01/23/2008 06:42 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The eight-legged god

The god of the gaps argument keeps reasserting itself (just like the climate change denial argument) in odd ways. With the discovery of the Big Bang, people who want to believe in the god who is interested in the outcome of football games, or in which sexual organs consenting adults rub together, or how the Huckabees celebrate Christmas, claim that the thing which "caused" the big bang 15 billion years ago is that god. Another variant of this is to suggest that because the conditions in the universe are "just right" for the existence of life on Earth, this means that the same god who smites the residents of New Orleans was also the one who, 15 billion years ago, set up the universe for the purpose of, eventually, having residents in New Orleans who could be smited (smote?).

Their arguments imply that there is some essence of humanness, or, to go further back, life itself, that is a given. And for THAT life to exist the universe has to have certain properties. You could respond to this proposition in two non god-given ways. One is some concept of multiverse - that is there is an infinite number of universes corresponding to every possible combination of physical properties of matter, and this is the one we are in. But this isn't my understanding of the true "anthropic principle". I think that humans themselves, life itself, only exists in the form it does, this particular form, because of the way the universe is. Had some of the physical properties been different then a different universe would exist which may or may not have evolved some different manifestation of self-reproducing things, and even more remotely, might have evolved some self aware part of that manifestation that might have tried to answer the question "why are we here?". So the multiverse isn't a set of parallel universes, but a set of potentialities, none of which were, by chance, in fact taken, except the one which led to the kind of "life" that we think of as life. The fact that we are here to ask the question is the answer to the question. Or, perhaps, on a cosmic scale, we think therefore we are.

And, as a footnote, evolutionary processes would operate in any possible version of the universe, both in the non-living precursors to life and in whatever turned up as "life" itself. There is inevitability in the process, but none in the outcomes, just as, even within our version of the universe, there was absolutely no inevitability in the process that eventually split off one of the great apes into a creature that would contribute to Huffington Post. I, you, could have been, say, an octopus, or a large amphibian, or a brainy dinosaur, or a pig or a bear. We would then be arguing about why the universe had been just right for the evolution of the octopus, and what this meant about the great eight-legged god in the sky who had been looking out for our interests.

Like Thomas Huxley, on The Watermelon Blog "'I am too much of a skeptic to deny the possibility of anything' Thomas Huxley"