I was talking to a friend of mine earlier this week about my experiences as an undergraduate in college, and it turns out that both of us relied on the same web site to get us through our late teens and early 20s. The web site is Leadership University, and it features articles on many different topics from Christian professors.
Here’s an article by famous mechanical engineering professor Walter Bradley to explain what it takes for a universe that supports complex, embodied life.
We teach mechanical engineering students to begin the design process by specifying as clearly as possible the “needs statement” for their project. Then, the assignment for the semester is to develop a design solution that accomplishes the “need(s)” specified for the project. In similar fashion, the minimal needs to be satisfied for a universe to be capable of supporting life of any imaginable type, not just life as we know it, must be identified. Like our automobile illustration, many of the specifications will necessarily be interrelated to make a functional universe. From this essential “needs statement” we can then see how these needs (or design requirements) are met in our universe. We are essentially doing reverse engineering, constructing the blueprint backwards from the product (like an illicit manufacturing company copying a competitor’s product). Only then will we be ready to entertain Dawkins’ question, “Are there many ways in which these requirements could be satisfied within nature?” Or are the conditions so unique and interrelated that their collective satisfaction by accident would be a “miracle” in its own right? Let us then begin by drafting a “needs statement” for a habitable universe. Then we shall see how these requirements are satisfied in our universe.
Needs Statement for a Suitable Universe
An abbreviated list of requirements for a universe suitable to support life of any imaginable type must include the following items:
- Order to provide the stable environment that is conducive to the development of life, but with just enough chaotic behavior to provide a driving force for change.
- Sufficient chemical stability and elemental diversity to build the complex molecules necessary for essential life functions: processing energy, storing information, and replicating. A universe of just hydrogen and helium will not “work.”
- Predictability in chemical reactions, allowing compounds to form from the various elements.
- A “universal connector,” an element that is essential for the molecules of life. It must have the chemical property that permits it to react readily with almost all other elements, forming bonds that are stable, but not too stable, so disassembly is also possible. Carbon is the only element in our periodic chart that satisfies this requirement.
- A “universal solvent” in which the chemistry of life can unfold. Since chemical reactions are too slow in the solid state, and complex life would not likely be sustained as a gas, there is a need for a liquid element or compound that readily dissolves both the reactants and the reaction products essential to living systems: namely, a liquid with the properties of water.
- A stable source of energy to sustain living systems in which there must be photons from the sun with sufficient energy to drive organic, chemical reactions, but not so energetic as to destroy organic molecules (as in the case of highly energetic ultraviolet radiation).
- A means of transporting the energy from the source (like our sun) to the place where chemical reactions occur in the solvent (like water on Earth) must be available. In the process, there must be minimal losses in transmission if the energy is to be utilized efficiently.
Unless ALL of these conditions and many more not included in this list are met, we would have a universe that would preclude the possibility of conscious, complex life forms. However, it is possible to meet all of these conditions for the universe and still not necessarily find a suitable habitat in the universe for complex, conscious life. Therefore, we might say that the above requirements for our universe are necessary, but not by themselves sufficient, conditions for a habitat suitable for complex human life. Next we try to identify the additional conditions within such a suitable universe that would provide a place of habitation for conscious, complex life.
Needs Statement for a Habitat Place in the Suitable Universe for Complex, Conscious Life
An abbreviated, but illustrative, list of additional requirements must be specified for a place of habitation in this universe. First, we need a star that is located in a relatively “quiet” region of the universe (e.g., not too many neighbors that are producing high intensity, sterilizing radiation). This star needs to have its highest intensity of radiation in the range that is suitable to drive the chemical reactions essential to life without destroying the products of these reactions. Furthermore, this star needs to have a very special satellite within its solar system. A partial list of the requirements this satellite must meet include:
- a planet or moon that is terrestrial–or, solid rather than gaseous;
- a temperature range suitable to maintain the universal solvent as a liquid rather than a solid or gas;
- just the right concentration of heavy (radioactive) elements to heat the core of the planet and provide the necessary energy to drive plate tectonics, to build up land mass in what would otherwise be a smooth, round planet completely covered with solvent;
- just the right amount of solvent (carefully coupled to the plate tectonics activity) to provide a planet with similar proportions of its surfaces as oceans and land mass;
- just the right protection from the destructive forces in nature such as radiation and asteroids over a reasonable amount of time; and
- just the right stabilized axis tilt and angular velocity to give moderate, regular, and predictable seasons and moderate temperature fluctuations from day to night.
While one is temped to think that these requirements are easily met, given the large number of stars, it should be noted that there are few places in the universe sufficiently free of sterilizing radiation to provide a suitable solar system. The number of candidate “neighborhoods” is further reduced by the requirements of a sun with the right amount of mass to give the right electromagnetic radiation spectrum. Furthermore, the occurrence of a suitable satellite in conjunction with such a star is even more problematic. Only the earth in our solar system of sixty-two satellites meets the above requirements for a “home” (earth) in safe “neighborhood” like our sun and solar system, which are well placed in a quiet place in a suitable universe as described above.
In the next sections, we will see how these universal and local “needs” (or design requirements) are met by: the specific mathematical form encoded in nature, the exact values of the universal constants in our universe, and the remarkable “coincidence” that initial (or boundary) conditions are exactly what they must be. We will also see that the “evolutional” or developmental path that our universe navigated is consistently remarkable, making the origin of our “Garden of Eden” all the more wondrous and enigmatic.
If you want to see the next sections of his article, you can click here to read the rest.
Why is this important? It’s important because a lot of people on the other side want to dismiss the fine-tuning argument by saying that if the fundamental constants and quantities specified in the Big Bang had been different, then the results would be a universe that permits life of some other kind. That’s false. If you vary the constants and quantities, you lose things that are required for any conceivable kind of complex life. You can’t form stable, metal-rich stars. The universe recollapses into a hot fireball. You have only hydrogen. You have NO hydrogen. It’s not just that people have some ridges on their noses or maybe an extra pair of arms. It’s that there is no life, period.
This is important. There are minimum requirements for life of any conceivable kind, and messing with the fine-tuning of the universe destroys the ability of the universe to provide those minimal requirements. Naturalists can smirk and shrug this off, but this is the science that we have today and we have to deal with it.