Shower Stall Scum and the Anthropic Principle

Human existence is possible because the constants of physics and the parameters for the universe and for planet Earth lie within certain highly restricted ranges. John Wheeler and others interpret these amazing “coincidences” as proof that human existence somehow determines the design of the universe. Drawing an illogical parallel with delayed-choice experiments in quantum mechanics, they say that observations by humans influence the design of the universe, not only now, but back to the beginning. Such versions of what is called the “anthropic principle” reflect current philosophical and religious leanings towards the deification of man. They produce no evidence to support the notion that man’s present acts can influence past events. Furthermore, their analogies with quantum mechanics break down on this point. The “coincidental” values of the constants of physics and the parameters of the universe point, rather, to a designer who transcends the dimensions and limits of the physical universe.
-Hugh Ross, Ph.D.

Anthropic principle—everything about the universe tends toward man, toward making life possible and sustaining it. (Hugh Ross, Ph.D. “Design and the Anthropic Principle.” Reasons to Believe, 1988-2007.

Every so often my wife sprays the shower stall in our upstairs bathroom with tub and tile cleaner to get rid of a pink film that forms on the sides and bottom. I think of that film whenever people maintain that everything in the universe stands as irrefutable evidence that we owe our existence to a loving god. They point out that, since the universe has precisely the right qualities to permit us to live in it, the creator must have built it specifically to house us, his most cherished creatures.

By saying, “We fit in the universe. Therefore it was designed for us,” these people (such as the gentleman who supplied the epigraph above, and Herbert W. Armstrong’s theological descendent’s) are making the basic error in logic called post hoc reasoning. They fall into the trap because they neglect to look outside the narrow scope of their own existence. They leave out of account the unimaginable size of the universe and the amazing variety of inhospitable objects and structures in it: from the infinitely dense concentrations of mass in black holes at the centers of galaxies on the one hand to the vast, nearly mass-free voids between galaxies
and the even vaster and emptier ones that separate galaxy clusters on the other. Nothing remotely like us can possibly live in any of those places, nor on almost any of the structures in between. Within the total volume of space, the kind of hard, rocky bodies that provide a surface for our kind of life to cling to are vanishingly rare. Furthermore, only an infinitesimal fraction of that infinitesimal fraction of all the objects in the universe meet two necessary criteria:
1) possess enough mass to hold an atmosphere
2) revolve around stars within the narrow zones that are neither too close and hot nor too distant and cold to support life.

Considering, then, that the portion of the total volume of the universe that is habitable is so minuscule, it strikes me as downright silly for someone to say that everything in it was designed to make our existence possible. If god really is some sort of cosmic engineer whose aim was to design a habitat for humanity, he overbuilt the place with mind-blowing extravagance, which is to say incredible inefficiency. If he is the kind of creator who follows good engineering principles, it makes more sense to think he had something else in mind.

So back to that pink film on our shower stall wall. How would you react if you heard one of the microbes in it  express the opinion, “Everything about the household tends toward red algae, toward making life possible and sustaining it”? (Okay, I realize the best answer is, “Holy shit! A talking microbe!” But cut me a little slack here, will you? The question is rhetorical.) This algal reasoning implies that my wife and I bought a tract of land and hired a contractor to build a geodesic dome on it for the purpose of containing a bathroom with a fiberglass shower stall in which the faucet dripped, providing the humid surface required for their form of life, plus a sliding glass door to hold in the humidity—all of this entirely because we loved each microbe
individually and hoped that each of them would love us in return.

What I am suggesting is that, if our universe did have an actual designer, what he was actually designing was not us at all, but something way beyond our grasp—perhaps material for some colossal foam plastic koozie in which to insulate a cosmic can of cold beer. The fact that human beings and other life forms exist could very well be a mere by-product of the manufacturing process, maybe even an undesirable one. The creator may feel disappointed and fretful that at least one, and probably more, of his smaller and cooler particles have gotten contaminated by a thin film of biotic scum.

Blast from the past by Retired Prof


3 Replies to “Shower Stall Scum and the Anthropic Principle”

  1. “We have begun to understand in ever greater detail the world at the very limits of our perceptions, and in doing so we have uncovered the strange truth about reality itself. There is a profound connection between the nothingness from which we originated and the infinite in which we are engulfed.”
    Everything & Nothing, 2011 Furnace One Films

    What amazes me is that the evolution of mankind has led us here today, the “information age”. Man, in utilizing his five senses, has been able to create technology that has allowed us to see a picture of the Universe that is only 400,000 years old. Imagine that through all that space and time we see no other evidence of consciousness, except here on earth. Could consciousness be an emerging force in the Universe? Why it would have ever been needed or needed now is a whole other set of questions. But I do have a poem that might address that.

    What,you ask,was the beginning of it all?
    And it is this……….
    Existence that multiplied itself
    For sheer delight of being
    And plunged into numberless trillions of forms
    So that it might find Itself innumerably.


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