If God “fine-tuned” the Universe, then does God need a fine-tuner (designer)?

  • What is the Fine-tuning argument?

    symbols of physics constants with checkmarks

    One popular argument for God's existence is the fine-tuning argument. The most academically respected version roughly runs through the following steps:

    1. The Universe is fine-tuned to permit life.1 (E.g. the cosmological constant is fine-tuned to 1 part in 10120)

    2. This means that, if God doesn't exist, the Universe's being life-permitting is very epistemically improbable; i.e. surprising. (The likelihood is 1 divided by the number of all those physically possible ways the Universe's laws could have been life prohibiting. To illustrate, suppose the likelihood of a life-permitting universe existing on the hypothesis of atheism is less than .0000001).

    3. But the Universe being a life-permitting is not unlikely if God does exist. (It's the kind of thing God would plausibly choose to bring about. So suppose the likelihood is between .99 and .01).

    4. Therefore, by the likelihood principle, insofar as a life-permitting Universe is more expected on theism than atheism, it counts as evidence for theism. (In our example, it would be .0000001 vs. .01)

    Moreover, to the strong degree that it is more expected on theism than atheism, it counts as correspondingly strong evidence for theism over atheism. In response to the fine-tuning argument, however, the following objection has been raised: “If the Universe needs a designer, then doesn't God need a designer?

    • George Smith: “If the universe is wonderfully designed, surely God is even more wonderfully designed. He must, therefore, have had a designer even more wonderful than He is. If God did not require a designer, then there is no reason why such a relatively less wonderful thing as the universe needed one.” [Atheism: The Case Against God (Prometheus, 1979), 56.]
    • Richard Dawkins: “The divine knob twiddler would himself have to have been at least as improbable as the settings of his knobs.” [“Why there almost certainly is no God”, online at The Edge]
“Yes, after all…
  • It's only fair

    If we are citing God's design or fine-tuning as an explanation of something that arguably gives the appearance of having been designed or fine-tuned (like the Universe), then insofar as God is also something that appears complex and designed (or fine-tuned) we can fire the question right back. It's only fair.

    But in response,

    • The most popular version of this objection is overtly fallacious. Compare: “If the cook cooked the meal, then who cooked the cook!?”
    • The fine-tuning argument never makes a design-inference. It certainly does not say anything like “x gives the appearance of complexity/design, therefore it must be designed.” It doesn't even claim that appearance of design is evidence of design. The objection entirely misfires.
    • The fine-tuning argument does not conclude that there is a fine-tuner at all; it merely concludes that the life-permittingness of the Universe is evidence for theism using principles from canonical Bayesian probability calculus. Whether it is sufficient evidence to warrant belief depends on a larger equation looking as well as the prior probability and evidence against the hypothesis. The complete misfiring of the objection to the fine-tuning argument is made apparent by the sheer impossibility of the critic producing a parody or analogue to the .01 vs. .0000001 scenario in the introducory "What is the Fine-tuning argument" example above.
    • Additional problems abound, because these are not even good objections to a design inference sort of argument.1
    1. This tu quoque argument is a “red herring” (off-topic). After all, it is at best an argument against God's existence to be discussed elsewhere, and is not an actual response to the fine-tuning argument itself. It also represents faltering objections to anyone who is using a design inference:
      • As alluded to above, this retort also is wildly confused about principles for acceptability in inferences to the best explanation (abductive reasoning). Basically, even if one were making an inference to the best explanation, it happens to be entirely legitimate for x to be a best explanation, even if x itself has no explanation.
      • This also assumes (at least as traditionally presented) that for any x and any y, if x is more complex than y, then y could not have created x. But there is no evidence for this claim. Moreover, it is entirely conceivable for humans to create something (e.g. a supercomputer intelligence) more complex than themselves.
      • This also assumes God is not simple, despite the fact that most theologians justifiably do believe God is simple, even more simple than an electron or other fundamental particle.
      • Finally, overall theories can be simpler even if you did happen to add in a more complex object:

        Paul Davies (renowned physicist, prof. at London etc.): “A branch of mathematics called algorithmic complexity theory can be used to provide rigorous definitions of simplicity and complexity. One surprising feature of these definitions is that the whole can sometimes be simpler than its component parts. Thus God-plus-universe can be simpler than either God or the universe in isolation.” [“Universes galore: Where will it all end?” in Universe or Multiverse? ed. Carr (Cambridge, 2007) 489-490.]