Fine-Tuning Argument: Having and Eating the Cake

Richard Swinburne adopted the Fine Tuning Argument as the heart of his ‘Teleological Argument from Spatial Order’ (The Existence of God, 2nd ed., p.167-190). The key premise of this argument mentions tuning:

“…the universe…[is] tuned–that is, such as to allow and indeed make significantly probable the existence of human bodies.” (EOG, p.188)

Here is another statement of the key claim:

“…the laws and boundary conditions of the universe…[are] such as to make probable the evolution of human bodies.” (EOG, p.189)

Various objections have been raised to the Fine Tuning Argument, but one potential problem strikes me as particularly interesting: Swinburne’s attempt to have his cake and eat it too.

As Swinburne wraps up this argument for God, he hedges his bet with the following footnote:

If however the evolution of human bodies was very improbable given the actual laws and initial conditions, but nevertheless occurred, then there would be an argument of a different kind to the existence of God. This would…be an argument from the fact that the laws and initial conditions [of the universe] are one of a small range of such that do not rule out the evolution of human bodies, and from the fact that nevertheless that evolution occurred even though it was very improbable. The conjunction of these two phenomena would be much more to be expected if there is a God than if there is no God.
(EOG, footnote #32 on page 189).

So, if the laws and initial conditions of the universe were such that they made the evolution of human bodies probable, that is evidence for the existence of God, but if the laws and initial conditions of the universe were such that they made the evolution of human bodies very improbable, then that too would be evidence for the existence of God. Heads, he wins; tails, we loose. It looks like the evolution of human bodies is evidence for God whether the laws and initial conditions of the universe made this event probable or very improbable.

Does this make sense? Can Swinburne have his cake and eat it too?

What if the laws and initial conditions of the universe made it only somewhat improbable that human bodies would evolve? Would this count as evidence against God?

Perhaps not, because Swinburne could claim that God, in order to give humans the freedom to reject belief in God, did not want to make the evidence for his existence too clear and obvious, so God designed a universe such that the evolution of human bodies was only somewhat improbable, and then God intervened to guide evolution in the right direction, leaving only modest and somewhat ambiguous evidence of his fingerprints on the world.

It looks to me like no matter what the situation turns out to be in terms of the probability of the evolution of human bodies, one can use that “fact” to support the existence of God. But if no possible cofiguration of the evidence counts against God, and all possible configurations of evidence count for God, then it would seem that the evidence is not really functioning to distinguish between different possibilities (i.e the possibility that there is no God, and the possibility that God exists).

About Stephen Law
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11030669424412573308 Chris

    I can't conceive of any point of view or piece of evidence that can't in principle be used to, if not support, then at least 'conform' to the idea of God. The God-concept can literally do anything: it can be propertyless as needed, or properties (love, for example) can be 'inferred' when required. It can be immaterial 'by definition' or have a son if the need arises. It can be unknowable or can be known in the most personal way. It can condemn you to hell but somehow never be accused of being anything other than pure love or goodness. If required, it can even transcend the vulgar concept of 'existence.' Etc.

    With God, you can *always* have your cake and eat it too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Christ said…

    With God, you can *always* have your cake and eat it too.

    ============
    Response:

    I suspect that one reason for the persistence of religion and belief in God is the plasticity and multi-form nature of the concept of 'God' and the teachings and practices of religions. Christianity, for example, offers something for everybody, every taste and inclination.

    If you are lonely, then God and Jesus can be your best friend. And you can go to church and gain an instant 'family'.

    On the other hand, if you are sick of people, then you can go live out to the desert (like John the Baptist) or become a monk.

    If you fear death, or are depressed by the death of a loved one, the promise of heaven can comfort you. On the other hand, if you long for death, then you can become a martyr for the faith, or you can torture and kill people in the name of God, etc.

    Something for everyone.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    I meant 'Chris said…'
    Don't know how the 't' got added.
    Are there Freudian typos?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05769782089474658147 Dennis

    I don't think the statistical argument works at all. Since we know (think?) humans exist, the only statistical question you can ask is: "what is the conditional probability that, given that humans exist, the universe has properties that make the existence of humans possible." This probability is 1.0.

    Another way to argue is: Suppose we have a set of one million universes, and the probability of any one permitting humans to exist is 1 in a million. Then, what is the probability that we find ourselves in one of the rare ones? Again, the probability is 1.0o.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05594195282113827293 downtown dave

    Can you figure out how God did it? "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgements and His paths beyond tracing out!" Is there evidence? Yes: http://atheistlegitimacy.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11030669424412573308 Chris

    Bradley,

    Christopher, my full name, does mean 'bearer of Christ'. I suppose there's still time….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    PM, July 19, 2011

    Dennis said…
    I don't think the statistical argument works at all. Since we know (think?) humans exist, the only statistical question you can ask is: "what is the conditional probability that, given that humans exist, the universe has properties that make the existence of humans possible." This probability is 1.0.
    ===========
    Response:

    Swinburne's Teleological Argument from Spatial Order is not based on the universe having the properties required to make humans possible; rather, it is based on the claim that the laws and initial conditions of the universe were such as to make the evolution of human bodies PROBABLE.

    Swinburne thinks this is a fact, or a well-supported claim, but it seems to me (based on my limited understanding of evolution) that at most what the laws and initial conditions of the universe made probable was the origin of living things.

    The fact that human bodies happened to have resulted from the origin of life on Earth does not show that the development of human bodies was inevitable, or even that the development of human bodies was likely given the laws and initial conditions of the universe, or even that given the origin of life on Earth a couple of billion years ago (in addition to the laws and initial conditions of the universe), that the development of human bodies was probable.

    The concept of 'human bodies' like other concepts has boundaries that go beyond the specific properties of actual existing human bodies, so some clarification of the scope and criteria defining this concept is needed, but still it seems to me that the evolution of human bodies was improbable, even if the laws and initial conditions of the universe did make the origin of life probable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to Dennis continued…

    If I am correct that the factual claim that constitutes the basis of Swinburne's Teleological Argument from Spatial Order is false, then his bet hedging footnote becomes much more significant, and we should carefully examine that alternative argument to see if it is a good argument and (especially) to see whether the logic or assumptions of that alternative argument might be inconsistent with the logic or assumptions of other arguments for God put forward by Swinburne.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Second thoughts about my (above) comments to Dennis about the Teleological Argument from Spatial Order…

    My objection to the factual premise of Swinburne's argument, on second thought, does not work.

    When Swinburne speaks of the evolution of "humans", what he means, in this context, is the evolution of intelligent life, or something along those lines.

    What is essential for purposes of his argument is that the beings in question (a) have physical bodies, (b) are persons (i.e. are intelligent beings that have beliefs, desires, and purposes), (c) are able to freely and knowingly choose good or bad courses of action, and (d) can learn from experience.

    Thus, intelligent space aliens that evolved in another galaxy and that looked nothing like human beings would count as "human" in the very broad sense that Swinburne intends.

    So, if the laws and initial conditions of the universe were such as to make the evolution of intelligent life probable somewhere in the the vast reaches of space and time, then his factual premise would be correct.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13196126096999779200 BeingItself

    This is a hilarious gaffe on the part of Swinburn. However it is common to see an apologist make arguments of this general type: A is the case, and A is evidence for God. But if not-A were the case, then not-A would be evidence for God.

    Most commonly you will see someone argue that the regularities of natural laws are evidence for God. Then later she will point to alleged violations of those laws, miracles, as also evidence for God. Doh!

    But such is the genius of the unfalsifiable.


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