Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How Likely is Fine Tuning?

Here is a sample from a new section in Discovering God:

Cosmic Fine Tuning

During the past few decades, science has become increasingly aware that our universe, with its ability to sustain life, is astonishingly improbable. Only recently have physicists come to realize that over twenty variables involving physical forces, particles, events, and ratios between these have to be exactly what they are within an amazingly narrow window in order to sustain life. The chances that this situation would come to pass accidentally are so astronomically unlikely that it becomes statistically impossible.

Agnostic astrophysicist, Paul Davies, is a world-renowned expert and the author of several books on this subject. He explains:
If the initial explosion of the big bang had differed in strength by as little as 1 part in 10^60, the universe would have either quickly collapsed back on itself, or expanded too rapidly for stars to form. In either case, life would be impossible. [ Paul Davies, The Accidental Universe, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) 90-91.]
Calculations by Brandon Carter show that if gravity had been stronger or weaker by 1 part in 10^40, then life-sustaining stars like the sun could not exist. This would most likely make life impossible. [Paul Davies, Superforce: The Search for a Grand Unified Theory of Nature, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984) 242.]
What do these statements mean? They are saying that key components of our universe are so unlikely that they could never happen by chance. Here is an illustration from physicist, Robin Collins, to explain what it means to hit a lucky draw when you have only 1 chance in 10^37:
Cover the entire North American continent in dimes all the way up to the moon, a height of about 239,000 miles (In comparison, the money to pay for the U.S. federal government debt would cover one square mile less than two feet deep with dimes.). Next, pile dimes from here to the moon on a billion other continents the same size as North America. Paint one dime red and mix it into the billions of piles of dimes. Blindfold a friend and ask him to pick out one dime. The odds that he will pick the red dime are one in 10^37. [http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/designun.html]
How likely is that? Not very, but there’s a problem. Any dime you drew out would be equally improbable—one chance in 10^37—so, why marvel that this one came out? Thus, naturalists discredit any argument from improbability.

But this is only the beginning. Now, suppose you put all these trillions of dimes in a giant cosmic hopper where you can spin it for good mixing. Then, instead of putting one red dime in, you put in twenty red dimes. Then, after spinning the hopper to mix well, a blindfolded man reaches in and draws out one dime. It’s red. But wait. You’re not done. Now, spin the hopper again to mix thoroughly and have the blindfolded man reach in again. Again, he draws out a red dime!

This process would have to be repeated twenty times, and the man would have to draw out twenty red dimes, and zero normal dimes. No. That isn’t going to happen. This is way beyond what mathematicians call a statistical impossibility. And yet drawing twenty sequential red dimes out of a batch this large is far more likely than what we see in the fine tuning of the universe. Fine tuning isn’t just one improbability, but a confluence of dozens of the most extreme improbabilities, mostly unrelated to one another.

When reading about fine tuning, you will notice something interesting: although scientists differ on how to interpret fine tuning (especially whether it points to an intelligent creator), they do not disagree significantly about the numbers. Accessing the actual math involved in fine tuning is beyond the reach of most of us. However, we can rest assured that with the level of hostility seen between naturalists and theistic explanations, they would definitely mention their disagreement if they had any. Instead, they only debate what it means, not the fact of fine tuning. [Footnote: Recently, a few atheists have brought forward arguments to the effect that the universe is not finely tuned, because some areas are not suitable to life. The thought seems to be that unless every part of the universe is finely tuned for life, none of it is. Others appear not to understand the argument, simply claiming that other kinds of life would exist if the universe was different. But what kind of life is supposed to exist in a universe made up of nothing but hydrogen, or nothing but black holes, or that has collapsed back onto itself? The consequences of variance in the finely tuned variables do not allow for any kind of life.]

What would naturalists say?

Instead of challenging the reality of fine tuning, non-theistic scientists have brought forward an explanation they call “the multiverse theory.” According to this theory, our universe is just one of billions or trillions of other invisible universes. Each one is different and most of them wouldn’t support life. But, if there are perhaps an infinite number of other universes, eventually one like this one is likely to happen!
It may seem strange that people are willing to believe in trillions of other universes that they can neither observe nor measure. But there’s a reason. Again, agnostic physicist, Paul Davies, comes right out and admits why the multiverse theory is appealing:
Scientists have long been aware that the universe seems strangely suited to life, but they mostly chose to ignore it. It was an embarrassment—it looked too much like the work of a Cosmic Designer... Today the mood has changed. What made a difference was the idea of a multiverse, which offers the opportunity to explain the weird bio-friendliness of the universe as a straightforward selection effect, without invoking divine providence. [Emphasis mine. Paul Davies, Goldilocks Engima: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? (NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008) 151.]
This is an amazingly honest admission. But ask yourself: is it really easier to believe in trillions of invisible universes than to believe in an intelligent creator? Why? Remember, the concept of a multiverse didn’t arise based on any discovery of science or mathematical calculation. It arose for one reason—to explain away the appearance of design in the universe, as Davies admits in the previous quotation.

What would theists say?

Theists look at the wonders in fine tuning and abiogenesis with a satisfied smile. This is exactly the kind of thing you would expect from an infinite, personal creator. Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” This is exactly what science tells us happened with the universe. Meanwhile, the appearance of sophisticated coding systems that are externally referential, like DNA, are not surprising either. Languages and codes are always created by beings with great intelligence.

Notice that an impersonal picture of God like that in pantheism (where God is in everything) can’t explain the incredible design we see. Only a being who could think, plan, and then purposefully carry out that plan could explain the facts. Neither could the finite nature spirits in animistic religion explain creation. These fallible spirit beings were themselves created, according to the folklore.

A God who might be sufficient to account for the universe we see and for the complexity of life would have to pre-date the universe itself; in all likelihood he would have to be infinite and without beginning. He would be “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalms 41:13).

Isn’t it amazing that the only religions in the world today that advance an infinite, personal God are Islam, Judaism, and Christianity? All three go straight back to one amazing book—the Bible.

The big picture

If we put some dynamite under a pile of bricks and blew it up, how likely is it that when the bricks fell to earth again, they would fall in the shape of the Taj Mahal? Somehow we intuitively know this will never happen. Although the system contains sufficient energy and the correct building blocks to build the Taj Mahal, something is missing. Even if we repeated the experiment millions of times over, it would never result in the Taj Mahal or any other kind of building. That’s just not how random things work.

Suppose that after one of our blasts, we found one brick lying atop another. Someone might say, “Look! This shows it’s possible!” No, it doesn’t. Although the building blocks and sufficient energy are present, the energy must be channeled in the very precise ways required to produce a complex design. [Footnote: One brick on top of another is a good analogy for those who claim the Miller-Urey experiment shows that abiogenesis is possible because a glass bell produced amino acids. But amino acids are very simple compounds that are no closer to functioning protein than a couple of bricks would be to the Taj Mahal.] In fact, every blast pattern would be very similar in appearance, and nothing like a building.

Of course, the more complex the design, the more difficult it is to believe it happened by accident and living organisms are much more complex than the Taj Mahal. The fine tuning of the universe is so extreme that it’s very difficult to even understand. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to believe that someone acting with intelligence and purpose has arranged things this way?

I’m not suggesting that this argument proves that a personal God exists. But it does strongly suggest that he exists and has created our universe. In fact, the more you think about it, the more likely you are to realize that the reality of a personal creator God is far more likely than any other explanation for the amazing design in our world. That is a key reason that world renowned atheistic philosopher, Anthony Flew, changed his view to belief in God. He explains:

I think the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries… the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.[Anthony Flew and Gary Habermas, “My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: A Discussion Between Antony Flew and Gary Habermas,” Philosohia Christi 6. 2 (2004): 200. Flew, now deceased, never believed in Jesus or the Bible as far as we know.]
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