If the problem of "fine tuning for life" (SEP) is that the precise value of some constants (and laws) in physics seems necessary to the emergence of life in our universe but at the same time very improbable, and if it is deemed a response is required, a possible explanation that has been proposed is that there was some "design" to this, usually that there must exist some designer who set up life friendly conditions in our universe.

However, I am wondering if that explanation is not just moving the problem to the designer himself. Is it possible to argue that: either the designer had no choice in the values of the constants if he wanted to bring about life, so that those constants are more primitive than the designer who just "pushed the right buttons", or the designer picked random constants and then got lucky and obtained a universe with life in it? Are there other possibilities? For example, that the designer being omnipotent, the constants may be random, but then he decided that there would be life with those constants? But even in that case, the actual values of the constants don't seem to matter, the designer could have chosen any random values for the constants and instill life in that universe, so that we lose necessity between the values of the constants and the emergence of life. It's not so much the value of the constants that leads to life, as the intervention of a designer. Pick any universe, with any constants, and there can be life in it, as long as a designer intervenes to make it so.

In the end, maybe it doesn't seem that the designer explanation fully explains why the constants have the values they have, and why those values are precisely the ones that were needed for life. Either the designer had no choice, and the necessity of those constants for life is more primordial than the designer (and still unexplained), or some randomness is still at play (and no explanation has been obtained either). In either case, it's not clear that the improbability of the values involved in fine tuning has really been explained away by introducing of a "design" or the intervention of an agent. There seems to remain an element of surprise as to why these are the constants that were needed for life.

Has this line of reasoning been explored before? Are there references that could be used here? Or maybe this line of reasoning is not coherent for some reason?

  • 1
    The problem is not really "Why are the constants of the universe exactly this?"; the problem is "Why is the universe such that life is possible?" I doubt any theists would quibble over whether other possible constants could have led to life, but they would still argue that life is such that, in the space of all the possibilities, only a tiny number of the possibilities can give rise to any kind of life. Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 20:54
  • OK, but can't we still ask: were the constants randomly picked by the designer and then he decided to add life, or did he precisely choose those constants because there are laws that he knew would result in life (but he didn't have any choice in those laws)? In the first case, the constants don't really matter, it's the intervention of the designer that matters, and in the second case, the designer pushed the right buttons, but he doesn't control the laws that lead from the constants to life.
    – Frank
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 21:02
  • @DavidGudeman In the first case, it seems the constants that started the question are now irrelevant to the problem, and in the second case, the improbability has not been improved upon by the introduction of a designer - it seems.
    – Frank
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 21:10
  • We seem to be talking past each other, because I think I already addressed what you said. In the first case, the specific constants are indeed irrelevant, but then the laws were constructed in such a way that life could arise with those constants, and the problem is why physical laws are such (to whatever extent constants and physical laws are genuinely distinct). In the second case, I don't see why you think the improbability has not changed. Instead of the specific constants being inexplicably improbable, they are easily explained by the intentions of the designer. Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 22:04
  • In the second case, the intention of the designer was instrumental, but the link between specific values of the constants and life is not controlled by the designer, so the values are still improbable. Why are those values rather than any other ones needed in order to get life - and this time, the designer is "out of the picture" to explain that since his role is contained to just "pushing the buttons".
    – Frank
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 22:08

6 Answers 6


Yes, this question makes sense, but has several divergent assumptions built in, which I will try to tease apart.

  1. Many theists define a deity in logical necessity terms. IF one postulates a deity that is logically necessary, then yes, that deity cannot do anything contingent. The "rare contingent observation" from which the possibility of intentionality embedded in our universe is inferred, is NOT compatible with a necessary deity. The Fine Tuning argument is instead for a contingent deity, whose contingent motivations and character can be inferred from the evidence left behind by design events. I don't think that you were making this point, but it may have affected your thinking.

  2. IF one applies a deterministic concept of causation to even a contingent deity, then yes, one could say that there is a cause or the choices that such a deity makes, and those contingent causes could potentially be identified, and then the deity's contingent actions in creating our universe could be derived from the prior causes, hence even our apparently unlikely universe's constants could have been predicted, and perhaps were necessary based on the prior conditions of a creator deity's mind.

  • However the deterministic concept of causation, which was adopted by some of the Rennaissance thinkers, was seen as incoherent by Hume. Hume argued that we NEVER know the actual interaction between things, and all we can actually know is correlation. Hume treated causation as just correlation. And correlation does not get one to the determinism you are presuming. Popper grounded empiricism better than Hume did, in useful predictive theories rather than mere correlation. But even that further step does not get one to the deterministic causation you assume. Causation is currently an ill defined concept for us, so relying upon a deterministic version of it to assert determinism in all agency is a unsupported leap.
  • The problem of accounting for agency causation, however, IS widely understood as a PROBLEM, and applies to all agents, not just to a deity. One of the recent interesting efforts in philosophy is to spell out a concept of agent causation. This could answer what I see as the main thrust of your question. Here is one agent causation thinker: https://academic.oup.com/book/6201/chapter/149807379
  1. Even if we accept a non-necessary designer, who is a causal agent, the problems for the intention explanation for Fine Tuning do not stop there. That is because a deity who could construct the Cosmos, could presumably designed differently. That after all is the whole point of the Fine Tuning argument. So -- why the Standard Model of QM, the Big Bang, Inflation, etc.? Physics and the Cosmos seem like they could have been made much simpler, and life more instrinsic to the universe, rather than a very rare and late-appearing anomaly in it. IF one set out to design a universe FOR life, while ours is adequate, it is FAR from ideal, or optimized.
  • So the Fine Tuning Argument may support an intentional design of our universe for life, but a POOR design to do this. This implies a) a designer that may be unwise (say our inverse was a design class project for a deity in elementary school, that earned a C-minus), or b) a designer of many minds (picture a dysfunctional committee, each of whose members have one particular axe they are grinding on this project, and the resulting design accomplishes "life" but is skewed by each competing agenda to be far off optimum), or c) it was a failed design to achieve something else, and Life was an adaptive retrofit (abiogenesis research has basically been stalled ever since the Urey-Miller experiment, abiogenesis seemingly was implausible even in early earth conditions), getting life started may have taken a further intervention to salvage the design, well after the initial failed design effort.

At any rate, yes there are three problems for design hypotheses: necessary deities are incompatible with Fine Tuning, Agency causation is needed for the idea to work, and the imperfections of the design are incompatible with inferring back to a designer with the classic Omni-God theist properties.

  • Maybe there is one more problem: if we grant that there exists a designer with all the right powers and attributes, why would that designer be interested in creating a universe with conditions that allow life, or humans? The designer could have created a universe that allowed life, but not specifically humans, or even a universe that didn't allow life. The intention of the designer seems to not be addressed, esp. when it comes to humans.
    – Frank
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 22:06
  • Maybe "agent causation" is what I'm smelling as the problem here. It seems to me to be vaguely parallel to the Euthyphro dilemma, where "good" and "wrong" may not be satisfactorily addressed by introducing an agent along the way. I'm feeling that in my question and in the Euthyphro, introducing an agent doesn't really help.
    – Frank
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 22:10
  • @Frank -- I thought the Agent Causation vs Deterministic Causation was your biggest concern. I am reading a good Agent Causation book now, academia.edu/17050670/…. I hope this answer and further link are useful.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 22:15
  • @Frank -- as a fallibilistic empiricist, and a theist, the third concern is the biggest one for me. I look at near fine tuning, and the late and marginal emergence of life, and infer the most likely of Design hypotheses is a dysfunctional committee, which thru sabotage led to a failed design, with life as an after the fact adaption. I am a di-theist, and I speculate that God needs life to recover health/essence from the harm of that sabotage by Its collaborators-now-enemies during the creation event.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 22:20
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    @Frank -- there are no apparent design features of our universe that drove it to produce humans. Humans vs Ferengi vs mollusk vs. gas-state creatures -- all appears to just be chance. You are leaning toward fallacious misuse of statistics.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 19:52

Any attempt to explain cosmic life by intelligent design faces the following problem:

It first attempts to “explain” a certain cosmological fact by a deus ex machina, but then lacks any cause for the existence of this god.

While we are at speculating about constellations, which science currently cannot explain, then I prefer the anthropic principle:

The hypothesis that the range of possible observations that could be made about the universe is limited by the fact that observations could happen only in a universe capable of developing intelligent life.

Otherwise, what is the benefit to burden the intelligent design speculation about the fine-tuning by further speculations whether the cosmic designer was restricted or free how to choose the cosmic constants?

  • Playing devil’s advocate here but what if the theist says that God is eternal and thus cannot have an explanation, whereas fine tuning can since the universe had a beginning.
    – user62907
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 16:07
  • @thinkingman Then the devil's advocate has the burden of proof of his statement, he must argue for the existence and essence of god :-)
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 17:29

This is an interesting question that I feel was not addressed adequately in the comments and has been on my mind as well.

In summary, I don’t think the design explanation gets rid of the issue at all. Either the fine tuning is contingent or necessary. If it is contingent, being designed by god makes no difference. God is supposedly omniscient and if He freely chose those constants, then His choice is no more improbable than fine tuning under naturalism. One could argue that God had fewer choices to choose from compared to naturalism but this would just be an arbitrary stipulation. There is no reason to suggest naturalism supposes fewer possible choices compared to god. If one simply asserts that god has fewer choices, one can do the same with naturalism.

Now if the constants are necessary, then again being designed by god makes no difference. If god just had to design the constants the way they are, say because of some reason that necessarily compelled Him such as creating life, then the constants become necessary. But the naturalist can just assert the same: that the constants just had to be that way and are necessary.

So god brings in no additional explanatory power while adding more complexity.


The constants you are referring to, are trade-offs for matching between how reality appears to us (facts) and our theories regarding this appearance (models).

Whether there exists a design, or our theories are yet incomplete to explain reality as a self-regulating process is not yet defined.


The main body of this question is a restatement of the omnipotence paradox in terms of pre-existing principles instead of powers. (See in particular Aquinas' formulation - this question has been being explored since at least the 13th century.) God has pre-existing constraints only if God has constraints, so pre-existing may be omitted if we have an answer to the question "Does God have constraints?"

Proposed answers to the omnipotence paradox are therefore proposed answers to your question.

See also: SEP: Scope of Omnipotence.


The fine-tuning argument is not only incomplete, it's fundamentally flawed by way of fallaciously reifing a theoretical, possible-world semantics disguised as a series of claims about a 'real' universe that neglects recognition that at best, the representations of the mind are ontologically ambiguous and epistemological methods are inevitably subject to normative logical criteria.

Fine-tuning then presupposes that possible world semantics is applicable to other universes which are at best scientific metaphysical speculations and at worst are pseudoscientific postulates in the league of astrology and chiropracty.

Of course the fine-tuning argument pushes the problem to the designer, because the very act of 'fine-tunning' is inherently teleological; besides the innocent lack of recognition that using teleological terminology is presupposed by agency, one can only reach the conclusion that such an introduction of agent-centric conception is a subterfuge to defend the impulse that some divine being is at the heart of it all. Such a strategy is epistemically indulgent.

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