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. Is the universe hostile to life?

Is the Universe Hostile to Life?


Greetings Dr. Craig,

May God continue to bless you and your ministry. In looking at various objections to the fine-tuning of the universe I stumbled upon Neil DeGrasse Tyson's objection where he states and I quote "Most places in the universe will kill life instantly - instantly! People say, 'Oh, the forces of nature are just right for life.' Excuse me. Just look at the volume of the universe where you can't live. You will die instantly.”

It seems to me that the fact that life exists anywhere at all is miraculous. Your syllogism defending the fine-tuning argument is great but I would like to hear what you would personally say to Dr. Tyson.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question and God bless!

United States

Dr. Craig responds:

This is a silly objection that shows only that Tyson doesn’t understand the fine-tuning argument. The fact to be explained is why the universe is life-permitting rather than life-prohibiting. That is to say, scientists have been surprised to discover that in order for embodied, interactive life to evolve anywhere at all in the universe, the fundamental constants and quantities of nature have to be fine-tuned to an incomprehensible precision. Were even one of these constants or quantities to be slightly altered, the universe would not permit the existence of embodied, interactive life anywhere in the cosmos. These finely-tuned conditions are necessary conditions of life in a universe governed by the present laws of nature.

Notice that Tyson’s objection does not attempt to provide an explanation of fine-tuning but is rather a denial of the fact of fine-tuning. But obviously, it would be obtuse to think that the universe is not life-permitting because regions of the universe are not life-permitting! And it would be equally fallacious to think that the universe is not fine-tuned because the finely-tuned parameters are merely necessary but not sufficient conditions for embodied, interactive life to exist. The fact that additional conditions are necessary for embodied, interactive life (such as a certain planetary mass, a certain distance from a star, a moon, a Jupiter-like planet to sweep away threatening comets and asteroids, etc. etc.) does nothing at all to negate the fact that a universe whose constants and quantities were even slightly different would be life-prohibiting. If anything, such additional conditions only strengthen the case for design.

I suspect that what lies behind Tyson’s objection is the common error of thinking that the term “fine-tuned” means “designed.” Because vast regions of the universe are hostile to life, it is inferred that the universe was not designed for life. Even that inference doesn’t follow, but never mind. The more important point is that “fine-tuned” doesn’t mean “designed.” That would make the inference to design a mere tautology. Rather, fine-tuning is the neutral fact that in order for the universe to be life-permitting the fundamental constants and quantities must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range. That fact is not negated by the fact that vast regions of the universe do not exhibit the additional conditions sufficient for life. The question will then become how that fine-tuning is best to be explained.