This is a post going off on a tangent … part B of the last post on the teleological argument (or argument from design).
There I mentioned Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and his discussion of the sheer remarkable unliklihood (to put it mildly) of life existing on earth. Here’s his take on it – written from a determindly non-theist position – indeed the more the discussion goes on the more surprising it is he makes no reference of any sort to God – even to dismiss him as a fanciful creation of our imagnination.
He distils the ‘two dozen’ or so ‘fortunate breaks’ that allow life to exist on earth down to four. I’m no expert, but I suspect he limits these factors too much in relation to local conditions on earth – see the previous post for factors like the gravitational constant, right balance of matter / anti-matter etc
1. Excellent Location:- We are ‘almost to an uncanny degree’ the right distance from the sun. 1% further or 5% closer and earth would have been uninhabitable for complex life (the range is a bit higher for microrganisms).
2. Right kind of planet:- the ‘lively interior’ of our planet played a crucial role in forming an atmosphere and formed the magnetic field that shields us from cosmic radiation. Our molten core also creates plate tectonics without which our globe would be totally smooth and everything would be underwater. The earth has carbon, without which no life would probably be possible. Byrson says that the earth seems ‘miraculously accommodationg’ that it is not surprising that we marvel that it is so perfecty suited to our existence.
He does suggest that this amazing ‘fit’ might be because ‘we evolved to suit its conditions.’ And he further suggests these astonishing factors enabling our life may seem splendid to us ‘because they are what we were born to count on. No-one can altogether say’. Frankly I have no idea what that means.
3. The moon:– our moon is just the right size to exert a steady gravitational pull on the earth to help it spin at the right speed, angle and stability for life to exist.
4. Timing:- Bryson says our existence in the universe is ‘a wonder’. For us to exist, he says, we need to be ‘at the right end of a very long chain of outcomes’ and ‘we are very lucky’ to find ourselves here.
Such facts point to an ‘anthropic principle’ – whether you want to accept it or not. They also add weight to the coherence of the idea that a creator God designed the universe this way so life could exist.