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Problems for the Fine-Tuning Argument

By my lights, the following considerations are sufficient to show that the argument from fine-tuning fails to make theism more likely than not.

There is an equally good, rival explanation of the apparent fine-tuning of our universe. For the fine-tuning for life would be equally well explained if our universe were embedded in a vast “sea” of infinitely many other universes.[1] Imagine a natural process or mechanism that continually generates universes (call it a 'cosmos generator') – perhaps something like a giant quantum field. Each time it pumps out a universe, it gives a random combination of values to its fundamental constants of nature. So on this hypothesis, infinitely many other universes exist – or at least lots and lots – and each one has a different set of values for its fundamental constants. Most of these universes have no life, since only a few possible combinations of values of the constants are life-permitting. But some do (e.g., ours). If so, then the explanation for why our universe is "fine-tuned" for life is that we exist in one of those few cosmoi – out of the trillions upon trillions of cosmoi that exist -- that has the “right” combination of values. This hypothesis is just as good as the hypothesis of intelligent design, since it's a hypothesis that explains all of the same data; so we have no persuasive reason to prefer the hypothesis of intelligent design to this one.

Objection 1: We've never seen such a multiverse, and we have no good evidence that it exists.

Reply: This objection fails to see that the point of constructing these theories in the first place is precisely because we have no way of directly observing the cause of the apparent fine-tuning of the fundamental constants of our universe. And it's just part of the nature of such theories that they accrue probability just to the extent that they can explain the range of data in question. Thus, it's not true that we have no evidence that a multiverse exists. Rather, the extent to which it can explain the data *just is* the grounds for according it some degree of probability. And the same is true of the theistic hypothesis, of course -- we only have reason to think that *it* is probable to the extent that it can explain the data of apparent fine-tuning. That's what the theory-data relationship is all about.

Obection 2: The hypothesis of a cosmos generator only pushes the problem of apparent fine-tuning back a step. For a cosmos generator would be a very complex and intricate process/mechanism. If so, then we would need an explanation for the fine-tuning of the cosmos generator itself.[2]

Reply: (i) Of course, we can just stipulate that, as a part of our hypothesis, the cosmos generator has its laws and constants *of necessity*, i.e., that there is only one possible set of laws and constants for the cosmos generator. It’s not important that this stipulation is independently known to be true; it need only be a hypothesis with no features for which we have independent reason to think false or impossible. Why is it ok to make these stipulations? Because it's a *theory* constructed to explain a range of data, and that's just the way it is with theories in general. And notice: This is both true of this hypothesis and the designer hypothesis -- both theism and naturalism are treated in the argument as sort of large-scale scientific hypotheses that were generated to explain some fundamental features of the universe. (ii) But even if one rejects the "necessary laws" stipulation -- i.e., that the laws governing the nature and functioning of a cosmos generator must be contingent -- the objection is still pretty dubious. For it's an objection that applies equally well to the theistic hypothesis. For both hypotheses grant that there is some brute, unexplained order that can have no further explanation -- the structure and the laws governing the cosmos generator on the naturalistic hypothesis, and the intellect and will of God on the theistic hypothesis.[3]

Objection 3: OK. But even if we grant that both hypotheses are saddled with some brute order that can have no further explanation, still, the theistic hypothesis is *simpler* than the naturalistic “cosmos generator” hypothesis. For on the cosmos generator hypothesis, the explanation of the apparent fine-tuning of our universe requires that there are lots and lots of other universes -- perhaps infinitely many. By contrast, the theistic hypothesis explains the apparent fine-tuning of our universe in terms of just a single entity: the god of traditional theism. Thus, even granting that theism leaves unexplained and brute at least *some* order (God's intellect and will), it's a much more economical/parsimonious explanation of the data of apparent fine-tuning.

Reply: The objector mistakenly assumes that there is only one kind of theoretical parsimony, viz., *quantitative* parsimony (i.e., the explanation postulates fewer entities). However, as David Lewis has taught us, another type is *qualitative* parsimony (i.e.,the explanation postulates fewer *kinds* of entities). And while the theistic hypothesis is a much more *quantitatively* parsimonious explanation of the data (it explains all of the data in terms of just one entity, viz., a god), the naturalistic cosmos generator hypothesis is a more *qualitatively* parsimonious explanation of the data (since it explains all of the data solely in terms of one *kind* of entity, viz., material objects). And it's not clear which type of theoretical parsimony is more important here.

Thus, it seems to me that the theistic and multiverse hypotheses are roughly equally likely given the data of fine-tuning.
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[1] This line of reasoning is based on Peter Van Inwagen's in his Metaphysics, 2nd edtion (Westview, 2002).

[2] Notice that this is precisely the naturalistic version of the objection to the design argument that the theist is unwilling to countenance as legitimate to her own hypothesis of design (i.e., the "who designed the designer?" objection).

[3] This seems to me where the real force behind the "who designed the designer?" objection lies: both theism and naturalism are saddled with at least *some* brute order; so why fault naturalism with a "problem" that applies equally well to theism?

Comments

evangelical said…
On the New School Teleological Argument:

You, exapologist, say in your refutation of objection 1, that, "...it's just part of the nature of such theories [like that of a multiverse] that they accrue probability just to the extent that they can explain the range of data in question." This seems reasonable enough to me. But I must take exception to the fact that the only data you seem to allow for consideration is the apparent fine tuning itself. You want your readers to reach a standstill by seeing the God hypothesis as equally plausible as the multiverse hypothesis. The problem here is that while either hypothesis may perhaps equally explain the apparent-fine tuning, there is more than just the apparent-fine tuning to be explained.

So maybe a particular implication of Einstein's relativity would make a multiverse untenable. Again, it could be that ethics are objectve and can only be explained by first positing a God. Everything must be taken together. Of course, it goes without saying that you are not omniscient and cannot possibly list every piece of data. Still, I would hate to see your readers get the impression that apparent-fine tuning, and that alone, was the only issue at stake in the fine-tuning argument.

Now, with respect to the cosmos generator, I think it does push the question back. It is suggested that perhaps this being, this transcendant creator of all else, is necessary (in some sense). Sounds like a definition of God to me. I thought you regected the soundness of the argument from fine tuning.

I fully admit that the cosmos generator is not the traditional God which theism classically concieves. Nevertheless, you admit a kind of deity. There is a God, therefore, but is He supernatural or is It natural? That's the real question. It seems to me that the cosmos generator is not ontologically necessary. If It is not then wouldn't It be contingent and therefore require a necessary being to create it-i.e. the God of theism? But now we are getting into a different argument (that from contingecy).

Now, it is most certainly not true that the theistic hypothesis grants a brute fact. This is a confusion many people have. One cannot legitimately say, "well, if you believe God has no creator then I can believe that all nature has no creator." Nature, at least as far as the theist is concerned, is contingent. God is necessary. To speak of a necessary being is not to speak of a being that just is. Rather, it is to speak of a self-explained being. If one wants to hold that all nature may also be a necessary being then two implications immediately arise from that. First, one may no longer appeal to the fallacy of composition as an objection to the argument from contingency, and, therefore, that argument would seem to be sound, and God would exist anyway. Second, one must, if they are consistent, find an alternative explanation to the very reasonable intuition that natural beings must be contingent.

There does seem to be something to the concept of qualitative parsimony. However, here the question under consideration is whether or not God exists (more specifically, whether or not the new-school teleological argument is sound). In other words, invoking qualitative parsimony here may be begging the question.

Finally, if there is a multiverse, that might explain why there is fine tuning in some universes but it does not explain why there is fine tuning in this universe. In other words, let's perform a thought experiment made famous by John Leslie.

One is place before a firing squad. All guns are loaded with live ammunition. Each of the shooters is a professional sniper for the local police force. All ten of them miss. What is one to think? Could one legitimately say, "well, I should not be surprised that I'm alive for if I were dead I would not be able to be surprised"? Yes, one would be justified in saying that. But the fact of how one survived certainly cries out for explanation. Is it not almost 100% certain the man was not killed because of some sort of intelligent design?

In closing, this version of the design argument remains just as unrefuted as the other two versions in your index.
exapologist said…
Hi Evangelical,

The problem here is that while either hypothesis may perhaps equally explain the apparent-fine tuning, there is more than just the apparent-fine tuning to be explained.

This is true of course. But the issue being addressed in my post is whether the fine-tuning argument makes theism more probable than not all by itself. And I'm arguing that it does not. Cumulative cases need to be addressed, but it's an interesting result in its own right to show that the standard arguments for God don't succeed in making theism more probable than not when taken singly.

Now, with respect to the cosmos generator, I think it does push the question back. It is suggested that perhaps this being, this transcendant creator of all else, is necessary (in some sense). Sounds like a definition of God to me. I thought you regected the soundness of the argument from fine tuning.

I think there might be a misunderstanding here by what I mean by a "cosmos generator". I'm thinking in terms of, say, the 10- (or 11-) dimensional spacetime of M-Theory, according to which our universe is just one membrane in a sea of perhaps infinitely many other membrane universes. In what way would such an explanation of fine-tuning be telling against naturalism -- or rightly identified as God?

I fully admit that the cosmos generator is not the traditional God which theism classically concieves. Nevertheless, you admit a kind of deity. There is a God, therefore, but is He supernatural or is It natural? That's the real question. It seems to me that the cosmos generator is not ontologically necessary. If It is not then wouldn't It be contingent and therefore require a necessary being to create it-i.e. the God of theism? But now we are getting into a different argument (that from contingecy).

I guess I can't tell one way or the other whether a multiverse is a necessary being in Anselm's (or at least Plantinga's) sense -- the data of fine-tuning is too coarse-grained to give us that kind of informoation. But at any rate, I worry about your inference from contingent beings to a necessary being. I've written several posts on the argument form contingency, and I argue that the argument has a number of undefeated defeaters. If you'd like to discuss the merits of that argument, we can do so in the comment threads of those posts.
evangelical said…
I was referring to the fine-tuning argument itself. I did not intend to allude to a cumulative case argument. What is the fine-tuning argument as you have presented it? Either a. God created (and so exists), or b. nature created our universe (so if God exists, he is not also a designer). There is more to deciding between the two options than just flipping a coin. For example, the problem of evil is perhaps evidence for b and against a. Appeal to this data is not appeal to a cumulative case per se. It is instead a defeater for a. At least that's what my point was.

It is obvious, I mean obvious to me, that a cosmos generater requires ontological grounding. I would say that grounding could only be in God. Where would you say it is in? A generator of cosmos generators? Let's call that g1. What's the ontological basis for g1? g2 perhaps. We have a never-ending series g0, g1, g2, g3... So we never have an ultimate metaphysical ground for g0 (i.e. our own cosmos) on your view it seems.

Of course, g0 is not "God" in the theistic sense of that term.

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