Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
starfield-in-deep-space-many-light-years-far-from-the-earth-elements-of-this-image-furnished-by-nasa-stockpack-adobe-stock
Starfield in deep space many light years far from the Earth. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

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?

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 look at whether life was seeded in our universe by advanced life forms (directed panspermia), as advocated by some prominent scientists. In the second portion, they discuss the view — again, held by prominent science figures — that our universe is an advanced computer sim. In the third segment, they tackle the idea that there is nothing to know from a science perspective — we’re here because we’re here (the Weak Anthropic Principle). We are merely biased in thinking any reason is required. Alternatively, there is an infinity of universes out there and countless ones are run by cats.

In the face of this grab bag of ideas, Marks, Hössjer, and Díaz now ask, why does traditional theism (or deism) seem unreasonable?

This portion begins at 26:03 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. The transcript may also be downloaded below.

Robert J. Marks: We’ve just covered the multiverse. And so, let’s now go to the deist, creator interpretation, which I would say is embraced by Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and many other religions.

Ola Hössjer: We have defined something as fine-tuned if it’s unlikely to occur by chance and if it has an independent characterization … Often this characterization causes us to think about creative mind. In terms of the universe, it’s that this universe should harbor life.

When we talked about biology, it’s that a protein should function. Or when we talked about molecular machines, it was the same thing, it should function. All this independent characterization that is part of the fine-tuning tells us that, probably, there is a creative mind behind. Or that’s a very good hypothesis.

It’s like when we look at a painting and see features that we can recognize. When we look at life and see all the features of life, it’s things that sort of brings our thoughts towards the creative mind. For that reason, I would say that fine-tuning naturally leads to a theistic interpretation.

Robert J. Marks: So the creator of this is a creative mind. A lot of people would say, “Okay. You’re talking about God.”

It’s very interesting how the fine-tuning of the universe has brought people to a belief in God. One of them, kind of a poster boy, is Antony Flew, who wrote in 1976, The Presumption of Atheism.

Note: Antony Flew (1923–2010) was a well-known and widely respected British philosopher. Through most of his career he was an atheist and his 1976 book, The Presumption of Atheism & Other Essays (1976) outlined his approach in a formal way. However, evidence of the fine tuning of the universe slowly changed his mind and in 2008, he published There Is a God, in which he identified himself as a deist. That is, he was not a theist — he made no claim to specific theological revelations. But the evidence convinced him that there was a mind behind nature.

Robert J. Marks: I want to get now to the last topic that I want to talk about. I think panspermia is silly. I think Sims theory is silly. But for every one that I think is silly, there are people out there that would argue and debate me and say that they’re not silly.

Many times this comes down to a personal belief. And so, we’re going to put aside the physics and talk about our personal beliefs. Let’s go ahead and start with Daniel. What do you think is the cause of all this fine-tuning that we see in the universe?

Daniel Díaz: Okay. Just let me make a differentiation between deist and theist.

It’s an important point to make, because the deist believes that there is a God, but that the world is created in such a way that God is not interacting with it in any way.

Robert J. Marks: Really? I always thought that the theist was a subset of deist, but I’m being corrected here. Is that right?

Daniel Díaz: The theist or theism is the position that there is a God and he interacts with the universe he created. So there is kind of a differentiation between the two. Deism was actually champion by Baruch de Spinoza and it influenced Einstein’s thinking a lot… The guy was a believer in God. That’s why he proposed that there was a God, but he did not interact.

But he created… Spinoza thought that God had created a world that was so perfect that it did not need any intervention. So it is a very, very mechanistic way of thinking of the world. And that was something that Einstein observed a lot. That is the reason for Einstein to reject quantum physics with its Copenhagen interpretation. That’s where the famous sentence of Einstein came about, “God does not play dice.”

Because he was thinking that if God were playing dice, then he would be interacting with nature, with the world that God created. For Einstein, that was unthinkable. Anyhow, that’s deist position. The theist position is to believe that there is a God, and that he interacts with the universe that he created.

Note: Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) “is one of the most important philosophers—and certainly the most radical—of the early modern period… His extremely naturalistic views on God, the world, the human being and knowledge serve to ground a moral philosophy centered on the control of the passions leading to virtue and happiness… Of all the philosophers of the seventeenth century, Spinoza is among the most relevant today.” – Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

Deism is explained clearly here:

Daniel Díaz: So I am a Christian. That’s according to my worldview, the best explanation for fine-tuning. I think that there was a God. That there is a God, actually, who created the world, and that we can see evidence of that in fine-tuning.

Robert J. Marks: Okay. Ola? What do you think?

Ola Hössjer: Yes. I totally agree with Daniel, and I’m also Christian. Therefore, for me, it’s natural to associate or explain a fine-tuned structure, such as the universe existing with life within it, to interpret that as the universe was created by God. And that also he had a purpose for creating that universe. And that purpose was for humans to live in the universe, and thrive within it and have a relationship with God.

So I connect to this interpretation with reading the Bible. The Bible also says that we as humans, we have a big responsibility in taking care of our planet. The earth. That naturally leads us to the anthropic principle, the strong anthropic principle. That God created the world, the universe, and our planet in a way that is optimized for us humans.

In my interpretation, that’s because of his love for us. And I think that his love is most strongly revealed in his sending his only son Jesus Christ to die for our sins, so that anyone who believes in Jesus and commits his life to Jesus will have eternal life.

Personally, I gave my life to Jesus when I was 22, 23 years old. And that has been the best decision of my life. And that is my interpretation of fine-tuning. It’s really, God is the creator of everything. For the purpose that he loves us, and he wants to have a relationship with us. He wants also to be surrounded by a nature and a cosmos that is functioning well and that is also aesthetically pleasing.

Robert J. Marks

Robert J. Marks: Excellent. Thank you, Ola. I am with you. I am also a follower of Christ. I would say even more fundamental. I’m a John 3:16 kind of Christian. And I became a Christian about the same age that you did, Ola. I was 22 years old, as a junior in college and nothing made sense… Nothing made sense, and then I came to Christ and all of a sudden everything made sense. And it was just a beautiful, beautiful experience that’s difficult to communicate to people.

Yep. I’m with you. One of the things that happens is I think that people become Christians by their faith. But one of the things, especially people like us, we are intellectually gifted. That’s been gifts that God has given to us. We are all three, if you’ll excuse the expression, kind of nerds, if you will. And the beautiful part about being a Christian is that all of these things that we look at are intellectually stimulating and provide evidence for the faith.

And I have always find that just to be wonderful. I’ve always looked at the Christian version, which talks about God’s creation and the purpose of God’s creation and our existence. Romans 1:20 says, “Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities of eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen. Being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Louis Pasteur famously said, “You know, the more I look into the science, the more I see God.” That certainly is true with all of this fine-tuning stuff that we’ve talked about. The more I look into it, the deeper I understand it, the more I see God’s hand in it. And it’s just been wonderfully, intellectually satisfying in our times and our discussions together. Great. Any final words?

Daniel Díaz: I just want to mention another thing, Bob. All the other “competing explanations,” to the theist interpretation that God is the source of the fine-tuning are actually not totally opposed to it. For instance, in the simulation hypothesis, it is perfectly possible to think that the programmer was God.

Robert J. Marks: Yeah. I’ve thought about that too. He kind of wrote us and created us with his word and we’re simulations of God in some sense. Is that what you’re saying?

Daniel Díaz: Exactly. I’m not saying that’s my interpretation, but that it is a possibility if we are considering the simulation hypothesis. On the other side, for instance, with the Weak Anthropic Principle, the fact that our observation is biased [because we exist] does not mean necessarily that it is incorrect.

Daniel Díaz

The Strong Anthropic Principle adds the interpretation and says that the universe was made so that it could host life. Well, it’s basically a deistic, at least, or even a theistic interpretation.

None of those things in the end are necessarily opposed. It’s just a particular version of those points that would be opposing the theistic argument as the source of the fine-tuning. That’s very interesting. Not even the arguments to counter it necessarily counter the theistic interpretation of the fine-tuning.

Robert J. Marks: Stephen Hawking wonderfully said that nothing is proven in physics, that you only accumulate evidence. I think an accumulation of evidence is also important for these interpretations of fine tuning… There is evidence accumulating that maybe God Almighty was the creator of the universe. With abductive reasoning, that kind of leads me to the biblical account of creation as the correct one. It’s the only one to me that makes sense.

Here are the previous instalments of the discussion between Robert J. Marks, Ola Hössjer, and Danial 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?

and

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 frighteningA 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.

Ola Hössjer

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.

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

Podcast Transcript Download


Mind Matters News

Breaking and noteworthy news from the exciting world of natural and artificial intelligence at MindMatters.ai.

If Extraterrestrials Didn’t Fine Tune Earth, Maybe There Is a God