The Fine-tuning Argument

The fine-tuning argument delves deeply into physics but is more commonly argued about by non-physicists than physicists. This is not surprising as the argument has many possible philosophical and theological implications. I am writing about this argument in the latter sense. Although I do have an interest in physics, I am not a physicist, much less a panel of specialists so it is not my intention to labour over CP violations, matter/anti-matter proportions or start flinging sub-atomic particles about. I will be attempting to look at some of the reasons I believe that considering the universe to be fine-tuned is either premature based on the scientific evidence or a non-starter entirely. These arguments will be generally logical/philosophical arguments not a quantum mechanical thesis.

The most pertinent opposition to fine-tuning in the non-starter sense is probably the anthropic principle. To paraphrase, this principle basically states that because life has arisen in this universe then it must of necessity have conditions that make life possible or in other words, if the universe could not support life, we wouldn’t be here to wonder about how fine-tuned it is. There are a few different version of the anthropic principle but I see no value in exploring all of them. The principle is fairly simple and intuitive.

The reason that the fine-tuning argument is considered valid by some, is that if certain of the fundamental constants of the universe were altered then life would not be possible. There are around 26 such constants and in some cases life would not survive even the tiniest alteration of these values. What these alterations seem to always overlook is that the resulting conditions (inhospitable to life as we know it) result from the changing of one constant while maintaining the others at their known values. To truly consider the set of all universes it would be necessary to consider the possibility that any kind of life (other possible configurations of life are unknown –there may be many or none) could exist in every possible configuration (range limits on the constants may also be unknown) of all of the constants. For instance, were we to suppose that each constant (presuming 26 constants) had only 5 possible settings, which is confining the universe to incredible restraints, then the number of possible universal states would be something on the order of twelve million possible universes. If were to increase the number of possible setting each constant has to 10 the number of universes jumps to around 140 trillion. Given that the number of possible configurations of constants is likely far higher, (infinite in theory) the number of possible universes is very, very, very large (I haven’t used sample space calculations for a while so feel free to check my math and let me know if I am off on this)
It is also functionally impossible to understand the conditions of all but a tiny minority of these universes, as our understanding of other universes so far postulated with different fundamental constants is contingent on the other constants (not the ones we are tinkering with) being the same as the ones in our current universe. To put it another way, we need to maintain a high number of the constants at the values we know and understand in order to work out what effect that the ones we are changing would have. That may or not be clear, I am certain there is a better way to explain that, if any reader can think of a clearer and more concise way of putting it, I would be grateful!
Considering this unimaginably vast set of possible universes and the unknown nature of what possible configurations of life can exist, I think it is, at best, a little premature to declare that this universe was created and fine-tuned for life.

One of the simplest and always overlooked problems with fine-tuning is that the universe is almost everywhere instantly lethal to any know forms of life. Presuming the universe was specifically designed to allow for life, fine-tuning suggests then that this universe is the optimal configuration of existence for life to exist. Fine-tuning axiomatically presumes intelligent agency and if capable of constructing or initiating a universe then we must also presume an incredibly powerful/capable intelligence.
The creation of a universe almost universally (no pun intended) hostile to life doesn’t seem optimal at first glance. It may be; it is possible but it most certainly strains credulity.

So what would it mean theologically if it were true?
Let us assume for a moment that we accept that the universe was fine-tuned for life by an intelligent creator, this does not lead us all that far down the theological road. It gives us no indication of the intent of the creator or which if any of the resulting life is most favored. God might be a cockroach; cockroaches might be made in his image and be exalted above all life. Perhaps there is a race of magnificent aliens, altruistic, the embodiment of what the creator of the universe felt was good and beautiful living elsewhere in the universe and humanity, indeed the entire earth and all its life is just a by-product in a universe designed for these aliens. The point here is that even were it true that the universe was fine-tuned for life, it gets us no closer to Christianity or any other theology. The furthest you can get is deism and even that is presumptuous. There are other conceivable means than gods (though here the definition of god becomes important) for an intelligence to have created a universe. Let us say, for arguments sake, that it has been confirmed that it was a ‘god’. We have deism but have gotten no further. The presumption that human life was the point of the universe is still a vast stretch and a not-too-reasonable one at that. Rather than bore you with more from me, I’ll hand you over to the inimitable Carl Sagan. This video was recently posted on Pharyngula and I it think perfectly encapsulates the absurdity of the anthropocentric view


GoodReason GoodReason
31-35, M
Jul 27, 2010