Is There a Reason the Universe Seems Fine Tuned for Life? (pt.1)

These posts are excerpts from an essay I wrote in 2009 on topics that have come full circle. It’s not super-technical philosophy, but has some arguments I thought were kind of creative (even if over-simplified). More and more the “multiverse theory” or  “Everett interpretation” of quantum mechanics  has come into vogue, a theory that, I argued here, is one of the worse options for explaining the universe we live in.

The teleological argument gives an answer to the question: “What explains the apparent ‘fine tuning’ of the universe that makes it a place suitable for the existence of human life?” Some versions of the argument also claim to answer the question, “Is there a purpose to the existence of human life?” The argument’s answer to both questions is that the universe was purposely designed by a volitional, intelligent Creator (or, many creators, though this seems to go yet another step beyond Ockham’s razor and belief in a creator, arguably, already violates this principle), and at least one of the Creator’s intentions was that the universe be hospitable for the existence of intelligent life. By implication the question of “purpose” would be connected to whether there were any such ideas in the Mind from which the universe was birthed. I will look at alternative explanations to the presence of fine-tuning, objections to the Creation hypothesis and reasons for why it is the better explanation.

Before we go on, what do we mean by the “fine tuning” of the universe? Physicist Stephen Hawking put it this way in A Brief History of Time:

The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and electron…if the electric charge of the electron had been only slightly different, stars either would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium, or else they would not have exploded…there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers that would allow the development of any form of intelligent life”

These are the sorts of things that the teleological argument attempts to explain by saying “The reason why these things are so, or happened as they did, is because a Creator purposefully brought them to be.”

Now, what are some objections to this explanation? The first one I’ll address goes something like this: “There is no reason that this universe was fine-tuned because the fact that all these laws are as they are is as unlikely as any other set of values for those laws. The only difference is that if they were different we wouldn’t be here to notice” (Van Inwagen, Metaphysics, 190). Metaphysician Peter Van Inwagen gives a good reply to this objection by providing a way to guide our determination of whether something came to be by utter chance or if something explains its’ existence. I’ll paraphrase the principle:

Say a possibility, call it (x), is actualized (meaning it happens) out of a large set of possibilities that are exhaustive (meaning there are no other possibilities),  inconsistent (only one of these possibilities can be true), and all are about equally probable. If we can think of an explanation for why (x) actualized and “no parallel explanation” would apply to the other possibilities, then we cannot off-handedly say that it was a matter of chance that (x) was actualized (Van Inwagen, 191). 

Applying this to the teleological argument we can say that (x) is the universe we live in with all of its constants. It is one out of a large number of possible universes with different values for their fundamental constants. We can think of an explanation for why this universe was actualized: An intelligent agent who, among other possible motives, wanted intelligent life to develop purposefully designed it. Could a parallel explanation be applied if other universes were actualized? No. At least as a general rule no,  because most of those universes would not allow for life to develop, and almost all would not have developed any kind of intelligent life, and still less would have allowed for anything remotely as complex as the human body. So we cannot just assert that it’s as statistically improbable that any other universe exist, and that our universe existing requires no further explanation because of this.

A second objection Van Inwagen cites is the possibility of discovering a “theory of everything”. What this means is that there may be some law of physics that makes it so there is no other possible way for things to be, and so there is no need to invoke a Designer (192). He states, I think accurately, “The motivations of those physicists looking for an ‘only possible theory of everything’ are pretty clearly aesthetic and metaphysical…the existence of such motivations should not be taken to imply that there is any evidence that reality is going to cooperate with them” (194). Hawking is actually doing work now on discovering this so called “theory of the universe (Folger, 4). The biggest contender at the moment is string theory. “But it has one huge problem: its fundamental equations have a near-infinite number of solutions, each corresponding to a unique universe” (4). At the moment, the “theory of everything” is still elusive, and String Theory is flexible enough to be used in support of an alternate hypothesis.

This alternate hypothesis is that our cosmos may be one of a vast array of other cosmos that actually exist now (Van Inwagen 202). Referring back to the “principle” I stated in response to the first objection, this belief implies that even if that principle is true, we are not in a situation where it applies. The reason is that those other universes that we said are “inconsistent” with the one we live in, are actually real universes, not mere possibilities. If it is the case that we live in one universe among many then it is “a statistical certainty” that some are “suitable abodes for life” (202).

In the next post, I’ll give a few reasons why the existence of a creator is the better hypothesis.

Additional Source:
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