Some philosophers, such as Richard Swinburne have argued that there is evidence from fine tuning that the specific laws of physics that allow intelligent life forms to exist are so improbable that it is plausible that these laws were fine tuned by god in order that intelligent life forms could exist (Leslie, 1990). Swinburne argued that a good god would have particular reason to will that beings such as humans could come to exist, e.g. so that we could develop the capacity to learn true beliefs, such as the laws of physics.

This would seem to imply that the purpose, or at least one purpose, of the universe was to allow the existence of life forms such as human beings. This would therefore imply that our prehuman ancestors existed mainly for the purpose of allowing human beings to evolve. Therefore, hominoid life forms of the Miocene epoch for example might not have had any purpose of their own, they might simply have existed as a precondition of the emergence of human life.

What if human beings then are not themselves the reason for the existence of the universe? Could it be that we exist as a precondition for the emergence of some even more advanced form of life that we can hardly even imagine? That is, humans might eventually evolve into super-intelligent life forms that transcend the current limitations of human life. Therefore, even if a god was responsible for fine tuning the laws of physics, human beings in themselves might not have any relevance to the fulfillment of god’s ultimate purpose. Therefore, current human concerns might hold no more interest for god than the daily lives of prehuman apes.

This is very similar to Nietzsche’s idea that man is a transitional form between the ape and the superman.

The point is that even if god were somehow involved in setting the laws of the universe to allow the existence of living beings, it is quite possible that god’s purpose in doing so has nothing to do with current human evolution. That is, human affairs might be of no concern to god, who might have some unknown purpose we can barely conceive of.

 Human beings like to think that their own lives are of great significance and therefore of concern to a higher power. Yet chimpanzees might consider their own day-to-day needs and desires to be of great importance yet it seems ludicrous to think that god is watching over the lives of chimpanzees and taking a great interest in the outcomes of their interpersonal dramas, of which they have plenty. Dinosaurs roamed the earth for an impressive 120 million years. There is no evidence that intelligent life forms would have evolved from dinosaurs if they had survived even longer. Again it seems ludicrous to think that god was taking great interest in their development and quotidian concerns. If dinosaurs were part of some great design it seems hard to see how they could possibly fit in to some purposeful scheme. On the other hand, if they evolved through natural processes questions about their ‘purpose’ become irrelevant. Therefore, I think that the great apes evolved through natural processes involving no design and see no reason to suppose that human evolution involved design or purpose. Hence, I find it preferable to suppose that the laws of physics as they apply in our universe also developed through natural processes without a designer.


 Leslie, J. (1990). Physical cosmology and philosophy: Macmillan.


This post also appears on my blog Cosmic Cogitations.

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Comment by ChrisC on August 3, 2012 at 3:54am

Just as a liquid fits a cup exactly, so life "fits" the environment in which it lives. There is equal "purpose" in both cases.

Comment by Scott McGreal on August 3, 2012 at 1:48am

Hi Glen, that's a very interesting finding about the bacteria. Seems like good evidence that evolution proceeds without a goal or a plan and is all about adaptation to the changing environment.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on August 2, 2012 at 11:19pm

Recent experiment in paleo-experimental evolution used 500 million year old gene and superimposed it into the evolved bacteria. They watched the old gene/new bacteria follow a completely different course from its forbears. If that bacteria of yester million years ago was always going to be the bacteria it is today it would be expected to resume the path of evolution that led to it becoming its present incarnation. Instead evolution works in response to external pressure not the inevitability associated with design.


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