A Finely Tuned Universe? Not From Our Perspective

In part 1 of my response to Zac Sech­ler’s 36 Ques­tions for Athe­ists, we looked at the very basic, most fun­da­men­tal ques­tion of why there is some­thing rather than noth­ing and how that relates to whether the uni­verse is eter­nal or if a cre­ator deity is respon­si­ble for its existence. 

I had no prob­lem admit­ting the lim­its of my knowl­edge at cer­tain points, and it should cer­tain­ly be point­ed out that igno­rance is not an excuse or rea­son for the exis­tence of a god but is rather a rea­son for fur­ther study, fur­ther explo­ration, fur­ther ham­mer­ing away at what we know about the uni­verse until answers might be revealed.

With this next set of ques­tions, we begin to look more at life itself, specif­i­cal­ly its ori­gins. So with­out fur­ther ado:

Why is the universe so fine-tuned?

Grav­i­ty. The cos­mo­log­i­cal con­stant. The strength of the weak-force. The loca­tion of the earth in the solar sys­tem to allow for the exis­tence of life. Every­thing we know about the uni­verse seems fine-tuned — or “designed,” the apol­o­gist would want us to believe — to be sup­port life. And not just life, but our life. Here. Now. Earth­’s vast forests, liv­ing oceans, and every­where else, all exist prov­ing that the uni­verse must have been tuned specif­i­cal­ly for them because the odds that those con­di­tions would arise on their own is, well, astro­nom­i­cal, right?

Well, not real­ly. This ques­tion is a lit­tle disin­gen­u­ous because it pre­sup­pos­es that life is a nec­es­sary end-goal for the uni­verse. Instead, life is sim­ply the result of the way that the uni­verse is. When the Big Bang occurred and all mat­ter and ener­gy rapid­ly expand­ed and began to rapid­ly cool, every­thing occurred because of the laws of nature. These aren’t laws in the sense that some­one wrote them down, got them approved by a leg­isla­tive body, and what-have-you; rather, these are laws which sim­ply describe what occurs in nature. Objects are attract­ed to each oth­er in pre­dictable and mea­sur­able ways; we describe that with the law of grav­i­ty. Objects move in pre­dictable and mea­sur­able ways when forces are applied to them; we describe that with the laws of motion.

And the way the uni­verse is allowed life to devel­op, poten­tial­ly over and over again on count­less extra­so­lar worlds, but at least once that we are sure of: here, on Earth.

To put it anoth­er way, if you were to dump out a buck­et of Lego bricks, you might find that the result­ing pile of bricks seems pret­ty chaot­ic, though you might also find that some of the bricks are attached togeth­er. Now, you could ask your­self, “Why was the buck­et of bricks fine-tuned to cre­ate this struc­ture?” or you could admit that the nature of the buck­et of bricks was sim­ply con­ducive of such struc­tures forming.

The uni­verse seems fine-tuned for life on Earth because the way the uni­verse is is con­ducive to life like what we see here.

If your answer is the multiverse, why is there no evidence for that theory?

My answer was­n’t the mul­ti­verse, and while I love to spec­u­late about the mul­ti­verse — often through mis­un­der­stand­ings like “every time we make a deci­sion, a new branch in the mul­ti­verse sprouts” — I am not for sure what evi­dence there is for it. The mul­ti­verse, like relat­ed mat­ters quan­tum the­o­ry, string the­o­ry, et al., is beyond my lev­el of sci­en­tif­ic understanding.

Is it possible that there is no natural explanation for the origin of life?

Is it pos­si­ble? Sure, assum­ing some­thing super­nat­ur­al exists. How­ev­er, that would mean that that which is super­nat­ur­al must be able to inter­act and exist with nature, which makes even its inter­fer­ing to orig­i­nate life a nat­ur­al action. 

We may nev­er know with per­fect cer­tain­ty what the ori­gin of all life on Earth was; quite sim­ply, we weren’t there. Rather, we can the­o­rize about how it might have occurred and test those con­di­tions in the lab, as has been done, with suc­cess­ful cre­ation of some of the basic pro­teins need­ed for life to exist. 

If a super­nat­ur­al being, like a god, cre­at­ed the first life on Earth, that is not some­thing I would be pre­pared to accept with­out some sort of evi­dence, start­ing with evi­dence of the super­nat­ur­al being. With­out that, faith or not, it’s all assump­tion. I can’t place my intel­lec­tu­al assent in assum­ing some­thing that big with­out a real rea­son to; instead, I’ll stick with the sci­en­tif­ic under­stand­ing of life as being a mil­lions-of-years long repro­duc­tive chain of crea­tures, plants, fun­gi, and more chang­ing bit by bit until we have the won­drous ecosys­tems of today.

So What Then?

If one allows for the exis­tence of the super­nat­ur­al, whether it be deities or lep­rechauns, wiz­ards or pol­ter­geists, we must admit a uni­verse where lit­er­al­ly any­thing could occur. Objects can be made to defy grav­i­ty with a wave of a wand, a woman can be formed from the rib of a man, and so much else. While sci­ence can explore end­less depths of real­i­ty, explain­ing as much of it as it can with­in the terms of con­crete sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ry, if super­nat­ur­al mag­ic of any kind were pos­si­ble, then would it real­ly mat­ter if sci­ence says that objects accel­er­ate toward each oth­er due to grav­i­ty? Sci­ence can’t explain super­nat­ur­al occur­rences. How­ev­er, until such a time as super­nat­ur­al occur­rences are shown to be occur­ring (or are shown to have occurred), sci­en­tif­ic expla­na­tion will do just fine for most of us.

That said, I bold­ly accept that as an unbe­liev­er, accord­ing to the Chris­t­ian Scrip­tures, I am inca­pable of see­ing spir­i­tu­al truths. My world­view is that of one who is spir­i­tu­al­ly “dead,” of one who is bound to nat­ur­al expla­na­tions because I have reject­ed the Truth, as well as the expla­na­tions offered by every reli­gion of which I am familiar.

I guess what I’m say­ing is that it’s pos­si­ble for two things to be true, from a cer­tain per­spec­tive. Assum­ing the Bible is true, then Chris­tians right­ly believe in God and all that goes along with that belief; but also, assum­ing still that the Bible is true, the great many unbe­liev­ers in the world, myself includ­ed, are inca­pable of see­ing that truth; instead, we see a world where God is not real and where the world oper­ates accord­ing to nat­ur­al process­es (or some oth­er reli­gious beliefs, in the case of non-atheists). 

Assum­ing still that the Bible is true, it’s impos­si­ble to rea­son a per­son into or out of the faith. How­ev­er, I’m fair­ly cer­tain that the Bible isn’t true sim­ply by virtue of there being nobody around that seems to believe what it actu­al­ly says, par­tic­u­lar­ly in regard to how Jesus want­ed peo­ple to live. Although maybe what the Bible seems to actu­al­ly say is alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent to one who is “spir­i­tu­al­ly alive.” 

The point is, before I talk myself in cir­cles ad nau­se­um, we should be less con­cerned with try­ing to prove or dis­prove Chris­tian­i­ty and more con­cerned, per­haps, with being bet­ter Chris­tians for those who claim to be and more peace­ful sec­u­lar­ists, for those who claim to be. 

Maybe the uni­verse is nei­ther Chris­t­ian nor athe­ist; maybe it and the life it con­tains is sim­ply absurd. We are chunks of water and car­bon argu­ing about minu­tia, and that’s some­thing I think we can be end­less­ly amused by.

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Rick Beckman