Scientists have found that the physical constants of our universe and the conditions of the early universe are exquisitely fine-tuned for life. In other words, as we human beings sit roughly midway between the infinitesimally small atoms and the immensely large galaxies, our universe is so perfectly structured for us to exist – with the fundamental constants set to just the right values.
But, does a fine-tuned universe point out to God? There are two camps for an answer.
On one side are the naysayers who contend that God is out of the picture in our fine-tuned universe, and adduce explanations other than God’s existence: 1) it is simply a lucky accident of nature; 2) because of humans, not God, or the “anthropic principle;” 3) because of multiple universes or “multiverse.”
On the other side are those who argue that a fine-tuned universe indicates or leads to the existence of God because fine-tuning the universe in order to make life possible “requires a fine-tuner.”
Let’s first try to describe the first camp – the naysayers.
First, is the “matter of luck” argument. Some agnostics and atheists aver that fine-tuning is simply a lucky accident, or some kind of a nonchalant shrugging of shoulders: “It is what it is” and without any further implications.
Second, is the so-called “anthropic principle” objection. This argument states that “because humans exist, the laws of nature must be the ones compatible with life; otherwise, we simply wouldn’t be here to notice that fact.”
Third, is the existence of multiple universes or “multiverse” argument. In a multiverse model, there are many other universes in addition to our own. Each of these universes has different properties and different values of the basic constants of physics, such that some of these universes would have gravity set just right to form stars, but many universes would not. Only a few universes would be suitable for life, such as ours, because we couldn’t survive in the others. If the number of these universes is extremely large, IT WOULDN’T BE SURPRISING that one of them would happen to provide the specific conditions for life.
Multiverse advocate and cosmologist Lee Smolin suggests that “the existence of stars is the key to the problem of why the cosmos is hospitable to life” and argues that “the fact that we observe a universe that is fine-tuned can be explained in a perfectly natural way if there exists a vast multitude of universes.”
But, among the naysayers, I find American particle physicist and religious skeptic Victor Stenger’s position plausibly hard-hitting and which makes an aggressive case for atheism.
Stenger opposes the fine-tuning argument (FTA) as proof of the existence of God due to three basic points: 1) because it only applies to one form of life, which is Earth; 2) the Earth itself is not perfectly fine-tuned as there are aberrations of nature, and; 3) the “God of the gaps” never lasts or is not tenable.
Stenger explains: “If God made the universe and God is perfect, why would he have to fine-tune it at all? If he wanted this life to be an important ingredient, especially humans, then why wouldn’t he have humans being able to live in any place, on every planet, or in space? He could have done that.”
That the Earth is not really fine-tuned, Stenger thus points out: “Our planet is not great when you think about it. We can live only on a third of the area of our planet. The sunlight, including its ultra violet rays, causes cancer. And there are disasters all the time that kill millions of people. So, if God really created the universe for us, he didn’t do a very good job.”
Thus, Stenger further contends that because we can’t explain a not so fine-tuned universe, we resort to the “God of the gaps” conclusion. “The God of the gaps is the argument that if you can’t explain something in science, then you need God to explain it. And the fine-tuning argument is a similar one,” Stenger said.
Now for the other side of the camp – “a fine-tuned universe exists because of God.”
In ordinary parlance, the argument may go something like this: Our universe – that is, a world with life, humans, intelligence, beauty, morality, etc. – couldn’t have come about by accident; it must be due to some intelligent, supreme powerful Being, which is God.
I’d like to mention two leading proponents of this position --- one is Robin Collins, distinguished philosopher trained in physics; the other is Ernan McMullin, philosopher and physicist from Ireland.
Robin Collins first argues that God’s existence can be gleaned from the three categories of fine-tuning in the universe: “There are three different sorts of fine-tuning. First, there is fine-tuning of the laws of nature, which have to be just right for life to occur. Example of this is, if we didn’t have gravity, then matter would not clump together to form planets and stars. Second, is the fine-tuning of the constants of physics. These cosmological constants are precisely adjusted in their parameters for them to naturally occur. The third category is that the initial conditions of the universe have to be just right in order for life to occur. The biggest one of these initial conditions is the very low entropy state of the universe. If it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t have usable energy.”
Amid such startling categories of fine-tuning, Collins concludes that “there is a designer or somebody who set the universe up, structured it just the right way in order for conscious, intelligent bodied beings to come into existence.”
But, some skeptics would readily rebut Collins by saying, “If everything in the universe naturally makes sense, then there’s no need for an external element, some God, or any supernatural force.”
To this, Collins quickly retorts, “Then it actually glorifies God the most, to see that how wonderfully constructed nature is, that everything works.”
Then, we have Ernan McMullin, who argues that on top of the three atheistic possible answers explaining fine-tuning – matter of luck, theories are at the growing point, and multiverse – the best alternative position is creation theology. “Amid the various scientific explanations for a fine-tuned universe, I like to hearken back to the ancient tradition of creation in theology, the idea that the universe is the work of a creator and that creator has a special role for the humans within this universe.”
But, again, agnostics would quip: “To postulate something that cannot be scientifically proven, like God, is wishful thinking. That the universe exists and is fine-tuned cannot necessarily mean there is God.”
McMullin answers back: “Human beings have, long before physics developed, found it quite natural to postulate a being who is a creator. The notion of creation already incorporates the notion of fine-tuning.”
For McMullin, hence, it is not that “a fine-tuned universe exists, that’s why there is God,” but rather “God exists, that’s why there is a fine-tuned universe.”
Ah, this resonates with St. Anselm’s “a priori” ontological argument of the existence of God (God is the “being none other than which can be conceived”).
Let me infer, thus, that the reality or existence of a fine-tuned universe, which we can observe, points out to its essence, which is God. The essence of the existence of a fine-tuned universe is God.
In sum, yes, scientific explanations may not suffice to postulate the existence of God. But even if the multiverse theories may be scientifically plausible, the multiverse itself would still be God’s creation.
And, finally, as “fine-tuning requires a fine-tuner,” scientific explanations cannot replace God but instead increase our understanding and wonder of the beauty, splendor, vastness, and complexity of God’s creation – a transcendent mystery to behold with, not a problem to be solved.