Possible explanations for the 'anthropic principle'

The above examples show that the universe has some striking properties, discovered but not fully explained by science. At present, some scientists are hoping that GUT (Grand Unified Theory) may provide an answer to the above consistencies, but this is not likely. Even if found, the cosmological constant makes it doubtful that GUT will yield an explanation for the precision and elegance of all these laws and features. Moreover, as the systems theorist and writer Ervin Laszlo points out, ‘...the problem with GUTs is that they cannot satisfactorily explain the progressive structuration of matter in space and time' (1993, p.66).

There are several speculative attempts to account for at least some of these regularities, for example, various inflationary models (that propose rapid expansion of the universe in its initial stages). These models do not always fit well with some observable facts though, and also, as Hawking points out, ‘the inflationary model does not tell us why the initial configuration was not such as to produce something very different from what we observe' (1988, p.148). Hawking proposed his own theory that disposes of singularities and boundaries and involves imaginary time, so the universe ‘would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE' (ibid., p.151)[4]. He concludes: ‘So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?' (ibid., p.157). It is interesting that not only does such a universe in imaginary time make mathematical sense, but is also remarkably similar to descriptions of ‘the other world' found in various spiritual traditions from Buddhism to Christianity (stripped, of course, from their anthropomorphised embellishments). The problem is, however, that the universe familiar to human beings and that operates within real time, still exists. Hawking admits: ‘When one goes back to the real time in which we live, however, there will still appear to be singularities...' (ibid. p.154). The question is then, what is the factor that brings about the transition from the ‘time-less' universe to the familiar one? In other words, why did the universe with singularities, the Big Bang, and the time that goes only in one direction come to existence? If the above view is correct, it seems that there still might be a place for a ‘creator'.

Another attempt to explain the above regularities is the ‘evolving universe' proposed by cosmologist Lee Smolin. It claims that new universes are created on the other side of black holes. Our universe has black holes and life, and therefore black holes are supposed to be able to produce new universes with the right properties. ‘Bad' universes will not be able to form a black hole and therefore not ‘reproduce' - similar to natural selection processes. However, this concept has some fatal flaws. There is not any indication that these universes exist. They may be in different dimensions, but there is no reason why they should be, if created by black holes in this universe. Secondly, it seems that the energy trapped in a black hole does not go anywhere, but in fact eventually gives birth to galaxies in this universe. And finally, the concept in fact does not provide an answer, only moves the question further down the line. The issue remains where the first ancestor universe came from to start this reproductive cycle.

There are, however, two other interpretations of the ‘anthropic principle' that are both rationally consistent, although one operates within the materialistic framework, while the other does not.

 

The multiple universes theory (advocated, for example, by David Deutsch) can account for the precision and regularity of physical phenomena, and is consistent with materialism. The idea is that universes are constantly formed independently from each other. It is possible that a practically infinite number of universes come into existence. Most of them instantly collapse, but a few survive. If there is an infinite number of universes in becoming, some of them are bound to have the right properties however unlikely they are. The additional advantage of this interpretation is that it can explain some seemingly illogical experimental data in quantum physics. Although a speculation (multiple universes can never be empirically proven), this interpretation is a valid rational candidate to explain why this universe has the features that it has[5].

 

The teleological interpretation - considering all the above mentioned regularities, the other possibility, that the physical universe is intentional, needs to be take into account. This is called the teleological (not to be confused with theological) interpretation which implies purposefulness. The universe is as it is in order to enable the development of phenomena such as life and consciousness. Materialism has not yet come up with a convincing argument about why chemistry emerged from physics, why biology emerged from chemistry, and why the brain and the mind emerged from biology. A teleological view is that a particular type of physics emerged in order to enable the development of chemistry, a particular type of chemistry emerged in order to enable the development of biology, a particular type of biology emerged in order to enable the development of the brain, a particular type of the brain emerged in order to enable the development of the mind. Teleological interpretation (although as speculative as the ‘multiple universe' one) is not irrational, so it should not be discarded outright. The materialistic perspective rejects this possibility for ideological reasons, not because it conflicts with reason or evidence. The statements below show that some contemporary theologians, philosophers and physicists have come to remarkably similar conclusions. The theologian Swinburne writes:

That there should be material bodies is strange enough; but that they should all have such similar powers which they inevitably exercise, seems passing strange. It is strange enough that physical objects should have powers at all - why should they not just be, without being able to make a difference to the world? But that they should all, throughout infinite time and space, have some general powers identical to those of all other objects (and they all be made of components of very few fundamental kinds, each component of a given kind being identical in all characteristics with each other such component) and yet there be no cause of this at all seems incredible.' (1991, p.145)

This statement comes from philosophers Polanyi and Prosch:

...our modern science cannot properly be understood to tell us that the world is meaningless and pointless, that it is absurd. The supposition that it is absurd is a modern myth, created imaginatively from the clues produced by a profound misunderstanding of what science and knowledge are and what they require, a misunderstanding spawned by positivistic leftovers in our thinking and by allegiance to the false ideal of objectivity from which we have been unable to shake ourselves quite free. These are the stoppages in our ears that we must pull out if we are ever once more to experience the full range of meanings possible to man. (1975, p.181)

The physicist Paul Davies makes a comparable point:

...certain crucial structures, such as solar-type stars, depend for their characteristic features on wildly improbable numerical accidents that combine together fundamental constants from distinct branches of physics. And when one goes on to study cosmology - the overall structure and evolution of the universe - incredulity mounts. Recent discoveries about the primeval cosmos oblige us to accept that the expanding universe has been set up in its motion with a cooperation of astonishing precision.' (1982, foreword)

  • [4]. Some theologicians seized upon this hypothesis to conclude that the creator is also the sustainer. If the beginning has no special status, the creator creates/sustains the universe at all times. But this is unnecessary. The creator would need to sustain the universe only up to the point when time separates from space and starts behaving ‘normally' (which is until the size of the universe reaches 10-33cm).
  • [5]. This is not to say that this hypothesis is without controversy. For its criticism see, for example, Davis, 1992, p.215-221, and more recently ibid., 2007, 295-304, where the author evaluate the above two and some other possibilities. Those that Davis himself favours are not included here because of their bizarre and paradox prone requirements (e.g. backwards causation or causal loops).