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?

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    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. Jan 20 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
    Jan 20 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
    Jan 20 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. Jan 20 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
    Jan 20 at 22:08

2 Answers 2


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
    Jan 20 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
    Jan 20 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
    Jan 20 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
    Jan 20 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
    Jan 21 at 19:52

There is a very simple reason as to why a designer does not answer fine tuning. The reason is that the fine tuning argument assumes, apriori, that a God who cares about life is more likely to exist than a God who say wants another particular set of fundamental constants that aren’t conducive to life to come about. Without this assumption, the argument doesn’t even get out of the water. And there is nothing in our knowledge given that we have no experience with god or gods that can justify this assumption.

Every single event has a remarkably long history of causes, the probability of which is infinitesimal, so infinitesimal that it is likely lower than the probability of the constants that are supposed to be fine tuned. This applies to even a simple event like you waking up tomorrow at 8:00 AM. Why is it then that you don’t believe there exists a God from this event? The probability of a series of events that led up to you waking up at that time is infinitesimally low, contrary to what our intuitions might tell us. The real reason you do not believe in a God when that happens is because you think that there is no reason to assume that a God who would want that to happen exists in the first place.

But if there is no reason to assume that a God who would want you to wake up at 8:00 AM tomorrow doesn’t exist, why assume that there is in the case of fine tuning? We have no prior experience of any of these kinds of gods

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