Suppose that the mass of the electron is twice as big as it is now. If that were true, the main fusion process in most stars wouldn’t work. Because stars are the kilns in which heavy elements are formed, some of the familiar elements of the periodic table wouldn’t exist at all.-Don Lincoln, “Why does the Universe appear fine-tuned for life to exist?” Big Think, October 7, 2023,
Well then, we couldn’t exist. Similar examples abound, of course.
But when we get to “why?” these things are so, Lincoln can’t seem to choose. He dismisses the idea of a divine Mind as not “scientific” (“It’s not all that different from saying ‘just because.’”). But he can’t endorse chance, necessity, or a multiverse either. He seems to sense that he cannot endorse these options without violating common sense. So he doesn’t endorse anything.
Despite the fact that he has arrived at no answers, he is convinced that progress has been made: “This mystery, which once was the province of theology and then philosophy, is now a scientific one.”
He left me wondering, why is a divine Mind not “scientific” if so much evidence points in that direction?
Lincoln’s sense of progress through science — without any particular achievement — put me in mind, by way of contrast, of philosopher Antony Flew (1923–2010). Flew was important in his day — one of those old-fashioned courteous atheists who wrote thought-provoking papers — and refrained from attacking saints or endorsing corrupt politics. He invited students to think rather than react, perhaps because thinking was what he was most comfortable doing.
He was justly famous for an essay arguing for the presumption of atheism. that is, “atheism should be the intelligent person’s default position until well-established evidence to the contrary arises.” By “evidence,” he seems to have meant hard evidence from the sciences, for example, rather than exposes from, say, the fall of shady evangelists or the media appearances of their ex-spouses.
But there is a hidden catch in his reasonable approach. If you say you want evidence, what do you do when you come across masses of it, as in the case of the fine-tuning of our universe? Assessing the evidence building up over the years, Flew changed his mind about God. He wrote a book about his change of mind in 2010, There IS a God.
In the words of his obituary at the BBC,
In some interviews, and in subsequent publications, Flew made it clear that he had not become a Christian; he had moved from atheism to a form of deism. This is important: it is a mistake to claim that Flew embraced classical theism in any substantial form; rather, he came to believe merely that an intelligent orderer of the universe existed. He did not believe that this “being” had any further agency in the universe, and he maintained his opposition to the vast majority of doctrinal positions adopted by the global faiths, such as belief in the after-life, or a divine being who actively cares for or loves the universe, or the resurrection of Christ, and argued for the idea of an “Aristotelian God”. He explained that he, like Socrates, had simply followed the evidence, and the new evidence from science and natural theology made it possible to rationally advance belief in an intelligent being who ordered the universe. In 2006, he even added his name to a petition calling for the inclusion of intelligent design theory on the UK science curriculum.-William Crawley, “Antony Flew: the atheist who changed his mind,” BBC, April 16, 2010
Prominent MIT physicist Gerald Schroeder and American evangelical philosopher Gary Habermas, who were among Flew’s many friends, played a role in his decision that there was enough evidence from the universe’s fine-tuning for the existence of a divine Mind.
In many ways, Flew was old school. He asked for evidence, got it, and acted on it. He did not decide that maybe everything happens by chance despite evidence of design. Or that everything happens by necessity despite evidence of chance. Or that there are countless undetected universes out there that explain away apparent design in this one.
In short, he believed that evidence matters and that is why he acted on it. In a world increasingly governed by either private visions of truth or none, we will get a chance to see whether science can do without that evidence-driven perspective.
You may also wish to read: When science writers say things we hardly expected… Some science writers are monotonous boosters for Answers from Science but the better ones challenge themselves, and thus challenge us too. One reason there can’t be Final Answers in science is that the questions keep changing as we learn more, and in some cases we are asking the wrong ones.