Answers in Genesis: The Anthropic Principle

A favorite of creationists is the Anthropic Principle — the argument that the laws of nature and the fundamental physical constants seem remarkably suited to our own existence. It’s an interesting speculation, and we’ve already said pretty much all we can say about it in Common Creationist Claims Confuted. But it keeps popping up in creationist publications and at creationist websites as one of their powerful arguments for Oogity Boogity! We found an interesting example today.

At the website of Answers in Genesis (AIG), one of the major sources of young-earth creationist wisdom — the anthropic principle shows up in AIG’s News to Note, January 22, 2011 — “A weekly feature examining news from the biblical viewpoint.”

It’s the third item down. The title is a link to an article in Technology Review, owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Evidence Emerges that Laws of Physics Are Not Fine-Tuned for Life.

Following that provocative title (provocative to creationists, that is) AIG adds their own sub-title in bold, which says: The laws of physics are fine-tuned for life, exactly what we would expect if the universe were intelligently designed. So what’s the latest atheistic rebuttal?

Ah, AIG is going to deal with MIT’s “atheist rebuttal” to the creationists’ fine-tuning argument. This should be fun. But first, let’s see what MIT says:

The cosmological constant is a number that determines the energy density of the vacuum. It acts like a kind of pressure that, depending on its value, acts against gravity to push the universe apart or acts with gravity to pull the universe together towards a final Big Crunch.

Until recently, cosmologists had assumed that the constant was zero, a neat solution. But the recent evidence that the universe is not just expanding but accelerating away from us, suggests that the constant is positive.

[…]

… [Don Page, a theoretical physicist at the University of Alberta in Canada] and others have examined the effects of changing this constant. It’s straightforward to show that if the the constant were any larger, matter would not form into galaxies and stars meaning that life could not form, at least not in the form we know it.

So what value of the cosmological constant best encourages galaxy and star formation, and therefore the evolution of life? Page says that a slightly negative value of the constant would maximise this process. And since life is some small fraction of the amount of matter in galaxies, then this is the value that an omnipotent being would choose.

Aha! We have the “wrong” cosmological constant — the cosmic designer goofed! Now let’s see what AIG says about this. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

To date, the most widely adopted atheistic solution to the problem was to posit that our universe exists in a multiverse: a family of nearly infinite universes, each with different values for those fundamental constants. Voilà: no wonder there’s a universe with the conditions right for life. Two problems plague this explanation, however. First, there’s only scant scientific evidence compatible with multiple universes. Second, this explanation leaves open the question of how we ended up in the “right” universe — seemingly another infinitesimal chance.

Their first point makes sense to us. Their second point is simply too pathetic to discuss. Then they describe Page’s work regarding the cosmological constant. The ways they wiggle around the designer’s bewilderingly bungled cosmological constant are quite interesting. They say:

Game over? Far from it, of course, for several reasons. First, the question remains of how the cosmological constant, even if not “perfect” is within the tiny interval that would allow for life.

Right. The cosmic designer should be allowed a bit of tolerance. He doesn’t have to be perfect. A bit of divine sloppiness is acceptable as long as the result is good enough to get the job done. Maybe the designer is a government worker. Let’s read on:

Second (and related), Page imputes motivations to God; that is, he presumes to know all of the factors God would have considered in creating the universe, and therefore presumes to know what God would have considered an “ideal” value. Of course, God may have had other reasons for leaving the cosmological constant slightly higher.

Another brilliant point. After all, who knows why the cosmic designer does what he does? What we see as a botched-up design may be perfect to the cosmic designer. Of course, that makes the task of detecting design somewhat difficult, but let’s not be distracted. We continue:

Third, Page does not address other physical constants that are also believed to be just right for life, and hence pointing to intelligent design.

Yeah! Just because one constant isn’t fine-tuned (which demolishes the whole argument), what about the others?

Having brilliantly dismissed Page’s work (it’s irrelevant, you see), AIG goes even further:

More potent rebuttals to Page are exclusive to biblical creationists. Fourth, we often point out that what looks to evolutionists like bad design (allegedly disproving intelligent design) may have been a consequence of the Fall. Thus, starting with Scripture, we know that the universe is not perfect as it once was.

Right! We can’t forget the Fall. That’s why nothing looks very perfect these days — even the universal constants. But that’s okay, because everything’s designed anyway. Here’s the last of it:

Fifth and finally, Page’s premise is that an intelligent designer would have set the cosmological constant to maximize the chance of life evolving. Yet if God created life on earth directly, and if humans are near the center of God’s creative goals, then the cosmological constant need not have taken on a particular value to somehow ensure life would appear on its own (as if it could!).

Wonderful! Almost any value for a constant will suffice to prove the “perfectly fine-tuned universe” argument. We’re always dazzled by the reasoning of creationists.

We shall now restate the fine-tuning argument, as enhanced by AIG:

The fundamental constants are perfectly designed for life, therefore Oogity Boogity! And even if they’re not so perfectly designed, Oogity Boogity anyway!

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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12 responses to “Answers in Genesis: The Anthropic Principle

  1. The fundamental constants are perfectly designed for life, therefore Oogity Boogity! And even if they’re not so perfectly designed, Oogity Boogity anyway!

    “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?”

  2. While I entirely agree with your anti-theist argument, “fine tuning” itself is not to be lightly dismissed.
    The phenomenon can be observed much further downstream than the physical constants, particularly in the field of chemistry. But this, together with the clear directionality observed for both biological and non-biological evolutionary processes, can be quite easily (if somewhat counter-intuitively) accounted for without recourse to any deity, creator or “higher intelligence”.
    This is the subject of my latest book “The Goldilocks Effect” which is available for free download in e-book formats from the “Unusual Perspectives” website.

  3. We do not know whether multiple universes actually exist, although we can mathematically model them. We do not know whether big bangs can produce other forces and constants or whether something in the process that produces big bangs makes our type of universe inevitable. Doc Bill (and others) may correct me on this, but I don’t think we have data on how lucky we are, so to speak, so using the anthropic principle to argue for divine creation is meaningless at this point.

    Even if we turn out to be living in a very fortunate universe, in my view it’s like the lotto. The odds are so much against winning the grand prize that it’s essentially equivalent to impossible, but nevertheless someone eventually does. They might very well think god had a special plan for them, but in the end, it was just luck.

  4. To borrow a line of reasoning from Martin Gardner, isn’t it wonderful that Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on a holiday?

  5. I don’t know what’s more pathetic, the DI’s “why don’t you love me?” attitude toward AiG, or AiG’s settling for a DI-style argument that accommodates OEC and common descent.

  6. Gabriel Hanna

    Another point: nobody at AIG tried to measure the constant; they just parasitze mainstream science as usual.

  7. Gabriel Hanna says:

    Another point: nobody at AIG tried to measure the constant …

    That’s understood. Creation science is never more than theological commentary.

  8. Yes, the Universe is finely tuned for Hoo-mons. That’s why we live in so much of it.

    Thanks to Google, the approximate volume of the visible universe is 10^80 cubic meters and the volume of the Earth is about 10^21.

    So, our little Garden of Eden occupies about 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 % of the Finely Tuned for Life Universe.

    Yea, Hoo-mons! We’re Number 1! We’re Number 1!

    p.s. I realize we live on the surface, but the approximation is just that.

    p.p.s. I realize we live on less than a quarter of the surface. We’re so Lucky to have such a Finely Tuned Planet!!!

  9. A little perspective is always refreshing…

  10. @Doc Bill:

    You forgot about the time dimension. Out of ~14 billion years of the existence of the universe, less than .05% of that time (7 million years) for our branch of the tree of life being distinct.

  11. @TomS:

    You forgot the 5th Dimension!

    This is the dawning of the Age of Ophiuchous …

    That’s it on the signpost up ahead. You’ve just entered the Twilight Zone!

  12. “Creation science is never more than theological commentary.”

    Exactly. Because creationists think that science = armchair philosophy.