Is “Fine-Tuning” Question-Begging?

Dear William Lane Craig,

I am a philosophically unsympathetic fan of yours. I very much admire your philosophical learning, your rhetorical skills and your ingenuity in defense of your faith; at the same time, I reject both your faith itself and the apologetic project at the center of your work in philosophy. I’m sure this is a combination you’re already familiar with.

What interests me at the moment is something in your recent podcast on Tim Maudlin and the fine tuning argument, and I hope you don’t mind considering these short comments.

You state on your podcast that the “fine tuning of the initial conditions of the universe requisite for human life” is not in the first instance a fact about God’s intentions, it’s simply a neutral report of probabilities. You insist that the fine tuning argument has two stages: a determination about facts and probabilities (fine tuning properly speaking), followed by an inference to the best explanation (God). But I find this quite incredible. Both connotatively and denotatively, the very concept of fine tuning is inherently about purposes or intentions. To start with the connotative, “fine tuning” is quite clearly a metaphor taken over from fields of human endeavor such as music or engineering. (An online etymological dictionary specifically talks about radios made in the 1920s.) Whatever the etymological trajectory, violin strings, car engines or factory machines don’t “fine tune” themselves; they are “tuned” by humans with particular purposes in mind. The very term here strongly connotes the action of a directing hand or mind in a context of (human) purposefulness.

Moreover, the concept of fine tuning in the sense in which Christian apologists use it has the notion of an Aristotelian “final cause” built into it from the get-go. It’s not simply about ascertaining value-neutral data or probabilities. This is easy to see if you consider that everything at all that occurs in the natural world is, on some background calculus, impossibly improbable. Every event is the product of a probabilistically fantastic train of previous events–an idea that informs, say, the “butterfly effect” in the Ray Bradbury story. To move from saying that “given the range of probabilities, a universe like ours is very unlikely” to “our universe is fine-tuned to be the way it is” involves a hidden or explicit value judgment about why our universe is something that some one (or thing) would or should desire in the first place. “Fine tuning” on the face of it is about probabilities relative to *specific desiderata*, whether or not these are made explicit. A radio is only fine tuned to the station I like to hear if it is, in fact, the one I want to hear. Otherwise, the radio just happens to have landed on whatever station it landed on, period. It’s no different, of course, for the initial conditions of the universe and their hospitality to “embodied intelligent beings”. In both cases, fine tuning is only fine tuning if it’s “for” something; that is to say, it is teleological.

To be frank, it just baffles me that you try to argue this away…


Is “Fine-Tuning” Question-Begging? | Reasonable Faith