Intelligent Design

What assumptions does the fine-tuning argument make about the Designer?

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From time to time, some of the more thoughtful skeptics who contribute to Uncommon Descent have asked what assumptions the fine-tuning argument makes about the nature, mind and objectives of the Intelligent Designer of the universe. In this post, I have endeavored to answer their questions to the best of my ability. The views expressed below are my own.

As far as I can make out, the fine-tuning argument makes five assumptions about the Designer and about the universe He designed. Here they are. (Note: Although I frequently use the term “He” to refer to the Designer, no inference should be drawn that the Designer belongs to the male sex or the masculine gender. And although I regularly refer to “the Designer”, the fine-tuning argument alone cannot tell us whether the universe has one or more designers.)

1. The Designer is an Intelligent First Cause. Specifically: (a) the Designer is a Being Who can be meaningfully said to know, to understand, to want, to intend, to choose, and to act intelligently – i.e. to act in a certain way in order to achieve the ends that He wants; (b) the Designer is the Cause of space and time, and of the laws and principles underlying our universe.

2. The Designer is a Master Mathematician, who understands the laws and underlying principles of this universe, as well as the laws and underlying principles of other possible universes that He could have made.

3. Mathematical laws are part of the “warp and woof” of physical entities. If there were no laws, there would be no physical entities.

4. The Designer made this universe because He wanted to make a universe whose laws are ideal for living things in general, and especially for intelligent life.

5. The Designer is reliably capable of making a universe with the laws He wants it to have.

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1. The Designer is an Intelligent First Cause. Specifically: (a) the Designer is a Being Who can be meaningfully said to know, to understand, to want, to intend, to choose, and to act intelligently – i.e. to act in a certain way in order to achieve the ends that He wants; (b) the Designer is the Cause of space and time, and of the laws and principles underlying our universe.

Statement 1 does not require that our universe had a beginning, or that it has a finite duration. Someone could consistently believe that the laws of our universe are fine-tuned, while holding that our universe had no beginning and no end. It is true that in its current form, the cosmological fine-tuning argument invokes physical parameters which make sense only within the framework of the Big Bang theory, according to which our universe is about 13.73 billion years old (and hence of finite duration). However, a fine-tuning proponent could consistently believe that our universe exists within an eternal multiverse which was itself fine-tuned. (See my post, Why a multiverse would still need to be fine-tuned, in order to make baby universes.)

Statement 1 does not claim that our universe is the only universe made by the Designer. There may be others.

Statement 1 does not address the question of whether the Designer is totally distinct from the universe whose laws He has made. A fine-tuning proponent might well hold this view, and regard the Designer as being “outside” our universe (i.e. totally transcendent, or “wholly other”). However, another possible point of view is that the Designer is “beyond” our universe, but that the universe is somehow “in” the Designer. Panentheism would be an example of this view.

What about pantheism, as opposed to panentheism? Pantheism equates God with the universe. Insofar as pantheism is taken to mean that the physical properties of our universe are somehow necessary and could not have been otherwise, it contradicts the key claim of the fine-tuning argument (see my discussion of statement 4 below) that the laws of the universe were chosen by the Designer, because of their suitability for life.

What about Deism? How can we be sure that the Designer still plays an active part in the regulation of the universe? Could the Designer have simply established the laws and initial conditions of the universe, set the universe in motion and then walked away, or even died? While the fine-tuning argument (which is a purely scientific argument) cannot definitively rule out this possibility, the notion of laws continuing to hold, even in the absence of the Mind which produced them, seems incoherent. Some people liken the laws of Nature to switches which can be set at the beginning of time, and which do not change their settings unless someone changes them. But the problem with this analogy is that switches themselves only work because of underlying laws. Moreover, switch settings (on or off) supervene upon observable empirical facts. Laws don’t. Laws are more fundamental than observations; they are a condition of our being able to make observations at all. Moreover, if laws are genuinely normative, then they must be mind-dependent. This seems to suggest that the Designer of the laws of our universe didn’t just set them up; He actively conserves them, even now.

The wording of statement 1 might suggest that there is a single Designer, as the very specification that characterizes the laws of our universe (“life-friendly”) contains an implicit appeal to a single objective: making a universe whose laws are ideal for living things in general. However, statement 1 does not rule out the possibility of a team of designers working together in order to achieve this aim.

Statement 1 does not say whether the Designer causes – let alone intends – all events occurring in our universe. It simply says that the Designer causes the scientific laws and principles which make our universe the kind of universe that it is.

Statement 1 does not affirm or deny the truth of classical theism. It is however perfectly compatible with classical theism.

Statement 1 does not say whether or not the Designer maintains the universe in being. The fine-tuning argument is an argument about form – in particular, about formal statements (laws) which hold true of our universe as a whole. The fine-tuning argument aims to discover the First Cause of these forms, which it identifies with an Intelligent Designer. However, the fine-tuning argument is perfectly compatible with the metaphysical assumption – which many classical theists would want to make – that whatever is responsible for the most fundamental formal features that characterize our universe must also be responsible for its being.

The fine-tuning argument does not treat of matter as such; it is an argument relating to form. I have to say that I regard the notion of pre-existing matter or “chaos” that can exist without any kind of form as utterly unintelligible; however, the fine-tuning argument says nothing one way or the other on the matter. Thus statement 1 does not assume that the Designer acts like a Demiurge, bending pre-existing matter to His will, when making the laws of our universe. On the other hand, a Platonist who believed in the myth of the Timaeus would find nothing to object to in the fine-tuning argument.

The fine-tuning argument makes very minimal assumptions regarding extrinsic finality: that the laws of the universe are ideal (not perfect) for living things in general. (See my discussion of statement 4 below.) Regarding intrinsic finality, the fine-tuning argument assumes (see my discussion of statement 3 below) that physical entities – whether they be envisaged as particles or fields – have a built-in tendency to behave in accordance with certain laws, but it in no way assumes that these laws are future-directed. In other words, the fine-tuning argument assumes a fairly modest version of intrinsic finality, which no contemporary scientist would find objectionable. As regards the intrinsic finality of living things themselves, the fine-tuning argument acknowledges the obvious facts that the parts of living things benefit the whole, and that genetic programs in organisms regulate their development. (See my discussion of statement 4 below.)

Statement 1 does not say whether the Intelligent Designer has a body or not. If Nick Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis is true, then He would, as Bostrom’s Designer is an alien. If the Designer does have some sort of “body”, then it must be outside our space and time – but see my remarks below on transcendence, which point to an incorporeal Designer if we follow the philosophical chain of argumentation to its end.

Statement 1 does not say whether the Designer is simple or complex. Professor Richard Dawkins’ argument that an Intelligent Designer would itself be extremely complex, and hence highly improbable, is a flawed one, as one could argue that it is the emergence of (specified) complexity which is inherently improbable, not its existence as such. Moreover, Dawkins’ argument relies on purely inductive logic, based purely on observations made in this universe, to support its two claims that (a) designers are typically more complex than the objects they design, and (b) that the very existence of complex entities is highly improbable. Perhaps these sweeping claims do not hold true, outside our universe. Alternatively, if (as classical theists would argue), the existence of any complex entity requires a causal explanation, the Designer of the universe may not need to be complex: perhaps He has a simple Mind, difficult though this may be for us to conceive.

Statement 1 does not claim that the Designer is transcendent. However, if one accepts the philosophical axiom that that an infinite regress of explanations explains nothing, and combines this with the fine-tuning argument that any kind of multiverse must have been designed, one will draw the inference that the Designer must be outside any kind of multiverse – and hence transcendent, vis-à-vis matter, and therefore incorporeal, and not composed of any quantitative parts. But that’s a philosophical conclusion, not a scientific one.

Finally, statement 1 does not say whether the Designer is omniscient, omnipotent or omnibenevolent.

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2. The Designer is a Master Mathematician, who understands the laws and underlying principles of this universe, as well as the laws and underlying principles of other possible universes that He could have made.

Statement 2 does not say how the Designer grasps mathematics, or where His ideas reside. The fine-tuning argument is agnostic as to whether the Designer’s ideas somehow reside inside the Designer’s Mind, or whether they reside only in the entities that He has designed.

Statement 2 says that the Designer has a perfect grasp of the mathematics underlying the laws and principles of our own universe, and also those of other universes that He could have made.

Statement 2 does not say that the Designer knows all possible mathematical truths (which is a mathematically incoherent assertion, in any case).

Statement 2 does not say that the Designer understands all possible physical/mathematical theories, or for that matter all possible sets of laws. It simply says that He could have made other possible universes, and that He understands the physics and mathematics underlying the other possible universes that He could have made.

Statement 2 does not say that the Designer chose to make only one universe, from all the possible universes that He could have made. However, a choice of everything is not a choice; choice, by definition, selects some options and excludes others. Hence statement 2 does entail that there are some possible universes that the Designer could have made, but chose not to make. Moreover, statement 4 below entails that these “unmade” universes constitute the vast majority of possible universes.

Finally, statement 2 does not say that the Designer has perfect knowledge – let alone foreknowledge – of each and every event that occurs in our universe.

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3. Mathematical laws are part of the “warp and woof” of physical entities. If there were no laws, there would be no physical entities.

The word “entities” is meant to be understood in a very broad sense. By “entity”, I don’t necessarily mean an object with a fairly sharply defined location in space-time, like a cricket ball. A physical field which pervades the universe and exists at all times would still qualify as an “entity” under my definition, if its behavior can be described (at least in part) by laws. Of course, a quantum vacuum is an entity, since its behavior is mathematically describable.

Statement 3 is ontologically neutral, in that it neither affirms nor denies the validity of distinctions commonly made between substances and their accidents, things and their properties, and essences and their existences.

What statement 3 says is that laws are part of what makes a physical entity the kind of thing it is. In other words, occasionalism, which says that physical entities have no inherent “character” of their own, is false. Physical entities wouldn’t be real entities at all, unless they had at least an inherent tendency to behave in accordance with certain laws.

However, statement 3 does not say that physical entities are entirely defined by laws, and it does not say that physical entities and all their properties can be reduced to purely quantitative .properties, or that they can be completely described in the language of mathematics.

Statement 3 in no way entails that physical determinism is true. A fine-tuning proponent could maintain that the laws of Nature merely constrain the behavior of physical entities (think of laws such as, “No signal can travel faster than the speed of light”), without determining their behavior. (Indeed, this would be my own view, as I have argued that physical determinism would destroy freedom.)

Additionally, statement 3 does not say that all physical entities necessarily behave in accordance with laws at all times. We can never be sure that physical entities always behave in accordance with a finite set of mathematical rules, since the universe is not a closed system, if it has a Designer. We cannot be sure that the Designer never “manipulates” His universe, unless we know all of the Designer’s objectives. In fact, we only know one of these objectives (see statement 4 below).

Nevertheless, statement 3 does affirm that all physical entities have a built-in tendency to behave in accordance with the laws which characterize them. In other words, most physical entities behave in accordance with these laws, most of the time.

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4. The Designer made this universe because He wanted to make a universe whose laws are ideal for living things in general, and especially for intelligent life.

It should be noted that statement 4 does not tell us what life is. Within the Intelligent Design community, it is agreed that specified complexity is an essential feature of life in our universe. Specified complexity is a feature of patterns that can easily be described in just a few words, but which have either a very low or zero probability of arising as a result of unintelligent processes (which lack foresight). Additionally, the cell (which is generally capable of living independently, and which exhibits specified complexity at every level) is commonly regarded as the basic unit of life – at least, on our Earth.

There is no general agreement within the Intelligent Design community as to whether intrinsic finality is a fundamental defining feature of life, although many ID proponents would hold this view. Of course, nobody in the Intelligent Design community would deny that the parts of organisms serve a purpose in relation to the whole: hearts, for instance, are for pumping blood. Additionally, all organisms have a genetic program that regulates their development from the embryonic stage onwards. These are clearly teleological features of organisms, which tend to promote their well-being. However, whether and to what extent these teleological features of organisms are the product of their formal properties (e.g. their anatomical structure and their genome) remains an open question in the Intelligent Design community.

Intelligent Design advocates are sometimes accused of holding a mechanistic view of life. This is incorrect.; however, Intelligent Design does not shrink from describing the molecular parts of exquisitely purposeful biological systems in mechanical terms – especially when they are irreducibly complex or exhibit specified complexity.

Statement 4 does not entail that life should be common in our universe. We simply don’t know whether it’s possible for anyone to design a universe in which life is ubiquitous, so we can’t say whether life is common or exceedingly rare in our universe.

What statement 4 does say is that the laws of the universe are ideal to support life in general. But organisms don’t live on laws alone – they also need a habitat, such as our Earth. Of course, there is no guarantee that even a suitable habitat for life will actually contain life. (Life can survive on Mars, but the planet may well be lifeless.)

With the exception of the very first organism, statement 4 does not imply that the Designer intends either the coming into existence or continuation in existence of any individual organism, or species of organism – be it bacteria, dinosaurs, mosquitoes or even Homo sapiens. The fine-tuning argument is agnostic on this subject. (However, the frequency with which species die out suggests that species preservation is not high on the Designer’s list of priorities.)

Additionally, Intelligent Design proponents regularly infer that certain systems and structures found inside the cell are the product of design, because they exhibit the property of specified complexity. Saying that a complex system is the product of design is however different from saying that an entire organism is the product of design.

Statement 4 in no way implies, though, that the organisms in our universe, or their parts, are optimally designed.

Additionally, statement 4 does not say that the Designer cares about individual organisms, or even about this or that species. It simply says that the Designer wants to make a universe in which life in general – including intelligent life – is capable of flourishing, and that He chose an ideal set of laws for accomplishing this end.

Moreover, statement 4 does not say that the Designer cares about individual sentient animals (or sentient species of animals). Nor does it say that He cares about intelligent beings, or even intelligent species. In particular, statement 4 does not say that the Designer would never let intelligent life-forms (such as human beings) die out. The fine-tuning argument simply doesn’t answer that question. However, a fine-tuning proponent might well hold that any planet which is capable of supporting life – especially intelligent life – would have certain natural built-in “checks and balances” that would tend to preserve the biosphere, once life had appeared.

From statement 4, we can infer that the Designer intends that life should appear at some time in the history of the universe, but we cannot make any inferences as to how the first life should appear. Statement 4 does not say whether the laws and initial conditions of the universe are sufficient to bring about the emergence of life (as in the “front-loading” scenario), or whether the Designer still needs to “reach into” the universe in order to create the first life, because there is no set of laws and initial conditions that is reliably capable of producing life. Even on the latter scenario, however, the universe would still be tailor-made for life in general to flourish, once life had been produced.

It needs to be emphasized that statement 4 does not say that we live in the best possible universe for life. Rather, what it says is that the laws of our cosmos are extremely favorable for life, when compared to those of most other universes that the Designer could have made. There may be a few other possible universes, whose laws are just as favorable to life as the laws of our own universe.

Could there be other possible universes, whose laws are even more favorable to life than the laws of our own universe? There might be, and the Designer might have made some of these universes, too.

If we can imagine a “landscape of laws”, it is possible (for all we know) that our own universe is situated at a global maximum (i.e. we have the best possible set of laws for life), or a local maximum (i.e. we have the best possible set of laws for life among all the universes in our neighborhood), or a local plateau (i.e. we have the equal-best possible set of laws for life among all the universes in our immediate vicinity, but others further away have much worse laws), or for that matter, a global plateau. I would however be very surprised if our universe were merely situated somewhere on the slope of a “hill” – unless it turned out to be an asymptotic hill that went upwards forever, with no peak (think of the curve y = 1/x).

Finally, statement 4 does not tell us whether the Intelligent Designer of the laws of our universe is the same Being as the Designer of the first living organism in our universe. For instance, a fine-tuning proponent could suppose that another intelligent being outside our universe (let’s call Him Designer 2) actually produced the first living cell in our universe, working under the supervision of the Designer of the laws of our universe (let’s call Him Designer 1).

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5. The Designer is reliably capable of making a universe with the laws He wants it to have.

Statement 5 does not say that the Designer is omnipotent. What it says is that if the Designer chooses to make a universe with certain laws, in order to realize His end of making a universe which is ideal for life (see statement 4 above), then nothing and no-one is capable of stopping Him from making that universe. In other words, nothing can thwart His intentions when he is designing laws.

However, statement 5 does not say that the Designer’s aims cannot be thwarted in other areas. It might be, for instance, that certain life-forms on Earth were designed in a particular way by the Designer, and then interfered with by other (malevolent or mischievous) intelligent agents. What statement 5 asserts is that even if such agents exist, they must operate within the constraints of the laws of the universe.

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From the foregoing remarks, it should be clear that there is only so much that the fine-tuning argument can tell us about the Designer of life and the universe. This is because the fine-tuning argument is a purely scientific argument, based on abductive reasoning, which merely seeks to address the question of whether the fundamental explanatory principle of this universe is the law-governed behavior of inanimate physical entities, or the free choices of an Intelligent Agent(s) who selected the laws that characterize our universe. If one wants to go further, and learn more about the nature of the Designer, one would be well-advised to examine the metaphysical arguments for God’s existence. .Here are a few good articles and resources:

Job Opening; Creator of the Universe by Professor Paul Herrick.

Background reading: Lecture notes and bibliography from Dr. Koons’ Western Theism course (Phil. 356). Highly recommended. Dr. Koons’ lecture notes provide an excellent overview of the cosmological argument, as well as replies to philosophical criticisms.

Is the Cause of the Universe an Uncaused, Personal Creator of the Universe, who sans the Universe Is Beginningless, Changeless, Immaterial, Timeless, Spaceless, and Enormously Powerful? by Professor William Lane Craig, in response to a reader’s question.

Classical theism by Professor Edward Feser.

Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide by Professor Edward Feser. Paperback. Oneworld, Oxford, 2009.

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I hope my post answers the skeptics’ questions regarding the assumptions the fine-tuning argument makes about the nature, mind and objectives of the Intelligent Designer of the universe.

One Reply to “What assumptions does the fine-tuning argument make about the Designer?

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    of somewhat related note:

    I think it is fairly clear that He (the Designer) would have to be infinite in knowledge, and power, to ’cause’ just one single photon to collapse from its quantum wave state to its particle state;

    Quantum Computing – Stanford Encyclopedia
    Excerpt: Theoretically, a single qubit can store an infinite amount of information, yet when measured (and thus collapsing the Quantum Wave state) it yields only the classical result (0 or 1),,,
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entr.....tcomp/#2.1

    Single photons to soak up data:
    Excerpt: the orbital angular momentum of a photon can take on an infinite number of values. Since a photon can also exist in a superposition of these states, it could – in principle – be encoded with an infinite amount of information.
    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/7201

    Ultra-Dense Optical Storage – on One Photon
    Excerpt: Researchers at the University of Rochester have made an optics breakthrough that allows them to encode an entire image’s worth of data into a photon, slow the image down for storage, and then retrieve the image intact.
    http://www.physorg.com/news88439430.html

    Explaining Information Transfer in Quantum Teleportation: Armond Duwell †‡ University of Pittsburgh
    Excerpt: In contrast to a classical bit, the description of a (photon) qubit requires an infinite amount of information. The amount of information is infinite because two real numbers are required in the expansion of the state vector of a two state quantum system (Jozsa 1997, 1) — Concept 2. is used by Bennett, et al. Recall that they infer that since an infinite amount of information is required to specify a (photon) qubit, an infinite amount of information must be transferred to teleport.
    http://www.cas.umt.edu/phil/fa.....lPSA2K.pdf

    Double Slit Experiment – Explained By Prof Anton Zeilinger – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/6101627/

    Wheeler’s Classic Delayed Choice Experiment:
    Excerpt: Now, for many billions of years the photon is in transit in region 3. Yet we can choose (many billions of years later) which experimental set up to employ – the single wide-focus, or the two narrowly focused instruments. We have chosen whether to know which side of the galaxy the photon passed by (by choosing whether to use the two-telescope set up or not, which are the instruments that would give us the information about which side of the galaxy the photon passed). We have delayed this choice until a time long after the particles “have passed by one side of the galaxy, or the other side of the galaxy, or both sides of the galaxy,” so to speak. Yet, it seems paradoxically that our later choice of whether to obtain this information determines which side of the galaxy the light passed, so to speak, billions of years ago. So it seems that time has nothing to do with effects of quantum mechanics. And, indeed, the original thought experiment was not based on any analysis of how particles evolve and behave over time – it was based on the mathematics. This is what the mathematics predicted for a result, and this is exactly the result obtained in the laboratory.
    http://www.bottomlayer.com/bot.....choice.htm

    And of course all this leads us back to this question. “What does our conscious observation have to do with anything in collapsing the wave function of the photon in the double slit experiment and in the universe?”, and furthermore “What is causing the quantum waves to collapse from their ‘higher dimension’ in the first place since we humans are definitely not the ones who are causing the photon waves to collapse to their ‘uncertain 3D wave/particle’ state?” With the refutation of the materialistic ‘hidden variable’ argument and with the patent absurdity of the materialistic ‘Many-Worlds’ hypothesis, then I can only think of one sufficient explanation for quantum wave collapse to photon;

    Psalm 118:27
    God is the LORD, who hath shown us light:,,,

    In the following article, Physics Professor Richard Conn Henry is quite blunt as to what quantum mechanics reveals to us about the ‘primary cause’ of our 3D reality:

    Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger by Richard Conn Henry – Physics Professor – John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the “illusion” of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case, since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism (solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist). (Dr. Henry’s referenced experiment and paper – “An experimental test of non-local realism” by S. Gröblacher et. al., Nature 446, 871, April 2007 – “To be or not to be local” by Alain Aspect, Nature 446, 866, April 2007
    http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/aspect.html

    In conjunction with the mathematical, and logical, necessity of an ‘Uncaused Cause’ to explain the beginning of the universe, in philosophy it has been shown that,,,

    “The ‘First Mover’ is necessary for change occurring at each moment.”
    Michael Egnor – Aquinas’ First Way
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....first.html

    I find this centuries old philosophical argument, for the necessity of a ‘First Mover’ accounting for change occurring at each moment, to be validated by quantum mechanics. This is since the possibility for the universe to be considered a self-sustaining ‘closed loop’ of cause and effect is removed with the refutation of the ‘hidden variable’ argument, as first postulated by Einstein, in entanglement experiments. As well, there also must be a sufficient transcendent cause (God/First Mover) to explain quantum wave collapse for ‘each moment’ of the universe.

    etc.. etc..

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