Monday, 23 April 2012

May Meeting on Philosophy

At our next meeting on Thursday 10 May local philosopher Joe Fearn will lead a discussion on philosophical questions. This meeting is at our usual venue, the White Rock Hotel, from 7 to 9 pm.

The original subject ptoposed for discussion was the "Anthropic Principle" (see below) but in view of a new book by Sam Harris on "Freewill" (which he maintains doesn't exist), two new books on the History of Philosophy, attempts by at least two philosophers to redefine their subject, and claims by by various scientists that that "Philosophy is Dead", the discussion will certainly be more wide-ranging. If you have a favourite philosophical conundrum you would like to air bring it along!

The Anthropic Principle:

It has been claimed that the likelihood of life evolving on earth is similar to dismantling a Boeing 747 into its smallest componant parts, tipping it from a huge skip into a scrapyard, and watching the pieces randomly re-assemble back into a fully functional aeroplane. Religious people find this kind of statistic a compelling reason to prefer a Transcendent explanation for the FITTINGNESS of the universe to life on earth. (God as Divine Designer). Scientists generally prefer a naturalistic explanation. The Anthropic principle, however, simply states that these are obviously the odds we have beaten, and we may not legitimately infer any teleological design argument from these facts. The principle itself is very simple; there was, and is, obviously nothing antagonistic to life, or we would not be here. The obvious corollory of this, (the other side of the coin if you like) is that the universe must be fitting to life, and therefore there must be happy scientific facts, or universal constants, that 'conspire' to produce ourselves. science has found almost all of these (sometimes astounding) constants, and a theory of everything is close, they say. The anthropic principle points out that now the empirical evidence is all in, it is exactly what we would expect, i.e. the universe was indeed fitted to life, in that all the universal constants were such as to instantiate the conditions needed for life on earth. The principle is both simple and unproblematic: we cannot be legitimately suprised at states of affairs that are as we expected them to be; suprise is only legitimate concerning an anomally. Therefore we must adopt a position of a detatched agnosticism, and infer nothing from facts about the fittingness of the universe to produce ourselves. Stephen Hawking does not like this conclusion, and he regards the anthropic principle as something which leaves questions concerning the fittingness of the universe to life UNTOUCHED. Therefore he proposes a STRONG anthropic principle, (as opposed to the 'weak' anthropic principle just outlined) in which mankind is the centre of the universe, which, considering previous scientific efforts to prove otherwise, is rather ironic. Paul Davis prefers a multi-worlds interpretation of reality involving counterfactuals, in order to dismiss Transcendent design arguments, but still retains a naturalistic one; our particular universe is unique; it has significant objects in it, which alternative universes do not, as they are causally discreet. Therefore we are (yet again) the centre of the universe. William Lane Craig regards the anthropic principle as TRIVIAL and indeed merely platitudinous. he has recently tried to show that we may be legitimately suprised that states of affairs have conspired to facilitate our continued existence. The problem for humanists, is that, if this is the case, the careful thinker may legitimately infer a TRANSCENDENT sufficient reason for our existence. So reports of God's demise were premature.