Friday, 7 October 2011

Anthropocentric fine tuning

Is the universe designed for mankind or is mankind evolved to be fine-tuned to make the best of a rather hostile universe?  This is one of the old questions of life and the universe.

The evidence suggests to me that life has evolved to make the best of the rather hostile universe that existed already and that no creator was necessary.  Indeed, the existence of such a creator would require further explanation in itself.  Considering the difficulties that life has faced, I think it has fine tuned itself remarkably well to cling precariously to the edges of a safe environment, 'knowing' that at any time it could be totally wiped out.  (At least, humans know this even though the rest of life is innocently oblivious to the fact.)

A recent (almost entirely unrelated) post William Lane Craig to visit has attracted a lot of comments that have strayed off the topic of the original post.  So I take one of the comments from that post and present it here so that the discussion can continue in a more appropriate context.

My friend Derby Sceptic, author of "The Sceptical Curmudgeon" blog,  presented a paragraph from Douglas Adams which I had never seen before.

'... imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' 

This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be all right, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.'

Comments are welcome, but . . .

Don't expect to be taught the basics of evolution or about the origins of life.  You can read that in a lot of worthy books and there is no point in anyone wasting their time trying to distill fascinating topics into easily digestible 'soundbites' for you here.  I'm happy to build up a reading list here for those who need a gentle but exciting scientific education.

Lets start off with Victor Stenger, who covers the topic of fine-tuning rather well:


RosaRubicondior said...

There is also the self-evident fact that questions about why life is possible in this universe can ONLY be posed in a universe in which intelligent life is possible.

IOW, the fact that we can be discussing this question means that the universe MUST be amenable to the existence of intelligence.

There may well be an infinite number of universes in which this question could not arise.

This reminds me of something Richard Feynman used to do. He would walk into a lecture and say something like, "This is fantastic! I can hardly believe it! There is a car outside in the parking lot with the number-plate xxxxxxx. I bet the probability of that happening right now is vanishingly small. It can't be just chance, can it?"

Derby Sceptic said...

To hear Douglas Adams 'puddle' in context, try this YouTube link.
It was also read by Richard Dawkins in the Eulogy for Douglas Adams

Anonymous said...

Well of course everything comes down to what we believe - science does not disprove God, we simply interpret science as to what we believe. Ultimately, God is real whether you believe it or not. Truth is truth, and as often stated, someone is wrong and believes the lie. :)

Derby Sceptic said...

It is a bold and brave step to state that 'God is real whether you believe it or not'. That is your opinion, shared by others as well. My opinion is that there is no God, which is also shared by others. This is the difference between us which gives opportunity for debate.

Plasma Engineer said...

Its not *all* that bold really.

I hereby state that god is real whether you believe it or not, (but I decline to reveal which god it is).

Of course my claim and the associated reality is only as valuable as the claims about the miracles of Reinhard Bonnke. See the post coming on 8th October for further details.

Anonymous said...

I would say that by the nature of being a Christian, I am not going to be saying that my belief in God is a mere opinion, as I would not stake my life on a mere opinion. The reason I believe this to be truth is exactly that, that He, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, IS truth, and so the nature of faith in Him is to declare this to be truth...not an opinion, although I obviously appreciate your statement because to an atheist, a Christian has an opinion, but to a Christian, it is the truth not an opinion.....there are some atheists who declare that there is no God is truth and there are some who leave a margin of possibility, but for a Christian, there is no margin of possibility of God not being real, so for me to state that I am merely expressing an opinion would be to deny my integrity and honesty as for me, Jesus' reality is not an opinion, He is real :)

RosaRubicondior said...


So where is your starting point? Why do you believe in the Christian god and not any other, if it's not based on evidence?

If it IS based on evidence, how does your belief affect your view of that evidence, unless it precedes it?

RosaRubicondior said...


BTW, I could with equal validity assert that God is NOT real, whether you believe in it or not.

How do you know you're right and I'm wrong if you don't use evidence?

RosaRubicondior said...


Can you really not see the problem with arbitrarily defining your belief as truth, then asserting that your belief must be true because it's true?

Anonymous said...

Hi RosaRubicondior,
Evidence comes in many forms,

1) Evidence of transformed lives
2) Evidence of a historical nature
3) Evidence of my own life and how knowing Jesus Christ has changed me and changed my life
4) Knowing Jesus is more real than knowing anyone else in my life.
5) Christianity is based on a relationship with Jesus, with God as Father and with the Holy Spirit as living within to enable and empower living the fullness of life. Christianity does not begin with rules, it begins with relationship and obedience comes as a desire not as a legality. Other religions begin with rules, and end with rules and have no assurance of salvation.

Yes I agree you could say "there is no God whether I believe it or not" and this is where we have to agree that one of us is wrong... :)

RosaRubicondior said...


Sorry, but none of those are evidence in the normal sense of the word. There are merely events to which you have arbitrarily ascribed the desired cause.

You could equally claim they are evidence for any other god, or any other imaginary cause you choose to ascribe them to. The number of possible arbitrary causes is limited only by your imagination.

Before they constitute evidence, you either have to show direct and indisputable causality, with all other possibilities excluded (but you are a very long way from that stage) or you have to go through the following process:

Firstly, before you can justify considering a supernatural cause, you must eliminate all possible natural causes. You have not done that.

Only then can you begin to eliminate all other hypothetical supernatural causes to leave only your god as the only possible explanation.

How do you propose doing this?

And now to your final paragraph, how exactly DO you decide which of us is right if you don't use evidence? You haven't said.

Anonymous said...

1) "none of those are evidence in the normal sense of the word" exactly, as I said, there are many different kinds of evidence and the atheistic world view is not at liberty to decide which kinds of evidence are valid.

2)"You could equally claim they are evidence for any other god, or any other imaginary cause you choose to ascribe them to." Not true as I am directly referring to Jesus Christ as witnessed to through, by and in the Bible.

3) "direct and indisputable causality, with all other possibilities excluded" Science itself doesn't and can't do this and this 'demand' itself leads to my next point...

4)"Firstly, before you can justify considering a supernatural cause, you must eliminate all possible natural causes." I don't actually see a difference between natural and supernatural. The fact that I am breathing is as supernatural an event as any intervention by God to heal or do out of the ordinary every day things. It is our perception that makes miracles distinct from day to day life in terms of miracles being from God but breathing somehow 'normal'. Nothing is normal in life, everything is God made and God given, and I refer to the God of the Bible as seen and understood in the character of Jesus Christ.

If a person gets better through medical means, I see that as much God healing as His intervention without medical means. We might know that certain medicines are effective, but as to why, or exactly how they work continues to be a mystery no matter how much research is conducted and no matter who small and microscopic we go. How is a headache 'cured' by paracetemol? because this causes this reaction, etc but Why? We don't know, other than on a smaller scale such and such causes such and such a reaction etc etc all answers to such questions are observations not explanations.

5) I don't propose doing anything to prove or decide which of us is right, I am personally satisfied and convinced that my God is real. If you have made your mind up that He isn't then no persuasive words will convince you otherwise. I simply suggest that you consider Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who convinces not debate or clever words.

Death will prove which of us is correct! One out of one people die, you presumably believe in death being the end of the story. I believe that death is merely the end of the beginning.

It's nice to chat with you by the way. Thank you for taking the time to comment and respond to my comments :)

Derby Sceptic said...

1) You state the atheistic world is not at liberty to decde which kinds of evidence are valid. By implication you are suggesting that the Christian world is - why?

2) You are referring to Christ, yet believers of other religions will reference their god and thus Rosa's point still holds.

I agree that we all die and if you believe that death is the end of the beginning then OK. I believe death is the final end. Due to it's nature however no one can know what happens after a person dies other than the simple physical stages the body passes through.

RosaRubicondior said...


>1) "none of those are evidence in the normal sense of the word" exactly, as I said, there are many different kinds of evidence and the atheistic world view is not at liberty to decide which kinds of evidence are valid.<

To avoid this discussion branching off too much, let's focus on this one.

So, when you are deciding which kinds of evidence are valid (a process for which you seem to imply you have some special priviledge not available to those who don't share your faith, and for which you seem to have abrogated the right to decide who is at liberty to use it and who is not) how do you decide what is valid, other than by checking to see if it leads to a conclusion you agree with or not?

RosaRubicondior said...


And your final point:

> 5) I don't propose doing anything to prove or decide which of us is right, I am personally satisfied and convinced that my God is real. <

Can I take it then that your test of reality is that you are personally satisfied that it is real?

If so, how does that differ from claiming, in effect, to be the arbiter of reality, including the judge of your god's existence, as though things, including your god, need your personal approval to be real; in short that things become real only when you believe in them and that it follows that because you believe it it must be right?

Or do you agree that reality is that thing which still exists even when we stop believing in it; that reality does not require anyone's personal approval?

Anonymous said...

Ah couldn't have put it better myself really, but will attempt to reply to your very good pts.
1) The reason that I do not propose to prove which is right, God or no God, is because for all the evidence that I see is valid, for you and others it isn't enough. In fact I doubt that any evidence, no matter how amazing or 'in your face' would satisfy anyone who has made up their minds not to believe it.

2)Totally agree, reality is reality and God certainly doesn't need me to validate Him...

3) In Paul's letter to the Romans he declares that it is only necessary to look at creation and God's Hand can be clearly seen!


RosaRubicondior said...


May I ask how you determine whether 'evidence' is valid or not if not by comparison to some already proven reference points in reality? IOW, where does your construct come into contact with reality, or does it have no foundations?

Of course, Paul, with greater validity, could have said we only need to look at nature to see that everything has a natural explanation not requiring any supernatural involvement.

I say with greater validity because this statement doesn't require the existence of a supernatural agent to be proven to exists before it can be included in any explanation with any validity. (cf Occam's Razor)

With a natural explanation, even if we don't yet know what it is, we know that nature exists since we are part of it, so we are not including any unproven component in the explanation, nor complicating it unnecessarily.

Anonymous said... would you define reality? Simply what we can see, hear, taste, smell and feel? let's take sight. Our brains reinterpret what our eyes see. If our brains didn't do this we would all see things upside down. So which is real, upside down or right way up? Which is reality? the back of our eyes invert what we see as light passes through our lenses...our brains reinterpret...that we may make sense of our lives...

We think of time as a thing, as a reality, yet no one truly knows what it is, or if it is an illusion that we make sense of in order to live...

is space real? is distance real, then how do we account for quantum entanglement? What is really real? Answer we don't know, we cannot say for certain.

Science does not have only has questions and hypothesies and theories...nothing is what it seems, the laptop I am using right now is we now have found, a mass of atoms and an atom is mostly empty space...nothing like the world really looks like.

Given all of this, I would say that it is perfectly valid to choose faith, to choose what for many makes perfect sense, and for many like me, makes the reality behind the reality.

The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, that if we want to know who God is, then we need to look at Jesus Christ.

The Bible says that Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen...that this whole Universe was made, through, by and for Jesus Christ.

That's the reality that I believe :)

RosaRubicondior said...


Are you really now trying to convince me there is no such thing as reality in order to justify your belief in a supernatural creator of it?

As for faith, you may be interested in

Perhaps you could explain how your faith in an idea impacts in any way upon it's reality. If it doesn't, then I fail to see the relevance of it to the discussion, regardless of whether it's mentioned in a book or not.

Hilary said...

No I'm just stating a fact that there are many aspects of reality, many layers of reality.

I read your fallacy of faith, but your argument is strange. There is first of all no assurance of salvation for Muslims, or any other religion except for Christianity. No other religion sees God as Father, or has as the basis for faith a relationship with God Himself.
There is plenty of evidence for Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection. Evidence for His influence through the last 2000 years, evidence today in thousands if not millions of believers in how He Jesus has transformed lives, given hope, evidence for all the prophecies in the Bible coming true as time goes on...

The truth of Jesus' words impacts on an individual's life, a community's life, a nation's life and ultimately the Earth's life and what will happen next :)

Derby Sceptic said...


Your faith promises you salvation - but I see no reason to believe this promise. Is it not in the mystical afterlife that this is delivered?

You state that only christianity sees god as it's head - if they all believed the same things they would be the same religion, different faiths surely see different aspects as important. They have different figureheads for their religions.

Again you talk of evidence for Jesus and his story, but I believe Rosa has asked for this before yet none is forthcoming. Personal beliefs and 'evidence' are just that, personal.

As for your final paragraph regarding the truth of Jesus' words, that is a view held by christians but not by others. Different faiths will hold differing opinions and as an atheist I don't follow any religion's view on what will happen next.

RosaRubicondior said...


Of course, a Muslim would say there is no assurance of salvation for a Christian. The point you managed to overlook is that both use faith to reach opposite conclusions. How is this possible is faith is the sure and certain way to know the truth?

As for the numbers argument, that can be dismissed with a moment's thought when you realise a majority of the world's population disagree with you and always have.

If it were valid, it would mean that Christianity was the most wrong religion when only Jesus believed it. At that time, Buddhism would probably have been the most right religion.

Beliefs of course don't create facts, no matter how fervently you hold to them.

ThatBenjaminGuy said...

Guys guys seriously...this is summed up beautifully in the expression "talking to a wall". People like Forbsy are inanimate objects, and while I agree they are dangerous (as any inanimate object is when thrown by some bully/religious authority) they are ultimately incapable of understanding reason. It is not these people we must address our arguments's only through a slower more consistent effort to expose the ridiculous nature of the beliefs of the most powerful religious people, the Mitt Romneys of this world, that we will undermine this profound ignorance. Sience will slowly chip away at the legitimacy of their views in a social context, and if the political scene doesn't follow this trend it will be forced to change. Either this or we'll all be plunged into a world state similar to a mix of Stalinist Russia and modern day India.

Plasma Engineer said...

Forbsy can seem determined in her arguments, and a little intransigent, but I'm sure she is not inanimate. I find it interesting and flattering that she sometimes takes the time to leave controversial comments on my posts. Anyway, Rosa and I seem to find arguments with walls more interesting than you might expect.

DumneZERO said...

Also, why would an omnipotent being have to increase complexity to create something ? Total power would imply the "will be done" process, not the "finely tune something to fit the laws of nature" process.