googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Another Argument Creationists Shouldn't Use

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Another Argument Creationists Shouldn't Use

In my last post, I mentioned in passing that has a list of arguments they believe creationists should not use. However, there is one argument that I have frequently heard creationists use that I believe should be added to that list. Curiously, groups like and Answers in Genesis use this argument themselves so I doubt I'll see it added to the list very soon.

The other argument which I believe is somewhat weak is the “designed for life” argument. The idea is that our planet, indeed even the entire universe including physical laws, seems perfectly “fine tuned” to support life. If things were even a little different on earth, life would not be possible. Such a delicate balance suggests purpose in the creation and, thus, is evidence for design. This has sometimes been called the “anthropic principle.” Proponents of the anthropic principle cite examples like the abundance and properties of liquid water, the earth's distance from the sun, the unique mixture of gases in our atmosphere, and many, many others. When I said there were “many, many other” examples, I'm not exaggerating. Whole books have been written about the subject and many of these books have been adapted to videos. It's obviously a favorite tool for many creationists.

Let me expound on one example of the anthropic principle just to be sure everyone understands exactly what we're talking about. The human body requires oxygen to survive. If there were not enough oxygen in the atmosphere, we would quickly suffocate. However, if there were too much oxygen, a flash of lightning would ignite the entire planet's atmosphere. So the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere is just right – not too much nor too little. It's “fine tuned” to support life.

Before I get into my problems with such an argument, let me clarify a couple of points. First, “design” is evidence for a Designer. Things that are complex, ordered, and have purpose suggest design. However, “design” in general isn't what I'm talking about here. What I'm questioning is the argument that the earth is uniquely designed to support human life. Here's an analogy to show the difference:

Consider paint on a floor. Because I can recognize design, I can immediately recognize the difference between paint spilled on the floor and a pattern painted on the floor. It doesn't matter that I didn't see the floor being painted; I can still tell it was intentionally painted. That's the design argument. However, suppose the design included a floral pattern and, by happy coincidence, I like flowers (this is an analogy – I'm truly indifferent to flowers). If I liked flowers, I might be tempted to say the painter specifically painted the pattern for my benefit. That's the anthropic principle.

The fact of the matter is that my hypothetical painter chose the pattern that pleased him. Likewise, God designed the universe in the way that pleased Him. It also follows that God also designed us in the way that pleased Him and so put everything together according to His plan. If God had wanted an earth with 100% oxygen, He could have made it that way. If God had intended us to live inside the sun, He could have made it that way. If God had intended for us to live without water, He could have made it that way. If God had intended us to live on a barren rock where there was no water, no night, and the temperature was a constant 500º, we would still be talking about how the planet was remarkably designed to support life and if things were just a little bit different, we couldn't exist.

Considering the infinite number of ways that the universe could have been designed, there's nothing especially remarkable about this design except that this is what was pleasing to God. The Bible tells us that God made the world for us (Genesis 1:28-29). It's no wonder then that the earth should be well suited for us. No matter how narrow the requirements necessary for life (food, water, oxygen, warmth, etc), God would have still made the earth well suited for us.

According to evolution, life adapts to its environment. On a planet like earth, where temperatures range between (approximately) -60ºF and 125ºF, the only life you would ever expect to find is life that can survive between -60ºF and 125ºF. If life existed on another planet where the temperatures ranged between 500ºF and 700ºF, the only life that could exist on that planet would be adapted to survive temperature ranges between 500ºF and 700ºF. You see, it's not that the planet is adapted to the life as much as the life is adapted to the planet. If life exists in any environment, then that environment will seem suited for that life.

An often used analogy that demonstrates this is a puddle. A puddle might believe that whatever hole it finds itself in is remarkably well suited for the puddle. Every convex or concave surface of the hole seems “fine tuned” to match the exact shape of the water inside it! That sounds silly, doesn't it? That's because it is silly. It's obviously the water that adapts to the shape of the hole.

The problem with this argument is that the creationist's explanation for the “fine tuning” is no more compelling than the evolutionist's explanation. When creationists talk about fine tuning, they sound to me like the puddle marveling about its hole. I'm sure that's how the argument sounds to many evolutionists as well.


Steven J. said...

There are actually two separate arguments about fine-tuning.

One, favored by young-earth creationists, is the one you mention -- having the planet exactly right for our requirements. Note that while this can be overdone (rhapsodizing about how the Earth -- with its elliptical orbit and latitudinal climate variations -- is "exactly the right distance from the sun," etc.), the underlying argument is that on evolutionists' own terms, a planet suitable for life of any kind is very unlikely (no evolutionist thinks that there are likely to be life forms capable of thriving in temperatures suitable for an oven on "high"). All those Star Trek "energy beings" and "silicon life" are thought to be very unlikely: God could create them, presumably, but it does not seem likely that the laws of nature we're familiar with could.

Hence there are a lot of creationist arguments to the effect that while we've now found quite a few extraterrestrial planets, none of them appear particularly friendly to any sort of life that seems plausible based on current biological knowledge. That knowledge is doubtless incomplete (as is our survey of the planets in this galaxy, much less the universe as a whole), but the argument that broadly Earth-like worlds are very rare is more respectable these days than it was a generation ago. Of course, the universe is very big, and there are doubtless a lot of planets in it.

The fine-tuning argument favored by old-earth creationists is different. Several cosmologists have pointed out that if you tweak the values of any of several constants (e.g. the mass ratio of protons to electrons, the strength of the strong nuclear force) even slightly, it has weird effects on physics. Perhaps heavier elements could not form in supernovae, or perhaps stars could not last for billions of years before burning out. In short, the universe is fine-tuned for stars and galaxies to form naturally, and for planetary systems to last through billions of years of evolution, or, as OECs prefer, progressive stages and episodes of creation.

Obviously, this argument isn't quite suitable for creationists who don't think that the universe has lasted for billions of years, or galaxies and planets do form naturally, or that the sun has shone down on millions of centuries of changing fauna and flora. Indeed, given the number of YECs who argue that, e.g. obviously the universe can't be old because there are still short-term comets, etc., modern YECs apparently prefer to argue that we live in a veritable Yugo of a universe, doomed to break down after a few thousand years of normal use; a universe fine-tuned to function for billions of years might seem to be not very YEC-friendly (though, e.g. Thomas Aquinas famously reconciled his creationism with Aristotle's notion of an infinitely-old Earth by proposing that God had made an Earth that could last forever, even if He'd made it only several thousand years ago and didn't plan to keep it that long).

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

I've noticed that you have a penchant for Star Trek analogies. I'm a fan of the genre as well – though my favor waxes and ebbs. When I was young, I watched the original series but I can hardly bear to watch the old episodes anymore. I guess I'm spoiled by modern special effects.

I really liked the Next Generation and still watch it occasionally but something about it strikes me as sterile. My tastes then moved on to Deep Space 9 but that series seemed to be cast in the same sterile mold as Next Generation.

Lately, I've been watching old episodes of Enterprise on NetFlix. This series certainly has the hottest Vulcan.

The only series I couldn't stand is Voyager. What a waste.

Oh well, I'm rambling. Let me just say that when you use Star Trek analogies, I get them. As to the rest of your points, I'm all out of time. I'll try to get back to them.

Have a great one. God bless!!


Anonymous said...


A nice post. However, I have a problem with your take on this. As far as I can tell, what you are proposing is nothing but the weak anthropic principle, which attempts to prove exactly what you are trying to do here, i.e. that we don't have to prove fine-tuning. However, biological forms of life have not been found to date anywhere else (there are some traces found on meteorites that look like bacteria but all that is open to argument). Moreover, the conditions are extremely hostile elsewhere to any form of biological life we know of. In my view, it is absolutely correct to raise the problem of local fine tuning. The weak anthropic principle simply does not see the existing problem, whereas the genuine problem does exist. Correlation is not necessarily causation, so we have to somehow explain the coincidence of constants. But I guess this explaination will necessaily be very close to the demarcation line, if not beyond it, in the realm of metaphysics.

RKBentley said...


I hadn’t really thought of it that way but I can see how my argument has a sort of weak anthropic flavor. I think it was Sagan who wrote the book, It’s a Wonderful Life where he suggested that if things were only slightly different, we wouldn’t even be here to ask how we came to exist. However, I do believe my point is fundamentally different than that.

I don’t want to restate my entire post but let’s see if I can paraphrase it in slightly different words. God could have created us any way He pleased. He was pleased to create us the way we are. It’s no wonder then that the world He created for us to inhabit is also well suited to support us. But if God had decided to create us completely another way, He would have also made the world able to support that other type of life.

Evolutionists believe the earth existed first and any life that evolved on the earth would necessarily be adapted to it. It’s the “puddle/hole” analogy where the puddle adapts to the hole and not the hole to the puddle.

Hmmm, I think I’ve merely restated the same points I’ve made in my post. Oh well. My main point is that either explanation is equally plausible so there’s nothing especially compelling about the fine tuning argument. When creationists talk about “fine tuning,” I’m sure they sound to evolutionists like the puddle marveling at the “finely tuned” hole it happens to reside in. I don’t see how it can persuade anyone.

Thank you, though, for your comments. Are you a creationist? Are you a Christian? I would love to have your thoughts on some of my other posts. Please keep visiting.

God bless!!


Homeschool mom of teen boy said...

Even though you guys disagree, you are so civil. Love that. THANK YOU. So much arrogance out there and its hard to muddle through while you search for the "truth". Keep it up. :)

Homeschool mom of teen boy

RKBentley said...

Homeschool Mom,

Thanks for visiting and for your comments. I love having comments from people who disagree with me because those are the very people I want to reach with God's word. If they're turned off by smug replies, I've lost my chance to discuss anything further with them. If they only want to argue (as in a troll), then no productive conversation can happen.

Steven J is the critic who comments most often on my blog but as far as atheists go, he's more civil than many. While our patience with each other might wear a little thin on some occasions, his comments are often provocative and they keep me on my toes. I've said before I should promote his title from “visitor” to “contributor.”

Please keep visiting and commenting. God bless!!