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By zanovar, from, 29/10/2006:


The universe we live in seems almost miraculous. It is a universe filled with intricate complexity; from the wonder of a spiral galaxy down to the minute beauty of a snow flake. Modern science's ability to explain so much can sometimes lead us to take this wondrous intricacy for granted. However, if even the slightest changes were made to the laws of fundamental nature were changed life as we know it could not exist.

A slight change to the weak and strong nuclear forces would make nuclear weaponry impossible. The melt down in chernobyl and the deaths of thousands from radiation poisoning were made possible by this fine tuning. Water is a unique chemical with many unusual properties. If its frozen form didn't float then the Titanic could never have collided with an iceberg. The ability of water to dissolve almost anything allows it to dissolve a number of chemicals fatal to life. Life as we know it requires carbon and yet the existence of carbon or even atoms themselves are the result of coincidences so unlikely as to be staggering. Yet the formation of this carbon is essential for us to have a universe in which life can evolve, suffer and ultimately die. It is also amazing that cosmic radiation has the capacity to mutate DNA. This too is an amazing coincidence. Under slightly different laws of physics there would be no evolution or mutation. In such a universe there would be no antibiotic resistant bacteria, leukemia or muscular dystrophy. There are literally thousands of deadly, demeaning and debilitating diseases that could not exist were it not for this fact. Were it not for the ability of radiation to mutate DNA no child would die in its mother's arms of leukemia. No poor African would be forced to die due to their inability to afford the new antibiotics necessary to cure their resistant tuberculosis. A lack of evolution would lead to a universe without parasitic wasps that lay eggs inside the bodies of spiders condemning them to being eaten from the inside out. The slightest change to the laws of fundamental physics would create a universe devoid of intelligent life capable of appreciating the misery inherent in existence.

The fact that the universe is so exquisitely suited to create untold misery is surely a fact of deep significance. To explain the horror inflicted by an uncaring universe on so many innocents I have developed the misanthropic principle. There are four forms of the misanthropic principle which I will now explain.

The Strong Misanthropic Principle: The universe was created by god so that intelligent beings would suffer.

The Weak Misanthropic Principle: If the universe were without pain there would be no reason for intelligence to evolve. Hence a universe with observers must be a painful one.

The Participatory Misanthropic Principle: Intelligent life is necessary in order to bring about suffering.

The Special Misanthropic Principle: The universe exists to make YOU suffer.


This entertains me no end! : ) very cool principles.. still struggling to get my head around the weak principle though

First time I read this I couldn't help but chuckle :P It does make you think doesn't it?

Mitchell de Vries

I can't help pointing out that there's a mistake in the biology here. Mutation is NOT entirely caused by radiation.

The four principles are obviously right though.


“The Strong Misanthropic Principle: The universe was created by god so that intelligent beings would suffer.”

The three principles that follow the first depend on the validity of this first principle, so if the first principle is disproven then so are the others. That is my goal below (which I ultimately fail to achieve).

Assuming that god did, in fact "create" the universe (which is obviously highly speculative), the abundant existence of pain is not necessarily a “reason” for the creation of the universe, but may simply be an unintended consequence. However, the alleged “omniscience” of god, if god exists, seems to successfully refute this argument - ie if god is "all-knowing", the consequence of creation cannot be unintended.

So, we are left with the possibilities that god is evil, incompetent or incomprehensible (ie god’s reasoning is supposedly beyond our comprehension). I will dismiss the "incomprehensible" option as simply an argument that is used when one runs out of good arguments. Furthermore, assuming that god is “omnipotent” (another highly speculative claim), then god can’t be incompetent unless it chooses to be so (for incomprehensible reasons?).

So it seems that god IS evil, after all, which I presume is what the Strong Misanthropic Principle is alluding to.

However, I propose one further possible argument in defence of god’s creation of pain. The NO PAIN, NO GAIN argument – ie god created pain so that we could be happy when it stopped. This argument makes sense if you believe in life after death (an oxymoron), because the pain in “this” life is supposedly what makes “heaven” much better than “hell” (to use Christian concepts). I guess the corollary is that “hell” is painful because life was such fun?

NO PAIN, NO GAIN can also apply to life even if you don’t believe in life after death (or reincarnation or whatever). As an analogy, beer = fun, but then pain ensues (hangover), while exams mean pain but then relief (and more beer). So pleasure is defined (in my dictionary at least) as the absence of pain. I also call this the "Bang Your Head Against the Wall Principle" -by banging your head against a wall you make yourself feel good when you stop (sort of like the opposite of taking drugs).

In conclusion, god may have created pain to enable us to experience pleasure (whether in this life or another). I call this the Weak Apologetic Argument.

My preferred conclusion however, based on extensive investigation, is that the universe was not created, therefore there is no reason for pain (it just IS). Therefore we should strive to be happy – ie drink more beer, make more money and be nice to people.

Dave Clarke

Regarding mutation, "Mutations come about due to mistakes made during DNA replication, or through external factors such as ionizing radiation or toxic chemicals. Most mutations are mute, i.e., they have little or no effect on the protein product of the gene..." from "Planets and Life, the Emerging Science of Astrobiology", Woodruff T. Sullivan III and John A. Baross, 2007 (now a bit outdated I guess).

Dave Clarke

Dave, I love the Weak Apologetic Argument.

I'm not sure what you think is wrong with the idea that god is incomprehensible. I know a lot of Christians use it when they run out of steam, which is annoying if they've just finished telling you a lot of ways in which they're sure that god isn't incomprehensible. But what would be wrong with a more thorough version of the idea?

I agree about mutations, and the phrase "mutations are mute" is cute.


Okay, I was a bit too quick to dismiss the "incomprehensibility" argument. There are two ways of looking at this: 1) god is incomprehensible (ie we can never understand god). This suffers from the Humean problem of induction. Perhaps god will one day reveal his thinking to us. 2) "god works in mysterious ways" - ie we do not have an answer for why god allows such things as natural disasters (I'm avoiding the "problem of evil", because I think it's fairly well refuted by the "free will" argument). I will give the benefit of the doubt and assume Christians are using the latter meaning - ie we do not currently know why god does some things.

The first problem with saying god works in mysterious ways is that this argument ASSUMES the existence of god, and I have yet to see a good argument in support of the existence of god that has not been adequately refuted (but I'd like to see it if there is one). My argument, on the other hand, allows that god may or may not exist. Either god does not exist or, if god does exist, then god is either evil, or not omniscient or not omnipotent, or some combination of these.

If we assume god does exist (eg if we are arguing that god is evil), then it's a little more complex. As you say, the "mysterious ways" argument is often used when Christians run out of other rational arguments. I think it is based on the parent/child analogy or the idea that sometimes you have to be "cruel to be kind". Or maybe it's just a case of collateral damage in a larger good plan (Donald Rumsfeld comes to mind - I hope god is smarter than Donald - they still haven't found those WMDs).

In my view, it is just another way of saying "I don't know why god does certain things." It would be more honest to say "I believe in god without sufficient evidence and I don't know why he allows natural disasters that injure and kill innocent children". (the last bit overcomes the argument that god is punishing evil people). I think that is a fair statement. However, in terms of reasoning, weighing up the "mysterious ways" argument against my argument, I think it's clear which one is stronger. One is based on sound reasoning and good explanation (I hope) while the other, although possibly still based on sound reasoning, is an admission that we currently have no explanation for god's actions.

In fact, without evidence for god's existence and without having any rational explanation for god allowing natural disasters and assuming, as most Christians do (I think), that if god exists then he would be omniscient and omnipotent and would not be evil, the most rational conclusion for the Christian would be to adopt my preferred (but not proven) position - ie god does not exist. (I think that's the longest sentence I have ever written). That's a more satisfying conclusion than just saying "I don't know".

Dave C.

Just noticed some interesting comments in the 2012 discussion board under “Religion Vs Science Vs The Big Bang”.

For example, “Saying that if a god does exist, it’s outside of our comprehension is as bad as Newton saying gravity doesn’t exist anywhere or if it does then it’s beyond our comprehension. Push the horizons – ask the questions instead of putting it in the too hard basket.” I like the “too hard basket” line.

And another: “I assume you are referring to floods, droughts, fires, famine, disease etc? And the answer is that creation groans under the weight of man’s sin. That being said – most of the time when bad things happen to us, they are actually a blessing in disguise.” I can’t quite see the connection between “man’s sin” and natural disasters, and I disagree with the suggestions that most bad things turn out to be for the good. Perhaps this applies to minor setbacks (if one learns from them) but it certainly doesn’t apply to major catastrophes in most cases.

I notice the last post in that particular discussion agreed with my “Weak Apologetic Argument” – “If there were no suffering on Earth then everyone would go to hell.” Looks like people were not inclined to continue the discussion.

Anyway that’s getting off topic, although I’m surprised someone hasn’t started a similar discussion this year.

Dave C.


Such interesting discussions that it is difficult to find a place to start.

I find the perspectives of institutionalized religions founded on unsupportable logic and notions. Why they have so many flaws for explaining the universe is that they were founded thousands of years ago, in a time where 'mans'
knowledge and understanding was very limited, and had to find some reason for existence

For this, I will draw upon one argument used to support the existence of God: the Design Argument. You come across a watch, you assume that it's been made by a watchmaker. Therefore, we have a universe, you can assume that it's been made by a 'universe-maker' (god).

I think our belief in some creator has stemmed in most part from our belief that something cannot come out of nothing, and from our ancestors' pinning the universe on a creator.

I think it is also good to distinguish that there are many different beliefs of what 'god' is. Some believe that God is omniscient, omnipotent (knows everything and is everywhere). Therefore, a god who can read your thoughts and see everything that you do.

Others believe that God created the universe, and has nothing to do with it since.

I think that belief is the most plausible, if anything.

In that way, god created the universe and has left it to its own devices. It that way it is not responsible for natural disasters, the evil people commit, and the pain some people are subjected to.

I also don't think 'God' is the person to blame for the evil in the world. (i'm going to continue with the assumption that god exists).

God gave, as they say, people free will. If God didn't, then there would be no merit for actions. if everyone was forced to be good, then why bother having the reward of heaven for behaving good?

I'm paraphrasing a tad, but Einstein once said that evil is the absence of good just like dark is the absence of light.

People make choices to do bad things, and God is no resort to blame for the evil people perpetrate. (this however does not explain natural disasters).

"God is evil because he allows suffering"

In response to this argument, that God is evil because he allows people to suffer and die from horrible diseases, well there is two ways to look at this.

I'm going to try in a pathetic way to show that this is in fact a good thing.

Death is an important part of life. There's too many of us, we're living so much longer than what we use to, and we're destroying the planet we live in in the process. Natural disasters and diseases can be viewed as the earth's only way of ensuring that it will continue to exist.

God isn't the thing to resort to, for if we didn't have death, than we wouldn't have a planet to live in, and if we didn't have a planet to live in, then we wouldn't have life in the first place. in this way, it is sort of good?

I think a good way to end is by saying that 'it's a wonderful time to be alive'.

We seem to forget how arguably 'implausible' or existence is and should respect the universe for giving us existence. That does not necessarily require worshiping a deity, because I do not believe that can actually be classified as 'living'.

Experiencing the world, respecting the world and those in it, appreciating the world by seizing every opportunity and doing the best in everything you do. Attributing meaning to life is great, but it's way YOU attribute; not necessarily the beliefs of the herd.

that's enough of that.

Natalie G

"Why they have so many flaws for explaining the universe is that they were founded thousands of years ago" - I fully agree. It seems astounding that so many people still believe these explanations. But, then again, maybe its because they serve many other useful purposes - eg help people deal with hardship (ironically, if they believe in a god that still intervenes in the universe), help people have a "rule book" as a "moral compass" (if they ignore all the immoral bits and don't realise that there are other better systems of ethics), and give people meaning in life or after death (if they can't develop their own meaning). For that reason I don't knock people who believe in god, only the reasons they supposedly believe.

"... if we didn't have death, than we wouldn't have a planet to live in, and if we didn't have a planet to live in, then we wouldn't have life in the first place." - completely agree. Imagine how crowded it will in heaven (or hell) in a few thousand years (if we don't wipe ourselves out in the meantime).

"Attributing meaning to life is great, but it's way YOU attribute" - couldn't agree more - this is the best thing that came out of the various forms of existentialism - the importance of living "authentically" and giving your life meaning yourself.

The only thing I disagree with is that if god created the universe and no longer intervenes, this doesn't let him off the hook for creating a poorly designed universe, especially if he IS omniscient and omnipotent (including forseeing the future). However, if you combine the "non-intervention" argument with your "death is good" argument, then maybe its starting to become a reasonable explanation for god and natural disasters co-existing? Or perhaps god is just not as great as they say?

I still prefer the non-extistence argument. It makes it so much easier to find meaning and enjoy life without worrying about external reasons, but I guess not everyone can do that especially in hard times.

Arguing about god can become boring, but only if its being done to persuade others, I think.

Dave C.


"Why they have so many flaws for explaining the universe is that they were founded thousands of years ago" - Natalie.

I don't think religions have come into existence in order to explain the world (as WE normally think of the world and of explaining). Instead, most religions came into existence (they weren't founded) because of a human need to make sense of the world and our place in it (NOT explain it....).

Religions are a way of looking at the world differently, of forming habits and rituals which lock into those ways of seeing, etc. Much of the "bad science" of religion isn't science at all.

"I will dismiss the “incomprehensible” option as simply an argument that is used when one runs out of good arguments" - Dave

I quite like the idea that god is incomprehensible (though I don't believe in any god, or anything like that). Although maybe I just like the idea that certain important things are incomprehensible, or more accurately ineffable. I think if God was incomprehensible then we wouldn't even be able to think that god was one way or another. The sentence "god is incomprehensible" is bordering on a contradiction. But if god is ineffable, then that implies that we can have some sense of god, without being able to articulate that sense. Technically, we wouldn't be able to say "god is ineffable", because any occurrence of the word god in a sentence would (well, potentially) render the sentence senseless. At least we wouldn't mean anything by god.....or maybe not. Finding some way to articulate the idea that something is ineffable does seem to be a real problem.

Concepts like the "meaning of life", or questions like "why is there something rather than nothing", seem to be the most absolutely valuable experiences that someone can have, but they obviously admit of no rational answer.... Typically, from a scientific or even philosophical perspective, (perhaps from any kind of rational perspective) such questions seem to be mistaken, or to have trivial interpretations - which miss the initial "meaning" or intention behind the question or statement. For example, "why is there something rather than nothing", seems like an expression of wonder and confusion at the brute fact of existence; trying to answer it rationally deforms or disguises the actual experience, feeling, whatever. In some sense the feeling is ineffable.

I imagine that when people say god is incomprehensible they mean something similar. You can't really argue for such a position within the confines of "rationality", but you can maybe argue that rationality imposes limits on itself, and that this makes room for other forms of life, such as religion. It's a pretty old trick, I'm sure, but I think it's the only good one left.

I take it that the misanthropic principle is supposed to use the logic of the anthropic principle to show that it leads to ridiculous consequences. Don't think it works...

Anyway, the anthropic principle starts with "there's something amazing about how finely tuned the universe is" and concludes a) there's nothing amazing, the co-incidence is explained by our own existence, or b) it's so amazing that something (god, the multi-verse) had to ensure that such a universe as ours came into existence; sheer co-incidence is impossibly unlikely.

I think one problem is that the intuition that the Universe is staggeringly improbable, confounds the feeling behind "why is there something rather than nothing" for a scientific problem.

In the example of the firing squad; guy is shot at, and survives. He thinks "what a miracle", how did that happen. The reply; well, if you weren't here you wouldn't be asking that. Okay, now that's obviously unsatisfying; but it's also a ridiculous analogy with the a) anthropic principle (I think..). With the firing squad you have expectations about what's going to happen; 10 guys fire 50 times at your head, so you should be dead. So reality fails your expectations.

Exactly what are our expectations about the universe existing this way as opposed to another? What's the formula that puts the probability of the actual universe on the table?

I think there cannot be, perhaps in principle, any such formula or intuition; all predictions of probability depend on observed regularities in the world, or theoretical constructions based on those regularities. Now how can you step outside of the universe and its regularities (and the theories based around them), take on the perspective of god, and assign a number or intuition over the entire Universe or multiverse. You can't.

The point is there is no expectation about what should have happened (the universe being this way, another way, or no way at all), which clashes with our observations of what has happened (the universe as we now inhabit it).

I think the intuition that we have no way of getting outside of the universe, of being trapped within the "brute fact of existence" (ha ha), is what drives the feeling that the universe is impossibly improbable. What people mean (should say) is that it is impossibly weird that anything should exist at all (that we keep running up against our own concepts, or exhausting ourselves with endless "whys")...or something.

(edit) Sorry for such a ramble, but I just thought of something obvious; the ineffability of God and the ineffability of the feeling behind "why is there something rather than nothing", might lead us to postulate god as an explanation of the universe. But this is mistaken, if the statement is taken in a non-metaphorical way, or interpreted as an effable statement - on a par with scientific statements. This is getting very wittgensteinian, but perhaps this mistake is what lies behind certain interpretations of the anthropic principle.

Ben F

“I think if God was incomprehensible then we wouldn’t even be able to think that god was one way or another.” - agreed, I think “incomprehensible” is a bit strong. I think the real argument that’s put forward is that we just don’t understand why god does some things.

“…maybe I just like the idea that certain important things are incomprehensible, or more accurately ineffable.” – agreed, but there’s no need to invoke the concept of god to explain the unexplainable, as you mention later (unless the definition of god is taken to be the cause of the unexplainable).

“…you can maybe argue that rationality imposes limits on itself, and that this makes room for other forms of life, such as religion” – agreed, our lives (and our biggest decisions) are based mainly on emotion rather than logic. Rationality plays a very small part in “real” life.

“What’s the formula that puts the probability of the actual universe on the table?” – good point. Many Christian apologists use probability arguments to support their view that the universe and/or life was created by god. For example, they say the probability of life arising from a “primordial soup” (abiogenesis) is so small it could not have happened. What is this claim based on? They have no way of determining the probability. Even if they could calculate that the probability of complex macromolecules arising from a random “soup” of organic molecules was very small (which is actually false, because macromolecules can “self-assemble”), they would have to multiply that probability by the number of soup servings on Earth and by the number of planets/moons with organic soup present. So if there are, say, 10^20 planets/moons with organic molecules and other suitable conditions (assuming about one in a thousand stars have a suitable planet/moon) and, say, 10^6 organic “pools” per planet (a wild guess), then the probability for self-assembly in any one pool of soup would have to be less than 10^minus26 for there to be any chance that macromolecules would not assemble somewhere in the universe. And where macromolecules can self-assemble, who’s to say that life will not probably follow. Of course, applying such probabilities without having any idea of the number of suitable planets/moons is nonsense.

Dave C.