I received some great feedback in response to the article I wrote in December, “The (Unsurprising) Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” (read it here). Thank you everyone! Two comments in particular (one on this blog and another offsite) have prompted me to pursue the topic a little further, if for no other reason than to address their striking similarities. For the sake of clarity, I’ve pasted the relevant excerpts below:
“A bacterium (let’s call him Jim) that lives under my tongue could equally believe that the universe has been constructed precisely for his benefit. He doesn’t need to do any maths, because my saliva is just acidic enough to break down food into protein for Jim to eat, but not so acidic that it will dissolve him…” -Mr. T____
“I am sure the ant, if sentient, thinks the hill and the yard to be exquisitely fine-tuned. Drop him in Antarctica and see how quickly he loses religion. Similarly, move a human being even a few feet up or down and life is impossible (dying in caves, falling from a high perch)…” –Mr. C____
Both of these responses implicitly pose the same question. What’s so special about us? I’ll refer to this as “the ant argument”.
Firstly, the argument is itself somewhat self-defeating. Citing lower organisms like ants and bacteria as a means of challenging our place in the universe is akin to denying a large miracle by pointing to a smaller miracle. Or put another way, we can’t argue that the game of basketball wasn’t invented on the basis that my grandmother plays it less impressively than the L.A. Lakers.
Secondly, the ant argument reveals a misunderstanding of the Christian’s view of man and nature. Christians don’t claim that the universe is finely tuned for humans at the exclusion of other lifeforms. Man was created in God’s image, but the ultimate purpose of Creation is to glorify God…not us.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the ant argument doesn’t actually speak to the issue of our universe being finely tuned. Consider the four fundamental forces of nature (the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, and gravity). If any of these forces were stronger or weaker by just a tiny amount, then life would almost certainly be unable to exist.
Or consider the exact amount of dark matter present in the universe. Of all the possible amounts of dark matter that could exist, the actual amount happens to lie in that infinitesimally small range that allows stars to form and life to exist. Just a little less or a little more, and the universe would have either rapidly re-collapsed or accelerated into oblivion.
Dr. Francis Collins, who once spearheaded the Human Genome Project and is currently director of the NIH, speaks to this issue as well:
“To get our universe, with all of its potential for complexities or any kind of potential for any kind of life-form, everything has to be precisely defined on this knife edge of improbability…You have to see the hands of a creator who set the parameters to be just so because the creator was interested in something a little more complicated than random particles.”
I should stop here to make an important point. The size and age of the universe are irrelevant to the issue of our universe’s fundamental constants being finely tuned. This is the problem with arguments along the lines of, “the universe is so huge and so ancient that life was bound to eventually arise somewhere…therefore, fine tuning is most likely just an illusion.” This kind of reasoning might be applicable to a discussion on our planet’s ability to support life, but it fails to address fine tuning. It doesn’t explain why the fundamental qualities of the universe are the way they are. It’s analogous to claiming that enough hands of poker will eventually result in a royal flush…without actually answering the question of where the rules of poker came from, or what a “royal flush” even means!
This is precisely why so many physicists – unwilling to accept a Designer yet unable to explain the appearance of Design – have embraced the idea of a multiverse. But as I pointed out in my original post, a belief in multiple universes is by no means a more scientifically defensible position. In fact, using Occam’s razor, it can be compellingly argued that belief in a Designer is eminently more scientific. Proponents of a multiverse are, after all, proposing an infinite (or near-infinite) number of unobservable universes just to explain the existence of our own.