God and Fine-Tuning Arguments

For humans to exist as we do on planet earth requires “in multiple ways that the structure of the universe be precisely set” — so says Robin Collins in his essay “The Fine Tuning Evidence is Convincing” in Debating Christian Theism (eds. J.P. Moreland, C. Meister, K.A. Sweis). Sometimes this is called the “teleological” argument for God while the entire discussion is also called the “anthropic [human] principle” at work in the universe as we know it.

This discussion quickly gets beyond my expertise so I want to call to our attention just a few observations:

1. Consider, Collins says, “the requirements of constructing atoms, the building blocks of life.” We would need to think of the law of energy and momentum conservation as well as the second law of thermodynamics and then we’d need three particles with masses corresponding to that of the electron, proton, and neutron.  For all this to work into life for humans, we’d need also the conservation of electric charge and the conservation of the baryon number, and we’d need the electric force and the strong nuclear force.

2. “… the building blocks for highly complex, self-replicating structures require the right set of laws and principles.” And this one has always been a stunner for me, I don’t know about you: “If, for instance, one of the above laws/principles were removed (while keeping the others in place), ECAs [embodied conscious agents] would be impossible” (37). What has always impressed me, then, is how many laws and principles and factors — in minute details — have to be in place for humans to exist on this planet — and for the planet to survive in fact.

3. Collins expostulates on initial conditions — like black holes and entropy numbers — and the fundamental constants and parameters of physics, like the constant governing of the state of gravity or the cosmological constant (the dark energy density of the universe) … and before long one conclusion that seems compelling, or at least very likely, is that a SuperPower/God had to create this world.

4. One alternative is called the “multiverse hypothesis” — namely, that there are millions or more (perhaps) universes and it just so happens that this is the one where the right constants arose to support humans (ECAs).

5. “the cases of fine-tuning are multiple and diverse, so even if one cannot be certain of any given case, together they provide a compelling case for an extraordinarily fine-tuned universe” (44).


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  • ThisIsTheEnd

    Why would God need to fine tune the universe to get ECA to emerge?

  • scotmcknight

    Not sure what you are asking, but I’m not so sure the point would be “God fine tuned” but that fine-tuning elements must be present for humans to exist, and therefore this planet was designed — minutely — so humans could exist.

  • NateW

    I don’t know, of course I’m no expert on probability, etc, but the fine-tuning argument has never hit me as convincing. I mean, yeah, it definitely boggles the mind to understand what is necessary for me to exist, but I’m not sure that this can be give as evidence ex post facto, you know? When you buy a lottery ticket the odds are millions to one that you’ll win, but after you win it woul be silly for someone to argue that the lottery was rigged because the odds against you were so astronomical. Somebody wins every time.

    Or maybe its like walking onto a beach and picking up a single grain of sand. At the time of your birth, the odds that YOU would be on THAT beach on THAT day and pick up THAT particular grain of sand at the PRECISE moment that you did are inconceivable, but you could say that no matter which grain of sand you picked up or even no matter what precise thing you notice yourself doing at a given moment.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that every hair and every grain of sand are numbered and known and thought of by God, but I just don’t think that the “fine-tuning” argument (or any other logical argument) can make God—who is known by faith—obtainable by logic.

  • Ben Nasmith

    There’s a wonderful interview with Robin Collins by Apologetics315 where he explains fine-tuning in a way that’s very easy to understand. http://www.apologetics315.com/2012/04/philosopher-interview-robin-collins.html

  • Ben Nasmith

    A good fine-tuning argument will simply render the observed fine-tuning more surprising on atheism than on theism. Making God obtainable by logic is a lofty goal, perhaps too difficult. Identifying something about the world (fine-tuning) that is better explained by God than by no-God is arguably an achievable goal.
    To adjust your sand analogy, suppose there’s a single grain of sand painted red by me and you happen to pick it up. I would be very surprised that you found my custom red grain and would probably not believe you if you told me you just randomly reached down and picked it up. A better explanation would be that you saw me deposit the grain and then searched for it. Sure, you had to pick up some grain, but why the only red one?

  • Phil M

    The sand and lottery examples are analogous to the multi-verse theory: i.e. out of an unimaginably large number of possibilities, there is nothing significant about the existence of a particular single possibility.

    However, if we concede the assumption that our universe (which is all we can observe) is the only universe then the staggering weight of the anthropic principle is compelling.

  • DMH

    Why so “either / or” between faith and logic, isn’t the human mind more complex than that?

  • jeff_r

    The multiverse theory as a response to the probability question vis a vis fine-tuning breaks down because of what probability would demand to exist if there were a plethora of universes. See, as an example, “Boltzmann Brains”.

  • what your examples are missing is the ‘removal’ idea. there are countless other lottery players that can be removed from the system without changing your winning. just the same with the sand, you could change any number of circumstances leading up to your picking up that grain since birth (down to what color shorts you wore that day) and it won’t have an effect.

    whereas, Collins’ claim is that a specific set of scientific laws not only created the circumstance, but that they’re comprehensive and removing even one NOW would change that circumstance.

    after winning the lottery, if you move to a state where that lottery isn’t played, your winning is still secure after the fact. not so with ECAs in Collins’ scenario.

  • Jeremy B.

    I’ve never found the fine-tuning argument particularly convincing. If the universe did not meet certain criteria, we would not be here to observe it. We are here to observe it, therefore it met those criteria. How, why and if there are/were other iterations that didn’t work out are unknown. Fine-tuning is only really convincing if we’re the first and only iteration. This is not something that can be argued
    through reason.

    Besides, evolution fine-tunes to the environment, not the other way around. Life as we know it is uniquely suited to the natural laws in existence because it has no other option. This can give the appearance of design when none actually exists.

    Now, if we find a way to shatter the multi-verse hypothesis, we’re in business.

  • NateW

    Thanks Ben. I do forget some times that arguments like these are about probability rather than proof. Good point to keep in mind.

    At the same time though, I think that the idea of “Identifying something about the world (fine-tuning) that is better explained by God than by no-God” might be setting up a false dichotomy. I tend to think that both “God” and “no-God” explanations or things can be equally true without contradiction. Two people can argue back and forth all day and never realize that they are both saying the same thing in another language.

    As for painting the grain of sand, to use that to talk about our present reality would require that we know that our reality is somehow singularly unique among all other possible realities. In other words, we would have to already be assuming some objective reference that identifies the world that we experience as special and unique. You may have painted a grain if sand red, but another grain of sand may have been ground under the foot of Ghengis Kahn or shaped like the Virgin Mary—without assuming an objective standard of uniqueness everything is unique.

    Of course I believe that man bears th image of God and thus is VERY, but I wouldn’t expect an atheist to share this assumption not would I say that his evolutionary explanation for man’s creativity, desire for loving community are false. To set up a “God did it” vs “nature did it” argument is to miss the point I think.

  • NateW

    Yeah, there is the possibility of removal in my examples. To push back a little though (while still admitting that I have little knowledge of probability and cosmology) couldn’t you say that what we see around us is the only possible outcome of the specific natural laws that do exist? As far as we know you can’t remove natural laws. They just…are. If someone is willing to accept this then they won’t be at all surprised that the world we see also “is.”

  • NateW

    Thanks DMH. I don’t mean to present it as an “either, or.” I think that the “fine-tuning” argument does though and that’s why I don’t think it works well, at least as I understand it. As I said above, I’m not sure that logic arguments really have any ability to prove God, although I know that for me, personally, exploring them ha helped to open my faith up to embrace a bigger and more awesome God than I ever knew before—not by finding answers, but by becoming in afraid to ask questions and hold my own understanding up against that of others for critique.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    In line with others I’m not impressed with “fine-tuning” arguments – in fact, i think they fail completely, as they are essentially a variety of post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies.

  • Tom F.


    I’m unsure what you are saying. Wikipedia helpfully says that “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacies will able to be described like this.

    A occurred, then B occurred.
    Therefore, A caused B.

    In fine tuning arguments, what is “A” and “B” in your understanding? Thanks!

  • NateW

    Is it the same thing to say that our universe is the only one that exists and that our universe is the only one that could possibly exist? No, I don’t think that there are infinite universes that actually exist somewhere, but neither do think that the concept depends on other universes actually existing. So, yeah, I’d concede that this is the only universe that exists, but I can still vaguely conceive of what it would be like to be conscious within a universe of another type, so, as a thought experiment, the multi-verse theory still seems to work.

    Again, I may be betraying my complete lack of background in cosmological philosophy, but it seems to me that if we assume that our universe is the only one that could possibly exist then we’d also have to say that the set of natural laws that produced our universe is the only set of natural laws that could exist, making the probability of our universe coming into being precisely 1:1. If other natural laws could exist then another world could conceivable exist. Of course this other world would not exist to us if we were not there to observe it, but if we were to have found ourselves, say, bouncing around on some strange conical jelly planet we’d find our situation then just as astronomically improbably as we do now.

    Again, I’m not trying to argue against the existence of God or even the fact that the universe is fine-tuned by Him, I’m just saying that I don’t think that the argument has much of a chance (ha) to prove it.

    (I do suppose that my understanding isn’t taking into account the seemingly random actions of quantum particles, etc., which, if we concede that these are in fact entirely random, would add a variable that could add chance occurrences within a closed system of natural law, preventing the 1:1 probability I mentioned above. In this case, I could see an argument being made that there is an outside force acting upon the particle interactions in a way that only appears to be random)

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    The argument starts with the statement that because the universe supports life (at least on this planet), it has to support life. The next step in the argument calls on design, raising the spectre of “fine tuning”.

    In this case, the universe occurred (A), then it started to support life (B). Hence, the universe had to support life. Thus it was designed (C). Logically unsound – both from A to B, as well as the inference C. The argument is a specific variant of the fallacy, namely that because B occurred after A, A had to result in B.

  • Tom F.

    Granted, iterations and such are not empirically testable. What happens in response to this argument depends a lot on what one finds more “simple”; a single, eternal infinite God or a multi-verse where every universe that could exist does/did exist. This is where surrounding assumptions are going to play a huge, huge role.

    (Logic is not a hugely helpful guide in discerning between these possibilities: consider that most multiverse hypothesis entail that there is also an infinite number of “you’s” out there. So there is a “you” out there that finds the multi-verse hypothesis completely ridiculous, and a “you” out there that finds the multi-verse hypothesis absolutely convincing. Multi-verse hypotheses have the unfortunate result of making your truth-judgments somewhat less than unique. Hmmmm.)

    A minor point: evolution fine-tunes to the environment in a very limited set of conditions. Messing with the physics tends to defeat the very possibility of life in the vast, vast majority of circumstances. No life means no evolution.

  • Jeremy B.

    It also means there’s a me that’s an action hero, so I’m ok with it! (;

    For the record, I think the universe IS fine-tuned. I just have yet to
    meet an atheist that thinks this argument is all that interesting or difficult to grapple with.

    I agree that “God” is the simpler explanation, I just don’t find this one super convincing because there are equally plausible explanations; One where things just happened uncaused until the right conditions were met and another that requires an unbelievably vast and powerful intelligence (that is itself uncaused). Either way, the uncaused precedes the caused.

    On the minor point, understood and agreed. I weaseled by saying “life as we know it.” I think this line of reasoning requires us to box ourselves into thinking that what we know is the only possible thing, but I’m not so sure about “impossible” anymore.

  • AHH

    I find irony on the occasions that I see these fine-tuning arguments adopted by “creationists” (I think Moreland, one of the book’s editors, at least used to be in that category).

    Most of the arguments are concerned with the values the fundamental physical constants, ratios of forces, etc., take in our Big Bang-originated universe, and how that has shaped the evolution of the universe over billions of years, resulting in our planet where life could evolve and thrive.
    But if you don’t believe our universe developed over billions of years from the Big Bang, it is incoherent to use these arguments for theism.
    To a lesser extent, some fine-tuning arguments also lose force if you believe that the universe was not sufficiently fine-tuned for life to develop, so that God had to create species by special miracles rather than working via “natural” processes like evolution.

  • Tom F.

    Hmm, by “spectre” I’m going to assume that you would find “fine tuning” to be a negative outcome? I would be interested to hear about what about that outcome would be negative from your perspective.

    I also wonder if there is a different way of forming the argument formally, such that (B) (supporting life) is a property of (A) (the universe). Then, the argument would be given B as a property of A, and given that B is not a necessary property of A, then a cause for B as a property of A is required. That is the only weight I would put on formal logic; that B as a non-necessary property of A requires a cause. The argument would not be sound if it attempted any more than that on a purely logical ground.

    I would grant that if B is a necessary property of A, than the argument fails. Certainly some physicists are looking for ways to have all the universe’s properties be necessary rather than contingent.

    The argument says (not strictly logically): given that we need a cause for (B), what ways of viewing life would provide that explanation? Theistic explanations would be a candidate. Completely atheistic explanations would not be (though see the necessary exemption above; also, deistic models would be candidates as well.). I think that is the most modest way of putting it.

  • Norman

    It seems that those who refute the fine tuning argument are simply leaving a vacuum with nothing to fill in regarding the big questions of what brought this all about. It’s like the question is too big to even contemplate so every approach is ultimately futile. Obviously we have been given rational minds which allow for observation and discernment of our reality. The recognition of the specialness of the creation in all its assorted attributes should at least leave an inquisitive person in awe of something.

    It’s pretty simple: we are here so we get to contemplate our existence just like the myriads of historical peoples; that are scattered across the planet. A common theme among all human species has been that there is something (call it what you want) that is bigger and more grand than our own mortal limitations. It seems to be an innate built in instinct. Why it’s there is another question.

  • Ben Nasmith

    Hi Nate,
    I still think fine-tuning is a very strong argument for theism. Let me try and address your two main points.

    1. The false dichotomy: This is easy to fix, I just need to be less sloppy. We observe fine-tuning (i.e. we know that small physical differences would render life impossible). If naturalism is true (i.e. there is no God or anything like God) then fine-tuning is surprising. If theism is true (a species of not-naturalism), then fine-tuning is less surprising. Since theism better explains fine-tuning, fine-tuning counts as support for theism and against naturalism. Not proof, support (albeit strong support). Naturalism and theism can’t both be true without contradiction. Fine-tuning supports one better than the other.

    2. Uniqueness of our reality?: “without assuming an objective standard of uniqueness everything is
    unique.” Sure. Five coin tosses could give HHHHH or HTTHT. Both are equally unique. Regarding fine-tuning, however, the existence of “embodied conscious agents” (ECAs) is certainly unique. There are astronomically more possible worlds where ECAs do not exist than possible worlds where they do (that’s what fine-tuning is). So why does this world permit ECAs? Naturalism offers a brute fact. It just does permit ECAs, without explanation. Theism offers a reason – God prefers worlds with ECAs over worlds without them. So theism can explain something that naturalism can’t precisely because theism recognizes the uniqueness of this world while naturalism cannot.

  • Ben Nasmith

    Modest fine-tuning arguments (FTAs) simply claim that the fine-tuning that we in fact observe ought to be more surprising for atheists than for theists. Is this how you understand FTAs?
    If so, then do you have any reason to think fine-tuning is equally surprising for atheists and theists? Or do you have any reason to think that fine-tuning is more surprising for theists than atheists?

  • Ben Nasmith

    Robin Collins argues for fine-tuning even if there’s a multiverse. I’ve written about it here – http://wp.me/p3mheW-7L
    Your talk of iterations sounds strangely similar to a multiverse, just organized in temporal succession. Interesting.

  • Tom F.

    Okay, that makes sense. If your criteria is “an atheist thinks this argument is all that interesting”, than that is a very high bar, for sure. Thanks for the interaction.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Neither. For every possible outcome, it would appear that all factors needed to be fine-tuned for that outcome. You are inserting a teleology into the argument without demonstrating why.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Tom, see my reply to Ben Nasmith elsewhere on this thread.

  • Ben Nasmith

    What do you mean, “neither?” The reality of fine-tuning is either a) more surprising on atheism than on theism b) more surprising on theism than on atheism or c) just as surprising on both atheism and theism. When you say neither, do you mean c) or not a, not b, and not c?
    It is precisely because atheism offers no teleology that atheism cannot explain fine-tuning for embodied conscious agents. Theism provides a teleology and thereby renders fine-tuning less surprising than it would be on atheism.

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    Oh I see that it refers to the building blocks of life rather than the universe, my error. But haven’t we been here before? It was argued that the diversity of life couldn’t be explained other than a designer. And then along came Charles Darwin…

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    You aren’t following, or rather, you assume you conclusion indirectly. BTW, I’m just examining arguments, not theism vs atheism.

    Fine tuning (the way you apply it) assumes agency. Therefore for the Theist, it is assumed. For the atheist, it is irrelevant, since the outcome is/could be the result of a stochastic process, or of natural processes yet unknown. Because you assume agency, you imply fine tuning. Therefore fine tuning is not an argument for Agency.

  • Ben Nasmith

    First you say fine-tuning arguments insert teleology, then you say they assume agency. A good fine-tuning argument won’t do either (a bad one might). Let me try to clarify.
    1. If atheism is true (no teleology and no divine agency), fine-tuning has no explanation.
    2. If theism is true (teleology and divine agency included), the fine-tuning has an explanation.
    3. Therefore, theism has greater explanatory power over fine-tuning than atheism does.
    4. Therefore, fine-tuning counts as support (not proof) for theism and against atheism.
    Notice that this argument never assumes theism, teleology, agency, or the lack thereof. It simply asks what we would expect the world to be like if certain conditions obtained.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Your first premise is wrong, as is your implied use of the words fine tuning. The way you use it implies teleology – and teleology implies agency – and that is the essence of your argument. If one denies teleological fine tuning, and rather see fine tuning as the result of a stochastic process that produced the circumstances for our existence in the state we exist in, the fine tuning is a happy (for us) accident, and its explanation is that it is the result of stochastic processes.

    Your argument only means something if you assume the conclusion. IE, it seems that you are arguing in circles.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ben, your first point reveals your real argument:

    If naturalism is true (i.e. there is no God or anything like God) then fine-tuning is surprising.

    Which is to say, your argument boils down to incredulity.

    As to your second point,

    There are astronomically more possible worlds where ECAs do not exist than possible worlds where they do (that’s what fine-tuning is). So why does this world permit ECAs? Naturalism offers a brute fact.

    Consider a weak analogy: The odds of winning the LottoMax lottery here in Canada is 1 in 28,633,528. Very small odds. Bigger than winning the cosmic “fine tuning” lottery, but still small. It doesn’t mean that a winner of the Lottomax lottery lives in a “lotteyrverse” designed specifically for their win – it just meant that their number came up in the stochastic process of number picking. Likewise, the fact that we live in a universe that has a corner conducive to life cannot be taken as proof of design. This is not an argument against design, this is an argument against implying that random, but fortunate outcomes NECESSARILY imply an Agent that designed it thus.

  • Ben Nasmith

    This is getting interesting.
    a. You think premise 1 is wrong. You seem to think that there is a non-teleological explanation of fine tuning. You seem to suggest that stochastic processes are responsible for fine-tuning, which is a fancy way to say that fine-tuning is a lucky coincidence. That doesn’t sound like an explanation to me. So I think premise 1 remains valid until you can give a non-teleological explanation of fine-tuning, something stronger than it’s fine-tuned just because it’s fine-tuned.
    b. You think ‘fine-tuning’ presupposes teleology and agency. Not at all. Fine-tuning is an empirical fact: if you adjust physical constant X by a small amount life could not exist (Let X be the gravitational constant, dark energy density, etc…). All parties to the debate generally agree that the universe is fine-tuned. The question is whether or not this fine-tuning indicates teleology and agency. Fine tuning could be a random event (i.e. stochastic explanation) or a designed event (teleological explanation).
    So as far as I can tell the argument is still on the table.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Why do you think that “lucky chance” is not an explanation?

    Also, see my response to your earlier response to NateW regarding the “cosmic lottery”.

  • Ben Nasmith

    a. Maybe it would help if I tied together some terms. Explanation is closely related to surprise, expectation, and evidential support. A supports B (against C) if B explains A better than C explains A. Additionally, D explains E if E is rendered less surprising given D.
    Within this framework, fine-tuning is surprising on naturalism in the sense that naturalism offers no explanation for fine-tuning. If any other worldview (such a theism) offers an explanation for fine-tuning, rendering it less surprising, then fine-tuning supports that worldview against naturalism.
    b. If I understand your analogy correctly, you are suggesting that some universe had to exist so we ought not to be surprised that we’re here. After all, someone wins the lottery. The question remains, however, why this universe? Why a universe so categorically different than all the life-prohibiting possible universes? Simply pointing out that there had to be some universe doesn’t answer the question. Even if I grant that (why not, I’ll grant that), it does nothing to explain why this particular universe came to be as opposed to a life-prohibiting universe.
    c. The universe is either randomly fine-tuned or designed (or a third option I can’t come up with now). Which is it? Which case would more likely yield fine-tuning? Pointing out that it is fine-tuned does nothing to answer the question. Does random chance or design better explain fine-tuning? I think the answer is obvious.

  • Ben Nasmith

    “Lucky chance” seems to indicate that there is no reason why, other than perhaps the higher power known as luck. Unless you believe that luck exists, “lucky chance” is not an explanation of anything. Appealing to a “lucky chance” rather seems to indicate one’s thankfulness for the way things turned out, not why they in fact turned out the way they did.

  • RJS4DQ


    What response do you have to an article like the one I linked in the other post this morning: New Physics Complications Lend Support to Multiverse Hypothesis? This article gives an idea of the problem and the “solution” to fine tuning from the point of view of naturalism. It isn’t insurmountable, and I don’t think fine-tuning is anything more than suggestive as an argument for God. But both origins and fine-tuning are real puzzles people wrestle with from a purely naturalistic point of view. To say it “just is” or was “just luck” isn’t really satisfactory.

  • Tom F.

    Klasie, hasn’t Ben and I both separately agreed that this is not an argument that NECESSARILY implies an agent. If that is the main point you are making, than I’m confused.

  • Tom F.

    Okay, well, I don’t really feel like jumping into all of those threads. Do you still think that the way I have framed the argument is a fallacy? Those other threads don’t really seem to deal with that question, and that was the main point of my post.

  • Phil M

    Is it the same thing to say that our universe is the only one that exists and that our universe is the only one that could possibly exist?

    No – not the same thing at all.

    …making the probability of our universe coming into being precisely 1:1

    Again, not the same thing. There is no basis for assuming that that our universe is the only one that could *possibly* exist, for either theistic or naturalistic viewpoints.

  • NateW

    Hi Phil – I guess I’m a little fuzzy on what you mean when you say “concede the assumption that our universe is the only universe” then.

  • Phil M

    The multiverse theory is a response to the surprising nature of our universe. We have no other grounds for supposing that it might be true, other than the need for a naturalistic mechanism to explain that surprise (and make it not surprising). We only have our universe to observe.

    But if a person is not persuaded by the multiverse theory then the only other possibility is that there is only our universe.

    From our limited understanding of the Big Bang, there is no particular reason why we have the laws we do, and not some other laws – there is no reason to suppose that our laws are the only possible outcome of the Big Bang.

    My comment was simply that for a person who does not agree with the multiverse theory, the fine tuning of our universe is a strong pointer towards God.

  • Ron Cram

    I recently heard Robin Collins speak at Biola University. He is writing a new book on fine-tuning that will break new ground. He has discovered that alpha, the fine-structure constant is also fine-tuned. Collins has asked some other physicists to review his calcs and they agree. This means that if parameters was off just a little bit higher or lower, we would not have wood burning fires. Without wood-burning fires, we could still live but we would not have a modern society. We would not have science or technology. People used to think the universe was fine-tuned for life, then fine-tuned for large animal life. Now we know the universe is fine-tuned for discoverability, science and technology. I’m really looking forward to reading his new book when it comes out!

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Way to miss the point.

    Think about it this way. A process we do not as yet fully understand has multiple outcomes. It is a stochastic process. We are one of those outcomes. Elsewhere their might be another universe with living entities that ask the same question – why us? Again, think of the lottery analogy. Just because a process is stochastic, doesn’t mean that it is unsatisfactory. Especially not if you like stats… 🙂

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    RJS, I very much did not want to say “just is” or “just luck”. But if we have an infinity of multiverses, and if a very small percentage of those could support life, then claiming that the existence of life implies design still doesn’t work.

    Of course, their might be other theories. But if we only have one universe, and everything fell into place we can still
    be as exuberant as the lottery winner, but it is still not an argument for design.

    If we have a “boom and bust” universe, with endless cycles of contraction and expansion, and only some of those cycles support life, then the existence of life is still no argument for design.

    I find those that try this type of argument for design, and therefore agent, and therefore God, to be quite like the lottery winner who claims that they won because the must be special in one way or another. Or, in reverse, not unlike those who claim that those 18 on whom the tower of Siloam fell were any worse than any one else.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ben, you seem to be unable to think of fine tuning in a way that is different than implying design. Think about it this way, maybe. You have one outcome among many. If the cosmic lottery, possibly after many events, hits on that one outcome, it just means that the result of a stochastic process hit on that one outcome. It is not really about luck or design – it is the outcome of a stochastic process that were conducive to the development of life. Again I refer you to a lottery (which, btw, doesn’t have to yield a winner). You winning doesn’t mean that the process was designed for you to win.

    Positing some sort of design might fill an emotional need, but it still has no basis in reality – not according if you are using this argument.

  • Ben Nasmith

    It’s more like a lottery where a million people enter and then all but one or two die before a winner is selected (due to a war, disease, or whatever). Nevertheless, the lottery winner turns out to be one of few remaining survivors! We are assured that the draw was random (with no regard to who survived the plague), but there is a suspicion that the lottery must have been rigged to favour living contestants over deceased contestants. After all, the odds were that a deceased lottery contestant would win.

  • Ben Nasmith

    I agree with you that it is certainly *possible* for there to be fine-tuning without design. Your stochastic ‘explanation’ demonstrates that. It does nothing, however, to explain why fine-tuning is to be expected. It offers no explanation of why fine-tuning would likely occur. Theism has the advantage of rendering fine-tuning expected and therefore is supported by fine-tuning against a-theist alternatives.

  • Ben Nasmith

    You need to distinguish between actual and possible. You note that fine-tuning is actual. It therefore follows that it is possible. However, without some explanation, you can’t then argue from the fact that fine-tuning is possible to the claim that actual fine-tuning ought not to be surprising.

    Suppose someone wins a lottery. It follows that it is possible to win the lottery. But it would be wrongheaded to tell the lottery winner, “don’t be surprised, someone had to win.” Of course, someone had to win. No one is surprised that someone won the lottery. What is surprising to that person is that they in particular won the lottery. It’s surprising because there is no explanation, just a random draw. In the same way, naturalism without a non-random explanation renders fine-tuning surprising. Theism does not and is therefore to be preferred.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ben, but in that case theism is just another word for “God of the gaps”. Which is always a really bad move.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ah, but now you are confusing emotional response with factual statement. Of course one is going to be over the moon if you win the lottery, and it is quite likely that you will see all sorts of evidence that you where meant to win – stopped at a different place to buy a ticket, picked different numbers etc etc. That doesn’t make those things true.

    I would be very, very wary of using the emotional leg in a rational argument for God’s existence – but it is easy to turn that around and using it against you.

    Anyway, this was an interesting discussion, but I don’t think we are making any real progress, so I’m going to step away from it now.


  • Ben Nasmith

    I deny making that confusion. The emotions associated with surprise are not identical with the probabilistic inferences that unexpected events ought to lead to. There are well defined relationships between expectation, explanation, evidential support, and probability theory. For more, I’d recommend getting a hold of this paper:
    Schupbach, Jonah N., and Jan Sprenger. 2011. “The Logic of Explanatory Power.” Philosophy of Science 78 (1) (January 1): 105–127.
    I’ve enjoyed going back and forth over this, all the best!

  • Ben Nasmith

    Not necessarily true despite the popular slogans. I recommend reading Ganssle, Gregory E. 2012. “‘God of the Gaps’ Arguments.” In The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, edited by J. B. Stump and Alan G. Padgett, 130–139. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
    Or, if you prefer, I’ve written a blog post summary – http://wp.me/p3mheW-4c.