The Anthropic Principle

Personally, I can’t get excited about what has become known as the anthropic principle. But as we have been considering The God Delusion over the past few posts, and the anthropic principle is referred to in Dawkins’ central argument, I thought we ought to look it over. In this post, I will outline why I believe it to be a poor argument.

When we consider the universe and the likelihood of it existing in a state that can support intelligent life, we come to realise that there are a number of constants which need to be the exact values we find them to be by observation. For example, the rate of expansion of the universe needs to be the value that it is: if it were too slow or too fast, we just would not exist. In Dawkins’ The God Delusion, quoting from Martin Rees’ Just Six Numbers, he says that there are six fundamental constants that need to be just right in order for us to exist.

The above facts lead theists to conclude that God must have ‘fine tuned’ these values to in order for the universe to allow life; and the atheist must accept they are the way they are as a matter of chance. Richard Dawkins says that the theists answer is ‘deeply unsatisfying because it leaves the existence of God unexplained’. Of the two possibilities (God or chance), Dawkins rules out the possibility of God based upon probability. He says that a God capable of fine tuning the values necessary for the existence of life is ‘at least as improbable as the combination of numbers itself’ and on that basis must be ruled out.

So that leaves us with the explanation that the values of these factors are the way they are by chance. Apparently, chance provides a better explanation, and chance is a good way of summing up his entire argument against the existence of God: the universe exists by chance, the laws of physics are friendly to life by chance, we are in a life-friendly zone of the universe by chance, life began by chance, even the processes that develop life (including evolution) exist by chance.

Well, personally, I do not find that explanation any more satisfying. And it does not help to explain anything by giving the multiplication of chance events a fancy name (the anthopic principle) either. The anthropic principle i.e. that it is unremarkable that all those coincidences or chance events happened because we are here to contemplate them, is a poor argument. The fact that Dawkins invokes the anthropic principle to show that chance is a good explanation for the existence of the universe and that theists have advanced the same argument to show that God exists should surely tell us one thing: the anthropic principle is a poor argument because it actually explains nothing.

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