Over the last forty years, scientists have uncovered evidence that if the Universe had been forged with even slightly different properties, life as we know it — and life as we can imagine it — would be impossible. Join us on a journey through how we understand the Universe, from its most basic particles and forces, to planets, stars and galaxies, and back through cosmic history to the birth of the cosmos. Conflicting notions about our place in the Universe are defined, defended and critiqued from scientific, philosophical and religious viewpoints. The authors’ engaging and witty style addresses what fine-tuning might mean for the future of physics and the search for the ultimate laws of nature. Tackling difficult questions and providing thought-provoking answers, this volumes challenges us to consider our place in the cosmos, regardless of our initial convictions.
The proposition that Earth may be an oddball, a planet quite unlike any other we will ever find, has been discussed for centuries. Until recently such debates were built on mere speculation, but times are changing. We now sit at one of those scientific crossroads where a field of study moves from being a disreputable, if interesting, subject for discussion to a real science with defendable conclusions based on substantial evidence. Such transitions occur when technological advances make previously impossible observations routine and, as a result, new data becomes available. ¶ In the case of oddball Earth, the new data comes from advances in how we look at the rocks beneath our feet and at the stars above our heads. The rocks tell a tale of our planet’s constantly changing environment along with the history of life-forms and their struggles to survive. The stars speak of many possible worlds, all unique in their own way. These parallel stories suggest that incredible good fortune was needed to allow human existence. … Personally, I no longer have doubts. The evidence points toward Earth being a very peculiar place; perhaps the only highly habitable planet we will ever find. This view has led some astrobiologists to describe me as “gloomy,” but I don’t see things that way. For me, these ideas merely emphasize how wonderful our home is and how lucky we are to exist at all.
As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting. … As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here. ¶ Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life — every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.
A sublime cosmic mystery unfolds on a mild summer afternoon in Palo Alto, California… The day seems ordinary enough. Cyclists maneuver through traffic, and orange poppies bloom on dry brown hills near Linde’s office on the Stanford University campus. But everything here, right down to the photons lighting the scene after an eight-minute jaunt from the sun, bears witness to an extraordinary fact about the universe: Its basic properties are uncannily suited for life. Tweak the laws of physics in just about any way and — in this universe, anyway — life as we know it would not exist. ¶ Consider just two possible changes. Atoms consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons. If those protons were just 0.2 percent more massive than they actually are, they would be unstable and would decay into simpler particles. Atoms wouldn’t exist; neither would we. If gravity were slightly more powerful, the consequences would be nearly as grave. A beefed-up gravitational force would compress stars more tightly, making them smaller, hotter, and denser. Rather than surviving for billions of years, stars would burn through their fuel in a few million years, sputtering out long before life had a chance to evolve. There are many such examples of the universe’s life-friendly properties—so many, in fact, that physicists can’t dismiss them all as mere accidents. ¶ Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us. ¶ Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multi verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.
I do believe in both a creation and a continuous effect on this universe and our lives, that God has a continuing influence — certainly his laws guide how the universe was built. But the Bible’s description of creation occurring over a week’s time is just an analogy, as I see it. The Jews couldn’t know very much at that time about the lifetime of the universe or how old it was. They were visualizing it as best they could and I think they did remarkably well, but it’s just an analogy. … People are misusing the term intelligent design to think that everything is frozen by that one act of creation and that there’s no evolution, no changes. It’s totally illogical in my view. Intelligent design, as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real. This is a very special universe: it’s remarkable that it came out just this way. If the laws of physics weren’t just the way they are, we couldn’t be here at all. The sun couldn’t be there, the laws of gravity and nuclear laws and magnetic theory, quantum mechanics, and so on have to be just the way they are for us to be here.
John Foster presents a clear and powerful discussion of a range of topics relating to our understanding of the universe: induction, laws of nature, and the existence of God. He begins by developing a solution to the problem of induction — a solution that involves the postulation of laws of nature, as forms of natural necessity. He then offers a radically new account of the nature of such laws and the distinctive kind of necessity they involve. Finally, he uses this account as the basis for an argument for the existence of God as the creator of the laws and the universe they govern. The Divine Lawmaker is bold and original in its approach, and rich in argument. ~ Product Description • "John Foster… uses his philosophical background to analyze the question of the rationality of belief in God as a causal agent for nature’s regularities… Foster is writing for the philosophically literate; The Divine Lawmaker will appeal to the specialist and professional philosopher of science or religion…" ~ Science & Theology News
Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.
It seems to me that modern man, with our touchingly naive belief in reason and science and our delusion that we can understand existence, has lost sight of how miraculous existence truly is. Science, with button-bursting pride, offers us explanations for the history of the universe, but has not even begun to dream of what might have preceded the Big Bang. Science assures us that we are not unique, that there must be myriad planets with intelligent life on them, intelligence that is similar or even superior to ours, but can not answer the Fermi Paradox: “where are they?” Science assures us that Darwinism explains away the rise of humans and that had this or that element of evolution been just slightly different, we may never have existed, and that there must be other planets where life is quite different. And yet, with all of these scientific explanations, the fact remains that to the best of our knowledge: we exist; alone among the creatures of creation, we can comprehend our existence; and our creation seems to have been a goal of the universe. I know, I know, that’s far too anthropomorphic, yadda, yadda, yadda… Well, there’s an old saying down South, maybe it’s even popular down near where Mr. Price lives and teaches: if you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, it’s safe to assume he didn’t get there by himself. You can, of course, concoct all kinds of theories, maybe even prove some of them scientifically, that’ll show that the turtle got there naturally, but, as for me, I’d tend to assume that someone placed him there. As you look around the universe, we damn sure seem to resemble that turtle.
The last thirty years have witnessed a major revival in the philosophical, theological, scientific, and popular literature of the traditional design argument for theism. Probably the most convincing and widely discussed of these arguments is based on the so-called “fine-tuning” of the cosmos, which refers the fact that the parameters of physics and the initial conditions of the universe are balanced on a razor’s edge for life to occur. For example, calculations by Brandon Carter indicate that if the force of gravity had been stronger or weaker by one part in 1040, then life-sustaining stars could not exist (Davies, 1984, p. 242); similarly, calculations indicate that if the strong nuclear force, the force that binds protons and neutrons together in an atom, had been stronger or weaker by as little as 5%, life would be impossible. ( Barrow and Tipler, p. 322.) As the eminent Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson notes, “There are many . . . lucky accidents in physics. Without such accidents, water could not exist as liquid, chains of carbon atoms could not form complex organic molecules, and hydrogen atoms could not form breakable bridges between molecules” (1979, p. 251) — in short, life as we know it would be impossible.
Suppose we went on a mission to Mars, and found a domed structure in which everything was set up just right for life to exist. The temperature, for example, was set around 70o F and the humidity was at 50%; moreover, there was an oxygen recycling system, an energy gathering system, and a whole system for the production of food. Put simply, the domed structure appeared to be a fully functioning biosphere. What conclusion would we draw from finding this structure? Would we draw the conclusion that it just happened to form by chance? Certainly not. Instead, we would unanimously conclude that it was designed by some intelligent being. Why would we draw this conclusion? Because an intelligent designer appears to be the only plausible explanation for the existence of the structure. That is, the only alternative explanation we can think of — that the structure was formed by some natural process — seems extremely unlikely. Of course, it is possible that, for example, through some volcanic eruption various metals and other compounds could have formed, and then separated out in just the right way to produce the “biosphere,” but such a scenario strikes us as extraordinarily unlikely, thus making this alternative explanation unbelievable.
Oxford zoologist Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype) trumpets his thesis in his subtitle almost guarantee enough that his book will stir controversy. Simply put, he has responded head-on to the argument-by-design most notably made by the 18th century theologian William Paley that the universe, like a watch in its complexity, needed, in effect, a watchmaker to design it. Hewing to Darwin’s fundamental (his opponents might say fundamentalist) message, Dawkins sums up: “The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the evolution of organized complexity.” Avoiding an arrogant tone despite his up-front convictions, he takes pains to explain carefully, from various sides, why even such esteemed scientists as Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould, with their “punctuated equilibrium” thesis, are actually gradualists like Darwin himself in their evolutionary views. Dawkins is difficult reading as he describes his computer models of evolutionary possibilities. But, as he draws on his zoological background, emphasizing recent genetic techniques, he can be as engrossing as he is cogent and convincing. His concept of “taming chance” by breaking down the “very improbable into less improbable small components” is daring neo-Darwinism. ~ Publishers Weekly
If the conditions in our universe were not what they are, within a very small margin of flexibility, no life of any kind would be found in this universe. Thus, while the present universe is a fit habitat for human and other forms of life, the initial probability of there being such a universe is quite small. The confluence of so-called “cosmic constants” is improbable enough on the assumption that the universe is uncaused and undesigned; it is even more improbable on the supposition that we owe our existence to Creator who has it in for us. If, on the other hand, our lives are special, and if what makes our lives special has anything to do with the physical condition in which we come to have our lives, then the good of human life depends upon the Creator as well. This is cause for considerable comfort, for it offers an important clue concerning the Creator’s good intentions for humans. Our bodies locate us in a physical world of astonishing complexity, apparently ordered by its Creator to the goal our physical well-being.
The slant of the earth, for example, tilted at an angle at 23 degrees, produces our season,. Scientists tell us that if the earth had not been tilted exactly as it is, vapors from the oceans would move both north and south, piling up continents of ice. If the moon were only 50,000 miles away from earth instead of 200,000 the tides might be so enormous that all continents would be submerged in water, even the mountains would be eroded. If the crust of the earth had been only ten feet thicker, there would be no oxygen, and without it all animal life would die. Had the oceans been a few feet deeper, carbon dioxide and oxygen would have absorbed and no vegetable life would exist. The earth’s weight has been estimated at six sextillion tons (that’s a six with 21 zeros). Yet it is perfectly balanced and turns easily on its axis. It revolves daily at the rate of more than 1,000 miles per hour or 25,000 miles each day. This adds up to nine million miles a year. Considering the tremendous weight of six sextillion tons rolling at this fantastic speed around an invisible axis, held in place by unseen bands of gravitation, the words of Job 26:7 take on unparalleled significance: “He poised the earth on nothingness.” The earth revolves in its own orbit around the sun, making the long elliptical circuit of six hundred million miles each year — which means we are traveling in orbit at 19 miles per second or 1,140 miles per hour. Job further invites us to meditate on “the wonders of God” (37:14). Consider the sun. Every square yard of the sun’s surface is emitting constantly an energy level of 130,000 horse power (that is, approximately 450 eight-cylinder automobile engines), in flames that are being produced by an energy source much more powerful than coal. The nine major planets in our solar system range in distance from the sun from 36 million to about 3 trillion, 6,664 billion miles; yet each moves around the sun in exact precision, with orbits ranging from 88 days for Mercury to 248 years for Pluto. Still, the sun is only one minor star in the 100 billion orbs which comprise our Milky Way galaxy. if you were to hold out a dime, a ten-cent piece, at arm’s length, the coin would block out 15 million stars from your view, if your eyes could see with that power.
It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more or less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we were somehow built in from the beginning. As I write this I happen to be in an airplane at 30,000 feet, flying over Wyoming en route home from San Francisco to Boston. Below, the earth looks very soft and comfortable — fluffy clouds here and there, snow turning pink as the sun sets, roads stretching straight across the country from one town to another. It is very hard to realize that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless. … The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.
Dawkins, to explain LIFE apart from a designer, not only gives himself all the time Darwin ever wanted, but also helps himself to all the conceivable planets there might be in the observable universe (note that these are planets he must posit, since no planets outside our solar system have been observed, nor is there currently any compelling theory of planetary formation which guarantees that the observable universe is populated with planets). Thus Barrow and Tipler, in order to justify their various anthropic principles, not only give themselves all the time and planets that Dawkins ever wanted, but also help themselves to a generous serving of universes (universes which are per definition causally inaccessible to us).
The very fact that the universe is creative, and that the laws have permitted complex structures to emerge and develop to the point of consciousness — in other words that the universe has organised its own self-awareness — is for me powerful evidence that there is ‘something going on’ behind it all. The impression of design is overwhelming.
Both astrophysicists and microphysicists have lately been discovering that the series of events that produced our universe had to happen in a rather precise way—at least, they had to happen that way if they were to produce life as we know it. Some might find this fact unremarkable. After all, we are here, and it is hardly surprising that the universe is of such kind as to have produced us. It is simply a tautology to say that people who find themselves in a universe live in a universe where human life is possible. Nevertheless, given the innumerable other things that could have happened, we have reason to be impressed by the astonishing fact of our existence. Like the man who survives execution by a 1,000-gun firing squad, we are entitled to suspect that there is some reason we are here, that perhaps there is a Friend behind the blast.
The temptation to believe that the Universe is the product of some sort of design, a manifestation of subtle aesthetic and mathematical judgment, is overwhelming. The belief that there is ‘something behind it all’ is one that I personally share with, I suspect, a majority of physicists. ¶ The belief that there is “something behind it all” is one that I personally share with, I suspect, a majority of physicists. This rather diffuse feeling could, I suppose, be termed theism in its widest sense. Nevertheless thee is a long way to go from the feeling that nature is extraordinarily “clever” and harmonious to the idea of Jesus as the Son of God. ¶ In the Western world, Christianity is so much a part of our culture that it is easy to miss just how remarkably audacious the Christian claim is. We are asked to believe that God somehow became Man and lived out his destiny in a backwater of the Roman Empire at a time of relatively minor cultural and political activity 2000years ago. How are we to square this cosy association between God and mankind on planet Earth with the vast majesty of the cosmos? Can mankind really occupy a position so astonishingly privileged amid the great scheme of things?
It is true that the Scholastics invented what professed to be logical arguments proving the existence of God, and that these arguments, or others of a similar tenor, have been accepted by many eminent philosophers, but the logic to which these traditional arguments appealed is of an antiquated Aristotelian sort which is now rejected by practically all logicians except such as are Catholics. There is one of these arguments which is not purely logical. I mean the argument from design. This argument, however, was destroyed by Darwin.
Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I have not to search for them and conjecture them as though they were veiled in darkness or were in the transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them directly with the consciousness of my existence. The former begins from the place I occupy in the external world of sense and enlarges my connexion therein to an unbounded extent with worlds upon worlds and systems of systems, and moreover into limitless times of their periodic motion its beginning and continuance. The second begins from my invisible self, my personality, and exhibits me in a world which has true infinity, but which is traceable only by the understanding and with which I discern that I am not in a merely contingent but in a universal and necessary connexion, as I am also thereby with all those visible worlds. The former view of a conntless multitude of worlds annihilates, as it were, my importance as an animal creature, which after it has been for a short time provided with vital power, one knows not how, must again give back the matter of which it was formed to the planet it inhabits (a mere speck in the universe). The second, on the contrary, infinitely elevates my worth as an intelligence by my personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a life independent on animality and even on the whole sensible world — at least so far as may be inferred from the destination assigned to my existence by this law, a destination not restricted to conditions and limits of this life, but reaching into the infinite
Look round this universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated and organised, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living existences, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness! How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind Nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children!
You need only look around you, replied Philo, to satisfy yourself with regard to this question. A tree bestows order and organisation on that tree which springs from it, without knowing the order; an animal in the same manner on its offspring; a bird on its nest; and instances of this kind are even more frequent in the world than those of order, which arise from reason and contrivance. To say, that all this order in animals and vegetables proceeds ultimately from design, is begging the question; nor can that great point be ascertained otherwise than by proving, a priori, both that order is, from its nature, inseparably attached to thought; and that it can never of itself, or from original unknown principles, belong to matter.