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The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design - Page 12

The Anthropic Principle: Cosmic Version

Dawkins correctly notes: "Physicists have calculated that, if the laws and constants of physics had been even slightly different, the universe would have developed in such a way that life would have been impossible." 141 However, Dawkins attempts to use the anthropic principle as an explanation for this observation when it is in fact a restatement of the observation: "We live not only on a friendly planet but also in a friendly universe. It follows from the fact of our existence that the laws of physics must be friendly enough to allow life to arise." 142 It follows from the observation that we exist that the laws of physics are compatible with our existence, but unfortunately for Dawkins it does not follow from the observation of our existence that the laws of physics are necessarily compatible with our existence. Dawkins' anthropic "explanation" flounders by equivocating over the meaning of the term "must"; and by treating the data to be explained as an explanation of the data to be explained, as the following quotation makes painfully clear:

The anthropic answer, in its most general form, it that we could only be discussing the question in the kind of universe that was capable of producing us. Our existence therefore determines that the fundamental constants of physics had to be in their respective Goldilocks zones. 143

Dawkins once again gives the lie to his false claim that the anthropic principle is itself an "explanation" by referencing John Leslie's analogy of the man sentenced to death by firing squad who survives to muse that "Well, obviously they all missed, or I wouldn't be here thinking about it." 144 As Dawkins says: "he could still, forgivably, wonder why they'd all missed, and toy with the hypothesis that they were bribed..." 145 In other words, the anthropic observation of the man's existence post firing squad, depending as it does upon an unlikely set of preconditions (all the firing squad missing), does nothing to explain his existence, exclude the hypothesis of intelligent design, or guarantee the truth of a non-design explanation. As Guillermo Gonzalez points out:

The [anthropic principle] has been acknowledged for about a quarter of a century, but it was not until John Barrow and Frank Tipler published their massive technical work The Anthropic Cosmological Principle in 1986 that it was widely discussed. The Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP) is the most basic version--the simple recognition that the parameters we observe in our environment must not be incompatible with our existence. It is difficult to quarrel with the simple physical interpretation of the WAP: it is just a type of observer selection bias. We should not be surprised to observe, for example, that we are living on a planet with an oxygen-rich atmosphere, for the simple reason that we require oxygen to live. The WAP "explains" why we should not observe ourselves to be living on, say, Titan, but it fails to account for the origin of the oxygen in our atmosphere... However, Barrow and Tipler, no doubt motivated by the philosophical CP, have burdened the basic physical interpretation of the WAP with unwarranted philosophical extrapolations. In considering the WAP with regard to the observable universe, they claim that we ought not be surprised at measuring a universe so finely tuned for life, for if it were different, we would not observe it. But as Richard Swinburne first explained and as William Lane Craig and John Leslie later argued, we should indeed be surprised at observing features of the universe that are highly improbable and are necessary for our existence.... 146

Swinburne famously used the example of a card-shuffling machine to advance the design argument from cosmic fine-tuning:

Suppose that a madman kidnaps a victim and shuts him in a room with a card-shuffling machine. The machine shuffles ten decks of cards simultaneously and then draws a card from each deck and exhibits simultaneously the ten cards. The kidnapper tells the victim that he will shortly set the machine to work and it will exhibit its first draw, but that unless the draw consists of an ace of hearts from each deck, the machine will simultaneously set off an explosion which will kill the victim, in consequence of which he will not see which cards the machine drew. The machine is then set to work, and to the amazement and relief of the victim the machine exhibits an ace of hearts drawn from each deck. The victim thinks that this extraordinary fact needs an explanation in terms of the machine having been rigged in some way. But the kidnapper, who now reappears, casts doubt on this suggestion. "It is hardly surprising", he says, "that the machine draws only aces of hearts. You could not possibly see anything else. For you would not be here to see anything at all, if any other cards had been drawn." But of course the victim is right and the kidnapper is wrong. There is indeed something extraordinary in need of explanation in ten aces of hearts being drawn. The fact that this peculiar order is a necessary condition of the draw being perceived at all makes what is perceived no less extraordinary and in need of explanation. The teleologist's starting-point is not that we perceive order rather than disorder, but that order rather than disorder is there. Maybe only if order is there can we know what is there, but that makes what is there no less extraordinary and in need of explanation. 147

Swinburne's example shows that the fact that an event is a pre-condition of its being observed does not explain the occurrence of the event, or negate the obvious fact that "the victim is right and the kidnapper is wrong" about intelligent design being the best explanation for the event described (which Swinburne offers as being a parallel to the fine-tuning of the cosmos). It is clear that Swinburne's card-shuffling machine example presents us with an instance of specified complexity. The kidnap victim is right, not merely because an "extraordinary" (i.e. unlikely) event happened (the ace of hearts being drawn from each deck) but because this complex event is also specified (only this "peculiar" event that will prevent the machine from exploding).

Jimmy H. Davies and Harry L. Poe explain that: "The Weak Anthropic Principle is a tautology; it states the obvious. If the universe was not fit for life, then we would not be here." 148 This tautology does absolutely nothing to explain the surprising existence of specified complexity. While he seems to remain somewhat confused on the issue, Dawkins clearly admits that the anthropic principle does not provide answer the surprise of our existence:

The evolution of complex life, indeed its very existence in a universe obeying physical laws, is wonderfully surprising - or would be but for the fact that surprise is an emotion that can exist only in a brain which is the product of that very surprising process. There is an anthropic sense, then, in which our existence should not be surprising. I'd like to think that I speak for my fellow humans in insisting, nevertheless, that it is desperately surprising. 149

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