Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Anthropic Coincidences

Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, in their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, as well as Lee Strobel, in his book Case For a Creator, use the Anthropic Coincidences as an argument that man was placed here by some intelligence. The argument is incredibly appealing, and I find it a fascinating concept. Geisler and Turek cleverly use the ill fated Apollo 13 moon mission to list about fifteen physical or environmental factors in our solar system that are vital for the existence of life. These include the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels on earth, moon-earth gravity interactions, water vapour levels, etc. Like the Apollo 13 spacecraft, if any of these factors were slightly different, humans would not be able to live, or even exist, on earth. The odds are highly unlikely, they argue, that all these conditions just happened to occur all together by chance. The conclusion is that man must have been placed here for a reason, by some form of intelligence.
 
The following are possible counter arguments:
 
First, this argument assumes that one type of life is possible. If any of conditions were slightly different, life would not have been possible, but this would be life as we know it. Who knows, some other kind of life could have developed in our place.
 
Second, the universe is incredibly large, containing billions of galaxies, each containing billions of starts and possibly trillions of planets. With such a large number of planets, it’s no surprise that at least one planet happened to find itself in conditions favourable to life.
 
Third, the argument is extremely anthro-arrogant. It argues that conditions were put in place to sustain humans. But the opposite might be true: what if humankind is a just a chance by-product of the set of conditions that just happened to form in this part of the universe? A well-known story illustrates this point. A puddle of water that finds itself in a small hole in the road, looks around, and suddenly exclaims: “Wow, the shape of the hole was designed exactly right just to fit me!”
 
We have no empirical evidence of the intelligence that was supposed to have placed us here. However, we know that life is incredibly resilient, and can exist in a wide variety of conditions. Therefore, until new information comes along (and despite the fact that I find this a fascinating concept), I will lean towards the view that life was not a result of intelligence but of conditions that happened to form in this part of the universe.

7 comments:

Shmanky said...

I think we should take the argument at face value and say, Okay...

The universe is 13,700,000,000 years old. Humans have been on earth for around 100,000 years. Division...

100,000 / 13,700,000,000 = 7.3x10-6

How much smaller is this than 1%? How can the Universe be designed for us if for >>99% of the time we haven't been here? Clearly the Universe is tuned for something, but not us. How about something that's been in the Universe during the whole time, like stars, galaxies, hydrogen clouds, and black holes, as Lee Smolin argues in his book The Life of the Cosmos.

Kevin Cadman said...

Very interesting. What I find fascinating is just how much more appealing the Intelligent Design theories are. They're just that much easier to believe. Also, ID requires no knowledge to understand, whereby evolution requires a vast amount of studying to understand. (I understand very little of it...)

You mention earlier you listened to a debate with an evolutionist (can't remember his name) and Kent Hovind. I too watched the video of that and admittedly, if I was in an agnostic position, would find the ID argument way more convincing. As you metion, it's his style not his content.

For me, I'm content knowing I'll never know how exactly we got here. I'm also content in my knowledge that, just as sure as I am that I wasn't dropped off by a Stork when I was born, this pseudo-benevolent Judeo-Christian deity didn't put me here.

For Christianity, I think the proverb The Devil is in the Details fits best. As a 'bigger picture' it's easy to accept, but don't you dare examine it!

Just a thought -- why did God put a "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" in the Garden of Eden in the first place? Silly God!

Excellent blog.

Cheers,
Kevin

island said...

Shmanky, the anthopic principle notes that the universe has to be as old as it is for the universe to have evolved enough to produce "sites" that are conducive to life, and stars haven't been here forever either. Regardless, the honest scientific approach to such evidence would be to try to find some good physical reason why intelligent life might be important to the evolutionary process of the universe... but the typical neodarwinian form is to automatically try to downplay the significance, instead.

Whatever... the strongest feature of the anthropic coincidences is that they are all balanced between diametrically opposing runaway tendiencies. Every coincidence notes that life ONLY appears ecobalanced between opposing runaway tendiences.

Would you like for me to use this fact, (that neodarwinians refuse to recognize), to make a testable prediction about where else in our universe that life is most probable?

Don't you think that this information could be useful to evolutionary biology if antifanatics weren't too busy denying evidence to use it?

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Kevin

Thanks for a wonderful comment. I totally agree with you: Scientific Creationism and Intelligent Design are incredibly appealing simply because it takes very little effort to understand them. I’ve never thought about this point before.

Your comment has inspired me to write a post on why we as humans battle to grasp a concept like evolution. I still sometimes battle with it myself, despite the fact that I did a course on it at university. Evolution seems counter-intuitive to our thinking, somehow. A few years ago I read Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker, and I vaguely remember him discussing a few points on why many people battle to grasp evolution. I will dig up my copy of The Blind Watchmaker and will later write up a post on this topic.

Thanks again
Kevin

Kevin Parry said...

Island wrote:
Would you like for me to use this fact, (that neodarwinians refuse to recognize), to make a testable prediction about where else in our universe that life is most probable?

I don’t have any problem with this. I think that one can use the anthropic coincidences to predict where life might exist in other parts of the universe. In fact, I think this is what scientists are doing. The discovery last week of an earth sized planet around a red dwarf star is a case in point. Scientists suggested that it is highly unlikely that life exists on that planet, simply because it orbits too far away from the red dwarf, and thus experiences extremely cold temperatures. This is based on the fact that life as we know it can only survive in a narrow temperature range (this is one of the anthropic coincidences).

So I don’t have a problem with using the anthropic coincidences as a basis to further scientific research. What I do have a problem with, however, is with the suggestion that the anthropic coincidences were put in place by some form of intelligence. I don’t see how your suggested test can falsify the intelligent design hypothesis. In fact, and this could be the result of my lack of imagination, I can’t think of any test that can be used. If there is no way to test it, then the idea of intelligent design cannot be validated in any way, and thus it is a useless explanation of how the anthropic coincidences came to be. I’m not saying that an intelligent designer wasn’t responsible, I’m just saying that as an explanation it is simply vacuous.

Kevin

island said...

So I don’t have a problem with using the anthropic coincidences as a basis to further scientific research. What I do have a problem with, however, is with the suggestion that the anthropic coincidences were put in place by some form of intelligence. I don’t see how your suggested test can falsify the intelligent design hypothesis.

I'm sorry that I'm so late getting back to this, but my computer went down and I lost this reference.

Anyway... Kevin, I agree with your statement. I'm a scientist, not a fanatic, and I do not support ID, but I do very strongly believe that the AP is entirely relevant and necessary to our understanding of the universe.

Unfortunately, making this point is like beating your head against a wall, due to the vast amout of abuse that the the principle is subject to from BOTH loser sides of the debate.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi island

Thank you again for your comments. I agree with you that advocates on both sides of the debate can become so polarised in their views that the whole subject of AP becomes a bit of a mess. It is a bit of a pity, really.

Kevin