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At Mind Matters News: Our Universe Survived a Firing Squad and It’s Just an Accident?


Maybe we are just biased. 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:

Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks has been doing a series of podcasts with Swedish mathematician Ola Hössjer, and Colombian biostatistician Daniel Díaz in connection with a recent co-authored paper on the fine-tuning of the universe for life in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. In the first portion of this episode, podcast 153, “Why is there fine-tuning everywhere?” they looked at whether life was seeded in our universe by advanced life forms (directed panspermia), as advocated by some prominent scientists. In the second portion, they discussed the view — again, held by prominent science figures — that our universe is an advanced computer sim. Both concepts stem from the difficulty of accounting for the existence and complexity of life otherwise.

A third option is the Anthropic Principle. In its Weak form, it states simply that we are merely biased in thinking there is a reason we are here because, well, we are here:

News, “Our Universe Survived a Firing Squad and It’s Just an Accident?” at Mind Matters News


Ola Hössjer: According to the Weak Anthropic Principle, we should not be surprised to live in a universe that harbors life.

But I should add that, in our paper, “Cosmological Tuning Fine or Coarse?,” we compute or give an upper bound for the probability of a randomly generated universe to have a certain constant of nature, ending up within its life-permitting interval. We take the Weak Anthropic Principle into account — and still we come up with small probabilities for certain constant of natures or certain ratios or constants of nature.

So even though this Weak Anthropic Principle in a sense criticizes the Strong Anthropic Principle, we are able to come up with a small probability of ending up within the life-permitting interval and still not violating the Weak Anthropic Principle.

Robert J. Marks: One of the best counterexamples of the anthropic principle I heard is from William Lane Craig. I don’t think he was the originator of the idea, but it’s very clear from the work that we’ve been talking about, that the probability of our universe permitting life is very, very small.

Craig gives the example of a man dressed and ready for a firing squad. He goes out, his hands are bound and his eyes are covered, so he doesn’t have to look at the firing squad. In the firing squad, there are people who hate him. They are marksmen. There is one guy with a bazooka. A big explosion happens, and there is a lot of smoke. But when the smoke clears, the guy was still standing there.

His blindfold is gone; his hands aren’t tied behind his back. Everything was okay. He didn’t have a scratch on him. The (Weak) Anthropic Principle would correspond to the guy that was in front of the firing squad shrugging his shoulders and saying, “You know what? It happened. I don’t know why, but it did happen. I don’t have to worry about that, because I’m here. And that’s proof that it happened.”

Takehome: 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.

Next: In an infinity of universes, countless ones are run by cats

Here are the previous instalments of the discussion of 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 Andrés Díaz-Pachón 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.

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.

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.


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