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The history of our universe has been a fruitful one indeed, one that has given rise to numerous complicated system and organisms. What is more astonishing is the precisely tuned physical constants and properties that have allowed such flourishing to occur. If these constants had differed even slightly, our universe’s history may have instead been boring and sterile, never giving rise to life as we know it.What are we to make of such a “finely-tuned” universe then? John Polkinghorne considers this question in his lecture “Religion in an Age of Science.” Polkinghorne asks us to consider the example of bring tied before a firing squad of twelve highly-trained sharpshooters. However, after the shots ring out, to our surprise we are still very much alive. How could this be? Polkinghorne discusses two possiblities:
“One is this. Many, many, many executions are taking place today and
just by luck you happen to be the one in which they all miss. That’s
the rational explanation. The other explanation, is, of course, that
the sharp shooters are on your side and they missed by choice. In other
words there was a purpose at work of which you were unaware.”– John Polkinghorne, “Religion in an Age of Science”
Polkinghorne extends this example to our own finely-tuned universe. Perhaps there are countless different universes — just as there were many, many executions in the example — and by chance ours had just the right constants to allow for the development of carbon-based lifeforms. Obviously, we live in that universe, because we could not live in any other. This is the so-called “multiverse hypothesis.”However, perhaps there is a purpose at work, just as there may have been in the execution example. In that case, the finely-tuned universe is not the result of mathematical probability, but the fulfillment of a Creator’s will, whose intent it was to create such a fruitful universe.
No matter which conclusion we make, Polkinghorne argues that we are searching for something that science alone cannot answer, the question of “Why?” rather than merely “How?”
You can read the entirety of “Religion in an Age of Science” at the Faith Interface website. For more, be sure to check out “What is the ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe, and how does it serve as a ‘pointer to God’?” in our Questions section, as well as our other Featured Readings.