As a variation on the design argument, the fine-tuning argument essentially reduces to yet another example of tape-loop apologetics. Tape-loop apologetics trades on the attempt to explain some phenomenon by pointing to something which itself (either actually or supposedly) instances the phenomenon in question. For example, consider the apologetic approach which claims that one can only “account for” so-called “immaterial entities” (he might very well have abstractions in mind) by appealing to a deity which is itself supposed to be “immaterial” in nature. In such a case, no explanation has actually been achieved, for the apologist is just pointing to yet another thing that possesses the attribute which he demands we explain.
The fine-tuning argument presents itself as an example of this, for in it the apologist demands that an explanation for the conditions of life be presented, and yet his “solution” is to point to something that is (according to his own worldview) itself living. Pointing to a living being does not explain how life came to be, nor does it explain how the conditions of life came to be; it simply moves the problem back a step without addressing it. How did that living being come into being, and how did the conditions of its life come into being? Of course, that’s where the apologist stops cold in his own tracks: he can offer no explanation for either assumption. Satisfied with arguing in an inexplicable loop, the apologist apparently doesn’t recognize the problem, at least until it’s been pointed out to him (and even then, maybe not). It’s as if the apologist does not take into account that his intended explanation for life points to something that is itself supposed to be something that’s living. Haplessly, no progress towards an explanation has been made.
And of course, the apologist can be expected to respond to this by insisting that the existence of his god does not rest on any prior conditions at all. So his “solution” is to posit a living being whose life has no conditional requirements whatsoever. The believer’s god is always presented as an exception to whatever problem supposedly necessitates a god in the first place.
But if life is possible without any conditions, then what’s the problem? Yes, human life – indeed, all real life – is delicately dependent on certain conditions being met and sustained. But we do not come one fraction of a millimeter closer to explaining life on earth, or in the universe, or the conditions that are in place which support life, by positing a condition-free life-form which (a) is said to have “created” all life (a tape-loop), and (b) is accessible to the human mind by no means other than the imagination.
In fact, the argument from design generally suffers from the informal fallacy known as a weak analogy. For some insight on this problem in the design argument, see Anton Thorn’s Common Fallacies Atheists May Encounter When Dealing with Religionists, sv. ‘weak analogy’.
Does Craig’s version of this argument do any better? Let’s take a look.
In recent decades scientists have been stunned by the discovery that the initial conditions of the Big Bang were fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent life with a precision and delicacy that literally defy human comprehension.
Implicit in Craig’s characterization of what “stuns” these anonymous scientists involves assumptions about “the initial conditions of the Big Bang,” but in fact many scientists who affirm that a “Big Bang” happened explicitly caution thinkers to reserve judgment about what preceded this cataclysmic, inceptive event. For example, Alan Guth, whom Craig himself cites in defense of his own theistic argument, famously states (Alan Guth: What made the Big Bang bang):
The Big Bang theory says nothing about what banged, why it banged, or what happened before it banged.
But even more broadly, I sense that the real flaw in the fine-tooning argument involves a fundamental reversal. Essentially, this argument treats the universe as though its purpose is to conform itself to life’s conditions, as though life’s conditions were in place first and the universe had to be ordered accordingly to suit those conditions. This is like saying a sweater fits Jim so perfectly that Jim must have been designed to fit into the sweater. But we know that’s not the case; the exact reverse is the case.
We know from countless observations that life is adaptable to a wide variety of conditions without implying that every type of organism can survive any kind of change in the conditions of its environment. Rather, what this implies is that living organisms, to varying degrees, can adapt to different kinds of conditions rather than needing those conditions to be changed to suit their needs. So why can’t we say: existence exists, and life “fine-tunes” itself to adapt to the conditions that exist in its environment as best it can, come what may (which is what we find in evolution)? To put it somewhat metaphorically, life is a natural phenomenon which actively seeks opportunities for itself, and when it finds those opportunities, it establishes a foothold and seeks to thrive and flourish. Of course there need to be certain conditions for life as we know it; and if there are different kinds of life forms which can exist and thrive in conditions that are hostile to life as we know it, those life forms too would face certain conditions as well. But we cannot extrapolate from this the notion that, because life has conditional requirements, therefore a conditionless form of life must have designed it all. That’s a most egregious non sequitur! But in essence, that’s what we find snake oil salesman Craig trying to pawn off.
Speaking to the conditions of life as we know it, I read an article in USAToday some time ago which adds some important context to this discussion in particular. Titled Earthshaking news: There may be other planets like ours by Doyle Rice, the article points out a rather elementary fact about the conditions of life (again, as we know it):
Like Goldilocks tasting the porridge, temperatures must be "just right" for life to develop: Planets must have a so-called "habitable zone" with "lukewarm temperatures, so that water would not be frozen into ice or vaporized into steam but instead remain a liquid, because liquid water is now understood to be the prerequisite for life," said Geoffrey Marcy, a professor of astronomy at Berkeley.
"Planets like our Earth are relatively common throughout the Milky Way galaxy," said astronomer Andrew Howard of the University of Hawaii, who estimates the number at about 40 billion.
In fact, the nearest Earth-like planet may be "only" 12 light years away, which is roughly 72 trillion miles.
In all, about 8.8 billion stars in our galaxy have planets that are nearly the size of Earth and also have a surface temperature conducive to the development of life. But many more stars (those not similar to our sun) also have planets where life could form, which is where the 40 billion-planet figure comes from.
Craig does not discuss the implications that this research may have for his fine-tuning argument, and I don’t think we should be surprised by this. Craig is only going to cite scientific research when it support his case; if it does not support his case, or even worse, if it undermines it, he will ignore it. If confronted with it, he might dismiss it as some fringe position which some scientist or two reject.
This fine-tuning is of two sorts. First, when the laws of nature are expressed as equations, you find appearing in them certain constants, such as the gravitational constant. The values of these constants are independent of the laws of nature.
Craig goes on:
Second, in addition to these constants, there are certain arbitrary quantities which define the initial conditions on which the laws of nature operate – for example, the amount of entropy (disorder) in the universe.
All joking aside, implicit here and throughout Craig’s treatment of the issues relevant to the fine-tuning argument is that the universe has to conform in some way to academic formulations and pedantic theorems, rather than the other way around. And this has been a habit in physics in particular for many generations now, thanks to the influence of Kantian metaphysics and its offshoots. With the rejection of induction and the law of causality, and the adoption of “elegance, symmetry, internal coherence and beauty” as standards for truth (cf. here), one can argue anything without ever moving any closer to a true understanding of the universe.
Now these constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of life-permitting values. Were these constants or quantities to be altered by less than a hair’s breadth, the life-permitting balance of nature would be destroyed, and life would not exist.
Craig’s argument essentially reduces his god to a knob-turner seated behind a huge control panel (I have in mind those huge consoles they have in professional recording studios), adjusting settings of any and every type (how many millions would there be?) in order to achieve just the right mix so that life can exist. But again, this is just another expression of the same reversal pointed out earlier: it presupposes that the conditions which life forms must meet were predetermined before the universe existed and that the universe therefore must have been designed or “fine-tuned” in order to meet those conditions… somewhere… at some point in time. (Sorry, dinosaurs, Craig’s god doesn’t always come through apparently).
Craig then introduces his infamous trichotomy:
There are three live explanatory options for this extraordinary fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design.
Let us also not forget the fact that living organisms, including man, are composed of elements which are naturally found in materials which are not living organisms. Biological organisms are not some phenomenon that is inherently alien to the universe in which they exist. In fact, organisms are made of the very same stuff that exists naturally in the universe. Contrary to what Craig wants to argue, it is the universe itself, not some invisible magic being, which dictates the conditions of life. If we begin with the fact that existence exists, then there’s no need to look outside existence for explanations. There’s no such thing as “outside existence” to begin with.
But Craig thinks it’s rational to start with a bunch of contending proposals and see what’s left as a result of a process of elimination, and whatever’s left prevails by default as “the best explanation.” And, predictably, he’s going to stipulate what those proposals must be and – surprise, surprise – he’s going to discard everything until he gets to his theism, which is what he’s been aiming to do all along. Notice how he does this. He writes:
Physical necessity is not, however, a plausible explanation, because the finely-tuned constants and quantities are independent of the laws of nature. Therefore, they are not physically necessary.
Now that he’s got the more plausible representative out of the way, Craig predictably pits his theism against “chance” – again, a term he does not define. He writes:
So could this fine-tuning be due to chance? The problem with this explanation is that the odds of all the constants and quantities’ randomly falling into the incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range are just so infinitesimal that they cannot be reasonably accepted. Therefore the proponents of the chance explanation have been forced to postulate the existence of a ‘World Ensemble’ of other universes, preferably infinite in number and randomly ordered, so that life-permitting universes like ours would appear by chance somewhere in the Ensemble. Not only is this hypothesis, to borrow Richard Dawkins’ phrase, “an unparsimonious extravagance,” it faces an insuperable objection. By far, the most probable observable universes in a World Ensemble would be worlds in which a single brain fluctuated into existence out of the vacuum and observed its otherwise empty world. So, if our world were just a random member of the World Ensemble, by all probability we ought to be having observations like that. Since we don’t, that strongly disconfirms the World Ensemble hypothesis. So chance is also not a good explanation.
Next we have ‘chance’ which is the notion that the universal constants are little more than random variables distributed uniformly across some arbitrary interval. Then, in an apparent game of cosmic blind darts, our universe just so happened to pick out the one set of life-permitting constants by pure dumb luck alone. It’s actually not as crazy as it sounds, given that nature does this sort of thing all the time. For example, consider Earth’s fortunate orbit within the narrow habitation zone of our sun: a little too close and life dies out as the heat eventually boils off all liquid water into the atmosphere; a little too far and life abruptly freezes solid due to the withering cold. But so what? There’s three-hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone. With odds like that, it should really come as no surprise at all if there turned out that there are millions upon millions of planets landing well within the respected habitable zones. Again, the so-called “fine-tuning” is really just an expression of probability acting over large numbers.
The video also presents the following list of summary points (beginning around 7:42):
1. Even if we concede a designer outright, the idea produces no empirical predictions that we can potentially test or falsify.
2. The fraction of total universe actually capable of sustaining life is miniscule [sic] in comparison with the grand ensemble. A universe made “just for us” is naively egotistical and indicative of an incompetent designer.
3. Cosmic fine-tuning technically applies equally well to black holes as it does to life, even though black holes represent the utter antithesis to life.
4. Many instances of apparent fine-tuning were later discovered to either have natural explanations or were technically ever “fine-tuned” to begin with.
5. Life adapts to its environment, not the other way around.
In regard to the second point, I’m reminded of a line from the movie Contact that’s repeated a couple times, saying: “it is just us... seems like an awful waste of space.” And yet, according to Craig’s argument, the entire universe was finely tuned just so that we could exist here on planet earth, a micron lost in some tiny scratch on one grain of sand lost in all the sands on in the world, so that we could wage wars, enslave various tribes and races, serve dictators and do all the other wonderful things that Craig’s god determined in advance that we should do. Pardon me if I’m not convinced!
Also, isn’t Craig’s god supposed to be both an intelligent and a living being? So if Craig’s god is a form of intelligent life, do the three options which he stipulates here apply to his god as well?
Once Craig has finished his dismissal of the first two “live explanatory options” which he considers, he then writes:
Does anyone suppose that, if Craig really had any good reasons to support his preferred “best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life,” he would not use this opportunity to present some indication of what those reasons might be at this point in his paper? That he does not only screams that he has no good reasons to support his theistic “explanation.”
Instead of presenting positive reasons in support of his “design” option, Craig immediately moves on to the summary of his case:
1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
2. The fine-tuning of the universe is not due to physical necessity or chance.
3. Therefore, the fine-tuning of the universe is due to design.
Why can't we do similarly and propose a more direct approach, namely that either the so-called "fine-tuning" of the universe for intelligent life is the product of an extra-universal magic consciousness, or it isn't, and then dismiss the first horn because all objective evidence shows that (a) consciousness is naturally existing; (b) consciousness is biological; (c) consciousness therefore depends on physical structures; (d) consciousness does not have the ability to wish matter into existence; (e) consciousness does not have the ability to revise the nature of objects by sheer force of will, etc., etc., etc.?
Craig closes this section of his paper with the following:
Thus, the fine-tuning of the universe constitutes evidence for a cosmic Designer.
Yes, I got a little carried away there. Well, Craig’s smarmy adolescent tactics are utterly disgraceful, and I’ve been quite patient wading through his muck. It’s really amazing that this guy gets away with so much baloney. He’s Christian apologetics’ counterpart to Hillary Clinton.
But there are still four more arguments! So far Craig is 0 for four. The trend does not look good. But let’s keep going and see if Craig can do what a blind squirrel can do, and find a nut.
by Dawson Bethrick