Friday, September 04, 2009

Argument from the Fine-Tuning of the Universe

This continues the series of weekly posts dealing with some basic theistic arguments. The purpose here is to introduce the reader to the idea behind each argument. Strengths and weaknesses will be presented after each summary. These are only summaries and springboards for further study in the theistic arguments. See Reason for the Hope Within for more.

An Argument from the Fine-Tuning of the Universe

The physical universe is able to support life. But the ability to support life depends upon a dizzying array of physical constants being precisely what they are (the specific constants governing the fundamental forces of nature – the strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravitational – are good examples). If any of these constants had been much different, life would be impossible. And while it is not impossible that all these constants had the values they did by pure chance, it is considerably more likely that they have the values they do by design. God’s existence is a much better explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe than any god-free explanation.

Greatest Strength: The very narrow range of values for a large number of physical constants is highly suggestive. The closer one looks at the conditions necessary to support life, the harder it is to believe that life is a cosmic accident.

Greatest Weakness: Although it would take a very powerful being to set up a universe capable of supporting life, it wouldn’t take one that was infinitely powerful. The “god” of deism would seem to be sufficient.1

1 William C. Davis, Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1999), p. 28.


  1. Matthew September 4, 2009

    Hi Brian,
    Jerome Gellman has a paper that was published in Religious Studies that shows that if there is one necessary creator and if this creator explains all contingent truths (which Pruss and Gale deduce from "Every propositian possibly has an explanation for why it's true"), then the creator is necessarily omnipotent.
    So I don't think the Gap here is that big.

  2. Brian September 4, 2009

    I personally don't think the "you can only get to deism at best" argument is strong at all, although it seems to be the knee-jerk objection for many atheists.

    I think the person who makes this assertion has to also provide some reasons to think why there should be some necessary limit to a creator's power. I have my crude, non-philosophically articulated reasons for this, so I would love to check out that paper which, I imagine, deals with it more rigorously.

  3. Marcus McElhaney September 5, 2009

    I know Brian is right, a lot of deists try to argue that an omnipotent God, described in the Bible, is not necessary to explain fine-tuning. However, I believe that such a God would have to be omnipotent because how else could he control and direct every single particle and its energy in all of reality to make everything come out as it has so that life as we know it is possible? God must be omnipotent to do all of that.

  4. Cory September 6, 2009

    Marcus, because there are a finite number of particles and a finite amount of energy in all of reality, it would take a being with finite power to create & control them. Unimaginably powerful, but not infinitely powerful.

    Having said that, the perceived difference between unimaginable finite power and (necessarily) unimaginable infinite power is a small difference when it comes to persuasive power, so I don't give this objection much merit.

    I think a greater weakness is in a certain presentation in which the apologist attempts to put forth actual mathematic odds, a la Hoyle. It seems to me that such odds make numerous assumptions without sufficient justification.