Hitting a Royal Flush and the Fine-Tuning Argument for the Existence of God

One of our Eclectic Orthodoxy readers yesterday brought to my attention this discussion between Hans Halvorson and Sean Carroll. It’s a thoughtful discussion and I commend it to my readers.

I was pleased to see Halvorson raising questions about the Fine-tuning Argument and the existence of God.  The argument doesn’t make sense to me.

I’m at the final table of the World Series of Poker—No Limit Texas Holdem. It’s down to just me and Phil Hellmuth. Ten million dollars is at stake. We’re on fourth street.

Me:                ♠K ♠Q
Board:           ♠J ♠T ♥9 ♣9
Opponent:    ♠9 ♦9

I have the stack lead, but only barely. With what he no doubt considers the absolute best hand, Hellmuth checks. He likes to slow-play the nuts, especially against amateurs like myself. With my usual misdiagnosis of the betting, I put him on trip 9s.  I go all-in, figuring that he won’t risk his tournament with only three of a kind. After all, I could have a full house.  And even if he calls with his trips, I have lots of outs.

Hellmuth calls and turns over his quads.

My heart sinks. The universe hates me. God hates me.  Maybe there is no God.  Why didn’t I stay home in Roanoke.

Hellmuth grins, stands up and starts to dance around the table. He’s way, way ahead.  98 times out of a hundred his hand will win.  In poker and weather reports thats virtually a sure-thing.

I only have one chance.  I have to hit my one-outer.

Long, torturous pause … drum roll … and the dealer peals off the ace of spades! A Royal Flush! I win the World Series of Poker!  I’m rich!  God is good!  The universe exists for me!

Phil Hellmuth falls onto the floor and crawls into fetal position.

No matter how improbable the emergence of life might appear, the simple fact is, we are here now. Sometimes one-outers do hit.  May I infer from my fantasy-scenario that the universe was fine-tuned for me to win the tournament?  May Phil Helmuth legitimately protest that the dealer must have manipulated the deck?  Is it even possible for us to raise a question of probability regarding the present universe? compared to what?  It’s not as if we can run a zillion simulations on our creatio ex nihilo generator.  I can understand probabilities for events within the universe, but I cannot see how we can speak of probabilities when speaking of the universe as a whole.  Someone help me out, please.

Now to return to my great suck-out over the Poker Brat …

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3 Responses to Hitting a Royal Flush and the Fine-Tuning Argument for the Existence of God

  1. 202 says:


    It’s not about the analogy but the available categories for explanations and where they fit under those categories (options). Necessity, chance, or intentionality. You can come up with a twisted analogy for any of those categories.

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  2. Andy says:

    Fr. Kimel,

    I do enjoy your blog. It brings to my attention people and ideas I don’t think I would otherwise encounter. I really enjoyed the debate. I would like to read a book or two that each has written, but the water is doubtless too deep for me!

    If we can imagine a time in eternity past when there was nothing, absolutely nothing, there would never have been anything. Thus, for the materialist, matter and energy are eternal, without beginning or ending.

    The two biggest problems we humans face are sin and death. Pure science can offer a solution for neither. I’m sure a materialist could offer a well-reasoned counter, but it’s ultimately empty, and for that matter, pointless.

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  3. “The existence of intelligent life depends upon a conspiracy of initial conditions which must be fine-tuned to a degree that is literally incomprehensible and incalculable.

    This fine-tuning is of two sorts. First, when the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, you find appearing in them certain constants, like the gravitational constant. These constants are not determined by the laws of nature. The laws of nature are consistent with a wide range of values for these constants. Second, in addition to these constants there are certain arbitrary quantities which are just put in as initial conditions on which the laws of nature operate, for example, the amount of entropy or the balance between matter and anti-matter in the universe. Now all of these constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of life-permitting values. Were these constants or quantities to be altered by a hair’s breadth, the life-permitting balance would be destroyed and life would not exist.

    For example, the physicist P. C. W. Davies has calculated that a change in the strength of gravity or of the atomic weak force by only one part in 10(100) would have prevented a life-permitting universe. The cosmological constant which drives the inflation of the universe and is responsible for the recently discovered acceleration of the universe’s expansion is inexplicably fine-tuned to around one part in 10120. Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of the Big Bang’s low entropy condition existing by chance are on the order of one out of 10 10 (123). Penrose comments, “I cannot even recall seeing anything else in physics whose accuracy is known to approach, even remotely, a figure like one part in 1010 (123).” And it’s not just each constant or quantity which must be exquisitely finely-tuned; their ratios to one another must be also finely-tuned. So improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers.”
    – William Lane Craig

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