Tag Archives: Physicist

Why is the universe so big, and why is so much of it hostile to life?

Chris Kyle, Navy SEAL
Chris Kyle, Navy SEAL, can hit a very small target from a mile away – very improbable

Review: In case you need a refresher on the cosmological and fine-tuning arguments, as presented by a professor of particle physics at Stanford University, then click this link and watch the lecture.

If you already know about the standard arguments for theism from cosmology, then take a look at this post on Uncommon Descent.

Summary:

In my previous post, I highlighted three common atheistic objections to to the cosmological fine-tuning argument. In that post, I made no attempt to answer these objections. My aim was simply to show that the objections were weak and inconclusive.

Let’s go back to the original three objections:

1. If the universe was designed to support life, then why does it have to be so BIG, and why is it nearly everywhere hostile to life? Why are there so many stars, and why are so few orbited by life-bearing planets? (Let’s call this the size problem.)

2. If the universe was designed to support life, then why does it have to be so OLD, and why was it devoid of life throughout most of its history? For instance, why did life on Earth only appear after 70% of the cosmos’s 13.7-billion-year history had already elapsed? And Why did human beings (genus Homo) only appear after 99.98% of the cosmos’s 13.7-billion-year history had already elapsed? (Let’s call this the age problem.)

3. If the universe was designed to support life, then why does Nature have to be so CRUEL? Why did so many animals have to die – and why did so many species of animals have to go extinct (99% is the commonly quoted figure), in order to generate the world as we see it today? What a waste! And what about predation, parasitism, and animals that engage in practices such as serial murder and infant cannibalism? (Let’s call this the death and suffering problem.)

In today’s post, I’m going to try to provide some positive answers to the first two questions: the size problem and the age problem.

Here’s an excerpt for the size argument:

(a) The main reason why the universe is as big as it currently is that in the first place, the universe had to contain sufficient matter to form galaxies and stars, without which life would not have appeared; and in the second place, the density of matter in the cosmos is incredibly fine-tuned, due to the fine-tuning of gravity. To appreciate this point, let’s go back to the earliest time in the history of the cosmos that we can meaningfully talk about: the Planck time, when the universe was 10^-43 seconds old. If the density of matter at the Planck time had differed from the critical density by as little as one part in 10^60, the universe would have either exploded so rapidly that galaxies wouldn’t have formed, or collapsed so quickly that life would never have appeared. In practical terms: if our universe, which contains 10^80 protons and neutrons, had even one more grain of sand in it – or one grain less – we wouldn’t be here.

If you mess with the size of the universe, you screw up the mass density fine-tuning. We need that to have a universe that expands at the right speed in order to form galaxies, stars and planets. You need planets to have a place to form life – a place with liquid water at the surface.

And an excerpt for the age argument:

(a) One reason why we need an old universe is that billions of years were required for Population I stars (such as our sun) to evolve. These stars are more likely to harbor planets such as our Earth, because they contain lots of “metals” (astronomer-speak for elements heavier than helium), produced by the supernovae of the previous generation of Population II stars. According to currently accepted models of Big Bang nucleosynthesis, this whole process was absolutely vital, because the Big Bang doesn’t make enough “metals”, including those necessary for life: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and so on.

Basically, you need heavy elements to make stars that burn slow and steady, as well as to make PEOPLE! And heavy elements have to be built up slowly through several iterations of the stellar lifecycle, including the right kinds of stellar death: supernovae.

Read the rest! These arguments come up all the time in debates with village atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. It’s a smokescreen they put up, but you’ve got to be able to answer it using the scientific evidence we have today. They always want to dismiss God with their personal preferences about what God should or should not do. But the real issue is the design of the cosmological constants that allow life to anywhere. That’s the part that’s designed. And that’s not a matter of personal preference, it’s a matter of mathematics and experimental science.

One last parting shot. If God made the universe have life everywhere, the first thing atheists would say is “See? Life evolves fine by itself without any God!” The only way to recognize a marksman is when he hits a narrow target (not hostile to life) from a wide range of possibilities that have no value (hostile to life). We don’t credit Chris Kyle for hitting the wall above an Islamic terrorist from a mile away, we credit Chris Kyle for hitting an Islamic terrorist a mile away. The design is not how much of the universe is hospitable to life versus how much is hostile to life. The design is in the cosmological constants – where we are in the narrow band that is hospitable to life and not in the huge regions that are hostile to life.

You can read the best explanation of the design argument in this lecture featuring Robin Collins. That link goes to my post which has a summary of the lecture. He has a new lecture that I also blogged about where he extends the fine-tuning argument down to the level of particle physics. I have a summary of that one as well.

Michael Strauss lectures on scientific evidence for a Creator at UT Dallas

Apologetics and the progress of science
Apologetics and the progress of science

The lecture: (from 2013)

Note: there is a period of 19 minutes of Q&A at the end of the lecture.

About the speaker:

His full biography is here.

Summary:

  • It used to be true that most of the great scientists were believers in God
  • But now science has advanced and we have better instruments – is it still true?
  • Today, many people believe that science has shows that the universe and Earth are not special
  • We used to believe that the Earth was the center of the universe, and Darwin showed we are not designed
  • The problem with this view is that it is based on old science, not modern science
  • Three topics: origin of the universe, fine-tuning of the universe, the Rare Earth hypothesis

Experimental evidence for the origin of the universe:

  • #1: Hubble discovered that the universe expands because of redshifting of light from distant galaxies
  • #2: Measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation show the universe had a beginnning
  • #3: Measurements of the light element (hydrogen and helium) abundances confirm an origin of the universe
  • The best explanation for an absolute origin of space, time, matter and energy is a supernatural cause

Experimental evidence for the design of the universe:

  • #1: The amount of matter: a bit less = no stars and galaxies, a bit more = universe recollapses
  • #2: The strong force: a bit more = only hydrogen, a bit more = little or no hydrogen
  • #3: Carbon resonance level: a bit higher = no carbon, a bit lower = no carbon

Experimental evidence for galactic, stellar and planetary habitability:

  • #1: Galaxy: produces high number of heavy elements and low radiation
  • #2: Star: long stable lifetime, burns bright, bachelor star, third generation star (10 billion years must elapsed),
  • #3: Planet: mass of planet, stable orbit, liquid water, tectonic activity, tilt, moon

Naturalistic explanations:

  • Humans evolve to the point where they reach back in time and create finely-tuned universe
  • Eternally existing multiverse

Hawking and Mlodinow response to Rare Earth:

  • There are lots of planets so one must support life
  • Odds of a planet that supports life are low even with 10^22 planets

Hawking and Mlodinow proposal of M-theory multiverse:

  • There is no experimental evidence for M-theory being true
  • M-theory is not testable now and is not likely to be testable in the future
  • But science is about making testable predictions, not about blind speculation

Hawking and Mlodinow no-boundary proposal:

  • This theory requires the laws of physics to exist prior to the universe
  • But where do you get laws of physics before there is any physical world?
  • There is no experimental evidence for no-boundary proposal
  • All the evidence we have now (redshift, CMBR, H-He abundances) is for Big Bang

What science has revealed provide abundant evidence for a transcendent Creator and Designer

Related posts

MIT physicist Alan Lightman on fine-tuning and the multiverse

Apologetics and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Here’s the article from Harper’s magazine.

The MIT physicist says that the fine-tuning is real, and is best explained by positing the existence of an infinite number of universes that are not fine-tuned – the so-called multiverse.

Excerpt:

While challenging the Platonic dream of theoretical physicists, the multiverse idea does explain one aspect of our universe that has unsettled some scientists for years: according to various calculations, if the values of some of the fundamental parameters of our universe were a little larger or a little smaller, life could not have arisen. For example, if the nuclear force were a few percentage points stronger than it actually is, then all the hydrogen atoms in the infant universe would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to make helium, and there would be no hydrogen left. No hydrogen means no water. Although we are far from certain about what conditions are necessary for life, most biologists believe that water is necessary. On the other hand, if the nuclear force were substantially weaker than what it actually is, then the complex atoms needed for biology could not hold together. As another example, if the relationship between the strengths of the gravitational force and the electromagnetic force were not close to what it is, then the cosmos would not harbor any stars that explode and spew out life-supporting chemical elements into space or any other stars that form planets. Both kinds of stars are required for the emergence of life. The strengths of the basic forces and certain other fundamental parameters in our universe appear to be “fine-tuned” to allow the existence of life. The recognition of this fine-­tuning led British physicist Brandon Carter to articulate what he called the anthropic principle, which states that the universe must have the parameters it does because we are here to observe it. Actually, the word anthropic, from the Greek for “man,” is a misnomer: if these fundamental parameters were much different from what they are, it is not only human beings who would not exist. No life of any kind would exist.

If such conclusions are correct, the great question, of course, is why these fundamental parameters happen to lie within the range needed for life. Does the universe care about life? Intelligent design is one answer. Indeed, a fair number of theologians, philosophers, and even some scientists have used fine-tuning and the anthropic principle as evidence of the existence of God. For example, at the 2011 Christian Scholars’ Conference at Pepperdine University, Francis Collins, a leading geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health, said, “To get our universe, with all of its potential for complexities or any kind of potential for any kind of life-form, everything has to be precisely defined on this knife edge of improbability…. [Y]ou have to see the hands of a creator who set the parameters to be just so because the creator was interested in something a little more complicated than random particles.”

Intelligent design, however, is an answer to fine-tuning that does not appeal to most scientists. The multiverse offers another explanation. If there are countless different universes with different properties—for example, some with nuclear forces much stronger than in our universe and some with nuclear forces much weaker—then some of those universes will allow the emergence of life and some will not. Some of those universes will be dead, lifeless hulks of matter and energy, and others will permit the emergence of cells, plants and animals, minds. From the huge range of possible universes predicted by the theories, the fraction of universes with life is undoubtedly small. But that doesn’t matter. We live in one of the universes that permits life because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to ask the question.

I thought I was going to have to go outside this article to refute the multiverse, but Lightman is honest enough to refute it himself:

The… conjecture that there are many other worlds… [T]here is no way they can prove this conjecture. That same uncertainty disturbs many physicists who are adjusting to the idea of the multiverse. Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.

Sound familiar? Theologians are accustomed to taking some beliefs on faith. Scientists are not. All we can do is hope that the same theories that predict the multiverse also produce many other predictions that we can test here in our own universe. But the other universes themselves will almost certainly remain a conjecture.

The multiverse is not pure nonsense, it is theoretically possible. The problem is that the multiverse generator itself would require fine-tuning, so the multiverse doesn’t get rid of the problem. And, as Lightman indicates, we have no independent experimental evidence for the existence of the multiverse in any case. Atheists just have to take it on faith, and hope that their speculations will be proved right. Meanwhile, the fine-tuning is just as easily explained by postulating God, and we have independent evidence for God’s existence, like the the origin of biological information, the sudden appearance of animal body plans, the argument from consciousness, and so on. Even if the naturalists could explain the fine-tuning, they would still have a lot of explaining to do. Theism (intelligent causation) is the simplest explanation for all of the things we learn from the progress of science.

We need to be frank about atheists and their objections to the progress of science. Within the last 100 years, we have discovered that the physical universe came into being out of nothing 15 billion years ago, and we have discovered that this one universe is fine-tuned for intelligent life. I don’t think it’s like that the last 100 years of scientific progress on the origins question are going to be overturned so that science once again affirms what atheists believe about the universe. Things are going the wrong way for atheists – at least with respect to science.

See it in action

To see these arguments examined in a debate with a famous atheist, simply watch the debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens, and judge which debater is willing to form his beliefs on scientific progress, and which debater is forming his beliefs against the science we have today, and hoping that the good science we have today based on experiments will be overturned by speculative theories at some point in the future. When you watch that debate, it becomes very clear that Christian theists are interested in conforming their beliefs to science, and atheists are very interested in speculating against what science has shown in order to maintain their current pre-scientific view. That’s not what rational people ought to do when confronted with evidence.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Physicist Michael Strauss discusses Christianity and science at Stanford University

This is one of my favorite lectures.

The lecture:

Dr. Strauss delivered this lecture at Stanford University in 1999. It is fairly easy to understand, and it even includes useful dating tips.

Here is a clip:

The full video can be watched on Vimeo:

I pulled the MP3 audio from the lecture in case anyone wants just the audio.

Summary:

What does science tell us about God?
– the discoveries of Copernicus made humans less significant in the universe
– the discoveries of Darwin should that humans are an accident
– but this all pre-modern science
– what do the latest findings of science say about God?

Evidence #1: the origin of the universe
– the steady state model supports atheism, but was disproved by the latest discoveries
– the oscillating model supports atheism, but was disproved by the latest discoveries
– the big bang model supports theism, and it is supported by multiple recent discoveries
– the quantum gravity model supports atheism, but it pure theory and has never been tested or confirmed by experiment and observation

Evidence #2: the fine-tuning of physical constants for life
– there are over 100 examples of constants that must be selected within a narrow range in order for the universe to support the minimal requirements for life
– example: mass density
– example: strong nuclear force (what he studies)
– example: carbon formation

Evidence #3: the fine-tuning of our planet for habitability
– the type of galaxy and our location in it
– our solar system and our star
– our planet
– our moon

It’s a good lecture explaining basic arguments for a cosmic Creator and Designer. If you add the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion (Stephen C. Meyer’s arguments), then you will be solid on science apologetics. That’s everything a rank-and-file Christian needs.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Michael Strauss lectures on scientific evidence for a Creator at UT Dallas

The lecture: (from 2013)

Note: there is a period of 19 minutes of Q&A at the end of the lecture.

About the speaker:

His full biography is here. (I removed his links from my excerpt text below)

Excerpt:

I had an interest in science and theology, so in 1977 I chose to go to Biola University where I could study both subjects in detail. I thoroughly enjoyed college and participated in intramural sports, was elected to student government, served as a resident assistant, competed in forensics, and studied a lot. As I neared college graduation my dual interest continued so I applied to seminary and to graduate school. After graduating summa cum laude from Biola, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in physics at UCLA.

During my first few years of graduate school, I developed an increased interest in quantum mechanics and subatomic physics and decided to do research in a field that dealt with these subjects. I joined a High Energy Physics experimental group doing research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to actively participate in research at SLAC. I graduated in 1988 with my Ph.D in High Energy Physics (a.k.a. Elementary Particle Physics). If you would like to know more about High Energy Physics, the Particle Data Group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory has a very nice interactive adventure that teaches you all about the subject. My research advisor was professor Charles Buchanan and my disertation was titled “A Study of Lambda Polarization and Phi Spin Alignment in Electron-Positron Annihilation at 29 GeV as a Probe of Color Field Behavior.”

After graduation, I accepted a post-doctoral research position with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I continued to do research at SLAC where I joined the SLD experiment. My research interests centered on the SLD silicon pixel vertex detector. I wrote most of the offline software for this device, and did physics analysis which used the vertex detector, including tagging b quark events for flavor specific QCD (Quantum Chromodynamics) analysis. In the seven years I was employed by UMASS, I only spent 3 days on the Amherst campus. The rest of the time was spent in California.

[…]In August 1995, I accepted a job as an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Oklahoma (OU) in Norman, Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma has a vibrant high energy physics research group involved in experiments at the Fermi National Accelerator Center (Fermilab), and CERN. I joined the DØ experiment at Fermilab where I continue to do research in elementary particle physics. As a member of the DØ collaboration I have made contributions to the testing of silicon sensors for the upgraded vertex detector, to the track finding algorithms, to a measurement of the photon production cross section which probes the gluon content of protons, and to other QCD measurements. I am currently studying properties ofB mesons that contain a b-quark, the production cross section of jets coming from quarks and gluons, and other QCD analyses. At CERN, I am a collaborator on the ATLAS detector.

I received tenure in 2001 and was promoted to the rank of Professor in the summer of 2010. Most of the time at OU I have taught introductory physics classes to physics majors, engineers, and life science majors. In these classes I have used a number of interactive techniques to facilitate student participation and learning. I have been privileged to win a few awards for my teaching. In 1999, the Associated Students selected me as the Outstanding Professor in the College of Arts and Science, and in 2000 I was awarded the BP AMOCO Foundation Good Teaching Award. In 2002, I was given the Regents Award for Superior Teaching. I received the Carlisle Mabrey and Lurine Mabrey Presidential Professorship in 2006 which is given to “faculty members who excel in all their professional activities and who relate those activities to the students they teach and mentor.”

He seems to have done a fine job of integrating his faith with a solid career in physics research.

Summary:

  • It used to be true that most of the great scientists were believers in God
  • But now science has advanced and we have better instruments – is it still true?
  • Today, many people believe that science has shows that the universe and Earth are not special
  • We used to believe that the Earth was the center of the universe, and Darwin showed we are not designed
  • The problem with this view is that it is based on old science, not modern science
  • Three topics: origin of the universe, fine-tuning of the universe, the Rare Earth hypothesis

Experimental evidence for the origin of the universe:

  • #1: Hubble discovered that the universe expands because of redshifting of light from distant galaxies
  • #2: Measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation show the universe had a beginnning
  • #3: Measurements of the light element (hydrogen and helium) abundances confirm an origin of the universe
  • The best explanation for an absolute origin of space, time, matter and energy is a supernatural cause

Experimental evidence for the design of the universe:

  • #1: The amount of matter: a bit less = no stars and galaxies, a bit more = universe recollapses
  • #2: The strong force: a bit more = only hydrogen, a bit more = little or no hydrogen
  • #3: Carbon resonance level: a bit higher = no carbon, a bit lower = no carbon

Experimental evidence for galactic, stellar and planetary habitability:

  • #1: Galaxy: produces high number of heavy elements and low radiation
  • #2: Star: long stable lifetime, burns bright, bachelor star, third generation star (10 billion years must elapsed),
  • #3: Planet: mass of planet, stable orbit, liquid water, tectonic activity, tilt, moon

Naturalistic explanations:

  • Humans evolve to the point where they reach back in time and create finely-tuned universe
  • Eternally existing multiverse

Hawking and Mlodinow response to Rare Earth:

  • There are lots of planets so one must support life
  • Odds of a planet that supports life are low even with 10^22 planets

Hawking and Mlodinow proposal of M-theory multiverse:

  • There is no experimental evidence for M-theory being true
  • M-theory is not testable now and is not likely to be testable in the future
  • But science is about making testable predictions, not about blind speculation

Hawking and Mlodinow no-boundary proposal:

  • This theory requires the laws of physics to exist prior to the universe
  • But where do you get laws of physics before there is any physical world?
  • There is no experimental evidence for no-boundary proposal
  • All the evidence we have now (redshift, CMBR, H-He abundances) is for Big Bang

What science has revealed provide abundant evidence for a transcendent Creator and Designer

Related posts