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Weak Anthropic Principle? Not an Explanation but a Tautology!

Compared to the Strong Anthropic Principle — the universe is objectively fine-tuned for life — the Weak Anthropic Principle aims to avoid evidence and subvert discussion

My friend and colleague Dr. Bob Marks has a wonderful podcast with Swedish mathematician Ola Hössjer and Colombian biostatistician Daniel Díaz, regarding a recent paper they published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics on fine tuning for life in the universe.

It’s very clear from astrophysics that many physical variables in the early universe needed to take very specific values — with very little margin for error — to permit the emergence of life. This is quite remarkable, and the authors have written a very nice paper exploring the probabilities involved in this apparent fine-tuning in considerable detail. It’ fascinating and I highly recommend listening to the podcast.

In the most recent segment, “Our universe survived a firing squad — and it’s just an accident?”, Bob and his guests discussed the Strong and Weak Anthropic Principles. Both principles are efforts to explain the fine-tuning of the universe for life.

The Strong Anthropic Principle explains the fine-tuning as purposeful, with a goal in mind. This seems to be the obvious (and I will argue only) explanation for the remarkable and precise fine-tuning that the data reveals.
The proponents of the Weak Anthropic Principle purport to explain the fine-tuning as uninteresting, because without fine-tuning we would not be here to comment on it. We couldn’t not find it, because, if the universe were not fine-tuned, we wouldn’t be here. The implication is that there’s nothing surprising about the fine-tuning and no reason to take the Strong Anthropic Principle seriously — that is, there’s no reason to infer design.

Piano tuning process. closeup of hand and tools of tuner working on grand piano. Detailed view of Upright Piano during a tuning

The Weak Anthropic Principle, which is widely held by atheists, is meaningless: Only in a universe that permits the existence of intelligent beings can intelligent beings exist — i.e., only a universe with intelligent beings can be a universe with intelligent beings. The Weak Anthropic Principle is a tautology. And a tautology is not an explanation. It’s merely a sentence in which the predicate is the same as the subject. It’s meaningless.

The Weak Anthropic Principle isn’t a scientific explanation for the fine-tuning in the universe. It isn’t science and it isn’t an explanation of anything — no tautology is.

To get a better sense of the tautological nature of the Weak Anthropic Principle, consider two anthropologists discussing the remarkable emergence of language in man. One anthropologist says, “There is nothing at all remarkable about the emergence of language in man, because if language had not emerged in man, we wouldn’t be able to ask the question.” The other anthropologist, if he were a sensible man and a good scientist, would dismiss his colleague’s nonsensical theory because it’s tautological. It explains nothing. The remarkable emergence of language in man still requires explanation.

To sum up, tautologies like the Weak Anthropic Principle or the “Weak Language Emergence Principle” are literally meaningless. They are certainly not scientific explanations or explanations of any sort.

By contrast, the Strong Anthropic Principle — the theory that the universe is designed for life — is a scientific explanation. Its implications are revolutionary and are consistent with an enormous range of data in cosmology, physics, and biology that point unmistakably to the existence of an Intelligent Designer.

If the scientific profession were not infested with atheism and materialism, the debate over intelligent design would already be settled.

Here are the previous instalments of the discussion Robert J. Marks, Ola Hössjer, and Danial Díaz discussing the fine tuning of the universe for life:

The first episode:

Ours is a finely tuned — and No Free Lunch — universe. Mathematician Ola Hössjer and biostatistician Daniel Díaz explain to Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks why nature works so seamlessly. A “life-permitting interval” makes it all possible — but is that really an accident?

Fine-tuning? How Bayesian statistics could help break a deadlock Bayesian statistics are used, for example, in spam filter technology, identifying probable spam by examining vast masses of previous messages. The frequentist approach assesses the probability of future events but the Bayesian approach assesses the probability of events that have already occurred.

The second episode:

Life is so wonderfully finely tuned that it’s frighteningA mathematician who uses statistical methods to model the fine tuning of molecular machines and systems in cells reflects…
Every single cell is like a city that cannot function without a complex network of services that must all work together to maintain life.

Human hand fine tuning levels on professional audio equipment

Can there be a general theory for fine-tuning? If you make a bowl of alphabet soup and the letters arrange themselves and say, good morning, that is specified. What are the probabilities? Ola Hössjer sees the beauty of mathematics in the fact that seemingly unrelated features in cosmology and biology can be modeled using similar concepts.

The third episode

Was the universe created for life forms to live in? How would we know? We can begin by looking at the fundamental constants that underlie the universe. The constants of the universe — gravitational constant, entropy, and cosmological constant — must be finely tuned for life to exist.

Why did Stephen Hawking give up on a Theory of Everything? Daniel Díaz and Ola Hössjer continue their discussion of the fine tuning of the universal constants of nature with Robert J. Marks. The probability, they calculate, that the fine tuning of our universe is simply random is down to 10 to the minus sixty — a very small number.

The fourth episode

Is life from outer space a viable science hypothesis? Currently, panspermia has been rated as “plausible but not convincing.” Marks, Hössjer, and Diaz discuss the issues. Famous atheist scientists have favored panspermia because there is no plausible purely natural explanation for life on Earth that would make it unnecessary.

Could advanced aliens have fine-tuned Earth for life? That’s a surprisingly popular thesis, considering how hard it is to account for life without assuming a creator. As Robert Marks, Ola Hössjer, and Daniel Díaz discuss, some prominent atheists/agnostics have chosen to substitute advanced extraterrestrials for God.

Our universe survived a firing squad and it’s just an accident? According to the Weak Anthropic Principle, if things weren’t the way they are, we wouldn’t be here and that’s all there is to it. Given the odds, a philosopher likens the Weak Anthropic Principle to surviving a firing squad and concluding, incuriously, well… that’s just the way things are.

You may also wish to read: No Free Lunches: Robert J. Marks: What the Big Bang teaches us about nothing. Bernoulli is right and Keynes is Wrong. Critics of Bernoulli don’t appreciate the definition of “knowing nothing.” The concept of “knowing nothing” can be tricky.


Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.

Weak Anthropic Principle? Not an Explanation but a Tautology!