Fall 2015 Advanced Seminar – Student Voices – 1

In the Fall 2015 Advanced Seminar for Religion and Science, we asked our students if they would share their thoughts on the various lectures of our series on Teleology.  We are excited to post the first of their responses, relating the to the lecture on September 21 by Dr. Neil Manson, God, Fine-tuning, and the Multiverse: A Short Philosophical Introduction.

Our featured writer is Addie Domske, a student from Western Pennsylvania.  Addie is a dual degree student , who received her MSW from University of Chicago last June and anticipates receiving her MDiv from McCormick Theological Seminary in May 2016.  Her interest in Religion and Science is, in part, related to having a fiance in an Astrophysics PhD program.  Outside of Religion and Science, she is interested in international peacekeeping and intersectionality as it relates to clinical care.


Fine-Tuning My Outlook:

Faith (Religion) Seeking Understanding (Science)

Addie Domske

BigBang-GodSpokeAndBangItHappenedWhen I was in middle school I had a keychain on my backpack that said: The Big Bang Theory: God Spoke, and BANG! it happened. To me, it meant that I both supported scientific findings like the evidence for the Big Bang but that it was perfectly fine to morph any scientific finding into a God-centered one by merely saying God was behind the science.

I was content to carry on with this uncomplicated assumption up until my graduate school career: I believed in the validity and reliability of science and I believed in God—the explanation of their relationship need only go so far as to fit on a keychain for my brown corduroy JanSport. And then I signed up for the Zygon Center for Religion and Science’s Advanced Seminar.

Last week, we welcomed Dr. Neil A. Manson, Associate Professor at University of Mississippi, to speak on “God, Fine-tuning, and the Multiverse: A Short Philosophical Introduction.” Manson discussed the relationship between science and religion[1] and then outlined the fine-tuning argument, flaws and all. There are a few ways that the relationship between science and religion manifests:[2]


science {?} religion 

  • one disproves the other (e.g. Science disproves a literal interpretation of Genesis)
  • has nothing to do with (e.g. S. J. Gould’s “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” – the two are different categories of inquiry, such as fact vs. values–both are true but “measured” in different ways)
  • is consonant with (e.g. the two can live together, but one doesn’t necessarily use science to prove the existence of God)
  • presupposes (e.g. eutaxiological argument (separate from teleology in that it regards the order/complexity/process inherent in X and not the purpose/goal of X)
  • supports/proves (e.g. the design arguments)

Renowned keychain theologian, Middle-School-Addie, would probably lean more toward category 3, relegating the conversation to a later day, when other “more pressing” theological issues like the problem of pain or theodicy had been taken care of. Ah, but what a loss of understanding that is!


The Finer Points of Fine-Tuning 

Manson next laid out a multitude of design arguments, from the pre-Darwinian biological arguments from analogy of William Paley to the post-Darwinian arguments of Intelligent Design Theory. Manson then spoke in terms of pre- and post-Big Bang cosmologies, the latter of which was the genesis of The Fine-Tuning Argument.


The Fine-Tuning Argument comes as a result of the very narrow entry-point for life to be plausible in the Universe. From that, the assumption is made that if the cosmos is so finely tuned for life, it must have had a tuner, that is, a designer. (The argument uses something called Bayesian probability to calculate its likelihood, which I won’t explain here because there is a high probability that I do not understand it enough to explain it.)


Arguments Against Fine-Tuning 

Manson then outlined viable limitations of the Fine-Tuning Argument—issues with probability calculations (normalizability argument) or the possibility of multiverses (illustrated nicely by Brian Greene in this TED Talk)—but the one I left considering most is the idea that we (humans) get in the way of seeing this discussion clearly in our very nature as humans. We can call this the Anthropic Principle, which is the understanding that humans see things through a human lens. As Manson put it, “We [humans]’re really bad at not being anthropocentric.”[3] It is inherent in this fact then that the only universe we could observe with life would be one that allows for observation (by life). So, the fine-tuning argument can fall apart if we observe fine-tuning because we are fine-tuned to observe fine-tuning.

TautologyClubAt this point, I was ready to return to keychain theology—but Manson then pointed out that despite these flaws in our observance of fine-tuning, we hadn’t explained why fine-tuning exists. Rather than escaping the conversation, I now adopt a faith seeking understanding[4] perspective. I might inherently begin with faith (religion), but I should take the next step to seek understanding (through science). My observations of fine-tuning are a given in my very fine-tuned-ness, but I will continue to ponder why that is.


[1] Caveat Alert: There is a limitation to the way I/we discuss this argument and its framework. Throughout this day’s seminar, and in my own reflexive language, the models for religion were often Abrahamic in tradition and always monotheistic. This is a clear deficit to consider the “religion side” of the conversation as exclusively Islam, Judaism, or Christianity. Keeping this deficit in mind will help to reframe the discussion to a broader understanding of “religion.”

[2] Outline crafted from notes on: Manson, Neil A. “God, Fine-tuning, and the Multiverse: A Short Philosophical Introduction.” Presentation at LSTC, Zygon Center for Religion and Science, Chicago, IL, September 21, 2015.

[3] David Hume gets at this in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

[4] A great adage and life philosophy from St. Anselm.

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