That Classic Ole’ Design Argument

by Max Andrews

The argument should be understood to have the best explanatory scope and power by demonstrating that a being capable of intelligent design is a more probable conclusion than its alternatives.  The teleological argument may be formulated as follows:

1) The fine-tuning of the universe is due to physical necessity, chance, or design.
2) It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
3) Therefore, it is due to design.

Premise (1) should be uncontroversial.  These three options are not merely limited to these, but the range between necessity and chance seem to cover the spectrum of possibilities.  According to physical necessity, the constants and quantities must have the values they do, and there was really no chance or little chance of the universe’s not being life-permitting.  This would mean a life-prohibiting universe would be physically impossible.[1]  This claim would require strong proof, which there is none; and this alternative is simply presented as a possibility.

On an interesting note, this subject has gone through intense scrutiny by string theorists.[2]  Stephen Hawking states that string theory allows a vast landscape of possible universes, in which we occupy an anthropically permitted location.[3]  It turns out that string theory allows around 10500 different possible universes in the cosmic landscape.  Even though there may be a huge number of possible universes lying within the life-permitting universe region of the cosmic landscape, nevertheless that life-permitting region will be unfathomably tiny compared to the entire landscape.[4]  This also shows that the physical universe itself is not unique.  The physical universe does not have to be the way it is:  it could be been otherwise functioning under different laws.[5]

The chance hypothesis is a game of sheer numbers.  The argument states that given enough space and time, a life-permitting region of the universe would appear.  Given that region of space, intelligent life would evolve.  McCloskey focuses his primary objection to this argument by adopting an evolutionary chance view.  The Anthropic Principle often supports the chance hypothesis.  The argument states that we ought not be surprised at observing the universe to be as it is and therefore no explanation of its fine-tuning need be sought.[6] Barrow and Tippler’s version of the Anthropic Principle states,

The observed values of all physical and cosmological quantities are not equally probable, but they take on values restricted by the requirement that there exist sites where carbon-based life can evolve and by the requirement that the universe be old enough for it to have done so.[7]

An observer who has evolved within the universe should regard it as highly probable that he will find the constants and quantities of the universe fine-tuned for his existence; but he should not infer that it is therefore highly probable that such a fine-tuned universe exists.[8]

Given the improbability in the spectrum of possibility between necessity and chance, the composition of the universe seems to be more intentional than not.  All the propositions given by atheism and theism are possible.  However, possibility does little justice for the teleological argument; the focus is on what is more probable.  Design serves as the strongest explanation for the universe’s constants and quantities that permit intelligent life, which is far more probable than its denial.



[1] Craig, Reasonable Faith ed. 3, 161.

[2] String theory is a relatively new field of study in quantum physics.  Broken down, string theory, also known as M-theory, is an attempt to reason Einstein’s relativity theory and Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism together as a theory of everything (TOE).  The theory conceives of the fundamental building blocks of matter to be, not particles like quarks, but tiny, vibrating, one-dimensional strings of energy, which may suggest eleven dimensions of the universe.  String theory is so complicated and embryonic in its development that all its equations have not yet been stated, much less solved (Craig, Reasonable Faith ed. 3, 137).

[3] “Cosmic landscape” means the range of possible universes given they be governed by the present laws of nature.  Stephen Hawking, “Cosmology from the Top Down,” a paper presented at the Davis Cosmic Inflation Meeting, U. C. Davis, May 29, 2003.

[4] Craig, Reasonable Faith ed. 3, 163.  Craig shares an illustration to understand how small this region really is.  If only one universe out of 10120 has the life-permitting value of the cosmological constant, then, given 10500 possible universes, the number of universes with the life-permitting value will be only 10500 ÷ 10120 = 10380.  To the novice this may sound as if most of the worlds are then life-permitting, when in fact 10380 is an inconceivably small fraction of 10500, so that almost all the possible universes will be life-prohibiting.  To see the point, imagine that we have a million possible universes and the odds of a life-permitting universe are one out of a hundred.  So the total number of life-permitting universes will be 1,000,000 ÷ 100 = 10,000.  So the total number of life-permitting universes is 106 ÷ 102 = 104.  One sees that 104 is a tiny fraction of 106, for only 10,000 out of the one million worlds are life-permitting, while a whopping 990,000 are life-prohibiting!

[5] P. C. W. Davies, The Mind of God (New York:  Simon & Schulster, 1992), 169.  Davies means the laws of physics within the actual values of the constants, not confusing there being different values of the constants with there being different laws (noted by Craig in Reasonable Faith ed. 3, 163).

[6] Craig, Reasonable Faith ed. 3, 165.

[7] In lesser words, McCloskey states that because of the Anthropic Principle evolution happened by chance and life exists with an appearance of that design.  John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1986), 15.

[8] The Anthropic Principle does no service to increase the probable fine-tuned universes previously discussed. Craig, Reasonable Faith ed. 3, 165.


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