New book argues life is inevitable via laws of nature (philosophy of science)


EXCERPT: . . . But there is a third possibility. In his new book Universe in Creation: A New Understanding of the Big Bang and the Emergence of Life, Roy Gould, an education researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, argues that life is neither a miracle nor an aberration, but an inevitability whose emergence is dictated by the laws of nature. He frames his book around a question posed by the physicist John Archibald Wheeler in 1983. “Is the machinery of the universe so set up, and from the very beginning,” Wheeler asked, “that it is guaranteed to produce intelligent life at some long-distant point in its history-to-be?”

Gould answers Wheeler’s hypothetical in the affirmative. To do so, he walks us through the history of the universe, making the case that at each step, the “universe’s major construction projects … laid the groundwork for life.” The result is a fascinating synthesis. [...] Gould artfully describes various other highlights in universal history [...]

Sometimes, such arguments carry a whiff of tautology: by definition life could not have emerged in the universe if the universe did not provide the preconditions for it do so. But in the final third of the book, Gould returns to answer Wheeler’s question more directly and persuasively, offering “the chief lines of evidence that life really is written into the universe’s building plan.” He notes, for instance that life appeared very soon after the planet’s birth: there are fossils that are almost 4 billion years old, while the earth has only been around for 4.5 billion years. This rapidity suggests a certain inclination towards life, as does the fact that you can find creatures everywhere on the planet, even in its most inhospitable corners, from the bottom of the oceans to, say, a boiling hot geothermal spring.

[...] When Gould turns to the origin of life itself, his book leaves somethings to be desired. He largely neglects to discuss competing theories of the origin of life. [...] Whichever specific origin of life theory we turn to, the thesis that life is somehow programmed into the universe feels uncomfortable but also attractive. Uncomfortable, because it seems to carry a whiff of creationism: Is this just wishful thinking after all, intelligent design gussied up for the scientifically-minded? It is attractive, however, for the same reason. It means that life is the inevitable, invariant consequence of the laws of physics at work, giving life about as much meaning in the universe as an atheist could in good conscience ask for....

This is just the strong anthropic principle. Nothing new here.
When a cell replicates, is it making new life(form), technically speaking? A celestial body producing a life form, is it doing the same?

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