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Necessary Existence of God

By Prayson Daniel

Judeo-Christians understand God as a being that is perfect in knowledge (Ps. 147:5), power (Job 42:2), presence (Ps. 139), acts (Ps. 18:30) and has none greater (Heb. 6:13) nor equal (Ps. 40:6).

Following Anselm’scredimus te esse aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit“¹, God is understood to be a Being that exhibits maximal perfection. God is, borrowing Alvin Plantinga’s words, a being “having an unsurpassable degree of greatness—that is, having a degree of greatness such that it’s not possible that there exist a being having more.” (Plantinga 2002: 102 emp. removed)

Necessary Existence of God

God is thus understood to be a being having maximal excellence with respect to power (omnipotence), knowledge (omniscience), presence (omnipresence), and is morally perfect (this is why, for example, God cannot lie or be unrighteous).

From S5 modal logic the existence of such a being(God) is either impossible or necessary. The concept of contingent existence of God is a contradictory idea since (i) necessarily, “a being is maximally great only if it has maximal excellence in every world” and (ii) necessarily, “a being has maximal excellence in every world only if it has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection in every world.” (2002: 111)

Thus either the existence of God is impossible or necessary. The existence of God is not impossible. Therefore it is necessary. Therefore God, as understood by Judeo-Christians, exists.

Is this a persuasive case for existence of such a Being? I think it is not persuasive. Nevertheless it does show that Judeo-Christians’ understanding of God is rationally acceptable. Theists do have warrant in believing in a being with unsurpassed degree of greatness (God).

_____________________

¹ Anselmus Cantuariensis Prologion: Trans. [W]e believe that You[God] are a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.

Plantinga, Alvin (2002) God, Freedom & Evil. First published by Harper and Row., 1974. Reprinted 2002.

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Rapid Response: “Did Jesus Think Jesus Was God?”

In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. What would you say if someone said, “I’ve read some of the Bible and I can’t find a place where Jesus actually said, ‘I am God’. I’m not even sure Jesus thought he was God.” Here is a conversational example of how I recently responded to this statement:

Did Jesus Think Jesus Was God

“You know, this is one of the claims I used to make with the Christians I knew because I wasn’t a careful reader of scripture. It wasn’t really until I started to use my expertise in forensic statement analysis (where we look at every little word a suspect says, his use of pronouns, how he introduces things and how he describes people), that I started to see things I used to miss. But you don’t have to be an expert in Statement Analysis to read between the lines of Scripture. In fact, anyone can do this by carefully reading the Bible.

Let me give you an example: When I first looked at the gospels and the Old Testament, I noticed the stark contrast between Old Testament prophets (I don’t care if it’s Ezekiel, or Isaiah, or if it’s a minor prophet like Amos), all these prophets in the Old Testament, when announcing a truth claim from God, would say, “Thus the Lord Almighty says” or “The Lord God says” or, they would always announce that this information is coming from the Lord Almighty.

But Jesus never ever did that. There’s not a single time you’ll find him in the gospels saying, “The Lord Almighty says.” Instead he’ll say something, at least in the King James, “Verily, verily, I say to you” or in the NASB, “I tell you the truth.” Jesus never says, “God says this.” Instead, Jesus says, “I am telling you this.” Think about that for a minute. The people who heard Jesus in the 1st Century were accustomed to the prophets in every generation announcing a proclamation from God as “Thus the Lord God Almighty says to you.” When they heard Jesus proclaim, “I say this to you,” they understood what he meant. Jesus’ words gave him away. Even if you didn’t have a direct claim from Jesus where he said, “Hey, by the way guys, I’m God,” he used statements that included personal pronoun use indicating that he considered Himself to be God. He never felt compelled to say, “God’s telling you this.” Instead, he said, “I’m telling you this.” Jesus understood himself to be the God of the universe, the Being who created everything.”

This brief answer was modified from my interview with Bobby Conway. To learn more and watch many other short answers to difficult questions, please visit the One-Minute Apologist website.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case ChristianityCold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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Rapid Response: Who Created God?

In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. What would you say if someone asked, “If you think God created everything, who created God?” Here is a conversational example of how I recently answered this question:

Who Created God

“Well, when you work criminal investigations, you’re always looking for the ultimate cause of any crime. So, in the end that, that person who is the cause of this crime is the suspect you’re trying to identify. So I understand the impulse people have when they ask this question.

But I want to offer this: even as an atheist (I wasn’t a theist until I was 35), all of us are looking for the first ‘un-caused cause’. So if I’m an atheist today who believes in a primordial, quantum vacuum from which our universe came into existence, I would be offering the vacuum as the eternal ‘un-caused cause’. All of us believe in an eternal ‘un-caused cause.’ Theists aren’t the only people who ae arguing for this. The only question is: is the uncaused, first cause of the universe personal or impersonal?

As a Christian, I obviously believe the cause of the universe is personal: God. And as a Christian, I hold a very particular definition of God. He is the un-caused creator of the universe. So, to ask a silly question like, “Who caused the un-caused creator of the Universe” is a bit silly. He is uncaused by definition. And once, again, all of us have the same dilemma. Whether you’re an atheists or a theist, you are looking for the first, un-caused cause of the universe. I would simply argue that, given the nature of our universe (the appearance of design in the universe and in biology, the existence of humans who have minds and free-agency, and the existence of transcendent, objective moral obligations), the best and most reasonable inference for this cause is God.

So, I do think, in the end, the choice is clear. Is the first uncaused, cause of the universe personal or impersonal? If it’s a personal cause, then we’re stuck with a Being very similar to what we see described in the scripture as God. A transcendent, non-spatial, immaterial, a-temporal, intelligent Being who is responsible for the fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the appearance of design, the existence of mind and free-agency and the source of all transcendent, moral obligations. That’s why I believe Christianity is true, and that why I reject the idea that the un-caused, first cause of the universe is something other than a personal God.”

This brief answer was modified from my interview with Bobby Conway. To learn more and watch many other short answers to difficult questions, please visit the One-Minute Apologist website.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity,Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.


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Tetragrammaton And Jehovah’s Witnesses

By Prayson Daniel

Unwarrantedly Watchtower Society’s Translation Committee added “Jehovah” in 237 places in New Testament. By doing so, New World Translation (NWT), Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Bible, blurs many passages that depicts Christ Jesus as Lord (Kyrios) of Old Testament.

Tetragrammaton And Jehovah's Witnesses

In Journal of Biblical Literature, Kurt Aland showed that the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, does not appear in any of the 5,255 known New Testament Greek manuscripts (Aland 1968: 184). The Tetragrammaton is also absent in the writing of the early Christians. For example, Clement’s epistle to the Corinthians written ca. 100 A.D quoted Joshua 2 cf. Heb. 11:31(“I[Rahab] know assuredly that the Lord(“κύριος”) your God hath given you this city […](1 Clement 12), Ezekiel 33:11 “For as I live, said the Lord (Ky′ri·os), I do not desire the death of the sinner so much as his repentance”.(1 Clement 8). NWT’s unwarrantedly added “Jehovah” in front of “Lord”.

In the same period, the author of the epistle of Barnabas quoted Exodus 24:18, 31:18, 32:7; Deut. 9:12. and Isa. 42:,6-7, 61:1- 2 in just chapter fourteen and in all times he used “κύριος”(Lord) . While years later Irenaeus quoted Matthew 1:20; 4:10, Romans 11:34, and Acts 2: 25 in Against Heresies using “Lord” and not “Jehovah”, contrary to Watchtower Society’s Translation Committee. Both Philo and Josephus, like New Testament writers and early Christians, probably used the complete Septuagint (LXX ) which had “κύριος”(Lord). Some of older fragments of LXX do contain the tetragrammaton while others simply had blank spaces in place of the tetragrammation (e.g. Papyrus Rylands 458 )

Even though Watch Tower Society do know as entailed by their own question , viz., “[w]hy, then, is the name absent from the extant manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures or so-called “New Testament”?”(Watchtower 1971: 887) that the tetragammaton does not appear in any known Greek manuscripts, they, without warrant, press forward and reject the use of Kyrios (Lord) in 5000+ Greek manuscripts dating from 2rd century and early Christians’ writings as corrupted. Watch Tower Society found their support, that New Testament must have had tetragammation, in 25 Hebrew J Versions of the Bible and 2 non-version (J1 to J27), the translations of New Testaments into Hebrew , which came to scene earliest late 14th century onwards

New World Translation translators should be commend for restoring the tetragrammation in Hebrews Scriptures(Old Testament) but I think from their own reasoning which is in a form of a question and answer, namely:

How is a modern translator to know or determine when to render the Greek words κύριος and θεός into the divine name in his version? By determining where the inspired Christian writers have quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures. Then he must refer back to the original to locate whether the divine name appears there.(Watchtower 1969: 18-19)

With the use of Lord and not YHWH (tetragrammaton) in all known copies of copies of originals (since historians have no surviving original or copies of originals) of New Testaments Greek manuscripts, contrary to Watch Tower’s Society, adding of thetetragrammaton in New Testament would not be restoration of God’s name but distorting and blurring the author’s meaning.

Blurring of 1 Corinthians 10:9: Who Is Put To The Test?

One of the passage which I believe Watchtower Society’s Translation Committee blurs with this maneuver is 1 Corinthians 10:9: “Neither let us put Jehovah to the test, as some of them put [him] to the test, only to perish by the serpents.”(NWT). With this move Jehovah’s Witnesses are led to believe that it is Jehovah the Father that the Israelites put to test and not Christ Jesus who is the rock to which Israelites drank a spiritual drink (v4).

Faithfully Watchtower Society’s translators added a footnote in their translation of this verse. They explained that “Jehovah” appears in Hebrews J Versions of the Bible 18, 22and 23, while Codex Sinaiticus(א), and Vatican ms 1209(B) both of 4th century and Codex Ephraemi rescriptus(C) of 5th century have ton Ky′ri·on (Lord), Papyrus 46 of 3rd century and Bezae Codices(D) of 5th and 6th century have “the Christ” and last Codex Alexandrinus(A), of 5th century has “God.”

“On closer examination,” The NET Bible Bible First Edition Notes explained, “the variants appear to be intentional changed.”

Alexandrian scribes replaced the highly specific term “Christ” with the less specific terms “Lord” and “God” because in the context it seems to be anachronistic to speak of the exodus generation putting Christ to the test. If the original had been “Lord,” it seems unlikely that a scribe would have willingly created a difficulty by substituting the more specific “Christ.”(Biblical Studies Press 2006)

They argued that scribes were likely “to assimilate the word “Christ” to “Lord” in conformity with Deut 6:16 or other passages”.

The evidence from the early church regarding the reading of this verse is rather compelling in favor of “Christ.” Marcion, a second-century, anti-Jewish heretic, would naturally have opposed any reference to Christ in historical involvement with Israel, because he thought of the Creator God of the OT as inherently evil. In spite of this strong prejudice, though, {Marcion} read a text with “Christ.” Other early church writers attest to the presence of the word “Christ,” including {Clement of Alexandria} and Origen.(ibid)

If The NET Bible First Edition Notes is correct, which I believe it is, then Watch Tower Bible translators blurred 1 Cor. 10:9 that depicts Christ Jesus as the Yahweh of the Old Testament by selectively embracing a late 14th century J version of the Bible when convenient. Watch Tower Society ignored places in J versions, for example J14’s reading of 1 Corinthians 12:3, “[…] no one can say “Jesus is Lord Jehovah, except by the Holy Spirit.” and J7 and J8’s reading of Hebrew 1:10; J13 , J14 and J20’s reading of 1 Peter 2:3 which all applied the tetragrammaton to Jesus.

Question To Jehovah’s Witnesses: If the name “Jehovah” was changed to “Lord” in all 5000+ Greek manuscripts ranging from 2nd century, why don’t we have even a single early manuscripts with “Jehovah” nor do the first Christians make use of it?

Note: >> Scroll all the way down to get a Free Resource << To know more about NT Greek Manuscripts, here is a table with a name of a manuscript, its branch, category, content and location arranged by date.

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Bibliography:

Aland, Kurt (1968). Greek New Testament: its present and future editions. Journal of Biblical Literature 87.2: 179-186.

Biblical Studies Press. (2006). The NET Bible First Edition Notes (1 Co 10:9). Biblical Studies Press.

Watchtower Society (1969) Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scripture. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.

____________________ (1971) Aid To Bible Understanding. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.

_____________________ (1984) New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures – With References. Rendered from the Original Languages by the New World Bible Translation Committee. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.

______________________ (1989) Reasoning From the Scripture. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Brooklyn, New York.

Are Miracles Metaphysically Impossible?

By Tim Stratton

Are Miracles Metaphysically Impossible?“It’s impossible for God to interact in the physical world. For example, say we have a material object and God wants to move it. Newton made it clear: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, since God is an immaterial being He could never cause anything to happen or occur in the material/physical universe. Therefore, miracles are impossible!”

Mr. Skeptic


I spend much of my time arguing against naturalism; specifically against the idea that only the physical universe exists. This is accomplished by utilizing logical arguments reaching deductive conclusions that demonstrate the existence of both God and the human soul. Many times the best discoveries in modern science support premises in these deductive arguments reaching supernatural conclusions.

One of the most common objections I receive on the internet is known as the interaction objection. I previously wrote an article regarding this specific kind of objection in regards to the human soul [1]. The objection above is quite similar, but specifically against the idea of God not only being able to create the universe, but especially to act in it (miracles).

One of my lecturing professors at Biola University was the eminent philosopher, JP Moreland. I chose to attend Biola University basically for two reasons: William Lane Craig and JP Moreland. Not long ago my wife and I had the privilege of having dinner with JP Moreland. I learned more that night than from any class lecture. We discussed many things that evening and this topic of God interacting in the world was included. Based on that conversation, I believe that the objection above fails for at least three reasons.

Empirical Observations & Metaphysical Principles

First of all, Newton’s 3rd law is not a metaphysical principle; rather, it is an empirical one. The problem here is that one cannot logically derive metaphysical principles from mere empirical observations. Moreland said, “Any freshman philosophy student should know that you cannot derive deep modal or metaphysical conclusions from empirical laws.”

Empirical laws or observations merely tell us what is true in this world — nothing more. You might grant that empirical laws tell us what is true in all relevantly similar worlds that are physical worlds, but they do not tell you what must be true in this world. That is to say, you cannot derive deep modal conclusions (what is possible or impossible in any world) from empirical laws because empirical laws are too thin of a basis to support this kind of overreaching generalization.

Knowledge & Conceivability

The second problem with this objection is that modal judgments are known a priori (from the earlier) as opposed to a posteriori (from the latter). We know about necessity and possibility a priori. We know about physics from experience via the scientific method. This is a posterioriknowledge. Newton’s 3rd law might be physically necessary, but this is not metaphysically necessary. There is simply no evidence for that because those kinds of statements are known a priori.

The best epistemic test for a priori knowledge is conceivability. Moreland said that one “might not like this, but it’s about all we’ve got!” If something is conceivable, then it is possible; if something is inconceivable, then it is impossible. This is a defeasible criterion of knowledge. This is not with Cartesian certainty by any means, but nevertheless, it is defeasible.

Moreland offered a great example:

The reason I think it is metaphysically possible for little green men to exist on the surface of Mars is not because I’ve been there to check it out, but because I can conceive of little green men on the surface of Mars. With that said, however, I cannot conceive of married bachelors in Montana. Therefore, I don’t even need to make the trip to check it out because I know this is impossible.

The Problem of Proving Too Much

Finally, the third problem with this objection is that if this objection is right, then it proves too much as it also rules out human libertarian free will. If an immaterial substance cannot interact in the material world, then the same problem God supposedly has is also a major problem for human beings. That is to say, if God cannot act on matter, then neither can a human soul.

Every time a human makes a free choice (which include both moral or rational decisions) we are performing (for lack of a better term) “mini miracles.” Because humans are immaterial souls with material bodies, we have the ability to intervene in and override the laws of nature. This ability gives us a respons-ABILITY to not behave as mere animals.

Libertarianism (libertarian free will) is the opposite of compatibilism (compatibilism is a form of determinism). Libertarianism states that when one acts freely, then nothing else causally determined that thought or action. It was “up to you” completely. This is not to say that we have libertarian freedom in all things, or that we cannot be influenced by other things, but influence and causal determinism are two different kinds of things. When humans freely think, then we can make rational choices and decisions. When humans act freely, we generate motion in the universe from the available energy to use, or not to use.

Consider when I choose to raise my arm, nothing causally determined my arm to rise but me; not the prior states of my brain. If my arm is caused to move by the state of the brain, then there is a causal link between the brain state and what determined my brain to exist in the specific state (which is not up to me if naturalism is true). This can go on and on back to the initial conditions of the big bang (which is another example of a physical thing being caused by a non-physical or immaterial substance).

Moreland said,

Behind each chain of events, if there is libertarian freedom, is a first mover — me! I might choose to exercise my power and that might cause a nervous system event to go down and raise my arm — I don’t have any problem with that — but at the back of that sucker is me interacting with matter!

This means that the objector proves too much! If this objection is right, then libertarian free will is impossible, and if there is no libertarian free will, then rationality is not just false, but impossible. That is to say, if there is no free will, then there is no freethinking! However, isn’t the objector claiming to make a rational objection? If so, then his argument is self-defeating!

Bottom line: We have scientific, philosophical, and historical justification to believe in miracles. Moreover, the interaction objection fails as a defeater for this justified belief for the three reasons listed above. Therefore, given the three reasons to believe in miracles and the three reasons to reject the objection to miracles, it is perfectly rational to state, “I believe in miracles!”

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5),

Tim Stratton (Visit Tim’s Website @ FreeThinkingMinistries.com)


NOTES

[1] In a previous article I demonstrated that it is impossible to doubt the existence of your mind, but there is some scientific reason to doubt the existence of your brain. It follows that if one really thinks that it is impossible for an immaterial mind (God or the human soul) to interact with the physical universe, then they ought to become a theistic idealist and reject matter before rejecting mind. One way or the other, naturalism/physicalism is false. Mind is fundamental and ultimate reality.


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Is God’s Jealousy a Negative Attribute?

By Brian Chilton.

The Bible attributes several attributes to God. Many of the more popular attributes are God’s love, holiness, and grace. Any serious theologian will know the four core “omni” attributes: omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (all-presence), and omnibenevolence (all-loving). While these attributes are all positive, many critics pinpoint another attribute of God as being greatly problematic: God’s jealousy.

Critics charge that jealousy is a bad trait to hold. Famed atheist Richard Dawkins claims that God breaks “into a monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god.”[1]Paul Copan notes that “Oprah Winfrey said that she was turned off to the Christian faith when she heard a preacher affirm that God is jealous.”[2] Jealousy is condemned for the human being. One of the Ten Commandments states that a person should not “covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).[3] Thus, jealousy seems to be a negative trait. But wait! Doesn’t the Bible claim that God is jealous? It does.

The Bible states at least 13 times that God is jealous for His people. For instance, Moses notes that “the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Later in Deuteronomy, God says, “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21).

What do we make of this? Jealousy seems to be a negative trait. The Bible presents God as jealous. Therefore, it would seem that God holds negative traits. One is left with three options: 1) One could claim that God holds negative attributes meaning that He is not completely perfect; 2) One could claim that the Bible is erred in its presentation of God; 3) One could claim that our understanding of God’s jealousy could be misunderstood.

The first option demerits the Bible’s presentation of God as valid. If God exists, then God must be a maximally great Being. If the God of the Bible is not a maximally great Being, then the God of the Bible is not really the God of the universe at all.

The second option devalues the Bible, the Word of God. The New Testament writers extracted their understanding of God from the Old Testament. Therefore, if the Old Testament is erred in its presentation of God, then that would carry over into the New Testament. This causes a serious problem for the believer. If we cannot accept the presentation of God in the Bible, then can we accept the God of the Bible?

The third option is best. Our understanding of God’s jealousy must be defined. There must be some misunderstanding that we hold as it pertains to the idea of divine jealousy. In fact, the third option is the only real valid option on the table. When one honestly evaluates God’s jealousy, the person comes to the understanding that God’s jealousy is actually rooted in love. Thus, God’s jealousy becomes a positive trait for three reasons.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive as it relates to God’s passion.

God has a passion for His people. Let’s go back to the passage in Deuteronomy. We all know that Scripture is often taken out of context. Placing Deuteronomy 4:24 in context, one will find that Moses was addressing the issue of the peoples’ covenant with God. God had already blessed the people immensely. God brought them out of slavery. God was about to bring them to a special place prepared for them. God was going to build a great nation out of them. However, the people kept cheating on God. God poured out His love to the nation. He was eventually going to bring the Chosen Messiah, the Savior of the world, in their midst. But they kept cheating on God. Moses says in Deuteronomy 4:23, “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you.”

The marriage analogy is often used to describe God’s jealous passion for His people. Paul Copan rightly notes that “A wife who doesn’t get jealous and angry when another woman is flirting with her husband isn’t really all that committed to the marriage relationship. A marriage without the potential for jealousy when an intruder threatens isn’t much of a marriage.”[4] God had a passion for His people. While Dawkins may think that God’s jealousy is a negative attribute due to the peoples’ “flirting with other gods,” it should be remembered that idolatry is adultery against God.[5] Thus, God’s jealousy is rooted in His love.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to God’s purpose.

God’s jealousy is also rooted in His purpose. Wayne Grudem defines God’s jealousy by “God continually seeks to protect his own honor.”[6] Critics may charge, “See! God only concerns Himself with His own glory and elevated role. This means that God is not humble.” But not so fast. Let’s put this in perspective.

Human jealousy is wrong because one covets something that he/she holds no claim in holding. It is wrong for me to covet my neighbor’s car because I hold no claim to the car. In like manner, human pride is bad because it elevates a person’s position higher than what the person possesses. I can think all day that I am the President of the United States. I can walk around like a peacock telling everyone about my successful presidency. The reality is, however, that I am not the President and will most likely never be. But what if someone who holds the office claims to be President? Right now, the President of the United States of America is Barack Obama. Regardless of your thoughts of him and his presidency, let’s ask: is it wrong for Obama to claim to be President? Is it wrong for him to demand respect for his position? Is it wrong for him to do presidential things? No. Why? It is because he is the President. Is it, therefore, wrong for God to call Himself God and to expect to be treated like God? No. Why? It is because He is God. Paul Copan rightly notes, “Is God proud? No, he has a realistic view of himself, not a false or exaggerated one. God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being, which makes him worthy of worship.”[7]

Simply put: it is not wrong for God to be jealous over His purpose and glory. Such purpose and glory belongs to God and God alone.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to the human protection.

I am a big brother. My sister is about 7-years-younger than I. Big brothers normally have a protective instinct. I most certainly do. My sister is a loving, free-spirited woman who always sees the good. I, in contrast, see the world the way it really is. My son is much like my sister. I find that my protective juices flow overtime being a parent. Without guidance, it would be easy for my son to take the wrong path as the first shiny, attractive thing gets his attention. As a parent, it is my job to help keep him on the right track. I have a jealous love for my son because I want what’s best for him.

God’s jealousy works in much the same way. God’s jealous love is actually for the benefit, not the detriment, of human protection. God is omniscient. That means that God knows all things. God is also omnisapient, meaning that God possesses all wisdom. Going back to Copan, he notes, “God seeks to protect his creatures from profound self-harm. We can deeply damage ourselves by running after gods made in our own image. God’s jealousy is other-centered.”[8] I agree wholeheartedly with Copan’s assessment. God’s jealousy is actually for the greater human good.

Conclusion

God’s jealousy is not the same as human jealousy. The difference primarily lies in authority. It is wrong for people to be jealous over something that someone else holds because they hold no true claim to such thing. God, in contrast, having the greatest, supreme authority and power is completely justified in being jealous over His people. His jealousy is actually rooted in His love, purpose, and even human protection. Thus, God’s jealousy is not a negative attribute. It is actually a gloriously positive one.

© August 22, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 243.

[2] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 34.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from theEnglish Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 35.

[5] See the book of Hosea for a full treatment of this analogy.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 205.

[7] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 28.

[8] Ibid., 40.


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7 Questions from “Who is God”

By Brian Chilton

This past Sunday, the third episode of Morgan Freeman’s show The Story of God as aired on the National Geographic Channel. The third episode dealt with how God is understood to be in various cultures and religions. Again, I am profoundly surprised at how well this show has been made. The show has not attacked any particular worldview, as I feared that it would. Rather, the show has taken a fairly neutral position while evaluating some major topics. This episode was no different. The third episode dealt with the issue “Who is God?” This article will seek to answer 7 questions that were raised during the show from a Christian perspective.

 

  1. Is there one God or several gods?

By sheer necessity, there is only one ultimate uncaused cause. If there were several gods or goddesses, one would have to ask “How did such a number of gods arise?” It seems to me that one would be forced to accept a first uncaused cause. While it is possible to accept a multiplicity of gods and goddesses, it makes better sense to accept that only one God exists. Why? Well, I think Thomas Aquinas answers this well. Aquinas states,

 “When the existence of a cause is demonstrated from an effect, this effect takes the place of the definition of the cause in proof of the cause’s existence. This is especially the case in regard to God, because, in order to prove the existence of anything, it is necessary to accept as a middle term the meaning of the word, and not its essence, for the question of its essence follows on the question of its existence. Now the names given to God are derived from His effects; consequently, in demonstrating the existence of God from His effects, we make take for the middle term the meaning of the word ‘God.’”[1]

From sheer necessity, only one God must exist. Thus, God could manifest himself in several ways, but in the end there is but only one God.

 

  1. How does one connect to God?

If by connecting, one means relating to God, then one can connect with God in various ways. Morgan Freeman is right when he notes that it is sometimes difficult to relate to a transcendent God. However, God has given us means to relate to him. One way people connect with God is through prayer. Prayer is a means by which we can communicate with God and a way that God communicates with us.[2] Another way a person connects to God is through the written Word of God. The Scriptures are God’s revelation to all humanity. A third way a person can connect with God is through the intellect. A person can connect with God by learning more about God. Fourth, a person can connect with God through nature. As the psalmist notes, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).[3] Lastly, a person can ultimately connect with God through a relationship with Christ. When one receives Christ, the Bible tells us that the believer is filled with the Holy Spirit of God (John 14:15ff).

 

  1. Has God revealed himself to several people throughout the world?

There is but only one ultimate truth. However, this is not to say that God has not been trying to reveal himself to various peoples throughout the world. Solomon writes that God “has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). So, I am not saying that all religions are the same. Such is not logically possible. However, I feel it is quite possible that God has been trying to reveal himself throughout all of history. Ultimately, the full revelation came through Jesus of Nazareth, the “only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16).

 

  1. How do we know what’s divine?

Only God is truly divine in the purest sense. However, human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1-2). Thus, human beings bear the mark of divinity (although we are not divine). But in fact, all things bear the mark of God in reality because “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). So, only one person is truly divine (God), yet all things bear the imprint of the divine as God created all things.

 

  1. Can we imagine God?

In a way, yes. In a way, no. I think Norman Geisler puts it best. Geisler notes that “Although God can be apprehended, He cannot be comprehended.[4] Paul writes, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:9). Thus, we cannot say that we know everything about God. If we could, we would be God.

 

  1. Does God indwell us?

We all bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26). However, God indwells each person who receives Christ as Savior. This person is known as the Holy Spirit.

 

  1. Can we experience God?

Yes! Absolutely we can! We experience the blessings of God every day. However, the only way to fully experience God is through a relationship with Christ Jesus. See also the answer to the second question.[5]

 

Much more could be said about God. In reality, the third episode of Freeman’s documentary as well as this article has focused more upon how humanity knows God. Such a knowledge of God is called revelation. God has revealed himself both through natural revelation (available to all) and special revelation (delivered to those of faith). If a person has not experienced God, it is highly advised that the person seek God and ask God to reveal himself.

 For more articles like 7 Questions from “Who is God” visit Brian’s website at BellatorChristi.com

© April 18, 2016. Brian Chilton.


 

[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.2.2., in Thomas Aquinas, Summa of the Summa, Peter Kreeft, ed., Fathers of the Dominican Province, trans (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 59.

[2] Some individuals have argued that God does not communicate with a person through prayer. With all due respect, I have found such arguments greatly lacking. God has spoken to a vast array of individuals in the Bible through the means of prayer (e.g. Habakkuk, Job, Elijah, Isaiah, and so on). To claim that God cannot speak to a person in prayer discredits the power and personal nature of God. However, I agree that one should always “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) to ensure that one is truly hearing from God.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 529.

[5] Also, check out the discipleship program Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, and Claude V. King.

Stuff Atheists Say: Believing in God Is Like Believing in Santa

By Timothy Fox

Welcome to the second installment in my series, Stuff Atheists Say! (Read part 1 here.) This series is dedicated to bad arguments and statements that some atheists (the internet troll type) make to derail a conversation and avoid having to put forth any arguments or evidence of their own. My intention is not to smear every nonbeliever as there are many thoughtful and honest questions that skeptics ask which need to be answered. In fact, there are many atheists who are just as tired as these nonsensical statements as I am! That’s why I want to clear up some of these pointless slogans once and for all. So on to the second one:

Stuff Atheists Say: Believing in God Is Like Believing in Santa

Bad “argument” #2: Believing in God is no different than believing in Santa Claus.
Or maybe you’ve heard it stated: “I don’t need to disprove God any more than I need to disprove the existence of leprechauns.” Or fairies. Or any other type of mythical creature. The point of this statement is to equate God with any other imaginary being that is ridiculous to seriously believe in.

The Santa Delusion

So is believing in God really the same as having an imaginary friend? An invisible sky daddy? Maybe, if believing in a fat man in a red suit who delivers presents in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer to every child in the world is the same thing as believing in a God who created the universe from nothing, brought life from non-life, and grounds objective moral values and duties. If so, then yes, they’re exactly the same.

But if believing in God is so ridiculous, you know what’s even more ridiculous? Giving lectures against his existence. Having debates about it. Trolling blogs and internet chatrooms. Writing popular-level books promoting unbelief. Meanwhile, I don’t see anyone penning The Santa Delusion or The Tooth Fairy Is Not Great.

And I guess that the overwhelming majority of humans throughout all of time are as deluded as little children. Because every culture across history has had some kind of religion or believed in a deity of a sort.  We discuss God’s existence in the classroom, at the dinner table, and over a coffee (or beer). From philosophers to scientists, with believers, skeptics, and everyone in-between. Silly humans.

No, Seriously

But let’s take this argument seriously. Is belief in God really no different than belief in Santa? First, how justified are we in believing in Santa Claus? What would it take for someone to actually think that he exists? Evidence. And here the atheist says “Correct! There’s no evidence for either of them! That’s why it’s ridiculous to believe in God or Santa!” But is the evidence for Santa Claus and God really the same? Well, if Santa does exist, we would know what to look for: a fat man in a red suit delivering presents Christmas Eve. But what about God? If God exists, do you know what you would look for? Before stating that there is no evidence for something, make sure you know what kind of evidence there should be if that thing does exist!

For it to be reasonable to believe that Santa Claus exists, he would have to be the best explanation for the existence of Christmas presents. But is there another, better explanation? Perhaps someone else put the presents under the tree, like parents. Maybe the gifts just popped into existence from nothing. Or maybe they’ve been there for all eternity! You can probably see where this is going. How did the universe get here? Did it just pop into existence uncaused, has it always been here, or is it reasonable to believe that something, or someone, caused it to begin to exist? God is the best explanation for all of reality. And even if you disagree, it’s still a legitimate option, is it not?

But maybe Santa exists and he’s just hiding. That’s why he has never been observed, just like God! Again, what are the reasons to believe that Santa exists? Are there any? Because there are very good reasons to believe that God exists, such as the cosmological argument, moral argument, fine-tuning argument, etc. Can you honestly say the same about Santa? Of course not.

Furthermore, what are the consequences if Santa doesn’t exist? Then kids must get their Christmas presents another way, because we know from experience that presents exist (unless you were on the naughty list, I guess). But if there’s no God? Then the universe came into existence uncaused from nothing for no reason. Life came from non-life and consciousness from non-consciousness. There are no objective morals and values. Exactly the same? No. Not a chance.

Conclusion

I hope we can all see how ridiculous it is to equate God with some imaginary or mythical being. It’s not as trivial as who delivers Christmas presents or trades cash for teeth; we’re talking about the First Cause who created and upholds the entire universe. There are good reasons and arguments for God’s existence. So to those who say that belief in God is no different than belief in Santa Claus, please stop. You’re the ones making ridiculous claims, not us.

For another good and thorough treatment of this issue, check out the Reasonable Faith article Is God Imaginary?

 

For More Articles like Stuff Atheists Say: Believing in God Is Like Believing in Santa visit Tim’s site at FreeThinkingMinistries.com

An OUGHT From An IS

By Tim Stratton

Does objective truth apply to morality? This question has major ramifications depending on how you answer it, because it ultimately asks, “DOES GOD EXIST?” We can see this demonstrated through the use of logic in a deductive syllogism known as “The Moral Argument.”[1] Here it is:

1- If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

2- Objective moral values and duties exist.

3- Therefore, God exists.

To avoid this theistic conclusion, those committed to their atheistic presuppositions desperately seek to find a way to refute at least one of these premises. Many wind up stating that objective moral values and duties do not exist. By making this move, however, they affirm that there is nothing reallywrong with Hitler’s Holocaust, the molestation of young boys in the Penn State locker room by Jerry Sandusky, or the murderous actions of ISIS. Since rejecting premise (2) tacitly affirms the atrocities of these evil men, they feel the pressure to either find another way to ground objective morality, or become theists. Some atheists, such as Sam Harris, have attempted to find a logical way to ground objective morality in the “science of human flourishing,”[2] stating: “Whatever advances the flourishing of humanity is objectively good and whatever hinders human flourishing is objectively bad.”

Harris has failed on several accounts. For instance, even if (and that’s a very big “IF”) moral values could be grounded via this “science of human flourishing,” it would be powerless to explain why the flourishing of humans is objectively good. After all, in the movie, “The Matrix,” Agent Smith referred to the flourishing of humanity as a “virus,” and a “cancer of the planet.”[3] Is Agent Smith objectively wrong, or do we simply have differing subjective opinions? It would be circular reasoning to argue that the flourishing of humanity is objectively good because one assumes it is objectively good when humanity flourishes.

I’ve also heard it said that human flourishing is objectively bad for the earth and all other forms of life. A fellow human actually argued, “If all insects on earth disappeared, within fifty years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within fifty years all (other) forms of life would flourish.”[4] So perhaps it is objectively bad for humans to flourish, at least from the perspective of “all other forms of life.” The question then becomes, why is it good for humanity to flourish, even if human flourishing hinders other forms of life?

Atheism cannot answer why the flourishing of humanity is objectively good. All the atheist can do is simply presuppose and assume it is. On the other hand, if God exists and created humanity on purpose and for the specific purpose to know, love, and enjoy a relationship with God for eternity, then it is objectively true (independent from human opinion) that it is objectively good (and right) for humanity to flourish.

Moreover, atheism is impotent to explain why we are obligated to fulfill or align our lives with any of these moral values that lead to human flourishing. If one were not to carry out any of these moral codes leading to human flourishing, and instead devoted their lives to kidnapping, rape, murder, etc., the worst they could be accused of is merely acting unfashionably, nothing more![5] The last time I checked, no one has made a case that it is objectively wrong to be considered “uncool,” or a “nerd” by the subjective opinion of the majority. Although it seems implausible that objective moral values can exist apart from God, it is logically impossible to ground objective moral duties if atheism is true.

On top of all of this, to make matters worse, this atheistic philosophy is ultimately self-refuting! Harris, as a naturalist (the view that only nature exists), holds to “scientific determinism,” which means he believes our thoughts and actions are causally determined by natural forces like physics, chemistry, and the initial conditions of the big bang. All of these things are outside of human control. Harris makes his view clear:

Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have. Free will is actually more than an illusion (or less), in that it cannot be made conceptually coherent. Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.[6]

Therefore, humans could never freely choose any action, including actions with supposed moral properties. Given these objections to the idea of a scientific foundation for an epistemology of objective morality, we must come to the conclusion that science cannot derive an ought from an is, and therefore, cannot tell us anything about how we must conduct our lives in any ethical or moral sense. If naturalistic atheism is true, we have no logical grounds of objective moral values, no logical grounds of objective duty to align our lives with any set of subjective code of ethics, and no ability to do otherwise since all would be determined by outside causal forces. Since ought implies can, and there is no ability to do otherwise in a cause and effect/determined universe (on atheistic naturalism), it follows that it is completely nonsensical for the naturalist to talk about how we ought to think, act, or behave.

Bottom line: If moral values and duties are objective, God must exist!

Stay reasonable my friends (Phil 4:5 ESV),

Tim Stratton

Visit Tim’s Website: Free Thinking Ministries

Click here to see the source site of this article


 

Notes:
[1] The Moral Argument: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/moral

[2] Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig debate: https://youtu.be/yqaHXKLRKzg

[3] The Matrix, https://youtu.be/L5foZIKuEWQ

[4] This quote was attributed to Jonas Salk; however, I cannot find the source. Be that as it may, some people actually believe it is better for insects to flourish than it is for humans to flourish.

[5] William Lane Craig, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/navigating-sam-harris-the-moral-landscape

[6] Sam Harris, Free Will, (Free Press, New York, 2012), Page 5

Don’t judge me. Why Not? Because Jesus said so!

By Timothy Fox

When you study to be an educator, you have to spend a certain number of hours as a student teacher, under the guidance of a veteran teacher. I remember my cooperating teacher telling me one of my strengths was that I took criticism well and was very open to it. I was shocked to hear this! I wanted to tell him he was crazy and that I hate criticism! But I was also well aware that he was the master, and I was the apprentice and that it was his responsibility to help me to be the best teacher I could be. So I needed his criticism. (And I received a lot of it!) Whenever he gave me feedback, positive or negative, it wasn’t intended to stroke my ego or hurt my feelings. It was so I can learn and improve, to keep doing the good and to change the bad.

The same goes for many other things, such as sports. Athletes have coaches that train and guide. But what about normal, everyday life? That’s when we want people to leave us alone. Don’t tell me how to live. Don’t judge me.

That’s the defense mechanism of our generation: “Don’t judge me!” But did you ever ask “Why not?” You may get the response: “Jesus says so” (from a defensive Christian, anyway). And they’re probably referring to Matthew 7:1, which begins: “Do not judge.” But that’s only the first three words of a complete thought:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (‭Matthew‬ ‭7‬:‭1-6‬ NIV)

Jesus’ point is not not to judge (note the double negative). It’s “Don’t be a hypocrite!” Verse 5 commands us to clean up our own junk, then to help clean up your friends’. He’s stating the obvious, that when you criticize people, they will turn around and criticize you back. So make sure your closet is clean first! And how do you know who the “dogs” and “pigs” are (v. 6)? Wouldn’t you have to judge them?

And then there is John 7:24: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Here Jesus is differentiating between proper and improper judgment. But he still commands to judge!

The reason for many of Paul’s letters is to correct some kind of nonsense going on in a church. In 1 Corinthians 5, he writes angrily that the church is not judging sin in their midst (and it’s quite the sin – go read it!). In verse 12, he rhetorically asks “Are you not to judge those inside [the church]?” And in the following verse, he plainly states to remove the “wicked person” from their midst. Here Paul is criticizing the church for not judging when they should have, even to the extent of excommunicating an unrepentant church member.

Maybe we just don’t like the word “judge.” It sounds so, well, judgmental. But there are plenty of similar words used throughout the Bible: discern, correct, rebuke, admonish, reprove, etc. Here are some examples:

  • Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid (Proverbs 12:1).
  • Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts (Colossians 3:16).
  • Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2).

It’s clear that one of the reasons why we have a community of believers is so we can help each other grow spiritually. Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4:11-16 that God has provided leaders whose responsibility is “building up the body of Christ” so we can achieve “mature manhood,” no longer thinking and acting like children (or worse – teenagers!). Our ultimate goal is to become like Christ. And this can only happen through instruction and correction by those wiser than we are.

More often than not, the ones who cry “Don’t judge me!” the loudest are the ones who need it the most, whether it’s due to insecurity, pride, or flat-out rebellion. But let us not forget that Jesus was full of truth and grace. We desperately need both in our dealings with our brothers and sisters in Christ, when we give correction as well as when we receive it. It’s never pleasant to hear some hard (but loving) truth, but remember the first half of Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Do we like it? Of course not. But we need it. And more than that, the Bible commands it.

 

Click here to see the source site of this article.

 

Make sure to check out this video about it.

8 Ways that Anti-Intellectualism is Harming the Church

By Brian Chilton 

When asked to identify the greatest commandment in all of the Law, Jesus answered the inquiry by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command” (Matthew 22:37-38).[1] It seems that one aspect of this commandment has eluded the modern church. Yes, the church notes the great need to love the Lord with the heart, that is the will and emotions. The modern American church also focuses on the love that one must hold for God with one’s soul, that is, one’s conscious being (life). However, the third aspect of the great commandment seems to have escaped the modern American church. The Christian is also commanded to love the Lord with his or her mind. Extreme fideism (believing that the Christian life is only about faith without reason) has led the church into a state known as anti-intellectualism. Anti-intellectualism is defined as the state of “opposing or [being] hostile to intellectuals or to an intellectual view or approach” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In this case, the intellectual approach is the intellectual approach to the Christian faith. Anti-intellectualism not only hinders one from keeping the great commandment, but such an attitude is also damaging to the church. This article will present eight ways that anti-intellectualism harms the church.

1. Anti-intellectualism harms the church theologically.

By theologically, I simply indicate how the church views God. Dr. Daniel Mitchell, one of my theology professors from Liberty University, once said, “The more you study God, the bigger God becomes.” His statement proved true. So often, anti-intellectuals limit their scope of God. Because anti-intellectuals fail to examine, research, and contemplate, they miss out on the vast nature of God. While the Christian may understand the basic fundamentals of God’s omniscience and omnipotence, one who allows oneself to contemplate and study these attributes of God will be left in great awe of the greatness of God Almighty. We love God with our minds when we study God. “Search for the LORD and for His strength; seek His face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11).

 2. Anti-intellectualism harms the church doctrinally.

By doctrinally, I simply indicate how the church views God’s interactions with humanity. How does the church view salvation? How does the church view humanity? The modern church has allowed pop culture to dictate these issues according to social fads and the like. The anti-intellectual will relish in having loads of moving music, will jump with excitement with the latest form of entertainment, but will be left with no basis for examining whether such songs and activities fit within the parameters of orthodoxy. So often, modern Christians leave their churches feeling great excitement, yet are left without any solid foundation for knowing what the church stands for and why it stands for certain things. Issues of salvation have become universalized, issues of eternity have been compromised, and issues concerning humanity have been radicalized because many modern Christians fail to love the Lord with their minds.

 3. Anti-intellectualism harms the church apologetically.

Those who know my testimony knows that I left the ministry for seven years and nearly became an agnostic. Why? My faith was shaken by the Jesus Seminar. When I asked Christian leaders why it was that I could trust the Bible, they responded by saying such things as, “Because it’s the Bible;” “the Bible says we should believe the Bible;” and “you shouldn’t ask such things!” It wasn’t until I came across the works of Christian apologists like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and many others that I began to realize that there were good reasons for why I should believe the Bible. Many of those evidences came from outside of the Bible (e.g. archaeology, manuscript evidence, and et. cetera). Had I been given this information earlier, I would not have left the ministry. Anti-intellectualism is killing the church today because we are left with no defense from the attacks arising from secularists and the like. We must remember that we are instructed to “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). To do otherwise is to neglect the love that we have for God with the mind.

4. Anti-intellectualism harms the church emotionally.

The fourth statement may sound counter-intuitive. Often when a case is made for intellectual Christianity, emotionalism is invalidated. However, emotions are important for human beings. Yet, emotions can lead us astray. Anti-intellectualism, such as is found in movements like the prosperity gospel and the like often lead to far more emotional damage than intellectual Christianity. A proper understanding of theodicy, suffering, and the problem of evil will help the believer in times of great distress. Proponents of anti-intellectualism are far less equipped to deal with times of tragedy than those who have a solid understanding of such topics. In fact, I have personally witnessed pastors who advocated anti-intellectualism fall into times of far greater distress and doubt when they are met with times of suffering and stress. Their doubt and stress is at a far greater degree than those who are grounded with an intellectual faith. An intellectual faith grounds the emotions and demonstrates how a person can love God with the mind.

5. Anti-intellectualism harms the church philosophically.

Philosophy and theology are intertwined to some degree. Theology is a branch of philosophy. Philosophy, simply put, is “a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology” (Merriam-Webster), or the “pursuit of wisdom” (Merriam-Webster). How do we see the world? How do we see society? What is the meaning of life? These are questions that everyone must answer. Different people come to differing conclusions. In a culture where every opinion is held to equal value, it is important that the believer understands such concepts as truth, logic, and value. Otherwise, the believer will be led by everything thrown their direction or, in contrast, oppose everything that may have some value. Some oppose philosophy because of Paul’s statement to the Colossians saying, “Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition” (Colossians 2:8). A closer examination of Paul’s statement will reveal that Paul is not dismissing philosophy, but rather Paul is dismissing bad philosophy. In addition, Paul’s statement on philosophy is a philosophical statement. Thus, it would seem that quite the opposite is being promoted by Paul. One should not avoid philosophy. One should avoid bad philosophy. How does one know bad philosophy? They know bad philosophy because they know good philosophy. Possessing good philosophy is another way that the church loves God with the mind.

6. Anti-intellectualism harms the church socially.

It seems that many are led more by politics rather than their religious convictions. The opposite should surely be the case. When one allows political parties and nationalistic fervor to dictate their beliefs, one may well be found favorable among the populace while being very unpopular with God. Anti-intellectual Christians will find themselves more easily swayed by the great influence of politics. The intellectual Christian, one grounded in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, will understand the great value of all lives despite race, nationality, or gender. Intellectual faith remembers and realizes the truthfulness of Paul’s statement in that “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). When intellectual faith realizes and actualizes Paul’s statement, then one will truly love God with the mind…and will be moved to love their neighbors as themselves.

7. Anti-intellectualism harms the church evangelistically.

While in prison Paul wrote that “what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel…I am appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12, 16). How would Paul have been able to know how to defend the gospel if he did not know why one should believe the gospel? Many anti-intellectuals hold a limited if not unbiblical view of faith. Anti-intellectuals often consider faith to be the acceptance for which no evidence exists. Or, some may view faith as simply an emotional crutch. Faith is not demonstrated in such a way in the Bible. For instance, consider Jesus’ use of miracles. Jesus did not ask for blind faith. Jesus would back up his claims with a demonstration of power. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5) and then provided the light of physical sight to the man at the pool of Siloam. At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus told Mary and Martha (the sisters of Lazarus) as well as everyone else “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live” (John 11:25). Bold words to say at a man’s tomb, don’t you think? Yet, Jesus demonstrated that he was the resurrection and the life by raising Lazarus back to life. Jesus backed up his claims. It behooves the modern Christian to know the evidences for the faith. This will provide great strength to one’s evangelistic efforts. Know what you believe, know why you believe what you do, and know the One in whom you are believing, so that you can tell others about the One you serve. Doing such demonstrates a love for God with the mind.

8. Anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually.

Finally, anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually. How one might ask? Anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually in many ways. I will list only two for the purpose of this article. 1) It harms one’s view of salvation. Some have added to or taken away from the gospel message because of an unexamined view of salvation from the Bible. False professions have been made without understanding the submission required for salvation, that is to say one’s submission to Christ as the Lord of one’s life. 2) It harms one’s spiritual walk. Sometimes anti-intellectuals will allow things into their lives which should not be present. When confronted, the person will say, “I have faith and that is all that matters.” Such a view stems from a bad interpretation of faith. If a person had studied their Bibles, researched passages, and held a true love of learning about God, then one would be willing to submit themselves to God fully and completely. Perhaps some of the problems of integrity in the modern church stems from the laziness which is so boldly exhibited in the anti-intellectual movement. Such can be protected at least to some degree by loving God with the mind.

Conclusion

Socrates is noted as saying that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates is right. However, one could stretch the philosopher’s statement in saying that “an unexamined faith is not worth having.” Biblical faith is enmeshed with reason. We should know why we believe in God and why we believe in Christ. If one simply accepts Christ because their family or friends did, is their faith truly legitimate? The Christian should not be afraid of loving God with the mind. One need not leave their brain at the door of faith. In fact, reason and faith are complementary because we serve a real God who provides a real trust. Anti-intellectualism is harmful for the church. It is a trend that must be reversed. Charles Bugg puts it best in saying,

“There is no excuse for preaching that requires people to leave their head outside the church. In the Great Commandment, Jesus taught His disciples to love God with all of their mind, heart, and soul. Some preachers make their living by attacking education or by riding the horse of anti-intellectualism. The result is a kind of demagoguery that creates unwarranted suspicion toward education. Ministers need to use the minds God has given them and to love God with all of that mind. Likewise, they need to call their listeners to love God with all of their minds” (Bugg 1992, 125-126).

Sources Cited:

Bugg, Charles B. Preaching from the Inside Out. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.

Mish, Frederick C. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

 Click here to see the source site of this article

© August 24, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quoted in this article comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

Logic Is Bedrock

By Tim Stratton

All philosophical conversation, scientific hypotheses, mathematics, and conclusions based on the historical method entail the reality of logical laws. It would be impossible to engage in any of these disciplines if there were not logical absolutes providing parameters to help us reach conclusions that follow from given premises. Here are three fundamental Laws of Logic that are always required in rational interaction:

The Law of Identity:
 Something is what it is. ‘A’ is ‘A’. Things that exist have specific properties that identify them

The Law of Non-Contradiction: ‘A’ cannot be both ‘A’ and ‘Non-A’ at the same time, in the same way, and in the same sense

The Law of Excluded Middle:
 A statement is either true or false. There is no middle position. For example, the claim that “A statement is either true or false” is either true or false.

You may have never heard of the laws of logic before; however, you use them every day whether you realize it or not. These laws are just as necessary to keep us grounded in rationality as the law of gravity is necessary to keep us grounded on the earth. Logical laws apply to everyone no matter when or where one lives. That is to say, the laws of logic transcend humanity and are objectively true.

Logical laws are not material substances. We do not discover them by digging them up or viewing them under a microscope. We cannot employ the scientific method to discover the laws of logic; rather, a scientist must assume the laws of logic before engaging in the scientific method. These laws are the bedrock of reason and rationality.

Christian theism makes this point stronger. John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Logos.” The Greek word “logos” is used synonymously with Jesus in the text. What is interesting is that logos in Greek means “the principle of reason.”[1] This is where we get the term “logic.” The Bible is clear that Jesus is God and suggests that he is the ground of logic itself. This makes perfect sense as to why the immaterial laws of logic impose themselves on the material world. God created the material world according to the logical laws he had in mind or that are grounded in his essence and nature. This explains why these abstract laws of logic impose themselves upon the material world.

Just as computers function correctly when programmed to work according to the laws of logic, humans behave correctly (in an objective sense) when approximating to “The Logos.” When humans freely choose to think and behave logically, we simultaneously think and behave in a godly manner. Isaiah seems to agree: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord…” (Isaiah 1:18). The Apostle Paul makes this point even stronger in the New Testament: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone…” (Philippians 4:5 ESV).

Stay reasonable my friends,

Tim Stratton

Click here to visit the source site of this article.


 

NOTES

[1] The ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version, 2008, Crossway Bibles, Good News Publishers (Commentary on John 1:1)

 

Are you Skeptical of the Bible Because it Reports Miracles?

In a previous blog I defended the rationality of believing in the possibility of miracles if God exists –miracles are no less ridiculous than implications of some science-related theories that are more speculative than the God hypothesis.

In this brief blog, I consider the claim that the Bible shouldn’t be believed because it reports miracles. Since miracles are viewed as being impossible this undermines the credibility of the Bible – we’re told it’s just an ancient book written to superstitious people. But consider how some skeptics demand that God performs miracles to make Himself known. For example, I was in public debate last year in which my opponent said she would only believe in God if He revealed Himself in a miraculous way. But if skeptics would only believe in God if they witnessed miracles then it would be illogical for them to dismiss the Bible because it reports miracles. There is a tension between these viewpoints.

This appeal for God to work miracles to reveal His existence to a given person is inconsistent with the purpose for miracles within the Bible. Miracles are not generally intended as a way for God to make His existence known but rather are used to validate new revelation. It is striking that miracle claims are quite clustered in distinct time periods within Biblical history that correspond to those times where there was significant new revelation. (e.g. Moses, the prophets such as Elijah, Jesus and the apostles). The miracles were intended to provide evidence to the people of that time that these messengers were sent from God – most miracles were not intended to provide evidence to the modern reader.

A notable exception is the resurrection of Jesus. In Matthew 16:4, Jesus says “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” We’re actually rebuked for asking for sign miralces – but one will be given. Elsewhere Jesus reveals that Jonah was a type (symbol or foreshadowing) of how He would be raised from the dead 3 days later. A strong case can be made that Jesus’ resurrection is the best explanation for a number of historically accepted events.

If you’re a skeptic I understand how you wouldn’t see most miraculous accounts in the Bible as evidential for today but I don’t understand why you would reject the Bible out of hand simply because it reports miracles. I’d encourage you to check out the evidence for the resurrection and evidence from Biblical prophecies – which I think were intended to provide evidence to future readers.

Are Creationists Stupid?

It is quite common in Internet circles to attack the intelligence and even sometimes the integrity of anyone believing in creation. An unfortunate strategy among some leading atheists is to group all opposition to solely naturalistic origins theories into one category, perhaps the one they think can most easily be refuted – young earth creationism. They like to ignore that God can also use processes and that many scholars (both now and in the early church) don’t think that the Bible teaches the age of the universe. Clearly some creationist claims are mistaken[1] but is it ridiculous to hold to any belief in creation at all?

In evaluating this question, first consider how creation is defined according to the Oxford dictionary: “The action or process of bringing something into existence.[2]”

By this definition, everyone should agree that the following were created:

  • Our universe
  • Life
  • All species
  • Consciousness

Even atheists agree that none of these are eternally existent. Atheism entails though that there has been no intervention by a supernatural Creator in the origin of these entities and that is the notion of creation to which they object.

Let’s consider the most foundational type of creation that atheists must deny – the creation of the universe. The second definition in the Oxford dictionary actually highlights this particular aspect by defining creation as “the bringing into existence of the universe, especially when regarded as an act of God.” However, it is a well-established scientific fact that our universe has a finite age and most scientists agree that its early history is characterized by an expansion out of an incredibly dense and tiny state in what is now known as the Big Bang. So our universe was created! But does that necessarily mean there was a Creator?

Nobel prize winners who have contributed to the confirmation of the Big Bang have noted how it appears quite similar to a creation event:

“The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five Books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.“ Arno Penzias

“There is no doubt that a parallel exists between the Big Bang as an event and the Christian notion of creation from nothing.[3]” George Smoot

Edwin Hubble’s successor, long-time atheist Allan Sandage, became a Christian late in life and notes that “it was my science that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science… It is only through the supernatural that I can understand the mystery of existence.[4]” Sandage also notes that “Astronomical observations have also suggested that this creation event, signaled by the expansion of the Universe, has happened only once. The expansion will continue forever, the Universe will not collapse upon itself, and therefore this type of creation will not happen again.[5]”

Quantum physicist Christopher Isham notes that “perhaps the best argument … that the Big Bang supports theism is the obvious unease with which it is greeted by some atheist physicists. At times this has led to scientific ideas, such as continuous creation [steady state] or an oscillating Universe, being advanced with a tenacity which so exceeds their intrinsic worth that one can only suspect the operation of psychological forces lying very much deeper than the usual academic desire of a theorist to support his/her theory.[6]“

So maybe it’s not so ignorant to see the Big Bang as a creation event and as evidence (not proof) for a supernatural Creator. But could there have been a natural cause to the Big Bang? I’ve blogged previously about how the overall universe had to have a beginning. I’ve quoted Alexander Vilenkin, a prominent cosmologist: “With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.” In this same blog I also discussed and referenced the New Scientist article entitled: Why physicists can’t avoid a creation event?

There are some loud voices trying to silence these frank admissions – most notably by atheist Lawrence Krauss. Even Krauss speaks about creation but just claims it is out of nothing, which when pressed he admits by nothing he means the quantum vacuum. I posted several short video clips from an interview I conducted with OU physicist Mike Strauss asking for his response to Krauss’s claim that our universe could have originated from nothing. Strauss is also skeptical that the universe can be created from the quantum vacuum. I also asked him whether Vilenkin’s BGV theorem even left open the possibility that the quantum vacuum has eternally existed and again he was skeptical.

Strauss is but one many of Krauss’s critics. Consider this scathing NY Times critique by physicist/philosopher David Albert of Colombia: “And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.[7]”

As Frank Turek likes to ask – “Which is more reasonable that nothing created the universe or that Someone created the universe?”

There is also the matter of “dummies” like Leibniz (who was one of the inventors of calculus) arguing philosophically for the need for God even if the universe was eternal as I’ve blogged about recently. None of this argumentation relies on anything that is even remotely called into question by modern science so one cannot just dismiss this argument by assuming that Leibniz just lacked knowledge of future scientific discoveries. My blog also cites recent developments by Rob Koons and Alex Pruss and others that further these types of arguments by offering compelling support for the key premise of Leibniz’s argument.

Thus, creation shouldn’t be considered a dirty word used only by those who are intellectually inferior. We have logical reasons to believe that the universe needs a Creator; we find scientific evidence that looks remarkably like a creation event, and attempts to attribute the creation of this universe to solely naturalistic causes are scientifically implausible. We’ve also discovered that a remarkable orderliness in the original Big Bang state was necessary for the existence of any form of life. Thus, we have many independent lines of evidences that combine to form a strong cumulative case for creation, and even for a Creator!

__________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Since there are many different, conflicting views of creation they cannot all be correct. The same could be said for various scientific theories as well.

[2]http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/creation

[3] George Smoot, Wrinkles in Time (1993)

[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/newsweek/science_of_god/scienceofgod.htm

[5] http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth15.html

[6] Isham, C. 1988. “Creation of the Universe as a Quantum Process,” in Physics, Philosophy, and Theology, A Common Quest for Understanding, eds. R. J. Russell, W. R. Stoeger, and G. V. Coyne, Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, p. 378.

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/a-universe-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html?mabReward=relbias:w&adxnnl=1&module=Search&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1418576495-uhuZjnkGzY+luBnAcl0rPQ

Coarse-Tuning vs. Fine-Tuning

nebulosa_borboleta1I attended an interesting debate last Saturday night between Justin Schieber and Blake Giunta. Blake used the fine-tuning evidence as one argument for God’s existence and Justin countered by pointing to the Coarse-Tuning argument.

What is the Coarse-Tuning Argument?

Assuming that the various finely-tuned constants can take on any value up to infinity, then any finite life-permitting range (even a large one) would become an infinitesimal subset. Thus, even coarsely-tuned parameters could be considered improbable. This is often seen then as a reductio ad absurdum against fine-tuning – for then we should be equally surprised no matter how wide the range of life-permitting values is for a given constant (so long as it was finite).

Blake followed Robin Collins in arguing that coarse-tuning could still represent an improbable situation if indeed we knew that the possible values for the various constants could go to infinity. However, I don’t think many physicists would be persuaded of anything improbable if the universe only required coarse-tuning rather than fine-tuning to support life. In fact this was the expectation prior to the pioneering work of Hoyle, Barrow, Tipler, Carter, and others. No one that I’m aware of argued that physical constants being life-permitting pointed to design until the life-permitting range of constants was discovered to be exceedingly narrow.

Why coarse-tuning would not be accepted as improbable?

Most physicists did not accept a Coarse-Tuning Argument not because it might not be improbable if the possible range was infinite, but rather due to skepticism that the possible range of constants could be infinite. If David Hilbert was right, actual infinities are nowhere to be found in reality and it would be impossible for the constants to be infinite. See my previous blog for a discussion of some of the issues associated with actually infinite quantities. Even if Hilbert is incorrect, one could still argue that one can estimate probabilities by taking limits and that Hilbert’s Hotel shows simply the counter-intuitive nature of dealing with infinities. Even if the actually infinite is possible, physicists generally reject candidate theories that entail the actually infinite – at least if the equations cannot be renormalized to avoid the infinities.

Is the range of possible values for the constants infinite?

The key assumption in the Coarse-Tuning Argument is that the possible range of constants could be infinite. However as Luke Barnes has pointed out the concept of mass becomes incoherent if fundamental particles could exceed the Planck mass. Particles over a certain mass would form a black hole and therefore be impossible to create. Does it really seem physically possible that an electron could have a mass of a billion tons? Might it be prohibitively difficult to create particles with such a huge mass due to the energy or energy density requirements in making it? Would such a massive particle be stable? We could treat the case that the electron’s mass was greater than some huge value as corresponding to there being too few electrons after some small amount of time in which the universe expanded and cooled. This special case would obviously be life-prohibiting as electrons are necessary for chemistry, stellar fusion, and other processes critical for life.

What about force strengths?

Another class of parameters that have to be finely-tuned is force strengths. Most physicists think that at least 3 out of the 4 fundamental forces are unified at certain energy levels – and probably all 4. Thus, there is an underlying relationship between the forces that would constrain their relative strengths. Ratios of the force strengths would not be infinite. If a constant governing a force strength had a value of 0, that special case could also be evaluated with respect to its ability to support life. All 4 fundamental forces are thought to be necessary for life although there are ways to have life without the weak force – but only by compensating with additional fine-tuning in other aspects.

Robin Collins argues that once force strengths become too large we lose our ability to predict whether or not such a scenario would be life-permitting – there could be new physics at such large energy scales. This is not a problem for the fine-tuning argument as defined by leading advocates though because the argument only addresses the parameter ranges for which we can reliably evaluate suitability for life – we consider only the epistemically-illumined region. Here is how John Leslie explains it in his Universes book (which I highly recommend):

If a tiny group of flies is surrounded by a largish fly-free wall area then whether a bullet hits a fly in the group will be very sensitive to the direction in which the firer’s rifle points, even if other very different areas of the wall are thick with flies. So it is sufficient to consider a local area of possible universes, e.g., those produced by slight changes in gravity’s strength, . . . . It certainly needn’t be claimed that Life and Intelligence could exist only if certain force strengths, particle masses, etc. fell within certain narrow ranges . . . . All that need be claimed is that a lifeless universe would have resulted from fairly minor changes in the forces etc. with which we are familiar. (pages 138-9)

In other words, it still looks like the rifle was aimed if it hits a tiny group of flies surrounded by a vast wall without any flies – even though there might be other flies on parts of the wall we cannot see. A design inference can be justified even though we lack complete knowledge about the life-permitting status of all of the possible parameter space. We’re only evaluating the local, finite region for which a determination can be made.

A finite number of physically possible constants?

If one takes the fine-tuning argument based on physically possible parameter space rather than metaphysically possible parameter space, then it’s expected that the range of values for constants is finite. I’ve previously linked to this important article by John Barrow outlining different ways in which physics itself can drive constants to different values. For example, spontaneous symmetry breaking in the early universe affected various parameters related to electromagnetism and the weak force. The Weinberg angle could have taken on other values that would have resulted in alternate derived parameters. However, nothing in those equations allow any of the parameters to go to infinity.

Barrow also notes that unifying gravity and quantum mechanics is only possible if “the true constants of nature are defined in higher dimensions and the three-dimensional shadows we observe are no longer fundamental and do not need to be constant.” Because of quantization, the number of ways of compactifying these extra spatial dimensions would be finite. We can treat the case that quantization is not in effect as a special case that would not plausibly support life. Without quantization, atoms are not stable and would not have consistent properties permitting information to be stored. Even String Theory entails a finite number of possible sets of fundamental constants. Many theorists think it’s quite large, perhaps 10500, but all we need is for it to be finite to avoid the infinities required by the coarse-tuning argument. Refer to my previous blog for other reasons to expect a finite range for constants of nature.

Initial conditions

Cosmologist Luke Barnes also points to the fine-tuning associated with the initial conditions of our universe as an example immune from the problems of infinities. Unless one thinks that probabilistic statements cannot be made despite the reputation of statistical mechanics as a well-established physics discipline, one is able to conclude that our universe started out in an incredibly special, highly-ordered state. The number of life-permitting states is extraordinarily tiny compared to possibilities as Roger Penrose has computed – see my blog for details. Since the number of particles was finite and the volume of space in the early universe was quite small, there is no problem of infinities that prohibits a rough probability estimate.

Summary

More work should be done in assessing the possibilities of infinities and the potential impact on the fine-tuning argument. However, I see no reason that Coarse-Tuning would be a reductio ad absurdum against fine-tuning because if we knew for sure that the constants had an infinite range the finiteness of the life-permitting range should suffice for demonstrating that life-permitting universes are a tiny subset among possibilities. However, physicists are rightly skeptical that these constants could be infinite. I’ve listed several reasons for thinking that the constants couldn’t have an infinite range – which is why physicists were not astounded until they discovered that life-permitting ranges are tiny among possibilities that can be evaluated. We can compute that the universe would be lifeless if gravity were 40 orders of magnitude stronger even though we might have some slight uncertainty about what happens if it were 4000 orders of magnitude stronger and do not know a precise upper bound of what is physically possible.

Fine-Tuning of the Force Strengths to Permit Life

“As we look out into the Universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.[1]” Physicist Freeman Dyson

In my previous blog, I discussed how numerous changes to the laws of physics would have resulted in a lifeless universe. I admitted that this was relatively modest evidence for my fine-tuning claim:

“In the set of possible physical laws, parameters and initial conditions, the subset that permits rational conscious life is very small.”

I say relatively modest because the evidence I cite in my blog about the fine-tuning of initial conditions is so powerful and the same I argue applies to the evidence I present in this blog. This blog examines how the constants governing the four fundamental forces of physics must be finely-tuned to support life. Refer to my previous blog for the qualitative aspects of these forces and how they have to be just right to permit life. I now focus on the quantitative constraints on the strengths of these forces if intelligent life is to plausibly exist anywhere the universe. First some background – physicists typically refer to coupling constants for those dimensionless constants[2] which represent the strength of each force. The strength of these forces ranges over about 40 orders of magnitude – that is to say that the strongest force is 1040 times stronger than the weakest force. Thus, it would be surprising if the strengths of these forces must lie in narrow ranges to permit life – at least if the values were set at random such as would be the case in a universe without God. Let’s look at how sensitive these parameters are with respect to permitting life:

1)      Strong nuclear force

This force is important for the existence of stable atoms beyond hydrogen. If the strong force were 50% weaker, no elements used by life would exist because protons couldn’t be held together in the nucleus. The strong nuclear force must exceed the strength of the electromagnetic force sufficiently to overcome the electromagnetic repulsion of positively charged protons. While learning chemistry would be much easier if only the first few elements existed in the periodic table, there would be no physical creatures around to learn it! If the strong force were about 50% stronger no hydrogen would be left over from nuclear fusion processes occurring in the early universe. Hydrogen plays a critical life-supporting role not only as a constituent of water but hydrogen-burning stars last 30 times longer than alternatives. This particular constraint may not make intelligent life impossible but life would certainly be much harder to originate if the available time were so limited and if neither water nor hydrocarbons existed.

Also, hydrogen-bonding is very important in biology for many reasons: information storage in DNA, antibody-antigen interaction, and for the secondary structure of proteins. Remember that parameters that seem beneficial for life but are more fine-tuned than is strictly necessary counts against a multiverse explanation of the fine-tuning because multiverse scenarios predict only what is minimally necessary for life.[3] An even tighter constraint is that if the strong force were more than about 2% stronger protons wouldn’t form from quarks – in which case no chemical elements would exist![4] If the strong force were 9% weaker, stars would be unable to synthesize any elements heavier than deuterium (which is heavy hydrogen).

2)      Electromagnetic force

This force is responsible for chemistry and plays a critical role in stellar fusion which powers life. The electromagnetic force needs to be much weaker than the strong nuclear force for atoms to be stable – so that the radius of the electron orbit is much larger than the radius of the nucleus.[5] Unless the electromagnetic coupling constant (which represents its strength) is less than about 0.2, there would be no stable atoms because electrons orbiting the nucleus would have enough kinetic energetic to create electron-positron pairs which would then annihilate each other and produce photons. Additional examples of fine-tuning for this force strength will be described later in this blog.

3)      Weak nuclear force

The weak force controls proton-proton fusion, a reaction 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 times slower than the nuclear reaction based on the strong nuclear force. Without this, “essentially all the matter in the universe would have been burned to helium before the first galaxies” were formed. Because the weak nuclear force is so much weaker than the strong nuclear force, a star can “burn its hydrogen gently for billions of years instead of blowing up like a bomb.[6]” I’ve previously described the negative ramifications for life if there were no hydrogen in the universe.

John Leslie points out several other ways in which the weak nuclear force is finely-tuned. “Had the weak force been appreciably stronger then the Big Bang’s nuclear burning would have proceeded past helium and all the way to iron. Fusion-powered stars would then be impossible.[7]”

Neutrinos interact only via the weak force and are just powerful enough to blast off outer layers of exploding stars but and just weak enough to pass through parts of the star to get there. The weak force also plays a role in fusing electrons and protons into neutrons during the core collapse of stars to keep the collapse proceeding until it becomes an exploding star (supernova). UK Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees estimated that a change in the strength of the weak nuclear force by about 1 part in at least 10,000 relative to the strength of the strong force would have prevented supernova explosions which allow heavier elements to find their way to planets.[8] Without these supernova explosions key heavy elements would be unavailable for life.

4)      Gravitational force

Many physicists think that we’ll eventually discover a Grand Unified Theory, uniting gravity with the other 3 fundamental forces. For this reason Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind remarks that “the properties of gravity, especially its strength, could easily have been different. In fact, it is an unexplained miracle that gravity is as weak as it is.[9]” This probable underlying relationship leads to a natural expectation that gravity could be as strong as the strongest force. The strength of gravity is about 40 orders of magnitude weaker than the strong nuclear force. Based on this expectation that gravity can vary up to strong nuclear force strength, the level of fine-tuning required for life is pretty remarkable:

  • If gravity is weaker by 1 in 1036, stars are unstable to degeneracy pressure (for small stars) or unstable to radiative pressure just expelling huge chunks of the star (for larger stars).
  • If gravity is stronger by 1 in 1040, the universe is dominated by black holes not stars.
  • If gravity is weaker by 1 in 1030, the largest planet that would avoid crushing effects of gravity on any large-brained creatures would have a radius of about 50 meters – which is not a good candidate for an ecosystem and the development/sustenance of intelligent life.

These are huge numbers that may be hard for most readers to visualize.  Thus, consider the following analogy to help understand the improbability of 1 part in 1036. Suppose one could make a sand pile encompassing all of Europe and Asia and up to 5 times the height of the moon.[10] Suppose one grain of sand is painted red and randomly placed somewhere within this pile. A blind-folded person then randomly selects one grain of sand from the pile. The odds that she would select that one red grain of sand are slightly better than the 1 in 1036 odds of a life-permitting strength of the gravitational force based on just one of the above criteria.

Let’s explore a few more fine-tuning cases constraining multiple constants concurrently.

Long-Lived Stars

As I’ve discussed previously, stars play at least two key roles in making the universe life-permitting:

1) As a long-lived power source that helps life overcome the effects of the Second Law of Thermodynamics that would otherwise lead to an eventual state of disarray and equilibrium.

2) For synthesizing elements not created by the Big Bang (which is basically everything past beryllium).

We take the sun for granted as a long-lived stable source of power but note the lack of any comparable long-lived power source on earth as an indication that is not always the case. A star is basically a controlled nuclear explosion held together by gravity – that it can last so long requires a delicate balance of various physical parameters. Consider that the Sun outputs less energy per kilogram of its mass than a person does – without fine-tuning, stars would die out much sooner. Obviously the sun is still able to output enormous quantities of energy because it’s so huge! Another surprising aspect of the sun is that photons generally take at least several thousand years to travel from the sun‘s core to its surface through the ionized plasma.[11] There are significant constraints on the strength of gravity and electromagnetism if there are to be long-lived stars. Luke Barnes summarizes some of the key physics research in this arena:

“There is a window of opportunity for stars – too small and they won’t be able to ignite and sustain nuclear fusion at their cores, being supported against gravity by degeneracy rather than thermal pressure; too large and radiation pressure will dominate over thermal pressure, allowing unstable pulsations.[12]”

Barnes does some calculations based on the possibility that gravity could vary in strength up to the strength of the strong nuclear force and uses a uniform prior distribution of possible values for the gravitational coupling constant and the electromagnetic coupling constant. Using this approach, he computes that “the stable-star-permitting region occupies 1038 of parameter space.” This is even less probable than my previous sand analogy!

Production of Both Carbon and Oxygen in Stars

One of the earliest examples of fine-tuning was discovered by astronomer Fred Hoyle with regard to the fine-tuning required to make both carbon and oxygen in stars. Three distinct coincidences are required to abundantly make both types of elements in stars. These restrictions impose a constraint of about 1 part in 250 on the relative strength of the strong force and the electromagnetic force in both directions. Actually a more recent study by Ekström[13] in 2010 indicated that a change of just 1 part in 10,000 in the electromagnetic coupling constant would have resulted in the inability of stars to synthesize both carbon and oxygen. Despite being an atheist Hoyle conceded:

“Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.[14]”

Other Constraints among Force Strengths

For a more comprehensive examination of fine-tuning constraints, refer to Luke Barnes excellent review article that I’ve previously referenced. This review article is an excellent summary of a hundred or so physics articles, and in many cases references multiple articles per fine-tuning constraint. Barnes lists several additional constraints I haven’t mentioned and provides additional details. Just among constraints involving powers of these coupling constants, Barnes lists a half dozen or more cases. Usually the power involves just a squared term but it’s important to note that there are linear, quadratic and inverse relationships among the coupling constants. For example, the electromagnetic force strength is constrained in one way based on a linear constraint and in another way based on a quadratic constraint and in another way based on the inverse of the force strength relative to some other constant. It is remarkable that there is a life-permitting region that simultaneously satisfied these multifaceted constraints.

Also, since each coupling constant can be expressed in terms of more fundamental parameters such as Planck’s constant and the speed of light there are very tight constraints on those parameters as well – especially because of the constraints across different powers of the coupling constant. Thus, Planck’s constant is constrained in one way and the square of this constant is constrained based on a different life-permitting criterion – and likewise for the speed of light.

Moreover, there is a finely-tuned cosmological parameter, known as Q, which can be expressed in terms of various other parameters including coupling constants. In an equation derived by Max Tegmark and Martin Rees[15], there are the following powers on various coupling constants: -1, 16/7, 4/7. Also, there is a natural log of the electromagnetic coupling constant to the -2 power that is taken to the -16/9 power. Without the various contributions of coupling constants taken to the various powers, the value for this parameter Q would not have been life-permitting. Q represents the magnitude of variations in energy density in the early universe. If Q was larger than 10-5 the universe would have consisted of too many black holes to be life-permitting. If Q were smaller than 10-6 there would be gravitationally bound structures in the universe – no stars, no planets and therefore no life. See Barnes’s article on page 32 for more details on the fine-tuning of Q and its relationship to coupling constants.

Finely-Tuned Output of Stellar Radiation

Brandon Carter first discovered a remarkable relationship among the gravitational and electromagnetic coupling constants. If the 12th power of the electromagnetic strength were not proportional to the gravitational coupling constant then the photons produced by stars would not be of the right energy level to interact with chemistry and thus to support photosynthesis. Note how sensitive a proportion has to be when it involves the 12th power – a doubling of the electromagnetic force strength would have required an increase in the gravitational strength by a factor of 4096 in order to maintain the right proportion. Harnessing light energy through chemical means seems to be possible only in universes where this condition holds. If this is not strictly necessary for life, it might enter into the evidence against the multiverse in that it points to our universe being more finely-tuned than is strictly necessary.

Closing Thoughts

It’s important to note how the values of these constants must lie within narrow ranges to be life-permitting based on multiple, independent criteria! My next blog will provide additional examples of this “coincidence.” This multiplicity makes my fine-tuning claim more robust because even if most of these peer-reviewed articles were wrong about fine-tuning claims, there would still be enough cases left to show that life-permitting physics is rare among possibilities.

Also, the question arises as to the likelihood there would exist any value for a constant that could satisfy multiple finely-tuned life-permitting criteria? Why would the life-permitting regions necessarily overlap at a single value that could then permit life relative to all of the constraints? UT Austin philosopher Robert C. Koons argues that this points to a higher-order fine-tuning and thus to design:

“When the value of a single constant is constrained in more than one way, it would be very likely that these independent constraints put contradictory demands on the value of the constraint. By way of analogy, if I consider several algebraic equations, each with a single unknown, it would be very surprising if a single value satisfied all of the equations. Thus, it is surprising that a single range of values satisfies the various anthropic constraints simultaneously. Leslie argues that this higher-order coincidence suggests that the basic form of the laws of nature has itself been designed to make anthropic fine-tuning possible. In other words, Leslie argues that there is evidence of a higher-order fine-tuning.[16]”

This coincidence grows even more surprising when one goes beyond the sheer multiplicity of constraints and also analyzes how differing powers on the constants appear in equations expressing independent and unrelated life-permitting constraints. Why is it that a given strength of electromagnetism turns out to be just right for long-lived stars, atomic stability, proton stability, electron stability, the synthesis of carbon and oxygen, the energy of photons output by stars, and the magnitude of density fluctuations in the early universe? Even speculative multiverse theories do not explain this type of coincidence.


[1] John Barrow and Frank Tipler. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, p. 318

[2] Actually, these are constants at current densities but in the early universe the 3 non-gravitational forces are thought to have been unified in the sense that at those energy levels all of the forces behaved in the same manner. Once we get beyond the first 1/100th of a nanosecond of the universe though we can speak of these as being constants.

[3] For an explanation of this widely accepted principle, refer to my previous blog: http://crossexamined.org/god-or-multiverse.

[4] Walter Bradley. (He happened to be the head of an engineering department when I was at Texas A&M). http://www.leaderu.com/offices/bradley/docs/universe.html

[5] Luke Barnes. The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life. Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia, p. 42. (http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.4647)

[6] Freeman Dyson, Scientific American 225 (1971), p. 56.

[7] John Leslie. The Prerequisites of Life in Our Universe. http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth12.html

[8] Martin Rees, Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. London A 310 (1983), p. 317.

[9] Leonard Susskind, Cosmic Landscape, p. 9.

[10] I know that this is physically unrealistic but this hypothetical analogy aids in visualizing the magnitude of the fine-tuning.

[11] NASA web site. http://image.gsfc.nasa.gov/poetry/ask/a11354.html

[12] Barnes, p. 30.

[13] Ekström S., et al., Astronomy and Astrophysics, p. 514.

[14] Fred Hoyle. Engineering and Science, 11/81, p8-12.

[15] Max Tegmark and Martin Rees The Astrophysical Journal (1998), p. 499, 526

[16] Robert C. Koons. Theism vs. the Many-Worlds Hypothesis. http://www.reasons.org/articles/theism-vs.-the-many-worlds-hypothesis

Many Changes to the Laws of Physics Would be Life-Prohibiting

In my previous blog, I discussed how the initial conditions of our universe had to be extremely finely-tuned to support life of any kind anywhere in the universe. As part of my ongoing series on how fine-tuning provides evidence for the existence of God, I now turn to the laws of physics themselves. It turns out that life seems to require all 4 fundamental forces of physics. Let’s do a quick survey of some of the many ways that alternate physics could have been life-prohibiting:

1)      Gravity is essential in the formation of stars and planets. As I discussed in a previous blog, life needs something like stars as a long-lived stable energy source. Also, as cosmologist Luke Barnes has pointed out: “if gravity were repulsive rather than attractive, then matter wouldn’t clump into complex structures. Remember: your density, thank gravity, is 1030 times greater than the average density of the universe.”

2)      The strong nuclear force is necessary to hold together the protons and neutrons in the nucleus. Without this fundamental force, no atoms would exist beyond hydrogen and thus there would be no meaningful chemistry and thus no possibility for intelligent life. The positively charged protons in the nucleus repel each other but thankfully the strong nuclear force is sufficiently stronger than electromagnetic repulsion. If the strong force acted at long ranges like gravity or electromagnetism, then no atoms would exist because it would dominate over the other forces. Barnes notes that “any structures that formed would be uniform, spherical, undifferentiated lumps, of arbitrary size and incapable of complexity.[1]”

3)      The electromagnetic force accounts for chemical bonding and for why electrons orbit the nucleus of atoms. Without chemistry, there is no plausible way to store and replicate information such as would be necessary for life. Light supplied by stars is also of critical importance to life in overcoming the tendency towards disorder, as dictated by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Barnes points out that without electromagnetism, “all matter would be like dark matter, which can only form large, diffuse, roughly spherical haloes.[2]” Suppose like charges attracted and opposites repelled (in contrast with the behavior in our universe), there would be no atoms.

4)      The weak nuclear force plays a key role during core-collapse supernova[3] in the expulsion of key heavier elements, making them available for life rather than just entombed forever in dying stars. Also, the weak force enables the key proton-proton reaction which powers stars in our universe. There is a clever paper by Harnik[4] that attempts to find a life-permitting universe without the weak force but only at the expense of a “judicious parameter adjustment.” See this discussion of the additional finely-tuned constants that were necessary to compensate for the lack of a weak force.[5] Also, some physicists think that the weak force is necessary for there to be matter in our universe.[6]

A region of star formation in a small nearby dwarf galaxy (N90) as captured by the Hubble telescope:
StarFormation

The existence of matter in our universe relies on some asymmetries in physics that are not yet precisely understood. Most physical reactions produce matter and antimatter in equal proportions and these products would simply annihilate each other upon contact, resulting in a matter-less (and therefore lifeless) universe consisting solely of radiation. We’re fortunate that the laws are such that this asymmetry produces a slight excess of matter over antimatter (about 1 part in ten billion)[7]! It would be premature to try to make a numerical claim that a constant has to be finely-tuned to permit this phenomenon but this unusual asymmetry provides yet another example of how different physics could have been catastrophic for life.

Another key physics principle that is critical for life is quantization. Values are defined as being ‘quantized’ if they can only take on discrete rather than continuous possibilities. Without quantized orbits electrons would be sucked into the nucleus and no chemistry would be possible. This quantization also leads to stable orbitals and consistent chemical properties. If electrons could orbit the nucleus anywhere such as is permissible for planets orbiting a star, then a given chemical element would have properties which are too variable for information storage of the type needed for intelligent life. Consider how the DNA in your genome would become cancerous within a day if its properties/information content were constantly varying. Also, consider how a breath of oxygen could conceivably become poisonous if its properties had no consistency.

Some other aspects of quantum mechanics are also very important to life. We need the Pauli Exclusion Principle so that all electrons don’t just reside in the lowest energy-level orbital. The multiple levels of orbitals contribute greatly to the richness and diversity of chemistry. Not all types of particles follow the Pauli Exclusion Principle – if electrons were bosons rather than fermions they wouldn’t be restricted by this principle. The Pauli Exclusion Principle coupled with the quantization of electron orbitals is responsible for giving matter its rigidity, which is important for the existence of stable structures. Moreover, without quantum mechanics, atoms would decay in about 10-13 seconds as Earnshaw’s theorem demonstrates based on classical mechanics.

Physicist Leonard Susskind points out yet another way that physics could have been life-prohibiting:

‘The photon is very exceptional. It is the only elementary particle, other than the graviton, that has no mass… Were the photon mass even a tiny fraction of the electron mass, instead of being a long-range force, electric interactions would become short-range “flypaper forces,” totally incapable of holding on to the distant valence electrons. Atoms, molecules and life are entirely dependent on the curious fact that the photon has no mass.[8]’

The trend in physics is that the number of cases of fine-tuning is growing over time. For example, physicist Joel Primack recently discovered an important link between the existence of dark matter and galaxy formation. Primack showed that “galaxies form only at high peaks of the dark matter density.“ Galaxies are generally thought to be necessary for life because they are critical for star formation. Thus, even aspects of physics which might seem pointless, such as dark matter, turn out to play an important role in making the universe more bio-friendly. I’ve also referenced an article in a previous blog that discusses how black holes “may actually account for Earth’s existence and habitability.[9]”

Any one of these facts by itself might just be seen as fortunate coincidences but there are enough of them to provide at least modest support for my fine-tuning claim:

“In the set of possible physical laws, parameters and initial conditions, the subset that permits rational conscious life is very small.”

The support is not as strong as what I documented based on our universe’s initial conditions nor as strong as what I will document concerning the fine-tuning of the constants of nature but it adds to the overall case. Moreover, this evidence has some bearing in the consideration of the multiverse[10] as an explanation of fine-tuning because it deals with physics at the level that most multiverse proposals cannot explain. In most multiverse scenarios the laws of physics are the same – what changes are the constants in the equations representing those laws. If you want to explore more about various multiverse alternatives, here is one useful perspective that was referenced in comments of a previous blog. Max Tegmark has proposed what he calls a level 4 multiverse in which all mathematical possibilities are realized somewhere in the multiverse. If we lived in such a multiverse, Occam’s Razor would not be a fruitful heuristic and we wouldn’t have Nobel laureates[11] talking about how simple, elegant theories led them to discoveries. There would be infinitely more equations with lots of complicated terms and expressions than there would be simple equations with minimal terms. Colombia professor Peter Woit provides a powerful critique of Tegmark’s highly speculative metaphysical proposal. These multiverse scenarios in which fundamental laws are different are not widely accepted among physicists.

In summary, life needs all of the 4 fundamental forces of nature and several principles from quantum mechanics. These facts about the laws support my fine-tuning claim that life-permitting physics is rare among possibilities. Standford physicist Leonard Susskind summarizes the physics well:

“It is gradually becoming accepted, by many theoretical physicists, that the Laws of Physics may not only be variable but are almost always deadly. In a sense the laws of nature are like East Coast weather: tremendously variable, almost always awful, but on rare occasions, perfectly lovely.[12]”

 


[1] Barnes, Luke. The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life. Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia, p. 18. http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.4647

[2] Ibid., p, 18.

[3] A supernova is an exploding star and is the key way heavy elements are distributed throughout the universe.

[4]Harnik R., Kribs G., Perez G., 2006, Physical Review D, 74, 035006

[5]Barnes, p. 46-7.

[6] Fermilab website. DOE. http://lbne.fnal.gov/why-neutrinos.shtml

[7] Here is a website if you want to explore this further: http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/cosmo/lectures/lec22.html

[8] Susskind, Leonard. The Cosmic Landscape, p. 174-5.

[9] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-black-holes-shape-galaxies-stars-planets-around-them/

[10] If you missed my other blogs and are wondering what a ‘multiverse’ is, a multiverse is simply a collection of universes. If there is a vast ensemble of other universes with widely varying laws this might be a candidate explanation of the fine-tuning. Here was my blog on that topic: http://crossexamined.org/god-or-multiverse/

[11] For example, Eugene Wigner’s famous essay on The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences. https://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/MathDrama/reading/Wigner.html. Also, see how Weinberg regards beauty as a guide to finding the correct physical theories: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/view-weinberg.html. Or refer to this essay for a historical review: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-h-bailey/why-mathematics-matters_b_4794617.html

[12] Susskind, p. 90.

But We Can’t Even Define Life

In my previous blog I addressed some important issues in making the case that fine-tuning supports theism over atheism. Today I want to look at the objection against fine-tuning that says we can’t assess fine-tuning claims because we can’t even define ‘life’ – or put another way: “fine-tuning claims don’t properly account for other possible life forms.” It has proven surprisingly hard for scientists to agree upon a definition for life. This uncertainty, however, hasn’t prevented biologists from making inferences about life nor has it kept physicists from writing numerous articles claiming that certain changes to physical constants would have resulted in a lifeless universe. In most cases, the inference to a lifeless universe is based upon severe catastrophes such as:

  • A very short-lived universe
  • No stable atoms
  • No chemistry
  • No long-lived sources of energy (such as stars)

It seems plausible that in these situations no life could arise of the kind that could evolve into intelligent, rational creatures. Many fine-tuning constraints involve multiple life-permitting criteria so that even if one of them was incorrect, there would still be other constraints on the life-permitting range of values based on different life-permitting criteria. John Leslie affirms that “many of the fundamental constants have to take the values they do for several independent reasons.” Moreover, even if half of the fine-tuning claims were mistaken there would still be a sufficient number of finely-tuned parameters to conclude that life-permitting universes are rare among possibilities. My fine-tuning claim is therefore robust since it doesn’t rely on all physicists’ claims being true – here it is again:

In the set of possible physical laws, parameters and initial conditions, the subset that permits rational conscious life is very small.

If some peer-reviewed articles are in error, there might be other articles defining other constraints or at least there would be enough remaining evidence to conclude that the life-permitting universes are rare among possibilities. But let’s look in detail at what is necessary for life according to scientists.

What are some essential attributes of any plausible life form?

Self-replicating

Any life form that could evolve to possess intelligence would have to include a self-replicating system. John von Neumann showed that any self-replicator requires certain features such as information storage and processing. Any information storage system would need to be comprised of reasonably stable entities. A star, for example, is a hot plasma of charged particles in rapidly changing configurations and thus is deemed implausible to store information needed to originate and sustain life. Also, in the near vacuum of space there are so few particles interacting that there is no plausible way to replicate enough information for complex life.

Non-trivial information content

As origin of life researcher Stuart Kauffman has noted: “all living things seem to have a minimal complexity below which it is impossible to go.” One theoretical estimate for the amount of information for the simplest possible life form is 113,000 base pairs.[1] Any life form is likely to require polymers of some type to serve as building blocks that can be replicated. There are multiple ways in which a lack of finely-tuned parameters could have prevented the formation of any atoms beyond hydrogen. In this scenario, there would be no polymers and indeed no chemical compounds except for H2. It is implausible to think that if only hydrogen ever existed in the universe that we would have intelligent life or so many physicists have argued.

Preservation of information content during replication

We also have some indications from our own planet of the importance of high fidelity information replication. The canonical genetic code that provides the mapping from RNA codons to amino acids used on our planet is highly optimized and arose early in life’s history[2] (else it wouldn’t be as universal.) Biologists interpret this as evidence of the importance of minimizing errors during translation and replication. The ability to preserve information is therefore recognized as being highly important for life.

Ability to harness energy from environment

Life must be able to harness energy from the environment or else the Second Law of Thermodynamics would pose an insurmountable hurdle. A long-lived stable energy source such as a star would therefore be required.

These same constraints and additional ones are described as prerequisites for life in an important article[3] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that explains the attributes of alternate life forms that might eventually be found elsewhere in the universe. This article serves to confirm that the physics literature is making generous assumptions about what could be life-permitting. Here are some key points of the article with my comments provided after the quotations:

  1. “It is predictable that life, wherever we encounter it, will be composed of macromolecules.” I agree – information and storage would most likely require polymers of some type.
  2. “Only two of the natural atoms, carbon and silicon, are known to serve as the backbones of molecules sufficiently large to carry biological information.” I think that most physicists writing about fine-tuning are open to more alternatives than this article but the article raises some important points about the unique suitability of carbon:
    1. Carbon “unlike silicon … can readily engage in the formation of chemical bonds with many other atoms, thereby allowing for the chemical versatility required to conduct the reactions of biological metabolism and propagation. … Silicon, in contrast, interacts with only a few other atoms, and the large silicon molecules are monotonous compared with the combinatorial universe of organic macromolecules”
    2. “Life also must capture energy and transform that energy into the chemistry of replication. The electronic properties of carbon, unlike silicon, readily allow the formation of double or even triple bonds with other atoms.”
    3. “It is critical that organic reactions, in contrast to silicon-based reactions, are broadly amenable to aqueous conditions. Several of its properties indicate that water is likely to be the milieu for life anywhere in the universe.”
  3. “Life that depends only on chemical energy inevitably will fail as resources diminish and cannot be renewed.” This agrees with my point about needing a stable, long-term energy source to overcome the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
  4. “Temperature is a critical factor for life. Temperatures must be sufficiently high that reactions can occur, but not so high that that complex and relatively fragile biomolecules are destroyed. Moreover, because life probably depends universally on water, the temperature must be in a range for water to have the properties necessary for solute transfer.” Again I think that the physics literature is more open-minded in this aspect but certainly at some point it becomes too hot or too cold to either reliably store information or to have enough energy to replicate it.

But Does Life Have to be Carbon-Based Life?

My fine-tuning claim and that by prominent advocates such as Luke Barnes don’t presuppose that any life form would have to be carbon-based – it’s much more general than that. However, this PNAS article is one of many to claim that silicon is the best alternative to carbon as a basis for life. Silicon bears some similarities to carbon as expected from its position just below carbon on the periodic table. If we can understand why silicon-based life doesn’t appreciably increase the possibilities for life, then we can gain confidence in the generality of the fine-tuning claim.

As the PNAS article indicates, carbon is much more suitable for life than is silicon. Consider the specialness of carbon with regard to the number of types of molecules that can be formed with H (hydrogen) and the following elements[4]:

H – 1

He – 0

Li – 1

Be -1

B – 7

N- 7

O -2

Ne-0

C (carbon) – over 2300 known types of molecules just involving C and H

 Revisiting our dartboard analogy, consider how a life-permitting region is tiny among possibilities. As a reminder, just one finely-tuned parameter, the cosmological constant, has to be set in a narrow life-permitting region among possibilities that is comparable to hitting a bull’s-eye on a huge wall that is 376 million light-years per side. If the life-permitting region for carbon-based life is small, the region for silicon-based life should be smaller since silicon is less suitable for life than is carbon. Although there is one fine-tuning constraint that specifically references carbon, it turns out to also be applicable to silicon. Unless there was a nuclear resonance at just the right energy level, fusion in stars might have never produced carbon. However, without this resonance level there would be a bottleneck that would also inhibit silicon or elements heavier than carbon from being synthesized. Stars make carbon on the way to making silicon. (Most elements past beryllium were synthesized in stellar fusion from smaller atoms.) Thus, universes that produce silicon are no more likely than those that produce carbon – so the bull’s-eye for silicon-based life is smaller and basically just overlaps the carbon bull’s-eye.

Lessons Learned from Origin of Life Research

Consider how some origin of life researchers admit that the origin of the first life form from non-life is exceedingly improbable even with carbon and a diversity of other elements, long-lived stars, and other helpful attributes in our finely-tuned universe. For example, Christian Schwabe writes: “the formation of the first life is viewed as a chance process that occurred in spite of minuscule odds such as 1:10300 and which is accepted only because we are here.[5]“ Eugene Koonin appeals to the multiverse to overcome a horrendous improbability that he estimates at 10-1018 for a plausible first evolvable cell. Not all researchers are this pessimistic but the slow progress in the field should caution those who think that non-carbon life forms a large region in the space of possible parameters. If carbon is so clearly the best choice for life as most biologists believe and if the origin of life is somewhat of an unlikely event even utilizing organic (carbon-based) molecules such as RNA, how much more unlikely is a naturalistic origin of life without carbon.[6]

Fine-Tuning for Intelligent Life

Recall that my fine-tuning claim refers not to just any life form but to intelligent life. Since theism predicts that God would want some advanced life forms, this raises the bar for constraints on life-permitting universes. If merely primitive replicating cells could originate in somewhat less finely-tuned universe, this still would not count against my fine-tuning claim unless this life could also evolve to achieve intelligence and self-awareness. Clearly more fine-tuning is required for the universe to support rational conscious life than would be required for very primitive life forms.

Closing Thoughts

Most physicists writing about fine-tuning think that there are some very clear-cut cases of fine-tuning such as that for the cosmological constant. Consider, for example, how Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg has argued for a multiverse explanation to the fine-tuning of the cosmological constant. He posits vast numbers of universes each with different values for the cosmological constant, the energy density of empty space. Weinberg’s argument for the value being consistent with multiverse predictions relies on a hard limit[7] for the life-permitting range so that our universe can be considered typical among life-permitting universes[8]. Smolin and others have critiqued his prediction as not being that close to what a multiverse would predict but that is irrelevant to my current point which is simply that Weinberg clearly believes that varying this constant by a tiny amount among the possibilities would result in no life of any kind living anywhere in that universe. Refer to my multiverse blog for why our universe would need to be typical among life-permitting universes for a plausible multiverse explanation.

Few physicists specializing in fine-tuning point to other possible forms of life as a supposed refutation to the fine-tuning argument but those who do should write rebuttals to the many peer-reviewed articles claiming life would not exist in certain scenarios involving different physical constants or initial conditions. Skeptics need to show why these authors were mistaken. Perhaps this is a good point of emphasis in urging physicists to be careful in their claims. If some of these fine-tuning claims are over-stated though this would actually provide evidence against a multiverse explanation to the fine-tuning because it would represent ways in which our universe is overly fine-tuned for life. A naturalistic multiverse predicts that our universe should not be more fine-tuned than is minimally necessary to support life.

 


[1] Forster A. C., et al. Nature Mol. Syst. Biol., 2 . doi:10.1038/msb4100090 (2006).

[2] Early Fixation of an Optimal Genetic Code. Molecular Biology and Evolution. Oxford Journals. Stephen J. Freeland2, et al.

[3] Pace, Norman. “The universal nature of biochemistry”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98 (3) (2001): p. 805–8.

[4] This was presented by Luke Barnes at the Philosophy of Cosmology conference in 2013 in Santa Cruz, CA.

[5] Schwabe. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part B: February 1994: (Volume 107, Issue 2) p. 167.

[6] In this blog, I have no intention of getting into discussions about whether or not we have evidence for divine intervention in the origin of life – that is a separate topic. Note that the origin of life and fine-tuning are separate issues. Fine-tuning deals with setting up an environment conducive to life – sort of like that biosphere they setup in Arizona. Conversely, origin of life relates to whether or not life forms were put into that biosphere or originated from non-living matter within it.

[7] By ‘hard limit’ I mean that no other life forms could exist anywhere in universes with cosmological constants whose absolute value exceeded a threshold that is about 120 orders of magnitude less than the natural values predicted by the Standard Model of Particle Physics. BTW, Weinberg first coined the term “Standard Model.”

Important Objections in the Fine-Tuning Debate

In my previous blog I dealt with objections to fine-tuning based on misunderstandings of the nature of the argument or of probability theory. In this blog, however, I attempt to deal with important issues in the debate. If either objection succeeds it would undermine the design inference based upon the fine-tuning evidence.

Could the Laws of Physics Have Been Different?

If there is only one possible set of physics, then there is no sense in which the set of life-permitting physics could be said to be improbable. There are two aspects to considering with regard to whether or not the laws of physics might have been different.

1)      Are there other metaphysically possible alternatives?

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy so this aspect is really a question that goes beyond science. However even among scientists, few think that there is only one logically possible set of laws of Nature. For example, in one of the classic fine-tuning papers Bernard Carr and Martin Rees note that “even if all apparently anthropic coincidences could be explained [in terms of some deeper theory], it would still be remarkable that the relationships dictated by physical theory happened also to be those propitious for life.[1]” Even if there was only one physically possible set of physics there is still something surprising about the fine-tuning evidence because there is no reason to think that their couldn’t have been different laws, constants, or initial conditions. If there really were no alternatives that were even metaphysically possible, one should be able to derive the laws and parameters of physics without even having to do observations and experiments but as physicist John Barrow notes in regard to the fundamental constants discussed in fine-tuning, “we have never successfully predicted the value of any dimensionless constant in advance of its measurement.”

If one looks at mathematical proofs, the premises are never based on empirical results whereas in science we’ve learned that we need to do experiments to choose among candidate theories. Metaphysicians, therefore, generally recognize that mathematical truths are true in all possible worlds (in the modal logic sense of the word) but that scientific truths are not.

Physicist Paul Davies responds to those few who have tried to argue that “the nature of the physical world would be entirely a consequence of logical and mathematical necessity. There would be no choice about it. I think this is demonstrably wrong. There is not a shred of evidence that the universe is logically necessary. Indeed, as a theoretical physicist I find it rather easy to imagine alternative universes that are logically consistent, and therefore equal contenders for reality.[2]”

2) Are there other physically possible alternatives?

Many leading physicists think that physics itself provides various potential means for varying the fundamental constants. Virtually every physics department is involved in research in theories such as String Theory that entail that the constants of physics actually could be different. As Lee Smolin explains, “string theory makes all the properties of the elementary particles contingent – determined not by fundamental law but by … solutions to the fundamental theory.[3]” String theory was once thought to be the best hope for a Theory of Everything which might explain why the constants of physics take on the values they do. Indeed it might greatly reduce the number of fundamental parameters. However, there seem to be a vast number of solutions to the equations of String Theory although they’re still not well-defined. Some scientists have complained that what was hoped to be a “Theory of Everything” has turned out to look more like a “Theory of Anything.”

In this article, physicist John Barrow lists 5 reasons to expect that the constants of physics can vary.

1)      “We know that the best candidates for unification of the forces of nature in a quantum gravitational environment only seem to exist in finite form if there are many more dimensions of space than the three that we are familiar with. This means that the true constants of nature are defined in higher dimensions and the three-dimensional shadows we observe are no longer fundamental and do not need to be constant. Any slow change in the scale of the extra dimensions would be revealed by measurable changes in our three-dimensional ‘constants’.”

2)      “Some apparent constant might be determined partially or completely by spontaneous symmetry-breaking processes in the very early universe. This introduces an irreducibly random element into the values of those constants.”

3)      “Any outcome of a theory of quantum gravity will be intrinsically probabilistic… [thus some constants are] predicted to be spatial random variables”

4)      “A non-uniqueness of the vacuum state for the universe would allow other numerical combinations of the constants to have occurred in different places.”

5)      There are some observations that the fine-structure constant may have varied very slightly over time and/or space. [Newer studies are still not conclusive on this point – the data is somewhat ambiguous.]

 Even if the constants and laws of physics couldn’t vary, there is even more reason to think that there were many physically possible sets of initial conditions. Paul Davies states this emphatically:

“Even if the laws of physics were unique, it doesn’t follow that the physical universe itself is unique…the laws of physics must be augmented by cosmic initial conditions…there is nothing in present ideas about ‘laws of initial conditions’ remotely to suggest that their consistency with the laws of physics would imply uniqueness. Far from it…it seems, then, that the physical universe does not have to be the way it is: it could have been otherwise.[4]”

John A. Wheeler agrees: “Never has physics come up with a way to tell with what initial conditions the universe was started off. On nothing is physics clearer than what is not physics.”

What about the laws themselves varying?

Fine-tuning proponents don’t generally seek to quantify the rarity of life-permitting physics among all possible laws but rather at the level of initial conditions and constants as not enough is known to evaluate that case in any detail. As Robin Collins puts it, fine-tuning only considers the epistemically illumined region. As we evaluate the space of possibilities that we have sufficient “light” to evaluate, we discover the remarkable fact that life is only possible in a very small subset. Going back to our dartboard analogy from a previous blog, we have some uncertainty about the size of the wall – maybe it’s not 300+ million light years per dimension or maybe it’s actually larger. The argument is still quite powerful even if we’re over estimating the range of available parameters by a factor of a million million million – and remember this analogy dealt with only one of the many finely-tuned parameters.

In a future blog, I will examine how life depends upon certain laws and principles but will not attempt to make a numerical probabilistic case in that arena. In many candidate physical theories, the laws themselves wouldn’t change in different universes, merely the constants in the equations for those laws.

But We Can’t Assess Exact Probabilities

Another objection is that we can’t assess an exact improbability for life. We can tell something is highly improbable even if we cannot compute an exact value or conduct a series of trial experiments. What are the odds that I would beat Lebron James in a one-on-one basketball game? My only chance would be if he got hurt or something and it would be hard to estimate that very precisely.

I agree that it is premature to put an exact number to the rarity of life-permitting universes among possibilities but I believe that we have a dozen or more independent reasons for thinking it highly improbable. I did toss out the improbability of 1 in 10^100 in a previous blog – as a counterfactual saying in effect that if it could be shown that intelligent life was this rare among possibilities, wouldn’t you count it as some evidence for cosmic design? I indicated that when I present the evidence in detail that I would attempt to justify this number and that many non-theistic physicists accept this magnitude of a number for just a single parameter in some cases.

If we accept the plausible assumptions found in the peer-reviewed physics literature, we do end up with an incredible improbability for a life-permitting universe if physics is set randomly. These articles often cite a natural range for constants based on magnitudes derived from Quantum Field Theory or particle masses as predicted by the standard model of particle physics. For my fine-tuning claim to be defeated virtually all of these physics articles would need to be mistaken.

Computing an exact value involves knowing the exact range of possibilities and the distribution function neither of which is generally known precisely. Many scientists take the principle of indifference to imply a uniform (and thus linear) distribution of possible values for constants, Citing Aguirre’s work, Luke Barnes indicates that it’s unreasonable to expect that new information about underlying physics will invalidate fine-tuning: “In short, to significantly change the probability of a life-permitting universe, we would need a prior that centres close to the observed value, and has a narrow peak. But this simply exchanges one fine-tuning for two – the centre and peak of the distribution.” Barnes/Aguirre discussed this at last summer’s philosophy of cosmology conference amidst many prominent physicists and philosophers who have written about the fine-tuning and no one challenged it. Barnes lists some other key attendees as: Craig Callender (UCSD), Sean Carroll (Cal Tech), Shelly Goldstein (Rutgers), Anna Ijjas (Harvard/Rutgers), Tim Maudlin (NYU), Priya Natarajan (Yale), Ward Struyve (Rutgers), Tiziana Vistarini, (Rutgers), David Wallace (Oxford), Alex Pruss, Chris Smeenk, Fred Adams, Leonard Susskind, Matt Johnson.

In summary, I think it would be a mistake to ignore fine-tuning simply because we don’t know exact ranges that values can take on – if anything we may be underestimating them. As I’m presenting the evidence I’ll try to highlight what physicists are saying with regard to expectations for the range of parameter space and the reader can evaluate whether or not these physicists are mistaken in claiming that life-permitting universes are rare among possibilities.


[1] Bernard Carr and Martin Rees, “The Anthropic Principle and the Structure of the Physical World,” Nature 278, (1979): 612.

[2] Paul Davies in Templeton address in August 1995. http://www.firstthings.com/article/1995/08/003-physics-and-the-mind-of-god-the-templeton-prize-address-24

[3] Smolin. The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006), p. 127.

[4] Paul Davies, The Mind of God (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p 169.

Mistaken Objections that Seek to Trivialize Fine-Tuning

This is my third blog in a series on fine-tuning as evidence for God. Here are the first and second blogs, which deal with the philosophical background. Before I share the evidence I want to refute or at least rebut a few objections seen at the popular level but rarely in scholarly circles – otherwise, readers might just ignore the argument no matter what fine-tuning evidence is presented. Generally one should be wary of dismissive claims that attempt to trivialize what many intelligent physicists and philosophers think is worthy of discussion and evaluation. Even hardened skeptics admit that the fine-tuning evidence is worth evaluating. The late Christopher Hitchens answered a question concerning what is the best argument from the other side: “I think everyone of us picks the fine-tuning one as the most intriguing… you have to spend time thinking about it, working on it. It’s not a trivial [argument].” But let’s consider some popular level responses that seek to trivialize fine-tuning.

The Universe is not Adapted to Us, We’re Adapted to the Universe

This was the primary response given by atheist philosopher Peter Boghossian when I discussed fine-tuning in his recent Q&A session at UT Dallas. This response is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the articles in the physics literature as addressed in my previous blog. The fine-tuning deals with how the physics has to be setup before life gets started so without fine-tuning there is no evolutionary way for adapting life to the universe.

Aren’t Any Set of Physical Constants Just As Likely As Any Other?

About 5 years ago I had the opportunity to engage in sort of a friendly debate with the head of the science department at the high school where my daughter and son attended. She was taking a “Theory of Knowledge” class as part of the International Baccalaureate curriculum and the instructor needed to provide an example to students of presentations of opposing viewpoints. He had heard that I was an advocate of Intelligent Design and wanted each of us to make presentations supporting our viewpoints. He is an excellent teacher and heads the science department and I was somewhat nervous to be engaging in my first public debate of this type – this was before I had read a dozen or so books on fine-tuning and taken a graduate course on Cosmology. However, the instructor gave a surprisingly weak response to the fine-tuning evidence that I had presented. He set up an analogy for the students of dealing out a set of 5 cards from a set of 10 packs of cards with different backings. The odds of dealing out any particular hand were extraordinarily low but he argued that since any set of cards was just as likely as any other set, no inference could be made that the cards were not dealt at random. This was supposed to refute a design inference because any set of constants of physics is just as likely as any other.

However, the assumption that any set of constants is just as likely as any other is the very thing that we want to know. Starting off with that as an assumption begs the question against design. As Luke Barnes articulates in this excellent podcast dealing with responses to the fine-tuning claim, suppose we’re playing poker and every time I deal I get a royal flush. If this continues to happen, you become increasingly convinced that I’m likely to be cheating. If I responded to an accusation of cheating by just saying “well any set of 5 cards is just as likely as any other so you can’t accuse me of cheating” you would be rational to reject this explanation. The question is not “how likely is any set of 5 cards?” but rather “how likely is it I’m cheating if I just dealt myself 10 straight royal flushes?” This question accounts for the possibility that I’m cheating which would almost certainly be true in this scenario. So the right question is “given the fine-tuning evidence, how likely is it that the constants were set at random?” The values for physical constants conform to a very particular pattern – that which supports life. The fact that we have so many finely-tuned constants makes it unlikely that they were all set at random (at least in the single universe scenario and I’ve already shown some of the problems/challenges in multiverse explanations.)

RoyalFlush

Photo: Graeme Main/MOD

Puddle Thinking

Another failed objection to Fine-Tuning is based on something written by Douglas Adams, the well known author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (although this quote is not from that book):

“Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact, it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’”

Richard Dawkins applied this to the fine-tuning at Adams’ eulogy. There is a meaningful lesson perhaps in this analogy but it’s not applicable to the fine-tuning. In the analogy, “gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller” but the water still conforms the hole perfectly up to a certain height. If we discovered that any set of constants and initial conditions would permit life, then the puddle analogy would be applicable but since the universe has to be fine-tuned to support life, it’s quite disanalogous! Any configuration of dirt supports water whereas very, very few configurations of physics can support life. Some skeptical scientists who have studied the fine-tuning explicitly state this analogy “doesn’t hold water” – such as David Deutsch.

Improbable Events Happen All the Time

Yeah, but when a series of unlikely events have something in common that is predicted by a hypothesis one generally treats that as evidence for the hypothesis. There are many cases in science where inferences are made based on probabilities. Certain organisms, for example, are considered to be evolutionary descendants because it would be extremely unlikely for unrelated organisms to randomly arrive at the same DNA sequences (from a naturalistic perspective anyway). Unlikely events or states conform to a pattern predicted by the hypothesis of common descent.

In the fine-tuning case, a series of fundamental constant of physics such as various particle masses and force strengths all happen to take on values in a narrow range that permits life. These facts conform to a long-standing hypothesis that God would want to create a life-permitting universe and leave evidence that He created it and thus fine-tuning should be treated as evidence for design.

Just one Universe so Probability of Life Must be 1 out of 1

This response implies a frequentist view of probability whereas my fine-tuning argument deals with a Bayesian approach to probability which deals with epistemic probability (as a degree in belief). Refer to this article in the Stanford Encyclopedia for some issues in the finite frequentism version of probability theory – it might be useful in some contexts but there are many cases in science where we would be unable to make reasonable inferences without a more generalized approach to probability theory. For example, if scientists are reasoning about what caused the disappearance of the dinosaurs, finite frequentism is not a useful tool for analyzing this one-time event. There are also many cases in theoretical physics in which we can compute probabilities for certain events and don’t need to rely solely on past statistics. Suppose we have just created the first ever 20-sided die (an icosahedron with numbered sides). Under the finite frequentist approach, suppose we roll the die one time and obtain a 7, should we assume the probability of rolling 7’s is 1 out of 1? We can do better using theoretical physics and recognize that we have a 1/20th chance of rolling each number if the die is perfectly constructed. In engineering, we frequently assess theoretical probabilities before deciding what to build.

Consider an example from theoretical physics – we can know that universes in which the electromagnetic force is stronger than the strong nuclear force will likely be lifeless without having to find such a universe and test it for the presence of life. In such a universe there would be no stable atoms and thus no way of plausibly storing enough information to support a self-replicating system. As Luke Barnes says, analyzing fine-tuning is “not just like theoretical physics, it is theoretical physics.” He also has an excellent blog dealing with the limitations of finite frequentism.

Irrelevant Objections

A common objection is that the universe is not jam packed with life, therefore the universe is not-fine-tuned for life” or that “we can’t live in most parts of the universe so it’s not fine-tuned for life.” Note that these objections are very human-centric whereas in Christian theology God not humans is the most important thing in the universe. In my introductory blog, these kinds of overly narrow expectations of what God would or wouldn’t do are what I caution against. The logical approach for a skeptic would be to assess whether or not God exists in an open-minded way and then seek out more information about His attributes. A God that is not merely a human creation should differ at least slightly from human expectations. In terms of these particular objections, God may simply want to humble humans and show us how small and powerless we are compared to Him. More importantly though, these objections are irrelevant to the fine-tuning claim that I made:

“In the set of possible physical laws, parameters and initial conditions, the subset that permits rational conscious life is very small.”

Moreover, as Barnes points out – if you can understand why humans can’t live in these other parts of the universe such as the vacuum of space or near a black hole you can understand why the universe needs to be finely-tuned because without such fine-tuning the entire universe would be a near vacuum or too full of black holes for life. So in some sense these objections implicitly affirm the fine-tuning claim.

How Does Fine-tuning Provide Evidence for God?

In my previous blog, I defined the following fine-tuning claim:

“In the set of possible physical laws, parameters and initial conditions, the subset that permits rational conscious life is very small.”

I pointed out how this fine-tuning claim is widely accepted within the physics community and that some skeptics even admit that it’s not unreasonable to view this as evidence for cosmic design if there are not a multitude of other universes with different randomly-set constants. In this blog I’ll make a philosophical case that the fine-tuning of the universe for life constitutes evidence for God.

Let’s apply a methodology commonly used in science for making an inference to the best explanation.1 Scientists frequently evaluate candidate models based on how well predictions of those models match observations. In an atheistic origins model, the constants governing the laws of physics and the initial conditions were either set randomly or at least without respect to their consequences for bringing about intelligent life. In a theistic model, however, it’s not surprising to think that God would prefer a universe which supports rational conscious creatures. The skeptic who raises the problem of evil as an objection to God’s existence is implicitly affirming this expectation that God should favor conscious life. 2

Another expectation of skeptics also supports the inference from fine-tuning to divine design – the claim that God should leave some evidence for his existence. It is unsurprising that God would want to create a universe in which it appears that initial conditions and laws were set up providentially to reveal a purpose for the universe. If nearly any set of constants would have resulted in intelligent life, then it would appear as though no intervention was required to setup life-supporting physics. Conversely under atheism, there is no reason to expect that a life-supporting universe would be unlikely among possibilities. Indeed many skeptical scientists who have studied this fine-tuning data admit its surprising nature under their worldview. David Deutsch, for example, writes: “If anyone claims not to be surprised by the special features that the universe has, he is hiding his head in the sand. These special features are surprising and unlikely.”

Fine-tuning, if true, therefore, favors the hypothesis of theism over atheism because this data is much more likely on theism than atheism. This falls out from the likelihood principle from Bayesian probability theory. We can examine fine-tuning in isolation to see how one should adjust the credence for inferring God’s existence. My claim is simply that whatever was one’s prior epistemic probability for God’s existence, this fine-tuning evidence should make the hypothesis that God exists epistemically more likely than previously thought. So I’m not claiming proof of God’s existence but rather that fine-tuning is evidence for God’s existence.

Even many agnostics or atheists seem to agree that at least prima facie the fine-tuning looks like divine design. The fine-tuning is one of the key lines of evidence that led philosopher Antony Flew to renounce his long-held atheism. Here are a few quotes capturing the reaction among prominent skeptics that have studied this evidence:

“The impression of design is overwhelming. 3” Physicist Paul Davies

“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics … and that there are no blind forces in nature.4” Physicist Fred Hoyle

“As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency – or, rather, Agency – must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?5” Astronomer George Greenstein

“Luck in the precise form and nature of fundamental physical law is a different kind of luck from the luck we find in environmental factors. It cannot be so easily explained, and has far deeper physical and philosophical implications. Our universe and its laws appear to have a design that both is tailor-made to support us and, if we are to exist, leaves little room for alteration.6” Stephen Hawking. He also says that the fine-tuning may reveal “a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the laws of science.” To be clear, Hawking ultimately rejects this interpretation but admits the facts seem to support this viewpoint if there were no multiverse.

“If there is an inexplicable coincidence in the fundamental constants of nature whose values have to be precisely-tuned within a wide range of otherwise available possibilities that would make a complex universe possible then this constitutes a phenomenon that very naturally invites explanation in terms of a cosmic scale designer.” Oxford Philosopher Peter Millican  in his debate with William Lane Craig. Millican rejects the conclusion of design but seems to agree with my argument thus far that if the universe is fine-tuned it should serve as evidence for God.

The Philosophical Basis of a Fine-Tuning Argument for God

My philosophical argument is based on philosopher of science John T. Roberts’ formulation. The existence of life is treated as “background knowledge while the fact that fine-tuning is required for life serves as the evidence.” Roberts has an excellent illustration to elucidate the argument. Suppose that you witness a dart coming from behind you and landing on an enormously large wall that is homogeneously white. You wonder whether the dart was skillfully aimed or just flung in a random direction. You might be tempted to think that the dart was aimed since it’s incredibly improbable to have landed at that particular point on this enormous wall but that would be mistaken. There is nothing to distinguish the dart’s landing spot from any other location. Suppose that you then put on a pair of infrared goggles and see that there is actually a single, tiny bull’s-eye surrounding the dart on the wall. Now an inference that the dart was aimed seems plausible.

infraredDartGray

Picture (courtesy of Richard Matthews)

 One can easily see how this analogy applies to the fine-tuning. Whether or not the dart was aimed is analogous to the question of whether or not there was intent in the setup of physics. No one argued for design based on the particular constants of physics until knowledge was gained that there was something special about those constants – life-permitting values were enormously rare. There was no significance at all in recognizing that constants permitted life – the perception of specialness arose when the set of life-permitting values were discovered to be a miniscule subset among possibilities. A universe containing life would be an aim-worthy target for a Creator. Most fine-tuning advocates run an argument for theism based on God favoring a life-permitting Universe but Roberts’ way of framing the argument side-steps certain objections as will be seen in future blogs.

Some readers may not be seeing the full force of the argument because I haven’t yet presented the extensive evidence that the universe is finely-tuned. Consider that many different parameters must each be finely-tuned – so it’s really like having many darts each hit a bull’s-eye. The inference to design will be more easily recognized if we shed some light as to the specialness of the required values. Consider the size of the bull’s eye and wall based on just 1 parameter – the cosmological constant. There is a natural range for possible values for this constant because there are known contributions that are 10120 times larger than the overall net value. (There is a near perfect but inexact cancellation of contributions accurate to 120 decimal places). Let’s use the most conservative numbers in the physics literature that indicate a fine-tuning to 1 part in 1053. If the cosmological constant, which governs the expansion rate of the universe, had been larger than its current value by this tiny fraction, then the universe would have expanded so fast that no stars or planets would have formed and therefore no life. If the value were smaller by this amount then the universe would have rapidly collapsed before the universe cooled sufficiently to allow for stable information storage which is required by any self-replicating system such as life. (And could intelligent life really emerge if the universe lasted only a few days even under ideal conditions?) Using this ratio, the size of the wall containing a single inner bull’s-eye of the size on a standard dart board, would be over 376 million light years on each side. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year – at 186,282 miles per second this is pretty far. The inference that the dart was aimed to the special area where life is possible seems reasonable – and that is just considering one of the finely-tuned parameters!

For one who assumes that nature is all there is, it is very surprising that the universe began in such an improbable state that it could support life and that a number of fundamental parameters whose values are not dictated by any known underlying theory all happen to lie in a narrow life-permitting region. This should cause one to question the assumptions of the naturalistic worldview.


1To clarify, I’m not making a scientific argument but rather a philosophical argument which relies on scientific data to affirm the truth of the premise that life-permitting universes are rare among possibilities.
2Refer to writings by Alvin Plantiga and William Lane Craig and others on the problem of evil as it’s tangential to my fine-tuning argument.
3Davies, The Cosmic Code, p. 203.
4Fred Hoyle, “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections.” Engineering and Science, Nov 1981. pp. 8–12
5Greenstein, George. The Symbiotic Universe, p.27.
6Hawking, Stephen. Grand Design, p. 162.