Fit For A Purpose

Does the Anthropic Principle Include Biochemistry?

Fazale Rana

p17 Introduction

p17-21 A reflection on music and its role in his life and thought. 29 Interesting comment from a friend about a composer's music that became "the soundtrack for my life." p21 "I might say that the songs that make up my life's soundtrack seem to be fit for a purpose. It's as if the songwriter had me in mind when composing those songs, so ideal is the fit." Uses a CD player as an example of a machine fit for a purpose based on a multiple of features. Then jumps to the universe as fit for a purpose.

p21 "Over the past several decades, astronomers and astrophysicists have discovered that a large collection of the fundamental constants, parameters, and characteristics that define the universe have to assume incredibly precise values for human life to even be possible in the universe. An, as it turns out, our universe is characterized by the exact values. This coincidence is remarkable. Our universe appears to be fit for a purpose - and it is not merely a single feature of our universe that makes it so. Just like a good CD player, it is a collection of features - constants, parameters, and characteristics - all with just-right values that make the universe fit for a purpose." p22 "the fine-tuning of the universe seems to be hardwired into its very fabric." --gravitational constant/electromagnetic constant 1 part in 1038 -- "it looks as if the fundamental constants and parameters of the universe have been exquisitely fine-tuned for life to be possible."

p22 Introduces Brandon Carter and his coining of the term "anthropic principle" in 1973. Carter was referring to weak anthropic principle.

p23 "However, there are others who offer a different interpretation of the anthropic principle. The see the fine-tuning of the universe's dimensionless constants and parameters as a signature of a Creator's handiwork. Just like it took my hand to intentionally guide the dial on my radio to the precise location so that I could listen to WKLC, many people view the fine-tuning of the universe's constants and parameters as evidence that a Creator must have intended the universe to be the way it is - so that human life could be possible. In this framework, the fine-tuning of the universe's constants and parameters indicates that the universe was designed."

I liked his earlier description of carefully turning the knob to get his chosen radio station while a small deviation in either direction gave only a meaningless buzz or hum. I had that experience often as a boy in Arkansas, trying to tune in local radio stations.

p23 "For those who interpret the anthropic principle as evidence for design, the case for a Creator runs much deeper than merely the design of the universe's constants. They see the anthropic principle as connoting meaning and purpose. That is, the universe seems to be fit for a purpose."

p24 "...the central question of this book. Does the anthropic principle extend beyond physics and cosmology to chemistry and biochemistry?"

p24 Cites Michael Denton's Nature's Destiny and the Proceedings of the Harvard symposium of 2003, Fitness of the Cosmos for Life which celebrated the 90th anniversary of Lawrence J. Henderson's "The Fitness of the Environment" (1913)

  • Denton's case that the laws of the universe are structured in such a way that life - if it exists anywhere in the universe - must be precisely the way life appears on Earth.
    • Must exist in an aqueous environment.
    • Must be formed from carbon compounds.
    • Must be built from amino acids, proteins, nucleic acids, and DNA.

"Denton concludes that, in toto, the laws of nature seem to be rigged to make the universe and Earth's biosphere precisely the way they need to be for human life to be possible."

p26 Rana describes his plan for the book

  • The broader question: does the anthropic principle apply to chemistry and biochemistry?
    • Rather than being shaped exclusively by historically contingent evolutionary processes, the molecular systems appear to be largely specified by the laws of physics and chemistry.
    • The properties of biochemical systems are precisely those that are needed for life.
    • It appears that terrestrial biochemistry is universal biochemistry.
  • Part 1: Cosmological anthropic principle, citing The Creator and the Cosmos by Ross and 'A Fortunate Universe' by Geraint Lewis and Luke Barnes (cosmologists in Australia).
  • Part 2:Uses Henderson's two books and extends Henderson's chemical arguments.
  • Part 3:Is there a biochemical anthropic principle?
Part 1: The Anthropic Principle

p31 Ch 1 The Cosmological Anthropic Principle

  • p34 Brandon Carter at 1973 Krakow Symposium presented anthropic principle as rejoinder to Copernican principle.
    • Weak anthropic principle - just right space time location
    • Strong anthropic principle - just right physical constants
    • Carter avoided the metaphysical, presenting the model as an 'observer-centered tautology'
    • Mentions Hoyle and Dicke as also speaking to anthropic principle
  • p35 John D Barrow and Frank J Tipler in 1986 authored 'The Anthropic Cosmological Principle'
    • They included theological and philosophical implications.
    • Their version of SAP was that the universe's constants must must assume precise, exacting values so that carbon based life will exist.
    • p36 "In the process, they reintroduced teleology into physics and cosmology."
  • Besides Barrow and Tipler, Rana recommends other sources for the cosmological anthropic principle.
  • Suggests that today's physicists and cosmologists are similar to Carter in that they proceed mathematically by the "counterfactual approach", changing one constant while leaving the others unchanged to assess the impact.
  • p37 Fine-tuned Dimensionality
    • Three space dimensions and one time dimension required for a universe to support life. Discusses why.
  • p38 Fine-tuned Expansion
    • Early universe dominated by gravitationally controlled expansion which then decreased, but with dark energy now exhibits an acceleration term.
    • Rate of expansion early was extremely precise so as not to recollapse, nor expand so fast that atoms and stars and galaxies could not form.
    • Cosmological constant associated with dark energy fine-tuned to 1 in 10120.
  • p40 Fine-tuned Constants
    • Counter-factual analysis of the ratios of the four fundamental forces shows them to be incredibly fine-tuned in ratio for the universe to support life.
    • Strong nuclear force about 100 times electromagnetic and 1038 times gravity.
    • Strong and weak nuclear forces drop off rapidly outside nuclear dimensions.
    • If strong force 0.3 percent stronger, no hydrogen and no universe
    • If strong force 2% weaker, hydrogen would be the only element in the universe.
    • If weak force stronger, only heavy elements would exist, if weaker, only light elements would exist.
    • If ratio of electromagnetic to gravity were larger, only massive stars. If smaller, only small stars. This ratio can't change by more than 1 part in 1038.
  • p41 Fine-tuned Particles
    • Excess of matter over antimatter by 1 in 199
    • Ratio of protons to electrons finely balanced, otherwise electromagnetic dominant over gravity.
    • Relative masses of particles fine-tuned for the present life-supporting universe.
    • Relative mass and stability of neutrons and protons critically fine-tuned for a life-supporting universe.
  • The multitude of fine-tuned parameters discovered by counterfactual analysis convinces most astronomers and physicists of the cosmological anthropic principle.
Part 2: The Anthropic Principle

p45 Ch 2 The Father of the Anthropic Principle

p46 Rana points out that the anthropic principle didn't originate with Carter, Barrow and Tipler but was extensively discussed in the late 1700s and early 1800s in 'natural theology'. "...these ideas ... were abandoned because of the evolutionary paradigm, ushered in by Charles Darwin's 1859 work On the Origin of Species. In this work, Darwin argued that the teleology of the natural theologians (such as William Paley) no longer belonged in biology because the remarkable designs so characteristic of biological systems could be explained by natural selection. And with this claim, design and purpose were stripped from biology."

"Yet nearly five decades later, Harvard physiologist Lawrence J. Henderson sought to bring design and purpose back into the fold of the life sciences and, in doing so, arguably presented the first modern example of anthropic reasoning. "

p47 "Darwin, we know, argued that organisms evolve under the auspices of natural selection to become fit for their environment. But Henderson, recognizing that some environments could never harbor life of any kind, presented evidence that the environment we find ourselves in demonstrates a remarkable fitness that makes life possible in the first place. If it wasn't for the fitness of the environment, according to Henderson, life couldn't even originate, let alone evolve to adapt to its surroundings."

p47 Brief bio of Henderson: (1878-1942) MD, Harvard (1902) post docs in Germany and US. Best known for his characterization of the acid-base buffering system in the blood and body fluids. Discovered that the pH of the blood utilizes carbonic acid and salts from phosphoric acid, led to the development of the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation to calculate the pH of buffer solutions.

p57 Ch 3 The Chemical Anthropic Principle

Part 3: The Biochemical Anthropic Principle

p95 Ch 4 Proteins

p133 Ch 5 The Nucleic Acids

p169 Ch 6 The Synthesis of Proteins and Nucleic Acids

p217 Ch 7 Cell Membranes

p257 Ch 8 Energy-Harvesting Pathways

Part 4: Implications

p295 Ch 9 Implications of the Biochemical Anthropic Principle

p298 "...Darwin asserted that natural selection could even account for the appearance of design so pervasive in biological systems. With this maneuver ... Darwin expunged teleology from the biological disciplines, replacing the mind of the watchaker with the mechanism of natural selection - the blind watchmaker."

p299 Henderson in his 1917 "The Order of Nature: An Essay" "argued that the chemical environment has been structured so that it displays the necessary properties that make life possible."

p299 "Henderson thought that the reciprocal interdependence between the environment's fitness and natural selection indicated that here must be a tendency or directional flow to life's evolutionary history that reflects a teleology or purpose to nature." This pointer to teleology was largely ignored by scientists for over 50 years.

p299 "Brandon Carter in the 1970s and the discovery of the cosmological anthropic principle - namely the fine tuning of the universe's dimensionless constants." "observers must reside at the just-right location in the universe's space-time."

p300 Barrow and Tipler, 1986, "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle". While acknowledging Carter's version of fine-tuning, "introduced the possibility that an imperative exists such that the universe's physical and cosmological constants must must assume precise, exacting values so that carbon-based life exists, or is even possible." They give three options, one of which is the work of an intelligent Agent.

p301 Suggesting that the anthropic design should be manifest in the chemical and biological systems as well as the constants. "...I expect that this influence would uniquely manifest in the laws of chemistry and the structure an function of biochemical systems. In other words, all creation would display a fitness for a purpose - namely humanity's advent and existence."

p301 Does the Anthropic Principle Apply to Chemistry?

p301 Following Henderson's early work and others, "I described how water, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and carbon-containing compounds display physicochemical properties that are constrained by the laws of nature. As a consequence of these constraints, these substances display highly unusual properties that turn out to be ideally suited for life."

p301 "It is highly fortuitous that the laws of nature would produce a chemical environment in the universe that is precisely what is required for life to exist."

p301 "the two elements most necessary for life, oxygen and carbon, are also among the most abundant chemical elements in the cosmos. ...the triple alpha process which forms these two elements in the cores of stars, relies on a finely tuned mechanism.If even one of several parameters associated with this mechanism deviated much beyond its actual value, carbon and oxygen would exist as relatively low levels in the universe and life wouldn't be possible. In this respect, the cosmological and chemical anthropic coincidences cojoin."

p302 Does the Anthropic Principle Apply to Biochemistry?


  • Systems examined for evidence of anthropic coincidences:
    • proteins, nucleic acids (DNA,RNA), phospholipids for cell membranes
    • key metabolic processes: protein synthesis, DNA replication, energy harvesting (glycolysis, Krebs cycle, electron transport chain)
  • Required capabilities for cell to exist as a life-form
    • DNA replication
    • protein synthesis
    • cell membrane formation and maintenance
    • energy harvesting processes.

p303 "These systems also appear to be highly optimized and, when compared to other conceivable biochemical analogs they are highly unusual, if not unique. Most of the unusual features of these systems are what make them ideally suited for life."

p304 "All life is made up of cells, either prokaryotic or eukaryotic cells. Effectively, all living systems possess the same biochemical systems. All life relies on proteins made from the same 20 amino acids. All life makes use of DNA as its genetic material. The mechanism of DNA replication is in effect, universal. The central dogma of molecular biology defines the process by which the information in DNA is expressed in all living systems. The genetic code which relates the information in the nucleotide sequences of DNA to the information in the amino acid sequences of proteins, is universal. (Nonuniversal codes deviate only slightly frrom the universal code.)"

"All life is bounded by cell membranes built from phospholipid bilayers. The energy-harvesting pathways and the metabolic routes that comprise central carbon metabolism are near-universal. So too is the use of proton gradients to generate ATP, the universal energy currency of the cell. The universal nature of the cell's chemical systems has profound consequences that make biochemistry possible as a robust scientific discipline."

p304 The existence of the biochemical anthropic principle indicates that biochemical systems cannot be solely the outworking of a historically contingent evolutionary process but appear to be largely shaped by constraints that arise out of the laws of nature."


  • "Carbon-based life in an aqueous medium most likely would:
    • make use of proteins assembled from the 20 canonical amino acids
    • employ DNA -comprised of four nucleotides made from adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine - as its genetic material.
    • use RNA - comprised of adenine, guanine, uracil and cytosine - as the intermediary to translate the ggenetic information into the information housed in proteins.
    • use phospholipids as components to build cellular boundaries.
    • rely on the central dogma to translate its genetic information into the information housed in proteins.
    • use the same genetic code as the one found universally throughout the living realm.
    • replicate its genetic information using a semiconservative, template-directed mechanism
    • utilize glucose as the primary energy source
    • break down glucose into carbon dioxide and water as the means to harvest energy for the cell using pathways very similar to glycolysis and the Krebs cycle and
    • make use of proton gradients"

p307 "In other words, the existence of the biochemical anthropic principle makes it quite likely that terrestrial biochemistry is, in fact, universal biochemistry. Life as we know it on Earth may be and likely is the only way life could be, at least at the biochemical level."

p307 The Metaphysical Implications of the Biochemical Anthropic Principle

p307 "..Barrow and Tipler ...recognized that the cosmological anthropic principle reflects an imperative that demands the physics of the universe assume certain features so that carbon-based life will exist. One obvious way to make sense of this imperative is to consider that it arises from a Mind, suggesting that the universe's fitness for purpose evinces a Creator's handiwork."

p307 "Because of the pervasiveness of anthropic coincidences, I am convinced that the anthropic principle - and the biofriendly nature of the universe - serves as compelling evidence for a Creator."

p308 The Biochemical Anthropic Principle and Theistic Evolution
If theistic evolution, is it scientifically detectable?

p309 "Both the Old and New Testaments inform us that evidence for God's work as Creator and his attributes is revealed through the record of nature."

p309 "As one of the key tenets of the biochemical anthropic principle, the laws of nature preordained the structure and function of biochemical systems. ... contradistinction to ... evolutionary processes stumbled upon these systems ... if constraints exist that rise out of the laws of nature becomes reasonable to regard the origin of life .. as a highly probable ..outcome of evolutionary history ... cannot be considered an outcome that reflects mere happenstance. .. Life's genesis becomes a necessity, not a chance outcome, with a predictable endpoint reflected in the universal nature of biochemical systems."

p309-311 A Japanese group ELSI investigated 1913 amino acids in relation to the 20 canonical amino acids found in life. With different size sets randomly chosen, they found that if the set contained any one member of the canonical set, it outperformed random sets without one. Studied this with all members of the canonical set. It looks like, regardless of the starting point, "the pathways will all converge at the canonical set of amino acids" "It is doubly eerie to think that the constraints imposed by the laws of nature - which imbue the canonical set with the just-right properties for life - would force the same evolutionary outcome, time and time again." Good discussion of the implications of the amino acids - counter to Gould's "replaying the tape and getting different life"

p311 "It looks as if a Mind purposed life to be present in the universe and structured the laws of nature so that, in this case, the uniquely optimal canonical set of amino acids would inevitably emerge. And this jury-rigging is scientifically detectable, bringing metaphysics into the scientific arena."

p311 Krebs Cycle: "...the compounds that form the Krebs cycle appear to be emerging features of early Earth. In fact, it looks as if the Krebs cycle intermediates may well constitute a unique set of molecules. It also appears that these same types of geochemical and physicochemical constraints account for the design of the glycolytic pathway."

p312 " in prebiotic chemistry designed to gain insight into the process of chemical evolution and the origin of life through naturalistic processes, has ironically demonstrated the necessary role a Creator must have played, directly, to bring about the appearance of Earth's first life. In other words, evolutionary mechanisms appear insufficient to account for the origin of life (and biochemistry) even if the biochemical anthropic principle is in effect."

p313 Prebiotic Chemistry

p314 Researcher Intervention and Prebiotic Chemistry

p315 Researcher Intervention and the Hand of God

p315 Simon Conway Morris: "Many of the experiments designed to explain one or other step in the origin of life are either of tenuous relevance to any believable prebiotic setting or involve an experimental rig in which the hand of the researcher becomes for all intents and purposes the hand of God."

p316 "That is, intelligent agency becomes an indispensable feature of prebiotic simulation experiments in the lab. By extension, we can expect this reality to be in effect on early Earth. This provides empirical evidence that a Creator must have intervened to bring about the origin of life (and biochemistry)."

p316 The Revitalized Watchmaker Argument

p316 "As I argue in The Cell's Design, insights into the structure and function of biochemical systems provide us with this very evidence of biochemical design features. These features provide the opportunity to present a revitalized Watchmaker argument for a Creator's existence and necessary role in the design of biochemical systems, adding further support to my conviction that a Creator must have played a direct role in creating life."

p316 Reviews the famous William Paley Watchmaker story."Though William Paley's argument hasn't fared well over the last century and a half, advances in biochemistry provide us with the opportunity to give his argument new life. For example, biochemists have made the provocative discovery that a number of protein complexes serve the dell as molecular-scale machines and motors - many of which bear an eerie similarity to machines made by human designers."

p316 "To illustrate the revitalized Watchmaker argument, I will describe three examples of protein complexes that resemble machines designed by human engineers."

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