The great English cosmologist and mathematician John David Barrow died last September. We will forever remember his passionate assertion of the “anthropic principle”, perhaps the richest and the most secular idea on the elective character of humanity.
“The Anthropic Principle” was written in 1985 with Frank J. Tippler and published in Italy by Adelphi in 2002 (pages 770). It is a condensate of scientific convictions declined in a finalistic perspective. The reason why is the author’s belief in the teleological character of the universe. and therefore, in the existence of a cosmic project of generation of life.
The search for confirmations of his theory is outstanding, since it ranges from the entire scientific field (mathematics, astronomy, biology, chemistry) to the philosophical and theological field. In fact, Barrow summarizes the cultural and scientific history of the anthropic principle, starting from the first philosophical conceptions of ancient Greece, through the entire time span of human culture (quoting only a few, from Anassagora, Aristotle, Parmenides, Empedocle, Lucretius, through Ibr al-Haytham’s, St. Thomas, Leibniz, Kant, Scelling, up to Teilhard de Chardin).In the end, he came to a definition that he considered “last”: “Intelligent information processing must come into existence in the Universe, and once it comes into existence, it will never die out.”
In short, according to Barrow, the causal combination, which generated life in the universe, is only apparently such. Instead, it is the result of a project that has coexisted in the same universe since its creation. The same long age of the universe was necessary for the development of life, because for the fusion of hydrogen and helium nuclei, indispensable for life, the inner furnaces of the stars were needed. “So, in order to have enough time to produce the constituents of living beings, the universe must be at least 10 billion years old and, as a result of its expansion, extends for at least 10 billion light years.”
The proofs, that life in the universe was only possible thanks to exceptional extraordinarily complex and rare combinations are numerous: the constants of the universe (universal gravitation, Constant of Planck) and the related relationships between the mass of the human body and the mass of a planet/atomic mass, the mass of a planet and the observable atomic mass/universal mass, but also the unique and balanced relationship between hydrogen, oxygen and carbon that allowed life. According to Barrow, these patterns are necessarily part of a project, so much so that he believes there are no other organisms comparable to the human species in the cosmos, such as the “Martians”, which some scientists continue to search for.
Barrow distinguishes between teleological and euthanological topics: the former, find a designed end, the latter, a harmonic and planned cause. For him, this latter approach is limiting due to the complexity of life (which is also found in Newton and Darwin). Moreover, it does not go beyond the explanation of the purely internal and mechanical functioning of what is observed.
After all, Barrow has given a solid scientific form to a deeply rooted conviction in every human being. He looked around him discovering, along with the beauty and grandeur of nature, the mysterious precision of natural mechanisms, the convergence between science and natural phenomena, the wonder of the functioning of technology, the ever-increasing ability of man in taking possession of nature secrets. Therefore, the possibility of governing nature through the appropriation of his own destiny: that is, the conviction of being a special product of nature, an elective species, and for believers, the creature that God wanted to create “in his own image“. Perhaps, Barrow has a total love for humanity, with such an optimistic vision for the future of the human species. This approach has also appeared full of religious momentum, since Pope Francis, last February, nominated him member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.