Sunday, September 27, 2009

Summary of meeting last Saturday, part 1 (of 3)

In our meeting yesterday, we talked largely about the anthropic principle, which basically says that, from our study of the universe we live in, it sure seems like it was designed for life in general, and human life in particular. And just like our previous meeting, in which we discussed the origin of the universe, it seems like we are sort of deadened to the implications of these discoveries.

Let me put it this way. The evidence for design is based on empirical data, and not philosophical or theological musings. Indeed, the impression of design is a non-controversial observation in the scientific community, and many have stated that this impression is overwhelming. However, many are still not coming to the most straightforward-seeming conclusion: that a Designer is responsible. In other words, theological implications are still avoided.

I often feel like quotes from non-theistic scientists carry a lot of weight, and so I read some during the meeting. I won't post all of them here in this blog; most you can find here. But here are some key ones:
  • "The impression of design is overwhelming." -- Paul Davies
  • "The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming." -- Freeman Dyson

So, if these are non-controversial statements, why isn't everyone rushing off to join "the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang (Stephen Strauss)?" Simply put, there are philosophical ways to get around what I called the most straightforward-seeming solution. The most prominent loophole has to do with what is called a "selection effect".

The selection effect basically says that the reason why we observe a universe seemingly designed for life is because if it weren't designed for life, we wouldn't be around to observe it, and not because Someone designed it for us. While it has been pointed out that this also takes some form of a faith committment, many people still find this answer to be intellectually satisfying. In other words, it's sort of like this: "The universe looks designed, but I don't (want to) believe in God. What do I do? Oh, good, there's this answer that settles my stomach about this apparent conflict in my worldview, and now I don't have to worry anymore."

But there are major problems with this philosophical approach. The most serious of which is that this "answer" doesn't actually answer anything at all. It's a red herring argument, so to speak, similar to the one I wrote about here. In other words, it notes what we observe, but it still lacks an answer as to why it happened. It says "of course it looks designed, because we otherwise wouldn't be here", but it doesn't say how it got that way. It avoids answering the BIG question!