Monday, February 9, 2015

Fine Tuning: The Materialist Minefield

Not long ago, science thought that it had a comprehensive understanding of the workings of the universe pretty much wrapped up.  As Lord Kelvin confidently remarked back at the end of the 19th century: "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now.  All that remains is more and more precise measurement."  You gotta appreciate the confidence (haughtiness?) there but oh, how far from accurate he was.

It seems clear to me that among the manifold issues that the materialist worldview proposes, the fine-tuning problem is the biggest.  What is the fine-tuning argument?  According to the Biologos website it "refers to the surprising precision of nature's constants, and the beginning state of the universe.  To explain the present state of the universe, even the best scientific theories require that the physical constants of nature and the beginning state of the universe have extremely precise values." See their article on the subject here.

Recently, author and lecturer, Eric Metaxas has been making quite a splash discussing this topic publicly.  His piece for the WSJ was their most shared article ever.   Here he is making the case on Prager University.

This is basically where things are at.  Either this argument is true and there is a God or (as the other side sometimes claims) there are an infinite number of universes and this seemingly perfect one is just the lucky winner in an endless sea of possibility.  Ironically, the people who tend to claim that science has (or will have) all the answers are positing an un-testable, un-observable and thus un-scientific theory. Outside of that it has philosophical issues, such as if there are truly an infinite number of universes, then all logical possibilities must occur - including a universe in which God exists and created the entire multiverse (whose existence they claim refutes God).

Watch the video and consider for yourself..



  1. Dear Rabbi - there are theological, scientific and philosophical problems with the fine tuning argument. Anyway you say "Outside of that it has philosophical issues, such as if there are truly an infinite number of universes, then all logical possibilities must occur - including a universe in which God exists and created the entire multiverse (whose existence they claim refutes God)." LOL lets posit the Sutan or Baal or Zeus or Ra or also a possibility. May I suggest a book written by Professor of Physics Victor Stenger devotes an entire book The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning on this topic and his refute includes much science. I dont think Eric Metaxas is a physicist and hence he is not qualified to discuss the science. He is engaging in sophism, making science errors and logic errors. This is FYI.

  2. Full of classic God of the Gaps logical fallacy.

    1. Not at all. It's a simple logical inference based on evidence. It is unlikely that this occurred randomly, therefore it did not. The real act of faith is the contortions materialists go through to try to explain it.

  3. Dear reader,

    There are theological, scientific and philosophical problems with the multiverse theory but that didn't stop (the highly agenda driven) Dr Stenger from writing about it.

    The Metaxas piece quotes scientists Fred Hoyle, Paul Davies and John Lennox who were apparently more moved by it than Victor was. It even gave arch atheist Chris Hitchens a bit of pause:

    In my experience sophism is the charge that people make when they can't figure out a way to actually refute the claim - as most honest thinkers admit they can't.

  4. I am not a scientist, but this is the way I think about the fine tuned universe:

    There are some 7 physical properties of the universe that appear to be fine-tuned, properties like Strong Force, Electromagnetic Force, Gravitational Force, etc. These forces have a constant, which if different even by a little bit, would not allow for the existence of the universe the way we know it. If the gravitational constant was higher, for example, the universe would not be expanding, and would collapse onto itself. If this were so, obviously we would not be here to see it!

    So, as the argument goes, the universe has to be 'fine-tuned' for if these constants were different, humans could not exist. But since humans do exist, then there must have been an 'intelligent designer' who fine-tuned these constants.

    Dear Rabbi, have I gotten the gist of the fine-tuning argument?

    However, this argument is fallacious. The fallacy in this argument can be demonstrated through an analogy: Suppose you bought a lottery ticket and ended up winning the power ball. How nice would that be for you? You just won $500 million dollars, and your life is transformed! The odds of winning the lottery was one in one billion, and yet you won! You would be right to think that what happened to you is a miracle given the infinitesimal chance of winning the power ball.

    But suppose I am sitting in my living room, watching the News. The anchorwoman announces that somewhere in New York someone has won the Powerball lottery worth $500 million dollars. To me, this event is not so miraculous, because I know that someone had to have won the lottery! That someone actually won it (alas not me), is not miraculous. The odds of YOUR winning the lottery is one in one billion, but the odds of SOMEONE winning the lottery is very high indeed! People win lotteries all the time. To the winners, the event appears miraculous. But to the others, it is an ordinary event, because, as I said, someone had to win it.

    Now, take the constants of nature. When the constants are aligned in such a way that permit OUR existence, we view it as a miracle since it is so unlikely. But when the constants of nature were not tuned in our favor, then we would not be here to comment on them, since we would not have existed! This is the so-called anthropic principle, and I hope that I have done a decent job of explaining it. But please, rabbi, take a moment to understand the principle before ascribing the fine tuning of nature to divine intervention.

    Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I actually have taken quite a few moments to understanding the principle and I think that's what has given me sufficient insight to explain that your lottery analogy is flawed. Any event can be seen as utterly improbable (like the chances of me writing this to you today) yet it wouldn't be regarded by anyone as being the product of design.

      The correct analogy is not simply winning the lottery (which someone always does), it's winning 20 times in a row - which everyone would agree is not possible despite the theoretical odds that it is. We intuitively know that such luck is not possible. What is the difference between the two cases?

      Please take a moment to consider the points in this piece as well:

  5. It does not matter what the actual odds are. The point is that to the winner the odds appear miraculous. But to others, it does not. That's the anthropic principle.

    Another great analogy is of the odds of our births. Each father releases 500 million sperm cells during a sexual encounter. Each father also is likely to have hundreds of sexual encounters before causing a successful pregnancy. Each mother similarly has 200,000 eggs that have a roughly equal chance of being fertilized during a sexual encounter.

    Thus, the chance of my parents giving birth to ME is one in 500 million to the hundredth power, multiplied by 200,000. This number is vanishingly small. And yet I AM HERE to think about this. Each person on this earth had an amazingly low chance of coming to this earth, and yet they were born. The chance of MY being born is miraculously small, but the chance of ANY GIVEN human to be born is quite high. Do you understand the Anthropic principle?

    Let's assume that the universe was not 'fine tuned'. Let's say that Gravitational constant was higher than ours was. This would supposedly lead the universe to ultimately collapse onto itself. Ok. In such a case, you would have a collapsed universe, which from a human perspective was a failure. Ok, so the next universe would have a different set of constants, etc. At some point, there would be a universe that would have an entity with a brain in it, who is going to wonder how unlikely it was for him to be in that universe!

    1. By that reasoning all events are essentially equally unlikely. That a rock will have the particular shape that it has is utterly unlikely but also not relevant. What is relevant is the threshold of design. At what point does it become reasonable to assume that a particular event is not random? The science of forensics is predicated on being able to recognize this - so is archaeology and SETI. Will you say to the forensic scientist that it's possible (however unlikely) that one set of fingerprints is identical to another or that some random, natural force is generating the series of prime numbers that the SETI researchers look for?

      The universe doesn't contain sufficient probabilistic resources to produce all of the constants as we have them - not the constants, not DNA and not human beings.

      If you're open minded, consider reading William Dembski's "The Design Inference."

    2. Also, from the Biologos article linked in the piece:

      A Lucky Accident

      Not surprisingly, fine-tuning arguments unsettle those who embrace the philosophy of naturalism, since a straightforward interpretation of the evidence points in favor of an intelligent creator. Some of the naturalist responses are common and are worth mentioning here. The first amounts to a nonchalant shrugging of the shoulders. Many adherents to philosophical naturalism give a response along the following lines: Because humans exist, the laws of nature clearly must be the ones compatible with life. Otherwise, we simply wouldn’t be here to notice the fact. To argue against this line of reasoning, John Leslie makes the analogy of surviving an execution at a firing squad completely unharmed. Here, Leslie argues that the naturalist’s argument above is analogous to saying, "Of course all of the shots missed, otherwise I wouldn’t be here to notice that I’m still alive!” A much more logical approach would be to seek out an explanation for why such an unlikely event occurred. A good scientific explanation satisfies curiosity, whereas this kind of explanation does nothing to offer any resolution.

  6. You Say: "By that reasoning all events are essentially equally unlikely."
    I say: Why do you say that? Which of my statements led you to write this?

    You Say: "That a rock will have the particular shape that it has is utterly unlikely but also not relevant."
    I say: Exactly! If you go to a field of rocks and happen to find among rocks a particular rock that seems to be very useful to you, you should not argue that a 'designer' placed the rock in front of you

    You Say: At what point does it become reasonable to assume that a particular event is not random?
    I Say: It depends on what event you are studying. For example, you may safely assume that the reply to your comments is not randomly generated. But if you come upon a beautiful rock on a shore, you can not assume design simply because the item is beautiful.

    You Say: The science of forensics is predicated on being able to recognize this - so is archaeology and SETI.
    I say: True. So?

    You Say: Will you say to the forensic scientist that it's possible (however unlikely) that one set of fingerprints is identical to another

    I say: This is a great example. Let me illustrate what I am talking about with using your analogy: Suppose as a student of criminology, I decided to go to Yankee Stadium and randomly selected a surface to test for fingerprints. The chance of my finding Rabbi Jacob's fingerprints there would be vanishingly small. However, given the high traffic at the stadium, I will be LIKELY to find SOMEONE's fingerprints. To the person whose finger prints that I actually found, this event would seem highly improbable. But the chance of finding ANY fingerprint is quite high.

    The same is true of SETI observations. The probability of finding prime numbers in space at random is quite small. But the probability of finding ANY mathematical series is much higher. If SETI were to accept ANY pattern as non random, then it would surely have claimed extraterrestrial intelligence by now!

    1. "I say: This is a great example. Let me illustrate what I am talking about with using your analogy: Suppose as a student of criminology, I decided to go to Yankee Stadium and randomly selected a surface to test for fingerprints. The chance of my finding Rabbi Jacob's fingerprints there would be vanishingly small. However, given the high traffic at the stadium, I will be LIKELY to find SOMEONE's fingerprints. To the person whose finger prints that I actually found, this event would seem highly improbable. But the chance of finding ANY fingerprint is quite high."

      But we're not talking about finding "any" fingerprint but rather a very specific one! So too, finding all of the cosmological constants in their precise values is vanishingly small - in fact much much much smaller than finding a specific set of fingerprints. It is unreasonable, IMHO, to posit hitting those vanishingly small odds.

      Your point only holds in a one time proposition. Yes, if you win the lottery once (despite the long odds) it's not impressive at all. But if you win it twice in a row people will already be suspicious that it's a set up. How about three consecutive times? 10? 20? Very quickly, people will KNOW that "chance" cannot account for this - they will know that it was be design. Try getting 21 in Vegas just 10 times in a row. See if they'll let you stay at the table. You can try arguing "hey, SOME person had to beat the 0.45^10 = 0.00034050628916015625 odds.

      There are about 34 cosmological constants. Some have estimated that the odds of hitting all of them is about 1:10*120 - a number vastly greater than all of the particles in the entire universe. Please.

      These oods even bothered Christopher Hitchens: Why not you?

  7. Rabbi Jacobs, I think you are making several errors in your logic. Let me deconstruct them for you:

    1. You assume that universal constants can be of ANY value. You assume, for example that light has the same odds of traveling 160,000 miles per hour as it traveling 10 miles per hour. The fact is that we do not know why light travels at 160,000 miles per hour; it may be inherent in the nature of light. But it is an unfair assumption to make to say that the odds of light traveling at 160,000 per hour are the same odds of light traveling at any other speed.

    2. You assume that there is ONLY one permutation for the tuning of universe for which life is possible. Can you assume a set of universal constants, for example, different than the present, in which life could have been even MORE permissible? Can you, for example, think of a set of fine tuned constants, which permitted the whole planet to have the weather of, say, Southern California, in which all of the planet could be habitable?
    Better yet, do you not think that one can think of a given fine tuned set of universal constants in which several planets could have been habitable in our solar system?

    How many of the combinations of constants permit life and how many preclude them? Why do you assume that of all these permutations, there is only one that permits life?

    Perhaps of the 1:10*120 combinations, 50% of them permit life. Perhaps some of these combinations would have been even more generous to life then they are today. Do you know that they are not?

    3. Suppose that the universe was not fine tuned, and the universe was indeed a very hostile place in which to have life. Do you think this would stop God from creating life on this earth? Does God need a fined tuned universe in which to create life?

    1. What you say may be true, but it is irrelevant based on 2 below. By the way, the speed of light is NOT 160,000 miles per hour but rather 186,282.397 miles per second.

      2. One needs to look at the entropy of the initial universe, which has a probability against random of 1/10^(10^120). This is an unbelievably small number. Of course there might be other constants which will allow the universe to support life, but that doesn't matter. It the probability of the entropy of our universe as it is that counts! More permissible constants of nature would have an even smaller probability!

      3. God can do whatever he wants. But He chose to Create a universe that follows certain natural laws. If there were no natural laws and we existed anyway, it would be a miracle and we would KNOW immediately that God was doing it. With natural laws, one must first calculate the entropy, and then we know that a Creator must have created those laws.

  8. Hi
    You are right about the speed of light (I quoted from memory), but it does not change the point of my argument. What I was saying is that there may be a reason for the speed of light to be what it is. The speed of light does not have the same chance of being 18 miles per hour as 186 hundred thousand miles per hour.

    In any case, I do not know what you are saying regarding entropy. I would appreciate if you can explain what you mean by the 'entropy of initial universe' having a probability of 1/10^(10^120). What does this mean?

    1. Entropy is a measure of order (or disorder). Every entropy has a probability associated with it. The smaller the entropy, the more order and the smaller the probability that you would have so much order just by chance. The universe just after the big bang was very ordered. Its entropy was exceedingly small. The probability that by chance the universe would have had such a small entropy is 1/10^(10^120) an unbelievably small number. The denominator is a number which exceeds by far the number of elementary particles in the universe. This is very strong evidence that the universe is not a random event. If it were, it would not be so well ordered and it would not be capable of supporting any complex structure, let alone life.

  9. So I understand what entropy means, but did not understand what you were referring to when you are talking about the chances of entropy being 1/10^120 power. I searched the internet, and found the relevant information (

    As I understand this, what you are saying is that if we extrapolate back to the biginning of time (at the bing bang), since entropy always increases, then the initial universe must have been higly uniform and with low entropy state. The universe must have been small, and highly ordered. The chance for a small highly uniform universe to be in that initial state is very small (1/1^120). Therefore some higher being must have wound the universe up to that initial state.

    Again, if I am misunderstanding this, please let me know.

    Before I dig into this, Rabbi, tell me, is this the best we can do to show that God exists?

    1. You seem to have understood exactly right.

      Is it the best we can do? It's one aspect of one argument (the Teleological). I happen to think it's quite strong but there are others. I discuss some of them in this blog:

  10. It has taken me some time to reply because frankly I knew little about the subject and I wanted to understand the subject matter first. In the month since my last comment, I had the opportunity to read about entropy, and listened to audible lecture series on Time and Entropy. I admit that this does not make me an expert on this. Nevertheless, I suspect that neither are you an expert on cosmology so I permit myself this reply.

    It is true that entropy must have been very low earlier in time. Why was entropy so low around the big bang? It seems that no one knows at this time. It is apparently a hot topic and various people are trying to explain it. Several hypotheses have been advanced, most of which, in my opinion, are currently half baked.
    But I do not think that anyone is suggesting that entropy was low purely by chance. When you quote a number to the power of 10^120, you are quoting the chance that all particles in universe would randomly aggregate into a small space by themselves. In effect you are saying either God created low entropy or low entropy happened by chance. Rabbi, no one that I have read is suggesting the latter so you are offering a false dichotomy. Low entropy conditions in the early universe did not occur by chance alone. There is some principle that caused this. I think we all agree on that.

    But you assume that since there is as yet no explanation for low entropy conditions in the early universe, then YudHeVavHe made this happen. What is your evidence for this?

    Not knowing something is not a license for the insertion of God into the mechanism.

    In any case, if it makes you feel better to know that God created the low entropy conditions in the early universe, then OK. The question, really, is HOW did God do this? Merely adding the added layer (really the complication) of God does nothing to explain why entropy was so low around the big bang.

    1. It's certainly true that I'm not an expert in this field, I just think about it and consult with others who are more knowledgeable.

      In general, low probability means that something did not happen by chance. That is the definition of low probability. Entropy is a 1 to 1 monotone mapping to probability. Thus, low entropy implies low probability. No one argues this. However, low probability is not the whole story. The mathematical expectation is. The formula is simple: E = p*N where N is the number of trials. In this case, the number of universes. If N=1 then E=p and we deduce that the universe did not happen by chance, i.e., it happened by design. Everyone accepts this. What some would argue is that N is not 1. In fact, they argue that N is infinite. This is called the multiverse. However, the multiverse is scientific nonsense regardless of who supports it. It is totally unscientific since in theory, it can never be proved or disproved. In addition, there is very strong statistical evidence (not proof) against the multiverse.
      I leave it to the questioner to read up on the pros and cons of the multiverse.

      I think it self-evident that when something highly unlikely has occurred and no logical explanation exists as to how it did, that the unlikely event was orchestrated - was a product of design. This is how we view most events, why should this be different?

      I agree that this doesn't prove that this designer is the classical definition of God, just that it was designed. Taken in conjunction with other arguments I feel that this helps bolster the overall evidence significantly.

      How God does things I can't claim to know as He is definitionally beyond time and space (and therefore beyond everything that we know). I'm not sure why that matters though.

  11. Everything you wrote in the first paragraph I am in agreement with.

    I admit now, as I did in the previous comment, that Low entropy implies low probability. You did not need to spend a a long paragraph to explain this as you were arguing something that was not in argument. Multiverse hypothesis, I agree, does not appear to be scientific, but it is not relevant to this discussion between you and I. We agree that the early universe must have had low entropy. We both agree that this did not occur randomly.

    Remember though, that non random events do not necessarily imply 'design'. When I throw a ball up in the air, the ball returns back to the ground. The ball falls back not by random chance, but according to the law of gravity. Now if we did not know about gravity, you might have argued that the chance that a ball will fall back on its own is so infinitesimal that God must have directed the ball back down. Obviously you would have been wrong.

    Now there may be as yet some undiscovered law or principle that might have governed conditions in the universe. There may be cosmological conditions that have yet to be discovered that may explain the low entropy conditions in the early universe. Alternatively, it is possible that some entity 'designed' the low entropy conditions. Indeed, it is possible that God might have caused low entropy. But when you assert God, you are speculating. Science's not knowing is not religion's license to speculate. You can not insert the God hypothesis without any evidence. Not having an explanation for a phenomenon does not constitute evidence of God.

    Remember that people used to think that thunder, earthquakes, storms, famines, fires, plagues etc. were all caused by God until they started to understand the nature of these natural phenomena. It is true that events 13 billion years ago have not yet been worked out. It is true that low entropy of 13 billion years is a great mystery. Let's not complicate the mystery with an added and unnecessary assumption.

  12. It is not actually necessary that fine-tuning of certain parameters will have to be there for proving the existence of God, because existence of God can also be proved even if there is no fine-tuning. For this one can see the following link: