Objections to the Argument from Fine-Tuning
By Seth Dillon
The argument from fine-tuning is one of the most compelling arguments for the existence of God, not only because it is logically air-tight and finds support in modern science, but because it exposes the unreasonable lengths to which skeptics will go to deny evidence of God’s existence and creative activity. In this post we’ll consider some of the more common objections to the argument and show why they fail as refutations.
But before we proceed, here is a simple formulation of the argument we’ll be defending:
- The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
- It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
- Therefore, it is due to design.1
Objection 1: The argument from fine-tuning is just another god-of-the-gaps argument. It amounts to saying, “We don’t know how the universe came to be fine-tuned to permit life, therefore God did it.”
This is a common mischaracterization. The argument does not use God to fill a gap in our knowledge. Instead, it weighs the explanatory power of the available competing hypotheses (i.e., chance, necessity and design) and rules in favor of the one which is most plausibly affirmed. This is known as an inference to the best explanation, and it is formed on the basis of what we know, rather than what we do not know. Given what we know (i.e., our universe is life-permitting only because certain physical constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of possible values), the design hypothesis is a better explanation than either chance or necessity. Abductive arguments like this are a common form of everyday and scientific reasoning.
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Objection 2: The argument is fallacious because it presents us with a false dichotomy.
There is no false dichotomy present in the fine-tuning argument. The alternatives considered by the argument exhaust the range of possibilities. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that there are only two historically discussed alternatives to design which could account for the fine-tuning of the universe: necessity and chance.2
Objection 3: If the universe weren’t fine-tuned, we wouldn’t be here to observe it. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised by fine-tuning, and we shouldn’t waste time trying to explain it.
It is true that, given the fact that we’re here and we’re alive, we should expect to observe a life-permitting universe. This is called the Anthropic Principle. But that expectation, and our observations which confirm it, do nothing to explain why the universe is life-permitting when it didn’t have to be. A life-prohibiting universe is vastly more probable than a life-permitting one, so why does a life-permitting universe exist? What is the best explanation? Is it chance, necessity, or design? Fine-tuning cries out for an explanation, but the anthropic principle is not the answer…
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