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Could Advanced Aliens Have Fine-Tuned Earth for Life?

That’s a surprisingly popular thesis, considering how hard it is to account for life without assuming a creator

Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks has been doing a series of podcasts with Swedish mathematician Ola Hössjer, and Colombian biostatistician Daniel Díaz in connection with a recent co-authored paper on the fine-tuning of the universe for life in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. In the first portion of this episode, podcast 153, “Why is there fine-tuning everywhere?” they looked at whether fine tuning of the universe for life can be accounted for by the theory that advanced life forms seeded life throughout the universe (directed panspermia). Surprisingly, perhaps, the theory is considered at least plausible, due to the difficulty of accounting for the existence of life otherwise. As Marks and his guests noted, great scientists such as Francis Crick (1916–2004) and Fred Hoyle (1915–2001) have espoused it. But now we turn to a more radical proposal: What if the entire universe is a simulation created by advanced aliens?

This portion begins at 04:59 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow.

Nick Bostrom

Robert J. Marks: One of the other theories of the origin of life on earth is something I only heard about five or six years ago. And it’s called the Sims theory of fine-tuning. Daniel, could you talk about that?

Daniel Díaz: The guy who developed this theory is Nick Bostrom. He’s a philosopher at Oxford University in England.

He proposed that it is possible that we are living in a simulation. In any computer program, then there is an algorithm. And a super advanced civilization in the future made a computer simulation, and we are all part of that simulation. It has generated a lot of controversy.

I know that, for instance, Elon Musk is convinced of that theory and he says that we all live in a simulation. But it also has received a lot of pushback for many well-known physicists.

Note: Nick Bostrom at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute is a key proponent of this view, best known to the public from the film The Matrix (1999). The term red pill is from that film. Elon Musk is certainly a supporter but Royal Astronomer Sir Martin Rees is sympathetic, as is Neil deGrasse Tyson At Vulture, a New York culture magazine, we are offered fifteen reasons why it might be true. An article appeared at Scientific American earlier this year, offering support for the simulation hypothesis because “here we are generating this product called consciousness that we apparently don’t have a use for, that is an experience and hence must serve as an experience. The only logical next step is to surmise that this product serves someone else.” The article was written by a senior editor at Nature Energy. A number of sources are looking for ways to test the hypothesis.

That’s how much trouble orthodox science has accounting for life and consciousness.

The simulation hypothesis also plays a role in accounts of why we never see extraterrestrial Intelligences. The basic thesis is that they are following the Prime Directive, as in Star Trek, and not interfering with their experiment.

Robert J. Marks: This also kind of kicks the can down the road, in my opinion. We have to ask ourselves again, where did this super race come from? Certainly, their ability to write simulations about us must come from some sort of fine-tuning. The other objection I have is there’s many things that people do that are non-algorithmic.

In fact, this is one of the fundamental postures of the Bradley Center, that we are not algorithmic, that we do things that you can’t write a computer program to simulate. These include things like qualia, understanding consciousness, creativity. And if we are indeed simulations, then whoever did this programming must know how to program non-algorithmic things into our being.

Man, I don’t see how that can happen. At least from what I know. Because all computers are limited and all simulations are limited to the algorithmic. Have you heard that Elon Musk has hired some people to go around and look for some flaws in our simulation?

Daniel Díaz: Playing devil’s advocate here, in terms of the simulation hypothesis,
the argument is that a post-human civilization is so technologically advanced that it is capable of simulating all that we are doing, even if it doesn’t look algorithmic in some sense.

Robert J. Marks: It seems kind of silly to me. There’s a couple of movies that I’m reminded of with the Sims theory. One, of course, is The Matrix. Gosh, Keanu Reeves?

Anyway, he wakes up in a big vat of primordial soup, in which he has been basking and his entire life has been simulated. That’s one example of the Sims, I guess. And Elon Musk looking around for little flaws in Sims really is strange. It reminds me of another movie called The Truman Show [1998] starring Jim Carey, where he came out one time and all of his life, all of his existence was programmed in order to make it seem like he was living in a real world. And then, all of a sudden this big lighting unit goes, “Ka-thunk!” Right in front of his house. And it came from the top, where there was a simulation of a sky.

All of a sudden, Jim Carey had this idea that maybe the reality that he perceived wasn’t true. This reminds me of Elon Musk’s hiring of these people to go out and look for flaws in the Sims theory, and see if he can find any evidence for it. Anyway, it’s an interesting theory, I suppose.

Next: Our universe survived a firing squad and it’s just an accident?

Here are all of the instalments, in order, of the discussion between Robert J. Marks, Ola Hössjer, and Daniel Díaz on the fine tuning of the universe for life:

The first episode:

Ours is a finely tuned — and No Free Lunch — universe. Mathematician Ola Hössjer and biostatistician Daniel Díaz explain to Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks why nature works so seamlessly. A “life-permitting interval” makes it all possible — but is that really an accident?


Fine-tuning? How Bayesian statistics could help break a deadlock: Bayesian statistics are used, for example, in spam filter technology, identifying probable spam by examining vast masses of previous messages. The frequentist approach assesses the probability of future events but the Bayesian approach assesses the probability of events that have already occurred.

The second episode:

Life is so wonderfully finely tuned that it’s frightening. A mathematician who uses statistical methods to model the fine tuning of molecular machines and systems in cells reflects… Every single cell is like a city that cannot function without a complex network of services that must all work together to maintain life.

Can there be a general theory for fine-tuning? If you make a bowl of alphabet soup and the letters arrange themselves and say, good morning, that is specified. What are the probabilities? Ola Hössjer sees the beauty of mathematics in the fact that seemingly unrelated features in cosmology and biology can be modeled using similar concepts.

The third episode

Was the universe created for life forms to live in? How would we know? We can begin by looking at the fundamental constants that underlie the universe. The constants of the universe — gravitational constant, entropy, and cosmological constant — must be finely tuned for life to exist.

Why did Stephen Hawking give up on a Theory of Everything? Daniel Díaz and Ola Hössjer continue their discussion of the fine tuning of the universal constants of nature with Robert J. Marks. The probability, they calculate, that the fine tuning of our universe is simply random is down to 10 to the minus sixty — a very small number.

The fourth and final episode

Is life from outer space a viable science hypothesis? Currently, panspermia has been rated as “plausible but not convincing.” Marks, Hössjer, and Diaz discuss the issues. Famous atheist scientists have favored panspermia because there is no plausible purely natural explanation for life on Earth that would make it unnecessary.

Could advanced aliens have fine-tuned Earth for life? That’s a surprisingly popular thesis, considering how hard it is to account for life without assuming a creator. As Robert Marks, Ola Hössjer, and Daniel Díaz discuss, some prominent atheists/agnostics have chosen to substitute advanced extraterrestrials for God.

Our universe survived a firing squad and it’s just an accident? According to the Weak Anthropic Principle, if things weren’t the way they are, we wouldn’t be here and that’s all there is to it. Given the odds, a philosopher likens the Weak Anthropic Principle to surviving a firing squad and concluding, incuriously, well… that’s just the way things are.

In an infinity of universes, countless ones are run by cats… Daniel Díaz notes that most of the talk about the multiverse started to appear once it was realized that there was fine-tuning in nature.
Robert J. Marks points out that even 10 to the 1000th power of universes would only permit 3,322 different paths. Infinity is required but unprovable.


If extraterrestrials didn’t fine tune Earth, maybe there is a God. In the face of a grab bag of ideas like creation by ETs or countless universes (some run by cats), why does the idea of a Creator seem far out? Traditional philosophers, not committed to a religion, have thought that deism (and theism) are rational, science-based conclusions, based on fine tuning.

You may also wish to read: No Free Lunches: Robert J. Marks: What the Big Bang teaches us about nothing. Bernoulli is right and Keynes is Wrong. Critics of Bernoulli don’t appreciate the definition of “knowing nothing.” The concept of “knowing nothing” can be tricky.

Show Notes

  • 00:33 | Introducing Dr. Daniel Díaz and Dr. Ola Hössjer
  • 01:53 | Panspermia
  • 04:59 | The Sims Theory
  • 10:40 | Anthropic Principle
  • 18:53 | Multiverse
  • 26:03 | The Creator Interpretation
  • 29:11 | Personal Beliefs
  • 36:24 | Final Words

Additional Resources

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Could Advanced Aliens Have Fine-Tuned Earth for Life?