The Poorly-Tuned Universe?

Question from Alex:
Hi, this question has the intention to find if there are direct counter-examples of the fine-tuning argument, by this I mean constants that could be adjustable without impeding the emergence of life in the universe; are there such constants?

If the universe was designed by an intelligent creator, we should expect things like the fine-tunings for life we observe, but what if we find there are examples of non-fine tuning? Or have we finally found the evidence for a creator?


Answer by SmartLX:
In Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees, he brings up one direct counter-example: the value of the gravitational constant could vary by up to a factor of 3,000 before it precluded the formation of stars and thus the emergence of life. Some of the other constants would throw out the balance if they changed by themselves, even slightly, but if other constants were also different it could compensate very well. If you consider only the six most well-known constants, and the idea that any of them could be any value positive or negative, that presents an enormous six-dimensional sample space of possibilities which isn’t even close to being exhausted as a source of other viable “settings”.

Even if there were no counter-examples, and every constant had to be exactly what it is for life to emerge, it wouldn’t be evidence for a creator until all other possibilities were eliminated. Contrary to the sample space I’ve described, maybe the nature of the early universe was that each constant could only have been within a small range. Maybe each constant influences the others, such that the current constants are in stable equilibrium for purely physical reasons. Maybe we’re in the one universe out of billions of billions of universes with varying constants where they all came out just right. There are also counter-arguments like the idea that if the universe were actually fine-tuned, such a mind-bogglingly huge percentage of it wouldn’t be empty and/or uninhabitable – it would likely be friendlier or smaller.

To say that the universe supports life is not to say that the universe is fine-tuned for life, because one can happen without a “tuner” and one can’t. Keep an eye out, because many arguments for God based on this idea try to pull that particular switcheroo.

A Set of Four

Questions from Hector, in separate emails:
1. Are we just lucky?
Do u believe it was just kind of a fluke thing that the universe, which you believe has always existed, was one that just happened to be such that it would someday become the life existing highly organized one that it is today? Or do you think even the deadest and dumbest of universes would always somehow just eventually end up turning into the live and highly organized one that we have today?

2. Do you give anything higher priority than your self interests? And why?
Is anything more important to you, that is of higher priority to you, than your self interests? If yes, what would that be and why?
And please please, respectfully I ask you to not dodge this question by asking me questions instead or answering the question for nonatheists. They can answer for themselves, thank you. I’m asking strickly about YOU, nobody else. Thank you.

3. Is unselfish love from other(s) something humans feel a need to have?
Can you conceive of being satisfied as a human if you believed that unselfish love from other(s) did not exist and that the best any of us could hope for was for others to treat us kindly only on the condition that we could give them something of value to them? In other words, do you feel unselfish love from other(s) is something humans do long for in order to be completely satisfied?

4.Atheist consensus view of who Jesus was?
Can you tell what is the shared view of most atheists about who they believe Jesus was and who they believe all those closely connected to him (his mother and father and apostles) were? And a second question, do most atheists give serious consideration to the historical question I just asked, I mean just from a historical perspective even if nothing more than that. I’m sure most atheists (assuming they are not historically ignorant) know that historians are in pretty unanimous agreement that he existed, was baptised by John the Baptist and that he was crucified. So assuming that level of education from atheists, I am curious to the concensus views to the above two questions asked. Maybe the consensus view is to just not even ever give any real consideration to those historical questions, I don’t know. You can tell me. Thank you very much.

Answers by SmartLX:
1. It’s a big universe, with a lot of varied chemistry. If life can emerge in one particular way here on Earth from the interaction of chemicals, there are probably many other ways it could emerge on other planets – and indeed in different universes. We don’t know why the properties of the universe are the way they are, but they’re hardly “fine-tuned for life” if life only develops on one precarious world in several light years, and the rest of the universe is empty. As Martin Rees says in Just Six Numbers, the fundamental constants could have been somewhat different and still allowed life anyway. All up, I’d say there was plenty of opportunity, so it’s remarkable that we’re here but not a complete statistical impossibility.

2. The problem with this question is that anything I’m interested in, even if it’s not directly for my benefit, is necessarily a “self-interest” of a sort. It’s always about what I want, even if what I want is for children in Africa not to starve or something like that. Still, this kind of altruistic desire is seen as a positive thing, so I suppose it counts in terms of your question. Here are a few simple examples of why my answer is “yes”:
– I value the safety, health and happiness of my wife far above my own. I love her, so it all comes with the territory.
– I devote time to this site which I could spend doing other things, perhaps making money or pursuing other selfish goals, because I think atheists need there to be more available resources about atheists, more than I think I should have more nice clothes. All the horror stories of prejudice are readily available online.
– I’ve regularly donated blood, which tends to sap one’s energy and at the very least takes a long time to do. Even a stranger’s health is more important to me than whatever I probably would have gone and done that day.

3. I don’t know whether we could get by and be happy solely on the social contract that drives us to behave well towards each other. Fortunately we don’t have to, because unselfish acts of love happen every day. People care about people, for the most part, whether you think this is a God-given property or it’s something which evolved in the social groups of our mammalian ancestors. Love actually is all around.

4. Atheists do generally think Jesus existed, or some itinerant Jewish preacher (or even several) the details of whose life and teachings were used to create the story of Jesus. In fact, atheists who argue that Jesus didn’t exist are often challenged by other atheists, and called “Jesus mythicists” or “Jesus mythers”. Atheists are usually quite comfortable with the existence of a real Jesus, because it doesn’t help the case for any of the supernatural claims about him.