Hi John: You are right that I did not make the point of my criticism clear enough. Apologies in advance for the long post, but it is necessary to make the point. In my opinion, the issue begins in the first paragraph of the article.
The anthropic principle holds that if such phenomena as the gravitational constant, the exact electric charge on the proton, the mass of electrons and neutrons, and a number of other deep characteristics of the Universe differed at all, human life would be impossible. According to its proponents, the Universe is fine-tuned for human life.
The issue is that there is a false dichotomy established at the very beginning which conflates the two issues (1. the details of the anthropic principle, and, 2. the implications of the anthropic principle.) The anthropic principle is a set of conditions that have been identified over time by a variety of scientists. They have been aggregated into a list of details that appear to have been finely tuned. As I’m sure you know, for each one these details, if they were to be slightly adjusted one way or another, it potentially would not allow for complex life to form.
By presenting the principle and associating its proponents with the ID movement, they are presenting an argument that calls into question the principle itself. What I’m contending is that the principle, and the implications that some draw from the principle, should be evaluated on their own. If the author has a problem with the ratio of the gravitational force constant to the electromagnetic force constant not being able to vary by one part in 1040, then he should state why he believes this is the case. And on and on for any other data point on the list. If he has no issue with these details, then the problem is not with the anthropic principle itself. But this is not at all made clear. Instead, he associates the entire list with the ID movement and presents what seems to be his problem with the theory:
This raises more than a few questions. For one, who was the presumed cosmic dial-twiddler? (Obvious answer, for those so inclined: God.) Second, what’s the basis for presuming that the key physical constants in such a Universe have been fine-tuned for us and not to ultimately give rise to the hairy-nosed wombats of Australia, or maybe the bacteria and viruses that outnumber us by many orders of magnitude?
So now he gets to what he considers the big problem - some people conclude that these conditions were set forth by God, and that they were ultimately for the benefit of humans.
These conclusions are certainly some that could be drawn by people who peruse the list, but they are not implicit in the anthropic principle itself. So, what we end up is the baby being thrown out with the bathwater. The author does not point out any real, significant problems with the data, rather he conflates the topic with a group of people who draw a certain conclusion and rejects it all because of that.
If I were a scientist, I would be disappointed by this, because in reading the article, it is impossible to walk away not believing that the anthropic principle is just some silly idea dreamed up by the Discovery Institute, for instance… We know that isn’t the truth, but the reader does not.
Given the abundance of other possible locations, if humans existed simply as a result of chance alone, we’d find ourselves (very briefly) somewhere in the very cold empty void of outer space, and would be dead almost instantly. Might this, in turn, contribute to the conclusion that our very existence is evidence of a beneficent designer? But we’re not the outcome of a strictly random process: we find ourselves occupying the third planet from the Sun, which has sufficient oxygen, liquid water, moderate temperatures, and so forth. It isn’t a coincidence that we occupy a planet that is suitable for life, if only because we couldn’t survive where it isn’t. It’s no more amazing that the Earth isn’t a hot gas giant than the fact that no matter how tall or short a person might be, her legs are always precisely long enough to reach the ground.
To marvel at the fact of our existing is like a golf ball being amazed that it ended up wherever it did
Now this is truly amazing, because if we lived in outer space we would be dead. If we humans existed by chance alone, we may die in the vacuum of space. But we live on earth, so it is not a coincidence that we occupy a planet that is suitable for life? Why, because we cannot survive where we cannot exist!! Now the picture is becoming much more clear!! This is the entire point of the anthropic principle. Because of the microscopic adjustments that are in place, we have at least one good location where life can exist. You can ascribe that to randomness or God or anything else. If you think someone or no one is responsible for the fine-tuning, it doesn’t affect the viability of the fine tuning at all.
Consider the probabilities before versus after a simple event, such as the position of a golf ball before compared to after a golfer hits it. It would take a near-miracle to identify precisely where that ball will eventually come to rest. But the outcome – wherever the golf ball ends up – isn’t a miracle at all.
The point of the anthropic principle is that there are dozens of conditions wherein a very slight adjustment one way or another would utterly preclude life. This analogy has nothing to do with the topic. It is an utter straw man. An analogy that would be similar would be to suggest that one hits a golf ball, blindfolded, out into space and it ends up on the tip of a pin a million miles away, instead of ending up in any other location in the universe. I’m sure that the author understands this, but he makes the topic sound more humiliating by describing it this way.
That anyone wins a lottery is not amazing. That I win a lottery is amazing. Yes, someone had to win, but it was so unlikely that it would be me, that I would never even conceive of winning. No one would minimize the inconceivable odds by saying, “It’s nothing. Someone had to win anyhow.”
According to the perspective and logic of the anthropic principle, every member of the human population of roughly 7.5 billion can therefore insist that his or her existence was foreordained, evidence of a me-thropic principle.
I think that they author’s disdain for conclusions that some draw from the AP is clearly seen here. There is some incredible science behind the anthropic principle, despite how any individual interprets the implications. The conclusion that these conditions were “god-caused” or “random” should not conflated with the principle itself, as is done here. As I said before, this article seems to have intentionally sacrificed the science itself so as to attack the reputation of ID. The term anthropic principle predated the “intelligent design” movement by eleven years, and physicist Robert Dicke presented his “coincidences” twelve years prior to the AP being named. There is no justification for attacking the principle as though it were the embodiment of ID. As such, I stand by my opinion that this author is willing to dispense of good science if it can damage the reputation of intelligent design.
Again, I’m sorry that this is so long!