“Whenever I bring up the fine tuning argument and the constants of the universe in a conversation with my husband, he asks if the constants could have been different. I never fully understood what he really wanted to know.  But I googled a bit to try and figure out what he really wants to know, and it seems as if it has something to do with “top-down cosmology”. According to Stephen Hawking: ” it is inevitable that we find our Universe’s “fine-tuned” physical  constants, as the current Universe “selects” only those past histories  that led to the present conditions”. He seems to be saying that the constants aren’t fine tuned because it could not have been different. Therefore, no fine tuning argument. I don’t know how to answer him to this. I hope this makes sense :)” – Jana B.


 

Thanks for the great question! I should say, I’m so glad to see you’re engaging your husband with substantive dialogue on God’s existence. We’ll keep praying for you and him! Jana, I think your question could be boiled down to this: In light of Stephen Hawking’s “top down cosmology”, are the physical constants the way they are necessarily, and thus not fine-tuned after all? The short answer is no, and I’ll explain.

In the book The Grand Design (which is currently holding up an uneven coffee table leg in my living room) Hawking argues against the typical way of trying to understand the universe. That is the “usual assumption in cosmology is that the universe has a single definite history.”[1] This is what Hawking and co-author Leonard Mlodinow describe as the “bottom-up” approach to cosmology. The “bottom-up” approach trades on our everyday experience of cause and effect: A causes B causes C and so on. For example, both sets of your grandparents fall in love and give birth to your parents who fall in love and give birth to you. But what Hawking and Mlodinow are suggesting flips causality and ends up with the absurd claim, “We create history by our observation, rather than history creating us.” This isn’t just the anthropic principle, this is some kind of silly, anthropic divinity principle.

Much of this trades on a novel interpretation of quantum mechanics that says a subatomic particle takes all possible paths as it travels from one point to another. But this theory of simultaneous particle paths (posited by Richard Feynman) doesn’t suggest that the particle is actually everywhere at once. It’s just a way of making the math work at the quantum level. So, when Hawking and Mlodinow try to suggest that history is like the subatomic particle, they’re taking a leap that could clear the Sears Tower.

All of this is really to show that Hawking’s “top down cosmology” is an assertion that is lacking serious evidence to support it. Not only that but you have to deny your everyday experience of causality in order to affirm it! So, when Hawking argues that the constants are inevitable because the universe selects past histories that lead to the present, he shouldn’t be taken seriously. By the way, this is the same Hawking that once marveled at the precise fine-tuning of the universe in A Brief History of Time.

If I were in a conversation with your husband I’d ask him, “If you agree with Hawking’s “top down” approach then you must deny causality. Are you ready to do that?” And then let him wrestle with that.

Once we realize that Hawking’s theory is absurd and return to the so-called “bottom up” approach, we see that the constants certainly could have been different and, thus, not life permitting. For example, if the force of gravity had been slightly stronger in the universe’s initial conditions, there would have been a Big Crunch following the Big Bang and life would never have formed. Or if the force of gravity had been slightly weaker, then the atoms in the universe would never have come together to form stars and galaxies. No stars, no sun, no life on Earth. The fact that the constants are not necessary have been so widely acknowledged by folks like John Barrow, Frank Tipler, Paul Davies, Michael Turner, even Carl Sagan, I would argue that it’s controversial to claim that they are necessary.

[1] Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), 139.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the explanation. It seems to me that what these atheists are asserting is the equivalent to me saying this: “I exist; therefore, my grandparents HAD to have met and produced my parents.” However, this is circular reasoning since my grandparents might not have met had the circumstances been just a little different. A bit of the old cart before the horse thinking, correct?

    • Thanks for the comment Jim! I think it’s more egregious than the cart before the horse. Hawking and Mlodinow are claiming that all the various past histories of the universe had ontological status in the first few moments after the Big Bang before the universe “chose” the current one. This is why I made the statement “the anthropic divinity principle”. It’s not that one particular history HAD to have been ours, it’s that the universe (in a sense) looked at all the various histories and chose the one best suited for life.

  2. Fine-tuning claims always remind me of this quote from the late, great Douglas Adams…

    “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

    ― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

    Life adapted to the universe it found itself in, not the other way around.

    • Hi Paul. Clever quote. I’m not sure how this specifically applies to the issue of the necessity of the physical constants but I appreciate your thoughts!

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