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Fine-Tuning: A Deeper Story?

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April 28, 2010 Tags: Design

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team. You can read more about what we believe here.

Intro: This video is the final entry in a six-part series from Focus.org, entitled "God: new evidence." We strongly encourage our readers to explore the entire series.

A Deeper Story?

The claim that our universe is “fine-tuned” comes from the fact that certain physical constants in our universe are found to have precisely the right values to allow for the existence of life. If any one of these constants were changed to the slightest degree, life would not be possible.

Many believing scientists have taken hold of the fine-tuning argument as a “pointer” to the existence of a creator, while others argue that this phenomenon can be explained by the multiverse theory, in which there exist innumerable other universes. Such a high number of universes would increase the chances that one universe would happen to take on the values needed to develop life.

In this video, five notable scientists (John Polkinghorne, David Wilkinson, Rodney Holder, Peter Williams and Graham Swinerd) offer their perspective on the strengths and limitations of the fine-tuning argument as a pointer to God.

Each speaker emphasizes the importance of recognizing the limitations of the fine-tuning argument, and also the importance of seeing it in context. John Polkinghorne notes that fine-tuning is a useful tool—in particular, because “[it] puts the question of God on the agenda”. However, he also notes that it gives us limited insight into the nature of God. Rodney Holder agrees that fine-tuning is limited in what it tells us. Holder finds the argument persuasive, but not foolproof. “God doesn’t force us to believe in him”, says Holder, and the fine-tuning argument “doesn’t get you to the personal God who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ.”

Along similar lines, Wilkinson shares that while the fine-tuning and intelligibility of the universe serve as pointers to a “deeper story” about the universe, the details of that story come from his faith as a Christian. “At the heart of my Christian faith is the conviction and the experience that God has revealed himself, supremely, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. And I know what the deeper story is about, because I’ve seen it in Jesus.”

For more videos like this, visit Focus.org.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

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Chris Massey - #11612

April 28th 2010

Jeffrey wrote: “Some string-theorists believe that string theory will eventually show that the ratios between various physical constants are fixed, that only one type of universe is possible.”

Yah, that’s the sort of explanation I was thinking of. However, I think Merv is right in saying that the fact that so much weight is placed on the multiverse hypothesis is good evidence that physicists don’t really have any good explanations as to why only one type of universe would be possible.

But I don’t think we can rule that out. So much in physics is up for grabs. We could be on the verge of a whole Einstein-esque paradigm-shift. That’s why I think it’s smart for the scientists in this video to describe the fine tuning as a “pointer” to God, rather than proof. Would that the ID community had such restraint.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #11623

April 28th 2010

Chris, I agree,


To over-simplify things a bit:  The universe as a whole must be fine-tuned such that it is on the ragged edge of expanding forever or collapsing on itself.  Each galaxy and each star is caused by a local region of the universe collapsing on itself, while the rest of the universe around it expands forever.

The various types of masses, the gravitational constant, the charge of an electron, Planck’s constant, and the speed of light must be fine-tuned to the initial expansion rate to something like 40 decimal places of accuracy.

Change one number by two parts in 10^40 and either the entire resulting universe consists of one star, or no stars form at all.

At least that’s the story the day-age and the ID people tell.  I can’t vouch for the actual tolerance, but the concept appears correct.  That others posit multi-verses is evidence that cosmologists in general agree with the concept.


EricG - #11672

April 29th 2010

Jeffrey Vaughn—its not just the ID folks who say this; any cosmologist will say a lot of the constants at least *appear* fine tuned (although they disagree on why). 

I don’t think we should downplay the significance of the multi-verse idea, however.  The primary big bang model—inflation—predicts a multi-verse in many cases.  The originator of the inflation idea—Alan Guth—even claimed in a paper a few years ago that any version of inflation requires a multiverse.  Of course other universes can’t be observed, but I think we should be very careful because inflation itself can be tested, and if it holds up, and if Guth is right that it requires multiverses . . .

The harder question is whether all the relevant constants can vary across each of the universes in a multiverse.  Although some are trying to address that too.

Charlie - #11682

April 29th 2010

Jeffery Vaughn,

You said “Change one number by two parts in 10^40 and either the entire resulting universe consists of one star, or no stars form at all”

What does form then?  We don’t know that’s my whole point.  Why is it hard to consider the theory that our universe exists the way it does because it formed from the constants that were in place.  If these constants were different, who knows what would form, we’re way too ignorant to even propose an intelligent guess!  If everything formed from the constants, as opposed to the constants being formed to everything (the constants were fine-tuned), that would explain the accurate relation between the constants and the universe.  Just throwing out another possiblity that no one seems to accept, a possibility that no one has countered yet with any refuting evidence.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #11696

April 29th 2010


The entire story I gave comes from the Day-Age and ID people.  I’ve not heard any other sort of cosmologist give actual bounds on the required accuracy of these constants.  Do other cosmologists agree in principle?  (I’m certain that they do.)  Or do they agree as to the absolute specificity that the Day-Age and ID people claim?

Inflation is actually in the mathematics of General Relativity, what amounts to a “pressure” term that drives the universe apart.  I am assuming Alan Guth is responsible for the quantum version of inflation.


The claim is you get a universe of precisely one star, a universe with only hydrogen and possibly helium spreading out instead of coalescing, or no ordinary matter at all.

What you next claim we don’t consider, is the very thing that cosmologists have demonstrated.  Our universe exists as it does, because of the precise values of these constants.

Yes, you and I are “way too ignorant to even propose an intelligent guess,” but the cosmologists who work with the equations do know what the equations require.


EricG - #11706

April 29th 2010

Jeffrey Vaughn,

You seem to be confusing inflation with expansion.  Inflation is a specific model of the Big Bang that Guth developed (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_inflation), which is gaining traction as the dominant model of the Big Bang. 

I don’t know if other cosmologists have calculated specific bounds, as you suggest.  But even the agnostics and atheists among them agree that the universe at least *appears* very, very fined tuned.  As I understand it, most of them do not question this appearance; they only question why it appears that way. 

Charlie—I think Jeffrey is correct; if you read the cosmologists, even the agnostics among them support the general point about the appearance of very significant fine tuning, that can’t be explained as you suggest.

Brian - #11716

April 29th 2010

See here for a recent mainstream summary of the basic arguments

A couple responses to the “multiverse”

1. There’s no data to support the claim of even one alternative universe, much less an infinite number.  Discover claims that this whole idea is “science’s alternative…” in spite of the fact that the alleged multiverse is not observable, measurable, or falsifiable.  Ironically, science is the one thing notinvolved in the formulation of the theory. 
2. The whole idea of a multiverse is based primarily in faith in a world view.  From Discover:  “If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”  And, “Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non¬religious explanation for what is often called the ‘fine-tuning problem’—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life.”  Wow.  What’s the genesis of the multiverse theory?  “If you don’t want God…”  This, from the same crowd that claims to hate it when science is hijacked by religious arguments.

Brian - #11717

April 29th 2010


3. Discover refers to fine tuning as a “problem,” and used words like “baffling” when trying to account for the data.  Why?  Because it doesn’t fit with naturalism’s assumptions at all. 

Xian theism on the other hand claims not only that God exists, but that an engineered universe like the one we live in is exactly what we would expect to see as the creative output of such a God.  Fine-tuning is neither baffling nor a problem for the theist. 

While I agree that none of this proves“ christianity in any direct way, its also possible to be too timid with evidence like this:  in this area more than just about any other, science and christianity are in complete accord.  And not enough people realize this.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #11721

April 29th 2010


I may be confused, but not by that.

Einstein’s Equation reduces to

d^2 V / dt^2 = -(d+3p) V

where V is the volume, d is the energy density, and p is the momentum flow in a given direction, and 3 is the assumption of isotropy.

Expansion is strictly the solution to the differential equation

d^2 V / dt^2 = -(d) V

The momentum or “pressure” term is missing.  This is what we focused on as undergraduates pre-1980.

Inflation, in the relativistic sense, is the solution to the other part of the differential equation

d^2 V / dt^2 = -(3p) V

Pre-1980, we didn’t know what to do with this part.  It only mattered in the first instant and appeared to demand an initial expansion rate beyond the speed of light.

Guth’s contribution (after my time as a physics student) was to put this into the realm of quantum tunneling.


DWDMD - #11743

April 29th 2010

Rees, M. Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson. 2000.

This is the best book I’ve read on the subject, by Professor Rees of Cambridge, who is agnostic regarding a creator-god.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #11746

April 29th 2010

Thanks DW,

I read a bit of this book on Amazon.  There is no evidence in those pages that Rees believes the tolerances are anything like what Hugh Ross claims they are.  A factor of 10 for one number, a few percent for another.  Nothing like the one or two parts in 10^40.

Does Rees tighten those numbers later in the book?

Thanks again.

EricG - #11751

April 29th 2010

Jeffrey Vaughn,

Thanks for the clarification.  If that is your point, though, how is it a response to what I said in my initial comment?  Also, the fact that there was a term folks didn’t understand in Einstein’s equation doesn’t deny that Guth is the father of the inflationary model of the universe, no?  That’s pretty well accepted—surely the Institute of Physics didn’t get that wrong when they recently awarded him a medal?


I read the same Discover article, although it was somewhat superficial, and for a popular audience, no?  It doesn’t respond to the points above, for example (not that I’m an expert in this area either—far from it!)

EricG - #11760

April 29th 2010

Here is an interesting paper by Guth that relates to some of these issues:  http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/hep-th/pdf/0702/0702178v1.pdf

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #11873

April 30th 2010


Thanks for the article.

In the discussion around Eq 3, Guth makes the claim that, without inflation, the flatness of the universe would need to be 1 +/- 10^-59 or better.

That is, without inflation, the mass of the visible universe must be within a tolerance of 10 Mega-grams, or the weight of a large truck.

Inflation takes care of that problem.  The apparent fine-tuning of the size, mass, and gravitational constant, G, 1 part in 10^59 is explained by inflation physics.

What about the fine-tuning of the relationships between other physical constants?

Anil - #27123

August 26th 2010

I am surprised that an organization like Bio Logos that understands evolution so well is promoting the “Fine Tuned Universe” as a pointer to God (http://biologos.org/questions/fine-tuning/).  What about the argument that if these parameters were different, that a different kind of life could evolve through Darwinian means? Certainly life as we know it today would not be possible, but nothing eliminates the possibility that a very different kind of life could not evolve in such a universe.  This argument is strengthened by the possibility of a multiverse reality as the nascent M-Theory seems to suggest.  To those who argue that it is not possible to prove if multiverse is true (as in the Bio Logos answer to the question mentioned above), while I am no physicist my understanding is that gravity will go beyond the boundaries of these universes and thus can be theoretically proven.

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