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The Anthropic Principle

by Dr. Norman Geisler


The anthropic principle (Greek: anthropos, "human being") states that the universe was fitted from the very first moment of its existence for the emergence of life in general and human life in particular. As agnostic astronomer, Robert Jastrow, noted, the universe is amazingly preadapted to the eventual appearance of humanity.1 For if there were even the slightest variation at the moment of the big bang, making conditions different, even to a small degree, no life of any kind would exist. In order for life to be present today an incredibly restrictive set of demands must have been present in the early universe—and they were.


Supporting Evidence


Not only does the scientific evidence point to a beginning of the cosmos, but it points to a very sophisticated high tuning of the universe from the very beginning that makes human life possible. For life to be present today, an incredibly restrictive set of demands must have been present in the early universe:


1. Oxygen comprises 21 percent of the atmosphere. If it were 25 percent, fires would erupt, if 15 percent, human beings would suffocate.


2. If the gravitational force were altered by 1 part in 1040 (that’s 10 followed by forty zeroes), the sun would not exist, and the moon would crash into the earth or sheer off into space.2 Even a slight increase in the force of gravity would result in all the stars being much more massive than our sun, with the effect that the sun would burn too rapidly and erratically to sustain life.


3. If the centrifugal force of planetary movements did not precisely balance the gravitational forces, nothing could be held in orbit around the sun.


4. If the universe was expanding at a rate one millionth more slowly than it is, the temperature on earth would be 10,000 degrees C.3


5. The average distance between stars in our galaxy of 100 billion stars is 30 trillion miles. If that distance was altered slightly, orbits would become erratic, and there would be extreme temperature variations on earth. (Traveling at space shuttle speed, seventeen thousand miles an hour or five miles a second, it would take 201,450 years to travel 30 trillion miles.)


6. Any of the laws of physics can be described as a function of the velocity of light (now defined to be 299,792.458 miles a second). Even a slight variation in the speed of light would alter the other constants and preclude the possibility of life on earth.4


7. If Jupiter was not in its current orbit, we would be bombarded with space material. Jupiter’s gravitational field acts as a cosmic vacuum cleaner, attracting asteroids and comets that would otherwise strike earth.5


8. If the thickness of the earth’s crust was greater, too much oxygen would be transferred to the crust to support life. If it were thinner, volcanic and tectonic activity would make life untenable.6


9. If the rotation of the earth took longer than 24 hours, temperature differences would be too great between night and day. If the rotation period was shorter, atmospheric wind velocities would be too great.


10. Surface temperature differences would be too great if the axial tilt of the earth were altered slightly.


11. If the atmospheric discharge (lightning) rate were greater, there would be too much fire destruction; if it were less, there would be too little nitrogen fixing in the soil.


12. If there were more seismic activity, much life would be lost. If there was less, nutrients on the ocean floors and in river runoff would not be cycled back to the continents through tectonic uplift. Even earthquakes are necessary to sustain life as we know it.


As early as the 1960s it was explained why, on anthropic grounds, "we should expect to observe a world that possesses precisely three spatial dimensions."7 Robert Dicke found "that in fact it may be necessary for the universe to have the enormous size and complexity which modern astronomy has revealed, in order for the earth to be a possible habitation for living beings."8 Likewise, the mass, the entropy level of the universe, the stability of the proton, and innumerable other things must be just right to make life possible.


Theistic Implications


Jastrow summarized the theistic implications well: "The anthropic principle… seems to say that science itself has proven, as a hard fact, that this universe was made, was designed, for man to live in. It’s a very theistic result."9 That is, the incredible balance of multitudinous factors in the universe that make life possible on earth points to "fine tuning" by an intelligent Being. It leads one to believe that the universe was "providentially crafted" for our benefit. Nothing known to human beings is capable of "pretuning" the conditions of the universe to make life possible other than an intelligent Creator. Or, to put it another way, the kind of specificity and order in the universe that makes life possible on earth is just the kind of effect that is known to come from an intelligent cause.


Astronomer Alan Sandage concluded that "the world is too complicated in all of its parts to be due to chance alone. I am convinced that the existence of life with all its order in each of its organisms is simply too well put together. Each part of a living thing depends on all its other parts to function. How does each part know? How is each part specified at conception. The more one learns of biochemistry the more unbelievable it becomes unless there is some kind of organizing principle—an architect for believers…."10 And all of the conditions were set from the moment of the universe’s origin.


Stephen Hawking described how the value of many fundamental numbers in nature’s laws "seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life" and how "the initial configuration of the universe" appears to have been "very carefully chosen."11 In spite of the fact that only an intelligent cause can "carefully choose" anything, Hawking at this writing remains skeptical about God. He saw the evidence clearly and asked the right question when he wrote: "There may only be a small number of laws, which are self-consistent and which lead to complicated beings like ourselves who can ask the question: What is the nature of God? And even if there is only one unique set of possible laws, it is only a set of equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to govern?… Although science may solve the problem of how the universe began, it cannot answer the question: Why does the universe bother to exist?" Hawking adds, "I don’t know the answer to that."12


Albert Einstein did not hesitate to answer Hawking’s question when he said, "the harmony of natural law… reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection."13


Even Nobel prize winner Steven Weinberg, an atheist, went so far as to say that "it seems to me that if the word ‘God’ is to be of any use, it should be taken to mean an interested God, a creator and lawgiver who established not only the laws of nature and the universe but also standards of good and evil, some personality that is concerned with our actions, something in short that is appropriate for us to worship."14


Thus, the Anthropic Principle is based on the most recent astronomical evidence for the existence of a super intelligent Creator of the cosmos. In short, it provides the evidence for an updated Teleological Argument for God’s existence.




1 See "A Scientist Caught between Two Faiths: Interview with Robert Jastrow," Christianity Today, 6 August 1982.


2 Fred Heeren, Show Me God: What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God (Wheeling, IL: Search Light, 1995), p. 196)


3 Ibid., p. 185.


4 Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God: Recent Scientific Discoveries Reveal the Unmistakable Identity of the Creator (Orange, CA: Promise, 1989), p. 126.


5 Ibid., p. 196.


6 Ibid., p. 130.


7 John D. Barrow, et al., The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 247.


8 Ibid.


9 (Jastrow, "A Scientist Caught," p. 17, emphasis added).


10 Alan Sandage, "A Scientist Reflects on Religious Belief," Truth, Vol. 1 (Dallas: Truth Incorporated, 1985), p. 54


11 Cited by Heeren, p. 67.


12 Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (New York: Bantam, 1988), p. 99.


13 Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions—The Word as I See It, 3rd ed. (New York: Crown, 1982), p. 40.


14 Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory—The Search for the Fundamental Laws of Nature (New York: Pantheon, 1992), p. 244, emphasis added.

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