Dear Believer, It is Arrogant to Think Humanity Occupies a Privileged Place in the Universe

In their video, Plumbline Pictures claim it is arrogant to think that we occupy a privileged place in the universe – Dear Believer: Why Do You Believe? (ORIGINAL) – YouTube.[1]

“Isn’t it time to stop thinking that we are somehow the reason why this universe was made? That our culture is somehow better than other cultures? Its time to learn how the universe really is, even if that deflates our conceits, and forces us to admit we do not have all the answers. You must confront these fundamental questions.”[2]

The idea that people are arrogant for observing humanity’s privileged place in the universe seems odd to me. It’s odd because first, this push-back seems unaware of the scientific data that shows humanity has a privileged place in the cosmos. The data suggests our place is very privileged indeed. It is also odd because second, data is just data. To claim data as “arrogant” is simply mistaken. If the data did not support the conclusion that our position in the universe was privileged, then maybe you could make a case that this claim could be arrogant.

So – how does the scientific data support the claim that we are in a privileged spot in the universe? It does so in at least two ways.

1. We are Positioned for Scientific Discovery

The scientific revolution started in the 16th century, and has relied on some very specific sets of circumstances that most individuals have probably just accepted as a given. And yet, the fact of their existence is striking. The Copernican Principle has often been understood as the point when mankind and our cosmic home was found to be mundane. This was not the point Copernicus was originally making. And the more we learn about the universe, this mundane interpretation of the Copernican Principle is harder and harder to sustain. 

Astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and Philosopher of Science Jay W Richards have amassed a surprising body of evidence that shows that the fact that humanity is here now at this place and time, and we are physically capable of making scientific discoveries, is the result of an optimal balance of competing conditions (just like any humanly designed system). We are equipped with mental and physical capacities, and we are unusually well positioned to decipher details about the cosmos. We are therefore exceptional in our existence and in our ability to do science, and we sit at the optimum location to do that in cosmic terms. Surely this requires an explanation? [3]

What do they mean by an optimum location?

  • We inhabit a planet with a moon that stabilizes our orbit and climate. The relative sizes are perfect for allowing us to see solar eclipses. The moon is travelling away from us, and this capacity will be lost in an estimated 250 million years’ time. Yet we are here now to take advantage of our conditions to do science.
  • The earth’s surface is a data recorder. Ice cores store ancient data about CO2 and methane levels and allow us to correlate nitrate spikes to past cosmological events in the universe.
  • Planetary earthquakes and plate tectonics allow us to map the planets interior, and also maintain a planetary crust that sustains the carbon cycle and a life permitting ecosystem on the planet.
  • Earth’s magnetosphere shields and protects the atmosphere from solar wind.
  • If our gravity force was weaker, our atmosphere would leak away. 
  • If our atmosphere was thicker, it would be harder for us to see through it to do astronomy.
  • Jupiter and Saturn are our solar-system’s vacuum cleaners, protecting Earth from asteroid impacts, and also acting as a source of material for us to study dating back to the formation of the solar system.
  • Our sun is at a particular size right now making it stable. It is unusual and contributes to the earth’s habitability and our ability to do scientific analysis.
  • Our position in the Milky Way galaxy is higher significant for us. We are actually sitting at the best lab bench in the galaxy. If we were any closer to the centre, our night sky would be so bright it would obscure light from distant stars. 
  • We are also at the right time in planetary history for astronomical discovery. This will not always be the case during the Earth’s history. Big Bang cosmology predicts accelerating expansion of space, causing distant objects to fade from view from Earth. But at this very particular place and time in cosmic history, we are here to observe them.

Of course, you could reply that we are just lucky and we just happen to exist at this time and place. This seems to me to be the wrong way to interpret the scientific data. Why?

Well, consider the activity and development of the sciences. These are only possible because of these and many many more highly specific parameters that have very particular settings. Are we going to accept this rich prime location to perform scientific study, while at the same time passing our position off as the result of blind chance? We do not leave any part of scientific analysis to chance. So why is it fitting to leave the precise conditions allowing us to do our science to blind chance? We are sitting at the best lab bench in the galaxy, and surely that demands an explanation.

The naturalist may dismiss these notions. Not because he disagrees with the data, but because the interpretation of the data does not fit within his limited, naturalistic box. And – probably because he doesn’t like to think about the possible implications of the conclusion that we were put here to allow us to use of minds to study nature.

If the universe did exist for a divine purpose, how could we tell? Surely the answer is – look for the existence of some incredible coincidences within nature. Perhaps, the optimum balance of competing conditions just like the ones Gonzales and Richards point to.

2. We Live Within a Finely Tuned Universe

Physicists have discovered that the incredible coincidences just keep on coming as we look closer and closer into the fabric of the universe. 

It turns out that for our universe to exist at all requires a highly precise setting of many initial conditions that are themselves independent. Each of these initial conditions is sometimes described as being like a very precise dial that can take different values. If even one of those dials was to be set slightly differently, our universe would cease to support the existence of life. 

The incredible thing is that the laws of physics as we know them depend on the initial conditions of the universe being set correctly. But the initial conditions are not set by the laws of physics. In fact, physics relies on dial settings that are fundamentally mysterious. We don’t know why they are set as they are, but life couldn’t exist in our universe if they were not correct.

Luke Barnes and Geraint Lewis give some examples:[4]

  • Turn off gravity and there’s nothing to drive matter to gather into galaxies
  • Turn of electromagnetism and there is no chemistry as there’s nothing to keep electrons bound to their nuclei
  • Turn of the nuclear strong force and there are no atomic nuclei in the first place

These ideas are explored by theoretical physicists. But surely, they are also relevant to the claim being made by the “Dear Believer” video. Do we occupy a privileged place? Absolutely we do, the whole universe is the result of incredible and precise fine-tuning.

The late great Douglas Adams once mused that, “imaging a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in – an interesting hole I find myself in – fits me rather neatly…staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it.”[5] Could it be that our universe works the same way? If the hole weren’t there, the puddle wouldn’t be there. If the universe wasn’t here, neither would we.

Except Adams’s puddle analogy fails to describe the fine-tuning of the universe. The water in a hole will always take on the shape of its hole. If the hole had been different, the water will adjust to match it. Any hole will do for a puddle. However, not just any universe will do for life. It is more likely that a universe would pop into existence for 1 second before collapsing again. Or, the universe would last longer but contained so few particles that no two would ever interact during the history of that universe.[6]

Fred Hoyle, who discovered the incredibly unlikely carbon atom production process within stars, once exclaimed:

“A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”[7]

3. Attempting An Anthropic Escape

The common response to the religious implications of the physical fine-tuning of the universe goes something like this:

“We exist. So – what else should we expect from a universe that contains us? We expect precisely these facts you lay out. Namely, that the universe can support us. If the universe wasn’t finely tuned this way, we would not be here to discuss it. So – don’t worry about all this.”

The reply tries to undercut the impact of the incredible coincidences that lead to our existence on this planet. But this anthropic response fails to undercut the impact of the scientific data and its implications. Why?

Well – lets write the anthropic escape response this way:

            If (physical_observers)

            then

                an observer permitting universe

The problem is, this little conditional statement does not answer the question – “why observers in the first place?” After all, this statement as it is written is true whether there are physical observers in our universe, or whether there are no such observers! So, we have not touched the crucial question – why are there observers anyway?

The anthropic response is good at explaining why we do not have a life prohibiting universe. But it doesn’t explain why a life permitting universe exists. In fact, it doesn’t even try to approach that problem. Surely this question deserves some thought and consideration?

4. Summary

As the Dear Believer video states, it is time to understand how the universe really is and to accept this even if it challenges our philosophical presuppositions. Humanity’s privileged place in the universe will deflate the conceits of naturalistic philosophy, and the non-believer will try to resist its implications. And yet if we are committed to truth rather than just supporting our own pet theories, we must honestly face the implications. We have been put here for a purpose.


[1] Dear Believer: Why Do You Believe? (ORIGINAL), Plumbline Pictures, posted 3rd May 2014, accessed 21st December, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xl_TrvIIcBY.

[2] Ibid., 08:48.

[3] Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery, (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2004).

[4] Geraint F. Lewis and Luke A. Barnes, A Fortunate Universe Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2016), 91.

[5] Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitching the Galaxy One Last Time.

[6] Geraint F. Lewis and Luke A. Barnes, The Trouble with “Puddle Thinking”: A User’s Guide to the Anthropic Principle, https://arxiv.org/pdf/2104.03381.pdf.

[7] Fred Hoyle, “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections.” Engineering and Science, November 1981. Pp. 8-12, quoted in Fred Hoyle, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Hoyle.

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I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

12 thoughts on “Dear Believer, It is Arrogant to Think Humanity Occupies a Privileged Place in the Universe”

  1. Just another bogus stab at the ID concept. Get over it; there’s way too much going on for this ridiculous explanation to hold any water. This is the creationists way of paddling into the science pool while still maintaining a belief in a deity. Silly stuff really.

    If we were so finely tuned by a deity why is it that evangelicals and other believers seem to care so little about our “finely tuned” planet? Where are the outcries from the believers that our planet is being tanked right before our eyes; the scientists are screaming for us to take notice yet they (believers) still don’t seem to care enough to to lift a finger? Why is it then that the believers seem mostly to come from so-called “Red” states and consistently vote for people that refuse to acknowledge the human impact on the planets resources, denying completely that the climate is even changing? One would think that they – of all people, knowing how “special” the Earth is and that it was in fact created by a deity exclusively for humans – would sincerely want to preserve it, but that is not the case. They of all people seem content to watch it go down the shitter of time, all without lifting a finger to stop it. (One would naturally think that this ignorance would piss off the deity to no end but apparently not!). Maybe there’s a grand plan to bail us out at the last minute? Now that, Respond, is arrogance in it’s very literal form.

    If in fact, as you say, the universe was finely tuned specifically for humans then it was THE most wasteful effort of all time (time literally being since the beginning of the universe.). All of the matter in the entire universe had to be created over the course of 13.75 BILLION years for it to be “fine tuned”? BILLIONS & BILLIONS of LIFELESS GALAXIES thrown in for what, as throw pillows to give the universe that “lived in” look? Really? This doesn’t seem like the work of any “intelligent designer” but a bungling fool with a chemistry set. Consider that 99.9% of ALL the life that EVER existed on the planet is now extinct and we seem to be following right behind them. Does that seem intelligently designed to you? Why was all that life necessary to begin with? Why didn’t he (it) just design a Sun, Earth, & Moon, all at the correct distances and mass with the exact amount of gravity and elements, minerals, etc. necessary for life? Why wasn’t the planet just “designed” in order for humans to inhabit it right from the start? Seems very wasteful AND the very antithesis of “intelligent” to me.

    Answer these questions and then the final one: who or what designed the designer? And try not to say 1) He (it) has existed for all time including before time, or 2) He (it) exists outside of space and time because neither of those arguments work either.

    These are the foolish ramblings of those that flatly refuse to believe the evidence in front of them at the risk of losing an irrational belief system to which they just can not seem to let go.

    1. As I said:

      The naturalist may dismiss these notions. Not because he disagrees with the data, but because the interpretation of the data does not fit within his limited, naturalistic box. And – probably because he doesn’t like to think about the possible implications of the conclusion that we were put here to allow us to use of minds to study nature.

      For you I would add:

      – ignorant of the history of science
      – rude

      😃

    2. Some more thoughts on the substance of your counter argument:

      1 – The blog does not say the universe was finely tuned for humans. It suggests humans are on earth for a purpose at this point in cosmic history, and that the universe is fine tuned for life. This does not preclude other life existing in the universe at other times of cosmic history and at different places. I also do not say the earth was exclusively created for humans. But I recognise your mistaken interpretation allows you to pointlessly rant about ecological issues. I view these issues as important too. But I’m less interested in hearing your opinion the more I hear your aggressive tone.

      2 – The age of the universe is what you would require for the formation of chemical elements as we know them. Cooking takes a long time. But the fine tuning of the universe is thought to have been evident right at the start, microseconds after the big bang. In fact, cosmic expansion itself has to be finely tuned for the universe to support life. The very vacuum of space plays a role in making the Universe life permitting and discoverable as being so. Physicists know smaller and denser universes would not last very long.

      3 – The extinction of prior life on this planet is irrelevant to the fine tuning of the universe for life, and the observation that humanity is here on this planet at this particular time and place. It sounds like you are engaging in the pointless, “If I was God I wouldn’t do it this way” argument. You wouldn’t play the long game if you were God? Well – so what? That you think you know what God might do or should have done, is very telling. If you are an atheist, why should I think you are qualified to know what God would have done if he existed? You are telling me he doesn’t exist. Right? You sound confused in your thinking to me.

      4 – That humanity could be the author of its own extinction says nothing about the possibility that we are put here to enjoy a Designer’s creation. Though it does point to a fundamental problem in the character of human beings that they would be the authors of their own destruction.

      5 – Who or what designed the Designer. Given that the Designer we are talking about had to create space and time – so is necessarily space less and time less – it sounds like you are lacking any substance to your claim that “those arguments [don’t] work.” You are actually asking what designed an immaterial and eternal mind. Well – just because you formulate words into a sentence does not mean that it makes any logical sense. Like what’s the sound of the colour red. Its possible to ask meaningless questions. And – it sounds to me like you just did.

  2. Excellent example of “cognitive dissonance” in it’s most rabid form, thank you.

    1st off, I haven’t been rude at all, just stating some facts that I understand don’t comport with your silly theories. And, with all your ranting, you still haven’t provided a scintilla of evidence for the ID argument or even an argument to my rants. Who designed the designer? Was all this matter in the universe actually necessary for a designer? What would the reason be if not for humanity? It/He liked animals? And yes, the age of the universe would seem quite relevant in this argument since so much time has been lost, wasted, in your theory. And a designer residing outside of space & time? No such thing couldn’t possibly exist, you’re simply attributing characteristics of a god to your argument; a god you have no idea of or it’s existence or anything else. You’re being very disingenuous trying to conceal your very obvious theist motivations behind your arguments.

    I didn’t say I knew ANYTHING about god, his motivations, or anything else, that seems to be YOUR department. I am an atheist so I simply do not believe there is one where your argument for ID – euphemism “creationism in a cheap suit” – is all about making up a religious response to a problem you can’t answer. That is precisely how religion was born to begin with.

    For you I would add:

    Limited in your understanding of science
    Small minded

  3. You’re certainly sounding very angry indeed.

    It’s also interesting that you are arguing against ID – an argument that appeals to the information content in biology – not fine-tuning. Which is about the initial conditions of the universe. And the original blog was about fine-tuning not ID. I wonder why that is? They are very different arguments. And worth your time understanding (rather than just misconstruing). Someone knowledgable in science would want to do that – right?

    I’m clear my blog is all about arguing for the Christian worldview. The one from which the scientific revolution emerged. You are certainly the first internet atheist to claim I’m concealing that intent… Any reason for another rude insult, I suppose? You’re not the first to fire those at me… 😂

  4. 1st: I’m not angry, by nature really, but I do have a certain antipathy for ignorance which I consider religions – all religions to be. To make decisions with a lack of specific information or evidence – even any at all – is a fatal failure.

    Really I am arguing against both ID, which holds that life, our environment, ourselves were all “designed” by a deity due to our complexity, and fine-tuning, which holds that the entire universe including life and our environment has been finely tuned – also by a deity – specifically for humans. Both are asserted by the religious communities for two reasons: a) they i.e., the religious con men, are rapidly running out of things to keep in their deity’s domain since science continues to remove more of his/hers/its magical powers, and b) similarly to lightning, thunder, earthquakes and other natural disasters of 1 and 2 thousand years ago, they can not explain them so, ergo “god.”

    I am not misconstruing anything I am simply throwing both useless theories in the same basket, a basket in which they both belong since they are based on the same evidence which is to say, none. Yes, they’ll come a day – and may it be soon – when science will explain these lofty and complex questions and we can move humanity forward into a future without such superstitions.

    That is, if we don’t blow ourselves up first and I for one am not betting against that just yet.

    P.S. By the way, where are all your followers? I can’t believe that you & I are the only ones interested in this question?

    1. Imagine you could fully understand everything there is to know about the universe and everything within it. All the brilliant scientific tools are applied to tease out the subtle mechanisms and complexity of nature. Finally – you know all there is to know. Imagine that (it’s just a thought experiment).

      By explaining the mechanism of nature, have you said anything at all about the cause of nature in the first place? Not at all. The cause is a separate question and requires a different set of metaphysical tools to explore. For example, by studying and understanding the deign and operation of the internal combustion engine, you understand the carefully constructed mechanism, but not the people and events that led up to it. How much more the dizzying and wonderful complexity of our universe?

      When you talk about nature and how our growing understanding of it squeezes out God, it seems to me you are making a god of the gaps argument here. And it assumes a universe that has no cause, and requires there is natural mechanism only. This is called philosophical naturalism. And it is not an evidenced position. It is presumed, philosophical starting point.

      You say – to make decisions without evidence is a fatal failure. Well. What is your evidence for philosophical naturalism?

      Both ID and the fine tuning argument are scientific theories about the nature of reality. Biological information requires a designing mind, and precisely set initial values suggest purpose. Your problem is that – these observations count against your philosophical naturalism by strongly suggesting a cause for nature beyond nature itself. They undermine your unevidenced assumption of philosophical naturalism. Unless you have evidence to support philosophical naturalism?

      To say science has disproven God is therefore simply to admit one is looking for God in the wrong place.

      Lastly – your comment about the number of followers on this blog is hilarious to me. You have consistently engaged me in debate on these ideas for months. It certainly seems important to you to do so. However many followers the blog has. And I’m very happy to speak to you politely about these ideas.

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