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«The discovery during our generation of the so-called anthropic coincidences in the initial conditions of the universe has breathed new life into the ...»

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THE TELEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

AND THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE

Dr. William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada,

California. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife Jan and their two teenage children Charity and John.

At the age of sixteen as a junior in high school, he first heard the message of the Christian gospel and

yielded his life to Christ. Dr. Craig pursued his undergraduate studies at Wheaton College (B.A. 1971) and graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A. 1974; M.A. 1975), the University of Birmingham (England) (Ph.D. 1977), and the University of Munich (Germany) (D.Theol. 1984). From 1980-86 he taught Philosophy of Religion at Trinity, during which time he and Jan started their family. In 1987 they moved to Brussels, Belgium, where Dr. Craig pursued research at the University of Louvain until 1994.

The discovery during our generation of the so-called anthropic coincidences in the initial conditions of the universe has breathed new life into the teleological argument. Use of the Anthropic Principle to nullify our wonder at these coincidences is logically fallacious unless conjoined with the metaphysical hypothesis of a World Ensemble. There are no reasons to believe that such an Ensemble exists nor that, if it does, it has the properties necessary for the Anthropic Principle to function. Typical objections to the alternative hypothesis of divine design are not probative.

"The Teleological Argument and the Anthropic Principle." In The Logic of Rational Theism: Exploratory Essays, pp. 127-153. Edited by Wm. L. Craig and M. McLeod. Problems in Contemporary Philosophy 24.

Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1990.

Introduction Widely thought to have been demolished by Hume and Darwin, the teleological argument for God's existence has nonetheless continued during this century to find able defenders in F.R. Tennant, Peter Bertocci, and Stuart C. Hackett.

All of these have appealed to what Tennant called "wider teleology," which emphasizes the necessary conditions for the existence and evolution of intelligent life, rather than specific instances of purposive design. Unfortunately, they could speak of this wider teleology for the most part only in generalities, for example, "the fitness of the inorganic to minister to life," but could furnish few specific examples of experimental fact to illustrate this cosmic teleology.

In recent years, however, the scientific community has been stunned by its discovery of how complex and sensitive a nexus of conditions must be given in order for the universe to permit the origin and evolution of intelligent life on Earth. The universe appears, in fact, to have been incredibly fine-tuned from the moment of its inception for the production of intelligent life on Earth at this point in cosmic history. In the various fields of physics and astrophysics, classical cosmology, quantum mechanics, and biochemistry, various discoveries have repeatedly disclosed that the existence of intelligent carbon-based life on Earth at this time depends upon a delicate balance of physical and cosmological quantities, such that were any one of these quantities to be slightly altered, the balance would be destroyed and life would not exist.

Let us briefly review some of the cosmological and physical quantities that have been found to exhibit this delicate balance necessary for the existence of intelligent life on Earth at this epoch in cosmic history.{1} Examples of Wider Teleology Physics and Astrophysics To begin with the most general of conditions, it was shown by G. J. Whitrow in 1955 that intelligent life would be impossible except in a universe of three basic dimensions. When formulated in three dimensions, mathematical physics possesses many unique properties which are necessary prerequisites for the existence of rational information-processing observers like ourselves. Moreover, dimensionality plays a key role in determining the form of the laws of physics and in fashioning the roles played by the constants of nature.

For example, it is due to its basic three-dimensionality that the world possesses the chemistry that it does, which furnishes some key conditions necessary for the existence of life. Whitrow could not answer the question why the actual universe happens to possess three dimensions, but noted that if it did not, then we should not be here to ask the question.

More specifically, the values of the various forces of nature appear to be fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent life. The world is conditioned principally by the values of the fundamental constants a (the fine structure constant, or electromagnetic interaction), mn/me (proton to electron mass ratio, aG (gravitation), aw (the weak force), and as (the strong force). When one mentally assigns different values to these constants or forces, one discovers that in fact the number of observable universes, that is to say, universes capable of supporting intelligent life, is very small. Just a slight variation in any one of these values would render life impossible.

For example, if as were increased as much as 1%, nuclear resonance levels would be so altered that almost all carbon would be burned into oxygen; an increase of 2% would preclude formation of protons out of quarks, preventing the existence of atoms. Furthermore, weakening as by as much as 5% would unbind deuteron, which is essential to stellar nucleosynthesis, leading to a universe composed only of hydrogen. It has been estimated that as must be within 0.8 and 1.2 its actual strength or all elements of atomic weight greater than four would not have formed. Or again, if aw had been appreciably stronger, then the Big Bang's nuclear burning would have proceeded past helium to iron, making fusion-powered stars impossible. But if it had been much weaker, then we should have had a universe entirely of helium. Or again, if aG had been a little greater, all stars would have been red dwarfs, which are too cold to support life-bearing planets. If it had been a little smaller, the universe would have been composed exclusively of blue giants which burn too briefly for life to develop. According to Davies, changes in either aG or electromagnetism by only one part in 1040 would have spelled disaster for stars like the sun. Moreover, the fact that life can develop on a planet orbiting a star at the right distance depends on the close proximity of the spectral temperature of starlight to the molecular binding energy. Were it greatly to exceed this value, living organisms would be sterilized or destroyed; but were it far below this value, then the photochemical reactions necessary to life would proceed too slowly for life to exist. Or again, atmospheric composition, upon which life depends, is constrained by planetary mass. But planetary mass is the inevitable consequence of electromagnetic and gravitational interactions. And there simply is no physical theory which can explain the numerical values of a and mn/me that determine electromagnetic interaction.





Moreover, life depends upon the operation of certain principles in the quantum realm. For example, the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which states that no more than one particle of a particular kind and spin is permitted in a single quantum state, plays a key role in nature. It guarantees the stability of matter and the size of atomic and molecular structures and creates the shell structure of atomic electrons. In a world not governed by this principle, only compact, superdense bodies could exist, providing little scope for complex structures or living organisms. Or again, quantization is also essential for the existence and stability of atomic systems. In quantum physics, the atom is not conceived on the model of a tiny solar system with each electron in its orbit around the nucleus. Such a model would be unstable because any orbit could be an arbitrary distance from the nucleus. But in quantum physics, there is only one orbital radius available to an electron, so that, for example, all hydrogen atoms are alike. As a consequence, atomic systems and matter are stable and therefore life-permitting.

Classical Cosmology

Several of the constants mentioned in the foregoing section also play a crucial role in determining the temporal phases of the development of the universe and thus control features of the universe essential to life. For example, aG, and mn/me constrain (i) the main sequence stellar lifetime, (ii) the time before which the expansion dynamics of the expanding universe are determined by radiation rather than matter, (iii) the time after which the universe is cool enough for atoms and molecules to form, (iv) the time necessary for protons to decay, and (v) the Planck time.

Furthermore, a fine balance must exist between the gravitational and weak interactions. If the balance were upset in one direction, the universe would have been constituted by 100% helium in its early phase, which would have made it impossible for life to exist now. If the balance were tipped in the other direction, then it would not have been possible for neutrinos to blast the envelopes of supernovae into space and so distribute the heavy elements essential to life.

Furthermore, the difference between the masses of the neutron and the proton is also part of a very delicate coincidence which is crucial to a life-supporting environment. This difference prevents protons from decaying into neutrons, which, if it happened, would make life impossible. This ratio is also balanced with the electron mass, for if the neutron mass failed to exceed the proton mass by a little more than the electron mass, then atoms would simply collapse.

Considerations of classical cosmology allow us to introduce a new parameter, S, the entropy per baryon in the universe, which is about 109. Unless S were 1011, galaxies would not have been able to form, making planetary life impossible. S is itself a consequence of the baryon asymmetry in the universe, which arises from the inexplicably built-in asymmetry of quarks ever anti-quarks prior to 10-6 seconds after the Big Bang.

In investigating the initial conditions of the Big Bang, one is also confronted with two arbitrary parameters governing the expansion of the universe: Wo, related to the density of the universe, and Ho, related to the speed of the expansion. Observations indicate that at 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang the universe was expanding at a fantastically special rate of speed with a total density close to the critical value on the borderline between recollapse and everlasting expansion. Hawking estimated that even a decrease of one part in a million million when the temperature of the universe was 1010 degrees would have resulted in the universe's recollapse long ago; a similar increase would have precluded the galaxies from condensing out of the expanding matter. At the Planck time, 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang, the density of the universe must have apparently been within about one part in 1060 of the critical density at which space is flat. This results in the so-called "flatness problem": why is the universe expanding at just such a rate that space is Euclidean rather than curved? A second problem that arises is the "homogeneity problem." There is a very narrow range of initial conditions which must obtain if galaxies are to form later. If the initial inhomogeneity ratio were 10-2, then non-uniformities would condense prematurely into black holes before the stars form. But if the ratio were 10-5, inhomogeneities would be insufficient to condense into galaxies. Because matter in the universe is clumped into galaxies, which is a necessary condition of life, the initial inhomogeneity ratio appears to be incredibly fine-tuned. Thirdly, there is the "isotropy problem." The temperature of the universe is amazing in its isotropy: it varies by less than one part in a thousand over the whole of the sky.

But at very early stages of the universe, the different regions of the universe were causally disjointed, since light beams could not travel fast enough to connect the rapidly receding regions. How then did these unconnected regions all happen to possess the same temperature and radiation density? Penrose has calculated that in the absence of new physical principles to explain this, "the accuracy of the Creator's aim" when he selected this world from the set of physically possible ones would need to have been at least of the order of one part in 1010(123)!

Contemporary cosmologists have found an answer to these three problems--or at least seem certain that they are on its track--in inflationary models of the early universe. According to this adjustment to the standard Big Bang cosmology, between 10 -43 and 10-35 seconds after the Big Bang, the universe underwent an exponentially rapid inflation of space faster than the speed of light. This inflationary epoch resulted in the nearly flat curvature of space, pushed inhomogeneities beyond our horizon, and served to bury us far within a single region of space-time whose parts were causally connected at pre-inflationary times.



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