Dinesh Does Cosmology

Dinesh D’Souza has discovered the Anthropic Principle, after reading an article in Discover magazine.

It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, just more God-of-the-gaps:  “Here’s something we’re having real trouble understanding. Must be the hand of God!” Dinesh does not follow through with any of the further inquiries that arise in an unbeliever’s mind, e.g.:

  • Which God? Thor? Vishnu? Allah? Unkulunkulu?
  • Why only one God?
  • Who fine-tuned Him?
  • How come He waited a quarter million years to intervene in human history?
  • Is it your recommendation that these cosmologists cease their inquiries and their theorizing, shut up their labs, sell their equipment on eBay, and sign up for Divinity School? I mean, since the answers to their questions are already known? Will you make this recommendation in public? Or is it your intention to just sit there with a knowing smile on your face while the cosmologists pursue their futilities, until the day when they finally throw up their hands, say “Gosh dang it, you believers were right all along — it’s the hand of God!” and mail off for the Div. School application forms?
  • Etc., etc.


Dinesh’s piece does, though, illustrate that other gap that plagues us:  the gap between the curious, skeptical thought style of the empiricist (Wow, the universe sure is a weird place! Wonder if we’ll ever understand this? Good luck to those guys trying to figure it all out!) and the person of faith (Those guys are blind fools fumbling in the dark! It was all revealed to us long ago! Why can’t they see?)

That gap is at least as challenging as figuring out why the Fine Structure Constant is what it is and not some other number.

My own view of the Anthropic Principle is awestruck wonder at the inexplicable fact that my legs reach so precisely from my hips to the floor. What if they were an inch shorter?

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12 Responses to Dinesh Does Cosmology

  1. Scott in PA says:

    If your legs were an inch shorter, your hips would be an inch closer to the floor. If the FSC were different, you wouldn’t be wondering this.

  2. Grant Canyon says:

    D’Sousa (unsurprisingly) fails to even mention the counterpoints to his arguments.

    Also, I find it amusing that he points to the ridiculous statement that it is “an extraordinary fact about the universe: its basic properties are uncannily suited for life.”

    Nonsense. The universe is almost wholly unsuited for life. All of life that we know of clings to the rind of a minor rock around an average star in a run-of-the-mill galaxy. Those areas unsuitable for life so overwhelm those areas where life is even possible, that “suitable for life” barely qualifies as a description of our universe.

  3. Devid Heddle says:

    We are in agreement, I think, that Dinesh D’Souza is a chowderhead. Beyond that we are not. Your unoriginal analogy is not as witty as Douglas Adams’ puddle but is just as misapplied. The Anthropic Principle of the cosmos is not in regards to how perfect our planet is for life—if it were then (perhaps—but by no means certainly) your leg-length comment would have some substance. No, the cosmological fine-tuning pertains to whether or not there are stars at all, and whether or not those stars synthesize heavy elements, and whether or not those stars explode and seed space with those heavy elements. If that doesn’t happen then there is no life of any kind, period. Nor is it a God of the Gaps, like say the bacterial flagellum ID argument is. It’s not: “We don’t know how stars work, therefore Goddidit.” Instead it’s: “we know a whole lot about stars form and work, and it’s a friggin’ house of cards.”

  4. A-Bax says:

    Misunderstanding of the Anthropic Principle really commonplace. The fundamental starting point in all of this querying is, a la Descartes, that we are querying at all. That the known universe, as currently understood, is constructed such that it seems “unlikely” that we are querying at all is surely interesting, but making inferences from that fact is very tricky.

    The sense of “unlikely” here is wholly different than is typically understoond in statistics, or probability theory, since the N under consideration (known universes) is a mere 1. Thus, you could just as easily argue, as the historical Hume (a determinist) might have, that it COULD NOT BE OTHERWISE than that we exist as we do, under the conditions that are extant. Thus, the “unliklihood” we’re talking about is merely an illusion of our narrow understanding. A trick of language.

    Either way though, the inference to God is absurd, since it (clearly) begs the question of how unbelievably unlikely it is that such a finely-tuned God with just the right properties should even exist to create a universe with properties such that we exist, etc. (Should we then infer a meta-god? And a meta-meta god? Is it really just turtles all the way down?)

    And as Heather pointed out in her demolishing of Novak, even if we threw out hands up and granted theists their bare-bones “first cause” god based on anthropic considerations, the inference to a personal, just, loving, (anthropomorphic) god is sure about 18 bridges too far.

    PS – Razib and Derb are both intellectual heroes of mine, so it is very gratifying to see them here on the same site. Keep up the great work guys!!!

  5. Grant Canyon says:

    David Heddle,

    The question which D’Sousa doesn’t address is how “fine” the tuning has to be. I’ve read work (the identity of which escapes me now) that suggested that there may be inherent limitations in how those constants can be set, which suggests that the fact that we have particular arrangement which permits such things as stars is unusual, but not at all that unusual, and nothing for which chance can’t account.

    Further, if the cyclic model of cosmology is true, we just might be in one of the iterations where the dials spin in a way consistent with stellar formation, heavy elements form, etc.

  6. Gerry Shuller says:

    Uh oh. The fact is that a huge number of secular scientists passionately believe in ETI. It’s also a fact that millions of dollars have been spent without producing a shred of evidence of ETI. Carl Sagain, for example, never wavered in his belief. Why not mock his faith?

  7. Gerry Shuller says:

    I-centered typo – “Sagan”

  8. David Heddle says:


    Yes of course, if there are larges numbers possible, either by a cyclic universe or a multiverse, then the fine-tuning requires no further explanation. However, such “other” universes are undetectable. But at any rate my comment was not that the fine-tunings are some sort of proof of God, but they are an established fact and an interesting scientific puzzle. The explanation may indeed be purely natural (multiple universes) but the explanation is most assuredly not a simpleminded appeal to “my legs are just long enough to reach the ground, aren’t I fine-tuned?”

    If it were, it would be scientists invoking the argument, not non-scientists.

  9. Rob says:

    Obviously the god is the one true god – The Flying Spaghetti Monster!

    BTW, you have noticed the lowering of global temperatures with the rise in pirates, just as temperatures rose when pirates where waning. This has been explained in the ancient gospel of the FSM.

    May his noodly appendage touch you in unexpected places.


  10. Andrew T. says:

    This argument is so bad, I almost don’t know where to begin.

    1. It’s false. Victor Stenger pretty much thoroughly debunked the premise (that the formation of stars in the universe is “a house of cards”). To the contrary: as it turns out, you can alter the fundamental constraints of the universe pretty wildly and still come up with a universe capable of supporting stars. Google “Monkey God.”

    2. It’s a non-sequitur. “Star formation is a house of cards, therefore God exists.” How’s that again? Worse: if the conditions were *exactly the reverse* — that is, that the universe were apparenlty WELL-designed for life, then the theists could make exactly the same argument (“look at how wonderfully the universe is designed for intelligent life; even if you change the fundamental constraints, we would still have stars — that proves how much God loves us!”). That’s a pretty good sign that you’ve got an empty appeal to emotion instead of a rational argument.

    3. It’s a false comparison. The theist muses over whether “if the fundamental constraints of the universe were different,” intelligent life would or would not be possible. But there’s ZERO cosmological basis for thinking that the fundamental constraints of the universe are capable of being other than they are in the first place. In other words: the odds of the universe being the way it is may be 1:1. (Of course, that wouldn’t disturb the religious; see point 2.)

    4. It’s not an argument for Christianity. This argument is almost always wielded by fundamentalist Protestants against atheists, which is amusing, since the argument — even if true — proves only the god of the Philosophers. The universe is (subject to rounding error) 100% inhospitable to man but for ONE tiny planet among a number so large our brains literally cannot comprehend it. The universe in no way resembles the tales told by illiterate goat-herders that eventually wound up being recorded as the New Testament. And yet the same people who argue from the Anthropic Principle would have us look out at a billion billion galaxies and conclude that they were all created for us??

  11. Devid Heddle says:

    Let me address Andrew T’s points:

    1. “It’s false. Victor Stenger pretty much thoroughly debunked the premise (that the formation of stars in the universe is “a house of cards”).”

    He certainly did not. If so, please point me to a published peer reviewed article where he demonstrates that the fine tunings are an illusion. (You won’t be able to.) And if so, why has our community (the physics community) ignored it? Why aren’t people like Susskind or Weinberg or Krauss saying: “Fantastic, Stenger has solved the fine tuning problem!” Take the fine tuning of the Cosmological constant. All Stenger has done is repeat the well-known conjecture that it might be solved with Quintessence (which itself has a fine tuning and other serious problems, and which hasn’t been detected.)

    2. “It’s a non-sequitur. “Star formation is a house of cards, therefore God exists.”

    Since you are using the phrase “house of cards” I assume you are referring to my earlier comment. At any rate that’s not the argument. To put the argument in very crude terms, and not totally accurately, it’s “God or multiple universes.” It’s not “ergo God.”

    3. “But there’s ZERO cosmological basis for thinking that the fundamental constraints of the universe are capable of being other than they are in the first place.”

    And if that turns out to be true, then I would expect a mass conversion to theism in the scientific community. Right now we have two basic facts: 1) habitability is sensitive to the values of the constants, and 2) our constants appear to be random draws. This provides strong circumstantial evidence for multiverse theories (better, in my opinion, than it points to God) which indeed suggest that our constants are effectively random draws with no other explanation. If a fundamental theory was developed that predicted the constants (which would be contra the multiverse theories), habitibility would still be sensitive to their values, but now it would be, in effect, much more elegantly and God-like, built into the fundamental equations of spacetime. You make the same mistake as the ID people—they think a miniscule probability for habitibility signals God—when in fact it’s the unit probability result that would be hard to ignore.

    4. “It’s not an argument for Christianity.”

    That’s true. Neither is the same argument in New Testament form (Romans 1:20).

  12. Andrew T. says:

    David Heddle concedes that if the facts underlying his fine-tuning argument were EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE, then he would “expect a mass conversion to theism in the scientific community.”

    This is, of course, my point: when your argument is “heads I win, tails you lose,” it’s a pretty good sign that you’re not really making an argument.

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