The ugliness of a finely-tuned universe

While I am critical of Roderick Long in the previous post, I thought his critique of “fine tuning” arguments was quite good:

As for the claim that the universe is “fine-tuned” to support life, this claim presupposes that physical laws other than the present ones are possible. But as an Aristotelian, I reject any form of possibility other than “compatibility with the nature of the actual world.” Just as explanations make sense only within the realm of existence, so the distinction between possible and impossible does so too.

I’ve been bothered for a while that “fine tuning” arguments, since without assuming that nature is essentially chaos in need of order, there is simply nothing for God to tune up. Nature taken in this way is essentially chaotic, disordered, and unintelligible, and all that is chaotic, disordered and unintelligible is ugly.

Again, the essential disorder of the universe which is “tuned up” in fine tuning arguments is either purely logical, or it really belongs to nature. Taken the first way, there is no real fine tuning of the universe; taken in the second way it presupposes a sense of nature that no one has ever experienced. I certainly agree that if water did not expand when it froze that life would likely not arise, but I’ve never experienced water as undetermined to this state, and I have no reasons to assume that such water is possible. I agree that if molecule X had different forces, it would not be stable, but all my experiences with the molecule X show it with the forces it has. In fact, without these, it would simply not be what it is. This is also true of its parts, and the parts of those parts all the way down.

Fine tuning arguments play on one of the great blind-spots of modern thinkers- the muddling of logical and real possibility. The arguments can only swiftly reach a conclusion because we think we can go from imagining things happening in a different way to concluding that there is a real possibility that they could have been so. Descartes famously  muddles these two when he assumes he must take an evil deceiver as a real possibility (indeed the true original sin of modern thought is not “how do I know that I know?” but the more fundamental error of identifying logical and real possibility). Again, Analytic philosophers – especially the theists – are prone to make the same sort of mistake (Plantinga’s argument for mind-body dualism is a good example; so is the popular Analytic claim that God exists because he is possible; and  in general the interest one takes in the ontological argument is proportionate to the degree to which he muddles the diverse kinds of possibility… and talk about “possible worlds” is a category of its own in this confusion…)


  1. PatrickH said,

    October 27, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    But isn’t Prime Matter unintelligible? And doesn’t the Greek word for matter have the meaning of “chaos”? I don’t think fine-tuning arguments are really focused on God taking this messy clumsy thing and, well, fixing it, but rather infusing at the most basic level form into union with matter.

    I have my doubts about fine-tuning arguments, yes, but that’s because they seem to treat God as a “hypothesis” to “explain” things, with fine-tuning the “simpler” hypothesis compared to, say, the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach of the multiverse-mongers.

    But really, isn’t it the multiverse types, like Hawking most recently, who are the ones who conflate logical and real possibility? What with Hawking’s claims, for example, of some kind of primordial manifestation of every possible universe-type, this uber-manifestation somehow being whittled down this universe of ours by this sort of Feynmanesque sum-over-histories filter that drops off, maybe in a femtosecond or two, all those pesky unstable universe-configurations that don’t seem to have the capacity to make us possible?

  2. October 27, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    I take the point about prime matter, but no tuning argument I’ve ever read attains to this kind of real possibility in things. At any rate, believing in prime matter does not require one to hold that, say, strong nuclear force is really indeterminate and needed to be reined into the requisite 2% tolerance – which is a sine qua non of a tuning argument. It is not given that prime matter is the sort of thing that could support a SNF that was 2.1% stronger – and even if it were, we wouldn’t know this simply by imagining it.

    I’d be open to the idea that Hawking makes the same mistakes as his opponents, or worse ones. It’s possible.

  3. Paul Boire said,

    November 6, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    I especially liked your reminder of possible vs actual reality and the implication of some chaos God had to rein in to arrive at our reality. There were so many other things you could have said. 🙂

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