The full context

Pim van Meurs (
Thu, 8 Apr 1999 21:43:58 -0700

"It turns out that the physical constants have just the values required to
ensure that the Universe contains stars with planets capable of supporting
intelligent life...The simplest interpretation is that the Universe was
designed by a creator who intended that intelligent life should evolve. This
interpretation lies outside science." (Smith J.M. & Szathmary E., "On the
likelihood of habitable worlds," Nature, Vol. 384, 14 November 1996, p107)

Just as I thought. Here is the response by Sumac.

Of course it is out of context. The quote contains three sentences taken from a page of text. Not only that, but the first sentence was separated from the second two by nearly two paragraphs (one paragraph and two half paragraphs). It is impossible to know the authors' intentions from that quote. The article is not available online (Nature Online doesn't have full text that far back), but I will type in a few passages to try to bring the quote back into context.

The article is actually a discussion of why the anthropic principle fails (in the authors' opinion) to explain anything when it is applied to the Universe in general. The authors, Smith and Szathm‡ry (that's E. for Ešrs), first point out that the weak anthropic principle (which states that the Universe is perfect
for intelligent life because there is intelligent life) is not really an explanation, but "merely acknowledges a peculiar situation."

However, the strong anthropic principle is equally dissatisfying. This principle "states that the Universe must have those properties that allow life to develop in it at some stage in its life history." They do say that the simplest interpretation of the strong anthropic principle is to assume a Creator, but they also point
out that that explanation is unscientific. Here is the passage that immediately follows the second part of the quote:

"Within science, there are two possibilities [to explain the strong anthropic principle]. First, there is only one universe possible on logical grounds, and the list of constants follows from a (so far unavailable) 'theory of everything'. Second, there are indeed many possible alternative universes. If so, the presence of observers may have a crucial role, since, according to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics, it is the act of observation that chooses among possible superpositions. This version depends on the perhaps unjustified assumption that Schrodinger's equation can be applied to macroscopic objects. It also seems to lead to conclusion that the wave function did not collapse until the recent evolution of conscious observers on Earth, or perhaps, elsewhere in the Universe."

But again, nothing is really explained because there is no cause for the effect. The strong anthropic principle states that intelligent beings exist because they must exist. As Smith and Szathm‡ry say: "The assertion is essentially unproved, and unlikely to be true."

In an attempt to explain their dissatisfaction with the above principles, they contrast these non-explanations with evolutionary theory (the authors are

"Evolutionary biology is a historical science. It tries to explain past events in terms of a theory (natural selection - that is, the dynamics of populations of entities with variation, multiplication, and heredity). To explain a particular event, say the origin of the eukaryotes, is to show that, given plausible initial conditions, the event, if not inevitable, was at least reasonably likely. The explanation should also be supported by evidence: the symbiotic theory of the origin of the eukaryotes is supported by the presence in mitochondria of DNA and a bacteria-like translating machinery. It would be unsatisfactory to argue that, because eukaryotes are in fact here, then any accidents, however unlikely, needed to give rise to them must have happened."

What they are saying is that, like the theory of evolution, a theory of the origin of physical constants needs to be based on evidence and not just on fanciful twists of logic and philosophy. They then go on to explain why they are attracted to a theory that was put forth by one L. Smolin (Quantum Grav. 9: 173-191, 1992). This theory proposes that the physical constants of the current Universe have evolved through a sort of cosmic natural selection. I have to admit that I do not entirely understand the argument, so I can't say if I agree with their assessment of Smolin's theory or not. The main point, though, was that Smolin's theory, unlike the anthropic theories, is based on observation and provides testable hypotheses with which to gather more evidence that may support or contradict the theory.

If I was making myself clear, then you should be able to see that the quote, as written, does not reflect the intentions of the authors. The comment about assuming a Creator was not referring directly to the physical constants of the Universe, but was referring to one interpretation of a 'strong anthropic principle' explanation for the physical constants of the Universe. And, that the authors view the strong anthropic principle as a non-explanation that is unsupportable by any available evidence.