top of page
physics to God logo


physics to God logo

How Physics Proves Intelligent Design from the Fine Tuned Constants

This episode presents the climax of the fine tuning argument. Through simple analogies, it explains the definition of efficient and teleological causes, and why they are so vital for interpreting fine tuning and completing the journey from physics to God. It demonstrates how fine tuning indicates that the values of the constants were chosen by an intelligent cause, God, for the purpose of bringing about a complex universe which is full of atoms, molecules, stars, planets, and life.

Essay Version of Episode 5

Let's begin with a sneak preview of what we'll do in this episode. We're finally up to the bottom line of our argument -that the constants indicate the existence of an intelligent cause - God. Last time, we discussed how fine tuning demonstrates that the consequence of an ordered universe seems to somehow be the cause of the incredibly fine tuned values of the constants. The problem is, how can the future consequences of the laws of nature determine the values of the constants? A natural answer to this question will emerge after we carefully differentiate between two types of causes: efficient causes and teleological causes. 

We'll explain, through simple examples, what efficient and teleological causes are and why they are so vital for interpreting fine tuning and completing the journey from Physics to God. We'll demonstrate how fine tuning indicates that the values of the constants were chosen by an intelligent cause for the purpose of bringing about a complex universe which is full of atoms, molecules, stars, planets and life. 

Summary of Prior Episodes

Given that this episode will complete our initial argument, let's review how we got here. We began with the mystery of the constants, a mystery which Feynman called one of the greatest mysteries in physics. This mystery had nothing to do with God, but with attempting to find an explanation for the strange and mysterious numbers that are built into the fundamental laws and particles of our universe. 

We then introduced the scientific discovery of fine tuning - the discovery that these numbers were not as arbitrary as they had seemed, but were necessary for the emergence of our complex and ordered universe. This led to the problem of fine tuning, the apparent reverse causation where the resultant ordered universe seems to be the cause of the values of the constants themselves. We showed how this problem indicates that a paradigm shift is needed to finally solve the mystery of the constants. 

In this episode, we'll explain the natural solution to this problem - that the values of the constants were selected by an intelligent cause for the purpose of bringing about our complex universe. But in order to show precisely why the problem of fine tuning truly indicates an intelligent cause, we have to introduce a bit of terminology. Don't worry, all you need is to understand and remember the difference between two terms: efficient cause and teleological cause.

The Difference between Efficient and Teleological Causes

Efficient and teleological causes are important philosophical terms that have been around for thousands of years. The key idea is that you can explain something in different frameworks, using different types of causes. We'll only be discussing two frameworks of causation today. 

The first, more familiar type of cause is known as an efficient cause. It refers to the agent or force that brings a thing into existence or initiates a change. Being that the efficient cause is so central to modern science, it's sometimes simply called the cause. However, in order to keep it distinct from the other types of causes, we'll stick to the less familiar term, efficient cause. 

Before we get lost, let's use the example of a table to illustrate these causes. What is the efficient cause of the table? The carpenter who made it. Simple. 

Besides the efficient cause, a second way to explain a phenomenon is based upon its teleological cause. This refers to a thing's purpose, and it's sometimes called the final cause.

Just to keep it simple, whenever we say teleological cause you can just think to yourself - purpose. For example, what is the purpose of the table? To provide people a surface to eat upon. The teleological explanation is not concerned with the actor or the mechanism that made the table, but only with its purpose.

In a certain sense, the efficient and teleological causes work together to more fully explain a phenomenon. The efficient cause explains what causes something to exist, while the teleological cause explains why it exists, or its purpose.

There's an important distinction between efficient and teleological causes regarding their relation to time. This subtle distinction is best understood through the example of the carpenter and the table. The carpenter is the efficient cause of the table and he necessarily exists before the table comes into existence. An efficient cause precedes its effect in time. 

The opposite is the case regarding the teleological cause. The carpenter’s purpose of having a good surface to eat on tomorrow is the cause of the table’s design today. The end goal of using the table, which is later in time to the actual production of the table, causes the table to have its particular form. The purpose of the table in the future informs the carpenter’s design of the table in the present.

This is the key point. The difference between efficient and teleological causes with respect to time is especially relevant to the problem of fine tuning, a problem which emerges from apparent reverse causation. The problem is that the future ordered universe somehow caused the earlier fine tuned values of the constants. This certainly doesn't make any sense in the realm of efficient causes, where future consequences cannot cause the earlier laws. Efficient causes always precede their consequences. 

However, the solution lies in shifting perspectives from efficient causes to teleological causes. If the values of the constants are explained by a teleological cause, meaning, if we say that the constants have a purpose, which is to produce an ordered universe, then there's no problem of the future purpose causing the previous forms of the laws. This ordering is, in fact, generally the case regarding teleological causes. 

As such, it behooves us to develop a methodology for identifying teleological causes and determining when teleological explanations are justified, so that we're in a position to properly analyze the fine tuning of the constants using this framework of explanation.

Identifying Teleological Causes

Let's do that. When studying a table, we infer that its teleological cause is the purpose of having a surface to eat upon. Which features allow us to come to this conclusion? More generally, what allows us to go beyond identifying efficient causes and infer something’s purpose. We’ll first answer these questions regarding the table and then generalize to other phenomena. Upon doing so, we'll be able to justify the inference of a teleological cause for the constants. 

Roughly speaking, a table is a collection of several pieces of wood - or some other material - in specific shapes and sizes, which are connected together in a specific manner. If you were to consider a random collection of pieces of wood, in random shapes and sizes, connected together in a random manner, we would almost certainly get nothing like a table, nor anything which could remotely serve the function of a table. 

In order to get the function of the table, we must first have carefully sized and shaped pieces of wood. In particular, the table requires a large flat surface to properly support the food on top. It needs four narrow legs to allow room under the table. The legs must be of equal length so the table balances. The legs must be the proper length to allow person to sit by the table and eat, and so on. 

Since the function of the table cannot emerge from a random collection of wood, yet perfectly emerges from this particular setup, we recognize that the table has a teleological cause. Moreover, the specific function enabled by the setup allows us to conclude that the reason why the table exists is to serve the purpose of enabling a person to use the upper surface for activities like eating, writing, and so on. 

More generally, when we encounter a phenomenon in which a new entity emerges from the quantitative size and shape of its parts, then we say that the entity is fine tuned. When the fine tuning yields a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts - had they been randomly selected - we recognize that it has emerged via a teleological cause. We infer the particular reason why the entity exists by identifying what new entity, or function emerges from the fine tuning.

Now let's apply this line of reasoning to the fine tuned values of the constants. As we discussed in prior episodes, almost all random values of the constants would result in a universe consisting only of basic particles, without any complex entities whatsoever. The values of the constants are perfectly fine tuned to result in our complex and structured universe. Therefore, it is natural to conclude that the constants have a teleological cause. 

As in the case of the table, the discovery of fine tuning also allows us to deduce a purpose for the values of the constants. Namely, the reason why the constants have the values that they do is in order to bring about a complex, structured, and ordered universe. Only these fine tuned constants produce the full gamut of existences that constitute the cosmos as a whole, such as galaxies, stars, planets, life, intelligence, molecules, atoms, and so on.

Since the problem of fine tuning was one of apparent reverse causation, the natural solution is to switch from a framework of analysis exclusively focused on efficient causes to a broader conception including teleological causes as well. In this new conception, we infer that the ordered, structure, and complex universe itself is the teleological cause that explains the fine tuning of the constants. Just as the carpenter's objective of producing a functional table was the teleological cause of the table's fine tuned construction, so too the objective of producing a complex and structured universe is the teleological cause for the fine tuned values of the constants.

Why the Cause of the Constants Must be Intelligent

Now that we've resolved the problem of fine tuning by showing that the values of the constants serve the purpose of bringing about an ordered universe, this naturally invites the following question: What can we infer about the prior efficient cause that chose the specific values in order to achieve the goal of a complex ordered universe?

As these multiple levels of causation may seem confusing, let us simplify once again using the example of the table. Based upon the fine tuning of the table, we identified its teleological cause as the purpose of having a usable, elevated surface. However, without an agent or mechanism to achieve this goal, the teleological cause alone can't bring the table into existence. The teleological cause requires a prior efficient cause - the carpenter - to act in order to realize its purpose. 

In the case of the table, the most basic inference we can make about its efficient cause is that it acts with purpose. Additionally, it makes precise selections in order to bring about its desired purpose. It shapes the pieces of wood and attaches them in just the right manner to best achieve its intended goal. Now, a cause which makes precise selections in order to realize its purpose is an intelligent cause. 

Before movihg forward, let's first define how we're using the word intelligent. The word derives its meaning from the Latin verb inter-legere, which means to discern or pick out. For instance, an intelligent person is one who can discern and pick out a good theory, decision, or investment from the many inferior options. Similarly, an intelligent act is one that selects out one possibility from among many for the purpose of producing an intended goal.

With this definition in mind, it becomes immediately clear that the efficient cause of the table is an intelligent cause. Since, first of all, the sign of intelligence is the selection of a significant possibility from the larger set of insignificant possibilities. And, two, the cause of the table chose the appropriate sizes and shapes of pieces from among the set of all possible sizes and shapes which would not have yielded its intended purpose. We therefore conclude that the cause of the table is intelligent. More generally, fine tuning implies an intelligent cause. 

The same argument holds true regarding the values of the constants. Fine tuning of the constants indicates a teleological cause, a purpose for their values. However, the teleological cause implies a prior efficient cause that acted in order to bring about the purpose of achieving a complex and ordered universe. In order to achieve this delicate objective, the cause selected just the right values of the constants from the sea of all other possible values. As such, we can rightfully conclude that the cause which made these precise selections is an intelligent cause that set the values for the constants.

With a theory of an intelligent agent, it's not necessary to explain the exact value of the constants down to the last decimal place, something that an unintelligent master law theory has to do. It's entirely sufficient to explain why the constants fall within the range of values that allow a complex, ordered universe to result.

The reason for this is that an intelligent cause is more than capable of choosing a number between 136 and 138, with regards to the fine structure constant, even though there are an infinite number of real numbers between 136 and 138 to choose from. Human beings do it all the time. If there is no meaningful difference between say 136.075 and 137.753, then it's silly to ask why 137.035999139 was chosen. All that matters is that the intelligent agent chose one of the values that accomplishes its purpose, and not numbers like 0.5, 130, or a million which are outside the range and wouldn't accomplish its intended goal.

Plausibility of the Fine Tuning Argument for God

Someone might be thinking of a more basic question: Is it really reasonable to compare the fine tuning of a table to the fine tuning of the constants of nature? Regarding the table, we already know that there are intelligent human beings who desire a flat, elevated surface, and design objects to achieve their goals. However, we have no knowledge that even exists an intelligent cause beyond our universe which is capable of setting the constants. Is it really legitimate to infer that the constants are fine tuned by an intelligent cause, without already knowing that an intelligent actor capable of accomplishing this task actually exists? 

In other words, does fine tuning merely allow us to identify an intelligent cause as opposed to an unintelligent cause if we already know that both types of causes exist? Or does fine tuning even allow us to infer the existence of an intelligent cause without previous evidence of such an existence?

That's a fair question. The answe is that while there is some relevance to our previous knowledge, nevertheless, there is no intrinsic limitation to the inference of an intelligent cause from fine tuning. The reason for this is that fine tuning itself is the sign of intelligence. Even if we didn't previously have any indication for the existence of an intelligent cause, we do now. Fine tuning points to its existence. 

That being said, our previous lack of knowledge of an intelligent cause can be relevant for the following reason. Positing the existence of a previously unknown intelligent actor is a novel step which demands a high degree of fine tuning. If the fine tuning is not that significant, it may be more reasonable to explain it away through chance alone then positing the existence of a novel intelligent actor.

To see this point in a more concrete manner, let us consider a hypothetical example of the search for intelligent life on a faraway planet. Let's assume that scientists were to discover a vehicle on one such planet, a vehicle which was highly fine tuned to successfully navigate the local terrain. Nobody would doubt that the vehicle had a purpose, and nobody would doubt the inference that the cause of the vehicle was intelligent. 

This would be true despite the absence of any previous evidence for the existence of intelligent life on this planet. The fine tuning itself is the evidence. This simple example shows that fine tuning doesn't merely allow us to invoke a previously known intelligent cause, but even allows us to posit the existence of an intelligent cause in the first place. 

Of course, this all assumes that the vehicle is incredibly fine tuned. On the other hand, suppose scientists didn't find a complex vehicle, but only a simple table. The degree of fine tuning of a table is far less than that of a vehicle. Given the relative simplicity of a table and the absence of any previous evidence for intelligent life on this planet, one could convincingly argue that chance would be a better explanation than positing new intelligent aliens. It all depends on the degree of fine tuning: the greater the fine tuning, the more novel and inference is justified. 

Applying this point to the fine tuning of the constants - from our discussions in episode 3, we can conclude that the constants are more fine tuned then a table, or even a complex vehicle. Remember, the odds of getting all the constants right by chance alone is staggeringly small - something that no scientist is willing to take seriously. 

Therefore, just like an extra terrestrial vehicle is sufficient evidence for us to infer the existence of intelligent aliens, so too the incredible fine tuning of the constants is sufficient evidence to infer the existence of an intelligent cause for their values.

Why The Fine Tuning Argument isn't God of the Gaps Reasoning

Now that the argument is largely complete, we can see more clearly why it doesn't fall prey to the God of the Gaps fallacy. Remember, God of the Gaps reasoning is a line of thinking that is employed to plug a hole in our current understanding of the universe by saying, "God did it." There are three characteristic problems of God of the Gaps reasoning. 

First, since in truth there is no direct inference to God, but only a lack of knowledge, this type of fallacious argument is merely an argument from ignorance. When a reasonable person is ignorant and has a gap in their knowledge, they simply admit that they do not know. They wisely submit that when they gain more knowledge, maybe they'll be able to pursue a deeper understanding of the phenomenon at hand. 

Second, a particular gap within a scientific explanation is likely due to our insufficient knowledge, and is no indication of the failure of science or of the hand of God. Positing divine intervention for each gap in our knowledge is a bad methodology and hinders the advancement of science. It's far more reasonable to say that the overall theory is sound, and that we're only lacking knowledge of certain details, the gaps. 

And third, any theory of the gaps posits something, whether it is God, luck, or anything else as a solution to every gap in knowledge. Any answer that can be used to explain anything at all, in truth explains nothing at all. Because no matter what the universe looks like, that would be an "explanation." That's not really explaining anything.

Let's now examine the argument from fine tuning and see why it doesn't have any of these three problems. First of all, as we've discussed before, the inference of intelligence from fine tuning of the constants is not an argument from ignorance. As we explained in prior episodes, scientific knowledge went through two distinct stages regarding the values of the constants. The first stage was prior to discovery of fine tuning, when the constants presented the mystery of how these seemingly arbitrary constants could possibly be explained. If someone had tried to solve this mystery at this stage by saying, "God determined the number to be 137.03599139, and we no longer need another explanation for it," this would have been God of the Gaps reasoning. The wise approach at that point was to admit that we had no knowledge about the cause of the constants, and to continue searching for further insight. 

Despite the initial ignorance about the cause for the values of the constants, patience paid off, and scientists attained more understanding about these numbers. In the second stage of their understanding of the constants, scientists began to gain knowledge about the numbers. They discovered that the constants were not arbitrary, but that their fine tuned values were required for the universe to be ordered, complex, and structured. 

The knowledge that the values of the constants were fine tuned points directly towards an intelligent cause which specifically selected those values for the purpose of bringing about our complex universe. This teleological explanation for the constants only became possible once science had advanced to the point of understanding the fundamental laws of physics and the critical role that these specific quantities played in the laws. Fine tuning is an argument from knowledge, not from ignorance.

Second, the problem of explaining the constants is a problem with the very foundations of physics. It deals with the form of the fundamental laws of nature themselves, not with a detailed phenomenon explained by those laws - for example, why is the sky blue? A lack of understanding regarding the foundation of a subject is totally different than a mere gap within the details of a subject whose foundations are well understood. While a gap in details is likely to be filled upon gaining more knowledge, a problem with a foundation often demands a new type of explanation.

And third, the theory of an intelligent cause does not explain any possible universe we could possibly have observed. Without the discovery of fine tuning, it would have been natural to assume that our universe, or some close variation of it, could have existed with a wide range of values for the constants. Had this been the case, there would have been no indication of an intelligent cause for the values of the constants, and to posit a teleological explanation would have been ungrounded and entirely speculative. However, with the discovery of fine tuning, a teleological explanation naturally emerged. 

An intelligent cause is only a valid inference because we have first observed an ordered, fine tuned, and intelligible universe. Were the universe to have been nonsensical chaos, then an intelligent cause would have been a very poor explanation for it. An intelligent agent does not explain every possible universe we possibly could have observed. It only explains a fine tuned and ordered universe, not a disordered one with no fine tuning.

Summary of the Fine Tuning Argument

Let's give a short summary of our basic argument up until this point. We began with what Richard Feynman called, "one of the greatest mysteries of physics." The mystery of the constants of nature challenged us to explain the strange numbers of the constants. Are they fundamental, or do they have a cause? And if they do have a cause, what can we know about the cause responsible for their specific values? 

After many years of unsuccessfully trying to solve this mystery, scientists eventually discovered a great clue: that the constants exhibit a high degree of fine tuning. From among the vast range of theoretically allowed values, their specific numbers have been shown to be necessary for bringing about a complex and ordered universe which is much greater than the sum of its simple parts.

This shows that the constants have a purpose, a teleological cause, which explains why they have their specific values - or more precisely, why they fall within the specific range that allows the complex universe to result from them. But it still doesn't tell us what caused them. Much like knowing that a table exists for a specific purpose only tells us why the table exists, but not what made it. 

Nevertheless, there is one thing we can infer about the efficient cause which set the values of the constants. Namely, we can know that their cause is intelligent. This is because the term "intelligence" refers to the ability to pick out or select one possibility from among many, for the purpose of producing an intended goal. Just like we can infer that the carpenter who fine tuned the table for the purpose of creating an elevated surface is intelligent, so too, we can infer that the cause which fine tuned the constants for the purpose of bringing about a complex universe is intelligent.

In the end, scientific knowledge has solved the great mystery by showing us that the constants are not ultimately fundamental. Rather, they have an intelligent cause which set their specific values for the purpose of bringing about our amazing universe.

We know this still leaves a lot of unanswered questions about the intelligent cause itself, God. In a separate miniseries about God, we're going to answer all those questions and delve into what we can and cannot know about the intelligent cause of the constants.

We also need to thoroughly address multiverse scientists' alternative solution to fine tuning: an infinite number of parallel universes where every possible combination of the constants is realized. We're going to do that too in a mini series about the multiverse.

But before we get to all that, we know there's one problem that may have been bothering you for quite some time. Didn't people already try to use the design argument in biology to prove God, and didn't the Darwinian Theory of Evolution show that the entire design argument is fatally flawed? We're going to address that next time, as well as show how that leads to an incredibly deep insight into the relationship between physics and biology. This insight will further our entire line of reasoning leading us from Physics to God.


bottom of page