Anthropic Coincidences

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Author: Stephen M. Barr
Date: June 2001
Publisher: Institute on Religion and Public Life
Document Type: Article
Length: 5,888 words

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How important is the human race in the scheme of things? According to the Epistle to Diognetus, a Christian work of the early second century, "God loved the race of men. It was for their sakes that He made the world." The consensus of later Christian tradition does not go quite that far, holding that the purpose of Creation is to manifest God's glory, not simply to benefit mankind. And yet Scripture and tradition certainly concur in teaching that the human race has a central place in the divine plan. In the Book of Genesis, the six days of creation culminate in the creation of man, and man alone of all the creatures is said to be made "in the image of GOd." If we are not the sole or the chief end of Creation, it is nevertheless the Jewish and Christian view that in creating the world God had the human race in mind. Indeed, St. Paul tells the Ephesians that they were chosen by God and destined to be His sons before the foundation of the world."

On the other hand, we have often been told, science regards man and his place in the world very differently. In the story of science as it is told by materialists the human race is not central to the purpose of the universe for the simple reason that the universe has no purpose. This is the view set forth in a well-known passage in Steven Weinberg's best-selling book The First Three Minutes:

It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a farcical outcome of a chain of accidents ... but that we were somehow built-in from the beginning.... It is very hard for us to realize that [the entire earth] is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe....The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.

It is the view not only of Weinberg but of many scientists that the progress of science has more and more made the universe appear "pointless," and the human race an accidental by-product of blind material forces. Indeed, this is thought by many to be the key lesson that science has to teach us. A particularly forthright champion of this view is the zoologist Richard Dawkins, who writes that "the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference."

The pointlessness of the cosmos and its indifference to human beings is also a main theme in the writings of the zoologist Stephen Jay Gould, who claims that the human race is a freak accident of evolutionary history, merely "a tiny twig on an ancient tree of life." We are, said Bertrand Russell, but "a curious accident in a backwater" of the universe.

Certainly, much in the history of science encourages this "marginalization of man." If nothing else,...

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