Saturday, January 8, 2022

The Fine-Tuning God

There is no doubt about it, when you think about the fact that we exist in a universe that is adapted for life, that the fact that we do is a bit strange, unlikely, even. In terms of physics, which is where more of this sort of thinking springs from, the basic strengths of the forces need only have been a little different and the universe as we know it, and hence, presumably, life, could not have come into existence.

There is a need for considerable caution here, of course. We do not know why the physical constants which determine the strength of the forces in the universe have the values they do. Nor do we know whether there are a huge number of universes, and we just happen to be in one with this set of values for the forces and hence life can come into existence and observe them. It gets, in short, complicated.

A simple response is to say that if the universe is such a finely tuned machine, it must have a tuner; if the universe is such a well-designed machine, it must have a designer, and hence determine that the simple existence of the universe is evidence for the existence of God. Some people accept this, of course, and some people do not. In a sceptical age we perhaps need rather more.

A God of traditional theism is eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, perfectly free and perfectly good. This God is, therefore, unlike anything we know about through any other means. God is not a human agent, or a human like agent. The designer God, the God of the fine-tuned universe is known by analogy with human designers. This God is inscrutable. We have no reason to suppose that this God will favour creating humans, or a human-friendly universe, over any other universe. Why should such a God care about humans or indeed, life? Indeed, what would ‘caring’ look like to such a being?

An alternative would be to propose a god like those of ancient Rome, where the deities have human attributes. You could argue that some aspects of the Christian God, particularly in the Hebrew Bible and be partially characterized in this way. Such gods seem to be ruled out by modern science, however. The God of Christian faith is not a human-like ‘superagent’ able to create a universe but with otherwise human-like attributes.

A modification of these views is to hypothesise that the designer God is defined as the God that designs the current universe. If the other ideas are a response to the facts of the existence of the universe and life within it, this one seems an even more desperate attempt to rescue some sort of God of the philosophers by special pleading.

The problem here seems to be, in fact, specifically about the ‘God of the philosophers’. That is, the discussion centres around what, exactly, a human (or set of humans who ponder these sorts of things) can say about God. Philosophers, when thinking about God, specifically rule out revelation and incarnation; that is they discard anything related to the Bible and its evidence for God, and about the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. This may well be true of philosophers working in the realms of other faith traditions as well, but I have no idea.

The problem with the God of the philosophers, from the position of someone with faith, is that their god is a fairly bloodless and rather pointless individual. The criticisms of this god are valid: and omniscient, omnipotent and so on god would be totally alien to a human. How and why should a human worship, or even care about such a god, unless that god was malevolent and would strike the human down for not doing so?

Even if such a deity existed and demanded worship with menaces, they would not approach the deity of Christian faith. It is a rather strange fact of life that, often it seems, non-believers and even the odd philosopher seem to prefer the God of the Old Testament (broadly read as a God of vengeance and awesome power) to the God of the New Testament of love and humility.

Reformed Epistemology attempts to read the world from the other end of the telescope. If we can intuitively know of God, then we do not need to prove the existence of God and all these other considerations fall away. We can, according to this account, suddenly ‘see’ or ‘know’ God through a flash of insight. We do not need to argue our way towards the existence of God. In philosophical language knowledge of the existence of God is properly basic, in the same way that ‘2+2 = 4’ is properly basic – it is not something that you really need to prove. The God of the philosophers is a deity you argue to, and you can argue about the foundations of your argument.

We have little or no experience of super-beings, a God who can create the universe and life is certainly one of them. But what if that God decided to reveal themselves to us? After all, by hypothesis, God is free. That does rather beg the question as to why this otherwise inscrutable God should choose so to do, and that is a question which we cannot answer. Why God should choose to create a universe, life and humans whom He loves is not a question we can answer. After all, we might think we can answer the question as to why the cat chooses to sleep at my feet for an hour or two a day, but I doubt if we really can. Her choices are alien even though I can observe them directly.

The point here, of course, is that the God of the philosophers is a lop-sided God. If God is the God of traditional theism, then He is inscrutable, unless He chooses not to be. In which case we need to take the evidence of the Bible, of revelation and incarnation seriously, even though it cannot be subject to the same sort of scientific enquiry that the universe can be subjected to.


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