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Reason and Revelation Volume 10 #12

The Anthropic Principle

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

INTRODUCTION

On more than one occasion, evolutionary scientists, while diligently struggling to banish God from His own Universe, have inadvertently accomplished exactly the opposite, and in so doing, have come face-to-face with evidence so powerful, and so astonishing, that it enshrines Him all the more as Creator. However, rather than simply admitting that their findings confirm both a creation and a Creator, they have gone to great lengths to “explain away” the data, or their implications, so that evolution can persist as the most popular explanation for origins. The literature provides multiple instances of this kind of thinking.

For example, Stephen Hawking, in his book, A Brief History of Time, observed: “The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired” (1988, p. 122). But, after acknowledging the “underlying order” in nature, Dr. Hawking quickly dispensed with it, and throughout his book extolled the rich virtues of evolution as “the way it happened.” Paul Davies, the eminent British physicist, has written a book in which the beauty, structure, and extreme complexity of both the Universe and the Earth are examined in depth. Yet Dr. Davies says we exist because of “apparent numerical accidents” and “many more apparent accidents of fortune” (1982, p. 111). Not surprisingly, then, do we discover that he titled his book The Accidental Universe. In that volume, we find this amazing statement:

Many of the rather basic features of the Universe are determined in essence by the values that are assigned to the fundamental constants of nature,...and these features would be drastically altered if the constants assumed even moderately different values. It is clear that for nature to produce a cosmos even remotely resembling our own, many apparently unconnected branches of physics have to cooperate to a remarkable degree (1982, p. 111).

John Gribbin, the renowned evolutionary cosmologist, has voiced his belief that “our form of life depends, in delicate and subtle ways, on several apparent ‘coincidences’ in the fundamental laws of nature which make the Universe tick. Without those coincidences, we would not be here to puzzle over the problem of their existence.... What does this mean? One possibility is that the Universe we know is a highly improbable accident, ‘just one of those things’ ” (1981, pp. 307,309). In the May, 1983 issue of Science Digest, Dr. Gribbin penned an article that discussed in clear terms the design which is apparent in every aspect of the creation. The article concentrated specifically on the Earth, noting how it had exactly the right distance from the Sun, exactly the right distance from the Moon, exactly the right tilt, exactly the right mass, exactly the right atmosphere, and so on. Ironically, the article was titled “Earth’s Lucky Break” (p. 36).

THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE

Perennially, evolutionists have busied themselves with avoiding the obvious design in nature, and the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from such design: there must be a designer. Realizing that design demands a designer, they have spent considerable time and effort attempting to ignore, explain away, or otherwise weaken the implications of the data. Valiant attempts have been made to give their distorted views respectability. Various “principles” of science have been elucidated to confer such respectability. For example, there is the Copernican Principle, which holds that no part of the Universe is more privileged than any other part. The Principle of Mediocrity holds that life on Earth is nothing special and that because of this, the galaxies are likely filled with other civilizations. The Perfect Cosmological Principle states that the Universe should be identical at all times. And so on.

It is, then, astonishing indeed to learn of the naming and development of one of the newest principle in science—the Anthropic Principle. As its name (from the Greek anthropos, meaning “man”) implies, this principle hinges on man’s part in the existence of the Universe. To quote Gribbin: “The ‘Anthropic Principle’ says that our Universe seems to be tailor-made for us because people like us can only evolve in this kind of Universe” (1981, p. 309).

Did Dr. Gribbin say “tailor-made”? Yes, and Robert Jastrow, founder and former director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, explained why:

Thus, according to the physicist and the astronomer, it appears that the Universe was constructed within very narrow limits, in such a way that man could dwell in it. This result is called the anthropic principle. It is the most theistic result ever to come out of science, in my view.... I really do not know what to make of this result—the Anthropic Principle (1984, pp. 21,22, emp. in orig.).

Dr. Jastrow hardly is alone in his consternation over these latest findings in science. The obvious implications of a “tailor-made” Universe have not escaped many of his colleagues. Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton commented: “As we look out into the Universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known we were coming” (1971, p. 50). Sir Fred Hoyle of Great Britain has stronger feelings on the matter. In speaking of the precise requirements needed in nature to synthesize the proper carbon and hydrogen atoms necessary to life, Dr. Hoyle observed:

If you wanted to produce carbon and oxygen in roughly equal quantities by stellar nucleosynthesis, these are the two levels you would have to fix, and your fixing would have to be just about where these levels are actually found to be.... A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature (1954, p. 121).

Paul Davies also is troubled over these events.

A clear inspection shows that the Earth is endowed with still more amazing “conveniences.” Without the layer of ozone above the atmosphere, deadly ultraviolet radiation from the sun would destroy us, and in the absence of a magnetic field, cosmic subatomic particles would deluge the Earth’s surface. Considering that the Universe is full of violence and cataclysms, our own little corner of the cosmos enjoys a benign tranquility. To those who believe that God made the world for mankind, it must seem that all these conditions are in no way a random or haphazard arrangement of circumstances, but reflect a carefully prepared environment in which humans can live comfortably, a pre-ordained ecosystem into which life slots naturally and inevitably—a tailor-made world (1980, p. 143).

What is the origin of this novel and controversial position? While the words “anthropic principle” are not new, their use in this respect is. They were first applied to these matters by Brandon Carter in 1974 in a lecture to the International Astronomical Union. Dr. Carter, then at Cambridge and now at the Paris Observatory, published his comments in an article titled “Large Number Coincidences and the Anthropic Principle in Cosmology.” In his lecture, Dr. Carter observed: “What we can expect to observe must be restricted by the conditions necessary for our presence as observers” (1974, p. 291). In other words, the conditions that we observe in the Universe must include those necessary to give rise to intelligent life, or else we would not be here to observe them.

Stephen Hawking paraphrased Carter’s point like this: “We see the Universe the way it is because we exist.” He elaborates as follows: “The idea is that there are certain conditions which are necessary for the development of intelligent life: out of all conceivable universes, only in those in which these conditions occur will there be beings to observe the Universe. Thus our existence requires the Universe to have certain properties...” (1974, pp. 285-286). In his lecture, and subsequent scientific articles, Dr. Carter set forth what he called the Weak Anthropic Principle, as opposed to what he called the Strong Anthropic Principle. Here is the difference.

The Weak Anthropic Principle

Carter said that there was a “biological selection effect” in operation. These were his words, but the idea for them, and thus the idea for the Weak Anthropic Principle (which is based on the concept of “biological selection”) actually were presented thirteen years earlier in a paper in Nature by Robert Dicke (1961, 192:440). Here, using Dicke’s illustration, is how the Weak Anthropic Principle would work. Dicke (as an evolutionist) was attempting to answer the question, “Why do we observe the Universe to be approximately 10 billion years old?” One response, of course (from a strictly evolutionary viewpoint) might be that it is merely a coincidence that we see a Universe that is 10 billion years old. Tony Rothman, writing in the popular science magazine Discover, explained how this problem was solved.

But Dicke reasoned that the Universe must be at least old enough to have generated elements as heavy as carbon because “it is well known that carbon is required to make physicists”—at least physicists as we know them.
Carbon, as it happens, was not created in the Big Bang. Rather it was first synthesized in the earliest stars, and then scattered through space when the stars exploded in supernova, a process that continues today. The cooking time for carbon depends on the mass of a star, but averages a billion years or so. Thus, said Dicke, it would be impossible to observe a Universe younger than the shortest-lived stars, because the very elements we’re composed of wouldn’t exist. On the other hand, if the Universe were much older than it is, most stars would already have collapsed into white dwarfs, neutron stars, or black holes, rendering our type of life impossible for many reasons. Dicke concluded that the fact that we see the Universe to be about ten billion years old is no accident but a necessary result of the biological selection effect. The Universe’s observed age, he said, “is limited by the criteria for the existence of physicists” (1987, 8[5]:91-92).

This is an example of the weak anthropic principle, and is a good illustration of what Carter meant when he said, “What we can expect to observe must be restricted by the conditions necessary for our presence as observers.” The observed values of physical quantities are restricted by the requirement that they be compatible with the development of Homo sapiens.

Stephen Hawking, in his book, A Brief History of Time, provided a simple explanation of what this means:

The weak anthropic principle states that in a Universe that is large or infinite in space and/or time, the conditions necessary for the development of intelligent life will be met only in certain regions that are limited in space and time. The intelligent beings in these regions should therefore not be surprised if they observe that their locality in the Universe satisfies the conditions that are necessary for their existence. It is a bit like a rich person living in a wealthy neighborhood not seeing any poverty (1988, p. 124).

And, said Dr. Hawking, “Few people would quarrel with the validity or utility of the weak anthropic principle” (1988, p. 124).

Of course, creationists would agree, but for different reasons. We accept the fact that the Universe is intricately designed so that it supports life as we know it. We accept the fact that if this were not the case, we wouldn’t be here to observe it (for how, pray tell, could we exist in a Universe that would not support our existence?). We accept Dr. Dyson’s conclusion that the Universe looks as if it “knew we were coming.” We accept Dr. Hoyle’s assessment that a superintellect has “monkeyed with” the physics, chemistry, and biology of the Universe, and that “there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.” We even would gladly accept Dr. Davies’ suggestion that our Universe appears to be “tailor-made.” And we concur with all these statements because: (a) The scientific evidence is in agreement with them; and (b) We know the Tailor!

The Strong Anthropic Principle

What, then, is the Strong Anthropic Principle? Carter stated it as follows: “The Universe must be such as to admit the creation of observers within it at some stage.” Most scientists interpret this strong version of the Anthropic Principle to mean that the Universe must be nearly as we know it, or life could not exist. Conversely, if life did not exist, neither, then, would the Universe.

But some scientists, while passively content to accept the Weak Anthropic Principle, are visibly upset over the implications of the strong version. There is good reason for their discomfiture. Paul Davies explained why.

Now clearly the strong anthropic principle is founded on a quite different philosophical basis from the weak principle. Indeed, it represents a radical departure from the conventional concept of scientific explanation. In essence, it claims that the Universe is tailor-made for habitation, and that both the laws of physics and the initial conditions obligingly arrange themselves in such a way that living organisms are subsequently assured of existence. In this respect the strong anthropic principle is akin to the traditional religious explanation of the world: that God made the world for mankind to inhabit (1982, pp. 120-121).

Astronomers, physicists, astrophysicists, biologists, and many others of an evolutionary bent have seen the serious implications of the Strong Anthropic Principle. Dr. Hawking thus observed:

The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. We cannot, at the moment at least, predict the values of these numbers from theory—we have to find them by observation. It may be that one day we shall discover a complete unified theory that predicts them all, but it is also possible that some or all of them vary from Universe to Universe or within a single Universe. The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life. For example if the electric charge of the electron had been only slightly different, stars either would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium, or else they would not have exploded. Of course, there might be other forms of intelligent life, not dreamed of even by writers of science fiction, that did not require the light of a star like the Sun or the heavier chemical elements that are made in stars and are flung back into space when the stars explode. Nevertheless, it seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers that would allow the development of any form of intelligent life. Most sets of values would give rise to Universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at that beauty. One can take this either as evidence of a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the laws of science or as support for the strong anthropic principle (1988, p. 125, emp. added).

Dr. Davies similarly stated: “If we believe in only one Universe then the remarkable uniform arrangement of cosmic matter, and the consequent coolness of space, are almost miraculous, a conclusion which strongly resembles the traditional religious concept of a world which was purpose-built by God for subsequent habitation by mankind” (1980, p. 162). Dr. Rothman was quite blunt in his remarks about where acceptance of the Strong Anthropic Principle will lead.

It’s not a big step from the SAP to the Argument from Design. You know the Argument from Design: it says that the Universe was made very precisely, and were it ever so slightly different, man wouldn’t be here. Therefore, Someone must have made it.
Even as I write these words my pen balks, because as a twentieth century physicist I know that the last step is a leap of faith, not a logical conclusion.
When confronted with the order and beauty of the Universe and the strange coincidences of nature, it’s very tempting to take the leap of faith from science into religion. I am sure many physicists want to. I only wish they would admit it (1987, p. 99).

Realizing the obvious implications of the scientific evidence supporting both the weak and strong versions of the Anthropic Principle, many evolutionary scientists have rebelled at even the mere mention of it in the halls of science. Yet, in their more candid moments, even these evolutionists are hard pressed to avoid the clear implications of their findings. Listen to Dr. Hawking’s admission on this very topic.

In the hot big bang model described above, there was not enough time in the early Universe for heat to have flowed from one region to another. This means that the initial state of the Universe would have to have had exactly the same temperature everywhere in order to account for the fact that the microwave background has the same temperature in every direction we look. The initial rate of expansion also would have had to be chosen very precisely for the rate of expansion still to be so close to the critical rate needed to avoid recollapse. This means that the initial state of the Universe must have been very carefully chosen indeed if the hot big bang model was correct right back to the beginning of time. It would be very difficult to explain why the Universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us (1988, pp. 126-127, emp. added).

Little wonder, then, that Dr. Jastrow referred to the Anthropic Principle as “the most theistic result ever to come out of science.” And, it hardly is surprising to hear Dr. Davies state: “Many people of a religious persuasion will no doubt find support from these ideas for the belief that the Creator did not aim the cosmic pin at random, but did so with finely computed precision, with the express purpose of selecting a Universe that would be suitable for habitation” (1982, p. 123). That is exactly what the creationists have said all along! It is comforting to see that certain evolutionary scientists finally understand why.

REFERENCES

Carter, Brandon (1974), “Large Number Coincidences and the Anthropic Principle in Cosmology,” Confrontation of Cosmological Theories with Observational Data, ed. M.S. Longair (Dordrecht, Holland: Reidel).

Davies, Paul (1980), Other Worlds (New York: Simon & Schuster).

Davies, Paul (1982), The Accidental Universe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Dyson, Freeman (1971), Scientific American, September.

Gribbin, John (1981), Genesis: The Origins of Man and the Universe (New York: Delacorte Press).

Gribbin, John (1983), “Earth’s Lucky Break,” Science Digest, 91[5]:36,37,40,102, May.

Hawking, Stephen (1974), “The Anisotropy of the Universe at Large Times,” Confrontation of Cosmological Theories with Observational Data, ed. M.S. Longair (Dordrecht, Holland: Reidel).

Hawking, Stephen (1988), A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam).

Hoyle, Fred (1954), in Astrophysics Journal Supplement, Vol. I; see also Hoyle, Fred (1964), Galaxies, Nuclei and Quasars (New York: Harper & Row).

Jastrow, Robert (1984), “The Astronomer and God,” The Intellectuals Speak Out About God,” ed. Abraham Varghese (New York: Regnery Gateway).

Rothman, Tony (1987), “A ‘What You See Is What You Beget’ Theory,” Discover, 8[5]:90-99, May.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Probably the most definitive book yet written on the subject of the Anthropic Principle is the 706-page volume, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, co-authored by John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler (1986, Oxford University Press). Those interested in additional information on this topic may wish to examine this book for further insight.]


Originally published in Reason & Revelation, December 1990, 10[12]:49-52. Copyright © 1990 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved.



Copyright © 1990 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

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