6 Innovative Rebuttals to the Fine-Tuning Argument

6 Innovative Rebuttals to the Fine-Tuning Argument November 24, 2017


I’ve discussed the role of the multiverse in dismissing the fine-tuning argument here, here, and most recently here. This time, I’d like to look at a few less-well-known arguments.

Replacing “Science doesn’t know” with “God did it!” as this and other Christian apologetic arguments do, is simply renaming the problem. It’s only an attempt to stop the conversation; it doesn’t tell us anything new. It doesn’t answer the question but simply raises new ones: why did God create the universe? How? Which rules of physics were used, and which were broken? And so on.

1. What probability?

This argument is from Counter Arguments. If God is responsible for everything, both probable and improbable, then probability doesn’t exist. Said another way, the idea of independent events unchanged by any intelligence goes away if God is behind everything. And if there’s no probability, then the appeal to probability in the fine-tuning argument becomes impossible, and the argument collapses.

2. Would God be behind un-fine-tuned universes, too?

Imagine a different universe (Universe X) where the parameters didn’t look fine tuned for life, and life was guaranteed. How would the Christian apologist critique it?

If (hypothesis 1) they are consistent and use the same fine-tuning logic, that divine intervention would be necessary if life were very improbable, then (oops!) God was unnecessary to create life in Universe X. But if (hypothesis 2) they use the opposite logic—the more probable life, the more probable divine intervention is—then God must’ve created it in Universe X.

Which do you suppose they would go with—hypothesis 1 that God was unlikely to have created Universe X or hypothesis 2 that God was likely? They’re in the business of rationalizing their conclusion, so they would pick the one that pleases them most, and that’s possible because “God” is so poorly defined. He’s a clay sculpture that they can shape into whatever is called for so that they can continue to justify their beliefs. That’s great if they want to maintain their belief at any cost, but part of that cost is consistency (Source: Counter Arguments)

3. Coarse Tuning

This argument is from the article, “Probabilities and the Fine-Tuning Argument” by McGrew, McGrew, and Vestrup (paywall).

First, start with the fine-tuning argument. We have a handful of physical constants so carefully balanced that if any were tweaked by the tiniest amount, life in the universe would be impossible.

Imagine an n-dimensional space, with one axis for each of the different constants we’re considering. Assume that these constants can (in principle) be anything. There’s a tiny volume in this space within which life is possible, but the total space is infinite in size. What’s the probability that you’d hit the sweet spot by chance? Tiny volume ÷ infinite space = 0, so the probability is zero. And that’s the punch line for this argument: if the likelihood of randomly hitting this life-giving sweet spot is infinitesimally small, there must be a designer.

Now, imagine that the volume is actually very large and that the values that define our universe could be changed in any dimension by ten orders of magnitude, and life would still be possible. This is the coarse-tuning situation. If we’re in the middle of a sweet spot that’s this huge—it’s 10 billion on each side—who would be making the fine-tuning argument now? But the problem remains! That vastly bigger volume ÷ infinite space is still zero. The likelihood of randomly hitting this sweet spot remains infinitesimally small, but we’ve agreed that this is not remarkable. Conclusion: deducing a designer with the fine-tuning argument fails.

Said another way, the fine-tuning argument is no stronger than the coarse-tuning argument. Why then would no apologist make a coarse-tuning argument?

4. Monkey God

Physicist Vic Stenger directly confronted the fine-tuning argument with his Monkey God simulation. He took four constants from which can be computed the average lifetime of a star, the size of planets, and other traits that would predict whether a universe might allow life. His simulation randomly varies these constants within a range five orders of magnitude higher and five lower than their actual values to see what kind of universe the combination creates. His conclusion: “A wide variation of constants of physics has been shown to lead to universes that are long-lived enough for complex matter to evolve.”

We know so little about life that there is little to say about whether life would come from this complex matter, but this seems a strong counterexample.

This reminds me of physicist Sean Carroll’s observation, “I will start granting that [life couldn’t exist with different conditions] once someone tells me the conditions under which life can exist.”

To be concluded in part 2.

A universe with a supernatural presence
would be a fundamentally and qualitatively
different kind of universe from one without.
The difference is, inescapably, a scientific difference.
Religions make existence claims,
and this means scientific claims.
Richard Dawkins

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 4/30/14.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia


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  • Tony D’Arcy

    How come Aquinas didn’t know about the “fine tuned” constants of nature ? Oh God hadn’t told him, so he made shit up instead. It took science to discover these very same “constants” and work out their values. And then along come the religious apologists and claim these discoveries for their faiths ! The sheer gall of it !

    Theologians might be able to talk the hind legs off a donkey, but only science can explain why critters like donkeys have legs, – and just the right length to reach the ground !

    • What does it say about your discipline when you can’t even think up the tough questions and must rely on your opponent to give them to you?

    • Chuck Johnson

      The same is true of the human soul being created at the moment of union between egg and sperm.
      The religionists follow along behind the wagon of science.
      When they pick up a crumb that falls off of the wagon, they turn it into one of God’s miracles.
      They let the scientists do all the heavy lifting.

      • Rudy R

        About the soul being created at the moment of union between egg and sperm, does the egg and sperm have some component that when combined, creates the soul, or is a god a voyeur watching everyone having sex and at the moment of conception, zaps the soul into the zygote?

        • Chuck Johnson

          Since the Pope likes to pose as a science enthusiast, I will guess that God has arranged for biology to automatically create a soul upon fertilization.

          In this way, science once again, verifies Christian doctrine.

        • TheNuszAbides

          only when they’re Doing It Right and otherwise Worthy(TM), of course.

    • In his day, so little was known of nature that they cited almost everything as design. That has receded as knowledge expands.

  • Illithid

    How remarkable that we live in a universe whose physics permits our type of life to exist!

    Now if the universe’s characteristics didn’t allow our type of life to exist, but we were here anyway… maybe that would be a good argument for a god. Or maybe just for more research in physics.

    • I believe it was Sean Carroll who noted that if the constants of nature forbade life, God could still make life happen. Y’know–cuz magic.

      That there is a natural explanation for life points to natural, not God.

    • Chuck Johnson

      That would be a miracle.
      And if the religionists were right about all this stuff, that would be a miracle, too.

  • Fallulah

    Great article!

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Argument 1 doesn’t hold up. The theist can claim they are making a reductio ad absurdum on the atheist argument. The can claim that, given the atheist premise, the probabilities are absurd. It doesn’t have to mean they accept the probabilities for their own argument (which indeed they do not).
    This sort of argument is stupid when theists use it (which they sometimes do) and it is still stupid when atheists use it.

    • MNb

      “probabilities are absurd”
      What does this mean? I am a simple – possibly even stupid – teacher math and physics. Probabilities can have values between 0 and 1. I have never heard of the value “absurd”.

    • Grimlock

      Exactly! It’s rather analogous to the problem of evil, which is about an inconsistency within theism. Just because the problem of evil isn’t a problem on atheism (despite protestations of some apologists) doesn’t mean it’s not a problem on theism.

      • Otto

        The problem of evil isn’t an argument against god existing, it is an argument against the God with the attributes that they claim.

        • Grimlock

          I stand corrected.

  • LeekSoup

    I had the fine tuning argument served to me as proof today. It seems obvious to me that it’s looking at things the wrong way round. Life evolved and filled a niche. We see that all over the planet. The place of Earth life within the universe is exactly the same thing on a macro scale.

    I like the first counter argument in this article. I don’t think many religious people would get it though.

  • Chuck Johnson

    The way that fine tuning really works is the consistency of physical parameters or natural laws.
    The evolution of life on Earth would have become derailed if the way that chemistry works had been significantly variable over the course of billions of years.

    Geology also shows us consistent processes happening on Earth over billions of years.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Conditions on Earth are obviously finely-tuned compared to conditions on the Moon, Mercury, the Sun, etc.
    Finely-tuned is a relative description.

    (Finely-tuned, therefore, God) is a product of ignorance, dishonesty, and intellectual laziness.

  • RichardSRussell

    Yahweh must be the least efficient deity in all of existence. It took him 13.82 billion years, over 100 billion galaxies, each with about 300 billion stars, spread out over a sphere 93 billion light-years across, to come up with grand old us, the obvious center, purpose, and highest achievement of all eternity. The rest of that time, material, and space? Just window dressing, pay it no mind.

    • Michael Neville

      When you’re just an Iron Age, Middle Eastern, tribal god you don’t have the tools or knowledge to do things efficiently. So there’s a bit of waste, oh well!

    • Rudy R

      BTW, cosmologists are now citing 1 trillion+ galaxies.

  • Otto

    I like Carroll’s point that God wouldn’t need to fine tune anything, that actually points to naturalism.

  • eric

    I’m fond of a version of #2 myself. Humans are neither the most environmentally delicate species, nor the most robust. The ‘highly improbable conditions’ argument would rationally point to the universe being designed for the most delicate species, which is not us. OTOH the “look at what a good fit the Earth is for our kind of life’ argument would rationally point to the universe being designed for the species that lives over the most amount of Earth – again, not us.

    • TheNuszAbides

      does that make tardigrades the most stubbornly, sinfully prideful species (so far)?

  • Grimlock

    As ThaneOfDrones pointed out earlier, argument 1 doesn’t really work.

    I rather like the second argument, as it highlights the unwarranted assumption that varying these parameters and assuming that all logically possible values can be valid makes sense.

    The third argument does, as pointed out, make the same point as one of Carroll’s arguments. (Related to this I’d also like to add that there is an implicit assumption on the apologist’s part that the distribution of values are uniform. As far as I can see, this is unwarranted.)

    While these are certainly innovative, I only think that one of these contribute to the case made by Carroll.

  • Kevin K

    Fine tuning depends entirely on the Fallacy of Retrospective Improbability.

  • Ficino

    I want to hear more about the Monkey God!

    Good article, Bob.

  • Tommy

    Hey apologists:

    The universe is fine-tuned for life like bread is fine-tuned for mold.

    The universe is fine-tuned for life like your feet are fine-tuned for Athlete’s Foot.

    The universe is fine-tuned for life like your hair is fine-tuned for lice.

    The universe is fine-tuned for life like your gums are fine-tuned for Gingivitis.

    The universe is fine-tuned for life like bananas are fine-tuned for fruit flies.

    The universe is fine-tuned for life like your bed is fine-tuned for bed bugs.

    The universe is fine-tuned for life like your kitchen is fine-tuned for cockroaches.

    The universe is fine-tuned for life like a dead body is fine-tuned for maggots.

    • Max Doubt

      “The universe is fine-tuned for life like your feet are fine-tuned for Athlete’s Foot.”

      Ya know, for a minute I was beginning to doubt all that fine tuning stuff, but you just might be onto something.

    • Greg G.

      Great list. I’ll add “TUIFTFL like intestines are fine-tuned for tapeworms.”

  • Cage KY

    “…physicist Sean Carroll’s observation, “I will start granting that [life couldn’t exist with different conditions] once someone tells me the conditions under which life can exist.”


  • Hans-Richard Grümm

    The FT argument (as described in your #3) confuses volume and probability; the latter can be concentrated on an arbitrarily small volume. The percentage of heads in a long sequence of coin throws ranges from 0 to 100%, but its probability density is concentrated on an arbitrarily small interval around 50% if the number of throws is sufficiently large.