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Further Reading

Basic Training

Improbably So

Fine-Tuning Is Unlikely, but Unlikely Things Happen All the Time

by Tim Barnett

I recently wrote an article about how we live in a very fortunate universe.1 This is evident by the incomprehensible precision of the laws of physics for the possibility of life. The fine-tuning of the fundamental constants and initial conditions of the universe demand an explanation. I think the best explanation is a Designer.

Article originally appeared in
Salvo 41

In response to my article, I've encountered a number of challenges. These challenges do not disagree with the scientific evidence itself. Rather, they challenge the conclusion I've reached from the evidence. In this article I'd like to offer a quick response to one of the most popular challenges.

The Challenge

The first challenge I want to look at goes like this: "Yes, the fine-tuning of the universe for life is highly unlikely, but unlikely things happen all the time."

For a standard example of a highly unlikely event, look no further than your own existence. For you to exist, your mom and dad had to meet, fall in love, and have sex at just the right time. Not only that, but you are the result of a particular sperm—one in 300,000,000—and a particular egg—one in 2,000,000. We can multiply the improbability of your existence by looking at the likelihood of your grandparents meeting and conceiving your parents. You get the point. You are highly unlikely, but here you are.

In the same way, it is argued, the universe is highly unlikely, but here it is. Unlikely things happen, and we don't need to appeal to a designer to explain it.

Two Illustrations

This response may have some rhetorical force, but it makes a fundamental mistake. To expose the error, let me give you another illustration. Imagine your best friend has been murdered and the lead suspect is on trial. In fact, DNA evidence puts the suspect at the scene with the murder weapon in hand. As a result, the defense attorney turns to the jury and says, "The DNA evidence makes it highly unlikely that my client is innocent. But unlikely things happen all the time. For example, for you to exist, your mom and dad had to meet, fall in love, and have sex at just the right time. . . .

Would any jury accept this response? I think we would have to say no.

But why wouldn't they accept it? It is because there is a better explanation; namely, that the suspect really is the killer.

Let me give you one more illustration to help make my point. Imagine we sit down to play poker. Every time you deal, I get a random assortment of cards (e.g., King high, pair of eights, Jack high, pair of tens, Ace high). However, every time I deal, I get a royal flush (e.g., royal flush, royal flush, royal flush, royal flush, royal flush). The probability of getting a single royal flush is one in 649,739.

After the fifth royal flush, you insist that I'm cheating. That is, I'm designing the outcome. But what if I responded, "Yes, five consecutive royal flushes is highly unlikely, but unlikely things happen all the time. In fact, for you to exist your mom and dad had to meet, fall in love, and have sex. . . .

Double Whammy

There is an important distinction between the unlikelihood of your existing and the unlikelihood of dealing myself five royal flushes. It's the availability of a better explanation. In the case where I deal myself five royal flushes, it is better explained by the fact that I am cheating rather than that it just happened by chance. In the same way, the fine-tuning of the universe for life is better explained by a cosmic Designer.

How do we really know that design is the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe for life? In the same way we know that I designed the outcome to get five royal flushes in a row. A royal flush is highly improbable, but it is just as improbable as any other hand in poker. What makes a royal flush so special is that this sequence of cards matches a pattern that corresponds to a winning hand in poker. Therefore, it's the high improbability plus the specified pattern that tips us off to design.

Let me say this again so it isn't missed. It's not merely the high improbability of an event that leads to a design inference. It's the high improbability combined with an independently specified outcome that leads to the conclusion of design.

Consequently, the fine-tuning of the universe for life is not merely highly improbable. It's highly improbable plus an independently specified outcome. It's finely tuned for the existence of life. Therefore, the fine-tuning of the universe for life is best explained by a cosmic Designer. •


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