- Drs. Zehavi, and Dekel (cosmologists): “This type of universe, however, seems to require a degree of fine tuning of the initial conditions that is in apparent conflict with ‘common wisdom’.”
- Ed Harrison (cosmologist): “Here is the cosmological proof of the existence of God – the design argument of Paley – updated and refurbished. The fine tuning of the universe provides prima facie evidence of deistic design. Take your choice: blind chance that requires multitudes of universes or design that requires only one…. Many scientists, when they admit their views, incline toward the teleological or design argument.”
- Frank Tipler (Professor of Mathematical Physics): “When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics.”
- Vera Kistiakowsky (MIT physicist): “The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine.”
- Arno Penzias (Nobel prize in physics): “Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.”
When presenting the fine tuning argument, skeptics may respond that we are unduly privileging life as something special in the universe. For example, someone might object that the universe is also fine tuned to produce iPads. Why is the existence of life significant in a way that entails God, but iPads are not? The restriction to life is ad hoc. So here I will give an attempt to respond to this claim, and give some reasons why theism predicts life.
The claim of theism here is that there exists a deity, and by this we mean that there exists an all powerful, all knowing, always good creator of the universe. Or something along those lines. Importantly, we think that God is in some sense the goodest thing possible, perhaps even Goodness Itself. And we also think that God is intelligent. Perhaps God’s intelligence is somewhat different to our intelligence, since God is timeless and unchanging and simple. But still rightly called intelligence.
Since God is good, we can say that in creation, He is pursuing something good. In fact if we believe Leibniz (and I do, this fits well with Calvinism) then we can say that the world God creates is actually the best possible world. The best possible world must include some good things.
I claim now that intelligent beings are some of the goodest things. Since God is Goodness Itself and is intelligent, the least we can say is that intelligence is very good. We can indeed go further and say that intelligence is fundamentally linked to goodness, as all of God’s attributes are. And further still, we can argue that in creating the best possible world, God would create beings in His image. He is Good, so His image bearers must be at least very good.
Given this, we have some pretty good reasons to think that God would design a world that could support not just life, but intelligent life. Many atheists, especially Kantians, think there is something special about humanity, namely: reason. Our ability to reason is unique, and morally significant. Kantians think that reason is the basis for morality. So it seems like the Kantians would agree that if there is a God, then God would create beings with reason. Intelligent beings.
Since we can demonstrate that if theism is true, then the universe will support intelligent life, we can indeed rightly use a fine tuning argument. This is not ad hoc, we have not arbitrarily selected intelligence to examine, we have shown how intelligence is significant for God.
This argument is largely an adaptation of arguments previously made by many apologists, so if it seems familiar I have likely stolen some ideas. I’ll investigate some facts around the supposed resurrection and try to work out what the best explanation is.
Before we begin I will state that for the purposes of this discussion I will be treating the works contained within the bible as historical documents (that is, documents from history), not as scripture or inerrant or even reliable. I hold these positions, but to assume them here would be circular reasoning. I shall attempt to come at them from a neutral position, without assuming anything about their reliability that I can’t back up with sources from respected historians. I will also attempt to take the consensus of experts in their field as the default position for the purposes of this argument.
Also before we begin, I will just state that we are certain that Jesus existed. Ehrman is the most respected non-Christian NT historian I can think of and he compared the belief that Jesus didn’t exist to belief in Young Earth Creationism. There is virtually unanimous consensus that Jesus existed among NT scholars, and even the rare proponents of Christ Myth Theory admit that they are basically alone in their beliefs. It is not a hypothesis worth considering, given scholarship on the issue. If this is a problem for you, you should probably read some more on the issue. Ehrman dealt with this issue here and here.
The first thing we have to establish is that Jesus was crucified and buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. This first point is largely uncontroversial, Ehrman writes that the crucifixion is one of the most sure facts in history1 (referenced in a multitude of Christian, Jewish, and Roman sources) and that Jesus was most likely buried in the aforementioned tomb2. Ehrman has since changed his mind on the tomb for what I consider to be dubious reasons (for some responses to Ehrman on this issue, see here and here and here), but other important scholars like Géza Vermes3 and Dale Allison4 still assert that Jesus was buried roughly as the Gospels describe. Gary Habermas is a noted expert on the facts surrounding the resurrection, and has surveyed that around 75% of relevant scholars affirm the empty tomb.5
Looking at the claim that the women who found the tomb found it empty, we have a few ways of evaluating it. When discussing biblical events, scholars have come up with a few heuristics that allow us to determine reliability. The empty tomb accounts satisfy the criteria of multiple attestation, lack of legendary embellishment, embarrassing features of the narrative, use of proper names, public knowledge of the burial and the tomb’s location.
It is notable that throughout history, from Celsus to modern scholars, opponents of Christianity have tried to explain the empty tomb rather than deny it. According to reports that are found in Matthew 28:11-15, Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho 108) and Tertullian (On Spectacles 30), for almost two centuries or more, the Jewish leaders tried to explain that the tomb was empty because Jesus’ disciples stole His body. This means that the Jewish hierarchy even acknowledged the fact that Jesus’ body was no longer there.
It is attested to in every Gospel, and a strong argument can be made that the creed discussed in the next section also includes the implication of an empty tomb. According to the late historian of ancient Rome and fellow at Oxford, A. N. Sherwin-White, “even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition.” And with respect to historical reconstruction, he says that “we are seldom in the happy position of dealing at only one remove with a contemporary source.” The empty tomb, in light of the multiple reasonably close sources attesting to it, is quite likely. If you are still unconvinced of the empty tomb, I’d like to hear an alternate explanation for the early beliefs and accounts, and why your explanation is better than mine.
Ehrman also tells us that the legend of the resurrection began at the latest two years after Jesus was crucified6. Ehrman refers to an early Christian source, a creed found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. A very early Christian creed, which James Dunn dates to 18 months after Jesus’ death.7
So we have an early belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Given what we know about the early church from Acts, this must have originated from the Apostles. There is no other plausible source for this creed. And indeed as atheist New Testament scholar Ed Perish Sanders says:
That Jesus’ followers had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.8
And as the resurrection-denying giant of NT Critisicm Gerd Ludermann says:
It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.9
Let’s examine the claims of the Apostles as they appear in Acts. Acts 2:29-32 records Peter’s words:
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.”
I contend that Acts is fairly reliable in relating to us church history. The accuracy of Acts in most areas is attested to by NT historians, with Martin Hengel stating10:
‘Luke-Acts looks back on the destruction of Jerusalem, which is still relatively recent, and moreover is admirably well informed about Jewish circumstances in Palestine, in this respect comparable only to its contemporary Josephus. As Matthew and John attest, that was no longer the case around 15-25 years later; one need only compare the historical errors of the former Platonic philosopher Justin from Neapolis in Samaria, who was born around 100 CE.’
There are some passages of disputed accuracy in Acts, but the above mentioned section is not one of them. I’ve been unable to find any scholar who takes issue with the above passage. And non-Christian scholar Gerd Lüdemann believes that the section is historical11. We have no reason to doubt it, and it is in line with what we know about the 11 from other sources.
So the disciples that Peter refers to, the 11, believed they were witnesses to the risen Christ. They believed it so strongly that some would die for it, and all would have reasonably believed they would die for it. Notably Peter himself, whose death is recorded by Clement of Alexandria. The 11 are threatened with death or imprisonment as early as Acts 4.
All this points to the fact that the Apostles truly believed what they claimed. We will investigate soon whether they could be correct. It should be noted that I am not claiming “They died for their beliefs, therefore their beliefs are true”. That doesn’t follow. My claim could be better summarized as “They died (or believed they would die) for their beliefs, therefore they truly believed them”.
We have now established that the Apostles all believed they had seen the risen Christ, and that the tomb was empty. Let’s begin then trying to explain these facts
Perhaps the Apostles simply hallucinated Christ’s appearances. This would be plausible, except for the fact that 11 of them would have had to hallucinate simultaneously. And not just hallucinations, but detailed coherent hallucinations that were completely outside the realm of what they expected. This is unlikely. And does nothing to explain the empty tomb.
Some have speculated that someone pretended to be Jesus, or was at least mistaken for him. This again fails to account for the empty tomb. It also seems unlikely given that the 11 knew Jesus well, after spending 3 years with him. It is unlikely they would have all mistaken someone for him, especially to the extent where they would die for it. Remember that these are fairly rational, intelligent people, judging by what they wrote.
Others have speculated that Christ did not really die on the cross, but was taken down and recovered in the tomb. This would be almost as great a miracle as the resurrection itself. Jesus was scourged before he was crucified, a process that often killed. And then there is only one known person to have ever survived crucifixion, who did so after being up there only a few hours and receiving medical attention. Two other people were taken down at the same time and died. It is unlikely Jesus could recover on his own in a cold wet cave.
Some have suggested grave robbers to explain the empty tomb. This does nothing to explain Christ’s appearances to the 11, and is just unlikely. They weren’t all that common, and probably wouldn’t carry off a body with no reason.
Perhaps the women went to the wrong tomb. This is possible, but it doesn’t explain the appearances to the 11. It also doesn’t explain why Peter and John also found the tomb empty, unless they made the same mistake. It is unlikely both groups would.
Now it is true that a combination of these unlikely partial explanations can explain the facts that we’ve looked at. But postulating multiple unlikely events multiplies their already low probabilities, and the resurrection becomes the best explanation.
The McGrew’s (Tim McGrew is the chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Western Michigan University) that I referenced earlier did a similar but more detailed investigation12 to the one I have done and came up with a Bayes factor of 10^44 which is an incomprehensibly huge number. If you think this evidence is weak, then let’s quantify our discussion, and give me an alternative analysis.
So it seems that based on the evidence at hand, the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the facts we have investigated.
- A Brief Introduction to the New Testament by Bart D. Ehrman 2008 ISBN 0-19-536934-3 page 136
- Bart Ehrman, From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity, Lecture 4: “Oral and Written Traditions about Jesus” [The Teaching Company, 2003].
- Geza Vermes, The Passion (Penguin, 2005)
- Dale Allison, Resurrecting Jesus
- Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004
- James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), page 855.
- Ed Perish Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus,
- Gerd, What Really Happened, p. 80
- Hengel & Schwemer, ‘Paul Between Damascus and Antioch: the unknown years’, pp. 7-8 (1997)
- Lüdemann quoted by Matthews, ‘Acts and the History of the Earliest Jerusalem Church’, in Cameron & Miller (eds.), ‘Redescribing Christian origins’, pp. 165-169 (2004)
In the history of theism, cosmological arguments have been some of the strongest and most widely used justifications for theistic belief. They are very old arguments, some form of the argument was even put forward by Aristotle. In this article I will not put forward any particular cosmological argument, but I will go through the general pattern of cosmological arguments.
Cosmological arguments derive their name from the Greek word “cosmos” which means “world”. The general idea is that we look at some feature of the world, combine it with a logical principle that we call the Principle of Sufficient Reason (or some similar principle), and deduce the existence of God. While some forms of the argument make claims about the entire universe (such as WLC’s famous defence of the Kalam argument), not every cosmological argument considers the universe as a whole. For example, Leibniz’ argument only considers a single contingent object, and Descartes’ argument deduces God from the existence of thoughts about God. So when presenting or criticising these arguments, don’t fall into the trap of always thinking about the universe, just because WLC made that particular argument famous.
So what is it about the world that we can observe? Here are the features that some of the arguments consider (the list is far from exhaustive):
- Aquinas: Change
- Descartes: Thoughts about God
- Leibniz: Contingency
- Kalam: Things beginning to exist
And here are the various principles or forms of the PSR that the arguments use:
- Aquinas: Things are changed by things external to them
- Descartes: Thoughts are invented, told to us by someone else, or about something real
- Leibniz: All contingent things have explanations
- Kalam: Everything that begins to exist has a cause
And each of these attempts to infer from their observation and their principle that God exists. Aquinas, therefore, argues that there is an unmoved mover, Leibniz argues that there is a non-contingent thing that explains contingent things, Kalam argues that there is something outside the universe that caused the universe. Descartes’ case is a bit more complex, where he first rules out inventing the idea of God and shows that using the “someone else told us” explanation only pushes the problem back a stage.
And then the argument goes on to attempt to prove that the thing they deduce, perhaps pre-emptively called “God”, has all the attributes that we normally assign to God. Aquinas shows that God is unchanging because He must be pure actuality and no potentiality, Descartes shows that God is perfect because the idea of perfection can’t have come from anywhere else, Kalam shows that God exists outside the universe to cause it, Leibniz shows that God is all knowing and all powerful because He saw all possibilities and could have created any. They all provide long and detailed explanations of each of the divine properties.
Whether or not these arguments succeed is a matter for further blog posts, Leibniz’ argument is my favourite and I will probably provide an in-depth defence of it at some point. But this gives you a general idea of how cosmological arguments work, with a particular observation, a particular principle relating to that observation, deducing God, and then deducing the properties of God.
Many people object that philosophical arguments for theism such as the cosmological argument do not arrive at the God of any particular religion, but instead prove the existence of a deistic God: who created the world or who upholds existence but who does not interact at all with humanity. I think we can make a good argument against this by looking at Christianity and arguing that this does appear to be the God of philosophical arguments.
But I think also we can extend the philosophical arguments to rule out deism. We can extend the cosmological arguments to show that God actually would interact with humanity, based on what we’ve already concluded about God. And not only that, but I think we can extend them in a way that rules out several of the other contenders for claims about God.
From the philosophical arguments, we conclude that God is good, and indeed perhaps Goodness Itself. At the very least, God is the highest good. We also conclude that God is all knowing and all powerful. So we take these conclusions as premises now.
Supposing that God is all good, He must want good for the entire universe. He wants the galaxies to be good galaxies, He wants the atoms to be good atoms, and He wants the people to be good people. And it seems that for people to be good people, the goodest people they can be, He has to direct their affections towards the good. That is, God must direct their affections towards God. Perhaps not each individual person (He may have other purposes in mind for individuals, see Romans 9), but people in general. It seems that God, being good, must draw the world to Himself. And so He must reveal Himself to them, so that they can pursue Him.
By being good and rational, God must be incapable of lying and self-consistent. So that means that all of God’s revelations must be consistent with each other, and they must be truthful. I believe this rules out Islam, which is inconsistent with the previous revelation from God. Muslims will claim that the previous revelations have been corrupted, but not only is there no evidence of this, there is significant evidence that they have remained in their original form. The Old Testament and New Testament were written over centuries by ~40 different authors, while the Quran was written by one man over a few decades. The New Testament is a perfect fulfilment of all prophecy in the Old Testament, is perfectly consistent with the Old Testament, and presents itself as the final revelation. This is of course only a summary of a fuller argument against Islam that I may one day make, but it gives us plenty of reason to prefer Christianity over Islam.
Returning to deism, I claim that deism does not have a sufficient response to the problem of evil. Remember that if there is a deist God, then that God is still good. So we’d expect some pretty convincing reasons as to why the deist God knowingly (because the deist God is still omniscient and omnipotent) created a universe that contains evil and suffering. Theists appeal to God’s purpose for the universe in explaining why evil exists: in order to bring about some higher order good. Some appeal to free will as a specific higher order good, but I don’t think we need to do that here.
But under many conceptions, the deist God is a God who doesn’t have any specific purpose for the universe, or at least for the rational beings within the universe. But if there is no purpose for the rational beings in the universe, then there cannot be a sufficient reason to ordain that evil would exist.
So it seems that on the whole deism is significantly less plausible than theism, and that Christianity provides the most plausible theism.
The fine tuning argument is in principle quite simple. Atheism strongly predicts that this universe will forbid life. Theism strongly predicts that this universe will permit life. Clearly, the universe does permit life, so this favours theism over atheism.
Let’s elaborate on what it means for the universe to permit life. I’m not referring to things like the location of Earth relative to the Sun (though others have done so), instead I’m talking about universal constants. Things like the charge on an electron, or the gravitational constant, or the rate of the expansion of the universe at the Big Bang. It’s no secret that these constants are finely tuned to create a universe that can permit life, and if they were changed often by a fraction of a percent, the universe itself could not exist for more than a few seconds. Sometimes not even that.
In support of this, I’ll cite some physicists:
- Stephen Hawking:
“The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life… It seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers that would allow the development of any form of intelligent life. Most sets of values would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at their beauty”
- Paul Davies (British astrophysicist):
“There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all….It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe….The impression of design is overwhelming”
- Arno Penzias (Nobel prize in physics):
“Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.”
I’ll allow you to do your own research on the topic, but the fact is that the level of precision in the cosmological constants is overwhelming. This paper gives some more details about the specific constants.
Many people will counter this argument by appealing to the anthropic principle. That is, the fact that we are observing the only type of universe that could permit us is not surprising, because we are here to observe it. We could not observe it if we did not exist.
It’s clear that this type of reasoning alone is not sufficient. Anthropic reasoning only indicates that the probability that the universe will permit life given that it is observed is high. It doesn’t indicate that the probability that the universe will permit life given atheism is high. If I were about to be executed by a firing squad of 100, I heard them all shoot, and then observed that I was uninjured, I’d rightly be surprised. It’s true that it’s not surprising that I’m observing it, given that I’d have to be alive to observe it. But it is surprising that all 100 missed. That’s the flaw in this reasoning.
Another common counter-argument is that the cosmological constants can’t actually vary. That they must necessarily be the way that they are. That the laws of physics couldn’t have been different, and neither could the starting conditions of the universe. It seems to me that if you’re willing to accept this, then you implicitly accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which states “For every true fact, there is a reason or explanation for why that fact is true”. To accept that the physical state of the universe is necessary is to accept the PSR for at least the physical universe.
If you’re happy to do that, then you should stop reading this argument and instead read my page on the cosmological argument, since the PSR is one of the premises of that argument. If you reject the PSR, then you only have one option available to you to reject the teleological argument.
By far, the most common objection to the teleological argument is the argument that there exists some large (perhaps infinite) number of universes. Couple this with the anthropic principle mentioned above, and you do seem to have a strong objection to the argument.
So why should we reject the multiverse? The most obvious argument is that of Occam’s Razor. We shouldn’t multiply entities needlessly. Since we’re talking about something on the order of 10^500 universes (there are 10^80 atoms in the observable universe) that’s a huge multiplication of entities. Entities that we can not observe, and have no evidence for. If our options are either a designer of this universe, or an unimaginably large number of universes, one of these certainly seems to have fewer entities.
Let’s suppose, however, that we don’t accept Occam’s Razor. We might have good reason to reject it here: under a model like Vilenkin’s, it’s not clear that the universes in the multiverse are separate entities, they are just different locations in space. Or perhaps we take a different understanding of Occam’s Razor, perhaps it is not entities that we want to avoid multiplying, but types of entities, or perhaps behaviours.
Let’s suppose that there is some huge number of universes. Then there must be something which has conditions which allow multiple universes to begin. Vilenkin proposes such a meta-universe, but this structure itself requires some fine-tuned constants in order to exist. Vilenkin requires a particular level of inflation for his model, for example. We have not really defeated the argument, instead, we’ve just moved the problem.
(The existence of a multiverse comprising mostly life-forbidding universes would lower the degree to which theism predicts that this universe will permit life, but multiverse-hypotheses only predict a generally life-forbidding multiverse given atheism, which begs the question in this context.)
I am no physicist, but the interpretation of QM which predicts multiple universes is not popular among physicsts who specialize in foundations of quantum mechanics, instead the most popular interpretation among this group is a pilot wave theory, in which not only is there no multiverse, but the universe is in fact deterministic. So even appealing to physics doesn’t necessarily make the case for a multiverse.
For a more detailed discussion of more modern inlfation multiverse models, see chapter 5 of this paper. I will in the future attempt to produce a summary of this, but for now the paper will have to do. Helpfully, the author of the paper also wrote this blog post in summary.