The Anthropic Principle

Author: Stephen Caesar, Associates for Biblical Research
Subject: Apologetics
Date: 06/04/2003

Much has been said recently about the “anthropic principle,” a concept that deals with the origin of the universe. The science journal Discover featured an article on this subject and its consequences for belief in a Creator. The article, entitled “A Universe That Is Built for Life,” stated:

“Evidence of happy coincidences is everywhere. Anyone who has access to a good-size amateur telescope can spot a small patch of glowing gas in the constellation Taurus….This is the Crab nebula, the remains of a star that blew itself to kingdom come. If Earth had been nearby when this supernova exploded, we all would have been toast. And yet such exploding stars created the oxygen, carbon, silicon, and iron that make up much of our world and our bodies. If earlier generations of detonating stars had not seeded interstellar space with those elements, we would not exist.

“By the late 1960s, scientists recognized that the entire cosmos exists in a similarly delicate balance. Had the Big Bang been one part in a billion more powerful, it would have rushed outward too quickly to allow galaxies to form. Even more remarkable, the four forces that govern the interaction of matter and energy have just the right properties to allow atoms to bond together into compounds, clump together into planets, or crash together to generate nuclear energy inside stars” (Berman 2003: 29).

In 1961, Princeton physicist Robert Dicke published a paper offering an explanation for the fact that the universe is “fine-tuned” for life. In 1974, British astrophysicist Brandon Carter expanded on Dicke’s proposal, naming this concept the “anthropic principle.” Discover defines it thus: “The universe must have properties that allow life to develop because it was designed to generate observers” (Ibid.).

Leading proponents of this concept include physicist John Wheeler, who first coined the phrase “black hole,” and UCAL Berkeley astronomer Alex Filippenko, who stated: “Used appropriately, it has some predictive value. Small changes to seemingly boring properties of the universe could have easily produced a universe in which nobody would have been around to be bored” (Ibid.).

The cosmos not only appears fine-tuned for life, but also seems to be run like a giant computer. Physicist Stephen Wolfram, who earned his Ph.D. at age 20 and became a professor at Caltech at 21, has recently made this theory widely known. The creator of Mathematica, a powerful scientific computer programming language, Wolfram is a leading expert in computer science. His studies of a type of computer program called a cellular automaton (CA) brought him to the conclusion that the universe is essentially a huge but simple computer program. Having studied CA’s for 20 years, Wolfram began to realize that the endlessly shifting patterns they produce are reflected in the complexity of the universe (Petit 2002: 48-9).

Ed Fredkin, former director of the computer science laboratory and current visiting scientist at MIT, has studied CA’s for 30 years and agrees. Having designed the earliest digital computers, Fredkin has embraced “digital philosophy,” in which he believes that the universe is governed by pure whole numbers, as computers are (Ibid. 49). Also concurring is MIT physicist Seth Lloyd, a designer of hyperadvanced quantum computers who has gotten atoms and molecules to act like computer microprocessors: “I talk to atoms and molecules in their own language, and if we ask them very nicely they will compute for us” (Ibid. 50). In other words, the fundamental components of matter are essentially the microprocessors of the huge computer that is our universe.

All these developments pose two vital questions: 1) Why was the universe fine-tuned for life? 2) Who was the entity that created and programmed the gargantuan computer that is our cosmos?



Berman, B. 2003. “A Universe That Is Built for Life.” Discover 24, no. 2.

Petit, C. 2002. “The Cosmic Code.” US News, 19 August.


Stephen Caesar of Associates for Biblical Research holds his master’s degree in anthropology/archaeology from Harvard. He is the author of the e-book The Bible Encounters Modern Science, available at