Am I Being Dishonest About Fine-Tuning?

In recent discussions with atheists on Twitter, I’ve encountered objections to the term “fine-tuning.” This term refers to the fact that, according to physics and cosmology, the fundamental physical constants and forces of the universe (the strength of gravity, the strength of electromagnetism, the cosmological constant, the number of spatial dimensions, and so forth) all appear to be precisely “tuned” within an extremely narrow range—an incredibly delicate balance that permits the existence of life in the universe. There are dozens of these constants and forces, and if just one of them had a slightly different value—if it were altered by as little as one part in billions or even trillions—life could not exist.

I find that most of the atheists I encounter have never heard of fine-tuning or the anthropic principle. When I explain it to them, they are aghast and refuse to believe what I’m saying. They frequently accuse me of lying or ignorance.

Those who are more astute and well-read will frequently object to the term “fine-tuning” because they think that even using that term is stacking the deck. “‘Fine-tuning’ requires a Fine-Tuner,” wrote one. “The term ‘fine tuning’ is a conclusion disguised as a premise: the argument is truly, technically circular.”

To his thinking, the term “fine-tuning” implies intentional tinkering with the laws of physics by a deity. That’s not how the term is commonly used and understood within the scientific community. “Fine-tuning” is actually a values-neutral, secular, scientific term that describes the nature of the constants and forces of the universe. Physicists, cosmologists, and astronomers actually do observe the universe to be “fine-tuned” without regard to how it got that way. It’s a description of the state of the universe, and does not presuppose how the universe got that way.

Whether or not there was a “Fine-Tuner” (i.e., God), the universe is fine-tuned. It is certainly conceivable that the universe could have come into existence by random-chance processes—with all of its physical constants and forces balanced within that incredibly narrow range, and without the intentional intervention of a “Fine-Tuner.”

Let me say that again for emphasis: Even if there was no intelligent “Fine-Tuner,” the universe is undeniably fine-tuned.

Atheists who wrongly accuse me of trying to bias the discussion with the term “fine-tuning” are themselves guilty of trying to force the discussion toward their conclusion by taking a perfectly common, descriptive, and neutral term, and trying to rule it out of bounds. If you read the literature on cosmic fine-tuning and the anthropic principle, it becomes clear that the term is used by scientists as the best way to describe the condition of the universe, and without any hint or suggestion of theistic propaganda. Some examples:

In The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, physicists John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler write:

Hoyle realized that this remarkable chain of coincidences—the unusual longevity of beryllium, the existence of an advantageous resonance level in C12 and the nonexistence of a disadvantageous level in O16— were necessary, and remarkably fine-tuned, conditions for our own existence and indeed the existence of any carbon-based life in the universe.

These coincidences could, in principle, be traced back to their roots where they would reveal a meticulous fine-tuning between the strengths of the nuclear and electromagnetic interactions along with the relative masses of electrons and nucleons.

—John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (New York: Oxford, 1988) 253.

Barrow and Tipler aren’t using “fine-tuning” to promote theism. They are simply describing some of the fine-tuned conditions in the cosmos that make life possible. Similarly, cosmologist Martin Rees, Britain’s Astronomer Royal (and definitely not a theist), also uses “fine-tuning” in a purely objective, scientific fashion:

These six numbers constitute a “recipe” for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be “untuned,” there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator? I take the view that it is neither. An infinity of other universes may well exist where the numbers are different. Most would be stillborn or sterile. We could only have emerged (and therefore we naturally now find ourselves) in a universe with the “right” combination. This realization offers a radically new perspective on our universe, on our place in it, and on the nature of physical laws. . . . If you imagine setting up a universe by adjusting six dials, then the tuning must be precise in order to yield a universe that could harbour life.

—Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 4 and 22.

In The First Three Minutes, Nobel-winning physicist (and atheist) Steven Weinberg writes about the fine-tuned nature of the cosmological constant:

There may be a cosmological constant in the field equations whose value just cancels the effects of the vacuum mass density produced by quantum fluctuations. But to avoid conflict with astronomical observation, this cancellation would have to be accurate to at least 120 decimal places. Why in the world should the cosmological constant be so precisely fine-tuned?

—Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (New York: Basic Books, 1993), 186-187.

In The Grand Design, physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow also write about the fine-tuning of the cosmological constant in Einstein’s general relativity equations, calling it “the most impressive fine-tuning coincidence” in cosmology. They go on to describe other fine-tuning problems in cosmology:

Most of the fundamental constants in our theories appear fine-tuned in the sense that if they were altered by only modest amounts, the universe would be qualitatively different, and in many cases unsuitable for the development of life. . . . The emergence of the complex structures capable of supporting intelligent observers seems to be very fragile. The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned, and very little in physical law can be altered without destroying the possibility of the development of life as we know it. Were it not for a series of startling coincidences in the precise details of physical law, it seems, humans and similar life-forms would never have come into being.

—Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2012), 160-161.

So, to answer the question “Am I being dishonest about fine-tuning?,” the answer is no. I’m using the term “fine-tuning” in exactly the same way physicists and cosmologists Barrow, Tipler, Rees, Weinberg, Hawking and Mlodinow use it. I’m not playing word games to force a preordained conclusion. I lay out the evidence, I tell you what I think it means, and you are free to draw a different conclusion.

One of the most annoying experiences I have on Twitter is when atheists who don’t understand my views accuse me of lying. Why would I lie? For one thing, I’m morally and ethically committed to the truth. For another thing, I’m convinced that the evidence stacks up on my side. I believe that if I honestly present the evidence, including the sources and footnotes, the evidence will speak for itself.

I hope you’ll examine the evidence rationally and skeptically. If you are intellectually honest, you’ll at least see that I have valid reasons for my views. You may not be persuaded. You may not agree with me. You may have some counter-arguments to toss my way. Please do. All I ask is that you think critically, challenge everything, demand evidence—then be willing to follow that evidence wherever it leads.

Advertisements

Was Adolf Hitler a Christian?

During a recent exchange on Twitter, a number of atheists repeatedly claimed that Adolf Hitler was a Catholic Christian. Beyond the Godwinian implications of that claim, it’s clearly not true.

However, I certainly understand why atheists want it to be true.

The claim that Hitler was a Catholic Christian is lent superficial credibility by the fact that Hitler did claim in his political speeches and writings to be a Christian. One atheist on Twitter referred me to this site, containing many such quotes. I haven’t vetted these quotes from Hitler’s political writings and speeches, but I will stipulate (for the sake of discussion) that Hitler did write and say them.

Clearly, a lot of atheists are more than willing to continue falling for Hitler’s political bilge. It takes monumental gullibility (or maybe just mind-warping antireligious prejudice) to take Hitler’s politicized claims at face value. A little critical thinking is in order.

Responsible, credible historians such as John Toland, Derek Hastings, and Alan Bullock do not give Hitler’s public religious pronouncements any credence. And with good reason, as we shall see.

Hitler was raised by a nominally Catholic father and a devoutly Catholic mother. As a boy, young Adolf attended one year of Catholic education. As an adult, Hitler recalled his early rejection of the Christian faith in one of his “table talk” conversations—private conversations that were taken down verbatim by a stenographer and recorded for history. On October 24, 1941, Hitler said:

The present system of teaching in schools permits the following absurdity: at 10 a.m. the pupils attend a lesson in the catechism, at which the creation of the world is presented to them in accordance with the teachings of the Bible; and at 11 a.m. they attend a lesson in natural science, at which they are taught the theory of evolution. Yet the two doctrines are in complete contradiction. As a child, I suffered from this contradiction, and ran my head against a wall. Often I complained to one or another of my teachers against what I had been taught an hour before — and I remember I drove them to despair.

The Christian religion tries to get out of it by explaining that one must attach a symbolic value to the images of Holy Writ. Any man who made the same claim four hundred years ago would have ended his career at the stake, with an accompaniment of Hosannas.  [Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s Secret Conversations, 1941-1944 (New York: Octagon Books, 1972), 69.]

Hitler’s acquaintances from his boyhood and early adulthood said that he frequently expressed open contempt for Christianity, and some tell the story of how, as a boy, after receiving the Eucharistic host at Mass, he desecrated it by spitting it out and shoving it in his pocket.

Here are the findings of historian Alan Bullock from Hitler: A Study in Tyranny:

Hitler had been brought up as a Catholic and was impressed by the organization and power of the Church. For the Protestant clergy he felt only contempt: ‘They are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs, and they sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them. They have neither any religion they can take seriously nor a great position to defend like Rome.’ It was ‘the great position’ of the Church that he respected; towards its teaching he showed the sharpest hostility. In Hitler’s eyes, Christianity was a religion fit only for slaves; he detested its ethics in particular. Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest. ‘Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.’ From political considerations he restrained his anti-clericalism, seeing clearly the dangers of strengthening the Church by persecution. Once the war was over, he promised himself, he would root out and destroy the influence of the Christian Churches, but until then he would be circumspect. [Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny: (New York: HarperPerennial, 1991), 219.]

Privately, Hitler rejected and detested Christianity. Publicly, in his speeches and in Mein Kampf, he spoke glowingly and approvingly of Christianity. As a canny politician and master manipulator, he knew what he needed to say in order to achieve and maintain his power—especially in Germany, with its large population of both Catholics and Lutheran Protestants. That’s why Hitler’s public pronouncements and his privately expressed views are so completely at odds.

Historian Derek Hastings, author of Catholicism and the Roots of Naziism, says that it is conceivable that Hitler might have been a believing Catholic as late as his 1924 trial for the failed “Beer Hall Putsch” coup attempt (he wrote Mein Kampf while in prison for that crime). But Hastings goes on to say that “there is little doubt that Hitler was a staunch opponent of Christianity throughout the duration of the Third Reich.” [Derek Hastings, Catholicism and the Roots of Naziism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 181.]

I could go on but the point is already well made: Those who claim that Adolf Hitler was a devout Catholic Christian can only do so out of ignorance—or out of sheer hypocrisy, antireligious bigotry, and intellectual dishonesty.

__________________________

Addendum:

One atheist on Twitter disputes my claim that the Soviet Union committed murder in the name of atheism. Here is some support for that claim:

“Practical atheism, enforced by government action, appeared in Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Inspired by the thought of Marx, the Soviet government, assisted by voluntary organizations such as the League of Militant Atheists, disestablished the Russian Orthodox Church, killed clergy and committed believers, disbanded religious organizations, and destroyed churches and religious buildings.” —Peter N. Stearns, Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World: 1750 to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 278.