Skip to main content

A Curious Move in Robin Collins' Defense of the Fine-Tuning Argument

I recently skimmed Robin Collins' chapter on the fine-tuning version of the design argument in The Rationality of Theism (Ed. Paul Copan). I had read it before about a year or so ago, but I didn't catch a problem I noticed this time around. The worry is this. In a section defending the argument against the "Who Designed the Designer" criticism, Collins uses Swinburne's reply that, roughly, an explanatory posit y can explain some phenomenon x even if y is itself complex-yet-unexplained. However, when Collins discusses the "Many Universes" criticism of the fine-tuning argument, he argues that such a hypothesis is implausible, on the grounds that the mechanism that would be required to produce the universes on that hypothesis is complex and functional, and thus would itself require a designer.

In short, Collins seems to accept the following principle when he responds to the "who designed the designer?" criticism of the design argument:

(*) A theoretical posit y can be an adequate explanation of some phenomenon x, even if y is itself complex-yet-unexplained.

However, when the critic uses the Many Universes hypothesis to explain the data of fine-tuning, Collins responds in a way that is in conflict with (*).

So the worry is this. There seems to be no principled way to qualify (*) in a way that makes it legitimate to apply to theism, yet illegitimate to apply to the many universes hypothesis. But if not, then he must either accept (*) in its current, unqualified form or reject it. Now if he rejects it, then unless he takes God to be simple in structure, his hypothesis of a theistic Fine-Tuner can't be a legitimate explanation of cosmic fine-tuning, and thus his design argument collapses.

So he can't take that route. So he must accept (*). But if so, then he loses the reply to the Many Universes hypothesis, and with it any explanatory upper-hand the theistic hypothesis may have had with respect to the data of fine-tuning.

Of course, he could reply that God is simple -- e.g., he could hold to the Thomistic conception of God as a being whose existence is identical with his essence, and that all of his attributes are identical. But he seems to be hesitant to do so in his chapter (and rightly so. See, e.g., Plantinga's Does God Have a Nature? for the problems with such a view). Still, I guess that one could say that, contrary to anything we can imagine, God is absolutely simple, and our inability to comprehend God's simplicity is due to our cognitive limitations. But at that point, the pretence of offering an explanatory account of fine-tuning disappears; and in any case the many-universe proponent could play that game: perhaps at the most fundamental level of reality in the multiverse, reality is ultimately simple.


AIGBusted said…
I have noticed the same fallacy in Lee Strobel's "Case for.." Series. Christian Apologists often have no shame about double talk.

By the way, please visit my site:

exapologist said…
Hi aigbusted,

Thanks for linking your site! I'll be sure to check it out!

Popular posts from this blog

Epicurean Cosmological Arguments for Matter's Necessity

One can find, through the writings of Lucretius, a powerful yet simple Epicurean argument for matter's (factual or metaphysical) necessity. In simplest terms, the argument is that since matter exists, and since nothing can come from nothing, matter is eternal and uncreated, and is therefore at least a factually necessary being. 
A stronger version of Epicurus' core argument can be developed by adding an appeal to something in the neighborhood of origin essentialism. The basic line of reasoning here is that being uncreated is an essential property of matter, and thus that the matter at the actual world is essentially uncreated.
Yet stronger versions of the argument could go on from there by appealing to the principle of sufficient reason to argue that whatever plays the role of being eternal and essentially uncreated does not vary from world to world, and thus that matter is a metaphysically necessary being.
It seems to me that this broadly Epicurean line of reasoning is a co…

Notes on Mackie's "Evil and Omnipotence"

0. Introduction
0.1 Mackie argues that the problem of evil proves that either no god exists, or at least that the god of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, does not exist. His argument is roughly the same version of the problem of evil that we’ve been considering.
0.2 Mackie thinks that one can avoid the conclusion that God does not exist only if one admits that either God is not omnipotent (i.e., not all-powerful), or that God is not perfectly good. 0.3 However, he thinks that hardly anyone will be willing to take this route. For doing so leaves one with a conception of a god that isn’t worthy of worship, and therefore not religiously significant.
0.4 After his brief discussion of his version of the problem of evil, he considers most of the main responses to the problem of evil, and concludes that none of them work.

1. First Response and Mackie's Reply
1.1 Response: Good can’t exist without evil; evil is a necessary counterpart to good.
1.2 Mackie’s reply:
1.2.1 this see…

Notes on Swinburne, "On Why God Allows Evil"

Notes on Swinburne’s “Why God Allows Evil”

1. The kinds of goods a theistic god would provide: deeper goods than just “thrills of pleasure and times of contentment” (p. 90). For example:
1.1 Significant freedom and responsibility
1.1.1 for ourselves
1.1.2 for others
1.1.3 for the world in which they live
1.2 Valuable lives
1.2.1 being of significant use to ourselves
1.2.2 being of significant use to each other

2. Kinds of evil
2.1 Moral evil: all the evil caused or permitted by human beings, whether intentionally or through negligence (e.g., murder, theft, etc.)
2.2 Natural evil: all the rest: evil not caused or permitted by human beings (e.g., suffering caused by hurricanes, forest fires, diseases, animal suffering, etc.)

3. The gist of Swinburne’s answer to the problem of evil: God cannot – logically cannot -- give us the goods of significant freedom, responsibility and usefulness without thereby allowing for the possibility of lots of moral and natural evil. This is why he has al…