Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Argument From Scale

by Francois Tremblay

The idea that a god created the universe, if it is meaningful at all, must be falsifiable. There must be conditions of the universe which, if they exist in a certain way, make the Creation position more credible, and, if they exist in another way, make a materialist position more credible. One such well-known example is the Problem of Evil, where, given the following positions :

(A) The universe is regulated solely by natural law. (not necessary for atheism, but let us assume it for the sake of discussion)
(T) A god created the universe.

And the evidence of the Problem of Evil being :

(E) There are natural disasters, human evil and suffering.

We can say that (E), given the omnibenevolence and omnipotence of a hypothetical god, makes (A) completely credible and (T) completely non-credible. There is no way to reconcile (T) with (E), but natural law more than adequately explains the existence of these facts, both in natural sciences such as meteorology and biology, and human sciences like psychology.

The Argument from Scale, unlike the Problem of Evil, is not a conclusive argument. It is, however, another powerful argument that shows that the universe is not how we should expect it if a god existed. Although it is intuitive, as far as I know this argument is original to Nicolas Everitt in his book “The Non-Existence of God”. He describes it in chapter 11. Given this, I will formalize the argument using his own words. We can express it as such :

(1) The theological worldview assumes a god which creates a universe with human beings as central.

“God decides to create a universe in which human beings will be the jewel. Although he will have a care for the whole of his creation, God will have an especial care for human beings. He will give these creatures the power of free choice.”

(1a) A corollary of (1) is that the universe would be accessible, and non-hostile, to human beings.

“Because humans are the jewel of creation, the rest of the universe will be at least not unremmitingly hostile or even indifferent to human flourishing. Even if the universe will not make such flourishing immediately and easily and painlessly accessible, it will make it at least accessible in principle for humanity at large.”

(1b) A corollary of (1) is that human beings would appear soon after other animals, and soon after the beginning of the universe.

”(...) traditional theism would lead you to expect human beings to appear fairly soon after the start of the universe. For, given the central role of humanity, what would be the point of a universe which came into existence and then existed for unimaginable aeons without the presence of the very species that supplied its rationale ? You would expect humans to appear after a great many animals, since the animals are subordinate species available for human utilisation (...). But equally, you would not expect humans to arrive very long after the animals, for what would be the point of a universe existing for aeons full of animals created for humanity’s delectation, in the absence of any humans ?”

(1c) A corollary of (1) is that the Earth would be in a place of importance in the universe, and that the universe would be on a human scale.

“Further, you would expect the earth to be fairly near the centre of the universe if it had one, or at some similarly significant location if it did not have an actual centre. You would expect the total universe to be not many orders of magnitude greater than the size of the earth. The universe would be on a human scale. You would expect that even if there are regions of the created world which are hostile to human life, and which perhaps are incompatible with it, the greater part of the universe would be accessible to human exploration.”

(2) “These expectations are largely what we find in the Genesis story (or strictly, stories) of creation.”

(3) Science contradicts the propositions in (1).

“In almost every respect, the universe as it is revealed to us by modern science is highly unlike the sort of universe which the traditional thesis would lead us to expect.”

(3a) Human beings have not existed for the vast majority of the history of the universe.

“So if we imagine the history of the universe represented by a line which is roughly 24 miles long, human life would occupy only the last inch. Or if we imagine this history of the universe represented by a single year, humanity would emerge only in the last few seconds of the last minute of the last hour of the last day of the year. So for something more than 99.999 per cent of the history of the universe, the very creatures which are meant to be the jewel of creation have been absent from it.”

(3b) It seems reasonable to propose that the universe is many orders of magnitude bigger than the human scale.

“Suppose we take the size of our solar system to be within the expectable parameters of the theistic hypothesis. (...) But of course, we know now that the universe is staggeringly larger than any such intelligible size. The sun is about 8 light minutes from us, the next nearest star is about 4.3 light years, the next nearest galaxy to the Milky Way is scores of light years away. Current findings indicate that the furthest star visible from earth is about 3 billion light years away. (...) Assuming that the expansion was at less than the speed of light, that still leaves the possibility of a universe whose overall size is between 10 and 30 billion light years across (i.e. up to two million trillion miles). (...) Further, astronomers tell us that there are about one hundred trillion galaxies, each with a billion stars.”

(3c) Other animals have existed without humans for the vast majority of the history of life.

“Life has existed on the planet for something like 3 to 3.5 billion years. For roughly half of that time, it has been solely bacterial in form. Given that humans have emerged only in the last one hundred thousand years, that means that for 99.99% of the history of life on Earth, there have been no humans.”

(4) “In short, then, everything that modern science tells us about the size and scale and nature of the universe around us reveals it to be strikingly inapt as an expression of a set of divine intentions of the kind that theism postulates.”

We have to be careful to not understate the argument. It is not that a Creator god would not take a particular interest in human beings, but rather that a god would not create a universe with a scale comparable to ours. The Christian can reply that we are making the assumption that a God would make humans privileged. Everitt anticipated this objection and proved his assertion in (1) by once again pointing to facts of nature. We can label these arguments 0a and 0b, because they would come prior to the statements in (1).

(0a) Since God is omniscient, he values knowledge. This is an argument that theologians already use for presuppositionalism.

“First, it seems that theism is committed to certain evaluations on God’s part. One of his defining attributes is omniscience; and this suggests that God thinks knowledge is a valuable attribute (we saw in Chapter 9 how this assumption formed one essential premise in Plantinga’s argument against atheistic naturalism). So, all other things being equal, he will think that species which are capable of knowledge are better than species which are not capable of knowledge. So, given that humans are supremely knowledge-possessing species as far as we know, theism must think that God will regard them as especially valuable. And in that case, the puzzle for theism returns : why in the three billion year history of life have intelligent, knowledgeable humans existed only for the last 100 000 years ?”

(0b) The Christian can argue that human beings are not privileged because of other intelligent life in the universe. But we have no knowledge of such life. Furthermore, the vast majority of the universe’s space is inhospitable.

“Similar puzzles return if we look out to the stars. The theist could plausibly say that God places no special value on humans, if it were the case that when we scanned the heavens we found it teeming with intelligent life comparable to, and perhaps greater than ourselves. But that is exactly what we do not find. What we find are unimaginably huge volumes of space with no sign of intelligent life at all – in fact, no sign of any kind of life.”

A subsequent objection could be raised that we may very well be especially valuable to a hypothetical god, but that this would not necessarily imply anything about the universe. But this is to dissociate humans from the universe. In fact, humans are part of the Creation, and that is how we must consider them from the divine perspective. If humans are important as a knowledge-possessing species, then a hypothetical Creator would be more likely to arrange the universe in such a way as to be in scale with humans.

As I explained at the beginning of this article, the Argument from Scale examines the state of the universe, and concludes that it is more conductive to the assertion that the universe was not created. In short, we have two possibilities :

(A) The universe was not created, implying strong-atheism.
(T) The universe was created by a god.

And the evidence :

(E) Human beings have not existed for the vast majority of the history of the universe, the universe is many orders of magnitude bigger than the human scale, and other animals have existed without humans for the vast majority of the history of life.

We have to conclude that (E) is incompatible with (T), and makes (A) far more credible. It does not, unlike the Problem of Evil, give a direct contradiction, but alone gives us a very strong probability of (A) being true. And it is a strong-atheistic argument because it contradicts the possibility of divine creation.

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