Hitchens on the fine-tuning argument

Disclaimer: I have not read Hitchens’ book god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and what follows is taken from a secondhand source. With that in mind, be prepared to laugh.

I ran into a series of posts by Doug Wilson on Hitchens’ book, and one post in particular caught my eye. Here is an excerpt that deserves reading:

Our self-centeredness makes us think that it is “all about us.” But, Hitchens argues, it is not all about us, because the planet where we live is just right for us. I know, but I am pretty sure that that is what he said.

“This vanity allows us to overlook the implacable fact that, of the other bodies in our own solar system alone, the rest are all either far too cold to support anything recognizable as life, or far too hot. The same, as it happens, is true of our own blue and rounded planetary home, where heat contends with cold to make large tracts of it into useless wasteland, and where we have come to learn that we live, and have always lived, on a climatic knife edge. Meanwhile, the sun is getting ready to explode and devour its dependent planets like some jealous chief or tribal deity. Some design!” (p. 80).

So then, we live in a place well suited for life, and this is an argument against God putting us here because other places (where He didn’t put us) are not well suited for us? I see. A housewife is taunted with incompetence because she keeps the toaster on the kitchen counter, where it works well, instead of in the toilet, where it wouldn’t? But of course, that whole family is on a knife edge, for one day she might go nuts and throw it in the toilet (where scientists tell us it will not work well), and then where will our toast be? Exactly.

Of course, Hitchens is mostly talking about the design of the universe, except for his mention of harsh conditions on Earth, but still, Wilson’s point is a good one: how does Hitchens think that talking about the habitability (even under slightly adverse conditions, but those conditions are only slightly adverse in relation to our neighbors and further out) of Earth constitutes any kind of evidence against divine design? It’s nonsensical, to say the least, but most of all, the way Wilson handles it is delightful in its wit. It’s just too bad that Hitchens didn’t need much help in being (unintentionally) funny.

(HT: Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian)

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6 Responses to Hitchens on the fine-tuning argument

  1. Aaron says:

    *sigh*

    If you actually *read* what Hitchens wrote, you would notice that he is talking about the design of, not only the universe, but also Earth itself.

    In fact Wilson got it horribly wrong, we don’t live on a planet “well suited for us”, indeed most of the planet is inhabitable. And his anecdote about the toaster is so very irrelevant.

    To take this point further, we are finding ourselves with an ever increasing world-wide population which threatens to overrun us in the very near future. A god who could see the future, who knew everything that would happen to us, and who *cared* for us would leave one or two planets nearby that we could inhabit. But no, no such conditions exist because the universe is very very poorly ‘designed’.

  2. Brody says:

    Aaron, I actually did not say anything to contradict what you said: “Of course, Hitchens is mostly talking about the design of the universe, except for his mention of harsh conditions on Earth…” My point is that it appears Hitchens is primarily talking about Earth’s place in the universe, which is a major component of the fine-tuning argument as it is normally formulated, not merely the conditions of Earth itself.

    I admit that I don’t know the full context of the quote (a dangerous thing in itself), so I’ll suspend judgment on whether or not Wilson is really being fair, but keep in mind that this post is also tagged “Humor” – part of my reason for posting it is that Wilson’s response is somewhat amusing, even if incomplete.

    I do think, however, that a response is in order to your final claim that any competent deity would have provided some neighboring planet that we could zoom off to once our population grew too much. What confuses me in this statement is the idea that the lack of such a planet nearby really constitutes any sort of evidence against God’s existence when the reasons for inhabiting other planets seem to be rather unfavorable – irresponsibility, for instance. Clearly, it doesn’t seem to me that incompetence or lack of foreknowledge is necessarily the problem; it could have been an intentional move not to make neighboring planets habitable so that humans (who are at some level responsible for taking care of the earth) would learn how to be good stewards of the earth rather than simply destroying it through negligence and willful acts. However, I can’t say that I’m necessarily convinced that the lack of other habitable planets is really any sort of evidence for God, anyway.

  3. Aaron says:

    GB
    I noticed that I wrote in a rather acerbic sort of tone, for which I apologize. However, my content stands (and I am not, in any way, stating you you suggested otherwise :D).

    As much as it is our responsibility to achieve a certain level of stewardship and planning/maintenance, there’s only so much you can do with population levels that strain the very resources of a planet (a planet that is largely inhospitable to begin with).

    It’s not only the issue of resources that needs to be addressed when it comes to massive population levels, we also have to consider where all these people will go. Surely nearby, hospitable planets would be an excellent solution to this problem, alas no such planets exist.

    It goes without saying that if it was a deity’s goal to be “loving/forgiving/etc” they would allow for realistic solutions to this problem. I won’t exclude the possibility that we are created as some sort of experiment, or something similar to that effect, to see how we die in the end though. But I won’t accept that hypothesis either, until such a hypothesis is proven (you guessed my stance at the start, no doubt, it doesn’t mean I’m not open minded though).

    This isn’t an attack, merely an investigation into why such conditions exist.

    Cheers

  4. kep says:

    aaron-
    you are obviously an intelligent person. but not having other planets for us to trash -in close proximity to earth- proves there is no creator god…at least one who really “cares” for us?! que?

    this is the type of reasoning that makes many folks like me -a christian evangelical with a masters degree and someone who voted for obama- shutter. please consider investigating some arguments found in “the privileged planet” lectures.

    the arguments presented will help explain that it might not the god of abraham, isaac and jacob but there is a logical conclusion one can draw -by looking at the evidence- that a force far greater than luck and good timing was at play 4.5 billion years ago.

    i wish you well on your journey from healthy skepticism to healthy belief.

  5. Aaron says:

    Kep,

    Many thanks for the opening compliment. Allow me to reiterate what I meant.

    It goes without saying that sooner or later the planet will be over-ran with humans. Further, it is also highly likely that before we even reach the “over-ran” stage we (the human race) will surely all die of starvation. Sooner or later the ratio between resources:humans will be largely skewed in the ‘human’ area. This means that despite our best efforts, we just wouldn’t be able to feed everyone.

    At some stage or another it is undoubtedly true that we will need somewhere else to live, somewhere else to house these excess humans. Alas, no such place exists nearby and it is highly unlikely that we will find such a place to live before the demise of mankind. I guess our only real hope is that many many humans need to die to keep the equilibrium between resources:humans. But then this comes back to my whole premise that the deity that forces this cannot be called a “caring” deity. How can the destruction of a few billion people be considered a ‘good’ thing (other then biologically speaking)?

    Finally, I should point out that such flaws are not ‘proof’ of a deity’s non-existence, merely that it makes it more and more unlikely. You can not prove a negative.

    Cheers

    P.S. I understand that you were well meaning in your final remark “i wish you well on your journey…”, but to me it was just an insult. Yes, I understand that ‘belief’ in your opinion is the greatest thing on Earth, but I do not. Please don’t do this as, although you meant well, just irritated me.

  6. kep says:

    aaron-
    you are right in assuming my remarks were not meant as an insult to you or your ilk. and i do apologize for irritating you with my final remark. this was/is NOT my intent!
    i would -however- point out that you NOT feeling belief was not my reason to make this comment. having a healthy skeptical view of the world is totally normal and quite frankly necessary. however, this is not what i was/am saying. i was merely pointing out that a creator god who doesn’t create nearby planets for his/her creation to eventually inhabit b/c they have “trashed” their first planet shows that this god does not care for us, does not make sense to me. that is/was all.
    i do appreciate your explaining further in your reply…and again in terms of this overall discussion, i wish you well on your journey.
    take care,
    kep

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