Constant dollars

How fine-tuned were the beginnings of our universe? Mind blowing.

In this third part of a talk at the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith (2021), philosopher Stephen C. Meyer discusses that our universe is perfectly suited to life in both smaller and larger ways – c is remarkable. We could perhaps call it “finer tuning”.

Dr. Meyer, author of The hypothesis of the return of God (Harper One, 2021), reflects on physics and physicists. (A sample of the book is here.) This is the third of four parts of the transcript of the talk. The first is here and the second here. Tom Gilson is the moderator of the podcast:


Stephen C. Meyer

Stephen C. Meyer: There are two basic types of fine tuning that physicists talk about. One is the fine tuning of the laws and constants of physics. These fundamental forces have very specific forces. Gravitational force has a definite force. If it’s stronger or weaker, you won’t get carbon formation. And there are many other life-enabling parameters that depend on fine-tuning this gravitational force constant.

To note: The four fundamental forces of nature are considered gravitational force, weak nuclear force, electromagnetic force and strong nuclear force, which are believed to describe all natural interaction. – Space.com

Evidence of fine tuning was found in all four.

Stephen C. Meyer: But in addition to this, physicists talk about the fine tuning of the initial conditions of the universe. It turns out that the arrangement of matter and energy had to be very precise to allow for a structured and ordered universe like the one we have, with galaxies, planets and planetary systems.

Roger Penrose, a British physicist, calculated that this initial entropy of the universe was adjusted to an exquisite degree. You can’t even figure this out: the calculation he did showed that the initial fine-tuning condition was one part in 10 to the 10th of the 123rd power.

To note: “In mathematics, the value 10123 means 1 followed by 123 zeros. (This is more than the total number of atoms [1079] believed to exist throughout the universe.) But Penrose’s answer is much more than that: it takes 1 followed by 10123 zeros. – all about philosophy

Stephen C. Meyer: Engineers familiar with the concept of tolerances – or anyone who has done a bit of work with nuts and bolts – knows that you can only insert the screw into the nut if there is the correct fit. And you have the same kind of thing with the initial conditions of the universe.

Now, in addition, there are other fine-tuning parameters that are a bit more difficult to categorize. There is the cosmological constant, the outward pushing force that causes the universe to expand in opposition to gravitational force. To achieve an expanding universe that does not collapse in on itself and allows the evolution of galaxies and stars to continue, this cosmological constant must be adjusted to a very precise degree… the most commonly accepted number is one part in 1090.

Stephen C. Meyer: Now, to put that into perspective, there are only 1080 elementary particles in the entire universe. So, getting the cosmological constant by chance would be like blindfolding yourself and stepping out into the universe, looking for an elementary particle, but not just an elementary particle hidden in our universe. It could be hidden in any of the 10 billion universes. It is therefore the degree of improbability associated with obtaining the correct cosmological constant. It’s an exquisite degree of fine tuning. And a lot of those parameters have that kind of fine-tuning.

Now there is a British physicist named John Polkinghorne. When I was a graduate student at Cambridge, he gave a talk to a group of student scientists I was part of on fine tuning. It had a little visual illustration, asking you to imagine you were on a spaceship in space and docking with the Great Space Station. When you got there, you walked in and there was a room. On the door, it was written: “The universe creates a machine here.”

Sure enough, there’s this huge console with dials and knobs and sliders and… and it turns out each one is set to a very precise value. And you do calculations, because of course you are a physicist. And you realize that if you change those dials or click that setting one click one way or another, we would no longer have a universe that could sustain life.

John Polkinghorne

I once had the opportunity to interview him in Portland while he was here in the United States for a talk given by Stephen Hawking. And I interviewed him afterwards and asked him, “Sir John, what do you think about having all these parameters set correctly?” And he said, “Well…” in a British understatement, “I’m not saying atheists are stupid. I am simply saying that theism provides a more satisfactory explanation. And indeed, many physicists who have been involved in the discovery of these fine-tuning parameters have come to a very similar conclusion.

Sir Fred Hoyle, who was, as I mentioned, initially an atheist or at best a very staunch agnostic, came to regard – as a result of his own discoveries – these fine-tuning parameters as the product of a sort of clever design…

And many scientists – including scientists who have not abandoned their agnosticism or materialistic worldview – also said the same.

To note: “As we sift through all the evidence, the thought arises emphatically that a supernatural agency – or rather an Agency – must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, unwittingly, we have stumbled upon the scientific evidence of the existence of a Supreme Being? Is it God who stepped in and so providentially shaped the cosmos for our benefit?

–Georges Greenstein, The Symbiotic Universe: Life and Spirit in the Cosmos (1988), 27. Cited at Today in science.

Stephen C. Meyer: Now, why does something like fine-tuning so consistently suggest intelligent design, even to physicists with atheistic, agnostic, or materialistic inclinations?…

There are many objections to the idea that fine tuning indicates a clever designer. And I cover them all in my new book. But the biggest and most important objection or contrary interpretation of fine-tuning today is known as the multiverse.

You may have come across the concept of multiverse in some popular movies. The idea is quite simple. It’s the idea that yes, we have these incredibly unlikely parameters that have been tuned just to allow life to exist in our universe. But there are many other universes with different laws and concepts of physics and different initial conditions, different arrangements that matter in energy at the beginning of those universes. And there are enough such universes to make the improbable features of our universe probable on a mega cosmic scale.

To note: The recent blockbuster Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (2022), which made nearly $1 billion, is set in a multiverse. Here is a review essay.

official trailer

Next: Is ours one of the few working universes among countless flops?


Here is the first part: if DNA is a language, who is the speaker? Philosopher Steve Meyer talks about the importance of Francis Crick’s sequence hypothesis which showed that DNA is a language of life. What kind of speaker can pronounce a language that produces living beings? Is it a fluctuation of a multiverse or an intelligence that underlies nature?

And the second: has a superintellect misused the physics of our universe? Revolutionary astronomer Fred Hoyle was a staunch atheist, but then he tried to show that carbon, essential to life, could be formed easily… It got worse: to form carbon, gravitational forces must be balanced with electromagnetic. This is just the beginning…

You can also read: Theoretical physicist: Impossible to avoid a beginning for our universe. Recent reworkings of James Webb Space Telescope images invite fundamental questions such as: did the universe even have a beginning? The large telescope has made new data available, some of it “incredible”. And if he had only confirmed what we know, how would we know he’s already left the launchpad?