Dominic Fairfax Forum
Dominic Fairfax Forum

Fine Tuning - Is the Universe Fine Tuned?



Is the universe fine-tuned? Well, humankind has liked to think it is. This is because we are inclined towards anthropocentricity and tend to imagine that the fundamental constants of the universe are arranged in such a way as to facilitate our existence. If the physical fundamental constants of the universe were, and remain, fine-tuned to facilitate our existence how did this happen? How do we explain it? Some individual scientists, theologians and philosophers claim that intelligent design must be responsible for fine tuning. Professor of philosophy, Alvin Plantinga for example, provides the analogy of a large number of radio dials that have to be tuned within extremely narrow limits for life to be possible in our universe. Theists believe that God created the universe. The Creator fine-tuned the physical constants of the universe to possess exactly the right values conducive to life. If the fundamental constants were even slightly varied, the universe as we know it would not be possible. One example [and there are many] is that if the universe had expanded at a rate one millionth more slowly than it did, expansion would have stopped. The universe would have collapsed on itself before any stars had formed. If it had expanded faster, then no galaxies would have formed. This is known as the planetary anthropic principle which also advocates that the likelihood of the existing combination of fundamental constants happening by chance is improbable; therefore, there must have been an intelligent creator.


The opposing school of thought gives vent to the view that this is not a satisfactory premise or argument. In the first instance, we evolved to fit the universe not vice versa. A second criticism refers to the weak anthropic principle. This objection notes that it would be impossible not to observe that the universe is capable of supporting life since we exist within it. The reason we think the universe is fine-tuned to accommodate us is because we exist.  If we did not exist we would not of course, be able to think of our privileged universe as finely tuned. A further criticism is that all possible universes are improbable just as the chances of your lottery numbers coming up trumps are improbable but they might. If something has a probability value of zero then it definitely will not happen. But if something has a non-zero probability value, no matter how small, then it could happen. Indeed, it did happen because otherwise we wouldn’t be here thinking about it. There may be many universes supporting life with different physical fundamental constants to ours. Moreover, they ask, “Who tuned the tuner?” Proponents of fine tuning are simply anthropocentric in believing that the universe was created with human beings in mind. Many people find it difficult to comprehend that something does not have a cause. This is because they perceive that everything in their immediate environment does have one. But with regard to the universe, people reason that causes must have to stop somewhere; they cannot continue cause upon cause backwards into infinity. The Creator therefore has to be full stop – has to be a beginning without a cause. Theists will maintain that God doesn’t need a cause; the reason is because he has always existed; He is eternal. He Just is.


Opponents argue that this is a ludicrous view. An opponent of the intelligent design advocators is the physicist, Victor Stenger. To paraphrase Stenger, he states that the fine-tuning argument and other recent intelligent design arguments are modern versions of the God of the gaps reasoning whereby a god is deemed necessary whenever science is unable to fully explain some phenomenon or other. Supporters assert that it is ludicrous to say that God did not need tuning because he ‘exists eternally’. This implies that God exists in an extra-universal realm. The universe is one of many universes. It was “tunnelled” from pure vacuum to what is called a “false vacuum” which is a region of space that contains no matter or radiation but it is not quite no-thing. Proponents of fine-tuning and laymen generally find it difficult to comprehend a universe or multiverses emerging out of a singularity. ‘Even the singularity must have a creator and a cause’ they reason because ‘nothing being outside of the universe’ and the concept of timelessness is understandably difficult to grasp.


Is the argument against fine-tuning better than the argument in favour? The refuters of fine-tuning seem adamant to assert the case that theist arguments do not work. Does this mean they are right? Does it all amount to logical persuasion? To paraphrase Plantanga, does this mean that belief in God is intellectually substandard, irrational or even deplorable? There are so many questions that cannot be answered in this huge area of philosophical inquiry.


Until the TOE, the Theory of Everything, is able to link together all known physical phenomena and predict the results of experiments with accuracy, the conundrums and theories surrounding the fundamental physical constants of the universe will continue. In the meantime, we will just have to take a Socratic stance and admit that at this particular moment in time, we simply don’t know.


Dominic Fairfax

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