A universe fine-tuned for humans?

May 30, 2014 • 10:08 am

A few days ago I put up a video by Keith “Mr. Deity” Dalton, decrying a really insane piece by Jewish apologist Dennis Prager explaining why the story of Noah’s Ark was “one of the most moral stories ever told.” (There was also a funny video of Bill Maher’s take on The Great Flood.)

Prager’s piece included this gem:

Q: Why did God destroy animals as well?

A: In the biblical worldview, the purpose of all creation is to benefit man. This anthropocentric view of nature, and indeed of the whole universe, is completely at odds with the current secular idealization of nature. This secular view posits that nature has its own intrinsic meaning and purpose, independent of man.

All of creation, in the biblical view, was to ultimately prepare the way for the creation of man. But one does not need the Bible alone to hold this view. A purely scientific reading of the universe is in keeping with this view. Everything — every natural and physical law — is exquisitely tuned to produce life, and ultimately man, on earth.

What struck me was the argument for “fine-tuning” has now been turned from the production of life to the production of “man.” Yet the physical constants supposedly necessary to produce life are sufficient to produce humans as well: God clearly required no additional “fine-tuning”—even if you accept that fallacious argument—to allow for humans than to allow for, say, fungi and squirrels.

Over at the creationist website Evolution News and Views (where they don’t allow any comments), the equally batty David Klinghoffer, another Jewish apologist, lauds Prager’s ridiculous piece, and denigrates me at the same time (that’s usual for Klinghoffer, who, bereft of arguments for Intelligent Design, spends his time obsessing over my character and my criticisms of ID). Here’s a screenshot of part of his comment:

Screen shot 2014-05-30 at 7.42.28 AM

Exactly right???? Really? Even if the universe were fine-tuned for life (and I don’t think for a minute it was), how, my dear Mr. Klinghoffer, can you distinguish God’s fine-tuning the universe for life versus fine-tuning it for human life? After all, the physical constants required for both kinds of tuning are identical!  

The fact that he and others make this argument is a clear sign that their arguments are based not on science but on religion. For it is only scripture and not science that argues that humans are special creatures on this planet. The phrase “the fine-tuning of the cosmos specifically for human life” gives away the religious roots of intelligent design—roots that people like Klinghoffer repeatedly deny.

And, as I’ve argued before, you can’t sensibly make the argument that the evolution of humans or human-like creatures was inevitable. Even given determinism, if mutations are inherently nondeterministic phenomena, and evolution depends, as it does, on what mutations appear, then we can’t say that the appearance of any specific species or morphology was inevitable.

Have a look at the trailer given below for the upcoming creationist movie “Privileged Species” touted by Klinghoffer. Notice that there is not one bit of evidence in this goddamned trailer that humans, as opposed to any other oxygen-using species, are “privileged.” The trailer emphasizes oxygen, which is of course a requirement for animal life. But that oxygen was produced by the photosynthesis of plants, not by God. And since hummingbirds have a higher per gram requirement for oxygen than humans, I conclude that if the Earth was was fine-tuned for life, the ultimate aim of God’s machinations was hummingbirds, the apotheosis of creation.

The trailer is narrated by Michael Denton, described as “geneticist and senior fellow, Discovery Institute.”

94 thoughts on “A universe fine-tuned for humans?

    1. Notice Prager’s “This secular view posits that nature has its own intrinsic meaning and purpose.”

      Teleology is so ingrained that he thinks secularism is meant to be just a different kind of it.

  1. This reminds me of a quote attributed to Douglas Adams:

    “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

    The fine tuning arguments seem to be more elaborate versions of this.

  2. I have once seen a video with a pretty compelling argument involving a banana, which pretty much proved that everything in the universe is tuned specially for humans 😀

      1. So … when the clones of ‘Cavandish’ die, and the yellow, bent bananas that you think of as the only representative of the baramin “banana” become unavailable … will that prove that god is angry with you for chowing down on Sundaes?
        Serious point : almost all bananas seen in the West are cultivars from one clone of one species of banana. They’re not even grown from seed. Clones. And they’re already suffering from many significant health threats.

    1. Did you ever see the counter-video where they showed chimpanzees eating bananas? They peel it from the other end. Evidently, it’s a lot easier that way and we humans have been doing it wrong for millennia. D’oh!

      1. So do many Africans. And they have numerous more species (possibly even genera) of banana to choose from.

      2. The chimp having an opposable thumb inferior to that of the human, but having more powerful jaws and teeth, do chimps first bite the distal end (easier to bite than the proximal stem end, which is easier to peel with opposable thumb), then peel, or do they only peel? Chimps, unlike humans, don’t seem to mind using their teeth as a tool.

          1. It is hard to believe I never tried peeling a ‘nanner this way before. It is easier. I hope to get an opportunity to open one this way in front of a group of friends sometime, just to see if anyone notices.

    2. I once saw a video of a, shall we say, alternative use for a banana, which definitely suggests the banana is tuned specially for the purpose of rendering male companionship superfluous. I don’t dare link it here but maybe I should send the link to Ray Comfort, I doubt he’d ever look at bananas in the same light again. 😀

  3. Oxygen is not even strictly a requirement for animal life, there are anaerobic metazoans (PMID: 20370908)

  4. After seeing so many stars in the sky, billions of suitable planets (for life form on earth) out there, there’s no need for “fine tuning”.
    Come on, life on earth is mostly made from most available elements (C,H,O), and water is the most available liquid form of the universe.

    1. That’s some pretty loose fine-tuning: 300°F temperature range from high to low, 10% (wild guess, may be even less) of surface area suitable for cultivation or settlement, frequent large-scale events (meteorological, geological and pestilential/biological) which destroy habitats and reduce populations. Of course the fine-tuning is balanced with intentional mal-tuning to make us appreciate the fine-tuning. Or something.

      1. 300°F temperature range from high to low,

        Only if you restrict yourself to a particular pressure range. Go 5km up and you’ve lowered your boiling point by about 20°C. Or Kelvin. While if you go down by 5km, you put boiling point up by another 300-odd Kelvin (I don’t have the supercritical phase diagram of water in my head any more.)

    2. Technically there’s not really that much surface-level carbon on Earth compared with for example silicates. Carbon chemistry just works better than silicon chemistry.

      1. Carbon chemistry just works better than silicon chemistry.[1]

        I’m a mineralogist, you insensitive clod! It’s my father who’s the tar-stirrer and sludge boiler.
        [1] this is a Slashdot meme.

  5. Someone has not learned the Ikeda-Jeffreys point, it seems.

    Also, that aside, fine tuned??? Why do I have to wear a space suit to survive even a few hours in most of the universe?

      1. It occurs to me that that is why I perhaps have developed the habit of putting just a little too much food in my mouth – to create an anti-bite buffer zone. 😉

  6. A: In the biblical worldview, the purpose of all creation is to benefit man. This anthropocentric view of nature, and indeed of the whole universe, is completely at odds with the current secular idealization of nature. This secular view posits that nature has its own intrinsic meaning and purpose, independent of man.

    This attitude has to be the main reason why religion should be vehemently attacked at every opportunity.

    Forget about gay rights, teaching of creationism in schools, first amendment issues, religions wars, and everything else that usually gets cited as a reason why we should get rid of it, all of that is trivial and insignificant compare to the real problem, which is that if you think that the world was created to benefit man, then it’s almost certain that you are going to behave in a way that will ultimately cause its destruction, and with it, the extinction not just of your lineage but of everyone else’s too, even if they don’t share your crazy worldview. This is in fact what’s happening in practice, and it is why there is such a high correlation between creationism and global warming denialism, it is not because both are associated with the republican party, it’s deeper than that. These people truly believe what they say:

    1. Human history and culture have been inordinately influenced by the corrosive religious belief that the universe was designed expressly for humans and that humans should have dominion over the earth and all other life forms. The consequence has been the wanton destruction of other species. These religious beliefs also contribute to lack of foresight and failure to take responsibility for overpopulation, habitat destruction, over-consumption of resources, and environmental degradation. As Darrow wrote, “[Man] makes a shambles of the earth in order to satisfy his appetites and give him joy.” Religious beliefs are not merely innocuous fantasies, but have terrible consequences for the planet.

  7. Fine tuning for man is sufficiently proven by the white tails of deer and rabbits. They are obviously designed for easier targeting by hunters. This is well known since Paley’s time.

        1. But you don’t read WEIT for entertainment. By the way, your hair shirt is back from the itch-powder coating plant.

  8. Cosmic racism.

    No wonder all the other atoms out there aren’t knocking on our door just yet….

  9. Wouldn’t a world that’s NOT fine-tuned for us, yet one where, despite that, we thrive be more of a proof of God? After all, when you have an all-powerful god you don’t NEED the world to be fine-tuned.

    1. Yes, with God I’d expect downright magical (we shouldnt be able to exist in this universe, but we do nevertheless because of a protective deity which makes us actively survive against the laws of physics, or a truly cozy universe designed for optimal life sustainability. What we have currently, where we live on the edge in many respects, is exactly what I would expect from the anthropic principle: good enough, but *just barely* so.

        1. Depends on who is using it, unfortunately. Some use it that way, others have used it to say, in essence, “The only universes with observers to ask the question, ‘Why does the universe support life?’, are by definition universes that support life”. In a multi-verse context, that is, it is not fine tuning that makes us possible, it is the fact that sentience only appears in the right kinds of universes.

          1. Thanks.

            In my admittedly limited experience, it seems the equivalence with fine-tuning is the most familiar definition, esp. colloquially. So physics might want to work on devising a new term.

            Besides, anthropic implies Homo sapiens to me; is it not possible that other universes could host non-human intelligent life?

          2. I agree though that anthropic principle is not the most fortunate name for the thing… How about Sapientic? 🙂

            Like mister gluon says, I had some kind of multiverse in the back of my mind.

            Actually, there is the argument that in a multiverse, we would actually expect the fundamental parameters to lie near catastrophic boundaries. But that s all conjecture of course

          3. Thanks for the further elucidation, Alex. It eventually starts to sink in. 😉

          4. The anthropic principle (in its most general form) doesn’t require an actual multiverse, it just points out that nothing can be concluded from a fine-tuning-type argument, because the only possible universes with observers in them have conditions allowing observers to exist.

  10. I’ll never understand the fine tuning argument because we exist in an inhabitable tiny corner of an unfathomably giant universe 99.9999999999% (repeating) of which would kill us in a nanosecond.

    1. Yes, how is the universe “fine tuned for life” when it is completely sterile out to more significant figures than I can type?

        1. I hate the fine-tuning argument. The planet isn’t fine-tuned for life, life is fine-tuned (evolutionarily adapted) to whatever habitat it is found in. They have it exactly backward.

          Of course, this is an easy argument for them to make considering most live in air-conditioned homes which all the modern appliances and indoor plumbing etc..
          I challenge anyone making the fine-tuning argument to get someone to drop them off this summer deep in the Smoky Mountains National Park (temperate zone), take away all their clothes, shoes and personal belongings except a sat-phone that is good for just one call out. Now, see how long you can last in your “fine-tuned” world before you call out on that phone begging someone come get you ’cause you think your going to die.

          1. ‘The planet isn’t fine-tuned for life, life is fine-tuned (evolutionarily adapted) to whatever habitat it is found in. They have it exactly backward.’ – Spirula

            I’ve countered creationist and theistic evolutionist proponent’s claims immediately with this statement a number of times. It is brief, concise, accurate, and immediately sucked into the black hole of faith where it ceases to be detectable. At least for the moment. Sometimes it returns to resonate in concsiousness, via some mental wormhole, and occasionally even helps change a mind.

          2. Of course the reply you’ll get from “fine-tunists” is that the habitats were designed from the outset to promote the evolution of humans.

            It’s at this point that teleology becomes their problem. They want to use the brute fact that humans exist as proof that humans were the goal. I’d bet that even Prager would see that this is nonsense if cast in a different context: suppose Prager casually tosses a stone. The laws of physics would act on the stone and cause it to come to rest in a certain spot. But I doubt he’d consider the stone landing in that spot miraculous or even noteworthy. It had to land somewhere.

    2. Sure.

      There are variations of some fundamental constants that would make life as we know it impossible (e.g., stars can’t form, or elements heavier than helium can’t be produced).

      So to the extent that there is freedom in these constants (we don’t know if there is) then there is some interest in the fact that in our universe, life is possible, if highly improbable, rather than completely impossible.

      To me, this is a better argument for an uncaring multiverse rather for an omnipotent, loving creator who coonstantly intervenes to make sure that the right sports teams win, etc.

      1. Instead of “highly improbable” I should have said “sparse” above. The laws of physics as we know them and the vast size of the universe make it almost certain will arise in many places over time, but these places will constitute a tiny fraction of the universe.

    3. an unfathomably giant universe 99.9999999999% (repeating) of which would kill us in a nanosecond.

      No, I don’t think you’re right by a factor of some millions. It’s true that 99.9999999+% of the universe would kill us, but 99.99999+% of that lethal fraction would take several seconds to minutes to kill us (without a spacesuit). NASA did the experiments, accidentally, while working several large vacuum chambers for, amongst other things, developing high altitude and space pressure suits. They had a couple of events of accidentally exposing living technicians to (near) vacuum, thereby entering them into the rather exclusive club of “I’ve felt my teardrops boiling” people. It takes seconds to minutes (but not many minutes) for a vacuum to kill a human.
      There are regions of the universe where you’d die in (small) fractions of a second, but they’re not that much more volumetrically common than the ones where you’d take tens of minutes to die.
      Those few seconds between [event] and [death] make a difference. By the time you’ve completed the thought “that air supply is leaking from the supply cylinder, and I’ve got 30m of solid rock between me and air in the upwards direction, and a quarter kilometre of water in the backwards direction”, then you’ve probably had time to complete changing to your other air system.

  11. What an obviously false argument they are making. Never mind that the vast majority of the universe would kill us almost instantly (empty space, stars, etc), but even much of earth is deadly to humans. We can’t live in the oceans which make up most of the earth’s surface, the poles would freeze us right quick, not to mention deserts and mountain ranges. Oh and there are carnivores and pathogens trying to kill us even in the habitable areas. If anything, the universe is fine tuned to kill us.

    1. Stephen King wrote a great, sad paragraph about how much the world is trying to kill us all the time in “Dreamcatcher”, which he wrote after his horrible injuries from a car crashing into him. I tried to find it the other day but couldn’t.

    2. Everything is fine tuned to kill everything. A lovely knife-edge of an existence we all stand on.

      Fine-tuning from the Christian point of view is sincere prejudice against the known universe. In their most genuine belief system, Christians truly hate existence.

  12. The world is fine-tuned for humans? That seems backwards; humans seem to be fine-tuned for life on this planet. We can survive and even flourish over a range of terrestrial environmental conditions perhaps unmatched by any other terrestrial vertebrate! To me that is possible only with natural selection as the cause.

    1. We can survive and even flourish over a range of terrestrial environmental conditions perhaps unmatched by any other terrestrial vertebrate!

      Rats do a pretty good job of competing for that prize, and are less dependent on human dwelling places than (say) house mice. Or human fleas.

  13. I have always thought that living things are constrained by the nature of the universe. Steven Hawkin, in “The Grand Design”, points out that we constrain the universe. It has to be such that we exist, because we do.

  14. I listen to the Discovery Institute’s podcast, and on there I’ve heard Michael Denton say that the reason that water has a high latent heat of evaporation is so that it would sufficiently cool the early humans who were learning to hunt big game on the African savanna. I had to back up and listen to it twice to make sure I didn’t mis-hear.

      1. I hope that Tim Berners-Lee is in a relaxed mood when you tell him that. Otherwise, you’d be looking for an Aldrin Award.
        Hmmm ,there isn’t an Aldrin Award (for punching internet gadfly idiot conspiracy nuts in the face) comparable to the Igs, Darwins or (other examples, please?). But it’s a gap crying to be filled.
        Oh, I’ve an example of another highly ironic award : the Nobel Peace Prize (funded by the inventor of that fine industrial preparation, Dynamite, which has never in it’s existence been abused for non-peaceable ends).

        1. Wasn’t that A. Nobel’s point – wasn’t he concerned that his invention and hence his legacy would be one of destruction and death rather than life?

          1. Well that plan worked really well.
            (Before I met him, my Boss worked in ICI’s “NEC” division. Imperial Chemical Industry’s Nobel Explosives Corporation.)

  15. Perhaps I’m overly jaded, but wouldn’t it be just like the DI, creators of the Wedge Document, to push this idea of the universe tuned for humans just to get scientists to argue that other beasts also “benefit” so that the DI can turn around and proclaim “ecce! scientists think the universe is fine-tuned for all life” (perhaps their actual position).

    1. Good plint,Diana!
      I’ve never understood this rabid enthusiasm for “fine-tuning” anyway. If you are going to argue that our universe is fine tuned, shouldn’t you have some evidence that “mis-tuned” universes are much more likely? So, where is this evidence? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?

      1. The argument is that some parameters of the standard model are arbitraty and were possibly randomly chosen at the big bang. (for example the strength of the weak force). We have no idea whether this is true, it’s just a guess inspired by how arbitrary these numbers are.

        How unlikely a universe that has stars, heavy elements, and other things life needs requires some speculation about the range of permissible values for each of these “constants”. Some people like to set the ranges very broadly to make life hugely unlikely. Victor Stenger and some others argue that more reasonable assumptions make life much more likely in any given universe.

        Either way, multiverse theories dispense with this problem. If a variety of universes exist, clearly we must be in one that permits life, in order to be alive.

        1. But the last is true whether or not multiverses exist.

          “You might not like it, but that’s just the way it is!” — someone whose name I forget debating WLC.


      2. As things stand, “fine-tuning” provides indirect empirical evidence for the multiverse.

        If, however, there is one and only one universe then fine-tuning would apply to all life in our universe wherever it may be, and whatever form it might take. There is no reason other than religion why fine-tuning could be thought to aim at humans.

      3. Your Bueller reference is extra funny because Ben Stein played the part if Ferris’s teacher that said that.

  16. It’s bad enough that people believe thus utter nonsense. But what’s worse is that they use it to justify the enormous suffering inflicted on the non-human species with whom we share the planet. That includes factory-farmed domesticated animals as well as the wild animals whose habitats we continue to destroy.

    1. Yes, everything being made for man has been hard in the entire planet and all the non human beasties in it. Probably human females too.

  17. =D Hummingbirds, the apotheosis of bird-flight, if nothing else.

    The finetuning argument for life works fine for an abrahamist universe with only inhabited Earth and the rest religious mythical but also inhabited “heaven”. For the real universe not so much: 99.999999+ % inhabitable.

    I haven’t read “The Privileged Planet”, but I assume it contains such old cherrypicks as the apparent finetuning of the Moon covering the Sun so we can study the heliosphere – never mind that one of the moons on the very next planet do the same service – or that there is a galactic habitable zone – now known to cover most of the galactic disk.

    The fact is that Earth is marginal for bioproductivity – only ~ 40 % of planets this small are expected to have plate tectonics, 1 % of the habitable zone width away from the inner edge – hence astrobiologists have started to look for superhabitables.

    The question about asking for humans re finetuning reminds me of this recent work:

    “A new study suggests that the Milky Way could host 100 million planets with complex life, leaving no lack of choice for astronomers to look for organisms beyond Earth. … The figure came from studying a list of more than 1,000 exoplanets for metrics such as their density, temperature, chemistry, age and distance from the parent star. From this, Irwin’s team formulated a “biological complexity index” that ranges between 0 and 1.0. The index is rated on “the number and degree of characteristics assumed to be important for supporting multiple forms of multicellular life,” the research team stated.

    Assuming that Europa (a moon of Jupiter believed to have an ocean below its ice) is a good candiate [sic] for life, the team estimated that 1% to 2% of exoplanets would have a BCI that is even higher than that.”

    1. I forgot this gem:

      ““Planets with the highest BCI values tend to be larger, warmer, and older than Earth,” added Irwin, “so any search for complex or intelligent life that is restricted just to Earth-like planets, or to life as we know it on Earth, will probably be too restrictive.””

      My bold: the first part underscores how ill finetuned Earth is for us, the second how ill finetuned its properties is for us to do discovery!

      1. Always useful to read your comments. Also there is now reasoned speculation that there could be habitable planets around red dwarf stars, which are incredibly long lasting stars and they are also very numerous.

  18. By the way, I suspect the mentioning of “The Privileged Planet” is an intentional conflation. Surely the theme of the book is described by the title, design for discovery, even if its roots is likely the suggested religious finetuning for human life.

    I haven’t read the book – but Klinghoffer is widely known for his lying-for-Jesus approach.

  19. It’s perplexing that anyone can buy this idea that the universe was fine tuned to create humans. If there is a designer then that designer is called complexity and we are simply one aspect of that complexity. It is rather arrogant to think that all this was put here simply for us.

  20. News flash for the IDiots: if there is a god, he/she/it is clearly a great deal more fond of bacteria and viruses than of humans and other apes. And pretty fond of empty space, black holes, and other things that are quite incompatible with any form of life.

    1. clearly a great deal more fond of bacteria and viruses than of humans and other apes

      And beetles. Don’t forget the inordinate fondness for beetles.

      1. Indeed. I was paraphrasing J.B.S.Haldane. Since we now know that, for example, we have about ten times more bacterial cells than human cells in our bodies (and I suppose beetles have more bacterial cells than beetle cells, although I don’t know whether anyone has checked), this tiny chunk of the universe is better tuned for bacteria than it is for other life!

        1. Hmmm, not being a biologist (unless someone has kindly fossilised the biology for me), I’m not really up to speed. But I do think of the weird methane-farting gut bacteria of termites and cows, which are some of the very few that can do the biochemical trick of making a living off cellulose. Where there’s a free lunch, there’s goign to be a bacterium nomming down on it. The bacterium might have, in a Dawkins-ian sense, a “survival machine” wrapped around it (termite ; termite colony ; cow ; farmer ; human dairy agricultural technology) but really it’s all about the bacteria.

  21. “All of creation, in the biblical view, was to ultimately prepare the way for the creation of man.”

    Note the “in the biblical view” caveat.

    Yeah, right, this one planet, one of a currently-estimated 100,000,000 habitable planets in this Milky Way galaxy, in a universe with an estimated minimum of 100,000,000,000 galaxies.

    Guess there are sentient beings in these other galaxies thinking these same hubristic thoughts?

  22. This incredibly narrow view for fine tuning is based on natural theology arguments that are hundreds of years old! In this view, ecologies run in harmony and are operated like intricate clocks of continuous birth, death, and renewal. The colors and scents of flowers are here to please man. The songs of birds? To please man. The purpose of wild animals? All are to serve man, and to at least provide us with lessons in bravery and loyalty. Even lice and garden weeds are here to teach us the moral virtues of cleanliness and hard work. What is next? Are they going to claim that the planets and sun orbit the earth and that they move because they are pushed by Gawd? Do they think the atmosphere extends into space?
    Our argument with the people at ENV is actually very difficult. How do we convince those who are too lame to know that their views were proven wrong centuries ago?

  23. The fine tuning argument for God is actually a concession that God has to follow the rules of Nature. If God had to make the universe this way (answering yes to Einstein’s question), then Nature is in charge, not God.

  24. Of course our world, for us to exist in it in the form that we do, must be within a certain set of parameters: temperature, availability of certain elements, etc.- I guess you could call this a “fine-tuning”, of sorts. The REAL problem is that these people insist that this “fine-tuning” is the deliberate doing of an all-powerful “sky-man”, rather than an intrinsic quality of our universe itself. They are helplessly bound to defending this belief, as it’s the only one that has the slightest hope of defending their flawed hypothesis that the Babble is a valid depiction of reality. To defend the validity of the Babble is of the utmost importance, as on it depends Jeebus’ dying for our sins.

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