On a Quick Thought about Fine-Tuning and God’s Motivation

I am reading Gary Gutting’s interview with Tim Maudlin for The Stone. The focus of the discussion is on modern cosmology and its implications for theistic belief. In their exchange, Gutting makes reference to God’s motivations (namely, not assuming we know God’s motivations) as responses to points made by Maudlin. The first use made sense to me; however, the second use seemed to undermine the force of the fine-tuning argument.

Here’s the first use:

Maudlin: No one looking at the vast extent of the universe and the completely random location of homo sapiens within it (in both space and time) could seriously maintain that the whole thing was intentionally created for us. This realization began with Galileo, and has only intensified ever since.

Gutting: I don’t see why the extent of the universe and our nonprivileged spatio-temporal position within it says anything about whether we have some special role in the universe. The major monotheistic religions maintain that there is a special spiritual relationship between us and the creator. But that doesn’t imply that this is the only purpose of the universe or that we’re the only creatures with a special relationship to the creator.

Here, I think Gutting makes a very good point. When we note something like the apparent fine-tuning needed for intelligent life, one explanation is that a designer manipulated things such that intelligent life would arise. It makes sense to look at the universe and suggest that the universe wasn’t fine-tuned for us because the universe doesn’t show any special preference for us except that we can exist within it (e.g., it is vast, we aren’t at the center of it). Gutting’s point, highlighted above, is that intelligent life may not have been God’s sole purpose for creating the universe, so things like the vastness of the universe or our non-privileged position may be the result of some other of God’s objectives.

This is a perfectly good response. We may not know all of God’s motivations, so these concerns may only be apparent. They may not be actual problems for the ‘God as fine-tuner’ argument.

Here is the second use (sorry, this will involve more extensive quoting, but I want to keep context):

Gutting: …Some theists have appealed to scientific cosmology to argue that there’s a “fine-tuning” of physical constants that shows that the universe is designed to support living beings and, in particular, humans. It’s said, for example, that if the ratio of the mass of the neutron to the mass of the proton were just slightly different, there couldn’t be sufficient structure to allow for the existence of organisms like us.

Maudlin: At this point, our physical theories contain quite a large number of “constants of nature,” of which we have no deeper account. There seem to be more of them than most physicists are comfortable with, and we don’t know for sure whether these “constants” are really constant rather than variable. This gives rise to questions about “fine-tuning” of these constants. One thing to keep in mind is that the true number and status of the “constants of nature” is not part of any well-established physical theory: It is part of what we don’t yet know rather than what we do know.

Gutting: So are you saying that we don’t know enough about the relevant constants to get a theistic argument started?

Maudlin: Yes, since we don’t even know if the “constants” are constant, we certainly don’t know enough to draw any conclusions about the best account of why they have the particular values they have right now and around here. Since we don’t know how the various “constants” might be related to each other by deeper physics, the game of trying to figure out the effect of changing just one and leaving the rest alone also is not well founded.

One thing is for sure: If there were some deity who desired that we know of its existence, there would be simple, clear ways to convey that information. I would say that any theistic argument that starts with the constants of nature cannot end with a deity who is interested in us knowing of its existence.

Gutting: Once again, that’s assuming we are good judges of how the deity would behave. But suppose that a surprisingly narrow range of the relevant constants turns out to be necessary for humans to exist. Some critics would say that even so, cosmological inflation would provide a satisfactory explanation with no reference to a creator. What’s your view on that?

The comment from Gutting that I’ve highlighted is about Maudlin’s suggestion that fine-tuning is not a good way for God to make His existence known. In response to this point, Gutting is fine to suggest that we are not good judges of God’s motivations. However, doesn’t the whole fine-tuning argument rest on a judgement of God’s motivations?

The fine-tuning argument suggests that, among any number of motivations, one of those motivations was that intelligent life would arise in this universe. This is evidenced by the idea that the likelihood of intelligent life arising in this universe is so unlikely, it must have been the motivation of an intelligence. But, if we’re not good judges of God’s motivations, haven’t we undercut the whole argument? How can we even say intelligent life was one of God’s motivations? If it isn’t, then the apparent fine-tuning is irrelevant.

This doesn’t even eliminate the possibility of a god existing. Perhaps God created the universe for some other purpose entirely, and intelligent life was an accident. Perhaps, there is a God that could create the universe and fine-tune it for life, wants to create the universe and fine-tune it for life, but just hasn’t done it. But, by coincidence, a universe arose through natural means that was fine-tuned for intelligent life. If we aren’t good judges of God’s motivations, I don’t know how our perception of fine-tuning can differentiate between these various scenarios, and all of these scenarios include a god.  However, the last one is indistinguishable with atheism. So, if we’re not good judges of God’s motivations, we simply can’t propose God as an explanation for apparent fine-tuning. We don’t have the epistemic warrant.

It seems to me, if the fine-tuning argument is to carry any weight, it requires that we be reasonably decent judges of God’s motivations. If we are reasonably decent judges of God’s motivations, then we can offer critiques of God’s motivations/behaviors. Gutting was correct to point out that we may be missing something such that our critiques are misguided, but I’m not sure one can say we’re poor judges of God’s motivations while maintaining the fine-tuning argument.

Thoughts? Am I way off?

Other thoughts:

Two posts in one day? Nonsense.

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