It is said that if the physical constants were any different, by even a minute amount, life as we know it would not even exist.

Ignoring the problems with what it means to have certain constants having low probability, and the problems in regards to keeping the scientific laws the same in structure but changing only the constants, I wanted to focus on a key premise of the argument: that a designer solves the improbability of fine tuning.

If a certain set of constants is improbable within a certain range, a designer tuning them explains this better since if a designer existed and wanted this to happen because He valued life, it becomes certain that it would happen. In other words, the probability of these constants under “chance” is very minimal. But under a god tuning this, it becomes 1.

However, can’t one ask: why did the designer choose to create life using these constants instead of another? Or why did the designer choose to value life instead of anything else? If one says that this is obvious because a designer is good or benevolent, one can further ask: why does He have this attribute instead of many others that one can conjure up? Without any independent reasons provided here, I fail to see how these are any “less” improbable.

However, let’s grant that the designer hypothesis does explain fine tuning better than chance. In that case, wouldn’t a naturalistic hypothesis that simply necessitates these constants through some hidden law or other unknown mechanism also explain this fine tuning? If it’s necessary, the probability of the constants also becomes one. If so, in what way is this inferior to the design argument?

One way I can think of that would prefer the design argument is the fact that observing meaningful, improbable things often implies a designer. Fine tuning is an example of an improbable thing that we find meaningful. Hence, perhaps one can then use an argument from analogy. But within our experience, we have only ever confirmed things to be designed that have the capacity to be designed by humans. Clearly, these constants could not have been designed by humans. Hence, is the analogy not then weak?

If analogy nor a lowering of probability allows one to prefer a design hypothesis over a naturalistic hypothesis, how does the fine tuning argument exactly lead to design?

  • Every statement leads either to God on one hand, or a kind of 'nihilism' on the other. Every argument says, "You Must Choose".
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 27 at 22:17
  • 1
    @ScottRowe God would supposedly exist for no reason just as much as whatever “non godlike” cause is purported to solve ultimate reality. It seems to me that nihilism is inescapable. Commented Jan 27 at 22:24
  • "There's Glory for you!" I wonder how the people who look for answers would take your answer?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 27 at 22:28
  • "If so, in what way is this inferior to the design argument?" - It does not serve the purposes of Creationism.
    – tkruse
    Commented Jan 29 at 6:45
  • Mould on shopped groceries forms if we leave them in a bad spot. To a sentient mould, that would look like us fine-tuning the situation to create the mould. It takes a lot of ego to assume a creator wanted some life on their creation
    – tkruse
    Commented Jan 29 at 9:27

2 Answers 2


Using the fine-tuning argument as a support for the design hypothesis is a modern form of the old watchmaker argument from the theologian William Paley in the 18th century. Paley used the watchmaker metaphor to support a certain type of proof for the existence of god.

  1. Today the fine-tuning argument is discussed in combination with the anthropic principle. And the question is whether the anthropic principle is just the trivial fact, that only in a universe with organisms having a certain rational capability such a question can be posed.
  2. I consider the whole complex dealing with a cause for the existence of our universe – why is there something rather than nothing? – to be out of reach for our present concepts and rational methods. Questions like these show the boundary of our current rational capacities. Today we have to leave open these questions.

For an introduction see fine-tuning, watchmaker analogy and anthropic principle.

  • 1
    Some people seem incapable of setting these kind of things aside. Usually people move to something that fits for them instead of simply shrugging. Thus the drive to "preach" atheism, science, etc. Humans abhor a vacuum of explanation. "I don't know" is the most terrifying thing people can say. It opens a vast gulf under their entire existence. But hey, get over it :-)
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 27 at 22:12
  • Jo - In the book Physicalism, its author Daniel Stoljar speculates that the popularity of physicalism for philosophers is that it gives them something to do -- apologism -- when linguistics and science are eating into their realm of applicability. Is that what you are doing here? You leave out 0!!!! That when we see an optimized object, that inference to design is entirely reasonable!!! You also don't mention that 1 involves postulating immense untestable complexity, or that 2 involves rejecting methodological naturalism!
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jan 29 at 9:12
  • @Dcleve Intentionally I left out your bullet point 0. Because adaption in millions of years according to the theory of evolution speaks again fine-tuning as an argument for design. - I cannot comment on Stoljar's book because unfortunately I do not know the paper/book.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Jan 29 at 9:52
  • Point 0 is part of science. We infer to design in archaeology, anthropology, paleontology, animal behavior, and SETI. Prior to Darwin, design was Inference to Best Explanation for living structures. Post-Darwin, option 1 is IBE for life structures. This does not generalize to all other cases for option 0. Looking at the cosmology of our universe as a whole, and at the origin of life (abiogenesis), option 0 remains a viable possibility.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jan 29 at 17:23
  • Oh hey I wrote something about the anthropic principle. gist.github.com/joshudson/… Turns out it's not trivial.
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 2 at 21:10

Science and philosophy are in the business of asking "why is this the case". If we find something that is finely tuned, then we need to find either a designer, or an evolutionary tuning process to get to that fine tuning. A Fine Tuned universe is an evidence for a designer. It could also be evidence for an evolutionary tuning process, but this option requires postulating a massive number of additional universes that do not have life, and are unobservable in principle. These additional universes are therefore unsupported and untestable ad hoc patches, and fail Popperian test cases for best scientific explanations.

You appear highly motivated to reject applying methodological naturalism to the observed fine tuning of the universe, because you do not like the answer. You then propose a scattershot of other options:

why did the designer choose to create life using these constants instead of another?

Empiricism can never answer all questions in a single iteration. We can only answer one at a time, then ask the next one, and work on that. You can reject empiricism and science because it does not give global answers, but it is not legitimate to reject empiricism and science only on THIS question, because you don't like the answer.

Or why did the designer choose to value life instead of anything else?

That agents value life is one of the observations we have about the universe, and values. There are other things agents value: beauty, variation, simplicity, understanding, justice, freedom, love etc. If the universe were fine tuned for any one of this small suite of things, then that alternate fine tuning would also be evidence of design.

wouldn’t a naturalistic hypothesis that simply necessitates these constants through some hidden law or other unknown mechanism also explain this fine tuning?

The Duhem-Quine thesis holds that all theories are under constrained by evidence. One can patch any theory, somehow, to explain contrary data. So yes, there may be a patch someone may discover to physicalism that explains apparent design. This is also true of the theory of gravity, quantum mechanics, and the theory of material realism -- all could be replaceable, in principle, with alternative and equally accurate idealist theories that presume that matter is not real.

The possibility that all our theories may be wrong is just a risk that scientists and empiricists live with. You can, of course throw out science and empiricism because of this, but you can't legitimately do this SELECTIVELY, just because you don't like what they arrive at in this case.

What you have not done in your effort to avoid the inference to design, is to ask the appropriate questions that fine tuning arguments need to address to be valid naturalism.

  1. Is our universe actually fine tuned for life?

The answer to this is "clearly no". Only 5% of our universe is matter, only a tiny fraction of it is in planets, and only a tiny fraction of them could sustain life. And NO life was possible in THIS universe for its first 4 billion years or so. A universe fine tuned FOR life would be able to sustain life in all parts of it, rather than in infinitesimally small regions of it. Our universe is remarkably tuned to sustain life -- given the constants of physics. But is poorly tuned to sustain life given what a competent intentional designer could have accomplished.

  1. What properties of a designer can one infer from applying the design hypothesis to our universe?
  • Relatively poor at design skills, assuming Life was the goal of a universe's design
  • Limited interest in beauty, variation, simplicity, understanding, justice, freedom, love etc. This universe has a large degree of sameness across most of it: most of it is uninteresting to observe: however it is not simple, with a developing degree of complexity spawned by relatively few underlying features that is truly mind boggling. Exploring and discovering both the complexity and the underlying properties is very difficult, hence knowledge is not highly prized. Freedom is not prized either, nor justice nor love, as living thigs are highly constrained, are often highly mistreated in the world, and are forced into a Darwinian competition for resources in an environment of scarcity and killing. A designer would be incompetent and immoral, with few other virtues.
  • Even if the universe was beaming with life at every corner of the universe, this would be evidence of a universe that simply out of necessity has a disposition to create life just as much as it would be evidence of a designer wanting to create life. What gives you a reason to prefer the latter over the former? You may argue that one can look at our history of design inferences in the real world to suggest the designer is more likely: but our experience is limited to things designed by humans, and in each case, we can observe the existence of humans directly and the design process Commented Feb 18 at 21:02
  • If anything, the designer hypothesis will always be more complex than the necessity hypothesis Commented Feb 18 at 21:02
  • @Baby_philosopher -- The features of our universe are contingent, not necessary. That was settled back ~300 years ago in philosophy. "Necessity" isn't an empirical hypothesis, it must be derived from first principles, and logically shown that it MUST be the case. Given the even more recent acceptance of logical pluralism, this is actually an impossible requirement, so -- no necessity.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Feb 23 at 2:32
  • How do you know that anything is contingent if we can’t replay time? Commented Feb 23 at 7:37
  • Anyways, you missed the point. Even if it was contingent, a designer is not needed. If the designer has free will, then his choices would be contingent just like the universe Commented Feb 23 at 7:38

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