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?

Random mornings with my son

One of my favourite parts of the day is my morning walk to school with my son Harrison. Being stuck in an office all day isn’t the best way for a primate to live, so a refreshing start to the day is always welcome. Plus I get the added benefit of being able to spend some time with my son; it’s a win-win.

Usually we talk about whatever is going on at the time, or whatever Harrison is fixated on at the moment, so there have been many walks dominated by Harry Potter theorising, Superhero discussions, Dragon tales and so forth. But we also talk about other topics in the world in general.

Today’s walk involved an update on the progress of SpaceX’s goal of colonising space (and eventually Mars), spoiler alert: they suffered a little setback.


But the main reason for this post is because Harry wanted me to look up Geladas when I got to work. Geladas for those not in the know, are a distant relative of baboons, and not an Italian style of ice cream, as I originally thought. He has been watching a bunch of Deadly 60 episodes, and clearly this animal appeared on one because he had manifold facts to tell me this morning. He told me where they live, what terrain they like, their diet, what hunts them, etcetera. But what he really wanted to tell me was about their teeth. Specifically about their canine, teeth, about how they are the largest of any primate, and how they like to show them off by flipping up their upper lip.

Let me tell you, I thought I knew what to expect, but I didnt expect it to look this terrifying:

This looks like something a Predator would struggle to add to its trophy wall!

At any rate, I just thought this was cool, and figured I would share it with you all (whoever that may be). To finish up though, let me leave you with a more comforting image of our not so distant primate relatives; these little dudes enjoying a nice relaxing hot spring:



A Conspicuously Stellar Morning


This morning’s walk to work was nice.

Turning a corner I was struck by how bright the sun was. I know it’s a stupid thing, after all I see the sun every day (well this is Ballarat, so at least an approximation of the sun on some cloudy days). But nevertheless, it should be a mundane experience by now; to turn a corner and find yourself in the rays of our local star should not offer any new impressions. But today seemed somewhat different.

The sun was low in the sky. It was morning like I said. Low but brilliant. Streams of photons transferred their energy to me, ending their 499 light seconds travel through the inner solar system by increasing my skins temperature ever so slightly. It is an amazing thing to consider. I who is made of what once was a star, now absorb a new stars energy. An awesome cosmic experience.

The reason why I am describing this in such terms is because this morning the sun really felt like a star to me. Often we forget our true place in the solar system. Hurtling around a star which is in itself orbiting the centre of the galaxy, and so on as we were once told by Eric Idle. We forget these astronomical truths because we have evolved not only as a species, but also as a culture, with a set view of life on this planet. We adopt things like the curvature of the earth as a flat plane on which our experiences lie, and figure it the truth. Likewise, we talk of the sun rising, or setting, or moving in the sky, and somehow lose sight of the fact that it is our relative movement around the sun, and the earth’s rotation on its axis, that cause these illusory appearances.

Sure we know these as facts, but the quotidian nature of all this often numbs us to the reality.

“You realize the sun doesn’t go down,

 It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round” – The Flaming Lips

But something about the sun this morning, its place in the sky, its brilliance, seemed stellar. It seemed different than usual. More than just the light from above, more than just the thing that delineates day from night. The sun was suddenly there to me, in all its glory. A great ball of hydrogen and helium millions of kilometres away: A massive fury of nuclear reactions.

I think it was simply the position in the sky that did it. Usually you can walk around at ease without any actual view of the sun. We evolved it seems to focus on horizons, and on things close by; our primate ancestors needed this to be the centre of their visual world, because this was where the danger was most likely to come from (or where the good times would hopefully happen). So the sun, traversing its daily arc across the sky, simply wasn’t as important. Sure it may be in there, perhaps at the apex of your vision; but you don’t notice it.

When I turned that corner I couldn’t help but notice it. I had to squint. The sun isn’t that big in the sky really; you can blot it out with a thumb extended the length of your arm. But this mornings sun commanded my attention.

Maybe there was more to it than just the physical effects in order for such a humdrum thing to stick in my mind so. Maybe I am remembering this so vividly because of how it made me feel; because of my state of mind at the time. I don’t know. But on a dreary day, when you are walking away from your home to a job that you aren’t all that excited to be going to, the arrival of a literal ray of sunshine in your life can help change your perspective. it reminds you that the world isn’t just a machine to house the cog that is you; rather it is a world that you are living in. There are things out there greater than you, but you are alive to experience them; and that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, I don’t know if this post has done much to interest anyone, or to convey the experience as I felt it, but a part of me was inspired and just had to write something.

Cheers. MM