Adam Deen

Philosophy & Theology

The design argument strikes back. The debate continues...

William Paley in his book Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity collected from the Appearances of Nature, published in 1802, argued that the complex structures of living things and the remarkable adaptations of plants and animals required an intelligent designer. However, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution demonstrated that complexity does not necessarily infer a designer. As a result, conventional wisdom is that the design argument has been made obsolete by Darwin, and the biological theory of evolution.

However, the design argument has come back from the dead with a designer make over and has been receiving a great deal of attention. During the last 30 years, scientists have discovered that the initial conditions of the Big Bang were delicately fine tuned or calibrated for the existence of intelligent life. What we know now is that life prohibiting universes are far more probable than life inhabiting universes.

This fine tuning is of two sorts. First, when the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, they contain certain constants, such as the gravitational constant. The mathematical value of these constants is not determined by the laws of nature. Second, there are certain arbitrary quantities that are just part of the initial conditions of the universe. These constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of life-permitting values.

What is the best way to explain the fine tuning of initial conditions of the universe? Can it be a physical necessity? This seems an inadequate explanation, as there is no reason why these constants and quantities must be quantified in the manor that they are. According to P. C. W. Davies

 

“Even if the laws of physics were unique, it doesn't follow that the physical universe itself is unique…the laws of physics must be augmented by cosmic initial conditions…there is nothing in present ideas about 'laws of initial conditions' remotely to suggest that their consistency with the laws of physics would imply uniqueness. Far from it…it seems, then, that the physical universe does not have to be the way it is: it could have been otherwise.” [1]

 

What about chance? The problem with this alternative is that the odds just cannot be reasonably accepted. For example Physicist P. C. W. Davies has calculated that a change in the strength of gravity or of the atomic weak force by only one part in 10100 (1 followed by 100 zeros) would have prevented a life-permitting universe. The initial expansion of the big bang had to be fine tuned to a precision of one part in 1055. Just to give you an idea of what these numbers mean, let us consider a vastly smaller number compared to the numbers discussed. An illustration of such a number could be described in the following scenario: Cover the entire North American continent in dimes all the way up to the moon, a height of about 239,000 miles. 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 out the red dime are one in 1037. Even one part in 1037 is such an incredibly sensitive balance that it is hard to visualize.[2]

 

Now the constants and arbitrary qualities make up approximately 50 in number, not only do they all have to fall within a life permitting range but also have to work in relation to one another, for the existence of intelligent life. The eminent cosmologist Donald page has estimated that the probability of all the initial conditions coming within the life permitting range would be one part out of 1010 (123), a number the mind just can not even comprehend. Oxford physicist Roger Penrose concluded that if we jointly considered all the laws of nature that must be fined tuned, we would be unable to write down such an enormous number because the necessary digits would be greater than the number of elementary particles in the universe.[3]

"The more I examine the universe, and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the Universe in some sense must have known we were coming." Freeman Dyson.[4]

A common response to the fine tuning of the initial conditions is that one should not be surprised by the fine-tuning of the laws of nature, as if they were not fine tuned, we would not be there to observe them. Philosopher John Leslie form the university of Guelph has a cogent response with the following explanation in his famous firing-squad analogy. Suppose 50 trained snipers are lined up to take your life, and they all miss. You could hardly dismiss this occurrence by saying, “If they had not missed me, then I wouldn’t be here to consider the fact”.[5]

It would still be surprising that you are alive given the enormous unlikelihood of all the sharpshooters missing their mark. Therefore, the claim that we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves in a fine-tuned universe does nothing to explain away why the initial conditions are fine tuned to begin with. As Paul Davies puts it, this is an unsatisfactory explanation.[6]

 

As a result contemporary theorists increasingly recognize that the odds against fine-tuning are simply insurmountable. Frustrated naturalists have therefore embraced the speculative hypothesis that our universe is but one out of many universes, known as the multiverse theory. What the mulitverse achieves, which is so desperately needed by atheists, is to increase the probabilistic resources, which in turn explain away the absurd probabilities. The existence of a multiverse provides an infinite number of universes, which then permit every physically possible world to exist. What follows from this, is that the existence of a world such as ours by chance alone, where we observe the constants and quantities as consistent with intelligent life, becomes a reasonable position to hold.

Now putting aside that this is highly speculative and void of any independent evidence to support such a theory, this recourse will be in vain as the multiverse would itself require fine tuning. For example, M-theory, the theory which supposedly governs the multiverse, works only if there are exactly eleven dimensions—but M theory does not explain why precisely that number of dimensions should exist. This is why the world’s most notorious atheist turned theist says “So mulitverse or not, we still have to come to terms with the origin of the laws of nature. And the only viable explanation here is the divine mind”.[7]

 

The fact that the fine tuning cannot be satisfactorily explained by physical necessity and that the alternative, i.e. that all the conditions falling into a life permitting range by chance, is an untenable position, means therefore that there remains only one other reasonable alternative. This would be to maintain that the fine tuning must be due to design.

 

Accordingly, we may argue:

1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due either to physical necessity, chance, or design.
2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
3. Therefore, it is due to design.

 


[1] Paul Davies, The Mind of God (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p169.

[2] Hugh Ross, The creator and the Cosmos, p115.

[3] Roger Penrose, The emperor’s New Mind (new your Oxford. 1989), p149.

[4] Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.

[5] John Leslie “How to draw conclusions from fine tuned cosmos” in R.J. Russell, W.R Stoeger, and G.V. Coyne, eds., Physics, Philosophy and Theology: A Common Quest for understanding (Vatican City: Vatican Observatory Press, 1988) p304.

[6] Brain Davies. Cosmic jackpot, p138.

[7] Anthony Flew, There is A God, p37.

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