Monday, February 6, 2012

What's so great about Christianity? Dinesh D'Souza

A friend lent me a book by Dinesh D'Souza "What's so great about Christianity?"   Here is Dinesh D'Souza's website.  And here is the Amazon link.

His book about Christianity is very well written, bringing together a huge amount of different kinds of material.  It is a thorough and reasonable response to the current, vocal anti-theism.

Right now I am looking at pages 130-132, where we find a discussion of the so-called "anthropic principle" in the universe.  The chapter is titled:  "A Designer Planet:  Man's Special Place in Creation." There is a title quote by Lee Smolin of The Life of the Cosmos:  "We will never know completely who we are until we understand why the universe is constructed in such a way that it contains living things."


The physicists who asked these questions arrived at a remarkable conclusion.  In order for life to exist--in order for the universe to have observers to take notice of it--the gravitational force has to be precisely what it is.  The Big Bang had top occur exactly when it did. If the basic values and relationships of nature were even slightly different, our universe would not exist and neither would we.  Fantastic though it seems, the universe is fine-tuned for human habitation.  We live in a kind of Goldilocks universe in which the conditions are "just right" for life to emerge and thrive.  As physicist Paul Davies puts it, "We have been written into the laws of nature in a deep and, I believe, meaningful way."

The anthropic principle is now widely accepted among physicists, and there are several good books that explain it in comprehensive detail.  John Barrows and Frank Tipler's The Anthropic Cosmological Principle is the most thorough and detailed exposition.  In his introduction to that book, physicist John Wheeler writes that  "a life-giving factor lies at the center of the whole machinery and design of the world."  If you want a shorter and more readable version of the same argument try astronomer Martin Rees' Just Six Numbers.  Rees argues that six numbers underlie the fundamental physical properties of the universe, and that each is an exact value required for life to exist.  If any one of the six (say the gravitational constant, or the strong nuclear force) were different "even to the tiniest degree,"  Rees says, "there would be no stars, no complex elements, no life."  Although he disavows the religious implications, Rees does not hesitate to call the values attached to the six numbers "providential."  

... Leading scientists have acknowledged the far-reaching implications of the anthropic principle  "A commonsense interpretation of the facts," writes astronomer Fred Hoyle, "suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the laws of physics."  Physicist Freeman Dyson says,  "The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.  Astronomer Owen Gingerich writes that the anthropic principle" means accepting that the laws of nature are rigged not only in favor of complexity or just in favor of life, but also in favor of mind.  To put it dramatically, it implies that mind is written into the laws of nature in a fundamental way.  Astronomer Robert Jastrow observes that the anthropic principle "is the most theistic result ever to come out of science." 

As you might expect, the anthropic principle has provoked a huge debate and a strong reaction.  In this debate there are three positions, which for simplicity I call Lucky Us, Multiple Universes, and the Designer Universe.  Let's examine them in sequence.  The first response, Lucky Us, attributes the fine-tuning of the universe to incredible coincidence.  "The universe," writes physicist Victor Stenger in Not By Design, "is an accident."

An accident?  Steven Weinberg and Richard Dawkins are not impressed by how improbable this is.  According to Steven Weinberg, "You don't have to invoke a benevolent designer to explain why we are in one of the parts of the universe where life is possible:  in all the other parts of the universe there is no one to raise the question."  Richard Dawkins concurs.  "It is no accident that our kind of life finds itself on a planet whose temperature, rainfall, and everything else are exactly right.  If the planet were suitable for another kind of life, it is that kind of life that would have evolved here."  In science this is called a "selection effect."  Since we are here, we know that--whatever the odds--the game of cosmic chance must have worked out in our favor.

There is a problem with this reasoning that I'd like to dramatize by giving an example from philosopher John Leslie.  Imagine a man sentenced to death, standing before a firing squad of ten shooters.  The shooters discharge their rifles.  Somehow they all miss.  Then they shoot again and one more time they fail to hit their target.  Repeatedly they fire and repeatedly they miss.  Later the prisoner is approached by the warden, who says,  "I can't believe they all missed.  Clearly there is some sort of conspiracy at work."  Yet the prisoner laughs off the suggestion with the comment, "What on earth would make you suggest a conspiracy?  It's no big deal.  Obviously the marksmen missed because if they had not missed I would not be here to have this discussion."  Such a prisoner would immediately, and rightly, be transferred to the mental ward.

What the example shows is that you cannot explain an improbability of this magnitude by simply pointing to our presence on the scene to ponder it.  There is still a massive improbability that needs to be accounted for [my bolding].   (pp. 130-132)

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