Scientists generally agree that the universe is “fine-tuned” for life—that it offers a unique combination of factors which have allowed life to flourish.

But some scientists reject the idea that the fine-tuning of the universe implies the existence of any Creator:

Now, to refute God means refuting several claims that are all based on faith, not evidence …. [O]ur opponents …  are going to argue first that one aspect of science that supports perhaps the belief in God is this notion that the universe is apparently fine-tuned for life. … That is a remarkable and, in fact, cosmic misunderstanding … – Lawrence Krauss, Intelligence Squared debate (emphasis added)

Previously, we looked at this statement from the Intelligence Squared debate called “Science Refutes God” to discuss how Dr. Krauss (representing the atheist viewpoint) called into question his opponents’ rationality. Now, let’s examine the “cosmic misunderstanding” Krauss mentions. Dr. Krauss and others have seized on the idea that the fine-tuning of the universe is a critical “proof” of the existence of God. In reality, it’s only part of a body of evidence that implies the existence of God, just as the light shining on the surface of the moon is part of the body of evidence that implies the existence of another light source.

Krauss continued his explanation:

… genetic variation among a population, combined with natural selection meant that you didn’t need supernatural shenanigans … all the diversity of life on earth could arise from a single life form, by natural law. … that’s where we’re at now as far as the understanding of the universe is concerned.  

Now, our … opponents, I suspect, will argue the universe is equally fine-tuned for life … they will point out that certain fundamental parameters in nature, if they were different, we couldn’t exist. Or they may boldly assert that, in fact, certain of these parameters are so strange and unnatural that they must have been established with malice aforethought to ensure our existence. This too is an illusion. … We would be quite surprised to find ourselves living in a universe in which we couldn’t live. In fact, that might be evidence for God. (emphasis added)

An argument that Krauss is in jeopardy of making is that the theory of evolution explains the genesis of everything. It does not. The missing piece of the evolutionary puzzle is where that first single life form came from and what caused it to begin its evolution. Mere physical environment cannot account for some of the twists in evolution—especially the peculiar evolution of human beings. Indeed, were I on the opposing debate team, I’d point to evolution as one of the arguments for the existence of God.

Surely, I thought, there had to be more to Krauss’ argument. Saying something is an illusion is not the same as providing evidence that it is. See those last two sentences in Krauss’ statement? Keep those in mind as you read his next assertion.

But I want to point out that in fact the universe isn’t particularly fine-tuned or conducive to life. Most of the universe is rather inhospitable to life. And in fact—perhaps the biggest fine-tuning problem in my own field of cosmology … is that the energy of empty space is not zero.

Let’s unpack that. Dr. Krauss:

    1. Argues that Team B might invoke the universe being fine-tuned for life as evidence for God.
    2. Next argues that if it is not fine-tuned for life, life would be a miracle and, therefore, “might be evidence for God.”
    3. Then states that it is not fine-tuned for life, but “inhospitable to life.”

My surprise was two-fold: the statements are not only contradictory, but no one commented on this obvious fact.

Ironically, back when we had begun to realize that our lovely blue marble wasn’t the only one on the playground, atheist philosophers suggested that religion would be undone by the discovery of other planets with life. Hold that thought while I make two points: 1) I write science fiction for a living and 2) I believe absolutely that there is life on other planets in part because … wait for it … the sacred texts of my faith (written between 1844 and 1921) say there is, making that claim long before any empirical evidence presented itself:

The learned men, that have fixed at several thousand years the life of this earth, have failed, throughout the long period of their observation, to consider either the number or the age of the other planets. Consider, moreover, the manifold divergencies that have resulted from the theories propounded by these men. Know thou that every fixed star hath its own planets, and every planet its own creatures, whose number no man can compute. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 163.

In the debate, the atheist’s team took a sectarian doctrine as a proxy for all religious belief, then flipped the argument that life on other worlds would undo religion (an argument that’s still being made) to propose that the fabric of all faith would be undone if life is not found elsewhere. All bases are covered.

I’ve watched scientific consensus about life on other worlds develop in real time. When I was in college, scientists argued that the chances of finding a planet like Earth anywhere else in the universe were slim and none. Given the genesis of our understanding of celestial dynamics in just the last 30 years, I find this claim of an inhospitable universe odd. Now we continually discover planets in the “sweet spot” for life, and find the elements for life even in such inhospitable places as Mars and our moon. Given that, what sort of universe would Krauss consider “fine-tuned for life”?

The contention that “most of the universe is rather inhospitable to life” also assumes the speaker has knowledge of most or all of the universe. He doesn’t. No one does. It also assumes that we would recognize all forms of life if we saw them. A colleague once asked how someone would register a sunset if the only sense they possessed was hearing. If our way of measuring the energy of something is limited by our own senses, how can we presume to have measured it accurately?

The Baha’i teachings make this exact scientific point—that our powers of observation condition what we observe:

As to thy question whether the physical world is subject to any limitations, know thou that the comprehension of this matter dependeth upon the observer himself. In one sense, it is limited; in another, it is exalted beyond all limitations. – Ibid., p. 162.

Krauss makes the same point about the observer later in the debate, yet here proposes that our knowledge is complete enough to reliably assert something about “most of the universe.” That one of his opponents is a physicist of equal credibility does not seem to give him pause. I find that bemusing. When I encounter intelligent people whose conclusions differ from my own, it always gives me pause … and a desire to understand what has caused those differences.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

14 Comments

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  • Martin Chemnitz
    Mar 03, 2017
    Thank you! I could not agree more.
  • Michael Moldenhauer
    Feb 28, 2017
    I have a lot of stuff to say about this piece but unfortunately these comments are too short to contain it. I uploaded a response here:
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByblVJgMQHggT0ZRQzdKRS1YcXc/view?usp=sharing
    and was wondering what you thought of it. In short, I am not sure if your post presents the proper understanding of the scientific picture, but at the same time with a few tweaks to get the proper understanding can be made actually consistent and raises some intriguing points I actually agree with.
    • Michael Moldenhauer
      Mar 04, 2017
      Aand ... another big response:
      https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByblVJgMQHggXzF3ZHpZSmYtVFk/view?usp=sharing
    • Mar 02, 2017
      Let me try the Google docs link again to my response to your extended comments: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3_oF3aI8YizNVBkZWFMVzNMcWs/view?usp=sharing
    • Mar 02, 2017
      I have a response to your notes, but I'm unable to post it here. The server won't let me post the link. If you're on Facebook I could DM it to you.
  • rodney Richards
    Feb 28, 2017
    Maya, beautifully done. Can't wait for those other creatures to contact us, if they already aren't living among us, and the glorious future humanity has in this vast system of stars and planets holding life. We seem however full of ourselves as "the highest form of creation" when we know life itself is a growing (and dying) process that continues eternally. And mankind is only at best, 250,000 years old! That's why I am a big sci-fy and hard science fan both, as neither is contradictory to what the future holds. That future could very be the day after tomorrow, ...next year, or ten from now, but either we will explore other planets as in Star Trek, or they will introduce themselves to us, and I hope not in an Independence Day movie way.
    Read more...
  • Hooshang S. Afshar
    Feb 27, 2017
    If we start from the Solar System the fine tuning is quite clear. It is not even 30 years that we discovered the difference between northern and southern hemisphere's climatic seasons is fine tuned by the 25 degrees angle of Earth's axis toward the Sun.
  • Melanie Black
    Feb 27, 2017
    The Baha'i Physicist, Farjam Majd, gives a very convincing argument for the existence of the soul in his paper for the 'Irfan Colloquia, titled: "On Existence and Qualities of the Human Soul". He uses logic to refute the "one size fits all" claims of secular humanism which many atheistic scientists prescribe to. Mr Majd points out that human beings have always and will always yearn for the transcendent. His paper can be found in "Lights of 'Irfan, Book Sixteen" available through the Baha'i Distribution Service.
  • Feb 27, 2017
    So, we are fine-tuned to recognize conditions that would enable life-forms like our own - if, even on our own "little" planet, we have life in boiling geysers and the bottom of the ocean, why even suppose that life needs conditions like ours to exist elsewhere?
    They look for signs of water on Mars, for example, when they should be looking for the chemicals required to make photocopies - because "life as we know it" would be impossible without photocopies!
  • Mark David Vinzens
    Feb 27, 2017
    Good arguments. I think that the affirmation and strong emphasis on exotheology are pretty much the best cards the Bahá'í can play in the discussion, because this issue will become increasingly important. It is time for us to understand our human life in a larger cosmic framework. And it is time to bring the discussion to the next level: how can we create a peaceful, just world civilization? Anyone can contribute. All views are allowed. “No one is smart enough to be wrong 100% of the time” (Ken Wilber) - everybody is right. Or more accurately, everybody has some ...important pieces of truth.
    Read more...
    • Mar 01, 2017
      That is a discussion that happens within the Baha'i community continually because it is the theme central to all of the writings of Baha'u'llah, Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi. The communications Baha'is receive from the Universal House of Justice enlarge on that theme, as well. It is, in essence, the discussion at the heart of the Faith. It is, in fact, at the core of what it means to be a Baha'i and is why many people join the Faith in the first place.
  • Jan 01, 1970
    I have a lot of stuff to say about this piece but unfortunately these comments are too short to contain it. I uploaded a response here:
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByblVJgMQHggT0ZRQzdKRS1YcXc/view?usp=sharing
    and was wondering what you thought of it. In short, I am not sure if your post presents the proper understanding of the scientific picture, but at the same time with a few tweaks to get the proper understanding can be made actually consistent and raises some intriguing points I actually agree with.