Design Intuitions via. Fine-Tuning Examples

“There are beauties so unambiguous they they need no lens of that kind to reveal them; they are visible even to the careless and objective eyes of a child.”

-C.S Lewis, Surprised by Joy

The teleological argument (argument from design) for God’s existence, as William Lane Craig has presented it, is sometimes presented as follows:

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

Part of this argument, however, is the supressed premise that the universe actually is finely tuned. While I am apt to agree that the universe is fine-tuned, examples of fine-tuning, I suggest, help to make the argument against chance and physical necessity highly improbable, and design more intuitive and probable. So, in this paper, I merely want to share instances of fine-tuning of the universe with the intention that (i) fine-tuning is realized and recognized and that (ii) the improbabilities noted yield intuitions leaning towards design. So, I shall present examples of fine-tuning.

In their Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, J.P Moreland and William Lane Craig give examples of fine-tuning:

“For example, according to British physicist Paul Davies, changes in either αG or electromagnetism by only one part in 1040would have spelled disaster for stars like the sun, thereby precluding the existence of planets…Observations indicate that at 10-43 seconds after the big bang the universe was expanding at a fantastically special rate of speed with a total density close to the critical value on the borderline between recollapse and everlasting expansion.  Stephen Hawking estimates that even a decrease of one part in a million million when the temperature of the universe was 1010 degrees would have resulted in the universe’s recollapse long ago; a similar increase would have precluded the galaxies from condensing out of the expanding matter. At the Plank time, 10-43 seconds after the big bang, the density of the universe must have been apparently been within about one part in 1060 of the critical density at which space is flat…Oxford physicist Roger Penrose calculates that the odds of the special low-entropy condition having arisen sheerly by chance in the absence any constraining princilpes is at least as small as about one part in 10 10 (123) in order for our universe to exist.” [1]

Walter Alan Ray, in his Is God Unnecessary?, explicitly lays out the improbability Penrose describes as follows:

“The probability of a universe such as ours existing by random chance, according to Penrose, is one in:

(B)101000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000…If M-theory is correct, and there are about 10500 universes, that is nowhere near enough to ensure that the mathematical odds will be met for allowing life to exist on one of those 10500 universes.” [2]

                        Alvin Plantinga, in his “Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments”, has mentioned many examples of fine-tuning; I shall present four he mentions here:

“If the force of gravity were even slightly stronger, all stars would be blue giants; if even slightly weaker, all would be red dwarfs. (Brandon Carter, “Large Number Coincidences and the Anthropic Principle in Cosmology”, in M. S. Longair, ed, Confrontation of Cosmological Theories with Observational Data l979 p. 72 According to Carter, under these conditions there would probably be no life. So probably if the strength of gravity were even slightly different, habitable planets would not exist.

The existence of life also depends delicately upon the rate at which the universe is expanding. S. W. Hawking “The Anisotropy of the Universe at Large Times” in Longair p., 285:

“…reduction of the rate of expansion by one part in 1012 at the time when the temperature of the Universe was 1010 K would have resulted in the Universe’s starting to recollapse when its radius was only 1/3000 of the present value and the temperature was still 10,000 K”–much too warm for comfort. He concludes that life is only possible because the Universe is expanding at just the rate required to avoid recollapse”.

If the strong nuclear forces were different by about 5% life would not have been able to evolve.” [3]

Robin Collins, a proponent of the teleological argument, gives many examples of fine-tuning:

“To illustrate this fine-tuning, consider gravity. Using a standard measure of force strengths–which turns out to be roughly the relative strength of the various forces between two protons in a nucleus–gravity is the weakest of the forces, and the strong nuclear force is the strongest, being a factor of 1040–or ten thousand billion, billion, billion, billion–times stronger than gravity. If we increased the strength of gravity a billion-fold, for instance, the force of gravity on a planet with the mass and size of the earth would be so great that organisms anywhere near the size of human beings, whether land-based or aquatic, would be crushed. (The strength of materials depends on the electromagnetic force via the fine-structure constant, which would not be affected by a change in gravity.) Even a much smaller planet of only 40 feet in diameter–which is not large enough to sustain organisms of our size–would have a gravitational pull of one thousand times that of earth, still too strong for organisms of our brain size, and hence level of intelligence, to exist. As astrophysicist Martin Rees notes, “In an imaginary strong gravity world, even insects would need thick legs to support them, and no animals could get much larger” (2000, p. 30). Of course, a billion-fold increase in the strength of gravity is a lot, but compared to the total range of the strengths of the forces in nature (which span a range of 1040 as we saw above), it is very small, being one part in ten thousand, billion, billion, billion. Indeed, other calculations show that stars with lifetimes of more than a billion years, as compared to our sun’s lifetime of ten billion years, could not exist if gravity were increased by more than a factor of 3000. This would have significant intelligent-life-inhibiting consequences (see Collins, 2003).

The most impressive case of fine-tuning for life is that of the cosmological constant. The cosmological constant is a term in Einstein’s equation of general relativity that, when positive, acts as a repulsive force, causing space to expand and, when negative, acts as an attractive force, causing space to contract. If it were too large, space would expand so rapidly that galaxies and stars could not form, and if too small, the universe would collapse before life could evolve. In today’s physics, it is taken to correspond to the energy density of empty space. The fine-tuning for life of the cosmological constant is estimated to be at least one part in 10^53, that is, one part in a one hundred million, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion. To get an idea of how precise this is, it would be like throwing a dart at the surface of the earth from outer space, and hitting a bull’s-eye one trillionth of a trillionth of an inch in diameter, less than the size of an atom! Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, a critic of fine-tuning, himself admits that the fine-tuning of the cosmological constant is highly impressive (2001, p. 67; also, see Collins, 2003).

Further examples of the fine-tuning for life of the fundamental constants of physics can also be given, such as that of mass difference between the neutron and the proton. If, for example, the mass of the neutron were slightly increased by about one part in seven hundred, stable hydrogen burning stars would cease to exist (Leslie, 1989, pp. 39-40; Collins, 2003).” [4]

While I have not provided much commentary on these examples of fine-tuning, I hope that the improbability associated with fine-tuning examples allow for people to (i) realize the variety and reality of fine-tuning examples and (ii) share design-inclined intuitions. Skepticism towards the design hypothesis in the face of improbabilities reminds me of C.S Lewis’ response to the objection that “If so stupendous a thing [the Supernatural] exists, ought it not be obvious as the sun in the sky?” to which Lewis replied

“when you are reading a book it is obvious (since you attend to it) that you are using your eyes; but unless your eyes begin to hurt you, or the book is a text book on optics, you may read all evening without once thinking of eyes…the fact which is in one respect the most obvious and primary fact, and through which you alone you have access to all the other facts, may precisely be the one that is most easily forgotten—forgotten not because it is so near and so obvious. And that is exactly how the Supernatural has been forgotten.” [5]

[1] William Lane Craig and J.P Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2003), 483.

[2] Walter Alan Ray, Is God Unnecessary?: Why Stephen Hawking is Wrong according to the Laws of Physics (Bloomington, IN: iUniverse Books), 49-50.

[3] Alvin Plantinga, “Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments,” Lecture presented at the 33rd Annual Philosophy Conference, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, October 23-25, 1986.

[4] “The Case for Cosmic Design” Robin Collins: Accessed May, 17th 2016.

[5] C.S Lewis, “Miracles” in The Complete C.S Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002), p. 337.


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