Physics, Cosmology, and God

Would it not be strange if a universe without purpose accidentally created humans who are so obsessed with purpose?”

-Sir John Templeton

When scientists talk about the “fine tuning” of the universe, they’re generally referring to the extraordinary balancing of the fundamental laws and parameters of physics and the initial condition of the universe. The result us a universe that has just the right conditions to sustain life. The odds of these conditions arising out of chance and chaos are phenomenally low.

Robin Collins, a physicist with degrees in physics and mathematics from Washington State University, used an interesting analogy.

I like to use the analogy of astronauts landing on Mars and finding an enclosed biosphere, sort of like the domed structure that was built in Arizona a few years ago. At the control panel they find that all the dials for its environment are set just right for life. The oxygen ratio is perfect; the temperature is seventy degrees; the humidity is fifty percent; there’s a system for replenishing the air’ there are systems for producing food, generating energy, and disposing of wastes. Each dial has a huge range of possible settings, and you can see if you were to adjust one or more of them just a little bit, the environment would go out of whack and life would be impossible. What conclusion would you draw from that? […] You’d conclude that this biosphere was not there by accident. Volcanoes didn’t erupt and spew out the right compounds that just happened to assemble themselves into the biosphere. Some intelligent being had intentionally and carefully designed and prepared it to support living creatures. And that’s an analogy for our universe.Over the past thirty years or so, scientists have discovered that just about everything about the basic structure of the universe is balanced on a razors edge for life to exist. The coincidences are far too fantastic to attribute this to mere chance or to claim that it needs no explanation. The dials are set far too precisely to have been a random accident. Somebody, as Fred Hoyle quipped, has been monkeying with the physics.

Physics can get very complicated very quickly, but in an interview with Lee Strobel, Robin Collins chooses an easier to envision example,

Let’s talk about gravity. Imagine a ruler, or one of those old-fashioned radio dials, that goes all the way across the universe. It would be broken down into one inch increments, which means there would be billions upon billions upon billions of inches.

The entire dial represents the range in force strengths in nature, with gravity being the weakest force and the strong nuclear force that binds protons and neutrons together in the nuclei being the strongest, a whopping ten thousand billion billion billion billion times stronger than gravity. The range of possible settings for the force of gravity can plausibly be taken to be at least as large as the total range of force strengths.

Now lets imagine that you want to move the dial from where it is currently set. Even if you were to move it by only one inch, the impact on life in the universe would be catastrophic… That small adjustment of the dial would increase gravity by a billion-fold. [Which] relative to the… total range of force strengths in nature – it’s extraordinarily small, just one part in ten thousand billion billion billion.

Animals anywhere near the size of human beings would be crushed…

Even insects would need thick legs to support them and most animals wouldn’t get much larger. In fact a planet with a gravitational pull of a thousand times that of earth would only have a diameter of about forty feet which is much too small to support life. Besides which, stars with lifetimes of more than a billion years – compared to ten billion years for our sun – couldn’t exist if you increased gravity by just three thousand times.

As you can see, compared to the total range of force strengths in nature, gravity has an incomprehensibly narrow range for life to exist. Of all the possible settings on the dial, from one side of the universe to the other, it happens to be situated in the exact right fraction of an inch to make our universe capable of sustaining life. (Strobel, TCFAC, p131)

Another phenomenon to look at is the “Cosmological Constant” – the energy density of empty space – a phenomenon so bewildering that it even boggles the mind of one of the world’s most skeptical scientists, Steven Weinberg, an avowed atheist. He expressed his amazement this way. The cosmological constant is “remarkably well adjusted in our favor.” The constant which is part of Einstein’s equation for General Relativity, could have had any value, positive or negative, “But from first principles one would guess the constant should be very large,” Weinberg said.

Fortunately, he added, it isn’t:

If large and positive, the cosmological constant would act as a repulsive force that increases with distance, a force that would prevent matter from clumping together in the early universe, the process that was the first step in forming galaxies and stars and planets and people. If large and negative, the cosmological constant would act as an attractive force increasing with distance, a force that would almost immediately reverse the expansion of the universe and cause it to re-collapse.

Either way, life loses – big time. But astonishingly, that’s not what has happened.

“In fact,” Weinberg said, “Astronomical observations show that the cosmological constant is quite small, very much smaller than would have been guessed from first principals.”

This counterintuitive and stunningly precise setting of the cosmological constant is widely regarded as the single greatest problem facing physics and cosmology today.

How precise is it? “Well there’s no way we can really comprehend it,” Collins says, “The fine-tuning has conservatively been estimated to be at least one part in a hundred million billion billion billion billion billion. That would be a ten followed by fiftu-three zeroes. That’s inconceivable precise…. Put it this way [for example]. Let’s say you were way out in space and were going to throw a dart at random toward Earth. It would be like successfully hitting a bulls eye that’s one trillionth of a trillionth of an inch in diameter. That’s less than the size of one solitary atom.”

When you combine the  two examples of fine tuning, gravity and the cosmological constant, the fine tuning would be to a precision of one part in a hundred million trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion. That would be the equivalent of one atom in the entire known universe.

As Discover magazine put it, “The universe is unlikely. Very unlikely. Deeply, shockingly unlikely.”

When you talk about probability, theoretically you can’t rule out the possibility – however remote- that this could all occur by chance. Robin Collins used another example,

…if I bet you a thousand dollars that I could flip a coin and get heads fifty times in a row, and then proceeded to do it, you wouldn’t accept that. You’d know the odds against that are so improbable – about one chance in a million billion – that it’s extraordinarily unlikely to happen. The fact that I was able to do it against such monumental odds would be strong evidence that the game had been rigged. And the same is true for the fine tuning of the universe – before you’d conclude that random chance was responsible, you’d conclude that there’s strong evidence that the universe was rigged. That is, designed.

I’ll give you another illustration. Let’s say I was hiking in the mountains and came across rocks arranged in a pattern that spelled out, WELCOME TO THE MOUNTAINS ROBIN COLLINS. One hypothesis would be that the rocks just happened to be arranged in that configuration, maybe as a result of an earthquake or rockslide. You can’t totally rule that out. But an alternative hypothesis would be that my brother, who was visiting the mountains before me, arranged the rocks that way.

Quite naturally, most people would accept the brother theory over the chance theory. Why? Because it strikes us as supremely improbable that the rocks would be arranged that way by chance, but not at all improbable that my brother would place them in that pattern. That’s quite a reasonable assumption.

In a similar way, it’s supremely improbable that the fine-tuning of the universe could have occurred at random, but it’s not at all improbable if it were the work of an intelligent designer. So it’s quite reasonable to choose the design theory over the chance theory.

The Hebrews believed that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” Lee Strobel wrote, “Everything began, they claimed, with the primordial fiat lux – the voice of God commanding light into existence. But is that a simplistic superstition or a divinely inspired insight?” (Lee Strobel, Case for a Creator, p.94.) “In the beginning there was an explosion,” explains Nobel Peace Prize – winning physicist Steven Weinberg in his book The First Three Minutes “Not an explosion like those familiar on Earth, starting from a definite center and spreading out to engulf more and more of the circumambient air, but an explosion which occurred simultaneously everywhere, filling all space from the beginning with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle.” Within a second the temperature hit a hundred thousand million degrees centigrade. “This is much hotter than in the center of even the hottest star, so hot, in fact, that none of the components of ordinary matter, molecules, or atoms, or even nuclei of atoms, could have held together,” he wrote.

The matter rushing apart, he explained, consisted of such elementary particles as negatively charged electrons, positively charged positrons, and neutrinos, which lack both electrical charge and mass. Interestingly there were also photons: “The universe,” he said, “was filled with light.”

“In three minutes,” wrote Bill Bryson in A Short History Of Nearly Everything, “Ninety-eight percent of all the matter there is or ever will be has been produced. We have a universe. It is a place of the most wondrous and gratifying possibility, and beautiful, too. And it was all done in about the time it takes to make a sandwich.”

Bryson goes on to speculate what “caused” the universe to come into being, but is quite vague and ultimately admits, “It seems quite strange that you could get something from nothing, but the fact that once there was nothing and now there is a universe is evident proof that you can.”

Might there be another explanation? Might the mysterious causation be divine? Scientists believe they can peer back to almost the first 1/10 million trillion trillion trillionths of a second, but this is obviously going to take some speculation. One Stanford University Cosmologist conceded, “These are very close to religious questions.”

Lee Strobel interviewed a Cosmologist by the name of Bill Craig who wrote several books on various cosmological and philosophical topics. One in particular was a landmark debate with atheist Quentin Smith. Here is an excerpt from Strobel’s interview, Craig starts by saying:

When I first started to defend the kalam argument, I anticipated that its first premise – that whatever begins to exist has a cause – would be accepted by virtually everyone. I thought the second premise – that the universe began to exist – would be much more controversial. But the scientific evidence has accumulated to the extent that atheists are finding it difficult to deny that the universe had a beginning. So they’ve been forced to attack the first premise instead. To me, this is absolutely bewildering! It seems metaphysically necessary that anything which begins to exist has to have a cause that brings it into being. Things don’t just pop into existence, uncaused, out of nothing. Yet the atheist Quentin Smith concluded our book on the topic by claiming that ‘the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.’ … It simply amazes me that anyone can think this is the most rational view.

Strobel goes on to ask, “What positive proof can you offer?” And Craig replied:

In the first place, this first premise is intuitively obvious once you grasp the concept of absolute nothingness. You see, the idea that things can come into being uncaused out of nothing is worse than magic. At least when a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, there’s the magician and the hat!

But in atheism, the universe just pops into being out of nothing, with absolutely no explanation at all. I think once people understand the concept of absolute nothingness, it’s simply obvious to them that if something has a beginning, that it could not have popped into being out of nothing but must have a cause that brings it into existence.

“Can you offer anything harder than just intuition? What scientific evidence is there?” Strobel asks.

Well, we certainly have empirical evidence for the truth of this premise. This is a principal that is constantly confirmed and never falsified. We never see things coming into being uncaused out of nothing. Nobody worries that while he’s away at work, say, a horse might pop into being, uncaused, out of nothing, in his living room, and be there defiling the carpet. We don’t worry about those kinds of things, because they never happen. So this is a principal that is constantly verified by science. At least, Lee, you have to admit that we have better reason to think it’s true than it’s false. If you’re presented with the principal and its denial, which way does the evidence point? Obviously the premise is more plausible than its denial.

Excerpts and Interviews from:
Case for a Creator – Lee Strobel
Pictures From:
Hubble Space Telescope – Nasa

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