In what is becoming to be one of the worst misuses of science since electronics ended up in Sammy the Singing Sea Bass, defenders of "Intelligent Design" increasingly abuse both words and the anthropic principle to "prove" the existence of God.
Many of our greatest scientists have been asking why does the universe appear to fe "fine-tuned" for life? The logic behind this question, sometimes known as the anthropic principle, says that we are here today, able to study the universe and learn about its laws. But if any of these were much different, we could never have come in to exist in the first place.
Scientists study why fundamental values of the universe like the gravitational constant or the mass of an electron are what they are. The anthropic principle states that these values can only be observed if they're such that observers can exist to do so. You'll notice that this is perfectly true but doesn't actually advance the issue, and certainly isn't proof that an invisible man spent a few millenia tuning the basic interactions of physics to eventually create something that looked like him thirteen billion years later, in the most complicated bio-cosmic Rube Goldberg machine possible.
The way the values are exactly those required for life as we know it unnecessarily surprises far too many people. Of course any life will be perfectly suited to the universe it's in - almost as if that's where it bloody happened, and in fact every process leading to anything called life is utterly dependent on succeeding in the local environment. It's like being amazed how well water fits into gills - surely the structure of H2O is perfectly engineered by an omnipotent fishgod for his faithful marine subjects!
People who say slightly different values would prevent life only betray their total lack of imagination: they can conceive of an entirely alternate universe with fundamentally different physics, but the idea that maybe different things would happen in a different universe? Madness! Insisting on carbon constructions when there's an infinity of possible existences to play with? It's like going to the Library of Congress and maintaining that something's only a book if it's about Peter Rabbit, because that's the first one you read..
This is where we're usually accused of being anti-religion. We're not. Faith provides a wonderful support for countless millions, as well as parts of a moral system which would probably be really good if people would use it right. But we are against religion interfering with science. No lab-coated lunatic has ever burst into a church towing a mass spectrometer demanding to analyze the Eucharist. So sermonizers shouldn't stuff up the gears of actual progress because they've decided their faith isn't actually strong enough to withstand other people thinking differently.
Unfortunately we're going to keep seeing complete logical breaks like this quote:
"Hawking and his colleagues presented the mathematical details in a formal paper that supports the anthropic principle. In other words, the universe is adapted for a purpose and that purpose is life."
Can you spot where the author helpfully explains what those silly scientists really meant? You should always be extremely suspicious of "this means" and "in other words."
When we really get education working, everyone will spot such logical fallacies and make their own minds up. Until then we'll have shouting matches started by those who pick a position first and then choose their evidence afterwards.
We at The Daily Galaxy think Douglas Adams nailed the issue in The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
“The Babel fish,” said The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quietly, “is small, yellow and leechlike, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy not from its carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them.
The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.
“Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindboggingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.
“The argument goes something like this: `I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, `for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’
“`But,’ says Man, `The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’
“`Oh dear,’ says God, `I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.
“`Oh, that was easy,’ says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.
Luke McKinney with Casey Kazan