The Anthropic Principle
Inexplicable features of natural evolution.
In recent years, a number of discoveries have made the point that we live in a very special sort of world that appears to be particularly suited for human habitation. Two quotations illustrate this point:
First from Fred HoyleM.92:
"A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."
Second, from Freeman DysonM.93:
The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.
These are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Hoyle's remark came about because of strong evidence that the most basic parameters of physics appear to be finely tuned. Dyson's remark points to the fact that we live in a teleological universe, that is, that the natural world displays purpose and direction, an arrow of development. The historical record does not show the characteristics of random, undirected, pointless (or whatever adjective you like) change overall, despite what some of the supposed experts claim.M.94 Of course, everyone agrees that there are accidents, chance events and random activity in the small, but that does not characterize the large picture.
These observations are wrapped up in a major theme that has developed over the past half-century, known as the Anthropic Principle: briefly, that the world appears to be designed specifically for human habitation.M.95 This is, of course, no surprise for those who accept the truth of God's revelation in the Bible, but it is surprising that the conclusion comes from Book of Nature, not just from the Book of Revelation.
The term comes from Brandon Carter's paper presented at a symposium celebrating Nicolaus Copernicus' 500th birthday.M.96 It is the subject of a major work, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, by John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, and many papers and articles since.
The theme, though, if not the terminology, has been around much longer—since, at least, remarks by Alfred Russel Wallace in a 1903 lecture series.M.98 He remarked that
[When] the growing power and perfection of the telescope and of improved astronomical instruments ... showed us the utter insignificance even of our sun and solar system among the countless hosts of stars and the myriads of clusters and nebulæ, we seemed ... to be forced to recognize the fact that this vast, stupendous universe could have no special relation to ourselves any more than to any other of the million suns and systems, many of which were probably far grander and more important than ours...
But during the last quarter of the past century the rapidly increasing body of facts and observations leading to a more detailed and accurate knowledge of stars and stellar systems have thrown a new and somewhat unexpected light on this very interesting problem of our relation to the universe of which we form a part; and although these discoveries have, of course, no bearing upon the special theological dogmas of the Christian, or of any other religion, they do tend to show that our position in the material universe is special and probably unique, and that it is such as to lend support to the view, held by many great thinkers and writers to-day, that the supreme end and purpose of this vast universe was the production and development of the living soul in the perishable body of man.
This, coming as it does from one of the collaborators of Charles Darwin himself in developing evolutionary theory, is a remarkable statement, and it has only been reinforced by science since that time.
The Anthropic principle has been developed in many directions. In physics and chemistry, the theme goes under the rubric "fine tuning"—the discovery that many parameters have precise values that allow the world and life as we know it to occur, and without these precise values, we, as humans, would never have been around to observe it! This fact in just one area—the creation of carbon and oxygen in the stars—is what led Fred Hoyle to the above quoted remark. Hugh Ross lists many of these fine tuning "coincidences".M.99
In biology, Michael Denton, makes similar remarks:
I believe the evidence strongly suggests that the cosmos is uniquely fit for only one type of biology—that which exists on earth—and that the phenomenon of life cannot be instantiated in any other exotic chemistry or class of material forms. Even more radically, I believe that there is a considerable amount of evidence for believing that the cosmos is uniquely fit for only one type of advanced intelligent life—beings of design and biology very similar to our own species, Homo sapiens.M.99a
His book concludes:
All the evidence available in the biological sciences supports the core proposition of traditional natural theology—that the cosmos is a specially designed whole with life and mankind as its fundamental goal and purpose, a whole in which all facets of reality, from the size of galaxies to the thermal capacity of water, have their meaning and explanation in this central fact.
... Four centuries after the scientific revolution apparently destroyed irretrievably man's special place in the universe, banished Aristotle, and rendered teleological speculation obsolete, the relentless stream of discovery has turned dramatically in favor of teleology and design, and the doctrine of the microcosm is reborn. As I hope the evidence presented in this book has shown, science, which has been for centuries the great ally of atheism and skepticism, has become at last, in these final days of the second millennium, what Newton and many of its early advocates had so fervently wished—the "defender of the anthropocentric faith."M.99b
This is a large subject, but the bottom line is that this universe is not accidental, and the record of life leading up to the creation of humans is not the result of random, undirected happenstance.