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Egnor: Weak Anthropic Principle Is Merely a Tautology

Photo: Small Magellanic Cloud, by NASA, ESA and A. Nota (STScI/ESA).

The fine-tuning of the universe from the Big Bang, astounding in its precision, either requires an explanation, presumably intelligent design, or it doesn’t. The first idea is called the Strong Anthropic Principle and the second is the Weak Anthropic Principle. Neuroscientist and philosopher Michael Egnor explores the difference between Strong and Weak, finding the latter to be merely a tautology:

The Strong Anthropic Principle explains the fine-tuning as purposeful, with a goal in mind. This seems to be the obvious (and I will argue only) explanation for the remarkable and precise fine-tuning that the data reveals.

The proponents of the Weak Anthropic Principle purport to explain the fine-tuning as uninteresting, because without fine-tuning we would not be here to comment on it. We couldn’t not find it, because, if the universe were not fine-tuned, we wouldn’t be here. The implication is that there’s nothing surprising about the fine-tuning and no reason to take the Strong Anthropic Principle seriously — that is, there’s no reason to infer design.

The Weak Anthropic Principle, which is widely held by atheists, is meaningless: Only in a universe that permits the existence of intelligent beings can intelligent beings exist — i.e., only a universe with intelligent beings can be a universe with intelligent beings. The Weak Anthropic Principle is a tautology. And a tautology is not an explanation. It’s merely a sentence in which the predicate is the same as the subject. It’s meaningless.

The Weak Anthropic Principle isn’t a scientific explanation for the fine-tuning in the universe. It isn’t science and it isn’t an explanation of anything — no tautology is.

To get a better sense of the tautological nature of the Weak Anthropic Principle, consider two anthropologists discussing the remarkable emergence of language in man. One anthropologist says, “There is nothing at all remarkable about the emergence of language in man, because if language had not emerged in man, we wouldn’t be able to ask the question.” The other anthropologist, if he were a sensible man and a good scientist, would dismiss his colleague’s nonsensical theory because it’s tautological. It explains nothing. The remarkable emergence of language in man still requires explanation.

It sure does. Dr. Egnor comments at Mind Matters on a conversation between Robert J. Marks, Ola Hössjer, and Daniel Díaz, where they offer another helpful analogy: to a firing squad. A condemned man is put up to be executed. All the guns fire at once — and every single one misses. The man removes his blindfold and breathes a deep sigh of relief. He reflects: Wasn’t that some sort of miracle? Not at all, say the proponents of the Weak Anthropic Principle. They scorn any such idea. If all the guns hadn’t missed, you wouldn’t be here to reflect on the so-called “miracle”!