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Anthropic Fine-Tuning as Evidence of Design

Stephen C. Meyer
Image credit: Gerd Altmann via Pixabay.

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from a chapter in the newly released book The Comprehensive Guide to Science and Faith: Exploring the Ultimate Questions About Life and the Cosmos. We are presenting Dr. Meyer’s chapter as a series, in which this is the fourth post. Find the full series so far here.

The evidence of design in living cells is not the only such evidence in nature. Modern physics now reveals evidence of intelligent design in the very fabric of the universe. Since the 1950s and 1960s, physicists have recognized that the initial conditions and the laws and constants of physics are finely tuned, against all odds, to make life possible. Even extremely slight alterations in the values of many independent factors — such as the expansion rate of the universe, the speed of light, the masses of quarks, and the precise strength of gravitational or electromagnetic attraction — would render life impossible. Physicists refer to these factors as “anthropic coincidences,” and to the fortunate convergence of all these coincidences as the “fine-tuning of the universe.” 

A Preexistent Intelligence

Many physicists have noted that this fine-tuning strongly suggests design by a preexistent intelligence. Physicist Paul Davies has said that “the impression of design is overwhelming.”1 Fred Hoyle argued, “A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology.”2Many physicists now concur. They would argue that — in effect — these parameters appear finely tuned to make life possible because someone carefully fine-tuned them.

To explain the vast improbabilities associated with these fine-tuning parameters, some physicists, such as Lawrence Krauss and Leonard Susskind, have postulated not a fine-tuner or intelligent designer, but instead, the existence of a vast number of other parallel universes. This multiverse concept posits the existence of many other universes, each with different sets of physical parameters. In so doing, it attempts to show that a set of fine-tuning parameters necessary for life would — in all probability — inevitably arise somewhere in some universe, since this multiplicity of new universes would vastly increase the number of opportunities for generating a life-friendly universe. 

Multiverse advocates not only posit a great multiplicity of other universes, they also posit the existence of some universe-generating mechanism to explain where these other universes came from. It’s important to understand why they must do this. Most proponents think of the different universes that they postulate as causally isolated or disconnected from each other. Thus, they do not expect to have any direct observational evidence of universes other than our own.3 Consequently, nothing that happens in one universe should have any effect on things that happen in another universe. Nor would events in one universe affect the probability of events in another universe, including the probabilities of whatever events were responsible for setting the values of the fine-tuning parameters in another universe — such as ours. As science writer Clifford Longley explains the concept: “There could have been millions and millions of different universes created each with different dial settings of the fundamental ratios and constants, so many in fact that the right set was bound to turn up by sheer chance.”4

A Cosmic Lottery

Yet if all the different universes were produced by the same underlying causal mechanism, then it would be possible to conceive of our universe as the winner of a cosmic lottery, where some winning universe with just the right laws, constants, and/or initial conditions, would eventually emerge. Postulating a “universe-generating machine” could conceivably render the probability of getting a universe with life-friendly conditions quite high, and, in the process, explain the fine-tuning as the result of a randomizing element — like the action of a giant slot machine or a roulette wheel turning out either life-conducive winners or life-unfriendly losers with each spin or pull on the handle.

But, as I explain in my new book Return of the God Hypothesis5 in much more detail, advocates of these multiverse proposals have overlooked an obvious problem. The speculative cosmologies (such as inflationary cosmology and string theory) they propose for generating alternative universes invariably invoke mechanisms that themselves require fine-tuning, thus begging the question as to the origin of that prior fine-tuning. Indeed, all the various materialistic explanations for the origin of the fine-tuning — i.e., the explanations that attempt to explain the fine-tuning without invoking intelligent design — invariably invoke prior unexplained fine-tuning. 

Improbability and Functional Specification

Moreover, the fine-tuning of the universe exhibits precisely those features — extreme improbability and functional specification — that invariably trigger an awareness of, and justify an inference to, intelligent design.6 Because the multiverse theory cannot explain fine-tuning without invoking prior fine-tuning, and because the fine-tuning of a physical system to accomplish a recognizable or propitious end is exactly the kind of thing we know intelligent agents do, it follows that intelligent design stands as the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe. And that makes intelligent design detectable in both the physical parameters of the universe and the information-bearing properties of life.

Next, “Intelligent Design: Theistic Implications?”

Notes

  1. Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), 203.
  2. Fred Hoyle, “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections,” Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics 20 (1982), 16.
  3. A few physicists have proposed that if our bubble universe bumped into another bubble universe, it would leave detectable patterns in the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). See Joshua Sokol, “A Brush with a Universe Next Door,” New Scientist 228 (October 31, 2015), 8-9.Roger Penrose has made a similar claim for his conformal cyclic cosmology (CCC) model, in which the universe goes through infinitely many cycles, with the future time-like infinity of each earlier iteration being identified with the big bang singularity of the next. For a popular account, see Roger Penrose, Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011). He argues that observed “hot spots” in the CMBR represent evidence of interaction between the different modes of the universe in its collapsing and expanding phases. Specifically, he sees hot spots in the CMBR as evidence of the collapse of black holes prior to the beginning of our universe in its present expansion phase. See Roger Penrose, “On the Gravitization of Quantum Mechanics 2: Conformal Cyclic Cosmology,” Foundations of Physics 44 (2014), 873-890. Even so, his model does not, strictly speaking, represent a multiverse model, since the universes exist in succession, not in parallel.
  4. Clifford Longley, “Focusing on Theism,” London Times (January 21, 1989), 10.
  5. Stephen C. Meyer, Return of the God Hypothesis: Compelling Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2021).
  6. Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2004), 293-311.