International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle

by John D. Barrow , Frank J. Tipler

Introductory Essay by V. V. Raman

This massive volume is dense in content and in ideas. It is an extensive exploration of the Anthropic Principle (AP) by two physicists who have contributed to the field. Whether or not its thesis is universally embraced by all physicists, the book presents with scientific competence an idea that can be seen to emerge from the data of physics. The idea is quite simple: the universe was meant for the emergence of life. The physics is complex. The world we experience results from two sets of factors: the laws of nature (physics), and a certain number of parameters called fundamental constants. “The Holy Grail of modern physics is to explain why these numerical constants… have the particular numerical values they do” [5].

The book first gives a capsule history of design arguments for the universe, from ancient Greek to modern Western thought. There is even a section on Non-Western schools. The authors remind us that “the idea that humanity is important to the cosmos and indeed that the material world was created for man both seem to be present in many cultural traditions” [92] from the Chinese to the Mayan. Next follows a discussion of Modern Teleology and Anthropic Principles in which the thoughts of leading  Western philosophers are presented. However, “the way in which local teleological ideas are used by modern biology and physics (is) carefully distinguished from their indiscriminate global deployment in past centuries” [204].

Technical (mathematical) language is now introduced to explain how the AP was rediscovered in modern science. This is done by tracing “some aspects of the history of coincidences in the physical sciences” [275]. In this context, the authors explain the lore of large numbers, the consequence of coincidence, dimensionless numbers, Dirac’s hypothesis, and more.

The chapter on the Weak AP presents the physics of atoms, molecules, and nuclear forces, of planetary life, neutron stars, and black holes. The idea is to show “how it is possible to construct the gross features of the natural world around us from the knowledge of a few invariant constants of Nature” [359]. A discussion on cosmology follows that talks about the hot big bang, galaxies, the cosmological constant, and creation ex nihilo.

The next chapter discusses quantum mechanics. Here the goal is “to show that it is possible to formulate quantum cosmological models in accord with the Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum theory so that the Weak and Strong Anthropic Principles are observationally testable” [505-506]. In the next chapter, life and intelligent life are defined and discussed, the anthropic significance of water is presented, and the role of carbon is explained. We are told that “if the current searches for extra-terrestrial intelligent life succeed…” then Brandon Carter’s argument for the Weak AP will collapse [569]. Then we read about space travel and arguments against the existence of extraterrestrial intelligent life.

The last chapter, on the future of the universe, concludes with the omega point at which “life would have gained control of all matter and forces not only in a single universe, but in all universes whose existence if logically possible” [677].