Teleological Argument (part 3)

October 07, 2007     Time: 00:43:46

We have been looking at the design argument for the existence of God based upon the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe. We argued that this fine-tuning is due either to physical necessity, chance, or design. We saw that the hypothesis that it is due to physical necessity is extraordinarily implausible, and there are good reasons not to think that is the case. So we’ve been looking at the chance hypothesis, and we saw that the odds against this occurring by chance alone are virtually next to impossible. Attempts to stave off our surprise at the fine-tuning of the universe by appeal of the so-called Anthropic Principal (which says that we really shouldn’t be surprised at the fine-tuning of the universe because if it weren’t fine-tuned we wouldn’t be here to be surprised about it) we saw is basically a logically fallacious move.

The debate over the chance hypothesis has therefore moved to this hypothesis of a World Ensemble of parallel universes. The idea here is that this universe that we observe is not the only one there is. There are out there an infinite number of undetectable, invisible, untestable, other worlds – other universes – that exist. Not only are there an infinite number of these other universes but they are randomly varied in the constants and quantities that they have. So given that the number of them is infinite and that they are random in their variations it will follow that there will appear by chance alone somewhere in this World Ensemble worlds which have just the right combination of constants and quantities for intelligent life to exist and, lucky us!, we are in one of those worlds and we observe it to exist. We shouldn’t be surprised at this because in worlds where they are not fine-tuned there are no observers there at all. Observers can only exist in those universes that are finely tuned.

This is really where the cutting edge of this debate is today. Believe it or not. It is on basically divine design/intelligent designer versus this Many Worlds hypothesis.

In one sense, before I look at the problems or why I think the World Ensemble is not the best explanation, I want to say that the very fact that otherwise sober scientists have had to resort to such a fantastic metaphysical hypothesis as this World Ensemble is itself a kind of backhanded compliment to the power of this design argument. Otherwise sober scientists would not be resorting to such metaphysical hypotheses unless they felt the tremendous pressure to do so. The fine-tuning of the universe cries out for some kind of explanation, and if it has to be metaphysical then that is what one will resort to. So in one sense we shouldn’t be too upset or disturbed about this Many Worlds hypothesis because it really is testimony to the fact that the fine-tuning can’t just be written off. You can’t just blow it away. This really cries out for an explanation.

I was talking to Robin Collins, who is a Christian philosopher of science who has participated in a number of these science-and-religion dialogues that are put on by the Templeton Foundation. He shared with me a very interesting impression that he had as a result of one of these. He said to me, “This Many Worlds hypothesis is really the way in which these non-Christian scientists can talk about God.” He said in their discipline as scientists they cannot (kind of like Romania) use the “G” word. That is the way he used it! He said they cannot use the “G” word. So their way of talking about God and metaphysics is to talk about things like the Many Worlds hypothesis, because as a naturalistic hypothesis that is acceptable. You can talk about it. But in a sense, once you start talking about Many Worlds and parallel universes, you’ve already crossed the boundary from physics into metaphysics.[1] Once you’ve done that then what further objection can there be to talking about God? Because you’ve already launched out onto the metaphysical deep so to speak in buying into Many Worlds. So this Many Worlds hypothesis, or the World Ensemble hypothesis, though it is an alternative to design nevertheless it is useful in a sense apologetically because it does show that there is something here that cries out for explanation and it does launch the discussion into metaphysics. It gets you beyond just physical science into things that are beyond the reach of science and thereby opens the door to introducing the God hypothesis.

The question then is: is the Many Worlds hypothesis the best explanation for the fine-tuning? I think there are reasons to think that it is not the best explanation.

First of all, as I have already indicated, the Many Worlds hypothesis is no more scientific and no less metaphysical than the hypothesis of a divine designer. These many worlds are beyond the reach and detection of science so this is really metaphysics that is going on here. John Polkinghorne, who is a very famous theologian and scientist, has written the following:

People try to trick out a many universe account in sort of pseudo-scientific terms. But that is pseudo-science. It is a metaphysical guess that there might be many universes with different laws and circumstances.

So Polkinghorne says this is basically metaphysical guesswork even if it is put in the trappings of a scientific theory.

If it is a metaphysical hypothesis then it is not going to be scientifically superior to the divine hypothesis, and it is going to have to be weighed by means of other criterion. I think when you do that you can argue that the design hypothesis is superior to the Many Worlds hypothesis on the basis of the criterion of simplicity. The design hypothesis is simpler than the Many Worlds hypothesis.

There is a principle of explanation – a methodological principle – that we’ve referred to before in this class known as Ockham’s Razor. Ockham’s Razor is a methodological principle that basically says that you should not posit causes beyond necessity. Don’t posit causes beyond necessity. You are only justified in positing causes which are necessary to explain the effect. For example, if you would see a disease that appears to be caused by a certain virus, it would be unjustified to go beyond that and posit other viruses as well that are active and causing this disease. That would be a more complicated hypothesis. You don’t posit causes beyond necessity. When you apply Ockham’s Razor to the fine-tuning of the universe, it seems to me that it is simpler to posit one cosmic intelligence as responsible for the fine-tuning rather than this infinitely bloated ontology of a World Ensemble of randomly ordered universes. The only way, I think, that the World Ensemble hypothesis could meet this objection would be if there were a single comparably simple mechanism for generating a multiplicity of worlds. If the World Ensemble theorist could show that there is a simple mechanism that is as simple as theism that would automatically generate this ensemble of infinitely many randomly varied universes then he could say, yes, this is equally simple to the divine designer hypothesis. But the problem is that there isn’t any comparably simple explanation. Indeed, there is no explanation at all, as we will see in a minute, for why such a World Ensemble should exist. That is the first point of critique as to why I think the hypothesis of a divine designer is superior – it is a simpler hypothesis.[2]

The second point of critique is that there is no explanation of how or why such a collection of universes should exist. Nobody knows where this World Ensemble is supposed to have come from or why it exists or why it is randomly varied in its constants and quantities in the way it is hypothesized. It is just postulated to be that way. There have been some attempts to try to explain the existence of a World Ensemble of universes, but the interesting thing is that these attempts don’t get rid of the fine-tuning. They, themselves, require fine-tuning in order to generate a World Ensemble of parallel universes.

For example, many theorists have tried to suggest some sort of inflationary model of the universe that would generate an ensemble of universes. You may remember when we were talking about the cosmological argument, we talked about Andre Linde’s Chaotic Inflationary Model where as the universe grows it begins to inflate. That inflation spawns further inflation, and that spawns a further inflation, and so on and so forth. So the universe is this multiplicity of inflating domains in this way. Each one of these you could say is sort of a separate world – each of these inflating domains is a world of its own. So this would be one way in which one might hypothesize a World Ensemble of universes to come about – through this inflationary universe. You will remember we showed under the cosmological argument that ultimately this cannot be eternal in the past but goes back to an absolute beginning point in the past. That is not the point I want to make now. The point I want to make now is that this inflationary model, in order to work, requires an extraordinary amount of fine-tuning itself. The only consistent inflationary model that is available today is Linde’s Chaotic Inflationary Model, and it requires fine-tuning in order to drive the inflation. This is what Robert Brandenberger, who is a cosmologist at Brown University says,

Linde's scenario does not address a crucial problem, namely, the cosmological constant problem. The field which drives inflation in Linde's scenario is expected to generate an unacceptably large cosmological constant which must be tuned to 0 by hand. [that is to say, you just have to adjust the equations yourself – you just make it 0 even though there is no physical reason for it.] This is a problem which plagues all inflationary universe models.

That would be just one example of how an attempt to get rid of fine-tuning by appealing to Many Worlds hypotheses itself involves fine-tuning of an extraordinary kind and therefore doesn’t really solve the problem.

The third point that I want to make by way of critique is the simple point that there is no evidence for the existence of a World Ensemble. The only evidence for the existence of a World Ensemble of universes is the fine-tuning itself. But there isn’t any independent reason to think that these things really exist out there. But of course the fine-tuning is equally evidence for a divine designer. So you can’t posit the World Ensemble just because of the fine-tuning, because that is equally explained by the postulation of a cosmic intelligence. So there isn’t any independent evidence for the existence of a World Ensemble. By contrast, I think we do have independent evidence for the existence of God. Namely, things like the argument from contingency, the cosmological argument that we’ve already looked at. We are going to look at the moral argument for God’s existence. The ontological argument. Not to mention all of the Christian evidences like the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus, his miracles, his radical claims, fulfilled prophecy.[3] So the hypothesis of a divine designer is different than the hypothesis of a World Ensemble in that we have independent evidence for belief that God exists apart from the fine-tuning, whereas, there is no independent evidence to suggest that a World Ensemble of randomly varied worlds exist.

Finally, the fourth point by way of critique that I want to make is the following. The Many Worlds hypothesis faces a very severe challenge from contemporary evolutionary theory – from the Darwinian theory of evolution. In other words, I am going to argue that these two are incompatible with each other. The World Ensemble hypothesis is at odds with, or incompatible with, the standard Darwinian theory of evolution.

Let me give a little background first in order to understand this point. Back in the 19th century there was a scientist in Germany named Ludwig Boltzmann who was troubled by the problem of why we do not find the universe now existing in a state of heat death or equilibrium. Remember when we talked about the second law of thermodynamics and the future of the universe, we said that if the universe exists long enough all of its energy would eventually be diffused and the universe would come to a state of equilibrium or heat death in which there would be no light, there would be virtually no heat, there would be no organization to matter, there would just be darkness and lifelessness throughout the cosmos. If the universe lives long enough then the second law of thermodynamics says the universe will come to this state of heat death or equilibrium. 19th century scientists were troubled by the question: If the universe will come to heat death in the future postulated enough time then why does the universe not now exist in a state of equilibrium? Why is it not now in a state of heat death if it has existed forever, from eternity past? If the universe has always existed, it should already have used up all of its available energy and exist in a state of heat death.

The way Boltzmann got around this problem was through postulating a kind of Many Worlds hypothesis to explain away the absence of thermodynamic equilibrium. Boltzmann said that the universe as a whole does in fact exist in a state of equilibrium. Because the universe has been around forever it is in equilibrium. The universe as a whole is in a state of heat death. But he said by chance alone there will appear fluctuations in this overall state of equilibrium which will produce pockets of thermodynamic disequilibrium where, in fact, the entropy level would go down rather than up. If you can imagine the blackboard being the universe existing in a state of equilibrium, at certain points in this universe there will be these little pockets of disequilibrium where the entropy declines. There the universe would not be at equilibrium. Boltzmann referred to these little pockets of disequilibrium as worlds. He said by chance alone there will occur throughout the universe these fluctuations that will produce these conditions of disequilibrium. These are different worlds. Here is world 1, world 2, world 3, for example. And we happen to exist in one of these worlds. Therefore, when we look out at the universe what we are seeing is our local region of disequilibrium which is located in this sea of equilibrium that fills the entire universe. Therefore, Boltzmann said we shouldn’t really be surprised to see that the universe is in disequilibrium because what we are observing are our little patch, our little world, rather than the universe as a whole.

The problem that physicists found with Boltzmann’s daring Many Worlds hypothesis is that if our universe is just a fluctuation in this overall sea of equilibrium then it is overwhelmingly more probable that we would be observing a much smaller area of disequilibrium than we do.[4] In order for us to exist, you don’t have to have this huge universe billions and billions of light years across. It would be far more probable to just have a little tiny fluctuation that would just form our solar system or even the earth by chance alone rather than this whole great universe. In fact, it would be far more probable that the earth would form just as a whole – just by an accident – in this sea of equilibrium than that there would be this progressive decline in entropy in contradiction to the law of thermodynamics over a period of fifteen billion years in order to produce us. It would be far more probable just to have this local catastrophic disequilibrium that just produced us rather than this steady decline in entropy in contradiction to the second law of thermodynamics over a period of fifteen billion years in order to produce our universe.

In fact, on the Boltzmann hypothesis, it would force us to adopt a sort of strange illusionism in which everything that we see out in the universe would have the mere appearance of age. The stars and the planets would just be sort of like pictures on the heavens rather than real objects that actually exist. That would be far more probable than this decline in entropy over fifteen billion years to produce real planets and stars and galaxies out there. It would be far more probable that everything just has the illusion of age when in fact they don’t really exist out there.

For that reason, Boltzmann’s Many Worlds hypothesis for explaining the disequilibrium we observe has been virtually universally rejected by modern scientific community. I don’t know of anybody who would defend Boltzmann’s explanation. The initial low entropy condition that is found in the Big Bang is usually just taken to be one of those inexplicable initial boundary conditions that is just put in at the creation as an initial condition of the universe. It goes basically unexplained as to why the universe has the low entropy condition that it did.

What I want to argue is that a precisely parallel problem attends the Many Worlds hypothesis for explaining away the fine-tuning of the universe that we exist – the same sort of problem that attended Boltzmann’s use of the Many Worlds hypothesis. Because according to the prevailing Darwinian theory of evolution, intelligent life like ourselves, if it is going to evolve at all in the cosmos, will do so as late as possible in the lifetime of its star. Whatever planet you are on, the star that is associated with that planet will be as old as possible before life will evolve. Why? Simply because the less the amount of time available for the mechanisms of genetic mutation and natural selection to produce life the more improbable life becomes. In order to make life more probable, you’ve got to have more time. So life should evolve as late as possible in the lifetime of its star as it can. Therefore, what that means is given the incredible complexity of the human organism, for example, we should evolve as late in the lifetime of the sun as possible.

In fact, two physicists, John Barrow and Frank Tipler, have listed in their book, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, ten steps in the evolution of Homo sapiens each of which is so improbable that before it would occur the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence yellow star and would have incinerated the earth. Stars go through an evolutionary history themselves. The yellow star is a relatively young star. Then it becomes a red giant. Then finally a blue star? I can’t remember which one is first, but anyway there is an evolutionary history to stars.[5] Finally they burn out and become either neutron stars or black holes late in their evolution. What they are saying is that ten steps have to happen in order for Homo sapiens to evolve. Things like the development of an internal skeleton, the development of photosynthesis, the development of the eye, the development of the mitocondria in the cell. Each one of these ten steps is so improbable that before it would occur the sun would have ceased to be in the main sequence of stellar evolution and would have grown to a red giant and burned up the earth and incinerated it. Yet, all of these had to have occurred in order for human life to evolve on this planet.

Again, what that implies is that if human life is the product of biological evolution then we should be observing a very old sun, not a relatively young sun, if we exist in a World Ensemble of different universes. If we are products of biological evolution which have evolved by accident in a World Ensemble of universes, then we ought to find ourselves in a universe in which we evolve very late in the lifetime of our star. This is comparable to the problem of the Boltzmann hypothesis that if we are the products of disequilibrium in a sea of equilibrium we ought to be observing a much smaller universe rather than the big we that we do. Similarly, we ought to be observing a very old sun (star) rather than the very young one we observe.

In fact, adopting this Many Worlds hypothesis would force us to have this sort of illusionism that plagued Boltzmann’s hypothesis. It is far more probable that all of our astronomical and geological estimates of the age of the sun and the universe are wrong and that this is all a massive illusion – that, in fact, we really do live in a very, very late period of the sun’s evolution and that the earth’s appearance of youth and the appearance of youth in the sun is just a massive illusion to which we are subject because that would be far more probable than that we would evolve very early on in the lifetime of the sun.

You’ve got to take your pick. Either you say therefore we are not products of biological evolution, but then that requires a designer, right? Or you say we don’t exist in a World Ensemble of universes, and then the fine-tuning requires a divine designer. So take your pick. Either way you are left with a divine designer as the explanation for our existence.

The error I think that is made by this Many Worlds hypothesis is that it is basically an attempt to multiply your probabilistic resources without having any justification for doing so. It is a way of saying that the improbable roll of the dice that we have come up with is rendered probable because there have been many throws going on – that explains why we got this improbable result. But there is no reason or justification to multiply your probabilistic resources in that way. If you are allowed to do that then you can explain away anything. For example, imagine a couple of card players in a West Texas saloon playing cards. Every time one of them deals he gets four aces and wins the game. The other guy gets outraged and says, “Tex, you are a dirty cheatin’ skunk! Every time you deal you get four aces.” And old Tex says, “Well, Slim, you shouldn’t really be surprised that every time I deal I get four aces. After all, in this infinite universe of ours there is an infinite number of poker games going on somewhere, and so chances are in some of them I get four aces every time I deal. So just shut your yap and deal.” You wouldn’t be so stupid as to sit down at the table for another game of cards with Tex, would you I don’t think? In the same way this World Ensemble hypothesis is just an attempt to multiply your probabilistic resources to explain things away. If you do that you can explain away anything by saying there is an infinite number of universes out there in which this is going on.[6] This would render rational thought and rational conduct impossible because you could literally never discern the difference between design and chance if you are allowed to multiply your probabilistic resources without warrant.


Question: [inaudible]

Answer: That is the bizarre part. It is not only that our world is going to appear once in this World Ensemble. As you rightly discerned, it means that this world appears an infinite number of times in the World Ensemble. Because once you’ve got infinity, it is inexhaustible. So, yeah, that is exactly right. There are worlds in which Adolf Hitler delivers the Nuremberg Address standing on his head. Everything that is possible is going to happen. So you see how it rapidly gets out of control.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Yeah. I would only add this, just by way of being technically precise. It wouldn’t actually be you in those other worlds that was asking the question. It would be a counterpart that looks just like you. But the drift of your question is quite right. Yeah, it is not going to be just once it is going to be an infinity of times. So it really gets bizarre. Yet, as I say, this is where the debate is today. This is where the cutting edge is.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: The Barrow and Tipler book is called The Anthropic Cosmological Principal, Oxford University Press, 1985. The authors are John Barrow and Frank Tipler. These are two non-Christian physicists who have written this massive 800-page book on the fine-tuning of the universe. It is a standard work in this discussion.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: What I said there was that the World Ensemble hypothesis is no more scientific and no less metaphysical than the hypothesis of a divine designer, a cosmic intelligence. Then I went on to argue that positing one cosmic intelligence is simpler than this bloated metaphysic of an infinite number of randomly varied worlds.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: These sound to me like red herrings. It sounds to me like he is trying to divert the discussion into another track. I think what we need to do when somebody does that is just try to pull the discussion back around to this and say, “You are defending then that there is an infinitely number of randomly varied universes. Is that what you are saying? Do you really think that is 1) simpler than the hypothesis of a divine designer and 2) the problem that there is no mechanism for generating it. Do you have a mechanism?” Just don’t let them get away with these red herrings talking about photons and things like that. Make them deal with the issues that you are raising.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: These really are red herrings because that doesn’t do anything to justify the idea of a Many Worlds hypothesis.[7] It is just appealing to some interesting scientific phenomenon that just has nothing to do with this. So it is an attempt to divert the issue, I think. If I understand correctly, it sounds to me like what he is just talking about is particle pair creation out of the vacuum. As we saw on these vacuum fluctuation models, there is a certain amount of energies that is locked up in the vacuum and this fluctuates and it can produce particles for a brief period of time which then fall back into the vacuum again and are annihilated in the energy of the vacuum. That is just nothing. That has nothing to do with this at all. It is just irrelevant. I think there he is just being dishonest if he is trying to divert the issue to talking about particle pair creation out of the vacuum. Maybe what you could do is take notes on what he is saying. If he says it is not a red herring say, “Help me understand what it is. Write it down.” And come and talk to someone who knows about this and get more information.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Well, that’s progress! That is not to be underestimated. If he is honest, he’ll know these kind of objections pose serious problems that can’t be gotten around by saying things like, “Well, particles appear out of the vacuum spontaneously.”

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Yes. That is right. That was, I think, my second point – that there is no known mechanism for generating such a thing. This does get us back to the cosmological argument based on the origin of the universe. If there is a World Ensemble we want to know where that came from. Why does it exist rather than nothing? What I am trying to do is have each of these arguments stand independently on its own feet. So, for example, in order to defend the teleological argument I don’t want to have to fall back on the cosmological argument. I want to make the teleological argument stand on its own two feet, and therefore kind of be supplemented. The arguments supplement each other. The arguments for the existence of God have been rightly compared not to a chain in which the chain is only as strong as the weakest link, but more to a coat of chain mail where the links all interconnect. The coat of mail is not as strong as the weakest link. On the contrary, the links all reinforce each other. I think the arguments for God’s existence are like that. They mutually reinforce one another like a coat of chain mail rather than being like a single length of chain.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: It is. It is going on. There is, I think, a real sea change in the ethos of the scientific community compared to, say, back in the 1940s and 1950s. The same kind of thing that happened in philosophy over the last generation is starting to happen in the hard sciences. It is not happening in biology as much because of the emotional baggage that attends the Darwinian theory of evolution.[8] Think of the Scopes trial and the creationism-in-the-school controversies in school boards and courtrooms. That has so poisoned the well there that biologists treat design as anathema. But in the physics community there they don’t have that sociological baggage of the Scopes trial and other things. So they are much, much more willing to talk about these things. There is quite a flourishing dialogue going on between science and religion. I think for a lot of these men in their private lives they would be quite open to God. I think many of them would say when I put on my white coat then I cannot speak of God in that sense because that is metaphysics or something. But I think when they take off their white coat I think many of them would be quite open to a design hypothesis. The dialogue is really flourishing today in the hard sciences.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Exactly. That’s right. And that is why Christian scientists are so valuable to the Kingdom work because it helps to create an ethos in the culture in which becoming a Christian is an intellectually acceptable thing to do. If you want to see where it is not acceptable, just live in Europe for a few years where you don't have that ethos and it is much more difficult for people to become Christians. Or in Eastern Europe, for example, under Marxism. This same sort of counter-Christian culture where to be a Christian was to be anti-scientific, to be ignorant, to be uneducated, and so forth.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: I don’t see any inherent connection, no.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: It is not that they occur simultaneously. The past, present, and future are all equally real. The same space-time. They are in the same four-dimensional space-time on the static view.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: The reason is because there is a dimension that separates us from ourselves, and it is called the dimension of time. You may be in exactly the same location – breadth, length, and height – and yet you don’t run into yourself. Why? Because there is another dimension that is putting you apart from yourself, and that is the dimension of time. The question is, of course, is time different from space or is your former self last week equally real with yourself here this week? I am not persuaded that that is the case, but there are some who think that way.


I want to wrap up the design hypothesis. Let me conclude by saying this. Sometimes detractors of the design argument will say, “What is the explanation of the designer? Who designed the designer?” And they think that is a refutation of the argument. I think this is a misunderstanding of the nature of explanation. In order for an explanation to be the best explanation you don’t have to have an explanation of the explanation.

Let me give an illustration. Suppose archaeologists digging around in the ground unearth a bunch of things like tomahawks and ceramics and other implements of tools. They decide the best explanation is that they have uncovered a village of a lost tribe that no one ever knew existed.[9] Now, in order for that to be the best explanation of these findings, do you have to have an explanation of the tribe? To know where they came from, who they were, how they got there? Obviously not. You don’t have to have an explanation of the explanation in order to recognize that the best explanation of these implements and tomahawks and tools is a tribe of people.

Again, suppose astronauts were to discover on the backside of the moon a bunch of complicated machinery. Clearly the best explanation would be that this is the result of some sort of intelligent life – some sort of intelligent extraterrestrial life has left these machines there. But do you have to have an explanation of those extraterrestrials – who they were, where they came from, how they go there – to recognize that that is the best explanation of that machinery? Obviously not. You don’t need to have an explanation of the explanation in order to recognize that that is the best explanation.

Similarly with regard to the existence of God, the postulate of a divine designer is the best explanation of the fine-tuning even if there is no explanation of where the designer himself came from. In fact, I don’t think you would need to have an explanation of where the designer came from if the designer is, as the cosmological argument says, a necessary being who never came into existence and who has always existed and all the rest.

So don’t let people try to get around the argument by asking who designed God. That is not a good argument. You don’t have to have an explanation of the explanation in order to recognize that intelligence is the best explanation of the fine-tuning.

What we will do next time is turn to the moral argument for the existence of God in which we will examine whether or not our apprehension of a realm of moral values and duties points to a personally embodied good to whom we are morally responsible.[10]

[1] 5:06

[2] 10:00

[3] 15:01

[4] 20:21

[5] 25:08

[6] 30:07

[7] 35:27

[8] 40:05

[9] 44:52

[10] Total Running Time: 47:13 (Copyright © 2007 William Lane Craig)