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John D. Barrow gets the Templeton Prize

John D. Barrow has got the Templeton Prize, worth £95,000, no less, for his work on the Anthropic Principle. This is based on the "fine tuning" in cosmology which is needed for the universe as we know it, and us, to exist. (See, for example, Just Six Numbers, by Martin Rees.) Christians have been quick to seize on this idea as evidence of the existence of God, and the physicist Walter Susskind has recently conceded that it presents an uncomfortable problem for opponents of Intelligent Design (see my entry for 16 December 2005.)

Martin Rees does not accept that argument, however, and I'm not clear that John Barrow does either.it is true that we can't (yet) provide a generally accepted view of how the universe came to have the features that it has, but that doesn’t mean we have to resort immediately to postulating a designer.

Invocation of the Anthropic Principle as evidence for the existence of God is the latest version of the Argument from Design. Before Darwin, the complexity and apparent fine tuning of animals and plants was taken to be indubitable proof of God's existence; invocation of the Anthropic Principle is another version of the same thing.

Even if the argument is valid, it can support Deism at most, not Theism. It can show that someone designed the universe at the outset but not that this Designer had the properties ascribed to the Christian God. Least of all can it show that this Designer is benevolent; in fact, the Argument from Evil strongly suggests the contrary.

So far as it goes, the Anthropic principle would be quite consistent with the notion that our world is a virtual reality. (See my article How to tell if you live in a simulation.) As for me, I ago along with Robert Sapolsky, who says that he might continue to believe there is no God even if it was proved that there is one.

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