13. The Anthropic Principle

by Blake

The Teleological Argument is the argument that the universe is fine-tuned for life and therefore appears to be designed for life.  One objection to the Teleological Argument is what is known as the Anthropic Principle.  The Anthropic Principle is the idea that it should be no surprise that we find ourselves in a life-permitting universe since if the universe were life-prohibiting, we wouldn’t be here to notice.  But this principle involves a logical fallacy.

William Lane Craig gives the following analogy to illustrate the fallacy inherent in the Anthropic Principle.  Suppose you are standing before a firing squad blindfolded and you hear: “ready, aim, fire!” You wince and hear the shots fire.  But you then find that you have not been shot.  Would it be reasonable to think: “if I’d been shot, I wouldn’t be here to notice, therefore no explanation is necessary.”  Of course not.  While it is true that you shouldn’t be surprised to find that you’re not dead (since if dead, you can’t be surprised), you would be rightly surprised to find that you are alive and in fact you would think that the process had all been fixed in some way.

The only way to get around this fallacy inherent in the Anthropic Principle is to conjecture that perhaps the universe in which the firing squad takes place is but one universe among an infinite number of universes, each one a little different than the others.  In an infinite number of different universes, anything that could happen necessarily does happen.  This is known as multiple universes.

There is no empirical evidence for multiple universes and so it is an idea that is no more scientific and no less metaphysical than the hypothesis that the universe was designed to be fine-tuned for life by a designer.  This provacative idea of multiple universes gets a lot of attention and in fact was the subject of a cover article in the August, 2011 issue of Scientific American.  In that issue, though, it is made clear that the multi-verse can’t even really be considered a theory yet but more of a concept.

The idea of multiple universes proposed to make the Anthropic Principle work just doesn’t ring true because it seems ad hoc.  This notion of explaining away the improbable by declaring that this world is but one among an infinite number could be applied to any improbability in the world that we come across.  You accuse your opponent in poker of cheating when he gets one hundred royal flushes in a row and he could respond: “This actually isn’t improbable – it had to happen given the fact that there are an infinite number of multi-varied universes.”  If this goes against your common sense, then the Anthropic Principle does no harm to the Teleological Argument.