The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us - Victor J. Stenger The two stars I’ve given The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning more reflects my inadequacies as a reader than any failure on Stenger’s part. He gives fair warning that anyone reading his book should have at least a basic, college-level familiarity with math and physics.

Alas, that is not me.

As an undergraduate, I attended Washington University in St. Louis, a pretty good, private institution whose graduation requirements (at least in 1985) included taking classes in a variety of disciplines, including math and science. There was, however, a loophole. Because of my math scores on the ACT, I managed to avoid any further math courses, and I satisfied my science requirements with an astronomy and a biology class. In hindsight, Wash U. should have stuck to its guns and made me take some math courses, at least up to calculus.

I plunged ahead, though, because Stenger said I could skip the equations (which are conveniently placed in squared off sections such as the page reproduced below:

Page of equations from the book).

That didn’t help much when the prose sections included sentences like this: “This implies that the cancellation B-F will be exact above that energy, and we can use an energy cutoff of MPl = 1 TeV = 103 GeV, rather than the Planck energy, 1019 GeV. Then the vacuum energy density is ρvac = 1051(B-F) GeV/cm3.” (p. 219) (The many super- and subscripted expressions didn't come through but you get the idea.)

But I persevered because, despite myriad formulae and symbols, I found I could parse what he was trying to get across: Whether we consider a singular universe, a biverse (two universes, mirrors of each other though not, unfortunately, Star Trek’s Mirror Universe) or a multiverse, there is no evidence that the conditions that make life as we know it possible are “fine tuned.” We can conceive of a range of parameters that would produce a universe capable of supporting our sort of life, and – if we’re willing to entertain more exotic definitions of “life” – even larger numbers of life-friendly universes.

Stenger does save himself in the eyes of the math/physics illiterate (or largely illiterate) in his final chapter, “Summary and Review,” where he summarizes in straightforward prose the points he’s made in the preceding pages:

Most parameters used by “fine-tuners” are conventions invented by humans to describe observed phenomena.

Fine-tuners often try to prove their point by changing only one parameter. By adjusting others, you can often compensate for whatever effect the first parameter change brought about.

Many parameters are complementary – Change one and others will be affected.

Arguing that the universe is improbable is as fallacious. Any particular situation is equally improbable.


I can only recommend this book with cautions. If you are not very literate in math/physics or temporally close to your college math and physics classes, a lot of this book will pass right over your head. On the other hand, even if you have only a glancing familiarity with those subjects but are otherwise familiar with the arguments about fine-tuning and the anthropic principle, you can come away with a better understanding of why our universe is a remarkable but not unique expression of natural, observable laws. (And a humbling appreciation of how much we know and how much we still need to learn to figure out how everything’s put together.)

In conclusion, I should mention that Stenger is not a New Atheist, railing against the delusions of benighted fools who refuse to see the evidence before their eyes. His purpose in this book is simply to show that arguing for a designer based upon the idea that our universe is too finely tuned to be a result of natural laws is wrong. Believers cannot point to anything in our current understanding that would suggest the need for a god (or gods) to intervene, and any person’s religious profession must still rely upon a rationally unjustified leap of faith.