In a previous post, I noted that Francis Collins, like C.S. Lewis before him, relied on the so-called "moral code" as a basis for belief in God. I concluded that I thought that this argument was dangerously close to the "God of the Gaps" fallacy because it depended on a lack of an evolutionary explanation for the apparent innateness of a moral language in humans. While I was not convinced by the current arguments on the evolutionary basis for such altruism, I also could not discount the possibility that one might ultimately be developed--particularly given that group selection might operate effectively in such a social animal as human beings.
Francis Collins also made another argument in his book, The Language of God that I will explore in this post. I think that the best summary of Collins' argument is actually from a fairly critical, but thoughtful review by David P. Barash, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington :
Collins is more persuasive, although certainly not original, when trotting out the anthropic principle, the argument that the universe is tuned to bring about life in general and human life in particular. There are a number of physical constants and laws such that if any had been even slightly different, life might well have been impossible. For example, for roughly every billion quarks and antiquarks, there is an excess of one quark — otherwise, no matter. If the rate of expansion immediately after the Big Bang had been a tiny fraction less than it was, the universe would have recollapsed long ago. If the strong nuclear forces holding atomic nuclei together had been a smidgen weaker, then only hydrogen would exist; if a hair stronger, all hydrogen would promptly have become helium, and the solar furnaces inside stars, which we can thank for the heavier elements, would never have existed.
So, what do we make of this argument? A few observations are in order. First, Collins is quite correct that there are a series of events in the formation of the universe, as well as a series of fundamental physical values, that if "set" at another value or direction, would make life impossible in the universe. there are about fifteen physical constants that are not set by any theory, but rather just are what they are.
Second, as many have observed before (including Collins!), in some sense this is a circular argument--if these constants had been different, we would not be here to ask questions about why this is so. We therefore need to look at a variety of explanations for why this is the case. Fortunately, a great deal of thought has been given to exploring this problem, which is known as the anthropic principle. As Collins notes (with some elaboration by me) , possible explanations include:
1. There may be an infinite number of universes, each with its own physical constants, and we happen to live by random chance in one that supports life. This is the "multiverse hypothesis". One variant on this option is Lee Smolin's model of cosmological
natural selection, also known as fecund universes, which proposes that universes have "offspring" which are more plentiful if they happen to have features common to our universe.
2. There is only one universe, but there is an underlying unifying theory that will offer a full explanation for the nature of our universe--we just have not yet developed this theory.
3. There is only one universe that happens to support life with no Creator involved.
4. There is only one universe that was designed by a creator to support life.
So what do we make of this argument? With the exception of the second option--which posits that there there may someday be a scientific explanation for the state of the universe, the choice among these options cannot be determined by science (i.e., by factual evidence). Instead, one can only select from the remaining three options by making what is essentially a philosophical choice. And, many scientists believe that it is highly unlikely that the second option is viable. They predict that developments in physics will show that early phase transitions in the universe occur probabilistically rather than deterministically (so there will not be a physical reason for the values of fundamental constants) As such, it appears that we do not have a "God of the Gaps" problem.
So we are left (at least now) with a theological or philosophical choice. The agnostic option is to refuse to choose--the answer cannot be determined by scientific evidence, and therefore it a choice that should not be made. I think, however, that one can make a rational case that the "creator" option makes the most rational sense--given the extremely low probability of a universe that just happens to support intelligent life, one can conclude that the most rational option is a Creator. And while a multiverse universe is an option, it violates Occam's Razor--it requires a far more complicated solution than a creator.
Is this a proof of God? Of course not. But it does suggest that, at root, the decision to believe in a creator is not an irrational one.
Finally, one final point is in order. This argument may justify the reasonableness of a faith that there is a creator, but it cannot be used to justify faith in a god with particular characteristics--such as the God that Christians worship. And an exploration of the rationality of a belief in that God must therefore be the subject of future posts.