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.

An Atheist’s Admiration for Jesus

I’m convinced that if everyone in the world practiced the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew chapters 5 through 7), 95 percent of the world’s problems would be solved. It might surprise you to know that even atheist extraordinaire Richard Dawkins shares my admiration for the Sermon on the Mount. In The God Delusion, Dawkins writes:

“Jesus, if he existed . . . was surely one of the great ethical innovators of history. The Sermon on the Mount is way ahead of its time. His ‘turn the other cheek’ anticipated Gandhi and Martin Luther King by two thousand years.”

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 283.

_________________________

Addendum, September 30, 2012:

I recently discovered a blogpage written by Richard Dawkins entitled “Atheists for Jesus” (April 10, 2006). At the top of the page is a photo of Dawkins wearing a T-shirt that reads “Atheists for Jesus.” In the article, Dawkins explains in greater depth his admiration for Jesus as an ethical teacher, while dismissing the theistic worldview of Jesus. Here’s an excerpt:

Of course Jesus was a theist, but that is the least interesting thing about him. He was a theist because, in his time, everybody was. Atheism was not an option, even for so radical a thinker as Jesus. What was interesting and remarkable about Jesus was not the obvious fact that he believed in the God of his Jewish religion, but that he rebelled against many aspects of Yahweh’s vengeful nastiness. At least in the teachings that are attributed to him, he publicly advocated niceness and was one of the first to do so. To those steeped in the Sharia-like cruelties of Leviticus and Deuteronomy; to those brought up to fear the vindictive, Ayatollah-like God of Abraham and Isaac, a charismatic young preacher who advocated generous forgiveness must have seemed radical to the point of subversion. No wonder they nailed him.

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” . . .

I am no memetic engineer, and I have very little idea how to increase the numbers of the super nice and spread their memes through the meme pool. The best I can offer is what I hope may be a catchy slogan. “Atheists for Jesus” would grace a T-shirt. There is no strong reason to choose Jesus as icon, rather than some other role model from the ranks of the super nice such as Mahatma Gandhi (not the odiously self-righteous Mother Teresa, heavens no). I think we owe Jesus the honour of separating his genuinely original and radical ethics from the supernatural nonsense which he inevitably espoused as a man of his time. And perhaps the oxymoronic impact of “Atheists for Jesus” might be just what is needed to kick-start the meme of super niceness in a post-Christian society. If we play our cards right—could we lead society away from the nether regions of its Darwinian origins into kinder and more compassionate uplands of post-singularity enlightenment?

I think a reborn Jesus would wear the T-shirt. It has become a commonplace that, were he to return today, he would be appalled at what is being done in his name, by Christians ranging from the Catholic Church to the fundamentalist Religious Right. Less obviously but still plausibly, in the light of modern scientific knowledge I think he would see through supernaturalist obscurantism. But of course, modesty would compel him to turn his T-shirt around: Jesus for Atheists.

Dawkins is wrong, of course, when he claims that a “reborn Jesus” would not be a theist. Jesus would know all about the anthropic, fine-tuned universe—a body of evidence that Dawkins actively misleads his readers about in The God Delusion. In fact, I think it is likely that Jesus, being the absolute exemplar of intellectual honesty, would connect his ethical teachings to the evidence for a Cosmic Designer that permeates our growing understanding of cosmology and quantum mechanics.

But I do agree with Dawkins on this: Jesus might well wear a “Jesus for Atheists” T-shirt, because Jesus is for all people, weak and strong, young and old, male and female, believer and nonbeliever. The one who said “Love your enemies,” the one who forgave those who crucified him, would certainly be for atheists. He would not be for atheism, of course, because atheism doesn’t square with reality. He would want everyone to know the truth.

But Jesus welcomed the Samaritan woman at the well, the Roman centurion, the woman caught in adultery, the tax collector, the rich and the poor, the drunks and prostitutes. So why wouldn’t he welcome an atheist as well?

Read Richard Dawkins’ “Atheists for Jesus” in its entirety at RichardDawkins.net.

“Nothing New Here”

After posting my previous entry, “Who Made God?,” I went to Twitter and tweeted about the blog (I’m @AnswersAuthor, and there’s a “follow” button at the bottom of this page). Here’s a typical message I tweeted: “#Atheists like #ChristopherHitchens ask, ‘If God made the universe, who made God?’ Find the answer to that question at https://thetruthwillmakeyoumad.wordpress.com.”

I got a wide range of responses, both complimentary and otherwise. The uncomplimentary tweets included: “Claptrap. Self-devolving prose.” “What a pathetic specimen you are, clinging to your superstition for dear life.” “I feel ever so slightly dumber after reading some of that.”

To the twitterer who felt “ever so slightly dumber,” I replied, “Sorry my blog made you feel dumb. That was not my intent. Reread two more times—I’m sure you’ll feel smarter.” He tweeted back, “I’m afraid if I read more the result will irreversible.” To which I replied, “Then, by all means, avoid exposure to new ideas and information. I wish you well.” Ah, but we weren’t quite done. He tweeted back: “Nothing in your writing was new.”

At that point, I knew exactly how this thing would play out. I’ve spent the past 25 years studying the evidence and assembling my own case for God. I know for an absolute fact that I’ve put together a case (especially the “Who Made God?” argument) that is not in print anywhere else. I know how groundbreaking these ideas are. So for this twitterer to say there’s nothing new here is so obviously false that I knew he was bluffing. He either hadn’t read the blog, or he didn’t understand the blog, or he was pretending to have knowledge he just didn’t have.

Well, it was time for him to put up or shut up, so I tweeted back: “Excellent. You can cite for me which ideas in the article you’ve seen before and where you read them?” And, as I knew he would, he tweeted back: “Or I could waste no more of my time on you.” To which I replied, “That’s fine. As I said a few tweets ago, I wish you well.”

And I meant it. I do wish him well. I wish nothing but the best for all of my critics on Twitter and elsewhere. I hope they find the truth they are so strenuously, belligerently trying to avoid and suppress.

For some reason, my atheist critics on Twitter are usually angry and hostile, and their attacks are disproportionately personal and vindictive. I don’t know why that is. Is it the atheist mindset itself that makes people so hostile? Or is it something about Twitter, and its 140-character limitations, that makes people behave badly? I really don’t know.

One twitterer attacked my Twitter profile bio, saying, “Even his bio is a self-aggrandizing word salad.” My bio reads: “Skeptical believer, Christian anthropicist, Hayek-Friedman-Reagan small-gummint classical liberal, post-partisan author.” A word salad is defined as a string of incomprehensible words having no apparent connection to one another. But my Twitter bio is a highly succinct and accurate summation of who I am. It describes me.

So I replied (in a series of tweets), “You are kidding me! Attacking my bio, dude? Really? A rational response would be: Examine my sources, confront any faulty logic, and show me the error of my ways. I don’t know why my humble little blog is so threatening to you, but feel free to simply avoid new ideas and reject new information. Ad hominem attack is so weak and anti-rational.”

The twitterer replied, “But so apropos in this case and so enjoyable, Skippy!”

Now, here’s a weird thing I’ve noticed: For some reason, atheists on Twitter like to call their opponents “Skippy.” I’ve encountered that multiple times. I replied (over several tweets): “Atheists’ Handbook, p. 37: ‘When out of intellectual ammo, call the other guy Skippy.’ You’re the third atheist to call me that. Weak, irrational ad hominem attack is never logically apropos, but when that’s all you’ve got . . .”

I didn’t hear back.

Another atheist looked at my blog and tweeted, “An ignorant response which fails horribly. The atheist Hitchens’ question still stands, even though you word-play. Pathetic.”

So I responded, “Know what’s really pathetic? Asserting that something ‘fails horribly’ or is ignorant wordplay without backing up the assertion. Christopher Hitchens said, ‘What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.’ Where’s your evidence? #Weak”

The atheist replied, “What do #atheists need evidence for? When Hitchens said that, he was speaking of theists and their assertions. Pay attention.”

Well, of course, Hitchens was speaking of theists and their assertions. But the Hitchens principle cuts both ways. If a theist makes an assertion without evidence, it can be dismissed without evidence. And if an atheist or anti-theist makes an assertion, it too can be dismissed on the same basis.

My atheist friend on Twitter asserted that my blog was failed, ignorant wordplay. Okay, that’s an assertion. Now, back up your assertion with facts. What did I write that demonstrates ignorance? Where does my logic fail? Where does my evidence fail? If you just flatly assert that I’m wrong, yet you can’t tell me why I’m wrong and where I went wrong (especially when everything I’ve written is sourced and footnoted), then frankly, you’re the one who looks pathetic.

So I replied: “Hitchens was stating a broad principle: If you make a claim, back it up with fact. And yes, atheism makes assertions.”

The atheist tweeted back, “#Atheism doesn’t make assertions. You seem confused.”

I replied, “Atheism is your dogma. It blinds you to new information and new ideas.”

The atheist replied: “Why are you confused over the definition of #atheism? It’s very clear. There is no mistake. I can help you if you want. #Atheism is the position where one lacks belief in a god. Therefore, it’s not dogma. To say it’s dogma makes you look ignorant.”

Rather than reply within the 140-character restraints of Twitter, I decided to write this blog entry. I understand why my atheist friend thinks only theists need to provide evidence. I understand why he thinks that atheism makes no assertions. I understand why he denies that atheism is dogma. And I can explain why he’s wrong.

Atheist philosopher Antony Flew (who, late in life, converted to theism) divided the atheist community into two camps, “strong atheism” and “weak atheism.” Strong atheism asserts that no deities exist. Weak atheism is lack of belief in a deity without an explicit assertion that no deities exist. So my atheist friend on Twitter claims to be (by Flew’s definition) a “weak atheist.”

An assertion that is common to both strong and weak atheism is the assertion of materialism. This assertion states that the entire universe consists of nothing but matter and energy, and all phenomena in the universe, including human consciousness, result from material interactions. Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov typified the materialist view when he wrote:

The molecules of my body, after my conception, added other molecules and arranged the whole into more and more complex form. . . . In the process, I developed, little by little, into a conscious something I call “I” that exists only as the arrangement. When the arrangement is lost forever, as it will be when I die, the “I” will be lost forever, too.

And that suits me fine. No concept I have ever heard, of either a Hell or of a Heaven, has seemed to me to be suitable for a civilized rational mind to inhabit, and I would rather have the nothingness.

In my blog entry, “Who Made God?,” I present what I consider to be a compelling case that this atheist assertion is FALSE. The evidence shows that there is more to the universe than materialism, and that Mind is the ground of all reality. Any fair-minded, objective reader would have to agree that I have presented ideas and evidence that are AT LEAST worthy of consideration.

If, however, you are blinded by your dogma, if you are closed to new ideas and new information and your mind is set in stone, you will not give my ideas fair consideration. You’ll dismiss those ideas in knee-jerk fashion as “claptrap” and “ignorant wordplay.” You’ll mock the author of those ideas as “a pathetic specimen clinging to superstition.” You’ll claim that reading it actually makes you dumber. You’ll say it’s nothing new.

The one thing you will not do is actually examine those ideas and consider the evidence. You won’t even try to challenge the author’s reasoning, because to actually think about these ideas would threaten your dogma. It would mean honestly and objectively asking yourself, “What if the author is right?”

Many people assume the word dogma applies only to religious belief and doctrine. Not true. A dogma is a set of opinions or beliefs that are held with such tenacity that one becomes closed to new ideas and new information. If you find yourself feeling angry or annoyed by the ideas I presented in “Who Made God?,” there’s a good chance you are blinded by your dogma. A non-dogmatic person might disagree and calmly challenge those ideas. Or a non-dogmatic person might simply shrug and walk away. But only a dogmatist becomes hostile and insulting in response to a reasonably expressed viewpoint.

And these comments aren’t directed only at atheists. I have found that there are two groups of people who are hostile to the scientific evidence for God. One group, of course, is dogmatic atheists. The other group is dogmatic Christians. For some reason, extremely dogmatic Christians tend to hate the idea that the existence of God might be provable. They seem to think there is something noble about “blind faith,” belief without evidence.

But without evidence, how can you know what to believe?

Elton Trueblood said, “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” I agree. And once you’ve seen the evidence, once you’ve experienced the proof, then you can trust unreservedly. Whether believer or atheist, we must have the courage to follow the evidence. Bart D. Ehrman put it this way: “The search for truth takes you where the evidence leads you, even if, at first, you don’t want to go there.”

Dogmatic people invariably get mad when the truth pokes holes in their dogma. That’s why this blog is called, “The Truth Will Make You Mad.” Instead of getting mad, set yourself free. If you really want to know the truth, you owe it to yourself to open your mind and examine the evidence.

Who knows? If you actually THINK about my ideas and evidence, you just might find a way to prove me wrong.

______________________________________________

Postscript, September 3, 2012:

The atheist twitterer responded to my blog entry about as I expected. I’ll take the liberty of translating Twitterspeak to English—for example, changing “u” to “you,” “ur” to “your,” and so forth—for the sake of clarity. He tweeted:

“Your blog fails because you continue to be confused over what atheism means. Strong/weak are not real subcategories either.”

“An atheist is one without belief in a god. Strong/weak merely define what view atheists have in addition to atheism.”

“I refer you to my blog in response to your ignorance about atheism.”

His blog delves into the origin of the word atheism to explain the difference between “without belief in a god” versus “a belief that there is no god.” Yeah, I get that. And I explicitly acknowledged that distinction above.

As to whether strong/weak atheism (also called positive/negative atheism) are real subcategories, his argument is not with me but with atheist scholars like Antony Flew and Michael Martin. In the glossary to The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007, pages xvii and xviii), Martin writes:

Negative atheism: absence of belief in any god or gods. More narrowly conceived, it is the absence of belief in the theistic God. Cf. positive atheism. . . .

Positive atheism: disbelief in any god or gods. More narrowly conceived, it is disbelief in the theistic God. Cf. negative atheism.

Okay, enough hair-splitting. My atheist friend’s next tweet:

“Until you can come up with actual evidence for a god, you will continue to have the burden of proof, and we will sit, point and laugh at you.”

That burden began to shift as far back as September 1973 when physicist Brandon Carter presented a paper (“Large Number Coincidences and the Anthropic Principle in Cosmology”) at the Copernicus symposium in Kraków, Poland. Carter described some of the odd coincidences in the universe—a multitude of seemingly unrelated laws of physics that appear to be coordinated and fine-tuned to produce life. Carter called this concept “the anthropic principle,” also known as the “fine-tuned universe” concept. I address it in greater detail in “Is Our Universe ‘the Ultimate Artifact’?”

In the years since Brandon Carter delivered that paper at the Kraków symposium, the evidence has been steadily growing that the universe seems to have been deliberately fine-tuned to produce life, and that Mind is essential to the existence of the universe. That is the foundation of the case I have assembled in my blog entries, “Is Our Universe ‘the Ultimate Artifact’?” and “Who Made God?” 

Is the fine-tuned universe proof of the existence of God? Some scientists find it convincing. Others do not. Those who are convinced include theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson, physicist Frank Tipler, astronomer Alan Sandage, and Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project and President Obama’s head of the National Institutes of Health.

Even scientists who are unconvinced recognize that the anthropic evidence is powerful and at least gives the unmistakable appearance of pointing to God. Atheist physicist George Greenstein wrote:

As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency—or, rather, Agency—must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit? …

It is a matter of taste how one deals with that notion. Those who wish are free to accept it, and I have no way to prove them wrong. But I know where I stand. . . . I reject it utterly.

[George Greenstein, The Symbiotic Universe (New York: William Morrow, 1988), pp. 27 and 87.]

So Greenstein clearly states that the anthropic evidence appears to point to God, though he himself rejects that notion. The evidence Greenstein refers to is essentially the evidence I present in “Is Our Universe ‘the Ultimate Artifact’?” I take those ideas even further in “Who Made God?”

Those two blog entries contain about 4800 words of rational scientific evidence, yet they form just a brief introduction to the mountain of evidence that exists. Even so, they dismantle the ignorant atheist canard that there’s “no evidence” for God.

If my atheist friend is correct and the burden of evidence is on me, then hey, no problem, I have delivered the goods. It’s there in those blogs. He and his fellow atheist twitterers are either unwilling or unable to deal with that evidence, because over the past few days, not one of them has challenged or refuted a single word in those blogs.

My atheist friend can continue splitting hairs about the definition of atheism if he likes, and he can “sit, point and laugh” at the evidence and the truth. But the burden is now on my atheist friend to put up or shut up—and to come up with some facts and intelligent reasoning to counter what I have presented.

The atheist twitterer concludes:

“There is no ‘scientific evidence’ for your god. Atheists appear hostile to your irrational beliefs, not your invisible evidence.”

You, the reader, can judge for yourself if these blogs begin to build a case for a Cosmic Designer, as I claim—or if they are nothing but “irrational beliefs” and “invisible evidence,” as my atheist friend claims.

Oh, and one more thing: Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great, has acknowledged that the fine-to universe evidence is “intriguing” and “not trivial.” You can hear it from Hitchens’ own lips at “Christopher Hitchens Makes a Startling Admission.”  Here’s the essential part of Hitchens’ statement [note: when Hitchens says “we,” he means leading atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and himself]:

At some point, certainly, we are all asked which is the best argument you come up against from the other side. I think every one of us picks the fine-tuning one as the most intriguing. . . . Even though it doesn’t prove design, doesn’t prove a Designer . . . you have to spend time thinking about it, working on it. It’s not a trivial [argument]. We all say that.

If Christopher Hitchens, the atheists’ atheist, acknowledged that the fine-tuning evidence is “not trivial,” that it is “most intriguing,” that “you have to spend time thinking about it, working on it,” then anyone who says there is “no scientific evidence” for God is either intellectually dishonest or ignorant.

______________________________________________

Post-postscript:

The atheist twitterer in question has asked that I give out his Twitter username (@TedTheAtheist) and the link to his blog reply. Done.

A person with a fixed idea will always find some way
of convincing himself in the end that he is right.”

Mathematician Atle Selberg

Is Our Universe “the Ultimate Artifact”?

April 1987 ANALOG

I first encountered the scientific case for the existence of God in the April 1987 issue of Analog Science Fiction / Science Fact. Sandwiched among the science fiction stories was a fact article by Richard D. Meisner with the intriguing title “Universe—the Ultimate Artifact?” I began reading—and what I read was startling. Meisner gave a guided tour of a number of startling cosmic coincidences.

Meisner’s conclusion: The universe appears to be an artifact—an object designed by an intelligent entity for a specific purpose. Meisner went on to quote cosmologist Paul Davies: “It is hard to resist the impression that the present structure of the universe, apparently so sensitive to minor alterations in the numbers, has been rather carefully thought out.” Then Meisner offered his own impression:

One may feel inclined to apply the word “God” in this context. This is justifiable, although I tend to avoid the word simply because I’ve found almost without exception that it triggers an immediate positive or negative emotional response in the listener—most inconducive to good scientific thinking. Naturally, the artifact hypothesis is most attractive when stripped of its unfortunate historical trappings of superstition and dogma. . . . Personally, if the artifact inference proved true, I would be most interested not in how the universe was fabricated, but why.

A year after I encountered Meisner’s article in Analog, I discovered a book by Dr. George Greenstein with the intriguing title The Symbiotic Universe. It’s a book-length treatment of the cosmological case for God. It explores the body of evidence Meisner wrote about, but in much greater depth and detail.

Dr. Greenstein is a Yale-educated astrophysicist who currently teaches at Amherst College in Massachusetts. In the early 1980s, Greenstein became fascinated by the scientific case for God, and he began examining the list of “cosmic coincidences” purely as a matter of personal amusement. As the list of “coincidences” kept growing, Greenstein found the results disturbing.

“The more I read,” Greenstein wrote, “the more I became convinced that such ‘coincidences’ could hardly have happened by chance.” Why did he find the “cosmic coincidences” disturbing? Because they appeared to be evidence for a Cosmic Designer—that is, evidence for God—and Greenstein was a confirmed atheist.

The possibility that God or a Godlike super-intelligence might have actually designed the universe made Greenstein almost physically sick. He recalls experiencing “an intense revulsion, and at times it was almost physical in nature. I would positively squirm with discomfort. … I found it difficult to entertain the notion without grimacing in disgust, and well-nigh impossible to mention it to friends without apology.”

What is the scientific evidence that caused Dr. Greenstein to “squirm with discomfort”? It is often referred to as the evidence for a “fine-tuned universe.” The universe, we now know, is incredibly precision-balanced (or “fine-tuned”) to produce life. Take, for example, the Big Bang.

At the moment the Big Bang began, everything that exists—matter, energy, the three dimensions of space, and the fourth dimension of time—emerged from a single geometric point, expanding at the speed of light. The Big Bang actually created space and time.

Scientists are amazed that the explosive violence of the creation event was as delicately balanced as it was. Cosmologist Paul Davies observes:

Had the Big Bang been weaker, the cosmos would have soon fallen back on itself in a big crunch. On the other hand, had it been stronger, the cosmic material would have dispersed so rapidly that galaxies would not have formed. … Had the explosion differed in strength at the outset by only one part in 1060, the universe we now perceive would not exist. To give some meaning to these numbers, suppose you wanted to fire a bullet at a one-inch target on the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light-years away. Your aim would have to be accurate to that same part in 1060…. Channeling the explosive violence into such a regular and organized pattern of motion seems like a miracle.

If the explosive force of the Big Bang not been perfectly balanced and incredibly fine-tuned, life would be impossible and you and I could not exist.

At first, the laws and constants of the universe were simply accepted as a matter of fact—no one wondered why this or that force or constant of physics was not slightly stronger or weaker than it is. Eventually, physicists began to realize (as George Greenstein observes in The Symbiotic Universe) that the “laws of nature could have been laid down only in the very instant of the creation of the universe, if not before.”

Paul Davies recalls that when he was a student, the question of where the laws of physics come from was off-limits. A scientist was supposed to simply apply those laws, not inquire into their origin. They would say, “There’s no reason the laws of physics are what they are—they just are.” Davies concluded, “The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. … It makes a mockery of science.”

As it became clear that the laws of nature might have been different than they are—that they appeared to have been deliberately selected to produce life—scientists began to look at these forces, laws, and constants with new sense of awe. The entire universe seemed to be constructed out of an incredibly unlikely series of cosmic coincidences. Some examples:

There are four forces governing the structure and behavior of subatomic particles—the electromagnetic force, the gravitational force, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. These forces determine everything from how an electron orbits the nucleus of an atom to how stars and galaxies are formed. Each force has a specific mathematical value called a constant (because its value never varies).

The gravitational force constant is finely tuned to permit life. Slightly greater, and stars would burn too hot, too quickly, and too unevenly to produce life-giving elements. Slightly smaller, and stars would be too cool, so that nuclear fusion could not take place and there would be no life-giving heavier elements.

The electromagnetic force is also fine-tuned. If its constant were slightly larger or smaller, the chemical bonding required for making living things could not take place.

There is a fine-tuned balance between the gravitational and electromagnetic forces. If the constant of the ratio between these two forces were larger, there would be no stars smaller than 1.4 solar masses, and the lifetime of stars would be too short to generate life-giving elements. If the constant were smaller, there would be no stars larger than 0.8 solar masses—and again, no production of life-giving heavier elements.

If the strong nuclear force constant were slightly larger, there would be no hydrogen in the universe and no stars. If this constant were smaller, the universe would consist of nothing but hydrogen.

If the weak force constant were larger, most of the hydrogen in the universe would have converted to helium during the Big Bang. If it were smaller, there’d be too little hydrogen converted to helium—a roadblock to the production of life-giving heavier elements such as carbon and oxygen.

The proton-to-electron mass ratio: A proton is 1,836 times more massive than an electron; if this ratio varied slightly in either direction, molecules could not form and life could not exist. The ratio of the number of protons to the number of electrons is also finely balanced to permit the electromagnetic force to dominate the gravitational force, allowing the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets.

The unusual properties of water are also a fine-tuned condition for life. Water plays an essential role in almost every biological function. It is necessary to photosynthesis, the foundation of the food chain. In photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar, giving off oxygen as a “waste product.”

Water is one of the few liquids that expands when it freezes. Most substances contract and become more dense when they freeze, but frozen water is actually 9 percent less dense than liquid water. This is because, at freezing temperatures, the hydrogen bonds that connect water molecules make an adjustment to keep negatively charged oxygen atoms apart. This adjustment creates the crystal lattice that enables ice to float in liquid water.

If water didn’t have this extraordinary property, ice would sink, which would cause lakes and rivers to freeze solid. If ice did not float, observes George Greenstein, life on Earth “would be confined to a narrow strip lying close to the equator.”

And the list goes on: the proton decay rate, the neutron-proton mass difference, the matter-antimatter ratio, and on and on—it’s as if dozens of completely unrelated laws of nature plotted together in a vast cosmic conspiracy to produce life. As Paul Davies observes:

It is tempting to believe, therefore, that a complex universe will emerge only if the laws of physics are very close to what they are. … The laws, which enable the universe to come into being spontaneously, seem themselves to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design. If physics is the product of design, the universe must have a purpose, and the evidence of modern physics suggests strongly to me that the purpose includes us.

And physicist Fred Hoyle adds, “I do not believe that any scientist who examines the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed.”

Is our life-giving universe the result of an inconceivably improbable series of cosmic accidents? Or is it the product of calculated, deliberate design?

Is the universe evidence—even proof—of the existence of God? Is our universe “the Ultimate Artifact” of the mind and hand of an intelligent Creator?

Christopher Hitchens Makes a Startling Admission

Here is an incredible two-minute video clip from the end of the documentary Collision, featuring Christopher Hitchens (author of God is Not Great) and Reformed pastor Douglas James Wilson (Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho). The video was recorded during their promotional tour for the book Is Christianity Good for the World?, based on their series of debates.

In my previous posts about Christopher Hitchens (Lament for an Atheist Part I” and Part II”), I made note of the strange fact that Hitchens, in God is Not Great, devotes an entire chapter to “Arguments from Design,” yet he doesn’t make even the slightest reference to the “fine-tuning” or “anthropic” evidence.

(For a thorough presentation of that evidence, see my book God and Soul: The Truthand the Proof; for a brief introduction, see my blog piece “Is Our Universe ‘the Ultimate Artifact’?”)

Ever since reading God is Not Great, I’ve wondered if Hitchens was completely unaware of the fine-tuning evidence or if he simply avoided the subject because it posed an insoluble problem for him. Here’s what I wrote:

Though Chapter 6 of God is Not Great is entitled “Arguments from Design,” he doesn’t devote even one word to the cosmological case for God. The evidence is hardly new or difficult to research. This concept has been around since 1973, when physicist Brandon Carter introduced an idea he called “the anthropic principle.” It has been explored extensively by such writers as Paul Davies, John Barrow, Frank Tipler, John Gribbin, Martin Rees, and others. I devoted an extensive section of my 2001 book Answers to Satisfy the Soul to the subject.

Why, then, does Hitchens completely ignore the subject in God is Not Great? As I read Hitchens and his fellow “New Atheists,” I’m struck by the fact that they don’t seem merely unpersuaded by the evidence. They seem to either misunderstand the evidence—or worse, they seem altogether ignorant of it. Writing a chapter called “Arguments from Design” without even one mention of the cosmological evidence is like writing a book on the history of Apple Computers without any mention of Steve Jobs. It’s downright bizarre.

Well, now we know that Hitchens did know about the fine-tuning argument—and what he says about fine-tuning in this video stunned me. It will shock anyone who truly groks the implications of Hitchens’ statement. Click “play” and hear it for yourself:

Here’s a transcript of the first part of the conversation between Hitchens and Wilson:

Hitchens: At some point, certainly, we are all asked which is the best argument you come up against from the other side. I think every one of us picks the fine-tuning one as the most intriguing.

Wilson: The Goldilocks idea. Yeah, okay.

Hitchens: Yeah. The fine-tuning, that one degree, well, one degree, one hair different of nothing—that even though it doesn’t prove design, doesn’t prove a Designer, [the fine-tuning] could have all happened without [God]— You have to spend time thinking about it, working on it. It’s not a trivial [argument]. We all say that.

(By the way, when Hitchens says, “We all say that,” he refers to himself, to Richard Dawkins, and to the rest of the New Atheists. And Wilson’s reference to “the Goldilocks idea” refers to the fact that our fine-tuned universe is “just right” for life.)

In this brief clip, Christopher Hitchens has given us all—theists, skeptics, agnostics, atheists, and anti-theists—a lot to think about. And the biggest question on my mind is this: If Hitchens and the other New Atheists know that fine-tuning is not a trivial argument, that you have to spend time thinking about it, why do they omit it or misrepresent it in their books? What are they afraid of?

____________________________

Addendum — Sunday, October 14, 2012 — “NO PROOF!”

Yesterday on Twitter, I sent out some tweets regarding the anthropic (fine-tuned universe) case for God. An atheist tweeted back two words in all caps: “NO PROOF!” I looked up the atheist tweeter’s profile and found that his profile consisted of a single quotation by Christopher Hitchens: “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence” (from page 150 of God is Not Great).

Perfect! I love that quote, because (a) it cuts both ways, and applies with equal force to atheist assertions, and (b) because the anthropic case for the theistic worldview consists of a mountain of irrefutable evidence. I also love that quote because (c) Hitchens HID that mountain of evidence from his readers when he wrote God is Not Great.

So I replied to my atheist friend (in a multi-part tweet):

Hi. Your profile quotes Hitchens, “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” But Hitchens acknowledged that there IS evidence for the existence of God, that the evidence is “not trivial” and cannot be dismissed. See the Hitchens video at: [LINK].

This morning, I checked Twitter to see if my atheist friend had replied. In a way, he had. He had BLOCKED me.

Clearly, some atheists can’t handle the truth.

Cosmic Fine-Tuning in Science Fiction

In his science fiction short story “What Continues, What Fails…,” space scientist and Hugo/Nebula-winning author David Brin delves into the deep questions surrounding the mystery of cosmic fine-tuning (the anthropic principle):

The universal rules of Isola’s home cosmos were rife with such fine-tuning. Numbers which, had they been different by even one part in a trillion, would not have allowed subtleties like planets or seas, sunsets and trees.

Some called this evidence of design. Master craftsmanship. Creativity. Creator.

Others handled the coincidence facilely. “If things were different,” they claimed, “there would be no observers to note the difference. So it’s no surprise that we, who exist, observe around us the precise conditions needed for existence!

“Besides, countless other natural constants seem to have nothing special about their values. Perhaps it’s just a matter of who is doing the calculating!”

Hand-waving, all hand-waving. Neither answer satisfied Isola when she delved into true origins. Creationists, Anthropicists, they all missed the point.

Everything has to come from somewhere. Even a creator. Even coincidence.

God Bless Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury passed away on Tuesday, June 5, 2012. I only met him once, in the spring of 2007, plus we exchanged a few letters and a phone call over the years. But his impact on my life was immense. I would probably not be a writer today if not for the influence of Ray Bradbury. I have spent countless hours, from my boyhood to the present day, reading his stories and exploring his imagination.

One of the themes of my life and my writing is that science and religion are fully compatible fields of inquiry. They are NOT (as Stephen Jay Gould has called them) “non-overlapping magisteria,” mutually exclusive domains. Science and religion should support and empower each other in the search for truth, knowledge, meaning, and an understanding of who we are, where we came from, and why we exist in this universe. Many of my favorite writers have written on this theme (from a wide variety of viewpoints), including C. S. Lewis, Walter M. Miller, Jr., James Blish, Madeleine L’Engle, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert J. Sawyer, David Brin—

And, of course, Ray Bradbury. Here’s a brief passage from my favorite Bradbury novel, The Martian Chronicles:

The captain nodded. “Tell me about [the Martian civilization],” he said, waving his hand at the mountain towns.

[Spender replied:] “They knew how to live with nature and get along with nature. They didn’t try too hard to be all men and no animal. That’s the mistake we made when Darwin showed up. We embraced him and Huxley and Freud, all smiles. And then we discovered that Darwin and our religions didn’t mix. Or at least we didn’t think they did. We were fools. We tried to budge Darwin and Huxley and Freud. They wouldn’t move very well. So, like idiots, we tried knocking down religion.

“We succeeded pretty well. We lost our faith and went around wondering what life was for. If art was no more than a frustrated outflinging of desire, if religion was no more than self-delusion, what good was life? Faith had always given us answers to all things. But it all went down the drain with Freud and Darwin. We were and still are a lost people.”

“And these Martians are a found people?” inquired the captain.

“Yes. They knew how to combine science and religion so the two worked side by side, neither denying the other, each enriching the other.”

Beautiful thoughts, profound insight. I agree with Ray’s Martians, of course. Here’s something else Ray Bradbury once said—and though I don’t know that he intended this particular interpretation, I take these words as Ray’s intuitive affirmation of the fine-tuning (anthropic) argument for the existence of God:

“We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.”

Yes we are. We live our impossible lives inside a universe that defies explanation. Every human life is a miracle of rare device—and Ray’s life was more miraculous than most. It’s going to be a lot harder living on this planet now that Ray Bradbury is no longer on it. A lot harder.

Thank you, Ray, and God bless you.

The Puzzle of Existence and a Puddle of Doubt

A very smart man once wrote a very stupid thing in a book.

The smart man’s name was Douglas Adams, and the book was his posthumously published The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (New York: Ballantine, 2002; pages 131-132). Adams died of a heart attack in Santa Barbara in May 2001; he was only 49. I’m a longtime fan of Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. But in this instance, Adams’ analogy—known as The Puddle Analogy—is far less profound than he supposed.

Adams’ Puddle Analogy has been cited many times by various writers as a satirical demonstration of the “fallacy” of the “fine-tuned universe” argument. The Wikipedia article “Fine-Tuned Universe” quotes the Puddle Analogy and notes that the fine-tuned universe argument has been called “puddle thinking” by some critics. And Richard Dawkins quotes The Puddle Analogy in A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love (page 169), adding that he had heard the Adams analogy numerous times and “thought it was more brilliant every time.”

Here is the stupid thing Douglas Adams wrote:

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

Here’s why The Puddle Analogy is stupid:

Adams begins: “Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking…” He doesn’t seem to realize that, in order for a puddle to wake up and think its first thought, a vast number of interconnected and incredibly unlikely coincidences have to occur.

The Big Bang had to happen, and the Big Bang had to explode with just the right amount of force to allow matter to disperse evenly and smoothly and allow galaxies to form. Had the Big Bang not been precisely fine-tuned, our universe might consist of nothing but tenuous hydrogen gas—or a single supermassive black hole. The laws of nature had to be laid down at the instant of the Big Bang, and had to be fine-tuned to an accuracy of one part in the trillions before the universe itself could exist, much less a contemplative puddle.

The electromagnetic force, the gravitational force, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force all had to be perfectly balanced in order for stars to form and begin cooking up the elements needed to make planets—silicon, nickel, iron, oxygen, magnesium, and so forth. Adams’ pensive puddle could not find itself sitting in “an interesting hole” unless the hole was situated on a planet orbiting a star that was part of a galaxy that was created by the incredibly fine-tuned forces and conditions of the Big Bang.

And in order for that puddle to wake up one morning and think at all, it would need to be a lot more complex than a mere puddle of water. A thinking puddle would be a very complex puddle. Even if that puddle were comprised of exotic alien nerve cells suspended in a matrix of liquid ammonia, it would certainly need something like lipid molecules and protein structures and nucleic acids in order to become sufficiently evolved as to wake up and contemplate its own existence.

Such components require the existence of carbon. And if you know anything about where carbon comes from, you know that carbon doesn’t grow on trees. It is formed in an amazingly fine-tuned process involving the precise placement of a nuclear resonance level in a beryllium atom. Any enlightened plashet would have to conclude that a superintellect had monkeyed with physics, chemistry, and the biological composition of pools and puddles.

The rest of Douglas Adams’ scenario, in which “the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and … the puddle gets smaller and smaller” is meaningless in view of the fact that dozens and dozens of events, forces, and conditions have to interact in a fine-tuned way in order for the sun to exist, the air to exist, the sky to exist, and the hole in the ground to exist, so that a puddle can wake up one morning and wonder about its place in the cosmic order.

No analogy is perfect, of course, but The Puddle Analogy is downright misleading. It misrepresents the essence of the fine-tuning argument. An analogy should simplify, but not over-simplify.

And that’s why The Puddle Analogy that Richard Dawkins thinks is so brilliant is actually kinda dumb.