The fine-tuning argument (as told by William Lane Craig)

The next argument Craig presents in Reasonable Faith (after his versions of the cosmological argument) is the fine-tuning argument, which is a version of the argument from design or teleological argument. I’ve previously discussed problems with other versions of this argument here and here, those posts will be useful background to this one. Craig’s version is a tidy deductive argument:

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
  2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore, it is due to design.

This argument fails at every step. First, Craig seems to have gotten the idea for setting the argument up as a deductive argument (rather than a probabilistic argument, the way Robin Collins does) from anti-evolutionist and “Intelligent Design theorist” William Dembski, who claims to have come up with a general procedure for demonstrating that something is designed.

Dembski’s ideas, however, are not generally accepted in the scientific community. He has claimed his ideas describe how scientists in a huge range of fields, including forensics and archaeology, work. However, many scientists, including researchers at SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which Dembski likes to invoke) have explicitly rejected those claims.

Craig and Dembski are also fellows at the same anti-evolution think tank, the Discovery Institute. Yet Craig generally avoids talking about evolution. All this is worth mentioning because I think much of Craig’s appeal is not that his positions are more reasonable than those of other fundamentalists, but because he’s good at avoiding certain topics when talking about them would be inconvenient (and evolution isn’t even the worst example of this).

Now in Reasonable Faith, Craig also justifies premise (1) of his argument by claiming it “seems to exhaust all the alternatives.” It’s easy to poke holes in that claim, though. For one thing, religious believers do not generally think God is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design. Putting a requirement on the laws of physics but not God, without giving any reason for doing this, is a straightforward example privileging the hypothesis.

It’s also not clear if Craig has bothered to consider explanations that involve physical laws without being a simple matter of “it’s a physical necessity.” For example, the laws of physics help explain why the Earth orbits the Sun, but it would be odd to say it’s a physical necessity that the Earth orbits the Sun. Or: evolution by natural selection relies on both random processes (mutation) and fairly predictable processes (selection). Failing to understand that is a common mistake of creationists.

Craig’s arguments for premise (2) are just as bad. Craig dismisses the possibility of a physical explanation for alleged fine-tuning, saying it “requires strong proof. But there is none” (p. 162). But as I already pointed out when discussing Craig’s Kalam argument, it makes no sense to dismiss alternatives to God for lack of evidence, and then conclude God must exist. It would make just as much sense to dismiss God for lack of evidence and then conclude some alternative theory must be right.

Craig discusses the many worlds hypothesis, but the discussion badly misrepresents the relevant science (in this case, I’m not sure whether through ignorance or dishonesty). Craig gives the impression that the many worlds hypothesis is something atheistic scientists made up to avoid having to admit God exists, which simply isn’t true.

It’s possible Craig disagrees with the reasons physicists give for entertaining the many worlds hypothesis, but it’s wrong for him to give the impression they have no other reasons for their views. I’ve looked at the main book Craig cites as a source for the many worlds hypothesis, Alexander Vilenkin’s Many Worlds in One, and Vilenkin doesn’t seem too worried about the possibility that “God did it!” is the right explanation. He spends as much time on Hindu mythology as any supernatural hypothesis.

This, by the way, is yet another example of privileging the hypothesis: assume all of Professor McInfidel’s work is driven by a hatred of God, so if you show he’s wrong about anything, it’s a victory for your religion, even if the two issues have nothing logically to do with each other.

Craig has a second criticism of the many worlds hypothesis: “if the Many Worlds Hypothesis is to commend itself as a plausible hypothesis, then some plausible mechanism for generating the many worlds needs to be explained.” To which I reply, “If the God Hypothesis is to commend itself as a plausible hypothesis, then some plausible mechanism for generating the god must be explained.” (Okay, that’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but you should be able to fill in the rest by now.)

Oh, and finally, like so many defenders of the argument from design, Craig doesn’t even try to give a reason why the designer must be God.

(Note: I’ve aimed to be concise in this post, though it’s based on a longer post I wrote at my old blog. You can go there if you want a somewhat more detailed version of what I’ve said here.)

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