A Life-Permitting Universe: Do the Odds Say By Chance or By Design?

You might have watched the recently famous blockbuster hits or read the magnificent novels of the Hunger Games.  Aggressively ruled over by the Capitol, each of the twelve districts have to select two tributes—one male and one female—between the ages of 12 and 18.  These young children are brutally sent into an arena while citizens of the Capitol look on as they begin a fight to the death.  A fight of which there can be only one victor.  Throughout the series, something that is said to the tributes is, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”  But, let’s be honest, the odds of winning are 1 in 24, not in their favor.

Understanding the odds is simple.  It is likely to lose.  It is unlikely to win.  The same is true about a lottery ticket.  The other day, I bought a $1 lottery ticket to see what the odds would be to win.  The odds of winning the grand prize of a whopping $3,000 is actually 1 in 420,000.

Tampering with the Outcome

Speaking of the lottery, winning the Texas lottery is far less probable than this $1 lottery ticket from Arkansas.  Yet, Joan Ginther, won the Texas lottery not once, not twice, not three time, but four times!  Her total payout over these four wins was almost $21 million. 

If she had won one time, you would think she was just lucky.  If she won twice, you may think, “Wow!  What are the odds?”  The third win, you may be getting a little skeptical and think something fishy is going on.  Then, on the fourth win, you know that the odds are just too small for this to happen by chance.

Some people knew this was too unlikely to happen by chance, so they began to do a little bit of detective work.  As they did some digging, it happened to turn out that John Ginther was Dr. Joan Ginther with a Ph.D. from Stanford in statistics.  This genius statistician had studied the patterns of lottery ticket deliveries and come to a reasonable conclusion as to when and where the winning lottery ticket would be delivered.

As statisticians worked out the math of the likelihood of Dr. Ginther genuinely winning four times in a row, they said it was about as likely as 1 in 18 septillion (18 with 24 zeros after it).  The odds are just too small!  Everyone knew that it just couldn’t have happened by chance.  What is the best explanation of winning four times in a row?  It’s not chance.  It’s design.  The best explanation is the somebody tampered with the outcome.

The less likely something is, the more likely it is not by chance.

The lower the odds that something happened by chance, the higher the odds it happened by design.

If something with those odds simply cannot be by chance, can we apply the same logic to the odds of a life-permitting universe?  The odds of a life-permitting universe are actually far smaller than Dr. Ginther winning the lottery four times in a row.  If we know her winning was by design, can we not infer that the universe is by design? We won the lottery of a life-permitting universe, do the odds say it was by chance or by design?

Theologians and philosophers call this the fine-tuning of the universe.  We will see this in three parts:

  1. Defying the Odds
  2. Denying the Odds
  3. Defending the Odds

Defying the Odds

Defying the odds is what we do.  The universe allowing life to exist is defying the odds.  A life-prohibiting universe is far more likely than a life-permitting universe.  We will look at 10 (there are hundreds more) ways to see us defying the odds.


Oxygen comprises around 21% of earth’s atmosphere.  If oxygen levels were at 25%, fires would erupt spontaneously, destroying much of the life on earth and consuming a large amount of the oxygen.  If the level dropped to 15%, human beings would suffocate.


Because of photosynthesis, this is tied directly to oxygen.  If the CO2 level were higher, a greenhouse effect would develop and we’d all burn up.  But if the level were lower, the plants would not be able to maintain efficient photosynthesis and we would all suffocate.


If the gravitational force were altered by 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001%, our sun wouldn’t exist, and therefore, neither would we.  By the way, that’s 37 zeroes.  Others say that if gravity were altered by one part in 1060, the universe would be unable to exist.  To put this in perspective, it would be like rolling a 6 on a die 80 times in a row.  Let’s be honest, if you saw somebody roll a 6, 80 times in a row, you wouldn’t think it was just mere luck or beating the odds.  You would think somebody loaded the die!

Another example to put this into perspective: Imagine a tape measure stretched across the entire known universe, which is really big (up to 20 billion light years across).  If the gravitational force were altered by one inch, the universe wouldn’t be able to exist.

4)Expansion Rate

From highly credible discoveries in math and astronomy we now know that the universe is expanding.  Sean McDowell says, “If the balance between gravity and the expansion rate were altered by one part in one million, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, there would be no galaxies, stars, planets, or life.”

McDowell goes one, “If the initial universe differed by as little as one grain of salt, there would be no universe.  Add one grain of salt and the universe would not have expanded; take one grain away and the universe would have expanded too quickly to form galaxies, solar systems, and habitable planets.”

5)Goldilocks Zone

You know that Goldilocks liked everything “just right.”  For life to exist, the earth likes things “just right.”  We are in a zone of orbit that is neither too cold nor too hot.  It is just right.  If the earth were 1% closer to the sun, the oceans would vaporize.  If it were 2% father from the sun, the oceans would freeze. 

Even better, our orbit is the right shape.  The atheist Richard Dawkins says, “A life-friendly orbit has to be nearly circular.”  The tenth planet from the Sun—Xena—has an oval shaped orbit.  If our orbit were the shape of an oval, we may have a few days of things being just right, but other than that, the earth would be either too hot or too cold to support life.


Renowned astrophysicist and cosmologist, Neil deGrasse Tyson writes, “If Earth’s orbital speed were more than the square root of 2 times its current speed, our planet would achieve ‘escape velocity’ and, you guessed it, escape the solar system.”  In layman’s terms, it would be like a slingshot!  Or picture those merry-go-rounds that you don’t find in parks anymore because so many people reached “escape velocity” and were launched outward and got hurt.

7)Earth’s Rotation

If the earth rotated any slower, days would be too hot and nights too cold for life to survive.  Neil deGrasse Tyson helps us again in pointing out that the moon has two weeks days.  The days can get up to 200 degrees and the nights can get down to 250 below zero.  If earth had two week days, imagine the temperature variation!


The moon stabilizes the earth and gives us our seasons.  Without the moon, the earth would wobble uncontrollably, even up to 90 degrees.


You may not realize it, but Jupiter is a planetary savior to us!  There was a movie I watched growing up called Armageddon.  In the movie, a giant asteroid as on a collision course with earth and would destroy all life on the planet.  So they sent some astronauts into space to blow it in two and the remaining pieces went around earth instead of hitting it. 

Thanks to Jupiter, we don’t have to worry about these things really happening.  Because of it’s large mass which produces a large amount of gravity, Jupiter works like a cosmic vacuum cleaner, pulling anything heading toward earth back toward itself. 

10)Arrangement of Matter

Of all the things we’ve looked at so far, this is by far the most unlikely.  Justin Brierly puts it this way, “In the earliest moment of our universe, all matter and energy was organized in an incredibly dense but very specific way, before it was flung out far and wide as the universe began its expansion… The fine tuning required for the universe to have this characteristic is an incomprehensible 1 part in 1010(123).” 

To understand how big this number, let’s say you took a sheet of paper and filled it with zeros.  Then you took another sheet of paper and did the same thing.  You do this over and over until you have paper lined up across the known universe (about 20 billion light years across).  The number of zeros you wrote would still be short of the number in question.

We are the ones who have defied the odds.  But how will we respond to this information?  We can do one of two things:

  1. Deny the odds
  2. Defend the odds

Denying the Odds

How can an atheist explain away the odds?  One way this is done is by appealing to the multiverse.  You may be thinking, “The multi-what?”  I am not a physicist and it is not my job to delve into whether or not the multiverse exists.  But, hear me out. 

An atheist will appeal to the multiverse and say that there are an infinite number of universes.  We just happen to live in the universe where life is permitted.  It isn’t about odds.  It’s just about all possible universes existing and we just happen to live in this universe.

But here is the big question: Even if the multiverse did exist, we still have to ask and answer the question, “Who began them?”  Is there a multiverse generator?  Where did the generator come from? 

Positing multiple universes doesn’t eliminate the need for a designer; it multiplies the need for a designer.

Defending the Odds

What would happen if we let the odds speak for themselves?  The less something is by chance, the more likely it is by design.  Take all of these examples and add them together, the odds get even smaller and smaller each time we add them together.   Like Dr. Ginther winning multiple lotteries, living in a life-permitting universe is winning the lottery of lotteries.

How unlikely is all of this together?  It would be like firing a bullet from one side of the universe to the other (20 billion light years) and hitting a target the size of a quarter.

Another example that is used often is a firing squad.  Let’s say you were in the military and committed some heinous crime which earns you the penalty of death by firing squad.  Fifty of the most highly trained operatives—SEALs, Green Berets, Marines, etc.—are lined up to each fire a round into your chest.  You hear the command, “Ready.  Aim.  Fire!”  However, after hearing each of the fifty gunshots, you don’t feel a thing, except for the shock that you are untouched.  What would best explain this?  (One student remarked to me that they were Stormtroopers).  The odds that each of the fifty most highly trained soldiers the U.S. has to offer would miss are so small that the best explanation is that somebody tampered with the outcome.  It was not by chance, but by design.

A life-prohibiting universe is far more probable than a life-permitting universe.  We have beat the odds.  The atheist Fred Hoyle says, “The probability of life originating on Earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747.”

What is the Best Explanation?

Remember, the less likely something is, the more likely it is not by chance.  The lower the odds that something happened by chance, the higher the odds it is by design.  The best explanation seems to be that somebody tampered with the outcome.  Somebody rigged the dice.  The odds are just too slim.

These odds even sent the worlds smartest minds toward God.  Stephen Hawking said, “The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the Big Bang are enormous.  I think there are clearly religious implications.” The odds are in God’s favor.  Will the answer point you to God?

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