“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fine-Tuning Arguments for God?

Christian apologists regularly invoke the fine-tuning argument for God, but this line of reasoning doesn’t hold water. God may be real, but this is not where we ought to look for God.

Let me begin with an analogy. One might point to the radius of the earth's orbit around the sun and say "ah, if the earth were slightly farther from or nearer to the sun, life would be impossible; this suggests a transcendent intelligence or designer." But in fact, we can understand this observation perfectly well with astronomy: we've observed vast numbers of stars and planets in the universe, so many so that we expect statistically that even the tiny fraction that are the right distance from their stars for life to form will be a huge number of planets. If intelligent life forms arise on those planets, they should not be surprised to find their planets’ radii of orbit in the narrow range necessary for life. God may have brought life into being in this way, but you wouldn't be able to detect God's involvement by doing astronomy. Appealing to a designer doesn't explain anything that can't be explained scientifically.

Apologists like to argue that constants of nature like the cosmological constant or fine structure constant must be designed to have the right values, because if they were slightly off, life couldn't exist. But these constants may be exactly like the radius of the earth's orbit. Of course, we don't yet know how there could be other regions of the universe with different values of those constants; we don't have a complete, successful theory that predicts this, and we certainly can't observe such distant regions or universes as we can distant solar systems. But then, 500 years ago astronomers had no idea there were other solar systems.

Even if we don't yet know how it might be realized, there are in fact well-motivated theories in physics that may (if we understood them well enough) predict a multiverse, in which there are patches where any and all values of the constants are realized, just as there are billions of solar systems where any and all planetary orbits are realized. (We may not observe the multiverse, but we have to take it seriously if it is the prediction of a theory that we are led to by the physics we do know.) So, we don't yet know what is behind this apparent fine-tuning, but we have every reason to believe that a scientific explanation exists.

The values of the constants may, like the laws of physics in general, reveal the rational and intelligible nature of the physical world, and thus reflect the order and perfection of God’s nature, from which our nature has its being. We can recognize God's beauty and depth in this "fine-tuning," but we can't use it to construct an argument for "design." The elegance of the anthropic principle, despite the fact that it is often used by atheists to counter fine-tuning arguments, reflects the elegance and beauty of God.

Science reveals God’s nature via the nature of creation, but it does not prove the existence of God. That truth is perceived with the heart, through experience of the world on an emotional as well as intellectual level. This should be the grounds of one’s confidence in God’s being; Christians should not feel as if they must find scientific evidence for God. By grasping in vain at “design arguments” one arrives, at best, at a divine knob twiddling intelligence. If on the other hand, we search more deeply into the structure of physical reality that allows for and perhaps even “selects and enlarges”* life-bearing realms in the cosmos, we will ultimately be led to a more rich and beautiful view of nature, and of God.

*Perhaps complexity is self-reproducing, whereas simplicity (a stagnant simplicity that does not generate complexity) is sterile. If so, physical reality may be dominated by rich complex worlds, and where complexity increases without bound, life will emerge.

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