Remark on Fine-tuning Arguments

Over at BioLogos, fine-tuning was mentioned. A comment asked whether they wished to do that, since fine-tuning was an “example of intelligent design reasoning”. Here’s my reply:

I’m not certain of the original provenance of fine-tuning arguments, but I know that they cannot be claimed to be the product of “intelligent design reasoning”. One can certainly find fine-tuning among the arguments of natural theology, as in the Rev. William Paley’s 1802 book, “Natural Theology”.

At best, the “intelligent design” creationism advocates can claim that fine-tuning arguments are consonant with their own views, not that they have originated any such argument. “Intelligent design” creationism is about as intellectually barren as the surface of the moon, having raided natural theology and earlier forms of religious antievolution for its content, adding technical epicycles to such standard objections as “what good is half a wing?” and “evolution is too improbable”. Of course, “intelligent design” creationism is simply a sham engaged in to inject as many religious antievolution arguments as possible into the public school curriculum, so it is not unexpected that its advocates would seek to borrow justification wherever they think they can find it.

Christians who embrace fine-tuning arguments would do well to look to the earlier and honest examples of its use as apologia for the nature and attributes of God, and to reject the associations with the inherently deceptive modern religious antievolution movement under any of its misleading labels — scientific creationism, creation science, intelligent design, critical analysis, strengths and weaknesses, academic freedom, and others.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

3 thoughts on “Remark on Fine-tuning Arguments

  • 2009/09/24 at 4:38 pm
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    I think the notion of fine tuning is off the mark. It is looking at the problem backwards. It applies special significance to the fact that things are as they are. Implying that the the universe needed to be fine tuned to achieve the reality we observe.

    There is no reason to assign special significance to the reality that is over any other that could have been.

  • 2009/11/10 at 5:55 pm
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    Wesley,

    yes, I agree.

    George,

    sure, all the arguments from probability evaporate if you dispense with the necessity for life, or even chemistry, or other structures; why should they matter? If at the Big Bang the constants had sorted themselves out randomly, and we were left with a universe with no galaxies, stars or life, we would still have something, even though that something might be viewed as unsatisfactory to our senses – but we would not be here to observe it anyway. In other words: why is life, our universe with life, more significant than whatever other something might be produced from different physical constants?

    Indeed, if one takes the position that life is inconsequential, the whole fine-tuning argument falls apart. We are just a ‘cosmic fluke’, but let us enjoy it anyway and make the best out of it. Life is something that is given us by brute chance, and we just seize the day.

    However, given the huge improbability of life arising by chance, the apparent fine-tuning of the laws of nature can be seen as a strong argument for life being here because it exists on purpose, its purpose being God’s creation. From that point of view life has a natural explanation. Refuting such purpose would require to show that life is ‘natural’ also without the idea of God being its originator – a natural outcome of nature’s laws and proceedings. Hence ideas about necessity of laws of nature, life being a statistically inevitable outcome of the multiverse etc.

    The scenario of life as a chance ‘cosmic fluke’, on the other hand, would make life a highly ‘unnatural’ outcome of nature, something that is absurdly atypical, an anomaly. It is exactly this ‘unnaturalness’ which makes the position unsatisfying and rationally unconvincing, especially compared to the theistic position that life is natural as being designed on purpose. Some other ‘natural’ explanation for life seems to be required, if one does not want to adopt the theistic position – and many prominent non-theistic cosmologists appear to agree with that (Hawking, Weinberg, Susskind, Tegmark, Rees, etc.).

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