February 28, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Anthropic Principle Won’t Go Away

The so-called “Anthropic Principle” is the observation that the universe, whether by accident or design, appears to have been fine-tuned for our existence.  Dating back decades, if not centuries, the idea has been alternately criticized and seriously pondered by the world’s greatest cosmologists.  During the 1990s the idea was ridiculed to the point that, if you mentioned the “a” word at an astronomy conference, you risked being pelted with eggs.  Now, according to Dan Falk in the March 2004 issue of Sky and Telescope (pp. 42-47), it is undergoing a “surprising resurgence.”  Several astronomers used the “a” word at a UC Davis conference in March 2003 and left with clean clothes and thoughtful hearers.
    Falk lists some of the “cosmic coincidences” that seem designed for our benefit: (1) the strength of gravity, (2) the smoothness of the Big Bang, (3) The masses of subatomic particles, (4) the strength of the strong nuclear force, and (5) the magnitude of the cosmological constant.  There are many other parameters, from atomic to planetary to cosmic, that have been cited in the debate.  Some of the parameters Falk lists are recent additions, especially #5.  He cites Linde claiming that the cosmological constant is just slightly above zero, yet 120 orders of magnitude smaller than expected.  If it were much higher, stars and galaxies could not exist.  Are the life-favoring values of these physical constants due to luck, or are they evidence for a benevolent Creator?
    Falk quotes Paul Davies, Andrei Linde, and other advocates and naysayers.  Some, like Stephen Weinberg, think it argues for a “multiverse” (the idea that our universe is the lucky one out of many, perhaps an infinite number of universes).  Surprisingly, Falk gives this bizarre interpretation the best press, calling it “more or less established – as a viable scientific idea if not an immediately testable hypothesis.” Others, however, like David Spergel (Princeton) think the A.P. commits intellectual surrender.
    Perhaps the most telling criticism of the A.P. is by David Gross, a string theorist (UCSB).  Falk says that Gross considers it a “dangerous” explanation, because “it plays into the hands of ‘Intelligent Design’ supporters, who feel that the universe was custom-made for human beings by a benevolent God” (Falk’s paraphrase).  In Gross’s words, “It smells of religion, and like religion, it can’t be disproved.”  Spergel is similarly disdainful: “Some people invoke miracles to explain the underlying processes in evolution, and some people invoke the anthropic principle to explain the underlying processes of cosmology.”  To him, this is intellectual surrender, claiming that things we don’t understand are things we will never understand.

Here we see the Elephant in the Living Room phenomenon.  Design in nature is the elephant, and the cosmologists are the investigators explaining why the elephant is not really there.  The elephant, however, continues to make its presence known, denials notwithstanding.
    Find the contradiction in the statements above.  Gross criticizes religion because it cannot be disproved, but can multiple universes be disproved?  There is no way to observe or test the existence of multiple universes; the whole notion was invented to get around the obvious evidence for design in our universe.  It is our universe that is subject to observation and testing, not some hypothetical multiverse.  That makes the multiverse explanation essentially a religious notion.
    And cannot a religion be disproved?  Some can, if they make statements about the world or the universe that can be tested.  If a religion teaches that the earth sits on top of a turtle or is held up by Atlas, you can check from a spacecraft.  If Mormonism teaches that American Indians are descendants of Israelites, you can compare their DNA (see DNA vs. the Book of Mormon).  Why doesn’t Gross get on Andre Linde’s case?  He is a Hindu.  Doesn’t an infinite series of multiple universes play into the hands of his religious beliefs?
    Gross might reply that no amount of evidence will convince a believer.  OK, let’s apply that standard to the Darwinians.  No hypocrisy here; the Darwin Party always goes where the evidence leads (see 02/27/2004 entry, for example).  If evidence for design is staring them in the face, they will go to the lengths of proposing hypothetical infinite universes, which can never be observed, to maintain their faith in Pope Darwin (see 02/13/2004 entry).  Spergel seems to be thinking of theistic evolutionists when he says, “Some people invoke miracles to explain the underlying processes in evolution.”  Yet that is exactly what fundamentalist Darwinians do, when they incessantly trust in the mythical powers of “emergence” (see 02/25/2003 commentary).  This is intellectual surrender as much as any easy-believism in religion.  On the contrary, the Design perspective has a track record as a driving force for discovery in the history of science (see online book).
    The Gross fear that the anthropic principle plays into the hands of Intelligent Design supporters betrays naked atheistic bias.  He will not allow non-skeptics into the room to declare, “There is an elephant in here!”  No, that is intellectual surrender.  We must find a different explanation for this pain on my foot.  Those are the rules.  No elephants allowed.  That is how science must be done.  Keep looking.

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