have now quoted a theistic physicist, but Susskind would agree. He writes inThe Cosmic Landscape, p. 88:

"When we combine the theory of elementary particles with the theory of gravity, we discover the horror of a cosmological constant big enough to not only destroy galaxies, stars, and planets but also atoms, and even protons and neutrons – unless. Unless what? Unless the various bosons, fermions, masses, and coupling constants that go into calculating the vacuum energy conspire to cancel the first 119 decimal places [of the cosmological constant]. But what natural mechanism could ever account for such an unlikely state of affairs? Are the Laws of Physics balanced on an incredibly sharp knife-edge, and if so, why? Those are the big questions."

Here Susskind draws attention to the fact that the fundamental problem of the cosmological constant lies not just in it being a small number. As Luke Barnes explains in his article on p. 34 f.:

"Quantum field theory allows us to calculate a number of contributions to the total dark energy *) from matter fields in the universe. Each of these contributions turns out to be 1E120 times larger than the total. […] The fine-tuning problem is that these different independent contributions, including perhaps some we don't know about, manage to cancel each other to such an alarming, life-permitting degree."

*) the term 'dark energy' is here used for the cosmological constant

To return to Stenger: now it is clear from just this one example of the cosmological constant why Stenger’s calculations – apart from all the problems with them pointed out by Luke Barnes in the link above – are simply not credible, since they leave out the cosmological constant and other parameters that decide about the behavior of universes as a whole (Smolin does use the cosmological constant in his calculations, see above). Yet Stenger pretends that his calculations are relevant for the behavior of entire universes. He reiterates this fallacy in his book God – The failed Hypothesis (p. 148) where he claims:

"Only four parameters are needed to specify the broad features of the universe as it exists today: the masses of the electron and the proton and the current strengths of the electromagnetic and strong interactions. (The strength of gravity enters through the proton mass, by convention.) "

(Even in this unduly limited array Stenger conveniently ‘forgets’ a closely related parameter, the mass of the neutron. A free variation relative to the masses of proton and electron would reduce probabilities for stable nuclei immensely; for reasons see Smolin above.)

Stenger’s calculations are thus, falsely, extremely selective and limited with respect to physical constants.

In God – The failed Hypothesis Stenger does address the cosmological constant, however, knowing full well that it is a problematic parameter (but he does not include it in any probability calculations). Yet his assertions that the problem would be solved if the cosmological constant would be exactly zero are questionable, see above for the problem of mutual cancellation of contributions to it. He further claims that the original calculations of the constant being non-zero were incomplete, but he quotes another book by himself as the only source for that assertion – obviously it is he who is heavily biased in his interest to let that problem go away. Clearly there must have been hordes of cosmologists who already have poured over both measurements and calculations and found no mistakes, so the idea that precisely Stenger may be right just because he ‘must be’ is nothing more than wishful thinking. Also, WMAP datameasuring the cosmic microwave background strongly indicate that a positive cosmological constant rather than the so-called quintessence preferred by Stenger is indeed the best candidate for the explanation of the observed acceleration of the universe’s expansion (Summary, Study). (Contrary to Stenger’s claims, also quintessence would have to be fine-tuned.)

Furthermore, in the book Stenger represents a research article in a clearly false manner, and in support of his views. He claims that the articleWhy the Universe Is Just So by Craig Horgan comes to a similar conclusion as an article by Anthony Aguirre that finds other cosmologies with other parameters in which life might arise (we will come to that article later). This is plainly not true. Horgan’s article asserts none of that, but simply is concerned with the question of which parameters might be fixed in a Grand Unified Theory (for this, see also section 1.3.3.), and which ones might remain variable – and he is clearly in favor of ‘anthropic’ explanations, the type of explanation that Stenger so strongly dismisses.

Cosmologist Luke Barnes has also written a rather devastating critique of Stenger’s latest book on the subject, The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning, which contains an updated refutation (see above) of Stenger’s "MonkeyGod" calculations as well (the paper is a rather technical read, but entirely worthwhile). The article contains impressive graphs that show just how dramatic the fine-tuning of some parameters is. I especially suggest taking a look at Figure 2 (top row) on page 22 in the article, with parameters and life-permitting criteria explained in detail on page 20. This figure is also part of an effective rebuttal of the common objection – also raised by Stenger – that, when considering fine-tuning, it is in most cases fallacious to vary only one parameter while holding all the rest constant, and probability space would be considerably widened were several parameters allowed to co-vary.

Just like Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box), Victor Stenger contradicts mainstream science in an unjustified manner *), and both have in common to twist or ignore scientific facts for the purpose of advancing their respective world views. In other words, the opinions of those who base their cosmological views on Stenger can be taken seriously to no greater extent than the opinions of those anti-evolutionists who base their views on the writings of Behe.

*) also with other cosmological opinions, such as his contention that the universe was initially in a state of chaotic high entropy, while mainstream science holds that the initial state of the universe at the Big Bang was one of extremely low entropy (extremely high degree of order).

There is another publication that uses only a limited number (three) of parameters to calculate the parameter space for existence of stable stars and arrives at a high probability (25% of parameter space):

Stars In Other Universes: Stellar structure with different fundamental constants

Not surprisingly, this paper has caused some atheists to once more question the fine-tuning argument. However, as Luke Barnes points out, the plot on which the high probability of stable stars with sustained nuclear fusion is based, Figure 5 in the paper, uses a logarithmic scale to depict parameter space. If, instead, we were to plot in normal (not log) space, then the parameter space allowing for the existence of stable stars would drop from 25 % to the miniscule value of about 1E-13, i.e. 1 part in 10 trillion (!). Aptly enough, Barnes’ article is called "The Shrinking Quarter"…Furthermore, Barnes points out an issue with the limits of the plot. If, for example, we allow a possible range of the gravitational force to where it is as strong as the strong force (as Smolin does), then the probablility drops further to 1E-42.

The author of the study also plainly concedes that his calculations are about conditions for existence of stable stars once formed, not about conditions under which star formation can occur in the first place:

"This paper has focused on stellar structure properties. An important related question (beyond the scope of this work) is whether or not stellar bodies can be readily made in universes with varying values of the constants. Even if the laws of physics allow for stellar objects to exist and actively burn nuclear fuel, there is no guarantee that such bodies will be produced in significant numbers. […] In future work, another issue to be considered is coupling the effects of alternate values of the fundamental constants to the cosmic expansion, big bang nucleosynthesis, and structure formation. […] In addition to energy sources (provided by stars), there will be additional constraints to provide the right mix of chemical elements [for life] (e.g., carbon in our universe) and a universal solvent (e.g., water). These additional requirements will place additional constraints on the allowed region(s) of parameter space." (The requirements for chemistry do not enter Stenger’s equations either.)

One of these factors for star formation, cosmic expansion, is determined by the cosmological constant, and its negligible allowable parameter space will further constrain the already miniscule allowable parameter space for star existence of 1E-13 (or 1E-42, as mentioned) to an incredible extent (this not even considering all the additional other restrictions). In Smolin’s calculations of star formation, see above, that constant is included as well.

But even with the topic of star existence based on only three parameters, with the parameter space depicted on a logarithmic scale, and not considering chemical elements for life, there are problems. NatureNews reports (Smolin makes a similar point, see above, and accounts for it in his calculations):

"Martin Rees, a cosmologist at the University of Cambridge, and Britain's Astronomer Royal, says that we shouldn't be too surprised by the result, as other astronomers have shown that universes in which gravity is stronger could support stars — although they would have much shorter lives. "This would not be a propitious universe because there wouldn't be enough time for complex evolution," he adds, "and objects as big as us would be crushed by gravity." "

Note that two of Rees’ numbers in Just Six Numbers where he arrives at extremely low probabilities for our universe (causing him to cite the firing squad metaphor, see further above) are also the cosmological constant and the ‘primordial ripple’ constant Q, constants left out from this study on star existence (just like in Stenger). The problem of a third number in Rees’ book that describes the universe as a whole, the critical density, may be solved by inflation, as also the author points out – yet to accomplish this, it appears that inflation itself must be fine-tuned.

How acute the problem would be without inflation is described by Stephen Hawking inBrief History of Time:

"We know that there has to have been a very close balance between the competing effect of explosive expansion and gravitational contraction which, at the very earliest epoch about which we can even pretend to speak (called the Planck time, 10E-43 sec. after the big bang), would have corresponded to the incredible degree of accuracy represented by a deviation in their ratio from unity by only one part in 1E60."

Notice the difference in approach: Out of the six parameters that Rees uses in Just Six Numbers, several of these, as cosmological parameters, refer to the behavior of the universe as a whole – whereas none of the four parameters that Stenger uses does that. Obviously, the prize for believability goes to Rees, hands down.

The fine-tuning problem may actually become worse as even more variables are considered. More recently it has been reported that also the ratio of dark matter to normal matter in the universe must be the right amount:

"The fact that the ratio is so conducive to a life-bearing universe "looks like a tremendous coincidence", says Raphael Bousso at the University of California, Berkeley."

And then we have the initial conditions of the Big Bang. The famous mathematical physicist Roger Penrose *) writes as follows in The Emperor's New Mind about the extraordinarily low entropy (i.e. extremely huge degree of order) at the Big Bang (p. 445):

"This now tells us how precise the Creator's aim must have been: namely to an accuracy of one part in 1E1E123.

"This is an extraordinary figure. One could not possibly even write the number down in full, in the ordinary denary notation: it would be '1' followed by 1E123 successive '0's! Even if we were to write a '0' on each separate proton and on each separate neutron in the universe – and we could throw in all the other particles as well for good measure – we would fall far short of writing down the figure needed."

*) Smolin says about Penrose that no one has contributed more to our understanding and use of the theory of general relativity save Einstein himself, see The Trouble with Physics, p. 319

In summary, if a sufficient number of relevant parameters is taken into account, the experts in physics and cosmology agree that our universe appears exquisitely fine-tuned for life and extremely unlikely to have arisen by brute chance. There is no rational arguing around that, and none of the leading cosmologists even tries.

A minimal summary of relevant parameters, which is not necessarily exhaustive, is given here:

1. Extremely low entropy of the Big Bang
2. Inflation with just the right properties (fine-tuning) to solve the critical density problem
3. Ratio of electrical force to gravity
4. Strength of strong interaction
5. Relative masses of electron, proton and neutron
6. Ratio dark matter to normal matter
7. ‘Ripple constant’ Q
8. Cosmological constant
9. Dimensionality of space
10. Existence of quantum mechanics and Pauli exclusion principle (preventing atoms from collapse)
11. Right chemistry (carbon or equivalent in an alien chemistry)


How about universes with other parameters that might harbor life? There is indeed a study on a universe without weak nuclear interactions, the so-called ‘weakless universe’, in which life might be possible. The story is quite fascinating, and it is worth reading:

My other universe is a Porsche

In the weakless universe there are different mechanisms of star burning, and there is no radioactivity. However, as the study says:

"Chemistry in the Weakless Universe is virtually indistinguishable from that of our Universe. The only differences are the higher fraction of deuterium as hydrogen and the absence of atomic parity-violating interactions."

This is the important part: chemistry, on which life depends, would be basically the same. Yes, one of the four fundamental forces is removed entirely in the weakless universe, but it is exactly the one with the least consequences for life. Imagine on the other hand what would happen to chemistry if the strong nuclear interaction (which holds nuclei together) or electromagnetism (on which all chemistry depends) were changed – not to mention abolished!

Furthermore, in general the weakless universe is modeled after an already fine-tuned universe, ours that is. In addition, as the authors explain in the paper, they had to ‘arbitrarily adjust’ parameters of the Standard Model of physics and cosmological parameters (e.g. the ratio of visible baryons to photons, the abundance of dark matter) to provide a close match to our universe to ensure characteristics supportive of life. But this arbitrary adjustment of parameters is nothing other than – exactly, fine-tuning. Thus, not only is the weakless universe not a refutation of fine-tuning, it is in fact just another example thereof – a confirmation of the fine-tuning principle.

Therefore, the assertions of some (see also Stenger in God – The failed Hypothesis, p. 164) that the weakless universe argues against fine-tuning are false. It is just a very special case of another universe where life might be possible.

The idea that our universe is the only one that possibly could sustain life would be a misunderstanding of the fine-tuning argument. The argument only says that any universe that could support life would be extremely unlikely to have arisen by chance selection of physical parameters, and indeed the weakless universe – closely modeled after our own, but with judicious adjustments – shows that other life-supporting universes may be possible.

As the above link reads:

"According to the multiverse view, it is unlikely that ours is the only universe complex enough to support sentient beings. Martin Rees of the University of Cambridge goes further and believes there may be an archipelago of "islands" in the multiverse, havens for life dotted in a vast sea of uninhabitable universes."

Thus, even though there may be a good number of different universes that might be able to harbor life, the chance that any of these universes would arise from a random selection of physical parameters would still be negligible compared to the immense number of sterile universes.

Yet does the weakless universe really work? According to a critical analysis, Problems in a weakless universe, the lack of radioactivity would cause a lack of volcanism and heating of the core of putative earthlike planets in this universe, which may impair the ability of such planets to maintain stable surface temperatures. Perhaps this would not be the biggest problem; more detrimental might be the lack of oxygen production and dispersal during a type of supernovae which is secondary in our own universe, but the only one there (oxygen abundance would only be about 1 % of that in our universe). The idea that several generations of stars would eventually forge enough oxygen (the counterargument of the authors of the weakless universe) is debatable. Initial star formation is delayed by a factor of 100 compared to our universe, to between 10 and 100 billion years after the Big Bang (a hotter Big Bang is necessary for the required deuterium abundance), see Problems in a weakless universe. This may affect galaxy formation, and thus the interstellar medium, since in the meantime the universe expands at the same rate as ours. Negative effects on the fecundity of the interstellar medium might further arise from the lesser number of supernovae in the weakless universe, complicating star formation after first generation stars so that, while second generation stars might just be formed, multiple star generations could be out of reach.

However, having life strictly depend on oxygen may not be the most imaginative view. Molecules suitable for reproduction and catalysis of life (genetic material, proteins) could possibly develop with other organic chemistry that does not require oxygen. Another universal solvent as a replacement of water would have to be there as well. Water has a strong polarity, and not just reproductive and catalytic biomolecules, but also cellular boundaries (membranes) are dependent on this polarity. A molecule like ammonia might be thought of as a potential substitute, even though it has the tendency to form salts due to its chemical nature of being a base. An inhabitable planet would then have to be cooler than Earth in order to contain liquid ammonia, or it would have to have great atmospheric pressure (lakes of ammonia are found on Titan, a moon of Saturn). Certainly, for us ammonia is poisonous, but for other living beings that developed on the molecule it might indeed be their ‘lifeblood’.

Other universes with features that supposedly could harbor life have been constructed by Aguirre. He found that in universes arising from a cold Big Bang, rather than the hot Big Bang of our own universe, a relaxation of the stringency in the requirements for certain cosmological parameters should be possible. For example, the curvature scale, which relates to the flatness problem regarding the critical density of the universe, can be relaxed from a value of about 1E29 to about 1E24. However, this is still huge compared to its ‘natural’ value of 1. For another example, the cosmological constant, the link My other universe is a Porsche explains:

"After our hot big bang, the universe took tens of millions of years to cool to the point where matter could clump into stars. "But in the cold big bang universe, stars can begin to form within 100 years of the big bang," says Aguirre.

He even modelled an extreme cold big bang universe where the cosmological constant was 1E17 times what it is in our universe. By rights, this strong repulsive force ought to fling matter apart, preventing the formation of galaxies. However, in the cold big bang universe, stars form so quickly that they are in place before this cosmological repulsion takes hold. "The stars then rush away from each other," says Aguirre. "It's a pretty dull universe with each star isolated in a vast ocean of space. Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent such stars having planets and observers." "

How would it be possible that such a universe could have planets and observers? After all, in our universe with its hot Big Bang heavier elements are not there when the first stars are formed. Heavier elements only come later, born in first generation stars and then dispersed into a galactic interstellar medium from which second generation stars and planets can form. In Aguirre’s cold Big Bang, however, nucleosynthesis in the first few minutes of the universe’s existence can also forge heavier elements, so that the cosmic medium can start out with the same level of enrichment as gas in the hot Big Bang which has been processed by stars.

A factor of 1E17 times that of our cosmological constant sounds impressive, but it really is still an extremely small constant, in the range of about 1E-100 and thus fine-tuned to that accuracy. None of the brutal things that are described to occur by Stephen Barr (see above) for cosmological constants of 1E-80 and 1E-48 (which are very small too) occur at this order of magnitude. Thus, even though somewhat 'relaxed', the cosmological constant would still be extraordinarily fine-tuned, just as the somewhat ‘relaxed’ curvature scale.

In summary, in Aguirres's cold Big Bang scenario
1) the fine-tuning of cosmological parameters would still be extreme
2) the fine-tuning requirements for parameters of the Standard Model of physics (governing matter and chemistry) would remain unchanged (they are not affected by cold vs. hot Big Bang, and are not varied in the study).

Also, the findings for the cold Big Bang do not invalidate the exceptional fine-tuning required in our hot Big Bang.

1.2. Addressing three common objections

At this point I should address three objections with regard to fine-tuning for life that atheists frequently raise.

Objection 1. How can you say that the universe appears fine-tuned for life? Most of it is completely inhospitable and hostile to life.

It should be obvious by now that the fine-tuning argument holds in the relation to the universe as a whole, and is not meant to address the question of why you cannot live on the sun or breathe on the moon. Of course sources of energy (stars) are needed to drive life and evolution, and of course you cannot live on them. Nor can you live in the, by necessity, frighteningly large stretches of empty space between them and planets. So what is the point? Nobody would deny that the light bulb is an invention that greatly enhances modern life. But when you would try to hold your hand around a light bulb that is turned on, you would burn it to pieces. Is the light bulb then "hostile to life"? Certainly not. This modest example, however, indicates how utterly irrelevant the argument really is – one of those false arguments that appear to be brought forth and rehashed solely in order to avoid the deeper issues.

Objection 2. The fine-tuning for life is nonsense. We are adapted to the universe by evolution, not the universe is adapted to us.

Proponents of this argument cite life under extreme circumstances, like extremophiles that live in a sulfuric world and are found in a few places on Earth – whatever the circumstances, evolution will always find a way. Similar will hold for life when the physical constants are different. We are adapted to the universe, not the universe is adapted to us.

In light of the above explanations by physicists, it will be clear that this argument is utterly uninformed. How can you even think about evolution of life when no heavier elements than hydrogen and helium are formed, when there is no time for evolution because stars burn far too fast, when there is no chemistry, and when not even atoms exist due to wrong mass relationships between protons and neutrons or because they are torn apart by too rapid expansion of the universe due to a cosmological constant that is too large? The argument completely misses the point. 

Objection 3. How can you say that the universe appears fine-tuned for life? Life is incredibly imperfect and filled with suffering.

It should be obvious by now that the fine-tuning argument deals with the thoroughly astonishing fact that there is life in the universe at all, not with how (subjectively) perfect it is. It is irrelevant for the fine-tuning argument if, like me, you think that life by and large is wonderful despite its flaws and difficulties, or if you find it terrible.

1.3 Proposals to explain apparent fine-tuning without design

1.3.1. Brute chance or brute fact

We have seen that evolution, the physical evolution of the universe and biological evolution, can only take place under exceedingly special and improbable conditions, which are given by the initial conditions of the universe and the laws of nature. This invalidates the idea that evolution is self-explanatory, and if one wants to avoid the design explanation for life, it forces to look for other explanations. Or does it?

There are those who argue: "We obviously are here, so there is nothing to be surprised about. Perhaps it is luck, but so what?" However, when it comes to ridiculously low probabilities (see also Susskind’s comment above), just ‘brute chance’ is a hard thing to ponder seriously. Indeed, all the leading atheistic or agnostic cosmologists who bring the fine-tuning issue to the public's attention reject the idea of 'brute chance'.

Having by chance so many things aligned (see summary above) just right within relatively narrow limits, while the total bandwidth of possibilities is very wide (e.g. for the cosmological constant, the ‘ripple constant’ Q, the ratio of the masses of neutron, proton and electron, or the ratio of electrical force to gravity) would amount to a far luckier chance than winning the lotto jackpot where you ‘only’ need to get 6 simple numbers within one order of magnitude right. Would you believe that it is ‘pure luck’ when one and the same person wins the lotto jackpot not just once, but several times? Of course you would not. You would, logically, think that the outcome was rigged. This refutes the ‘brute chance’ argument.

It does so unless one takes a particularly hardheaded stance. What if it is claimed that life is not necessarily important in the grand scheme of things? All the arguments from probability evaporate if you dispense with the necessity for life, or even chemistry, or other structures; why should they matter? If at the Big Bang the constants had sorted themselves out randomly, and we were left with a universe with no galaxies, stars or life, we would still have something, even though that something might be viewed as unsatisfactory to our senses – but we would not be here to observe it anyway. In other words: why is life, our universe with life, more significant than whatever other something might be produced from different physical constants?

Indeed, if one takes the position that life is inconsequential, and if one claims that the specific universe that we find ourselves in is simply a brute fact, the whole argument falls apart. We are just a 'cosmic fluke', but let us enjoy it anyway and make the best out of it. Life is something that happened to us by brute chance, and we just seize the day.

However, given the huge improbability of life arising by chance, the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature is interpreted by theists as strong support for the tradition of philosophical argument and of belief that life exists because it is here on purpose, being intended by God. From that point of view life has a natural explanation. Refuting such purpose would require to show that life is 'natural' also without the idea of God being its originator – a natural outcome of undesigned laws of nature.

The scenario of life as a chance 'cosmic fluke', as simple brute fact, on the other hand, would make life a highly 'unnatural' outcome of nature, something that is absurdly atypical among the vast space of possibilities how things could be different, an anomaly. It is precisely this ‘unnaturalness’ which makes the position unsatisfying and rationally unconvincing, especially compared to the theistic position that life is natural as being designed on purpose. Some other ‘natural’ explanation for life seems to be required, if one does not want to adopt the theistic position. Non-theistic cosmologists who have studied fine-tuning generally agree with that, and view the multiverse (see below) as an explanatory necessity.

God as a brute fact?

There will be those who will counter that while atheists may postulate the universe as brute fact, theists do the same with God. This claim does not hold. There cannot be anything of necessity as to what properties the universe has; it could be different in any other way, see the discussion of this point below. Yet as the source of all being, God must have certain properties by metaphysical necessity, e.g. the property of being absolutely simple since not composed of parts (possible only as an immaterial being), the property of being pure act, and the identity of His essence with His existence, see for example Edward Feser's article "Why is there anything at all? It's simple".

(For an overview of the author’s previous articles related to the issue, see Classical theism roundup; for the writing of Thomas Aquinas on divine simplicity, see the chapter in his Summa Theologica.)

Therefore, according to classical theistic philosophy God cannot simply be a brute fact, rather, He is the source of all facts that exist, the metaphysically necessary explanation of why there is something rather than nothing. Reading Feser's article will make it abundantly clear that in classical theism God is in no way conceived as a ‘superman’, somehow analogous to the symbolic depictions of God as white-bearded man in the sky. If He were, I would already be an atheist. If God were conceived as ‘superman’, Richard Dawkins’ argument in the central fourth chapter of The God Delusion, which implicitly assumes God to have something like a complex giant material ‘brain’ (that would have to have evolved), would hold. But it does not. In fact, while there are substantial arguments in favor of atheism – which nonetheless I find to have considerably less weight than arguments in favor of theism – my experience from books and discussions strongly suggests that the philosophical position of many atheists is at least to some extent based on a misunderstanding of the classical concept of God in the three great monotheistic religions (see Feser's article). This misunderstanding leads to on the surface logical, yet upon deeper examination non-sensical, questions like "who created God?". It also leads to such a statement as "believers are atheists towards all other gods, atheists go just one step further", envisioned as a ‘logical’ invitation to believers to do the same. By the way, in addition the misunderstanding results in the false notion that Jews, Muslims and Christians all believe

Link to post
Share on other sites

Josh you have just given evidence that a character limit does NOT exists on this site.


Thank you.  

Ps. Now I have to fight the temptation to copy/paste the entire Bible with commentary.  :idea2:

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

It costs about $850 a year for Phatmass.com to survive–and we barely make it. If you’d like to help keep the Phorum alive, please consider a monthly gift.

  • Create New...