Welcome to the ‘anthropic principle’, a kind of Goldilocks phenomenon or ‘intelligent design’ for the whole Universe. It’s easy to describe, but difficult to categorise: it might be a scientific question, a philosophical concept, a religious argument – or some combination. 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.
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? In Douglas Adams’s antic novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), mice are ‘hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings’ who are responsible for the creation of the Earth. What if the Universe isn’t so much anthropic as mouse-thropic, and the appearance and proliferation of Homo sapiens was an unanticipated side effect, a ‘collateral benefit’? David Barash, “Anthropic arrogance” at Aeon
A reader commented on the sheer outdated-ness of Barash’s remarks:
I guess I should not be surprised that a retired professor of biology and psychology writes a Aeon piece that is so full of tropes it could be a freshman essay.
He tries to debunk the “fine tuning” argument with a long series of thoroughly hoary anecdotes, never acknowledging that philosophers have dismissed all of these anecdotes. For example, the “no surprise the universe is fine tuned, because without fine tuning you wouldn’t be here” argument was debunked more than 30 years ago by philosopher Richard Swinburne. Likewise, the “Copernican Revolution” is a 20-year old anecdote that has been debunked by science historians for decades. I guess I should be glad that he didn’t recycle the “warfare thesis” again.
What is surprising, is that Aeon accepts such dated posts.
But, reader, naturalist believers are not asking for more. It’s not clear that, in Barash’s line of work, one needs to know much new stuff, as opposed to just keeping the old buzz going.
See also: A Ratio Christi head at U Washington responds to anti-ID prof David Barash
If David Barash were not a Darwinian prof, he would be embarrassed
What becomes of science when the evidence does not matter?