Home » Commentary, History, Library, Resources » An Early Awareness of Fine Tuning – from 1833 !

An Early Awareness of Fine Tuning – from 1833 !

Christian apologists are surely aware of the modern principle of the Fine-Tuning of the universe. The “strong form” of the insight addresses the values of the fundamental constants of physics. Scientists such as Robert H. Dicke, Fred Hoyle, John Gribbin, Martin Rees, Paul Davies, Stephen Hawking, and numerous others, agree that our universe possesses these physical constraints. However relatively recent it may appear to be in the scientific literature, it has been stated at least as early as 1833, and I’m sure there are other occasions where it can be found earlier.

William Whewell was a 19th century English polymath, scientist, Anglican priest, philosopher, theologian, and historian of science, not to mention Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. As a curious matter of fact, he was the first to coin the term “scientist.”

During Whewell’s time, debates raged over the relationship of natural theology and the new discoveries and findings of modern science. A certain Earl of Bridgewater, gentleman naturalist, commissioned eight Bridgewater Treatises upon his deathbed to explore “the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation.” Whewell’s work was the third in the series. The treatises are:

1. The Adaptation of External Nature to the Moral and Intellectual Condition of Man, by Thomas Chalmers, D. D.
2. On The Adaptation of External Nature to the Physical Condition of Man, by John Kidd, M. D.
3. Astronomy and General Physics considered with reference to Natural Theology, by William Whewell, D. D.
4. The hand, its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as evincing Design, by Sir Charles Bell.
5. Animal and Vegetable Physiology considered with reference to Natural Theology, by Peter Mark Roget.
6. Geology and Mineralogy considered with reference to Natural Theology, by William Buckland, D.D.
7. On the History, Habits and Instincts of Animals, by William Kirby.
8. Chemistry, Meteorology, and the Function of Digestion, considered with reference to Natural Theology, by William Prout, M.D.

Dr. Whewell’s task was to argue for the existence of God as evidenced by the findings of astronomy and general physics. In a section on “The Length of the Year” he made this observation:

“The length of the year or interval of recurrence of the seasons is determined by the time which the earth employs in performing its revolution round the sun: and we can very easily conceive the solar system so adjusted that the year should be longer or shorter than it actually is. We can imagine the earth to revolve round the sun at a distance greater or less than that which it at present has, all the forces of the system remaining unaltered. If the earth were removed towards the centre by about one-eighth of its distance, the year would be diminished by about a month; and in the same manner it would be increased by a month on increasing the distance by one-eighth.

We can suppose the earth at a distance of 84 or 108 millions of miles, just as easily as at its present distance of 96 millions: we can suppose the earth with its present stock of animals and vegetables placed where Mars or where Venus is, and revolving in an orbit like one of theirs: on the former supposition our year would become twenty- three, on the latter seven of our present months. Or we can conceive the present distances of the parts of the system to continue what they are, and the size, or the density of the central mass, the sun, to be increased or diminished in any proportion; and in this way the time of the earth’s revolution might have been increased or diminished in any degree; a greater velocity, and consequently a diminished period, being requisite, in order to balance an augmented central attraction. In any of these ways the length of the earths natural year might have been different from what it now is: in the last way without any necessary alteration, so far as we can see, of temperature.

Now, if any change of this kind were to take place, the working of the botanical world would be thrown into utter disorder, the functions of plants would be entirely deranged, and the whole vegetable kingdom involved in instant decay and rapid extinction.”

You may find his work in various formats here: (happy reading!)

Astronomy and General Physics Considered with Reference to Natural Theology