It’s convenient for ID advocates when materialists point out their own predicament so we don’t have to do it for them. Such is the case in a recent series for New Scientist about fine-tuning.
One of the articles begins with an image of a pencil balanced on its point. Stuart Clark says:
Next time you fancy doing something really frustrating, try balancing a pencil on its sharpened tip. Your efforts will succeed for a second at most. Yet the universe has been succeeding at a similar gravitational trick for the last 13.8 billion years. [Emphasis added.]
Clark is describing cosmology’s “flatness problem,” the ultra-precise balance between expansion and collapse, which one cosmologist likened to balancing a pencil on its point for billions of years. “The universe is as flat as a pancake,” his title says. “Coincidence?”
That headline forms a template for five articles in the series, “Our implausible universe: the universe’s five most startling coincidences.”
- “Cosmic dark matter and energy balance — for now. Coincidence?“
- “The universe lines up along the ‘axis of evil’. Coincidence?“
- “The universe is as flat as a pancake. Coincidence?“
- “Space is all the same temperature. Coincidence?“
- “The Higgs boson makes the universe stable — just. Coincidence?“
Each article describes its particular coincidence, suggests models that might explain it, admits that such models don’t exist, and leaves the mystery unresolved. Here’s a sample about temperature (i.e., the horizon problem). The leading natural explanation is “totally bonkers”:
Cosmologists try to explain this uniformity using the hypothesis known as inflation. It replaces the simple idea of a big bang with one in which there was also a moment of exponential expansion. This sudden, faster-than-light increase in the size of the universe allows it to have started off smaller than an atom, when it would have had plenty of time to equalise its temperature.”On the face of it, inflation is a totally bonkers idea — it replaces a coincidence with a completely nonsensical vision of what the early universe was like,” says Andrew Pontzen at University College London.
After that chastisement, Stuart Clark leaves inflation as the best explanation because nobody has a better idea. It’s a bit like Harold S. Bernhardt’s quip about the leading origin-of-life theory as shown in Illustra’s film Origin: “The RNA world hypothesis: the worst theory for the early evolution of life (except for all the others).”
Accompanying each article, a graphical image of an egg balanced in a loop of string conveys the challenge facing materialists, who by definition are obligated to explain things using only matter and energy.
The more we look at the universe, the stranger it appears. From the geometry of space-time to the masses of the elementary particles, its properties are finely tuned to allow life to exist. More bizarrely, though, it seems to be teetering on the brink of not existing at all. Here we look at five of its seemingly most implausible traits — and ask what might lie behind them.
Appealing to coincidence is scientifically unsatisfying, so a follow-up article examines the alternatives. The buildup is electric. Like an energetic ringmaster, Gilead Amit introduces the big show. Ladies and Gentlemen! “One idea explains all the weird coincidences in the universe.” Drum roll… five hoops are lit on fire. The door opens. What animal can jump through all five hoops in a single bound? The ringmaster has not only one beast to try it. He has two!
“Don’t believe in coincidences but stuck for an explanation? Time to call up the ….” Here come the two contestants. To groans from the audience, he sends in the clowns.
The first clown gets escorted out of the ring by the ringmaster himself. Shoo!
Physicists dislike coincidences such as those set out on these pages, suspecting them of covering up some new principle they don’t yet grasp. But when they run out of theories, there’s a one-size-fits-all explanation that can answer everything without really answering much at all: the universe is as it is because we’re here to see it.This piece of circular logic is the anthropic principle. A universe inhospitable to life would have no human beings around to observe it, so the one we see must, by definition, possess features essential to accommodating intelligent life. But that doesn’t tell us whether a slightly different universe might still host life, why our particular universe exists and not some other, or why we see finely balanced features with no bearing on the emergence of life.
The second clown makes its entrance.
And yet there is an idea that sweeps all these objections away: all conceivable universes exist side by side in a patchwork multiverse. We merely inhabit one out of the infinite selection.
Michael Behe escorts this clown out of the ring. In The Edge of Evolution (pp. 221-227), he shows why this explanation is the stranger of the two. “The Twilight Zone was never so bizarre” as the multiverse, he says (p. 225), because in a multiverse, everything can happen – and does happen. Brains pop into existence out of the void. “All false thoughts, no matter how detailed, no matter how vivid, will occur without end” (Ibid.). Multiverse theory becomes indistinguishable from brain-in-a-vat theory or solipsism.
Behe proceeds to show that multiverse scenarios are self-refuting and vacuous. “If they were true, you would have no reason to trust your reasoning” (p. 227). And when you think about them a little more, both the anthropic principle and the multiverse reduce to coincidences themselves. It’s a coincidence that the universe is at it is so that we are here to see it. It’s a coincidence that we won the cosmic lottery. Both ideas appeal to nothing beyond coincidence. So materialists have three choices to explain the fine-tuning of the cosmos: (1) coincidence, (2), coincidence, and (3) coincidence. New Scientist ends the series by admitting as much:
But some still see the multiverse as an abdication of scientific responsibility: a fancier way of simply saying “coincidences happen”. And, if true, it means some astronomers out there are forced to justify a universe even more replete with coincidences than ours, while others could be bored stiff in a completely random cosmos.
There is a way out of the coincidence trap. It’s no coincidence that Behe argues for another option. His alternative takes explanation out of the circus and back to the academy. Instead of abdicating scientific responsibility, it responsibly assigns known causes that are necessary and sufficient to explain the effects. Instead of shooting itself in the foot, it justifies reason. And it’s not bizarre; it’s intuitively obvious.
Instead, I conclude that another possibility is more likely: The elegant, coherent, functional systems on which life depends are the result of deliberate intelligent design (p. 166).
Only intellectual bias would forbid using this option in scientific explanation.