Saturday, 4 October 2014

Objections against the Fine Tuning argument-1


Like 99.999999% of the universe is completely uninhabitable. Even on the sole habitable planet (earth), the vast majority of its surface is saltwater, volcanoes, arid deserts. Where is this "fine-tuning" you refer to?


The objector has equivocated "fine-tuning" with "perfection". The argument doesn't state that the universe is "perfect" for habitability, but just that it is enough for complex life to evolve. It's like saying the light bulb isn't designed because it gets too hot to hold, or that the wristwatch isn't designed because it doesn't cook me supper. The objection, therefore, is a complete straw man.
Additionally, one can think of adequate motivations on the part of the designer to create the universe the way He did. "Efficiency is the cost of regularity"- goes the engineering principle. So in order to create a regular, law-governed, understandable universe, some patches of it must display inefficiency. Now creating a regular, self-sustaining (to an extent) universe is a great engineering virtue. As the old parable by Henry Ward Beecher goes: If an oriental rug is evidence of the crafter's skill, then isn't the power-loom- which creates beautiful rugs of infinite lengths constantly- an even greater evidence of design? "Design by wholesale is greater than design by retail"- summed up Beecher. Think about how grand the system is- an entire universe based off of just a few fundamental laws of physics, which could be written down on just one page. Isn't that a great design achievement over a non-regular universe, where the Creator had to intervene every now and then to keep order? This is why Leibniz laughed at Newton's cosmology- which posited God as an efficient principle who would have to intervene in His creation in order to keep the planets in orbit. This is not an argument against Divine Intervention proper, however, just against the idea that an ideal Designer should constantly intervene in His creation to keep it from going off the rails.
There is another very significant motivation to maintain a seemingly self-sustaining universe on the part of the Designer- which is traditionally known as the doctrine of Divine Hiddenness. In a universe where God constantly interfered, His creative action would be so obvious that everyone would be compelled to believe. The "test" aspect of belief would be gone- which requires sincere seeking on part of the believer. No matter how virtuous or vicious, everyone would believe in God with the same certainty. In revealed theology as well, we see Prophets not performing miracles too explicit that the people will have absolutely no choice but to believe. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), for instance, while gifted with a number of miracles, never gave in to the desires of the people who asked for the desert to become green, or their dead ancestors to be resurrected, or mountains to be turned into gold (the major exception was the splitting of the moon). All of this is to preserve Divine Hiddenness, which allows for a coherent test to be attached to belief. This is why God most commonly acts through the instrumentality of nature, keeping His creative action veiled and non-obvious, as opposed to intervening all the while to break the regularity of the universe. Of course, the idea is that the sincere, contemplative seeker would be able to look beyond the veil and discover God.
In conclusion, the argument that the universe isn't "perfect" and therefore there is no fine-tuning is just misplaced, since the argument doesn't even make that claim to begin with. Even apart from that, we have independent reasons to believe why God would make an ostensibly "imperfect" (note scare quotes) universe. The objection is dead in the water.


  1. Hassan,

    Your first paragraph perfectly debunks the the standard objection to the fine tuning argument. I had been confused by it but your presentation is compelling.

    But I have some observations on the rest of your post.

    I would be on Newton's side regarding divine interference. Under an occasionalist metaphysic, reality does not endure from moment to moment and so God 'interferes' at every moment to allow for the percieved persistence of reality. Thus reality is completely dependent on divine providence to prevent its exnihilation.

    We don't see God's interference because it's ALL interference. The regularity of nature as adumbrated in physical laws is merely the consistency of God's acts as He does not act from whim but according to His Wisdom.

    As for the notion of a perfect world; it already exists - it's called heaven. Thus inefficiency is not inherent in at least one engineered structure.

    As for the notion of Divine Hiddenness, it would seem to contradict the very notion of miracles as authenticating signs of prophetic veracity: their breaking of the regularity of nature compels immediate accepatance of the truth of a Prophey's claim. That is how they are portrayed in the Bible and Qur'an: when Moses' staff turned into an actual snake and consumed the illusionary snakes of Pharoah's magicians, they were immediately compelled by simple intellectual insight (and not philosophic reflection) to accept Moses' words - Pharaoh witnessed the same event, had the same insight but is condemmed because he refused to accept the conseqience of that insight.

    The more I reflect on the matter, the more I agree with the mystics: God is not hidden; most of us are blind.

    1. Assalamu 'alaikum MH,

      I agree- the second response would probably not work on an occasionalist metaphysic, but then again I'm not an occasionalist. I do believe substances have powers (and liabilities), but God co-acts with them which preserves both Divine as well as substance causality. Now this primary vs. secondary causation relation is something mysterious, and I really don't know how to make sense of it (although there has been some work in contemporary metaphysics along these lines, but I haven't perused the literature in that much detail). Not that I mind though, everything about God is mysterious.

      As for Divine hiddenness, there are two ways of getting around the objection you raise- one, to think of miracles as exceptions to the general rule, and two- admit that even in the face of miracles, some obstinate people may have apparently "rational" excuses. Think of Abu Jahl's response when the moon split in front of his eyes, or Pharaoh's response when all his magicians submitted to God. In both those cases, the miracle was extremely clear- but not so much to "compel" people to believe. Also, take note of how the Qur'an says that people pass by the signs of God but don't notice them- that means on one hand God has made His existence accessible, but not compellingly or obviously so (which explains the existence of atheists!). Additionally, note that the hiddenness I talk about is not of God's existence, but of God's actions at every moment.

      My personal view on the matter is that God's existence is indeed very clear, but as Ibn Taymiyya (may God's mercy be upon him) said- the force of the Fitrah may be blunted by outside influences. I think we are living at a time when these outside influences are very rampant. That's why we're even having these conversations, and that's why I have this blog. Given a normally operating Fitrah, none of this would be necessary. At any rate, this doesn't take away from God's *relative* hiddenness- even if it is clear to me that God exists, it's not clear enough to compel everyone to believe, and that's what my point is.

  2. For my part, I see as if through "a mirror, darkly" but have faith in a trustworthy guide, may God bless him and shower him with peace.

  3. Assalamu alaykum Hassan,

    I am surprised to learn that you accept secondary causality and would appreciate reading your reasons if you have the time. My reaction on first reading Ghazali on causality was "Oh, how obvious!" and fail to see how an alternative understanding of causality can be religiously 'satisfying' unless part of a larger epistemic project. To me the hawqala is to be taken literally.

    As you have read Ibn Taymiya, is your based on your readings of his work?

    As for Divine Hiddenness, I cannot see how it can be an Islamically tenable position given a straight forward reading of the Quran. There is no concept in the Quran or first generational Islam of the innocent kafir once the message was conveyed to them along with a certifying miracle.

    Contrary to what you write earlier, my view is that Abu Jahl, Abu Lahab, Pharoah and other confirmed kafir were intellectually convicted by their witness of the truth of prophecy - and are condemmed because they rejected the truth that was in their hearts. The

    Otherwise, under a doctrine of divine hiddeness, they along famously with Bertrand Russell would be able to argue reasonably against God that they shouldn't be condemmed to eternal torment for making an intellectual error.

    Punishment for disbelief is for a moral failing - not an an intellectual one.

    Of course, under Asharism those who haven't been reached by a clear message can be said to be excused, and societal influences that rust over a properly functioning fitra can be mitigating factors, but that is different from a concept of Divine Hiddenness.

    Going back to our atheist Harvard proffessor of philosophy of religion, would he be able to argue Divine Hiddenness to escape God"s censure regarding his atheism after a professional lifetime considering arguments for His existence?

    Would his colleague in the Department of Religious Study be able to argue lack of compelling evidence for his rejection of the Prophet after spending his whole professional career studying him?

    It is a difficult matter and we are not privvy to the workings of people's hearts and only Allah jalla wa 'alaa can make that judgement.

    The Maturidis would totally reject a olea of ignorance and hold that every competent adult adult has tge wherewithall to discern God's existence.

    Just some of my thoughts.

    1. Wa 'alaikumussalam MH,

      I think we actually agree on the Divine Hiddenness problem, just have different ways of expressing ourselves. I don't think someone who has been properly exposed to Islam has any intellectual excuse for not believing in it, which you and I agree on. But where you and I seem to differ is whether the impact of this exposure compels one to believe or not. Clearly the answer is no. If the existence of God was as clear as the proposition that "there is no pink elephant in my room right now"- the belief would be obvious. People would have no choice but to believe. I completely agree that disbelief in Islam is a moral failing, but the moral failing to believe only makes sense if the belief isn't obvious. See with an obvious belief, you don't have a choice in not believing it, so ethics doesn't even become relevant. As Craig and Moreland points out in their Philosophical Foundations book, even if I gave you a million dollars, you would still not be able to sincerely believe that there is a pink elephant in your room. I'm just saying religious belief, in order for the test to be meaningful, *has* to be less obvious and less compelling (in the literary sense of the term) than something like that.

      Scenarios you present are interesting, but as you point out- it's difficult to know what goes on in the hearts of men. The general principle though is that belief in God, while intellectually provable with clarity, isn't obvious or compelling the way I define it. Given that fact, the defense of God working through the instrumentality of nature makes sense, so does the Prophets' refusal to perform too many miracles.

      I must confess I am not very knowledgeable about causation, my view of causation is based on my reading of some contemporary philosophers.

  4. Aoa,

    Yes, I don't think we're too far spart. However, regardimg your point:

    but the moral failing to believe only makes sense if the belief isn't obvious. See with an obvious belief, you don't have a choice in not believing it, so ethics doesn't even become relevant."

    I would disagree because I think our common moral sence is that Moral culpability and censure is vitiated in the presence of epistemologic uncertainty.

    I hate using examples but let me try: imagine you were to recieve a court summons tommorow saying you had driven thru a stop sign. But as part of your defense you proved that the local council/authorities had negligently allowed a large tree to overgrow and completley obscure the sign from the view of drivers. Even if the court ruled on the letter of the law and fined you for a technical breach, would you feel morally culpable?

    I suggest most if not all people would not.

    Likewise, how can someone be morally blameworthy for lacking belief in God when God has so arranged that persons epistemological environment such that the truth of His ecistence is veiled/hidden/occluded?

    Surely, a moral failng is one entered into with a soundly functioning cognitive apparatus in an epistemological environment appropriately open to discovery.

    Or to put it more simply, how can Abu Lahab be condemmed to eternal punishment in hell when evidence for Islam's truth was less than "compelling"?

    Or perhaps your point is that the belief God's existence is not obvious but highly probable on reflection?

    But such a view needs to account for the extreme condemnation of nonbelievers in the Quran and the fact that the etymololgy of 'kafir" is one who covers up.

    Finalllu, what would be the purpose of miracles if they didn't provide compelling grounds for belief. I don't see how the analogy to being paid to believe something holds - miracles are not bribes and bribes do not have doxatic effects.

    BTW by "compelling" I don"t mean that it vitiates choice. Of course, freedom to choose is a sine qua non of any moral framework.

    I apologise if my reply is taking you off topic