Thursday, May 12, 2022

Apologetics: The Design/Fine-Tuning Argument (or, How Science Proved God)

How Modern Physics and Cosmology Unearthed One of the Strongest Proofs for God

In the past half-century, physicists and cosmologists have begun noticing one of the oddest attributes of our physical universe: the fact that, if one were to predict probabilities for the values by which the universe is structured, our universe comes out as being wildly unlikely. Specifically, it appears that the values of physical constants are fine-tuned to an extraordinary degree: precisely set at values that enable the universe to host life. Any slight variation in any one of those values (and there’s no scientific reason why they couldn’t be different) would result in a universe dramatically hostile to life. These oddly fine-tuned values are known as “anthropic coincidences.”

Quotes on the Anthropic Coincidences:

Discover magazine: “The universe is unlikely. Very unlikely. Deeply, shockingly unlikely.”

“All the seemingly arbitrary and unrelated constants in physics have one strange thing in common—these are precisely the values you need if you want to have a universe capable of producing life.” – Patrick Glynn, former skeptic

“I do not believe that any scientists who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce.” – Fred Hoyle, astrophysicist

“A common-sense and satisfying interpretation of our world suggests the designing hand of a superintelligence.” – Harvard astronomer Owen Gingerich

“Though man is not at the center of the physical universe, he appears to be at the center of its purpose.” – Robert Augros and George Stanciu, authors of The New Story of Science

“This kind of fine-tuning would be totally unexpected under the theory that random chance was responsible. However, it’s not unexpected at all under the hypothesis that there is a Grand Designer.” – Robin Collins, physicist & philosopher

“The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine.” – Vera Kistiakowski, MIT physicist

“As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof for the existence of a Supreme Being?” – astronomer George Greenstein

“It is hard to resist the impression that the present structure of the universe, apparently so sensitive to minor alterations in numbers, has been rather carefully thought out…. The seemingly miraculous concurrence of these numerical values must remain the most compelling evidence for cosmic design…. Through my scientific work, I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact.” – Paul Davies, physicist

Examples of Anthropic Coincidences:

- Fine-tuning of the cosmological constant (the energy density of empty space): this value turned out to be surprisingly small (scientists were expecting it to be large), but it turns out that it needs to be small for the universe to hold together. Stephen Weinberg (an atheist physicist) calls it “remarkably well adjusted in our favor.” This example of fine-tuning is reckoned as being one in a hundred million billion billion billion billion billion.

- Fine-tuning of the gravitational constant: a miniscule shift in this value would result in gravitational forces that would destroy life as we know it. The combination of this fine-tuning probability with the one above is about the same chance as correctly picking out, at random, one specific atom from all the atoms in the entire universe.

- Fine-tuning of the original phase-space volume: this fine-tuning is reckoned as “one part in ten billion multiplied by itself 123 times”—a number impossible to write down in full, since it would require more zeroes than the number of elementary particles that exist in the entire universe (according to Oxford physicist Roger Penrose)

- Other examples include the value of the masses of protons and neutrons, the strong nuclear force, the three-alpha process (by which elements necessary for life are produced), the electromagnetic force, the vacuum expectation of the Higgs field, the flatness of space, the number of spatial dimensions, and many more. (Lists of anthropic coincidences tend to number at least a dozen, and sometimes as many as a hundred specific instances.)

Possible Scientific Rebuttals:

- Grand Unified Theory—perhaps there’s an as-yet-undiscovered theory that binds all these values together and explains why they are the way they are.

The trouble with this idea is that even if such a theory were discovered, it simply pushes the startling improbability of the situation one level higher: one would still be faced with the apparent design of the universe.

- Weak Anthropic Principle—the fine-tuned values in our universe really are not that remarkable, because if our universe had been anything other than this remarkably unlikely one, we wouldn’t even be here to notice it.

John Leslie had a memorable rebuttal to the Weak Anthropic Principle: imagine that you had fifty expert marksmen facing you in a firing squad, with all guns loaded and aiming at you from point-blank range. The guns go off, and you find that you’re still alive!—the wildly unbelievable result was that none of the bullets hit you! At this point, a skeptic comes by and says, “It’s really not that remarkable that you weren’t hit, because if you had been, you wouldn’t even be around to notice it.”

- Multiverse Theory—maybe there are actually many universes out there, and ours is just one of a vast number (possibly infinite) of other universes, each with different values. If that’s true, then the weak anthropic principle makes sense—somebody has to end up living in the lucky universe, and it happens to be us.

The main trouble here is that the multiverse idea is a true leap of faith. It is something that can never be tested or verified, it can only be believed (is it then a truly scientific idea?). For many skeptics, it’s just a fanciful way of getting out of the obvious inference of cosmological fine-tuning: they don’t want to admit that our universe looks very, very much like it was designed by a superintelligence, so the only way to beat those ridiculous probabilities is to invent enough alternate universes to make the wild math even out.

As physicist Stephen Barr says, “In an effort to avoid the hypothesis of God, scientific materialists are frequently driven to hypothesize the existence of an infinity of unobservable entities…. It seems that to abolish one unobservable God, it takes an infinite number of unobservable substitutes.”