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A veritable miracle: fine tuning without a fine tuner

By Rowan Forster - posted Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Last week's edition (18/12) of ABC TV's science program Catalyst was titled "Custom Universe - Designed for Us?" Presenter and narrator Dr.Graham Phillips began with this observation: "If some of the laws that govern our cosmos were only slightly different, intelligent life simply couldn't exist. It appears the universe has been fine-tuned so that intelligent beings like you and me can be here. To write off the fine-tunings as mere coincidences seems far-fetched."

But atheists need not have feared that Dr.Phillips was heading down a path towards intelligent design. After noting that "some take fine tuning as evidence that God created the universe", he added: "You can imagine physicists' horror at the thought!" From that point on, he gathered a collection of almost uniformly non-theistic theories and opinions from mostly American academics and scientists in fields such as cosmology, astronomy, astrophysics and philosophy. Their contributions included the following, and each was delivered with a perfectly straight face:

"Anything that's possible will happen, right?" (Assoc.Prof.Charlie Lineweaver). "It's true; aliens could have created our universe." (Dr.Sean Carroll.) "There is a real possibility that we are living inside some elaborate computer simulation that some futuristic kid has set up in his garage". (Prof.Brian Greene). "What does it matter if the origin of our universe was the big bang or a kid in his garage? We still have life as we know it, I've got my wife and kids, it's fun! I'm just going to live it as if it were real!" (Prof.Greene again. Good to see the detached, rigorous, selfless, clinically objective, single-minded, scientific quest for truth is alive and well.)


Other enlightening contributions included: "One explanation of the fine tuning is that's just how it is. Period. End of story. Accept it." "Fine tuning could be nothing more than a coincidence." "The reason the sun and moon are the same size in the sky just happens to be a fluke."

Cosmologist and prominent atheist Lawrence Krauss said in one breath, "It's certainly fine-tuned so we can exist", and in the next, "There is no evidence of design or purpose to our universe." This apparent contradiction between acceptance of fine tuning and denial of design was not explained. There was no answer to the question, how is fine tuning not indicative of design? -- apart from fluke, that's just how it is, and what does it matter?

The one contributor who came the closest to making comprehensible, definitive sense was eminent physicist, cosmologist and astrobiologist Prof.Paul Davies. Speaking of the finely tuned fluctuations evident in the formation of the universe, he said: "They're absolutely crucial. If those variations weren't there, we wouldn't be here discussing it. So there seems to be a sort of Goldilocks zone of density contrast that makes things come out just right." Elsewhere Prof.Davies has written: "The laws of physics seem to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design. There is powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all. It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature's numbers to make the Universe. The impression of design is overwhelming."

In his book Ideals and Opinions -- The World as I See It, Albert Einstein expressed similar sentiments: "The harmony of natural law ... reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection."

So, can there be "exceedingly ingenious design" without an exceedingly ingenious designer? Can there be so many instances of minutely precise fine tuning without a fine tuner? In the case of any other observed phenomenon, such questions would be taken as rhetorical. For instance, would we have the four presidential faces on Mount Rushmore without the designers and the 400 sculptors? Would we have St.Paul's Cathedral without Christopher Wren, or the Sydney Opera House without Jorn Utzon? Would we have the Sistine Chapel ceiling without Michelangelo? Or the Messiah without Handel, Beethoven's fifth without Beethoven, Hamlet without Shakespeare, or the Sermon on the Mount without Jesus? Or as William Paley asked, if we found a watch in a field, would we not assume a watchmaker?

Given the carefully calculated precision, unerring predictability and breathtakingly vast and intricate design of the universe, from sub-atomic particles to far-flung galaxies, it may seem puzzling why most of the scientists who appeared on Catalyst appeared to believe it makes more sense to believe that all of this resulted from a school kid's computer, or aliens, or some random, blind, unplanned, undirected, accidental cosmic fluke. Surely the odds against this would be truly astronomical.


Postscript: One text lists 32 finely tuned parameters in the universe without which life as we know it could not exist. They include factors such as the centrifugal force of planetary movements, the speed of light, gravitational force, electromagnetic force, the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, the Earth's distance from the sun, the Earth's gravitational interaction with the moon, the placement of Jupiter to protect the Earth, the thickness of the Earth's crust, the earth's axial tilt, the speed of the earth's rotation, the amount of seismic activity, the ocean to continents ratio, and many more.

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About the Author

Rowan Forster is a Melbourne journalist.

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