Fine-tuning Foolishness: Hammering Out The Stupidity

The other day, I found myself needing to hang a wicker basket shelf in my bathroom. But the shelf was too heavy for tacks and glue, so I had to fetch a hammer and nails to do the job. After some milling around in the ever-useful “junk drawer,” I found the nails and a Stanley claw hammer dad had left at my place. I took some time to take a look at the flashy thing; it was relatively new, nearly all metal, with a duel-pronged claw on one end and the head at the other. It had a tremendously ergonomic rubber handle too, with curves and ridges along its surfaces, making it a perfect fit for the hand. I said to myself, “Now this is a well-made hammer!”

It was when the job was done that I found myself thinking of how the elements of the hammer work together so well. I thought to myself that if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that the universe was “fine-tuned” just for the sake of producing this very useful hammer I was still holding in my hands.

Of course, I did and do know better. I understand that the handy instrument I held in my hands was indisputably designed and existed for a purpose, and before I gave it a name and was able to appreciate its worth, it existed in other, less useful forms. I realize that a “hammer” is just matter manipulated by humans into a tool to fulfill a small range of tasks.

I understand that the entire cosmos did not come to be for the sake of that practical-but-petty item known as the hammer. The universe doesn’t revolve around it. It doesn’t really matter in the cosmic scheme of things if it exists or not, and in no sense can it be said that the universe was “fine-tuned” to produce that instrument—even though the nice rubber handle whereby I held onto the hammer was designed to fit neatly into my hands, and even though the weighting was just right for swinging and tapping, and even though the shape and construction of the instrument made it ideal for the task for which we humans made it. The hammer has a place in my life, albeit a very small place.

But I also understand something else; I understand perfectly well what many Christians do not understand—that all teleological arguments (arguments based on the “intelligent design” of the universe, including the anthropic or “fine-tuning” arguments) are worthless and false. We exist like the hammer, and for most of the same reasons as the hammer; we fit nicely into our environment and we are a manipulation of matter, being made of the same stuff that the universe is composed of.

But we are also not like the hammer; we manipulate matter based on our intelligence and the hammer doesn’t, and the hammer was designed while we have no proof that we were. But we do know that we designed the hammer, and we don’t have any reason to believe that anyone designed us, and that is the central fallacy of all versions of the design argument—they just assume what they want to prove (that we and other life forms, as well as objects like houses and watches, were designed by an intelligence).

It is intellectual folly to assume that the universe was “fine-tuned” for the formation of life, just as it would be to assume that the universe was made so that a nicely crafted, shiny hammer can be built for the purpose of nailing a wicker shelf to a wall. The universe was “fine-tuned” for neither purpose. At least, if it was, there are no logical arguments or observations that lead us with any gusto to accepting that conclusion.

And we must ask the really big question here—why must a designer be posited to explain our sensory observations of the world? Does the fact that 9 or 7 cannot be divided evenly mean that there must be a Creator? Is e=mc² less true if God doesn’t exist? Can atoms not revolve around one another and have stability without a Master-designer? Would the atoms making up concrete and steal suddenly fly apart on an atomic level, or else lose their “hard” properties and become like Jello without a deity? Does the survival of fish in frozen ponds due to water freezing from the top downward mean that the universe was fine-tuned for life? Does the fact that gravity is strong enough to keep us on this planet, and yet not strong enough to liquefy us constitute proof that God made this world to house life like us? Does the fact that oxygen/nitrogen – as we have them on this planet for breathable air – instead of toxic gases, like methane and ammonia, mean that the earth must have been designed for habitation?

Robert G. Ingersoll, in his oh-so-eloquent 1872 work entitled “The Gods,” pointed out the grotesque absurdities of intelligent design thinking when he said…

“Even the advanced religionist, although disbelieving in any great amount of interference by the gods in this age of the world, still thinks that in the beginning, some god made the laws governing the universe. He believes that in consequence of these laws, a man can lift a greater weight with, than without, a lever, that this god so made matter and so established the order of things that two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time, so that a body once put in motion will keep moving until it is stopped, so that it is a greater distance around, than across, a circle, so that a perfect square has four equal sides, instead of five or seven. He insists that it took a direct interposition of providence to make the whole greater than a part, and that had it not been for this power superior to nature, twice one might have been more than twice two, and sticks and strings might have had only one end apiece…These religious people see nothing but design everywhere, and personal intelligent interference in everything. They insist that the universe has been created, and that the adaptation of means to ends is perfectly apparent.”

Then we must ask why God needed to even bother with awkward designs like the flawed and ridiculously concocted ones we see in nature; why, for instance, did God give us skin as protection from germs and foreign particles, and yet not make us to thrive on what we know as harmful radiation? Or, if God gave us ears to hear with, noses to smell with, eyes to see with, taste buds to taste with, and nerve cells to feel with, then why did he only give us those senses? Why not also the ability to see gamma radiation and rays of light not visible to the human eye? We see them with telescopes, we detect them with finer instruments, so why not with the eye? God was not limited in having to create cardboard creatures as flimsy as ourselves. He could have made us to exist and thrive in black holes or within the hearts of blue stars, and yet he went through the senseless trouble to create (or some would stupidly say, “evolve”) these bundles of bunions called human bodies. Words don’t describe the asininity of it.

And this is the real foolishness of the fine-tuning argument—its limited focus. Just look at how much of the universe is inhospitable to any type of life. If the universe was fine-tuned for life, why is there so little life in it? Why is most of our world trying to kill us, let alone all of space and time beyond this odorous outhouse called Earth? Not even a seedling can grow and thrive on Mars, and yet Mars is the closest to habitable planet in this solar system we have knowledge of outside of our own. This realization makes our own evolution rather unique and spits on the dumb notion that the universe has been tailor-made as an environment for the growth of carbon life forms (and even more arrogantly, for the growth of the human race, so that we may fight and quarrel and give credit to a fictitious being for its existence).

First, the universe was, and then it evolved us. Only later did theologians come along, with their suits and ties, and their hymnals and sermon notes, and their calfskin-covered New International Version Bibles, standing in their pulpits, proclaiming that the way things are is the way they had to be. When an apologist says, “the stability of atoms makes the material world possible,” that means to him that matter was fine-tuned by God Almighty on the atomic level to make all substances possible. But using this reasoning, any given order of nature that managed to bring about any type of sentient life at all would have to be considered designed, in which case teleology’s assumptions are unfalsifiable. In other words, we humans are no different than some really big, smart fish—we’re going to think that the proverbial river we are swimming in was “made” for us no matter what! And there’s no point in stopping there! We might as well say that the riverbed beneath it was intelligently designed to be just big enough for the river!

No, Mr. Theologian, the universe exists in some form or fashion with or without us. We, and our petty, self-aggrandizing perceptions of it come after it and as a result of it. We are not special and we are not wanted. Our perceptions of the cosmos are subjective and only valuable to us as tools to understand it, but those perceptions cannot be used to question reality. We can use our perceptions of metal beaten into a hammer to categorize the instrument made and give it a name, but we cannot argue that because metal can be shaped into a hammer that therefore a cosmic mind fine-tuned the universe to work together on an elemental level to make that product possible, and the same has to be true of humankind’s existence.

The flakey idea of a fine-tuned universe reminds me of an encounter with a mystic I had several years ago who insisted that apparent faces spotted in nature (such as in clouds or in natural formations like wood and sand) are evidence for the divine and man’s destined place in the grand scheme of things. Of course, we have to get booster seats for these mental midgets by correcting them: in truth, the “faces” seen in nature are only faces when homosapien brain-farts come along and call them “faces.” But until then, they are only one among many possible visible formations of matter, and nothing more.

We have no evidence – not even a smidgen of it – to believe that the universe has been finely tuned by a cosmic entity for any purpose whatsoever. But we do have minds, and as with the so-called faces showing up in nature, the minds by which we perceive and understand nature also sometimes project false images onto it. We find “evidences” for a fine-tuning God because we humans create and fine-tune things ourselves. So it should come as no surprise when uninformed people come along and assume that someone like us (but higher than us) does the same things. It’s a classic case of projection and a very humbling sign of our own cosmic level of ignorance, arrogance, and juvenility.