Recently, William Lane Craig debated atheist Michael Nugent in Ireland on the existence of God. One of the arguments that Dr. Craig employed was The Fine Tuning Argument for design. I’m going to assume that readers of this article already have some familiarity with the fine tuning, so in case you’re new to the God debate, or this website, or apologetics in general, I discuss The Fine Tuning Argument in this blog post here. In response to the Fine Tuning Argument, Nugent said the following:
“Theists believe that this God fine tuned the physical constants of the universe to allow life. But while these constants do allow life, they don’t seem to be related to that or indeed any purpose. And in any case, from a theist’s perspective, life doesn’t have anything to do with physical constants. It’s spiritual. It could exist alongside any sort of physical constants or even without any physical matter at all. The whole point of theism is that life is not bound to our physical bodies, or physical constants, but is spiritual in nature.”
This argument is one I’ve heard from atheists that I myself have encountered on the internet. In fact, it was even used by an atheist Hugh Ross debated on The Fine Tuning (though I forget the name of that atheist). What Nugent appears to be saying is that since, on Christian theism, man can exist as a mind without a body, as a spirit or ghost, then we need not have a finely tuned universe in order to exist. On the Christian worldview, life could have existed anyway no matter what kind of values the physical constants and quantities took. Everyone could have been created as just spirits. We all could run around as just bodyless ghosts. God didn’t need to finely tune the universe for us to exist.
I have to say, this is quite a poor argument (much like all of Nugent’s other arguments). The problem with this argument is that it doesn’t refute either premise of the fine tuning argument. Both premises of the argument still stand.
1: The Fine Tuning Of The Universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
2: It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
3: Therefore, it is due to design.
This is a logically valid syllogism since it takes the logical form “Disjunctive Syllogism”. Therefore, if the two premises are true, the conclusion follows logically and necessarily by the rules of logic. The only way to escape this argument’s conclusion is to prove that one of the two premises is false. Michael Nugent’s argument does not do this. His argument does not undermine the inference to design because it does not disprove either of the argument’s premises.
I don’t disagree with Michael’s premise (i.e that human beings can exist as disembodied spirits, and that a spirit has no need for a universe that has perfectly tweaked constants and quantities). The problem is that this fact does not entail the conclusion that he seems to think it does (i.e that the universe isn’t finely tuned by an intelligent Creator).
To see the point, consider this analogy: What if you and a friend were debating over whether your automobile was designed. You have three options: physical necessity, chance, and design. You rule out physical necessity and chance as being reasonable explanations. There’s nothing in the laws of nature that would physically force all of these mechanical parts to come together to make a functioning machine that you can use to travel from point A to point B. There’s no evidence that the laws of nature could do that. Moreover, you calculate that the odds are far too improbable that some chance event (e.g a tornado striking a junk yard and jumbling a bunch of parts together) could result in the car. So since neither physical necessity nor chance are good explanations for the origin of your car, you conclude (based on disjunctive syllogistic reasoning) that the car was designed by an intelligent agent.
But now suppose that your friend objects “Well, while these parts fitting together does allow you to get from point A to point B, you could still travel around town. You do own a bicycle right? You could ride that. In fact, you don’t even need any sort of contraption at all! You have legs! You can walk to wherever you want to go and back. We don’t need automobiles or bicycles to travel. Our legs can do the job just fine.”
Would your friend’s argument undermine your inference to design? Obviously not. Your two premises still stand, and therefore, so does your conclusion. The fact that you can walk from point A to point B does absolutely nothing to refute your claim that your car was designed by an intelligent engineer with the purpose in mind of traveling from point A to point B. Thinking that the fact that you don’t need a car to get where you want to go undermines the design inference is just silly. In the same way, just because human beings could exist as spirits and therefore “could exist alongside any sort of physical constants or even without any physical matter at all.” doesn’t do anything to undermine the inference that the constants and quantities of physics were designed.
Moreover, as I’ve said in a previous article, The Fine Tuning Argument doesn’t even argue that the universe was finely tuned with humanity’s existence in mind. While I do indeed believe that God made the universe for man, I don’t think The Fine Tuning proves that (I believe this based on different arguments), nor is that fact even required for the Fine Tuning Argument to be successful. All the argument does is show that intelligent design is the best explanation for the fine tuning, but it doesn’t go any farther than that. You can conclude “the fine tuning is the result of intelligent design” without making any judgment as to what the designer’s purpose was. Just as we can conclude that Stone Hinge was intelligently designed even though we have no idea what Stone Hinge’s purpose was.
In conclusion; Objections that argue that because God could have created the universe another way, or He could have made people in such a way that they wouldn’t need fine tuning, are not good rebuttals. This is because they do nothing to undermine either premise of the argument. Just as the argument “People don’t need cars to get from point A to point B, they have legs” is a bad objection to the the-car-is-designed argument, so Michael Nugent’s objection that “we can exist as spirits and ergo don’t need a finely tuned universe” doesn’t undermine The Fine Tuning Argument.