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Ellis, George F. R. “The Theology of the Anthropic Principle."

George Ellis’s paper combines reflections on the Anthropic Principle with the theology of William Temple. He calls this a “Christian Anthropic Principle,” which seeks to account for the particular character of the universe in terms of the design of God who intends the evolution of creatures endowed with free will and the ability to worship the Creator. Ellis thereby hopes to provide a synthesis of science and theology which will take into account recent work in cosmology and provide a better understanding of how these two fields might be related.

Ellis begins by distinguishing between the patterns of understanding in science and in theology. Still, both religion and science can be relevant when we consider the nature of the universe and its ultimate cause. Five approaches to such a cause are available: random chance, which is unsatisfactory unless one accepts reductionism; high probability as in chaotic cosmology, which is hard to quantify; necessity (only one kind of physics is consistent with the universe), but since the foundations of the sciences are debatable, an argument from the unity of the sciences is far from available; universality (all that is possible happens), but such Many Worlds arguments are controversial and probably untestable; and design of the laws of physics and the choice of boundary conditions. Design requires a transcendent Designer.

The Anthropic Principle (AP) speaks to two questions: why do we exist at this time and place (Weak AP), and why does the universe permit evolution and our existence at any time or place (Strong AP)? The Strong AP can be linked to quantum mechanics through the role of the “observer,” but this is controversial and it leaves unanswered the question of why quantum mechanics is necessary. Thus Ellis looks for ultimate causes beyond the confines of science. Religion can provide just such an approach, since it is capable of dealing with ultimate causation without being incompatible with science.

Ellis provides a Christian setting for the design argument by describing the “essential core” of New Testament teaching based on Temple’s theology and his own Quaker perspective. God is understood as creator and sustainer, embodying justice and holiness. God is personal, revealed most perfectly in Jesus, and active in the world today. The Kingdom is characterized by generosity, a forgiving spirit and loving sacrifice. The universe arose as “a voluntary choice on the part of the Creator, made because it is the only way to attain the goal of eliciting a free response of love and sacrifice from free individuals.”

This interpretation of divine action guides Ellis in his proposal of a Christian Anthropic Principle (CAP), combining design with divine omnipotence and transcendence. The nature, meaning and limitations of creation are determined by the fundamental aim of God’s loving action, that of making possible in our universe the reality of sacrificial response. God’s design, working through the laws of physics and chemistry, allows for the evolution of such modes of life in many places in the universe. “From this viewpoint, fine-tuning is no longer regarded as evidence for a Designer, but rather is seen as a consequence of the complexity of aim of a Designer whose existence we are assuming . . .”

This entails five implications for the creation process. The universe must be orderly so that free will can function. God attains this goal through creating and sustaining the known physical laws which allow for the evolution of creatures with consciousness and free will. God has also given up the power to intervene directly in nature. The existence of free will makes pain and evil inevitable and requires that God’s providence be impartial. Moreover, God must remain hidden from the world, allowing for “epistemic distance.” God achieves both an impartial providence and epistemic distance through the impartiality of the laws of nature. Yet revelation must be possible, so that God can disclose to the faithful an ethical basis for life. None of this contradicts the standard scientific understanding of the universe, but adds an “extra layer of explanation” for the universe and its laws that is basically metaphysical. Finally, Ellis turns to quantum indeterminacy to provide a basis for divine inspiration. Other forms of intervention or action are thus excluded, including amplification by chaotic systems; these would “greatly exacerbate the problem of evil.”

While Ellis has argued that it is highly probable that life exists throughout the universe, he claims that the number of individuals in the universe must be finite if God is to be able to exercise care for each. If the universe were infinite instead, it would not be possible for God to have the requisite knowledge of the infinite number of individuals and their infinite number of relations to one another. Thus the SETI project is of “tremendous religious significance” in testing the hypothesis of a caring creator.

CAP leads us to the following questions: is our physical universe the only way to achieve the divine intention? how, more precisely, is the ultimate purpose imbedded in, and manifested by, the laws of physics? what proof can be given for CAP? To the latter question Ellis argues that the evidence for CAP is stronger than evidence for inflation or the quantum creation of the universe.

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