Pevaquark Doesn't Like Fine Tuning Apologetics and Neither Should You

(Matthew Pevarnik) #1

It Began with An Experience
I think it’s a great question without a perfect answer. I’ve been meaning to respond to this for a while. I personally began with a ‘personal encounter’ that changed the course of my life in a rather sudden and dramatic way. It was not a very ‘intellectual’ thing, and looking back, while I can try to explain away what my experiences with God actually were, I can’t change the events and reactions that I had to such experiences.

I Used to Love Apologetics
I quickly gobbled up all the best Apologetics arguments and was kind of the go to encyclopedia on such matters. I was convinced I had the absolute truth and was ready to reason anyone to it. These guys really were though my hero so to speak that I looked up to and admired for their ability to defend the truth against anything and everything.

Face to Face with the Cosmos
But everything began to change when I first taught a Cosmology class. Being who I was with a doctorate in Physics, I could not actually teach anything to anyone else unless I genuinely understood where it comes came from and why anyone held such ideas to be true. That put me face to face with a giant mountain of evidence that stands with modern cosmology. While sure there are various anomalies or little pieces that require more research, it is certainly by far the most beautiful, satisfying, and precise/testable explanation of creation that I’ve ever come across (while I would say that say genesis 1 for example can be beautiful and moving, it explains very little about the natural world and if it is trying to explain something about the natural world then well it was wrong. I don’t believe that it really was so I don’t have a problem with it).

Facing the Apologetics
So then, where does that leave me with the Christian apologist? Well they tended to exaggerate things or somehow pretend that Genesis actually predicted the big bang theory. I quickly found them all to be antithetical to the science they argue supports them, where they readily insert God into things that we do not have an explanation for: like the matter/antimatter asymmetry, or the origins of the cosmos, or the fine-tuning arguments.

What I Realized About Fine-Tuning
I think the fine-tuning is interesting, but it usually drives me batty in Apologetics. To talk about any probabilities, one needs to know all of the possible choices of which we know absolutely nothing about. Nobody can pretend to imagine that they actually know how and what the odds are of getting certain fundamental Constance or laws of nature. I am thinking in particular of one graph that I saw by Luke Barnes his most recent book… Here is the graph:

In his actual book, he highlights that the area under the curve is the allowable section for making stars or something like that and that area represents only one part in 10 to the 36th power of the actual limits of the graph. He notes that that region is incredibly small, and thus this is part of the fine-tuning type of argument. Now I hope that you could see why such a statement is nonsense, because nobody knows what’s range of values these constants can take and with the probabilities of getting each of those values even is. So you can make the bounds as big or as small as you want, nobody knows and nobody can tell you’re wrong, but to suggest that it falls within some kind of narrow range without even knowing what the range could be is quite confusing to me and I would dare say misleading.

Special Topic: Dark Energy is made by the god of the Gaps
And then, there is the whole dark energy fine-tuning. I couldn’t find for the life of me where this argument actually came found in the first place when I was first learning Cosmology. But the discrepancy is just that what quantum mechanics predicts the vacuum energy should be is 120 orders of magnitude larger than what we measure the amount of dark energy to be based upon the cosmic microwave background anisotropies and type 1a supernova. That’s where this number is coming from where some kind of special mechanism that nobody knows has to cancel out the quantum field energy to a very precise amount. Given that nobody can actually unite quantum mechanics and general relativity yet, it’s no surprise that the two end up producing such large discrepancy. And then we look and say wow this is evidence of God’s handiwork because only God can fine-tune something so precise and cancel out the quantum field energy density. This argument is cool and popular, and thrown around as evidence or proof of God ( but is completely based on a lack of knowledge and is a God of the gaps argument that all the best apologists use. It frustrates me so much). and sure enough, simulations on the universe happen to show things like actually the dark energy value can be 100 times greater or 100 times less and we don’t have any problem whatsoever.

There we go, the evidence for the Creator God I just got weaker all thanks to zealous public speakers and writers who wow and amaze their audiences as they seized up on gaps in our understanding of the natural world. They can’t see it, and they argue oh it’s not the God of the gaps argument, but it really is. That’s all that they really have to argue. And this leaves many of my students very confused who grew up listening to such people where they realize that holy cow we can explain an awful lot of stuff and they never even realized it, and some of them are even left wondering how can they possibly share the Christian message with non-Christians. It’s crazy to me that the message of Jesus has gotten so twisted into attacking science that many people can’t even tell the difference between the two.

My Brute Fact: A Choice by Faith
So where does that leave me today? Well, I realized that everyone needs a brute fact. I will be the first to grant anybody that the laws of nature themselves are sufficient to produce everything that we see here including our universe. Maybe there’s a multi-verse, I don’t really know but think that would be so awesome. But, for me it’s either the laws of nature or some kind of deity are my brute fact. So perhaps the laws of nature are just there, and there a fact that you just accept. Or, my brute fact is that there actually is a creator who fashioned and up holds such laws of nature. And this is where I have no amazing knockouts apologetics, but a simple thing that I choose to believe by faith.

And then even this doesn’t get me anywhere past deism. I personally think that natural theology can only ever bring someone to perhaps a deist position, and anything beyond that also enters this realm of what I’ve discussed as personal experience and faith in a ‘brute fact.’

That’s a lot of stuff, but I hope that it makes at least some sense of where I’m coming from let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Did Dawkins and and Hawking really admit the Big Bang is impossible?
Why the Yhwh 'god'?
Where did the laws of physics come from?
(Roger A. Sawtelle) #2

Why on earth are you making a false dichotomy between God and Nature? God created nature. Humans have studied nature and created science. God and Nature are different, but not incompatible.

Theology cannot prove the existence of God. The best thing it can do is show that Science does not disprove God.

I have been reading The Big Picture by Sean Carroll in an effort to see why cosmologists reject the Beginning and God. What I found was a whole let of theories and very few cogent facts. What I found was a effort to fit the universe into a particular non-rational framework into which It cannot fit.

I believe following the Bible that God created a rational, knowable world as the home for humanity. That does not mean that we will ever completely understand the universe. That does not mean that there might not be other persons created in God’s Image living in other universes. I am not concerned about what other worlds might be, but only then world that is and the humans who are and the God Who Is Who God Is.


That’s the part that bugged me most when I was in youth group. My own congregation never really took a stance on the creation debate, but there were guest speakers at certain functions who were of the zealous type. You start to lose a lot of respect for speakers when they start pushing claims that you know not to be true. It’s kind of hard to unsee the facts.

Earlier in your post you also spoke of going through the evidence yourself, and that is also something that is hard to undo. Once you develop and train your ability to critically evaluate scientific findings it is really hard to untrain it. When you see all of the pieces of a theory falling together into such a neat and tidy package, a theory that passed all of these massive hurdles that could have disproven it, you really can’t pull back from that.

(Mark D.) #4

I’m glad for you that you came clean with your own conscience regarding apologetics. It just seems like a deceitful enterprise whenever I encounter it. The ends do not justify the means. I can only imagine the kind of distress someone would feel who recognized what you did but continued to do what they saw as their Christian duty.

So far as I can see, faith will always require faith. No air tight case can be made for or against God. I personally reject creationism and afterlife, but I hang on to something more in order to make sense of what we experience as human beings. Even that much requires faith. And if I were an atheist who insisted God did not exist, that too would require faith. We’re all in the same epistemic boat regardless of what some will say to the contrary.

I appreciate your honesty as well as the vast learning in science you have attained.


Thanks for sharing your experiences, Matthew. I found it really interesting to see someone else’s perspectives on faith. It kinda made me talk about some of my experiences a little as well.

That is a area which I have some trouble understanding to be fair. In fact, it has been my main difficulty integrating the church community in the past months. Everyone there talks about how ther faith made such a big change in their lives, or how much of a personal connection and relationship the fell to God and Christ, and that really makes me feel a bit out of place there. I guess I am a very weird theist, because I have a really hard time relating to that, to the point which I’ve been questioning if I can be called a christian at all due to the way I deal with belief (although I do believe). In fact, I was about to start a topic discussing about this things these days, but I postponed it because I’m a little overwhelmed with work.

I also don’t really like apologetics all that much. I love to see talks about science and religion, but I prefer it when they are not trying to convince anyone of the existence of God, but rather talking about the consistency of science and religion and how the things we learn from science impact the way we look at religion (I.E. neuroscience and free will, etc). I think apologists can do a good job answering to some atheist objections to fate, like the idea that “An universe from nothing” proves that God does not exist, but are rather sloppy when they are exposing their own arguments rather than answering those of atheists. One good example is John Lennox, I think he handles the claims by famous atheists very well, but when he goes to defend what he believes himself he start making some really questionable claims such as saying that the positive impact faith has on peoples lives is strong evidence for God or claiming that even if evolution is true, humans must absolutely have been created by special creation.

Fine tuning itself is not something that I ever saw as being all that relevant to the debate about the existence of God myself, although it seems to be one, if not the most popular argument today, which I find weird. Even if we proved 100% sure that the universe absolutely needed fine tuning, that would just put God as some kind of tinkerer existing inside the universe in order to propoerly adjust its inner workings, as if they already existed prior to God and God is nothing but a maintenance guy living inside it, whiile the God I believe is the creator of the whole thing. So it doesn’t really matter to me how the universe got in the state it is right now, but rather the fact that it is even possible for the universe to get in that state. Like John Polkinghorne says (even though he is one of the guys that use the fine tuning argument a lot), the universe was “pregnant” with the possibility of life from the very start, or else we wouldn’t be here today, the same goes for a multiverse or whatever the framework which includes us as a possibility is.

I totally agree with you on that as well. In the end it is a matter of faith, but I do think that choices by fate can be at least “informed opinions” rather than purely irrational choices like some atheists (and even some theists like Martin Gardner) suggested. I think the fact that the universe exists in within a framework that possibilitates life and cosciousness is a indicator that there is some intrinsic meaning on it, which indeed puts me on a deistic position. What differs me from deists is mainly the fact that I think that if that “deistic” God doest in fact exist, he is personal, given the nature of our universe. I mean, if God just wanted to see bits of matter randomnly clashing he could have made a universe without consciousness in the first place, evolution would have proceded unhindered and we could get pretty much to where we are, bar the fact that we would be philosophical zombies without consciousness. I agree in the end that as much as I try to rationally justify my beliefs with these arguments, they are just brute facts that I’m accepting on the basis of faith, but I like to think that they are “informed opinions” rather than just crazy stuff I chose to believe because it feels good or due to irrational cognitive biases evolution put in my brain.

Anyway, I just thought it would be nice to use this reply as a way to expose some of these ideas which I thought could be interesting discussing. Thanks for the thoughtfull reply!

(GJDS) #6

I too find your views interesting and generally I would agree with the thrust of your post. I tend to reject using science to provide some sort of theological position (and I reject using science against theology proper). However much of current debate(s) seem to be an odd mixture of both science and theology, be it for or against.

I see the fine tuning argument as an inference, and I tend to view the constants as required to practice science (you may provide an alternate view if you wish). It is difficult to think, for example, of any chemistry without the charge of an electron set at what it is. I cannot see any probabilistic argument replacing that value (as one example of a constant).

(Randy) #7

I really jive with this. As a child, I used to believe that if I asked him, God would answer me, like Samuel as a child (based on a misinterpretation of some Bible stories). Listening hard for God’s voice didn’t work–it made me feel foolish in the long run.

Chris Rice’s song “Smell the Color 9” resonated with me–“sometimes finding You is just like trying to smell the color 9; 9’s not a color; and even if it were, you can’t smell a color. That’s my point exactly.”

My own father was very dedicated and loved God. However, he was also a skeptic in many ways. He felt you could not depend on any miracle as proof of God’s existence. Far from shaking my faith, it helped me when he told me that as I went through undergrad and talked to kind, questioning professors.

(Jay Johnson) #8

All that one really needs to know.

Actually, there are different infinities in mathematics. Which infinity should we equate with the God of the Bible? It seems to me that math could just as easily be said to teach polytheism…

One problem with evangelicals is making the “born again” conversion experience normative, so that if you cannot offer testimony of a changed life on cue, people look at you as if your faith is questionable. Personally, I grew up in the church, and I walked down the aisle to be baptized at the age of 12. Now, the sarcastic side of me wants to describe how that decision for Jesus totally changed my life, how I stopped taunting my little sister and stealing cigarettes from my parents to smoke in the alley. But, even that would be a lie. The lesson, I suppose, is that God deals with us as individuals. There may be similarities in many of our stories, but none of them are identical. Walk your own path without apology. The signposts are there for you to follow. The narrow, uphill trail with few travelers leads to life. The broad, crowded boulevard leads to destruction. Choose well.

This is how I spent my 20s. I thought I could argue people into the kingdom. It was a salesman’s approach – defeat every objection, and the customer will have to buy. It was both fruitless and spiritually deadening. Jesus is not a consumer product. (Although, with all the emphasis on church growth, we seem to think of him in those terms…)

I experienced a crossroads, as well. Skipping the details, everything changed for me when, at the ripe old age of 35, I finally discovered that faith was far more than a set of “correct” beliefs stored in my head, all for the purpose of punching my ticket to heaven. Christianity is not a philosophy, and it is far more than just a worldview. Belief means nothing without action. Jesus summed it up in one question: “Why do you call me Lord, and do not do what I say?”

I discovered the same problems that you detail. The only apologist that I can read anymore is Pascal, probably because his work is 350 years old. I also think he has the only proper attitude toward the world, which is that it is ambiguous. God has so ordained things that there is enough light for those who wish only to see, and enough darkness for those of the opposite persuasion.

Amen. And that was Pascal’s conclusion, too:

"We know truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart, and it is in this last way that we know first principles; and reason, which has no part in it, tries in vain to impugn them. The sceptics, who have only this for their object, labour to no purpose. We know that we do not dream, and however impossible it is for us to prove it by reason, this inability demonstrates only the weakness of our reason, but not, as they affirm, the uncertainty of all our knowledge. … This inability ought, then, to serve only to humble reason, which would judge all, but not to impugn our certainty, as if only reason were capable of instructing us. Would to God, on the contrary, that we had never need of it, and that we knew everything by instinct and intuition! But nature has refused us this boon. On the contrary, she has given us but very little knowledge of this kind; and all the rest can be acquired only by reasoning.

“Therefore, those to whom God has imparted religion by intuition are very fortunate, and justly convinced. But to those who do not have it, we can give it only by reasoning, waiting for God to give them spiritual insight, without which faith is only human, and useless for salvation.”

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #9

Please, you cannot make facts go away just because the scientific theory has a problem. Facts are suborn and God is God of the Facts and the fact remains that the universe has a Beginning. Also that the universe is expanding and GR has been verified.

Thank you for the information, but this is old news which does not prove anything, except the wisdom of Karl Popper who took much flack for saying that science must be falsifiable. Even if it could be mathematically proven that a “bound” infinite was larger than and “unbound” one, so what?

Now you are speaking for God. Good luck in explaining why that should be. What is true is that the purpose of natural theology should to explain how God relates to the universe, that is helping us to understand the universe as much as it is helping us understand God.

Pascual is a Western dualist, and since the universe is not a dualistic so I would not recommend him.

(Jay Johnson) #10

Nobody’s perfect. I usually find something, somewhere that I can disagree with, in every thinker. Pascal was wrong about original sin, too, but I don’t hold it against him. Still one of my favorite Christians of all time. And, I should add, one of the great geniuses of history.

This is pretty much what @pevaquark has been saying all along. I’m not disputing any of the facts, Roger, and I agree with many of your conclusions. I just don’t agree with the road you took to get there.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #11

The road I took is the road of the Big Bang. If you disagree with that road, you have to disagree with the road of science and neither you nor Matthew have given me any reason to say that the Big Bang is not true.

The only difference is that the Big Bang does not say that the universe did not come out of nothing, although it does strongly imply this. I say that it did for reasons which are largely based on logic and fact, not science per se.

May be you and Matthew have pointed to cracks in my argument, nothing is perfect, but you have not revealed any serious flaws. I can understand now how the evolution debate has poisoned the discussion of natural theolog, but we can and must do better.

(Jay Johnson) #12

On that, all of us can agree.


I’m don’t fully accept Gould’s “Non-overlapping Magisteria” (NOMA), but there is some wisdom in it, and I think this is one are where it offers some insight. The evolution debate poisoned the well because creationists misrepresented the facts. This kind of ruined it for anyone coming after them who wanted to talk about how nature and theology could be united. When theology leaves its magisteria and starts attacking the facts of science, then there are hard to resolve conflicts which theology usually doesn’t win.

Thankfully, there are those who don’t see a need to put theology and science at loggerheads, which is why this website is a breath of fresh air. There may be some missteps here and there, but no more so than any other honest human enterprise.

Roger's views on Darwinism and natural selection
(GJDS) #14

Terms such as infinite to describe God are considered inadequate. We may speak of God through analogical terms, but these are not applicable within the context of the sciences - thus, it is more likely that we would say God is beyond infinity, or God transcends all scale (time, mass, distance etc) and so on.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #15

First of all we do need to acknowledge that God does not need a defense or an apology.

Second, it is humans who need to understand the universe and God. We need faith seeking understanding. We need to understand who we are and atheism can never explain that.

Third, we need to criticize non-belief where it is most vulnerable, which is the Logos. This is not really a theological issue, but a philosophical issue.

Fourth, there are many other vulnerabilities of non-belief, but they depend on a new understanding of Reality, which Christianity can provide. Sadly many Christians are content with worn out truths that no longer function in God’s world. I would hate for y6tou to be one of them.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #16

I do not understand your thinking. Yes, you are right to criticize those who misuse science to “prove” the existence of God, but to say that because they are mistaken that existence of God is less sure is also clearly false.

God is true because God is real. If the multiverse is true, then it must be real also, but we have a long way to go before we can say this. Nothing in the information you quote says that the multiverse is true or real, only that it maybe within the realm of possibility.

Again the evidence indicates that the universe had a beginning, t = 0, which means that time and space along with matter and energy had a Beginning. Beyond that we cannot scientifically go. That is why we need philosophy and theology as well as science to understand the reality in which we live. .

(Matthew Pevarnik) #17

Let me try to rephrase: if our lack of knowledge about something is used as ‘proof’ that God supernaturally did something and then we figure out the natural process behind it, the ‘proof’ of God is then gone. There are certainly better ways to engage the unknowns of scientific inquiry, but god of the gaps is the go to for many Christian public speakers.

Never heard it phrased quite like that before. I don’t quite understand your words since you could literally put nearly any noun there and make the same statement. Like my glasses are true because my glasses are real. Quarks are true because quarks are real. What are you saying here exactly?

I know. Did I say otherwise?

No. Well maybe. We don’t actually know yet! General relativity (again) which cannot describe the earliest era of our universe is what tells us ‘beginning.’

Not yet but maybe someday.

Well yes and no. I can certainly agree that there are limits to scientific inquiry and certain questions which it cannot answer (unless your Sam Harris apparently-which I disagree with his approach). However, these questions came about via scientific inquiry and will be decided by such. I’ve mentioned this before but Cosmologists were able to falsify the Steady State model and affirm the Big Bang model not by philosophical debate our scouting reigious texts… but by building telescopes and measuring electromagnetic radiation that’s been traveling for billions of light years. *That’s how these questions are ultimately going to be answered- not by philosophical and religious debate that has never actually told us anything ever about how the natural world actually works.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #18

I agree that the God of the Gaps is bad, because God is God of the Facts, that is God is responsible for the facts of the universe. God is the Source of the Universe and all that is, which means God is behind the natural processes which form the universe.

This is what it means to say that Science and Faith are not opposed to each other, which is the Good News of Jesus Christ and Bio Logos. I can understand your anger at apologetic speakers, but Christians are not called to anger, but reconciliation and correction.

God created each of us in the womb of our mothers as the end of a long historical and natural process. It was “supernatural” in that God did it, but God did it in a most natural and common way

You said before that you do not know if the multiverse exists or not.

That is not the real issue. There is evidence for what we call the Big Bang, but before that or very shortly before that there is no evidence for the existence of the universe. The question is not exactly how the universe happened, but when it happened.

Sounds like a No God of the Gaps to me.

Methinks that you are contradicting yourself. First you say that “may be” science can and will beyond t = 0, then you say only science can settle problems of how nature works, which is not true if there are always questions as to how nature works… There must be limits to scientific knowledge if science is to be able to settle anything. And there must be limits to philosophical and theological knowledge if they are to settle anything.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #19

What are you saying here Roger? I’m not following. Looking back throughout the history of scientific inquiry- we never ever knew what the boundary of such inquiry would be. Does that mean that science has never been able to settle anything in the past?

Where is the boundary today? Nobody knows! We never have known where such a boundary is and never will. But maybe this time we’ve hit a real boundary. Throughout the ages, the religious have been the first to swoop in and argue:
“scientists don’t have an explanation for x, y or z… but I do: God!” The idea of the multiverse or the beginning of our cosmos are presently some of the hot topics that fall into these types of categories.

I wouldn’t know what it looks like to ‘settle’ anything in a philosophical or theological sense. I certainly can grant the same type of consensus building amongst scholars in each field but at the same time, especially for the theology side- it’s not like you can go out and collect new data to test your hypothesis. But maybe you can show me how such fields positively help scientific inquiry (other than just filling in gaps that are either temporary or permanent we don’t yet know and then stepping to the side as we figure more out about creation).

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #20

The boundary today is the Beginning of the universe.