All you get is a maybe

I don't really think much of the "fine tuning" argument that gets advanced so often by christians. Especially those christians who are excessively enamoured with the bunkum put forward by William Lane Craig, a man whose primary talent is an ability to stand in front of big rooms full of people and talk about the Kalam Cosmological Argument without bursting into laughter.

I also don't think much of christians defining their god in narrow terms as the prime mover, solely as the creator of the universe

Still, fine tuning arguments, prime mover claims and their ilk are often advanced as support for christianity, when in fact they are nothing of the sort. Allow me to explain.

 The image you see here is part of a conversation between myself and a christian which began as a "William Lane Craig is teh awesomes", then went through fine tuning and how the universe looks like it's created for us (it doesn't) and ended up at "atheists are positive that there's no god, you're just an agnostic".

As you can probably infer, just before the pair of posts on the left, I have demanded a definition of what "god" means.

If you're an active atheist yourself, you'll probably be familiar with the way this conversation has gone, and you've probably sighed to yourself and despaired as the gulf of yet another one of those conversations has opened up in front of you.

The theist in these cases is confusing the statement "god doesn't exist" with "no possible gods can exist at all". This is not a position any reasonable atheist should hold, because there are plenty of definitions of gods that are demonstrable in terms of existence, and plenty that are unfalsifiable and therefore largely meaningless.

Take, for instance, the fictitious example of an animistic religion which believes that a given animal, say - for example - a bear, is an embodiment of their god. Merely saying "Your god doesn't exist" isn't going to get you anywhere. Clearly the bear exists.

What about cults who believe that a given person is a god on earth? What about religions that revere, or deify, the landscape, or nature, or a totem? Hell, what about Freemasonry and Alcoolics Anonymous, whose "higher power" is (apparently) permitted to be almost anything you want it to be. But probably not a whiskey bottle.

What we're running into is a definitional issue of whether the given "god" is in fact a god at all.

Hence you have to demand a definition.

The problem is that when pressed, many christians will retreat to a very narrow definition, as you can see to the left. "My god is the guy who started the universe, who set the universal constants into motion". All the while, whistling innocently and ignoring the elephant in the room. The one with "Yeah, and the rest" written on the side.

 And this, again, is one of the big problems with fine tuning. When a christian advances "oh, but the universe is fine tuned for life", not only are they factually wrong, they're actually defending a position that they themselves do not hold, namely the position of deism.

Sure, a "god" (whatever that may be) could have set the original constants of the universe, thus enabling life, but we're pretty sure, from observation, that those constants have not changed in the 13.7 billion years or so since the big bang event. So nothing in fine tuning implies a god that's still around.

It's equally likely, in fact probably more likely, given what we know about the age of the universe and the way it operates, that if a "god" (whatever that may be) did start of the universe with the finely tuned constants in place, that that "god" is outside the universe and therefore unable to interact with it.

In fact, there are plenty of possiblities implied for the universal beginning in an observation that the universal constants are "fine tuned".

  • A "god" did it and is still around (theism)
  • A "god" did it and is not still around (deism)
  • Aliens did it (with the above variants, if you like)
  • Multiverse (parallel universe) theory is correct, and we happen to live in the instance that got the right numbers 
  • Universal evolution hypotheses, such as bubble (serial) universes that "give birth" to other universes
  • A lucky accident
  • The Matrix, or a simulation of a universe with our constants run on computers in an entirely alien universe
  • There's no other way the constants can fall together


  • <insert sci-fi explanation here>

Still, there's no reason implied in fine tuning that leads you to "Therefore rib woman went scrumping and everyone is therefore fucked unless they accept man-on-a-stick who was sacrificed to himself by himself and that's the reason gay people can't marry".

All you get is a maybe.

And then, of course, there's the problem that the universe is actually not particularly well-suited for life at all. What it's suited for, seemingly, is Dark Energy, what with 70%+ of the universe being made up of it. The universe is actually massively hostile to life, with a vanishingly tiny proportion of it being suited to life in any way. We can't survive without technological assistance mere kilometres off the surface.

Of course, a theist would plead that all the other stuff in the universe is somehow necessary to maintain our little ball of rock, orbiting a middling sort-of average star in a spiral arm of a sort-of average galaxy, and specifically to maintain a couple of billion slightly evolved apes who claim that one of their ape brethren who wasn't really one of their ape brethren once saved them all by being nailed to a stick by some other slightly evolved apes who hadn't even figured out bookbinding yet. Which is ironic, since they claim to have got all that from a book.

Taking the absurdity of that into account, I'm inclined not to even grant a maybe. I do, however grant deism a pass. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. I don't believe it at all, but I can see how some people might find it tenable, even comforting, but it is unfalsifiable. It cannot be tested, and that's probably half its appeal.

Christianity, however, is so much farther down the path than a fine tuned deism that I'm surprised every time someone advances the argument, and every time William Lane Craig "wins" a debate based on some kind of abstract cosmological position. You're not proving your christian god. You're merely get a maybe on the board for an ill-defined god concept which could support any one of hundreds of disparate god claims.

A maybe. That's what you get, and I'm being charitable.

posted @ Monday, September 19, 2011 9:03 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: All you get is a maybe

Left by Andy at 9/20/2011 12:58 AM
I once attended an accident in which a car had hit a tree - at high speed. The fit between radiator and tree was so perfect that I could only conclude the tree was made just for that very radiator. Coincidence? I think not. Prove me wrong.

# re: All you get is a maybe

Left by Beetleshirt at 9/21/2011 6:08 PM
4th last paragraph: Gold!

# re: All you get is a maybe

Left by Spongy at 9/25/2011 3:28 PM
Missing closing quote:

When a christian advances "oh, but the universe is fine tuned for life, not only are they factually wrong,

# re: All you get is a maybe

Left by jason at 9/25/2011 4:11 PM
Cheers Spongy, fixed now.

# re: All you get is a maybe

Left by RipleyP at 9/26/2011 1:36 PM
Is this the same line of argument that stated the Banana was proof of an intelligent designer as it fit the hand so snug? Almost as snug as bits of the male anatomy which we were then told was a sin to hold too snugly.

Of course the modern Banana was shown to be a product of human manipulation ruining another poorly conceived fine turn argument.

Unless of course the whole Banana argument was just a clever red herring to mock those who fine tune as a bunch of Wan*ers
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