Fine tuning and consciousness

0. Introduction

The fine-tuning argument begins with the observation of fine-tuning, which is the phenomena that if the values of the parameters in fundamental physics were varied by even a tiny amount, the universe would be inhospitable. As Craig puts it:

“If the gravitational constant had been out of tune by just one of these infinitesimally small increments, the universe would either have expanded and thinned out so rapidly that no stars could form and life couldn’t exist, or it would have collapsed back on itself with the same result: no stars, no planets, no life.”

This couldn’t merely be a product of chance, as the chances are so remote. Neither could it be a matter of necessity, as it seems paradigmatically contingent. Thus, it must be the result of design; it must be the product of some intentional process by the designer of the universe.

Here I want to point out a move that is made in a certain part of the argument, and a concession that it tacitly requires which rules out the conclusion.

  1. Minds and brains

It seems pretty certain that if one varied the values of some of the fundamental physical parameters, the result would be a universe that was inhospitable to complex physical objects, like our bodies. Let’s set aside the question of whether ‘life’ with radically different types of bodies could exist in these weird circumstances. Let’s assume that the answer to this is also: no. Let’s just grant for the sake of the argument that the only situations in which they could occur is in situations very similar to this one.

I think that even when we have made these concessions, what we have established is that physical objects, of a certain complexity, could not exist if we altered the value of gravity, by even a tiny amount, for the sorts of reasons Craig outlines above.

But at this stage there may be a response here along the following lines. Showing that physical objects like brains could not exist in these circumstances, one might think, does not show that minds could not exist in these circumstances. After all, one might believe that the mind and the body are distinct. One might be a substance dualist, or an idealist, for example. One might believe that the soul continues to exist after the demise of the body, either by being reincarnated in a new body or by existing in an immaterial realm, like heaven. If one held any of these views, then merely showing that brains couldn’t exist if gravity were different would not establish that minds could not exist in those circumstances. After all, minds can exist without bodies (or so the substance dualist, idealist or believer in the afterlife, will maintain).

The FTA argument at this stage would have an inferential step in it that looks like this:

  1. Complex physical objects (like brains) could not exist if gravity were different
  2. Therefore, minds could not exist if gravity were different

The dualist (or idealist, etc) is merely pointing out that the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise. If minds can exist without bodies, then 1 can be true even if 2 is false. Thus, the inference is invalid.

What is required to bridge the gap from the claim that complex physical objects couldn’t exist in circumstance C, to the claim that minds could not exist in circumstance C, is the further premise that minds could not exist without bodies. Then the argument would become:

  1. Complex physical objects (like brains) could not exist if gravity were different
  2. Minds cannot exist without complex physical objects (like brains)
  3. Therefore, minds could not exist if gravity were different.

Without the new second premise, all fine-tuning established (even if we grant everything the apologist says about fine-tuning) is that brains could not exist if things were different. If minds can exist without bodies, then minds can exist regardless of the values of the fundamental parameters of physics. This would mean that the existence of minds is independent from the fine-tuning of the universe. Thus, for the FTA to be considered successful, we seem to be required to hold that minds depend on complex physical objects (like brains).

2. The importance of minds

Minds, as opposed to brains, we might think, are what is really important to God’s overall plan behind the design. Most forms of traditional theism hold that people are judged by God either by their works (whether they perform moral or immoral actions) or on the basis of their acceptance of Jesus as their personal saviour (the faith they have in Jesus). But it is minds that have the capacity to form intentions, which can be either moral or immoral. It is minds that can form the belief that Jesus is the saviour of the human race. It seems that all that is needed for this, on either the works or faith account, is that minds exist. And if that is the case, then the physical constants of the universe are irrelevant to this larger design. The existence of the physical universe doesn’t even seem to be required at all. In Berkeley’s idealism, for example, there are just minds, and no physical bodies at all. Yet, he thought that in this setting the divine judgement of human agent’s behaviour still makes sense. Faith in God and Jesus still makes sense for Berkeley, even though he thought that there was no physical universe (including physical brains) at all.

So for fine-tuning to have any relevance at all here, the apologist seems to have to insist that minds could not exist without bodies. Then, the fact that bodies (in particular brains) could not exist if physics were slightly different would also mean that minds also could not exist in those circumstances. And that would mean that moral assessments would be impossible, and so would the assessment of the level of faith that a person has, and with it the realisation of the whole divine plan would be impossible.

So the apologist wants to say something like this: look, God wants to have free agents who make moral choices, and have faith in Jesus (etc), and if gravity were even slightly different this would be impossible. That’s why it’s reasonable to infer design behind the fine-tuning.

3. Implications

Now, it seems to me that already there is a tension here. The proponent of the FTA seems to have to insist that brains are required for minds to exist. Otherwise, there argument doesn’t seem to have any relevance for the designed plan. Yet, if they do make this insistence, then they cannot consistently also maintain that there is an immaterial afterlife. You cannot say both that minds require brains, but that minds can exist even after the brain does not. If minds require brains, then you cannot have one without the other.

But the problem is deeper than this. Maybe the apologist will shrug this off somehow. Maybe in the afterlife we do have physical bodies of some sort (perfect ones, perhaps). But unless they want to say the same about God’s mind, they seem to be in a tricky situation. In this video clip, Craig affirms his belief that God is an immaterial yet intentional being. In doing so, he is making a very standard claim about God. God is, in some sense, a mind, but does not have a body (he is immaterial).

But this is precisely the sort of thing that our premise 2, which was required for the argument to go through, rules out. Just as you cannot rule out minds existing without the body, and then go on to affirm an immaterial afterlife, you also cannot rule out minds existing without the body and then go on to affirm that the universe was designed by an immaterial mind. If minds require bodies, then there are no minds without bodies, including God’s.

Thus, the proponent of the FTA is in a dilemma. Either minds can exist without bodies, in which case the physical fine-tuning of the universe is irrelevant to the existence of agents that God is interested in, or they cannot exist without bodies, in which case God (a mind without a body) cannot exist. Either fine-tuning is irrelevant, or God does not exist.

3 thoughts on “Fine tuning and consciousness”

    1. Awesome. I was unaware of this paper, but the argument is very similar to the idea I had. It’s always nice to find a published paper with an idea I had independently 🙂 I might see if he wants to come on the podcast. Thanks for the reference.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Yeah, the fine-tuning argument gets the data completely backwards. If anything, it’s an argument against God. God doesn’t need to fine-tune anything. Not to mention, it’s still not entirely clear why God would fine-tune a universe.

    Robin Collins pretty much grants that the fine-tuning argument assumes moral realism. But the argument was originally supposed to be an argument based on science!

    Plantinga also argues that the fine-tuning argument isn’t as strong as some apologists think, and Draper argues that the fine-tuning argument commits the fallacy of understated evidence.

    I can’t help but think the argument is the most overrated argument for theism…ever

    Liked by 1 person

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