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Fine-tuning and Humean laws: fine-tuning as argument for a non-governing account of laws rather than for God or multiverse

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Many physics parameters need to be precisely set in order for life to exist in our universe. Or so says the fine-tuning argument. That the actual values are just right for life, the argument concludes, is a fact in need of deep physical or metaphysical explanation. Perhaps, the story goes, the parameter values settings are a matter of divine design. Or perhaps they result from a selection effect given our place in the “multiverse”. However, a very different approach to the problem is possible. One may argue that the fine-tuning is an artefact of theorizing: it is explicable as the precise balancing act necessary for compact, systematic representation in science. Given such an explanation and drawing on earlier work from a number of sources, this essay shows how fine-tuning is best understood as evidence for a non-governing conception of laws rather than for design or multiverse.

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  1. It is best to contrast this BSA understanding of laws and fine-tuning with a more common presentation depending on fundamental governing laws in presentations of the fine-tuning argument. There laws are often likened to some kind of machine producing our universe via (a) dials (representing fundamental quantities) which (b) have been set one way but might have been differently set to give different constants and so (c) produce different (possible) universes all statistically dependent on some natural measure for the dials/constants. Instead, on the BSA, the totality of occurrent fact making up the universe is taken as fundamental, not produced or explained by something somehow prior.

  2. I do have a preference and argue for it in Halpin (2003).

  3. See White (2011) for the initial response to Weisberg’s larger argument. Dorst and Dorst (2020) is a very helpful overview which I condense as follows for the current context. The Weisberg (2010, 2012) idea in a nutshell is that God prefers life and so picks any one universe as though out of a hat of life-allowing ones (indifferent to its fine-tuning status). However, Hawthorne and Isaacs (2018) presuppose governing laws and think of God’s process very differently: as first picking a tool – governing laws – to shape the development of the universe, second calibrating the tool by selecting life-permitting parameter values. The second step requires narrow tolerance, the fine-tuning. In the final sections of this essay, I attempt to remove the temptation to think about the matter in this latter way.

  4. And even then, there is no guarantee that a God choosing governing laws would choose laws like those in physics or that physicists would be able to discern God’s laws: underdetermination and incommensurability concerns arise regarding the choice of concepts and principles a God might choose vis a vis those physics chooses.

  5. It is worth adding that Monton addresses other ways to construct the observer *. One of these anticipates the Weisberg (2010) argument and so does not support the fine-tuning argument for design. This is important for consistency with (4).

  6. See Filomeno (2021) for a recent and detailed presentation of this way to make the argument.


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Correspondence to John F. Halpin.

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Many thanks to Sharon Berry, Chris Dorst, David Garfinkle, Peter Gerdes, Bradley Monton, Alberto Rojo and several anonymous referees for extremely helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

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Halpin, J.F. Fine-tuning and Humean laws: fine-tuning as argument for a non-governing account of laws rather than for God or multiverse. Synthese 200, 241 (2022).

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