Thoughts on the Fine Tuning Argument


In recent years, I have tried not to devote too much time to debating with Christians online as I find it quickly spirals out of control for me. I really enjoy the challenge of these arguments, of striving for a better understanding not only of the views of others, but also the elucidation of my own views that I find this practice brings with it. After all, you never truly know where you stand sometimes unless you but heads with someone else who has a different point of view.

Recently however I have noticed a bunch of posts regarding the ‘Fine Tuning’ argument for a creator god appearing on my Facebook feed and elsewhere. This had always struck me as a particularly weak and unfounded argument, so I wrote the below reply to a Christian friend and wanted to share it here (if only to simply get it off my chest).

What the hell is fine tuning anyway?


Pictured: the universe (or part of it)


For those not familiar with the argument, the basic idea is that the physical constants that make life possible in our universe, whether it be the gravitational constant, the ratio of the strength of electromagnetism to the strength of gravity, the cosmological constant, etcetera, are so finely tuned to their particular value, that this speaks to the existence of a divine tuner, who has set the universe’s properties up accordingly. So for instance, if the gravitational constant wasn’t exactly what it was, the formation of planets might not have been possible.

Why I think this is a weak argument.

The problem with the fine-tuning argument is that it presupposes that these constants are something that has to be tuned to begin with.

To claim that a constant has to be fine tuned, and that there are other possibilities as to how the world could have turned out, is to confuse the idea of a constant, with that of a variable. Take a circle as an example. You can finely tune its radius to produce whatever area you want, but the value of pi is a constant, and thus beyond your tuning abilities to alter the nature of the circle.

The fine-tuning argument really just seems to be the anthropic principle dressed up in different clothes and paraded into the conversation.

The best way I can think to try and understand how these constants are most likely something that isn’t even ‘tunable’ is to consider other constants of our reality, namely mathematical constants. I believe this is an apt comparison to make, especially given the deep link between the mathematical world, and the physical one.

Consider Pi


Fun fact: I named my Chihuahua Pi, and he is predictably irrational


Let’s go back and consider for instance the number pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter; has this constant been finely tuned? If the value of pi were changed in any way, then circles would no longer exist, along with any other number of mathematical constructs, and the physical realities they are linked with. So, is the value of pi one of these finely tuned constants that creationists often refer to?

I have never heard people claim that the value of pi must have been finely tuned. I think this is because the number is considered an intrinsic property of circles, and that if the number were changed, or defined in any other way, then the thing it is related to would cease to exist.

Now consider the rest.

Extending this to the physical constants of our universe, is it really that far-fetched to suppose that these constants are a fundamental property of our own universe, and that the reason they are constant, is because they are an intrinsic part of how the universe exists? Creationists may like to imagine a god fiddling with the knobs and fine tuning a universe, but if the value of these constants is restricted by the very nature of the universe (like how pi is linked to the nature of a circle), then suddenly the idea of any tuning become impossible.

You might argue that some of the constants being referred to could conceivably be tuned to some other value while still allowing a universe to exist, albeit one that simply doesn’t allow the formation of a universe able to sustain life as we know it today. But given that we don’t know the entire nature of how these constants interact, or how they function, to suppose that some of the constants have ‘possible ranges’ that they could be set to, is not something supported by any facts. It is not, after all, as if we have any other universes with differently set constants which we can compare these to.

Maybe if these gods had created a parallel universe with a weaker strong nuclear force, or a stronger weak nuclear force, we would be able to peer across the boundaries of our own and observe such a thing. But this simply is not the case.


In my opinion, the fine tuning argument is a weak argument because it presupposes the mechanism of fine-tuning, and then uses this contentious idea to support itself. There is no evidence of tuning being something that is possible, any more than we can imagine the number pi being changed by a god during its act of creation.

What do you all think?

Lunchbreak rant: The Problem with Asserting Implicit Messages in the Bible

Ok, so this started as a response to a post on Facebook from one of my Christian Facebook friends (Hi Troy!) during my lunch break. But it slowly spiralled out of control, so I figured I would paste it into a post here, in order to get it off my chest.

The article in question is linked below, and seeks to explain why the exhortations to stone people in the Bible don’t need to be taken literally today.

First of all, the author points out that many of the passages in question apply only to the Tribes of Israel, and cannot necessarily be extrapolated further than that group of people. I have to ask; if the laws in that part of the Bible are a covenant between the tribes of Israel and God, and thus not something that modern Christians have to follow, then how is this not some form of moral relativity?

This however is only a minor point in the article which focusses the rest of its argument to the idea that ancient legal practices were different to today’s, and that we must look at the words of the Bible through these Bronze Age lenses.

The article suggests that the laws written in the Bible are not meant to be taken seriously, as often punishments in the area weren’t handed out. I thought this was meant to be the word of the god, and thus a trustworthy document? Comparing the apparent rules of a creator with the pragmatic governments of the time seems to be troublesome.

The article notes the “the absurdity and impossibility of putting many of these laws into practice.”, yet still wants us to trust in the general idea behind the law. But why not apply this logic to other parts of the bible? It is perhaps absurd and impossible to expect gay people to not be gay, and yet this is what many Christians today claim.

If these “were not meant to be complied with literally even when they were first drawn up, [but rather they] serve an admonitory function”, then why not simply state this in the document that outlines the laws?

The text literally demanded a person be put to death but assumed the punishment would be substituted for a fine set by the courts.” Strange to think that these pretty explicit laws can be assumed to be paid off with a bit of cash. How can a legal system be considered fair when it can be so skewed by the wealthy?

The article likes to say that the way that these systems were meant to be employed was implicit in the document. I have heard the same argument employed by some homosexual Christians to explain how the Bible doesn’t decry same-sex relationships, but rather only certain kinds of same-sex actions. They say that it is implicit that when the Bible says “a man should not lie with a man as a man lies with a woman”, that it really means in a sinful manner, as can be done with heterosexual couples also.

The problem with trying to insert implicit things into the interpretation of the Bible is twofold: first it assumes that we can infer these implicit things by looking at other documents, when the Bible claims to be a wholly singular read. And secondly it then has to explain why such an important thing (the very word of a god!) would have relied upon implicit messages, when explicit ones would serve better. After all you don’t see lawmakers these days using implicit language in important legal documents.

I especially like this passage:

Old Testament scholar Joe Sprinkle notes that “‘life for life,’ in the sense of capital punishment, has an explicit alternative of monetary substitution.”

Really? I expected more from the Bible when it came to the idea of the sanctity of a human life. Instead here we find the assertion that taking a life is simply a monetary transaction, and that if you have the means, you can buy your way out of any punishment or culpability.

So really, if the contention of this author’s article is to be taken seriously, that is, that when the Bible says that a personal shall be put to death the Bible doesn’t mean literally; then perhaps the Bible needs to be rewritten, so that it says “the murderer shall be put to death, or pay a ransom”. Would not that be simpler, and more timeless? After all if an omniscient god was the origin of these edicts, then surely it would note the inherent problem in relying on customs that don’t span the breadth of time.

“It is not at all clear that the Old Testament ever commands Christians to stone women who commit adultery.”

Actually, many of these commandments are pretty explicit. Sure you can argue that there are later passages that can be used to infer that this isn’t so, but that argument can be applied elsewhere also (with worrying effect). There are passages saying “Thou shalt not commit murder”. But then subsequent murders are sanctioned. So can we say that it is implicit that some murders are ok? The fact of the matter is, if we are to take the Bible as the word of a divine being, and the framework of a moral system of laws and commandments, then there shouldn’t be such problematic implicit readings. This in itself should cause us to question the legitimacy of such a divine document.

The genre of the passages, in light of the common ancient Near Eastern legal practices and customs, suggests(…)”, if ever there has been a time to acknowledge the human origins of the Bible, then surely it is after reading this sentence. If we have to look towards ancient, and many would say out-dated, forms of society and legal system to try and explain an apparently timeless and absolute moral system, then surely we can see that these laws are a product of their time, and not the divine.

Lunchbreak rant complete.