Off the top of my head I can think of two reasonable objections to the fine-tuned argument. The first is to argue with the evidence itself, to claim that a deeper or more thorough understanding of the evidence at hand does not lead to the conclusion that the universe is fine-tuned for life. The second is to argue that there is a plausible scientific explanation which does not require a fine-tuner.
I don’t want to discuss either of those options today (although I do hope to address both in the future). Rather, I want to focus on a third option, the likes of which we recently saw in Professor Stenger’s alternate life argument. This argument was, at its heart, a speculative argument. It’s (seeming) power came from the possible or the imaginable.
There is something peculiar in this speculation. Why would an intelligent, educated physics professor resort to theoretically speculative scientific ideas with no mathematical or scientific foundation to argue that the fine-tuned universe does not indicate that there is a Creator. Surely he doesn’t expect us to believe that the possibility of their being alternate forms of life necessitates that there are alternate forms of life. So why bring it up – why mention a totally speculative possibility.
It seems to me that the appeal of the speculative answer arises from relating to G-d like a mathematical problem, as if any proof offered for His existence has to be as solid and definite as a valid mathematical equation. Unless we are involved in some fancy mathematical footwork, we don’t speculate that 1 + 1 = 3 – it’s just obviously not an option. 1 + 1 = 2 is self-evidently true (although somewhere in the back of my mind is a memory of a proof that 1 + 1 = 2).
Extrapolating from this point, speculative answers help determine that the proofs that we are offering are not really proofs. That aren’t as solid as 1 + 1 = 2. It is possible to imagine scenarios in which the premises would not necessarily lead to G-d. Or, in the context of our current conversation, the mere idea that there may be alternate forms of life is enough to demonstrate that evidence for a fine-tuned universe is not a proof of G-d.
The problem with this line of thinking is that G-d is not a mathematical equation. We are not looking for that magic formula that clearly demonstrates and proves that G-d exists. E = G-d2 doesn’t exist. Equations are great for physics, but they aren’t appropriate in all areas of life. Try finding an equation to determine whether or not you should marry someone and see a) whether or not you get married and b) if you do how long the marriage lasts.
The same goes when it comes to gaining an awareness and understanding of G-d. There is no mathematical proof, no absolute means of gaining a full-proof logical argument. Indeed, I’m not sure that an absolute logical proof of anything is possible except in abstract mathematics (and even then maybe not). There are always assumptions, frames-of-reference and the inherent limitation of logic itself that prevent such a perfect proof.
To apply such a standard or expectation to knowing G-d is to load the dice away from G-d. It is demand a standard that is basically not applied anywhere else in life. People don’t invest in businesses this way, get married this way, or make any serious life decision this way – at least not successfully.
Misapplying the scientific method says nothing about the subject to which it is being misapplied and everything about the person who is misapplying it. It indicates that they don’t have a deep grasp or understanding of the subject that they are discussing. It also explains why they can never make any real progress in that subject.
When discussing G-d it is important to relate to G-d, not to science or mathematics. It is important to understand what we are doing and what we are not doing. We are not engaging in theoretical theology. We aren’t seeking technical demonstrations of the existence of G-d that would make a physics professor proud.
Rather, we are dealing with life, real life and its meaning, purpose and direction. We are dealing with the ultimate foundation of reality, a foundation that science itself is incapable of penetrating. This is a decision about what I do, how I relate to the world and whether or not there is a Creator to the world.
Looking for mathematically pure proofs assumes that that is the best way to approach G-d. I would argue that it is not. I would argue that ultimately speaking the only way to come to have any real awareness of G-d is to dedicate yourself to gaining that awareness. That is what the Torah, Mitzvah’s and davening (prayer) are about. G-d is approached not ‘studied'; listened to not proved; lived with not theorized.
In this light, the fine-tuned universe is not a demonstration of G-d, but rather another indication that you should take G-d seriously. It is either confirmation of that which you already know or a reason to invest yourself in gaining that knowledge.
In other words, the real question (at least for an agnostic or atheist) is what next. What should I do now that this has been pointed out to me. Should I look for an intellectual counter-argument, a way of demonstrating that this does not necessarily or absolutely lead to the conclusion that has been suggestion or should I consider that perhaps there is something that I am missing. Perhaps I should look into this further, dedicate some of my time and effort and explore that which until now I couldn’t see any reason to explore.
Look at it this way. Imagine that your financial advisor called you up with a great opportunity. A new company is forming and you have a chance to get in on the ground floor. The CEO has already run 3 successful start-up companies each of which have sold for over 100 million dollars later on. They already have a top marketing firm lined up who has been tremendously successful in this industry. Furthermore, they have done some initial market research and received very positive feedback. The minimum investment is $10,000.00 for a 1% stock in the company – money which you have to invest and can afford to lose. The potential payback – 1 million dollars.
Are you in?
Would you invest in this company or would you first dig a little deeper, perhaps verify the claims. Let’s imagine that you verify the claims and they seem to pan out. The offer seems as good as your financial advisor suggested.
Are you in?
Do you invest now or dig a bit deeper, perhaps discuss the offer with your best friend. Let’s say that you talk to your friend and, to your surprise, he advices you against it. “Who knows”, he says, “the guy could be the next Madoff. The whole thing may be a scam. Of course, I don’t have any reason to assume it is, but you can’t rule out the possibility. It’s better to just leave your money where it is and go on with your life as normal.”
Are you still in?
Do you invest your money or move on with your life. Your financial advisor has given you a number of solid reasons to invest your money, your friend a speculative possibility of why not to. Who do you listen to? Is that answer consistent to how you relate to arguments of why you should “invest” in G-d?
Let’s try the same mind-experiment but in reverse.
Imagine someone has been accused of child molestation. He has been caught on video tape and numerous kids have testified that he molested them. However, for technical reasons he was let go. Would you let this guy babysit your kids because ‘maybe he was framed…you can’t rule out the possibility’. Would you bank on the maybe, the possible when the results really matter?
This is the ultimate question – does G-d really matter?
If G-d really matters then at some point you have to stop theorizing and speculating and honestly say, this seems like a reason to take G-d seriously. True, the counter-arguments and speculative ideas are theoretically possible, but I’m not looking for what is possible, I’m looking for what I should do and how I should lead my life. The counter-arguments give me no reason to stay on my present course, they just offer an incredibly weak argument why not to explore a new course.
In short, the possible shouldn’t be a reason to abandon the reasonable, particularly when the reasonable really matters.