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.

Who Made God?

Here’s an excerpt from my book God and Soul: The Truth and the Proof, which presents the rational, scientific case for the existence of God and the human soul. This section addresses a question that is invariably posed by the New Atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Shermer): “If God made the universe, who made God?” I think you’ll find that this is an answer you’ve never encountered before. The following excerpt from God and Soul is copyright 2012 by Jim Denney, and may not be reproduced without permission.

Excerpt:

There is a question that all of the New Atheists ask in their books, their speeches, and their public debates. It’s a question intended to stump the believers, end the debate, and expose the theistic fallacy once and for all. It’s the simple question, “If God made the universe, who made God?”

Michael Shermer, in his book The Believing Brain, frames the question this way: “Who created God? God is he who needs not be created. Why can’t the universe be ‘that which needs not be created’?”32 Daniel Dennett puts it this way in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: “If God created all these wonderful things, who created God? Supergod? And who created Supergod? Superdupergod? Or did God create himself?”33 Christopher Hitchens, in God is Not Great, wrote, “The postulate of a designer or creator only raises the unanswerable question of who designed the designer or created the creator.”34 Likewise Sam Harris in Letter to a Christian Nation: “The notion of a creator poses an immediate problem of an infinite regress. If God created the universe, what created God?”35 Finally, in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins makes it unanimous:

The whole argument turns on the familiar question, “Who made God?”, which most thinking people discover for themselves. A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us escape.36

The question “Who made God?” is actually a question many children ask. Because it’s a childlike question, we should first make sure the question does not contain an underlying fallacy, such as a category mistake. A category mistake is a semantic or logical error in which objects of one kind or category are mistakenly presented as if they belong to another kind or category. For example, the question “What does red taste like?” is a category mistake because “red” belongs to the category of colors, not tastes. Something that is red may taste like raspberries or like blood, because “red” is not a taste.

The question “Who made God?” may be a similar category mistake because God may not belong to the category of created things, but to a separate category, such as “ground of reality” or “ground of being.” The anthropic principle [or “fine-tuned universe”] strongly suggests that the Cosmic Designer, being the Architect and Originator of the Big Bang, may not belong to the category of created things. If that is true, if God is the ground of reality, then Dawkins is mistaken and God does not present us with “an infinite regress from which he cannot help us escape.”

The Abrahamic religions assert that God does not belong to the category of created things, and that is why most theistic writers answer the “Who made God?” question in a dogmatic way. Here’s a typical theistic answer to that question:

Who made God? No one did. He was not made. He has always existed. Only things that had a beginning — like the world — need a maker. God had no beginning, so God did not need to be made.37

Of course, this “answer” doesn’t answer anything. It’s simply a dogmatic statement that erects a mental firewall against further inquiry. If the question “Who made God?” makes our brains hurt, then let’s just say, “God had no beginning,” and stop thinking about such questions.

I prefer to keep thinking.

The question “Who made God?” is a useful and interesting way to prod further thought and discussion. Unfortunately, the New Atheists try to use this question to end the discussion.

In order to honestly grapple with the question “Who made God?,” we need to have our consciousness raised — twice. Richard Dawkins has called Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection “the ultimate scientific consciousness-raiser.” And it’s true — we do need to have our consciousness raised by the principle of natural selection. But we mustn’t stop there. We must also have our consciousness raised by the anthropic principle.

The problem with Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists is that they have only had their consciousness raised once. If they would raise their consciousness a second time by opening their minds to the anthropic principle, they might discover where the “Who made God?” question actually leads us.

If there is a Cosmic Designer who created a universe with the purpose of bringing forth intelligent life (as the anthropic evidence clearly, overwhelmingly suggests), then the Cosmic Designer would certainly welcome our intelligent inquiry. After all, we human beings are the “children” of the Cosmic Designer, and the raison d’être of the anthropic principle. The universe was called into being for the express purpose of bringing thinking beings into existence — so it seems to me that the Cosmic Designer would be pleased to know that the conscious, reasoning creatures of the universe have begun to look back and think deeply about such questions.

One place to begin thinking about the question “Who made God?” is to remember that time began at the moment of the Big Bang. I know this is an impossible concept to fully grasp, but it’s true: There was no such thing as time “prior to” the Big Bang. In fact, the phrase “before the Big Bang” is about as meaningless an expression as can be ever be put into words. Time did not exist until the instant of the Big Bang, which physicists express as “t = 0.” The first moment of time, the first micro-tick of the cosmic clock, occurred approximately 13.7 billion years ago. Adolf Grünbaum (b. 1923), the founding Director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Philosophy of Science, explained it this way (all emphasis is in the original):

[The Big Bang instant t = 0] … had no temporal predecessor. In this case, t = 0 was a singular, temporally first event of the physical space-time to which all of the world-lines of the universe converge. This means that there simply did not exist any instants of time before t = 0! But it would be (potentially) misleading to describe this state of affairs by saying that “time began” at t = 0. This description makes it sound as if time began in the same sense in which, say, a musical concert began. And that is misleading precisely because the concert was actually preceded by actual instants of time, when it had not yet begun. But, in the Big Bang model … there were no such earlier instants before t = 0 and hence no instants when the Big Bang had not yet occurred. [Astronomer Sir Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell] … is quite unaware of these facts when he speaks mistakenly of a “metaphysical scheme before the beginning of time and space.” Similarly, there is no basis for [cosmologist Jayant Vishnu Narlikar’s] … lament that “scientists are not in the habit of discussing … the situation prior to [the Big Bang].”38

There was nothing before the Big Bang. There was no space, no time, no matter, no energy, no gravity, no “before.” At t = 0, all of the life-giving, fine-tuned laws, constants, and forces of the universe were “baked in.” If there was no space and time “before” t = 0, then what “caused” the “effect” we know as the Big Bang? Who or what designed this amazing, delicately calibrated universe that gives us life?

Answer: A Mind — a conscious, purposeful, willful Designer.

Because we live within a reality that consists of three dimensions of space and one dimension of time, we assume that the ultimate ground of reality is space-time. But space-time can’t be the ultimate ground of reality because space-time is a mere 13.7 billion years old. Space-time did not exist until the Big Bang happened.

The universe is trying to tell us something: The universe is not primarily about space, time, matter, energy, and gravity. Those things are real, but they are not the most basic feature of the universe. At its most fundamental level, the universe is all about Mind.

(When I capitalize the word “Mind,” I’m not suggesting that “Mind” means “Supernatural Deity.” I’m trying to convey the fact that Mind is an entity distinct from the space-time universe of matter. The mind of God would be Mind, but the minds of human beings and other conscious observers also partake in this collective property I call “Mind” with a capital M.)

Before you dismiss these ideas as a lot of New Age tripe, like auras and spiritual vibrations, I want to state clearly that I don’t deal in mysticism. The integral role of the conscious mind in quantum physics has been an accepted scientific concept as far back as the 1920s, when Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg were noodling around with wavefunction mathematics.

Great scientists have considered the role of Mind in the structure of the universe at least since the day of astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630). When he began to understand the laws of planetary motion that bear his name, Kepler exclaimed, “O God! I think thy thoughts after Thee!”39 The universe, Kepler realized, was designed by conscious, rational, purposeful thought.

Three centuries later, Stephen Hawking made a similar statement at the end of his book A Brief History of Time. Hawking concluded that if we could discover a complete “theory of everything” and find the answer to why we and the universe exist, “it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.” Hawking, an agnostic, used the term “mind of God” in a metaphoric sense — but his statement may be more literally true than even he intended.

Countless physics experiments clearly show that the workings of the universe are entangled with the workings of Mind — the minds of conscious human observers at least, and perhaps the mind of God. One of the fathers of quantum theory, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), expressed this view when he wrote, “The overall number of minds is just one. I venture to call [mind] indestructible since it has a peculiar timetable, namely mind is always now.”40 In other words, Mind is an indivisible unity, it cannot be destroyed, and it is timeless. Only a mind of the kind Schrödinger describes would be capable of formulating, coordinating, and fine-tuning all of the life-giving laws, constants, and forces of the universe at the moment of t = 0.

Schrödinger goes on to speak of the conscious mind that each of us thinks of as “I” or “myself.” He writes: “We do not belong to this material world that science constructs for us. We are not in it; we are outside. We are only spectators. The reason why we believe we are in it, that we belong to the picture, is that our bodies are in the picture.”41

Here, Schrödinger describes a picture of reality that is almost religious in nature — yet this picture of reality is derived from quantum physics, not some religious text or tradition. In Schrödinger’s description, Mind interacts with the material world but is not part of the material world. Mind is outside of the material world — a “spectator.” A mind housed in a human body tends to mistake the material body for the “I” or the “self” that is the mind. But while the body belongs to the world of matter, in Schrödinger’s view, the mind is separate from the material world.

This view parallels that of Australian neurophysiologist Sir John Carew Eccles (1903-1997), who won the 1963 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his pioneering work on brain synapses and neurotransmitters. Eccles came to the conclusion that consciousness and thought occur when the non-material mind acts upon the quantum “microsites” within the synapses of the cerebral cortex of the brain. He suggested that the non-material mind interacts with the material brain by means of quantum mental units called “psychons.” These psychons control the quantum jumps within synapses, causing them to emit neurotransmitters which account for such brain activity as thought, decision-making, and body movement. In Eccles’ view, the brain doesn’t give rise to the mind; rather, the mind is separate from the brain, and it activates the brain in order to control the body.

Eccles authored or co-authored several books with the intent to “challenge and negate materialism and to reinstate the spiritual self as the controller of the brain.”42 In How the Self Controls Its Brain, Eccles even went so far as to say, “In some mysterious way, God is the Creator of all the living forms in the evolutionary process, and particularly in hominid evolution of human persons, each with the conscious selfhood of an immortal soul. … Biological evolution transcends itself in providing the material basis, the human brain, for self-conscious beings whose very nature is to seek for hope and to enquire for meaning in the quest for love, truth, and beauty.”43

American physicist Nick Herbert, the author of Quantum Reality, has worked as a senior physicist in industry (Memorex, Smith-Corona Marchant) and in pure research (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Xerox PARC). Herbert is a strong proponent of the view that Mind is a more pervasive aspect of reality than matter and energy. While the standard view of reality is that the universe evolved consciousness (in the form of conscious beings like us), Herbert says that consciousness comes first, and that consciousness creates reality. He writes:

The first person to suggest that quantum theory implies that reality is created by human consciousness was not some crank on the fringes of physics but the eminent mathematician John von Neumann. In his quantum bible [Mathematische Grundlagen der Quantenmechanik or The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics] …, the most influential book on quantum theory ever written, von Neumann concludes that, from a strictly logical point of view, only the presence of consciousness can solve the measurement problem. As a professional mathematician, von Neumann was accustomed to boldly following a logical argument wherever it might lead. … His logic leads to a particularly unpalatable conclusion: that the world is not objectively real but depends on the mind of the observer.44

(Personal note: I lean toward a view which holds that the world is objectively real, but that Mind interacts with and shapes objective reality in more powerful ways than we normally suppose.)

Nick Herbert goes on to compare von Neumann’s view, rooted in mathematics and experimental physics, to the intuitive insights of George Berkeley (1685-1753), Bishop of Cloyne, Ireland. Describing Berkeley’s views, Herbert wrote:

Berkeley argued that mind is not a form of matter but quite the opposite: matter does not even exist except as the perception of some mind. Absolute existence belongs to minds alone — the mind of God, the minds of humans and other spiritual beings. All other forms of being, including matter, light, the Earth, and stars, exist only by virtue of some mind’s being aware of them. … Esse est percipi (To be is to be perceived) was the Irish bishop’s motto concerning matter: “All those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world have no subsistence without a mind.”45

So let’s bring this discussion back to the original question: “Who made God?” At this point, you may see where I’m heading. Nick Herbert’s suggestion (derived from von Neumann) that “reality is created by human consciousness” is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t account for all the facts. The universe has existed for 13.7 billion years. Conscious human beings (in the form of genus Homo) have existed for the tiniest fraction of that span of time, roughly 2.4 million years. Our own species, Homo sapiens, has existed for less than 200,000 years — a mere twinkle in the eye of the cosmos.

For the better part of 13.7 billion years, there were no conscious human minds in existence to observe reality and make reality real — but does that mean there was no conscious Mind at all in the universe? No. Mind was immanent throughout the universe from the instant of t = 0. As physicist Freeman J. Dyson has said, “God is what Mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.”46

So what sort of conscious Mind existed during all those billions of years before human beings evolved? What sort of Mind directed the life-giving purpose of the universe at the moment the Big Bang? What sort of Mind selected, balanced, and fine-tuned the laws, constants, and forces of the universe at the instant of t = 0?

Everything that exists within the space-time universe is subject to the principle of causality. A cause always precedes its effect, and causes and effects always take place within the framework of space and time. But if Mind exists outside of the space-time universe, Mind is not subject to the principle of causality. If Mind is not an effect produced by some other cause, then Mind itself is the cause — and the universe is the effect.

If Mind is the ground of existence, and therefore not subject to the law of cause and effect, then the question “Who created God?” (in effect, “Who created Mind?”) can be seen as a nonsense question. It’s like asking “How big is blue?” or “What does seven taste like?”

To say that Mind is the ground of reality is not to say that space and time, matter and energy, are not real. They are definitely real. But it is Mind — the mind of the Cosmic Designer, the mind of conscious beings like ourselves — that makes reality real. To quote Freeman Dyson once more, “I do not claim that the architecture of the universe proves the existence of God. I claim only that the architecture of the universe is consistent with the hypothesis that mind plays an essential role in its functioning.”47

As the English mathematician-astronomer Sir James Jeans (1877-1946) concluded, “The universe appears less and less like a great machine and more and more like a great thought.”

End of excerpt.

For more information on the anthropic (fine-tuned universe) evidence for God (the Cosmic Designer), see my previous blog post, “Is Our Universe ‘the Ultimate Artifact’?”

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?

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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.

Lament for an Atheist (Part I)

In June 2010, I heard that Christopher Hitchens was scheduled to do a talk and book signing at a Borders bookstore in San Francisco. I considered going and having him sign a copy of his book Hitch-22, then hand him a copy of my 2001 book Answers to Satisfy the Soul. But just days before he was to appear, he canceled his book tour without explanation.

A couple of weeks later, I was saddened to hear that Hitchens had been diagnosed with cancer. He died two months ago, on December 15, 2011. His death was due to pneumonia, a complication of esophageal cancer.

I have admired Christopher Hitchens for years. It took great moral courage for him to shelter novelist Salman Rushdie in his home in 1993 after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. And it took great physical courage for Hitchens to voluntarily undergo waterboarding so that he could write about the experience in Vanity Fair. Unfortunately, Hitchens got it wrong about God and the soul.

After the publication of his book God Is Not Great, I frequently found myself in the odd position of defending the razor-tongued atheist from some of my devoutly religious friends who were exasperated with his views. I’d ask them, “How can you be angry with Hitchens for believing what he feels compelled to believe, based on the evidence he’s seen?”

And then my friends were exasperated with me!

Hitchens formulated his views on God in much the same way he arrived at his political views. He observed, read, and debated great minds. He’d follow logic and evidence wherever it led. Whenever I watched Hitchens debate, I came away convinced he was daring his opponents: “Prove me wrong.”

But as near as I can tell from his writings and speeches, Hitchens was completely unaware of the evidence I present in my book God and Soul. Though I didn’t agree with him on the question of God and soul, I genuinely liked him. I enjoyed reading his work and hearing him speak. I wanted him to live, and I’m very sad that he’s gone.

In God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitchens blamed much of the evil in the world on religion. And it’s true that many atrocities, savageries, and cruelties have been committed in the name of religion: The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of Galileo, the execution of Giordano Bruno, the Albigensian Crusade, Martin Luther’s rabidly anti-Semitic treatise On the Jews and Their Lies, the Salem Witch Trials, the 1066 Granada Massacre and other pogroms, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the Lebanese Civil War, the Israel-Palestinian problem, Jonestown, India versus Pakistan, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Jihad, 9/11, and on and on—all of these evils were rationalized on religious grounds. But does religion really poison everything? It depends on how you define “religion.”

If, by “religion,” we mean a tribalistic social unit organized around certain beliefs, rites, rituals, and traditions, defended by figurative or literal “holy wars,” then yes, that sort of religion has a distinctly poisonous history. (And by tribalism, I mean any social structure that demands philosophical conformity within the group and that practices hostility toward those outside the group.)

But if, by “religion,” we mean a commitment to live according to the teachings of, say, the Sermon on the Mount—teachings that cut across the grain of our tribal instincts by commanding us to love our enemies, forgive those who sin against us, and pray for those who persecute us—then Christopher Hitchens was simply wrong. That kind of rational, selfless religion has never poisoned anything.

In fact, another prominent atheist, Richard Dawkins, writes in The God Delusion, “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.” In other words, the Sermon on the Mount is the sort of religion that even an atheist can endorse.

So Hitchens’ blanket statement that “religion poisons everything” couldn’t be more wrong. The Crusades and the Inquisition and the pogroms weren’t caused by the Sermon on the Mount or anything else said by Jesus of Nazareth. As physicist Freeman Dyson explains, “We have seen terrible wars and terrible persecutions conducted in the name of religion. We have also seen large numbers of people inspired by religion to lives of heroic virtue, bringing education and medical care to the poor, helping to abolish slavery and spread peace among nations. Religion amplifies the good and evil tendencies of individual souls.”

When evil people want to do evil things—when they want to commit acts of murder, genocide, oppression, or terror—they will grab any rationale to make their evil seem “good.” If it weren’t some twisted pretense of religion, it would have been some other excuse. But the evil would have happened in any case.

There is no evil in the Sermon on the Mount. The evil is in people—in human nature itself. That’s what poisons everything.

Next, in Part 2: How Hitchens Got It Wrong About God.