Does the Fine-Tuning Argument Work?

03/31/2015 07:30 pm ET | Updated May 30, 2015

Bestselling author Eric Metaxas's recent op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal on how science increasingly proves God immediately became both exceedingly popular and controversial. (Content is behind a paywall. So here's his video version.) So it's worth asking one more time: Does the fine-tuning argument work?

The fine-tuning argument works or doesn't work (as philosopher Ric Machuga shows) depending on what we ask of it. We certainly cannot expect more than it can deliver. (And, though I certainly don't entirely disagree with Eric, he expects the argument to carry a greater load than it can reasonably bear.)

The fine-tuning argument does not prove that God as the Designer of the universe exists if proof means a knock-down, drag-out, deductive proof, the conclusions of which cannot reasonably be denied. It does, nonetheless, offer evidences of God's design. Fine tuning is consistent what we would expect from a Designer, and it supports theism better than materialism. 

Two specific points must be dealt with right away. First of all, a clarification: here we are in the realm of suppositional arguments, which proceed as follows: If we suppose there to be a God who desired the universe, we should expect that this universe would have evidences of the design. The fine-tuning of various physical constants is consistent with God's design. Therefore it is reasonable to assert that God exists. 

Secondly, a definition: What is the fine-tuning argument? I'll let Wikipedia be my guide: 

"the conditions that allow life in the Universe can only occur when certain universal fundamental physical constants lie within a very narrow range, so that if any of several fundamental constants were only slightly different, the Universe would be unlikely to be conducive to the establishment and development of matter, astronomical structures, elemental diversity, or life as it is understood."

What then are those specific parameters that are fine tuned to create a universe with moral, intelligent life? Physicists have identified over thirty discrete, precisely calibrated parameters that produced the universe we know. One way to describe the precision of these parameters is that even one is "wildly improbable." Oxford physicist Roger Penrose commented that the "phase-space volume" requires a meticulous fine-tuning such that the

"Creator's aim must have been [precise] to an accuracy of... a number almost impossible to write, '1' followed by 10 to the 123rd zeroes."

So far this might seem conclusive to many readers. But there's one key chink in its armor, which represents the best argument against fine-tuning: it's a tautology. Simply put, the only reason we can have this conversation is that we are already here in this type of universe, however improbable it might be.

Fair enough--I've already conceded that this is not a deductive proof for God that leaves no room for disagreement. It is a suppositional argument that offers confirmation for the judgment that this universe has design and that design is confirmed, to some degree, by the incredible particularity of its parameters.

I offer an analogy as my riposte. Suppose that tonight is my wedding anniversary. In one scenario, when Laura arrives home I declare, "Laura, I've been planning to celebrate this anniversary big time!" I then hurriedly call a pizza company to deliver, grab a mixed set of plastic glasses, accompanied by paper napkins and plates (there's nothing washed of the same set), fumble through some music on my iPod for background, and the night begins... as best it can. Second scenario: before Laura leaves work, a limo picks her up, with me in the backseat, pouring Veuve Clicquot into luxurious champagne flutes, and I say, "Here's to our anniversary!" We arrive home, and a chef is set to serve dinner at our house on a candle-lit table with crystal glassware while a string quartet plays in the background. Etc... Etc... (You get the picture.)

At this risk of eviscerating any subtlety to this analogy, which one of these scenarios makes Laura smile and think, "Greg really planned this event"? Which of the two scenarios has more specific parameters and therefore better supports my contention that I really intended to celebrate my anniversary?

All the widely calibrated, fine-tuned parameters have led some (like me) to agree with the conclusions of the director of the NIH, Francis Collins

"At the most fundamental level, it's a miracle that there's a universe at all. It's a miracle that it has order, fine-tuning that allows the possibility of complexity, and laws that follow precise mathematical formulas. Contemplating this, an open-minded observer is almost forced to conclude that there must be a 'mind' behind all this. To me, that qualifies as a miracle, a profound truth that lies outside of scientific explanation."

I join hands with Collins. Fine tuning adds scientific evidence that God created the world out of love for us in order that we could be in relationship with our Creator. This confirming evidence in the structure of creation appears to be the fingerprint of God.