The Teleological Argument
Before we discuss this argument, it’s important to understand that by “fine-tuning” one does not mean “designed” (otherwise the argument would be obviously circular). Rather during the last forty years or so, scientists have discovered that the existence of intelligent life depends upon a complex and delicate balance of initial conditions given in the Big Bang itself. This is known as the fine-tuning of the universe.
This fine-tuning I will argue is of 3 kinds. First, when the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, you find appearing in them certain constants, like the constant that represents the force of gravity. These constants are not determined by the laws of nature. The laws of nature are consistent with a wide range of values for these constants. Second, in addition to these constants, there are certain arbitrary quantities that are put in just as initial conditions on which the laws of nature operate, for example, the amount of entropy or the balance between matter and anti-matter in the universe. Now all of these constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of life-permitting values. Were these constants or quantities to be altered by less than a hair’s breadth, the life-permitting balance would be destroyed, and no living organisms of any kind could exist.(1)
For example, a change in the strength of the atomic weak force by only one part in 10^100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe. The cosmological constant which drives the inflation of the universe and is responsible for the recently discovered acceleration of the universe’s expansion is inexplicably fine-tuned to around one part in 10^120. Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of the Big Bang’s low entropy condition existing by chance are on the order of one out of 10^10(123). Penrose comments, “I cannot even recall seeing anything else in physics whose accuracy is known to approach, even remotely, a figure like one part in 10^10(123).”(2) So when scientists say that the universe is fine-tuned for life, they don’t mean “designed”; rather they mean that small deviations from the actual values of the fundamental constants and quantities of nature would render the universe life-prohibiting or, alternatively, that the range of life-permitting values is incomprehensibly narrow in comparison with the range of assumable values. Dawkins himself, citing the work of the Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees, acknowledges that the universe does exhibit this extraordinary fine-tuning. And it’s not just each constant or quantity that must be exquisitely finely-tuned; their ratios to one another must be also finely-tuned. So improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers.
Thirdly and lastly, I will argue that our local position, not only in our solar system but in our galaxy is ideal for life and for discoverability of the universe is best explained by fine tuning. For example, in the book ‘Rare Earth “ by Peter D.Ward & Donald Brownlee give a number of factors that are needed for complex life like ourselves ‘Right Distance from the star – Habitat for complex life. Liquid water near surface. Far enough to avoid tidal lock. Right mass of star – Long enough lifetime. Not too much ultraviolet. Stable planetary orbits – Giant planets do not create orbital chaos. Right planetary mass – Retain atmosphere and ocean. Enough heat for plate tectonics. Solid/molten core. Jupiter-like neighbour – Clear out comets and asteroids. Not to close, not too far. A Mars – Small neighbour as possible life source to seed Earth-like planet, if needed. Plate tectonics – CO2 -silicate thermostat. Build up land mass. Enhance biotic diversity. Enable magnetic field. Ocean – Not too much. Not too little. Large Moon – Right distance. Stabilises tilt. The right tilt – Seasons not too severe. Giant impacts – Few giant impacts. No global sterilising impacts after an initial period. The right amount of carbon – Enough for life. Not enough for Runaway Greenhouse. Atmospheric properties – Maintenance of adequate temperature, composition and pressure for plants and animals. Biological evolution – Successful evolutionary pathway to complex plants and animals. Evolution of oxygen – Intervention of photosynthesis. Not too much or too little. Evolves at the right time. Right kind of galaxy - Enough heavy elements. Not small, elliptical., or irregular. Right position in galaxy – Not in centre, edge or halo. Wild Cards – Snowball Earth. Cambrian explosion Inertial interchange event.’(3) moreover, in the book ‘The Privileged Planet’ Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards states
‘we are able to determine that the probability, even in our fine-tuned universe, of getting just one Earth-like planet, with its Solar System and all its requisite conditions, is less than one chance in 10^180. (4) This would mean that, even in a universe with 10^11 stars per galaxy and 10^11 galaxies, totalling 10^22 available attempts, the chances of getting one such system would still be one chance in 10^158.’ (5)
Furthermore, ‘In their book Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, Donald Brownlee and Peter Ward offer their own, revised Drake Equation. They thus imply that the original Drake Equation was at best an abbreviation of myriad unknown and unstated factors, all of which must be satisfied to get a single, radio communicating civilization. The Rare Earth version of the equation is as follows:
N=N*Xfp Xfpm XneXfgXflXfiXfcXfLXfmXfjXfme
Obviously, this version is lengthier than the original.’(6) This revised formula of the extra constraints to habitability lists 21 parameters, showing a more realistic likelihood of finding life on other planets and the true fine-tuning For life. For example, if we take a charitable 1 in 10 chance for each of these parameters, we have a 1 in 10^21 of finding life, considering some estimates of the number of planets is only 10^20, it appears we are an anomaly, the statistical likelihood of another planet with life permitting conditions being in our universe is very slim. You may be thinking this is a bit of an intellectual put-up job, so consider the work by Frank and Sullivan at NASA exoplanet explanation ‘The result? By applying the new exoplanet data to the universe’s 2 x 10 to the 22nd power stars, Frank and Sullivan find that human civilization is likely to be unique in the cosmos only if the odds of a civilization developing on a habitable planet are less than about one in 10 billion trillion, or one part in 10 to the 22th power.’(7) their results are bleaker!
Here, then, is a simple formulation of a teleological argument based on fine-tuning:
1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
3. Therefore, it is due to design.
The argument as presented, poses a kind of trilemma, so to rule out two options to leave the logically remaining option. The objector needs to either show one or both of the options ruled out are in fact more plausible or alternatively, pose a fourth possible option and show it to be a false trilemma. Furthermore, remember by fine-tuning, cosmologists do not mean designed or deliberately adjusted to high specification or such intentionality expression. Rather fine-tuning is a neutral expression that has to do with the constants and quantities being just right for the existence of intelligent life.
Defence of premises.
The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
Is it the case that the universe is just a physical necessity? That is, the universe couldn’t be any other way, or just a brute fact? It doesn’t seem so; it is evidently the case that the universe could have been very different, if the values of the constants and fundamental quantities were different in anyway, so too, would the universe and the possibility of life. Physicists have looked for a Theory of Everything or T.O.E. to try explain this apparent fine-tuning to the universe.One example of this search is string theory or M-theory, which typically depicts a 11-dimension universe, why 11? It seems that it is assumed rather than a categorical truth, but it appears it has to be like this or the mathematics simply doesn’t work(8).
However, M-theory fails to uniquely predict our universe, as Stephen Hawking said in addressing this question in 2003 “Does string theory, or M theory, predict the distinctive features of our universe, like a spatially flat four dimensional expanding universe with small fluctuations, and the standard model of particle physics? Most physicists would rather believe string theory uniquely predicts the universe, than the alternatives. These are the initial state of the universe, is prescribed by an outside agency, code named God. Or that these are many universes, and our universe is picked out by the Anthropic principle.”(9) notice the alternatives Hawking makes, which are the basis for the trilemma presented, that is necessity (M-theory), chance (Anthropic principle) or design (code name God). Furthermore, Hawking admits it is a belief that it (M-theory) accurately depicts reality rather than an actualisation of reality. Hawking summarises by adding “Even when we understand the ultimate theory, it won’t tell us much about how the universe began. It cannot predict the dimensions of spacetime, the gauge group, or other parameters of the energy effective theory...It won’t determine how this energy is decided between conventional matter, and a cosmological constant, or quintessence...So to come back to the question...Does string theory predict the state of the universe? The answer is that it does not. It allows a vast landscape of possible universes, in which we occupy an anthropically permitted location. ” And from an article from Clara Moskowitz in livescience writes
‘The problem with string theory, according to some physicists, is that it makes too many universes. It predicts not one but some 10^500versions of spacetime, each with their own laws of physics. But with so many universes on the table, how can the theory explain why ours has the features it does?
Now some theorists suggest most—if not all—of those universes are actually forbidden, at least if we want them to have stable dark energy, the supposed force accelerating the expansion of the cosmos.’(10)
In William Lane Craig book ‘Reasonable Faith’ on the section on the fine-tuning argument, he makes the point “...given the multiplicity of constants that require fine-tuning, it is for from clear that 10^500 possible universes is enough to guarantee that even one life-permitting world will appear by chance in the landscape!” he summarises in the endnotes “For example, since the values of at least some of the constants are independent...So if the odds of the cosmological constant’s having the value it does is 1 out of 10^120 and the odds of the gravitational constant’s having the value it does is 1 out of 10^100, then their joint probability will be...10^220. If we keep adding constants until we get a life-permitting universe, before too long we’ll run out of possible universes and so will have exhausted all probabilistic resources!”(11)
So, it seems we have good reason to reject necessity.
What about chance?
Physicists have appealed to the multiverse to get round the fact of the contingent nature of the constants and fundamental quantities of the universe, they presume due to the sheer number of possibilities that it becomes inevitable! But as we can see the probabilistic resources are soon run out to absurdity if we take the presumed values of the constants and quantities of the universe. For example, take Discovery Institute’s Evolutionnews.org article ID’s Top Six — The Fine-Tuning of the Universe
“Gravitational constant: 1 part in 10^34
Electromagnetic force versus force of gravity: 1 part in 10^37
Cosmological constant: 1 part in 10^120
Mass density of universe: 1 part in 10^59
Expansion rate of universe: 1 part in 10^55
Initial entropy: 1 part in 10^ (10^123)”(12)”
If we were to add these probabilities together it would quickly become apparent not to be plausible. Given these probability it would be 1 in 10^10(428) that is a 1 in 10 with 4280 zeros after it! 10^500 possible universes is nothing compared to this improbability.
Scientists have long appealed to the Anthropic principle.
A article I read in Forbes by Ethan Siegel entitled ‘How The Anthropic Principle Became The Most Abused Idea In Science’ states “The Universe has the fundamental laws that we observe it to have. Also, we exist, and are made of the things we're made of, obeying those same fundamental laws. And therefore, we can construct two very simple statements that would be very difficult to argue against:
We must be prepared to take account of the fact that our location in the Universe is necessarily privileged to the extent of being compatible with our existence as observers.
The Universe (and hence the fundamental parameters on which it depends) must be as to admit the creation of observers within it at some stage.
These two statements, spoken first by physicist Brandon Carter in 1973, are known, respectively, as the Weak Anthropic Principle and the Strong Anthropic Principle. They simply note that we exist within this Universe, which has the fundamental parameters, constants and laws that it has. And our existence is proof enough that the Universe allows for creatures like us to come into existence within it.”(13) So simply, it describes that we shouldn’t be surprised that we exist in such a place, or we wouldn’t exist. They state further “If you set up the laws of physics so that the existence of observers is impossible, what you've set up clearly doesn't describe our Universe. The evidence for our existence means the Universe allows our existence, but it doesn't mean the Universe must have unfolded exactly this way. It doesn't mean our existence is mandatory. And it doesn't mean the Universe must have given rise to us exactly as we are. In other words, you cannot say “the Universe must be the way it is because we’re here.” That's not anthropics at all; that's a logical fallacy. So how did we wind up here?” they don’t really divulge the answer, but seem to further prove the contingent nature of the universe nor can we just ignore the question of how we got here.
So chance seems inadequate to explain away the issues it faces.
What about Design?
Given the limitations of necessity and chance, is design any better? In the opening to the argument, I gave some preliminary evidence to give credence to my claim. In The Privileged planet, I made reference to 21 parameters to the fine-tuning for Intelligent life like ours, one of these is the need for plate tectonics. It is becoming increasingly clear the importance of plate tectonics in this regard, “Most of us associate earthquakes with death and destruction, but ironically, earthquakes are an inevitable outgrowth of geological forces that are highly
advantageous to life. Heat flowing outward from Earth’s interior is the engine that drives mantle convection and, in turn, crustal motions. A tectonically active crust builds mountains, subducts old sea floor, and recycles the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, all of which make Earth more habitable. But it’s not obvious that a cold, rigid, floating chunk of crust should be subducted deep into Earth. The continuous presence of liquid water on Earth’s surface may explain why it has maintained long-lasting plate tectonics.(14) Apparently, the chemical reactions of water with the minerals in the crust weaken it, providing lubrication that allows the crust to bend without breaking.” (15) In addition, in Discovery Institute’s Evolutionnews.org an article entitled What Subduction Teaches About Intelligent Design by geologist Casey Luskin states “ We haven’t yet discovered a planet in our solar system that has plate tectonics like earth does. It seems to be a special property of earth. Yet subduction is a vital process for life on our planet, helping to maintain a supply of elements that life needs to survive.
In brief, what happens is that organisms in the oceans consume elements vital for life — carbon, phosphorous, nitrogen, sulfur — and then they die and sink to the bottom of the oceans where they get buried in sediment. If this process continues unabated then over time, ocean sediment will become a sink that accumulates life-necessary elements. Over time these elements will be segregated from the biosphere, no longer available for living organisms to use and thrive.”(16) the article then makes quotes from Michael Denton's book ‘The Wonder of Water: Water’s Profound Fitness for Life on Earth and Mankind’ in discussing this sediment he writes “Without continual renewal of the mineral content of the oceans, the oceanic ecosystems would grind to a halt in a few million years and the Earth’s oceans would become lifeless. Yes, the oceans receive nutrients from continental runoff, but there is not enough runoff, not enough continental landmass, to keep up with the rate of depletion.
And yet over many hundreds of millions of years, the oceans have not been rendered lifeless, nor the mountains ground into sterile plains. But how could there have been continents and mountains and life on land for 400 million years? And how could there have been life in the seas for four billion years? What mechanisms are continually remaking mountains and replenishing the mineral content of the ocean waters?”(17) both the article and book go into how subduction, the recycling of the crust through plate tectonics continually keeps the minerals needed for life back into biosphere. (18)(19)(20)(21). It is clear then, the planet is remarkably fit for life and our position within the universe seems on the evidence, unique.
It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
We have begun to see then; necessity is not a plausible explanation for the universe and life, as it clear things given different parameters or circumstances life and the universe could be very different. Similarly, we have seen that chance doesn’t seem plausible given the factors that are needed for complex life like us to exist, remember the probability of NASA’s own likelihood of finding life was 1 in 10^22(7) and the fine-tuning of the parameters of the universe makes it impossible at best to attribute chance alone.
Therefore, it is due to design.
Therefore, it is more plausible that design is a better explanation of the wide range of data given.
The objector to this argument might then say “we simply haven’t enough data to make such a claim!". This is irrelevant, given what we do know, it is more plausible than its negotiations that design is the best explanation. We cannot assess data we do not have access to yet, it may be the case in 100 years, we have different information, but up and till new information is available, one cannot bury one’s head in the sand and ignore the evidence because it has uncomfortable implications, this is a kind of argument from ignorance, “I don’t know! But not that!”, what we could claim is “econtra ignorantia” or “Novis Argumentum ad ignorantiam”(Google translate) or “reverse argument from ignorance” as it is usually the atheist who accuses the theist of arguing from ignorance. Moreover, this kind of attitude would mean we could never make any inferences to the best explanation unless we had complete description of any subject, which would render us unable to say anything.
So the objector, if they want to refute this argument, needs to either show the trilemma to be false by showing a fourth possible option or refute the evidence and show necessity or chance is plausible.
(1) You might think that if the constants and quantities had assumed different values, then other forms of life might well have evolved. But this is not the case. By “life” scientists mean that property of organisms to take in food, extract energy from it, grow, adapt to their environment, and reproduce. The point is that in order for the universe to permit life so-defined, whatever form organisms might take, the constants and quantities have to be incomprehensibly fine-tuned. In the absence of fine-tuning, not even atomic matter or chemistry would exist, not to speak of planets where life might evolve!
(2) Roger Penrose, “Time-Asymmetry and Quantum Gravity,” in Quantum Gravity 2 (ed. C. J. Isham, R. Penrose, and D. W. Sciama; Oxford: Clarendon, 1981), 249.
(3) Rare earth: why complex life is uncommon in the universe. Peter D.Ward, Donald Brownlee. Copernicus Books. 2003. xxxi – xxxii.
(4) William Dembski argues that we can decisively rule out chance for an event if, given all the “probabilistic resources” available, the chance for an event is still one in 10150 (10-150). He arrives at this number by combining the number of elementary particles in the observable universe, the duration of the observable universe until heat death, plus the Planck time, which is the smallest unit of time for a physical event. The idea is to treat every particle in the universe as part of giant computer. One in 10158 would obviously exceed this “universal probability bound.” Nevertheless, we often infer design quite well even when probabilities are much higher than Dembski’s very stringent universal probability bound. Moreover, in many cases, we know little about the actual probability of producing a structure. How would we make such a determination, for instance, for Mount Rushmore? See Dembski, The Design Inference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p203–214.
(5) The privileged planet : how our place in the cosmos is designed for discovery /Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards. Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2004. P327 -328
(6) The privileged planet : how our place in the cosmos is designed for discovery /Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards. Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2004. P337 -338
(9) S.W.Hawking, “Cosmology from the Top Down," paper presenter at the Davis Cosmic Inflation Meeting, U.C.Davis, May 29,2003.
(11) Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. William Lane Craig. Crossway. 2008. P163
(14) Z. Mian, “Understanding Why Earth Is a Planet with Plate Tectonics,” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 34 (1993): 441–448; K. Regenauer-Lieb, D. A. Yuen, and J. Branlund, “The Initiation of Subduction: Criticality by Addition of Water?” Science 294 (2001): 578–580.
(15) The privileged planet : how our place in the cosmos is designed for discovery /Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards. Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2004 P55
(17) The Wonder of Water: Water’s Profound Fitness for Life on Earth and Mankind. Michael Denton. P37-39
Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. William Lane Craig. Crossway. 2008. P160 -172