This topic came up in-class a few weeks ago when discussing the various arguments for the existence of god. Within the Design Argument, there is a particular idea referred often to as universal precision. The argument states that our universe has to have been fine-tuned to allow for the sustainability of life. In Fred Hoyle’s Intelligent Universe he suggests the likelihood of, “obtaining even a single functioning protein by chance combination of amino acids”, to be as likely as there existing a, “star system full of blind men solving Rubik’s Cube simultaneously”. Indeed, if the initial conditions for the universe as it is today (i.e. Big Bang) varied ever so slightly, the universe would have collapsed in on itself or would have turned out very differently. According to British astrophysicist, Martin Rees, “the strength of the force binding nucleons into nuclei, is 0.007. If it were 0.006, only hydrogen could exist, and complex chemistry would be impossible”.
At first glance, it seems reasonable to suggest there is something spooky going on here. The universe seems almost too perfect to be a mere coincidence. I want to explain why this is fundamentally flawed thinking.
Take a thousand pieces of paper and write unique numbers on each of them. Put them in a barrel and ensure they’re jumbled up properly. If we draw one number from our barrel, the likelihood of this number being selected is one in a thousand. Was there any luck or coincidence involved here? Certainly not. Certainly, at the outset of the number draw, one number will be selected. Regardless of how many times we randomly draw a number, the likelihood of that particular number being drawn is one in a thousand.
Imagine a real-life raffle where a million tickets are sold and there’s only one winner. And you can only buy one ticket. Each ticket is $1,000 and so the winner gets $1,000,000,000. We are certain that one of our million participants will win the $1 billion. And yet without a doubt, the winner will think of themselves as particularly lucky. If they were a theist, they might even attribute their fortune to god himself! When we look at how the draw works, we observe nothing that can be described as coincidental. There will be one winner and that is certain. The winner, however, will forever question, why me!?
Our universe, however, isn’t particularly different. There has been speculation recently as to whether the universe did start with the Big Bang or whether it even started at all. But for the sake of this next argument, we’ll assume the universe began suddenly with the Big Bang 14 billion years ago. This event was like a great big cosmic lottery: a set of initial cosmic conditions that could produce a near infinite amount of different results. Fast forward 14 billion years and we find ourselves here today. We were the winners of the one in a million lottery, only in the cosmic lottery we participated in billions of years ago, there were more than just a million tickets sold…
So when people say, if the initial conditions were ever so slightly different, life wouldn’t have existed, they’re exactly right. Another causal chain would have unfolded and a completely alternate universe would exist 14 billion years later, if any were to exist at all. Our ticket would not have been drawn from the cosmic lottery barrel; another one would have been. We might look at that particular winning universe as coincidental and explain it as a result of intelligent design as well. The truth is very simple. A certain cosmic configuration had to have won the cosmic lottery. The one that did is the one we exist in. In the same way as our billionaire lottery winner considers themselves lucky or blessed, we consider this particular cosmic sequence of events to be particularly fortunate and coincidental. And we probably would think the same thing regardless of how the universe unfolded, life or otherwise.
It bothers me when people say the universe is fine-tuned for life. The universe is completely arbitrary and the likelihood of life existing had the same cosmic odds as any of the alternatives. It seems ridiculous to suggest this fine-tuning happened as a result of some sort of cosmic intention or divine will. The conditions necessary to support life came about in as arbitrary a manner as any. If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here, obviously. Any failure to see this perspective as logical and valid is for lack of trying or resulting from prejudice.