The argument from scale

The argument from scale claims that the size of the universe counts as evidence against God. Loftus gives a version of it, though I first learned of it through Nicholas Everitt:

1) If the God of classical theism existed, with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him, then he would create a universe on a human scale, i.e. one that is not unimaginably large, unimaginably old, and in which human beings form an unimaginably tiny part of it, temporally and spatially.

(2) The world does not display a human scale. So:

(3) There is evidence against the hypothesis that the God of classical theism exists with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him.

“The purposes of God” are that God created human beings to be the most important things in the universe.

But the answer here is pretty straightforward: if God wanted the universe to produce human beings he couldn’t have made it on a human scaleAs far as we can tell, the only way a universe can even create life is by sheer chance, and the odds are so long against it doing so that you need an immense amounts of time and event-space to be confident it will happen. IOW, it’s precisely because human beings are the pinnacle of creation that the universe can’t have a human scale in either time or space.

This is part of a larger problem that arguments of this sort tend to overlook that the only reason to create some X at all is because you want it to do X-ish or exzy stuff, which means you want it to do it by itself and without the outcomes having to be rigged or monkeyed with. If you’re going to make animals in a universe, you’ll want a universe of the sort that can pull this off, and you’ll want the sort of processes in place that allow for the animals to arise and develop in it. As far as we can tell, this commits us to natural selection and all of its attendant mass extinctions and maladapted structures (like human backs or blind spots or love of fat). These are evils, to be sure, but ones that you are perfectly willing to tolerate under the hypothesis that life is the pinnacle of the universe, and human beings the pinnacle of life.

In other words, arguments like this seem to take it as a live option that God could have just designed animals or *poofed* them into existence, without ever having the universe contribute its own proper causality to the process. But he couldn’t have done this if he wanted them to be natural things, that is, to do natural things and/or to arise from natural causes. This is particularly significant since the only reason to make human beings, or even a universe at all, is because you wanted them to be natural things.



  1. GeoffSmith said,

    February 17, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    This is the same argument I have used in discussions with friends, they usually seem confused and resort to, “but why not just make things instantly or by magic…”

  2. Bob Kurland said,

    February 17, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    You’re exactly right, the universe has to be large enough AND old enough for 1) elements of life (e.g. carbon) to have been generated by nucleosynthesis in big stars and then scattered by nova explosions; 2) stars to be far enough apart that life would not be damaged by radiation (in the center of the galaxy radiation would probably too intense for life to exist), etc…there are a long list of anthropic type arguments for the universe being large so as to accommodate life…See arguments presented by the cosmologist/philosopher George F.R. Ellis:

  3. thenyssan said,

    February 18, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Let’s change premise 2 to read “God does exist, so:”

    Now my original joke was going to be that we’ve just proved YEC and crushed science. But before I posted the comment, I realized just how open-ended that leaves things for the conclusion. Why not just affirm that the universe is to human scale? What would that mean anyway?

    Maybe we’ve just proven the untapped potential of our spiritual faculties and the need to voyage through the gnostic aeons or Lovecraftian dream states.

    Maybe the only reason the universal scale boggles our minds is that they are darkened by sin.

    Or…this game has limitless variations.

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