by Jim Denney, adapted from
ANSWERS TO SATISFY THE SOUL:
Clear, Straight Answers to 20 of Life’s Most Perplexing Questions
Last week, I talked about the cosmic case for faith in God, which I first encountered in the April 1987 issue of Analog Science Fiction / Science Fact. In a science fact article, Richard Meisner wrote about a growing body of scientific evidence that the universe appears to be purposely designed and incredibly fine-tuned to produce life. Meisner quoted cosmologist Paul Davies: “It is hard to resist the impression that the present structure of the universe, apparently so sensitive to minor alterations in the numbers, has been rather carefully thought out.”
Carefully thought out by Whom? Well, by God, of course.
What is the scientific evidence for an intelligently fine-tuned universe? How do we know that the forces of the universe were precision-balanced to produce life?
Let me list just a few of the hundreds of “cosmic coincidences” that have produced our amazing just-so universe. Take, for example, the Big Bang.
At the moment the Big Bang began, everything that exists—matter, energy, the three dimensions of space, and the fourth dimension of time—emerged from a single geometric point, expanding at the speed of light. Scientists are amazed that the explosive violence of the creation event was as perfectly, delicately balanced as it was. Cosmologist Paul Davies wrote:
Had the Big Bang been weaker, the cosmos would have soon fallen back on itself in a big crunch. On the other hand, had it been stronger, the cosmic material would have dispersed so rapidly that galaxies would not have formed. . . . Had the explosion differed in strength at the outset by only one part in 1060, the universe we now perceive would not exist. To give some meaning to these numbers, suppose you wanted to fire a bullet at a one-inch target on the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light-years away. Your aim would have to be accurate to that same part in 1060. . . . Channeling the explosive violence into such a regular and organized pattern of motion seems like a miracle.
If the explosive force of the Big Bang not been perfectly balanced and incredibly fine-tuned, life would be impossible—and you and I could not exist.
At first, the laws and constants of the universe were simply accepted as a matter of fact—no one wondered why this or that force or constant of physics was not slightly stronger or weaker than it is. Eventually, physicists began to realize (as George Greenstein observed in The Symbiotic Universe) that the “laws of nature could have been laid down only in the very instant of the creation of the universe, if not before.”
Paul Davies recalled that when he was a student, the question of where the laws of physics come from was off-limits. A scientist was supposed to simply apply those laws, not inquire into their origin. Scientists would say that there’s no reason the laws of physics are what they are—they just are. Davies concluded, “The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. . . . It makes a mockery of science.”
As it became clear that the laws of nature might have been different than they are—that they appeared to have been deliberately selected to produce life—scientists began to look at these forces, laws, and constants with new sense of awe. The entire universe seemed to be constructed out of an incredibly unlikely series of cosmic coincidences. Some examples:
There are four forces governing the structure and behavior of subatomic particles—the electromagnetic force, the gravitational force, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. These forces determine everything from how an electron orbits the nucleus of an atom to how stars and galaxies are formed. Each force has a specific mathematical value called a constant (because its value never varies).
The gravitational force constant is finely tuned to permit life. Slightly greater, and stars would burn too hot, too quickly, and too unevenly to produce life-giving elements. Slightly smaller, and stars would be too cool, so that nuclear fusion could not take place and there would be no life-giving elements.
The electromagnetic force is also fine-tuned. If its constant were slightly larger or smaller, the chemical bonding required for making living things could not take place.
There is a fine-tuned balance between the gravitational and electromagnetic forces. If the constant of the ratio between these two forces were larger, there would be no stars smaller than 1.4 solar masses, and the lifetime of stars would be too short to generate life-giving elements. If the constant were smaller, there would be no stars larger than 0.8 solar masses—and again, no production of life-giving elements.
If the strong nuclear force constant were slightly larger, there would be no hydrogen in the universe and no stars. If this constant were smaller, the universe would consist of nothing but hydrogen.
If the weak force constant were larger, most of the hydrogen in the universe would have converted to helium during the Big Bang. If it were smaller, there’d be too little hydrogen converted to helium—a roadblock to the production of life-giving elements such as carbon and oxygen.
The proton-to-electron mass ratio: A proton is 1,836 times more massive than an electron; if this ratio varied slightly in either direction, molecules could not form and life could not exist. The ratio of the number of protons to the number of electrons is also finely balanced to permit the electromagnetic force to dominate the gravitational force, allowing the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets.
The unusual properties of water are also a fine-tuned condition for life. Water plays an essential role in almost every biological function. It is necessary to photosynthesis, which is the foundation of the food chain. In photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar, giving off oxygen as a “waste product.”
Water is one of the few liquids that expands when it freezes. Most substances contract and become more dense when they freeze, but frozen water is actually 9 percent less dense than liquid water. This is because, at freezing temperatures, the hydrogen bonds that connect water molecules make an adjustment to keep negatively charged oxygen atoms apart. This adjustment creates the crystal lattice that enables ice to float in liquid water.
If water didn’t have this extraordinary property, ice would sink, which would cause lakes and rivers to freeze solid. If ice did not float, wrote George Greenstein, life on Earth “would be confined to a narrow strip lying close to the equator.”
And the list goes on and on. It’s as if hundreds of completely unrelated laws and features of nature plotted together in a vast cosmic conspiracy to produce life. As Paul Davies observes:
It is tempting to believe, therefore, that a complex universe will emerge only if the laws of physics are very close to what they are. … The laws, which enable the universe to come into being spontaneously, seem themselves to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design. If physics is the product of design, the universe must have a purpose, and the evidence of modern physics suggests strongly to me that the purpose includes us.
And physicist Fred Hoyle said: “I do not believe that any scientist who examines the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed.”
Is our life-giving universe the result of an inconceivably improbable series of cosmic accidents and coincidences—or the product of a calculated, deliberate design? Which possibility is easier to believe?
Is the universe evidence—even proof—of the existence of God?
I have my own opinion. What do you think?
SATISFY THE SOUL:
Clear, Straight Answers to 20 of Life’s Most Perplexing Questions
by Jim Denney
(Kindle Edition: $2.99)
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