Comments on William Lane Craig’s Attempt to Rebut My Article on the Illusion of Fine-Tuning

Just this week I discovered that, on his website last August, William Lane Craig attempted to rebut my article on the fallacy of intelligent design. I suggest you read his rebuttal before going any further:

And for those who haven’t read my original piece, you might want to take a look at it here:

It is Craig’s typical strawmanning, equivocation and ad hominem lacking anything like an honest counterargument and presented in the form of a conversation between Craig and somebody named Kevin Harris. Before getting into the details, I would like to start with the rebuttal’s opening statement:

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, people send me articles, they send you articles, suggestions for podcasts. We get a lot from a gentleman named Jeffrey Williams. He’s got a blog called “Too late for the gods.” He’s got one that I thought we’d look at here called “The Illusion of Fine-Tuning.”[1] He right off the bat accuses the arguments for intelligent design, of fine-tuning in particular, of being a tautology. So I think right off the bat we should probably talk about what a tautology is.

I want to clarify that I have no idea who Kevin Harris is and have never sent him anything at all. Nor have I sent anything to Craig or his organization. I find it odd that Harris would open with such a misstatement. I am glad, however, to have them as devoted readers.

Craig then proceeds with an odd attack on my demonstration of tautology, which showed that without assuming at the start that we were intended to exist, there is no way to conclude that were intended to exist and that the universe was so designed. I explain this further below where I address the Anthropic Principle. His response is multi-pronged: ad hominem attack on my arrogance, appeal to authority, and equivocation. I suggest he might have had more effect had he focused on just one facet: an actual fact-based and validly reasoned rebuttal, but in his wisdom, he saw fit to exclude that element.

Craig:“… Yes. A tautology is something that’s true by definition. So, for example, “If it is raining, it is raining.” That’s a tautology. So it’s something of a surprise to see him making this claim. I’m not sure he really understands the word.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that Craig usually understands more than he admits to and is more dishonest than ignorant. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t make wildly pretentious forays into fields he knows nothing about, such as physics, but I believe he is fully aware that he’s spewing nonsense when he does. But here I will alleviate his surprise as simply as I can:

A designer implies an intended design. Only if we assume from the start that we are an intended design do we imagine a designer. Without that, we are indistinguishable from any other evolved event in the universe. It assumes that we are in some grand cosmic sense special. I demonstrate that in detail in my argument; an argument he simply ignores.

As for the charge of arrogance, perhaps I am touch arrogant at times – it wouldn’t be the first time somebody has leveled that accusation at me, although I claim no more than to be a simple semiliterate biker. But if we grant Craig’s accusation for the moment, it remains nothing more than empty ad hominem with no bearing on the validity of my argument.

Craig’s rhetorical dishonesty becomes clear in his next two responses:

DR. CRAIG: Yeah. Fair enough. Right off the bat then you see he’s misunderstood the argument because the point of the fine-tuning argument is not to show that the universe was designed for man. Nobody who defends the fine-tuning argument is claiming that the purpose of the fine-tuning is for the existence of human beings. So right off the bat he’s misunderstood it. What the fine-tuning argument says is that in order for intelligent life of any sort to exist the universe has to have its fundamental constants and quantities fall within an exquisitely narrow practically infinitesimal life-permitting range so that if the universe were not the product of intelligent design in all probability the universe would be life-prohibiting rather than life-permitting. That’s the argument.

Let’s start with “the fine-tuning argument”. There is no such thing. For physicists it is an observation that life as we know it wouldn’t exist if the physical constants were somewhat different. That isn’t an argument. The arguments come later. Craig exploits the confusion inherent in the term fine-tuning, which can be taken to imply that if something is fine-tuned there must be a conscious tuner. But that isn’t what is meant at all by the physicists. The penultimate sentence in the citation above clearly shows that Craig is aware of that, and his conflation of fine-tuning and intelligent design is a conscious equivocation underlying his assertion.

Craig supports the argument of intelligent design, which asserts without evidence that since it is unlikely we could have come about by chance, there must have been a designer who set the constants exactly for our intended existence. It is this argument I refuted in my article. Nowhere in Craig’s response do we find him addressing my argument itself, or even any indication he actually understood it.

He is further disingenuous when he states that the purpose “is not to show that the universe was designed for man”. For physicists that is generally true, but I am addressing the intelligent design argument asserted by Craig and others, the sole purpose of which is to convince us that their god indeed did create the universe for our existence. He has in fact referred to this as the argument for god from fine-tuning. The confusion around the term fine-tuning would hold no interest for him otherwise, as his sole concern is Christian apologetics, not cosmology.

He then commits the fallacy of argument from rarity:

DR. CRAIG: The point that he’s making here is actually one that supports the fine-tuning argument rather than undermines it. I was just bewildered when I read this. The opponent of the fine-tuning argument could reply by saying, “Well, yes, there is this array of possible universes with different constants and quantities in them, and the vast, vast majority of these are life-prohibiting, but [he might say] they’re not all equally probable. For some unknown reason universes that are fine-tuned for life have a higher probability of existing and therefore that would explain why we observe a fine-tuned universe.” Now, what the proponent of the fine-tuning argument says is that in the absence of any reason to think that the probabilities are weighted like that you assume a principle of indifference – that’s what probability theorists call it: the principle of indifference – where you assume that all of the options are equally probable. It’s like a lottery where everyone has an equal chance of winning. Therefore it becomes extremely improbable that the winner of the lottery should be a life-permitting rather than a life-prohibiting universe. So Jeffrey is just completely off base here. He’s affirming the principle of indifference which goes to undergird the soundness of the fine-tuning argument.

The fallacy of argument from rarity, sometimes called the prosecutor’s fallacy, attempts to dismiss an argument on the basis very low probability. In this case, he asserts that the probability of attaining the cosmological constants is too low to attribute to chance. There are various faults in his reasoning which I will get to below, but here it is enough to simply dismiss the above as a fallacy. Further, although Craig at times likes to refer to modern probability theory, he sure avoids it here. In modern probability theory all evidence is given a likelihood of one or zero. Tautologies and concrete existence are given a one, putting the probability of our universe at one. As long as it isn’t shown that our universe could not have possibly existed without supernatural intervention, the existence of our universe trumps any presumed improbability.

Most dishonestly, Craig falsely asserts that it is an accepted fact that the probability of our universe is extremely low. The only real fact is that we have no idea what the probability is, and may never know.

On one side are those who deny any degree of freedom in these constants, but rather that our physical laws and constants are the unavoidable results of general physical principals and believe we will ultimately discover a unified theory of everything that will explain the constants. Among those who hold that view was Einstein, who wrote:

“nature is so constituted that it is possible logically to lay down such strongly determined laws that within these laws only rationally completely determined constants occur (not constants, therefore, whose numerical values could be changed without destroying the theory).” (Einstein, Albert, 1949, “Autobiographical notes”, in P.A. Schilpp (ed.), Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, Peru, IL: Open Court Press.)

There are others who, theorizing from String Theory, posit a large and perhaps infinite degree of freedom, leading to the Multiverse theory. One offshoot of this is Roger Penrose’s theory of eternal cyclic universe, which posits infinite numbers of universes occurring spontaneously in pockets of a larger “universe”. In such a theory, our universe would have been among the infinite and no surprise at all. The only surprise is that we would find ourselves here. This leads to the last point Craig misrepresents.

DR. CRAIG: Again it just shows he doesn’t understand the argument. And you know what’s amazing about this is in my book On Guard which is for beginners (beginners!) in apologetics I explained the fallacy of this appeal to the lottery. The fine-tuning argument isn’t trying to explain why this particular universe exists. It’s not trying to explain why this particular ball in the lottery was chosen. Rather it’s trying to explain why a life-permitting world exists rather than a life-prohibiting world.

This is in response to the lottery example in my article which he either completely misunderstood, or more likely is once again strawmanning. What I demonstrated was an effect of the Anthropic Principle, which while taking many different forms, generally concerns the bias inherent in viewing fine-tuning from our perspective as intelligent life in this universe. What I demonstrated was this bias can cause us to assume we were the intended result, and without that assumption there really is nothing in our existence any more remarkable than the existence of atoms, suns and planets. We are merely one of an uncountable number of results. Again, Penrose adds another element to this bias in that our seemingly golden just-right moment is just a fleeting nanosecond in the cosmos:

The argument can be used to explain why the conditions happen to be just right for the existence of (intelligent) life on the Earth at the present time. For if they were not just right, then we should not have found ourselves to be here now, but somewhere else, at some other appropriate time. This principle was used very effectively by Brandon Carter and Robert Dicke to resolve an issue that had puzzled physicists for a good many years. The issue concerned various striking numerical relations that are observed to hold between the physical constants (the gravitational constant, the mass of the proton, the age of the universe, etc.). A puzzling aspect of this was that some of the relations hold only at the present epoch in the Earth’s history, so we appear, coincidentally, to be living at a very special time (give or take a few million years!). This was later explained, by Carter and Dicke, by the fact that this epoch coincided with the lifetime of what are called main-sequence stars, such as the Sun. At any other epoch, the argument ran, there would be no intelligent life around to measure the physical constants in question—so the coincidence had to hold, simply because there would be intelligent life around only at the particular time that the coincidence did hold!

— The Emperor’s New Mind, Chapter 10

The truth is we have no idea how probable our improbable our existence is because we have no access to the state prior to the big bang. It was in the early moments of the initial inflation that our constants and laws were determined, and having no understanding of what preceded and caused these results we can really know nothing about it. Everything is more or less metaphysical speculation. The one thing we do know is our constants and our existence have a probability of 1 because we are here. We really have no basis to assume anything else was possible. More importantly, even if there were other possibilities, as String Theory suggests, there still is no reason to assume the results are anything more than chance occurrences. The fact is for most physicists fine-tuning isn’t all that worthy of questioning. It is worth exploring whether there is no degree of freedom or many degrees in the universe, but that is another question entirely. One that Craig neither grasps nor would care to address other than to twist to his own propagandistic purpose.

Having presented no substantive or coherent rebuttal of my actual argument, he ends with this piece of raw ad hominem:

So it is really only a demonstration of Jeffrey’s own arrogance and ignorance that he should say such insulting things to the proponents of the fine-tuning argument.[2]

Maybe next time he attempts to “refute” my argument he would have the decency to at least let me know. I suppose it would be too much to ask that he address the actual argument in an honest manner.

2 thoughts on “Comments on William Lane Craig’s Attempt to Rebut My Article on the Illusion of Fine-Tuning

  1. I will offer the opinion that both you, and Craig, are wrong.

    For example, the use of a winner of a lottery is the wrong view, because that is a single event. If a coin is flipped once, it will come up heads or tails. If a lottery is drawn, a winner might be found. That’s not the issue. The issue is what happens if, with repeated coin flips, the coin isn’t coming up heads or tails 50% of the time. What happens if the same person wins the jackpot twice? Three times? Ten times? So a fine-tuning opponent will look at the number of constants that had to happen “at random” for life – of any kind – to occur. Too, a fine-tuning opponent will look at the range the values have to take. The fine-structure constant is one such number that is known to around 14 digits and, if were slightly different, no life could exist.

    One problem with this line of argument is that, while deviation from probabilities are evidence of interference, we have to know what the probabilities are so that interference can be inferred. We can do this with coin flips, or test answers, or jackpot winners. We can’t do that with the universe. We can appeal to intuition, but we can’t show whether or intuition conforms to reality or not. You say as much.

    But you also wrote, “The one thing we do know is our constants and our existence have a probability of 1 because we are here.” Well, no. That’s not how probability works. Probability is about what might happen, not what has happened.

    Too, you have the problem (here, and in our debate) where you affirm that there are both true and false experiences, but you haven’t yet justified how to tell one from the other. How do you know when something is, or is not, an illusion? You argue that reason is insufficient, since some things are only known approximately and therefore there is room for change. While this is true, you are overstating the case (which I’ll address). But it is equally true that experiences are just as incomplete. So I’m interested in how you will address this.

    In any case, I think this argument can be boiled down to “does randomness indicate lack of purpose or does randomness indicate hidden purpose?” I don’t think Nature gives enough clues for this to be decided other than by individual preference. YMMV.

    (BTW, please let me know if we get to a point in our debate if you’re waiting on me. At the moment, I think you’re still working on your response so that I have time to work on my stuff in the background.)


    1. 1. You’ve confused the setting of the constants with any causal chain resulting from those constants. The question of fine-tuning centers on the constants, which was a one-time event occurring immediately after the initial inflation of the universe.
      2. I fully agree we can’t know the probabilities for the universe. That was my point.
      3. As for probability concerning going forward, again that was my point. There is no question of probability for what already has happened which renders the intelligent design question moot. And even with the question of probability we have two competing views. Einstein’s view of block time leaves no degrees of freedom, which means nothing is left to chance. Penrose’s theory eliminates the importance of chance through an infinite birth of universes which guarantees we would have come about.
      4. The incompleteness of experience is incorporated in my view that we couldn’t possibly know the probabilities here.
      5. I expect to have my next section up this weekend.


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