Teleological Argument (part 2)

October 01, 2007     Time: 00:44:49

Let’s look at premise (2) – that it is not due to law or chance. Let’s first talk about whether or not the fine-tuning of the universe could be explained by law.

Basically the idea behind this alternative is that it is physically necessary that the universe be life-permitting; that the fine-tuning is due to some unknown physical law or constraint, some sort of theory-of-everything which would explain why the universe is the way it is. It had to be that way and there was really no chance, or little chance at least, of the universe not being life-permitting.

On the very face of it, I think this alternative is extraordinarily implausible. That is the first subpoint I want to make about it. This alternative is saying that it is physically impossible, or virtually impossible, that the universe should be life-prohibiting, that the universe should be dead and there should be no life in the universe. But surely that does seem to be physically possible. If the matter and anti-matter in the early universe had just been a little differently proportioned . . . if the universe had expanded just a little more rapidly . . . if the entropy of the initial conditions of the universe had been slightly different, then any of these adjustments, or all of them together, would have prevented the existence of biological life in the universe. Yet all of these seem to be perfectly plausible and possible scenarios. So the person who is saying that it is physically impossible for the universe to be life-prohibiting is taking a very radical line. This person would have a very strong burden of proof to show us that this is actually the case. But there isn’t any proof of that. There is no evidence at all for this first alternative. It is just put forward as a bare possibility. While that is possible, possibilities come cheap. Anything is possible. The question that we are asking is: what is the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe? The person who says that the best explanation is that it is physically necessary really has to give us some kind of evidence for that. We need more than just a bare assertion of a possibility. We need some kind of evidence for that, and there just isn’t any.

Secondly, there are good reasons to reject this explanation. First of all, there are these arbitrary quantities in addition to the physical constants that don’t seem to be controlled by any sort of physical law. Remember we saw that the fine-tuning concerns two types of quantity in the universe. One would be the physical constants like the gravitational constants that are in the mathematical equations expressed in the laws of nature. But in addition to those physical constants, remember we said there are certain arbitrary quantities that are just put in as boundary conditions on which the laws of nature operate. So even if there were some kind of laws of nature that controlled the constants, there is nothing to suggest that there is anything that controls these arbitrary quantities that are just put in as initial conditions. P. C. W. Davies is a very prominent British physicist. This is what he has to say. I will quote from him:

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.[1]

So Davies is saying that even if the laws of physics were unique and the constants were somehow fixed, there is nothing in science about laws of initial conditions governing these.[2] These are just arbitrary quantities that are just put in as boundary conditions. The alternative seems, I think, highly implausible on that ground.

Finally, the last point I want to make, is with respect to this so-called Theory of Everything. It is important to understand what scientists are talking about when they talk about a Theory of Everything. Like so many scientific labels, this is a very misleading term. A Theory of Everything is not literally a theory that would explain everything; that would explain the way everything in the world is. A Theory of Everything is just a kind of catchy way of speaking about a unified theory of physics that would explain how the four fundamental forces of nature – gravity, electromagnetism, the atomic weak force, and the atomic strong force – are all manifestations of a single force. That these are all reducible to some single force that would be described by a Theory of Everything. But even once a Theory of Everything is discovered that explains how all four of these forces are reducible to one fundamental force, that doesn’t explain all of these other examples of fine-tuning such as the cosmological constant governing the expansion of the universe or these arbitrary quantities like the amount of entropy that is put in at the beginning of the universe which is just an arbitrary initial condition to begin with. So this label “Theory of Everything” is really a misnomer. It is just an attempt to explain how you can reduce the four forces of nature to one single force. It doesn’t literally explain why everything is the way it is.

Moreover – and this is the other point I wanted to make about these so-called Theories of Everything – the best candidates that we have for a Theory of Everything would come from a field of physics called String Theory. We talked about this earlier when we talked about the Big Bang and the origin of the universe under the cosmological argument. You will remember String Theories are attempts to explain subatomic physics based not on ultimate particles like quarks but rather these are reducible to little strings of energy which vibrate. These vibrating strings of energy are the fundamental building blocks of matter that go to explain quarks and protons and other elementary particles, and finally atoms and people and mountains and galaxies and everything else. So this String Theory is the best candidate we have for giving us a unified theory of the fundamental forces of nature into one single force. But the point I want to make is that String Theory itself, like other attempts to unify these theories, itself involves fine-tuning. So it doesn’t eliminate the fine-tuning, it just pushes it back another notch.

For example, in String Theory, this is only formulatable in 11 dimensions. If we are to unite all of the various String Theories into one type of theory that is usually called M-Theory, it requires 11 dimensions (10 dimensions of space and 1 dimension of time) in order to make this theory to work. But there is no explanation in the theory as to why reality should have 11 dimensions. It is extraordinarily fine-tuned. Out of all the dimensions there could have been, you need to have just 11. The theory doesn’t explain why there should be just 11. At this conference that Jan and I were at in Washington D. C. I sat down for breakfast one morning with a String Theorist from Baylor University. He is involved in their String Theory institute or whatever it is called at Baylor. We had a talk about this. He put it very nicely. He said that String Theory does not eliminate the fine-tuning, it simply replaces the present fine-tuning of the forces with geometrical fine-tuning like 11 dimensions of time and space.[3] It takes on a different kind of fine-tuning. It is still fine-tuning, but now it is not force field fine-tuning, it is geometrical fine-tuning (was the way he put it). I thought that was very helpful and very illuminating in understanding the impact of String Theory upon the fine-tuning argument.

This is the pattern, as I said. The fine-tuning is incredibly stubborn. It is like a stubborn bump in the carpet. You suppress it at one point and it only pops up someplace else. If you eliminate the fine-tuning of, say, gravity and the weak force and so forth by unifying them into one fundamental force, then the fine-tuning just gets pushed back to the geometrical properties of the universe. Therefore, I think that the attempt to say that the universe has to be the way it is, that it is physically necessary that it be life-permitting, is simply implausible and indeed there is good evidence against it. The fine-tuning isn’t eliminated by these attempts to try to make it physically necessary. On the contrary, those very theories require the fine-tuning themselves so it is not really eliminated.

Let’s go on to the second alternative which is chance. According to this alternative, the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life is just an accident. The values of the constants and the quantities all just happen to fall into the infinitesimally narrow life-permitting range, and we are the lucky beneficiaries of that. The problem, I think, with this alternative is that the odds against this happening simply by accident, by sheer chance, are so incomprehensibly great that they cannot reasonably be faced. People who just sort of blithely shrug their shoulders and say, “Oh well, it could have happened by chance. The improbable happens,” just don’t have any understanding, I think, of the fantastic precision that is required for the fine-tuning of the universe. They would never adopt this alternative to explain some other tremendous improbability were they to encounter. For example, if you were walking on the beach and you came across a watch lying on the sand. Nobody would say, “Oh well, look how the elements of the wind, rain, water, and sea have fallen together to produce this exquisite mechanism!” If you said to somebody who said that, “Well, that is extraordinarily improbable. That would never happen,” and this person says, “Oh, well, improbabilities happen.” You wouldn’t take that seriously. That is not the best explanation. This, I think, just illustrates again the point I made some time ago, and that is people, in order to avoid the inference to God, will accept explanations that they would never accept in any other area of life because the fine-tuning of the universe is fantastically more improbable than the fine-tuning of a simple mechanism like a watch. So if we wouldn't accept accident in the case of a watch, neither would we or should we accept it in the case of something like the universe.

But it is important to understand here that it is not just probability or improbability that is at issue here, because it is true that fantastically improbable things do happen all the time. When you think about it, your existence is the result of a fantastically improbable event of the union of just a certain sperm with a certain egg that produced you. If that sperm and that egg had not met at just that time you would not exist. Yet nobody would infer from the improbability of that that therefore their union was the result of some sort of intelligent design. So it is not just improbability that is at stake here because improbabilities do happen all the time. Rather, what is at stake here is what theorists call specified improbability.[4] That is to say, one shows that the event in question is not only improbable but that it also conforms to an independently given pattern.

Let me give an example. Suppose you walked into a room and found a chimpanzee seated at a typewriter pounding away at the keys. You look at what the chimpanzee had produced, and you saw it was just a string of gibberish, just random letters. You would probably not think that the random letters were the result of intelligent design. It was just the result of the chimp hammering away at the keys. But suppose you walked into the room and found that one of Shakespeare’s sonnets had been typed; and there was the chimp sitting in the chair next to the machine. In that case you would say something was fishy; that this sonnet had not been typed by the chimpanzee hammering away by accident at the keys of the typewriter. Yet, here is the interesting point, the sequence of letters in the sonnet of Shakespeare and the sequence of letters in the gibberish typed by the chimp are equally improbable. In terms of having just that precise sequence of letters, there is no difference in the probability. The probabilities are just the same.

Think of somebody shuffling and dealing cards. If you were playing cards, any deal of the cards is equally improbable. Yet, if somebody continually dealt himself, say, a perfect bridge hand every time he dealt, you would suspect something was wrong even though the improbability of that sequence of cards is exactly the same as the improbability of any sequence of cards dealt. So what is the difference between the two? The difference is that it is not just that one is improbable and the other one is not – they are both equally improbable. The difference is one conforms to an independently given pattern. It is a specific improbability. In the case of the chimp, the pattern of letters conforms to the independently given pattern of grammatically formed English language sentences. In the case of the bridge hand, it conforms to the pattern of the game of bridge and what constitutes a winning hand.

So it is not simply that these events are improbable that tips you off that it is not the result of chance. It is the combination of improbability plus this independently given pattern to which the event conforms that tips you off that this is not the result of chance.

With this in mind, we can see the fallacy of people who would try to explain the fine-tuning away by saying something like this: well, any universe is equally improbable. It is like winning the lottery. Any one person’s winning the lottery is equally improbable, but somebody has to win it (assuming that all the tickets have been distributed). Therefore, if you win the lottery you shouldn’t assume that the lottery was rigged, even though it is highly improbable that you should win it. Each person’s winning the lottery is equally improbable, but that doesn’t therefore imply that when somebody wins it therefore the lottery is rigged.

What is wrong with that analogy? Where is the fallacy in that analogy? Very simply, it forgets the idea of the independently specified pattern. We are not just talking about the probability of any old universe existing. We are talking about the specified probability of a life-permitting universe existing. That is something that cries out for explanation. Any universe is equally improbable – that is true. But we are not talking about that. We are talking about the specified improbability of a life-permitting universe existing.

So the correct lottery analogy for what we are talking about would be like this. It would be a lottery in which a billion-billion-billion black balls were mixed together with one white ball. Then you are commanded to reach in and pull out a single ball. If the ball is black, you will be shot. If it is white, you will be allowed to live.[5] In such a lottery, any ball you pick is equally improbable, right? No matter which ball you pick, that is equally improbable. But which ever ball you pick, it is overwhelmingly more probable that it will be black rather than white. You need to pick the life-permitting white ball if you are to exist.

So if you reach into this lottery of billions and billions of black balls with one white ball and you pull out a ball and you see that it is white, you ought to immediately suspect that this thing is rigged. This has not occurred by chance, because the odds are overwhelming that the ball you pick ought to be black rather than white. And that is exactly what it is like with the fine-tuning of the universe. Any universe’s existence is equally improbable; that is true. But given the incomprehensible improbability of the fine-tuning of the universe, the universe which exists (which ever one it is) ought to be life-prohibiting rather than life-permitting.

If you don’t see the force of the example (I find that some people don’t understand probability enough to see the force of the example), think of it this way. Suppose you had to pull out the white ball from the billions and billions of black balls five times in a row in order to be allowed to live. And you did it – five time in a row. Every time you reached in you pulled out the white ball. Surely, I think, all of us would say something is wrong there. This is rigged. This shouldn’t be happening by chance. And yet the probabilities of this are not affected by having you pick five times rather than once. If the chance of picking the white ball are something like, say, 1 chance out of 1080, having you do it five times in a row doesn’t appreciably affect the probability. So if the analogy hits you with doing it five times in a row, you should see the point in doing it even one time given the improbability of it.

So don’t be fooled by people who say things like, “It is like the lottery.” They are misusing the analogy of the lottery. They are misunderstanding the specified improbability of a life-permitting universe existing.


Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Remember we are considering here the hypothesis of chance. So we are granting the non-design person that this is just the result of chance. We are saying, OK, suppose we have a lottery and somebody just sort of throws a dart at the wall blindfolded and it hits a universe, and that is the one that exists. That is what we are talking about here. What we are saying is that it is incomprehensibly more probable that the dart will hit a universe that is life-prohibiting rather than life-permitting because there are just so few life-permitting universes.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: No, I don’t think so because as a Christian one would believe that the cosmos is the product of God’s intelligent and providential planning. What we are trying to do here is to eliminate the hypothesis of chance in favor of saying it is a better explanation to think that the universe was designed on purpose to be like this, rather than this just sort of took place by chance. But very often people try to defend the chance hypothesis by these lottery kinds of illustrations. They can be persuasive until you understand that it is the wrong illustration. It is the wrong kind of lottery. Once you understand the proper kind of lottery then you see it actually supports design.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: I don't think so because that is again kind of like the lottery illustrations. Some sperm has to reach the egg. So which ever one does is equally improbable, granting that they all have an equal probability.[6] In one sense that is not really true. Some are more vigorous than others and things of that sort. But given that you’ve got this one egg and that there have been sexual intercourse and you’ve got 500,000 sperm swimming toward this egg, one of them is going to get there and fertilize it, and it is equally improbable which ever one makes it. So you wouldn’t infer from the fact that this sperm got to the egg that somehow that was designed to do so rather than one of the others.

I think, in a sense, it is designed! I believe that God . . .

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: I agree. I am not denying God’s providence. I am saying that this wouldn’t be a good argument for God’s existence to say that, “Boy, my existence is so improbable that just this egg and just this sperm should have united. Therefore, there must be a God.”

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Yeah, I think that is true because there I don’t think it is equally improbable that life would exist. There the probabilities are far greater that life would not exist. But with the sperm and the egg example, or the lottery example where somebody wins the lottery, we are wanting to affirm that, yes, it is true that improbable things do happen all the time. Highly improbable things happen all the time. You don’t infer from that that therefore something is rigged or designed just because it is improbable. But it is this combination of improbability plus the independently given pattern that tips you off that there is more than chance operating here.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: That is very helpful. We heard a talk at the conference in Washington, D. C. I went to many of the science talks at this. One fellow from UGA gave a talk on Chaos Theory. One of the things that was pointed out is when you say something happened by chance – let’s imagine event E has happened by chance – he explained that what you really mean is you don’t mean that E is an undetermined event or that E is somehow caused by something called chance. Rather, you just mean that, say, there are two independent causal chains leading to the production of E and there isn’t any relationship between these two chains of events. So in that sense it is caused by the chance coincidence of these two independent causal chains. But there isn’t anything, like you say, called Chance, with a capital-C. You just mean that these lines of causality leading to the event aren’t connected with each other. So for example suppose you run into your friend while you are shopping at Publix by accident. That doesn’t mean that Chance has caused you to meet your friend at Publix, or that that event is somehow undetermined. It just means that the series of causes that lead you to be at Publix at that moment and the series of causes that led your friend to be at Publix at just that moment are independent of each other. They are not coordinated. It is in that sense that one says we met at Publix by chance. I find that to be very helpful. That really helped me to understand what a scientist means to say when he says this event “happened by chance.” He does not mean the event is uncaused. And he does not mean that there is some mysterious entity called Chance that produces the event. It just means that the causal chain leading to the event aren’t correlated with each other leading to the production of that event. That is what we mean when we say an event happened by chance.

Question: [inaudible][7]

Answer: Right. That is correct. If the constants and quantities were altered in some way, you would have a different universe. Remember I talked about that a couple of weeks ago by asking us to do a thought experiment where we would make a red dot on the whiteboard representing a life-permitting universe. [draws on the whiteboard] Then we would alter these quantities a little bit and that makes a new universe. If it is a life-permitting one, make it a red dot. If it is life-prohibiting then make it a blue dot. Then you repeat that procedure over and over again until finally the whole board is filled with dots. What you discover is that you have a sea of blue with only a few pin pricks of red here and there. So you would have different universes but they would be life-prohibiting, they would be dead. There wouldn’t be any life in those universes in the absence of the fine-tuning. The question we are asking is, is that just by chance? Could that just have happened by chance? What we are suggesting is that, no, that isn’t the best explanation.


How can the atheist get over this problem that the specified improbability of the fine-tuning is just too great to be reasonably faced? Here many thinkers have appealed to the so-called Anthropic Principle. Sometimes people throw around this term – the Anthropic Principle – as a synonym for the argument from design. They think that the Anthropic Principle is a way of saying that the universe is designed. But that is entirely incorrect. That is a misuse of this phrase. Rather, the Anthropic Principle is an attempt to explain away the fine-tuning of the universe and to explain how it could have happened by chance.

What does the Anthropic Principle state? Basically it says this: we should not be surprised to observe a finely tuned universe because if the universe were not finely tuned we wouldn’t be here to be surprised about it. That is what the Anthropic Principle says. You shouldn’t be surprise to observe that the universe is fine-tuned for our existence because, if it were not fine-tuned for our existence, we wouldn’t be here to be surprised about it. This is thought to therefore lead us to think that the fine-tuning of the universe requires no explanation; we shouldn’t really be surprised about it, therefore there is nothing really to be explained.

I think that this use of the Principle is logically fallacious. The statement “We shouldn’t be surprised that we do not observe conditions of the universe incompatible with our existence” is a true statement. That is a little bit hard to understand because it has so many double-negatives in it but nevertheless this, I think, is the truth that is in the Anthropic Principle. Why? Because if they were incompatible with our existence then we couldn’t be here to observe them! So it is hardly surprising that we don’t observe conditions of the universe which are incompatible with our existence. But from this statement it does not follow logically that we shouldn’t be surprised that we do observe conditions compatible with our existence.[8] It does not follow from the first statement that we should be surprised that we do observe conditions of the universe compatible with our existence in light of the incredible improbability of those conditions existing. Given the incredible improbability of the initial conditions of the universe, we should be surprised that we do observe conditions of the universe which are compatible with our existence, even though we should not be surprised that we do not observe conditions that are incompatible with our existence. Those who push the Anthropic Principle are confusing the first statement (which is true, indeed trivially true) with the second statement. That is simply a logical fallacy. The second statement does not follow from the first statement. The first statement is true; the second statement is false. We really should be surprised that we do observe conditions that are compatible with our existence.

John Leslie, who is a Canadian philosopher who has done a lot of work on the Anthropic Principle, gives a very wonderful illustration of this point that I want to share with you. Leslie says imagine that you were dragged in front of a firing squad of one hundred trained marksmen all with rifles aimed at your heart to be executed. You hear the command given: Ready, Aim, Fire! And you hear the deafening roar of the guns. Then you observe that you are still alive! That all of the one hundred trained marksmen missed. Now, what would you conclude? “Well, I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised that they all missed. After all, if they hadn’t all missed, I wouldn’t be here to be surprised about it. Given that I am here, I should have expected them all to miss.” Well, of course not. You would quite rightly conclude that while you should not be surprised that you do not observe that you are dead (because if you were dead you couldn’t observe it), you should be surprised that you do observe that you are alive in view of the enormous improbability of the marksmen all missing. You would immediately suspect that they all missed on purpose; that the whole thing was a set up engineered by some person for some reason. It is exactly the same with the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe. We shouldn’t be surprised that we don’t observe conditions of the universe incompatible with our existence. That would be like observing that you are dead. But it doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t be surprised that we do observe conditions that are compatible with our existence. That is like observing that you are alive after all of the one hundred trained marksmen miss. There you should be surprised that you do observe conditions compatible with your existence because they are so incredibly, incredibly improbable.

So the Anthropic Principle is simply logically fallacious. Those who use it, I think, have committed a fallacy of trying to infer the second statement from the first statement when they are not logically equivalent.


Question: [inaudible]

Answer: John Leslie’s illustrations are just wonderful. They really help to make it clear.


Those who want to defend the alternative of chance have therefore been forced to adopt an extraordinary metaphysical hypothesis; namely, the Many Worlds Hypothesis. That brings us to the next point. The Anthropic Principle with a World Ensemble. According to this hypothesis, our universe is just one member of a greater collection or ensemble of universes, all of which are real, actually existing parallel universes – not just possibilities, but realities that actually exist out there. So this universe is not the only universe there is. There are other universes – a World Ensemble, if you will – of various universes existing out there. In order to ensure that our universe will appear by chance alone somewhere in this ensemble of universes, it is also stipulated that there is an infinite number of parallel universes.[9] You have to say they are infinite because that is the only way you can guarantee that every possibility will be actualized. So it is not just that there is an ensemble of invisible, undetectable, parallel universes, there is an infinite number of these other universes that exist out there. Moreover, these universes must all be randomly ordered with respect to their constants and their physical quantities, because otherwise they might all be the same. There might be an infinite number of them but they might have all the same constants and quantities, or they might vary a little bit. Some of them have some, and some have the other. Maybe there are only three values that appear in the infinite ensemble. So in order to guarantee that our universe will appear in the ensemble, you’ve got to postulate not just these other parallel universes, you’ve got to postulate an infinite number of these parallel universes, and you’ve got to postulate that they are all randomly ordered so that every combination of constants and quantities will occur somewhere in the World Ensemble. Those who hold to this view say that, therefore, there will appear somewhere in the ensemble of universes a universe just like ours, and then they appeal to the Anthropic Principle to say that we shouldn’t be surprised that we observe just such a universe because, after all, if we are not finely tuned then we wouldn’t be here to observe it. Those other universes out there are dead; they don’t have any observers in them. They are not observing anything. It is only in the finely tuned one that you could have observers and therefore we shouldn’t really be surprised to observe the finely tuned conditions of the universe because observers like us only exist in those universes that are finely tuned.

This is the point at which the debate has been driven today. I am entirely serious here. If you want to talk to people who are really on the cutting edge of the debate over the fine-tuning of the universe, it is basically the design hypothesis versus the Many Worlds hypothesis. Sober scientists are talking about this possibility in a really rather desperate effort to explain away the incredible fine-tuning of the universe.

What I want to do next time is offer a four-point critique of the Many Worlds hypothesis. I will argue that I think the design hypothesis is a better explanation of the fine-tuning than this randomly ordered, infinite ensemble of parallel universes.[10]

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

[2] 5:07

[3] 10:03

[4] 14:58

[5] 20:05

[6] 25:02

[7] 30:17

[8] 35:05

[9] 40:03

[10] Total Running Time: 43:26 (Copyright © 2007 William Lane Craig)