New study: galactic habitable zone depends on fine-tuning of cosmological constant

The galactic habitable zone (GHZ) is shown in green against a spiral galaxy
The galactic habitable zone (GHZ) is shown in green superimposed on a spiral galaxy

This is going to be old news to readers of this blog who are familiar with the Michael Strauss, Walter Bradley and Guillermo Gonzalez lectures on habitability and fine-tuning. But, it’s nice to see these ideas show up in one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed science journals in the world (if not the most prestigious).

Here’s the article from Science.

It says:

Scientists have known for several years now that stars, galaxies, and almost everything in the universe is moving away from us (and from everything else) at a faster and faster pace. Now, it turns out that the unknown forces behind the rate of this accelerating expansion—a mathematical value called the cosmological constant—may play a previously unexplored role in creating the right conditions for life.

That’s the conclusion of a group of physicists who studied the effects of massive cosmic explosions, called gamma ray bursts, on planets. They found that when it comes to growing life, it’s better to be far away from your neighbors—and the cosmological constant helps thin out the neighborhood.

“In dense environments, you have many explosions, and you’re too close to them,” says cosmologist and theoretical physicist Raul Jimenez of the University of Barcelona in Spain and an author on the new study. “It’s best to be in the outskirts, or in regions that have not been highly populated by small galaxies—and that’s exactly where the Milky Way is.”

Jimenez and his team had previously shown that gamma ray bursts could cause mass extinctions or make planets inhospitable to life by zapping them with radiation and destroying their ozone layer. The bursts channel the radiation into tight beams so powerful that one of them sweeping through a star system could wipe out planets in another galaxy. For their latest work, published this month in Physical Review Letters, they wanted to apply those findings on a broader scale and determine what type of universe would be most likely to support life.

The research is the latest investigation to touch on the so-called anthropic principle: the idea that in some sense the universe is tuned for the emergence of intelligent life. If the forces of nature were much stronger or weaker than physicists observe, proponents note, crucial building blocks of life—such fundamental particles, atoms, or the long-chain molecules needed for the chemistry of life—might not have formed, resulting in a sterile or even completely chaotic universe.

Basically, the best place for a galaxy that permits complex, embodied life to exist is one where you can pick up enough heavy elements from dying stars nearby, but not be in an area that is so crowded by stars that you will be murdered by intense gamma radiation when they die.

The cosmological constant has to be set just right that we spread out enough to make space between spiral arms for life-permitting solar systems, but no so spread out that we cannot pick up the heavy elements we need for a metal-rich star, a moon, and the bodies of the intelligent agents themselves.

More:

As it turns out, our universe seems to get it just about right. The existing cosmological constant means the rate of expansion is large enough that it minimizes planets’ exposure to gamma ray bursts, but small enough to form lots of hydrogen-burning stars around which life can exist. (A faster expansion rate would make it hard for gas clouds to collapse into stars.)

Jimenez says the expansion of the universe played a bigger role in creating habitable worlds than he expected. “It was surprising to me that you do need the cosmological constant to clear out the region and make it more suburbanlike,” he says.

Remember, this is only one of many characteristics that must obtain in order for a have a location in the universe that can support complex, embodied life of any conceivable kind.

Let’s review the big picture

Time for me to list out some of the things that are required for a galaxy, solar system and planet to support complex embodied life. Not just life as we know it, but life of any conceivable kind given these laws of physics.

  • a solar system with a single massive Sun than can serve as a long-lived, stable source of energy
  • a terrestrial planet (non-gaseous)
  • the planet must be the right distance from the sun in order to preserve liquid water at the surface – if it’s too close, the water is burnt off in a runaway greenhouse effect, if it’s too far, the water is permanently frozen in a runaway glaciation
  • the solar system must be placed at the right place in the galaxy – not too near dangerous radiation, but close enough to other stars to be able to absorb heavy elements after neighboring stars die
  • a moon of sufficient mass to stabilize the tilt of the planet’s rotation
  • plate tectonics
  • an oxygen-rich atmosphere
  • a sweeper planet to deflect comets, etc.
  • planetary neighbors must have non-eccentric orbits

It’s not easy to make a planet that supports life. For those who are interested in reaching out to God, he has left us an abundance of evidence for his existence – and his attention to detail.

And remember, these requirements for a habitable planet are downstream from the cosmic fine-tuning of constants and quantities that occurs at the Big Bang. No point in talking about the need for plate tectonics if you only have hydrogen in your universe. The habitability requirements are a further problem that comes after the fine-tuning problem.

Resources

The best book to read on this topic is “The Privileged Planet“, by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards. The latter is one of my absolute favorite Christian scholars, a real renaissance man. If the book is too much, there is a DVD by the same name that covers everything you need to know at a high level. Just FYI, Gonzalez made the cover of Scientific American in 2001, for his research on habitable zones. This is real evidence you can discuss with anyone, anywhere.

You can also watch the DVD for FREE on YouTube. Not sure how long that will be there. If you like it, buy the DVD, so you can show your friends.

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11 thoughts on “New study: galactic habitable zone depends on fine-tuning of cosmological constant”

  1. Hey Wintery,

    I’m in a dialog with an atheist at the Daily Wire (they sometimes have articles on religion). I directed him to the podcast with Luke Barnes in your previous post regarding the argument from fine-tuning. He listened to the podcast and had this to say about it below. I thought I’d post it here to get everyone’s input since no other atheists post here except LoR and she very rarely comments about the science stuff you post. Here’s his response:

    Let us proceed with a few underlying facts regarding fine-tuning
    The first is that the fact we exist cannot be used as any type of argument since the alternative would not leave us here to question it.
    The second is that no matter how remote a chance there is for this configuration it still remains a chance
    The third is given the sheer size and extent of the universe and the amount of time it is virtually certain to hit upon a correct combination.
    The fourth is that if it is simply chance we would expect a tiny island of life within a gigantic amount of hostile environment. This is precisely what we see regarding the tiny planet here compared to the immense vastness of hostile space
    And the last, and most damning, is if what you claim is created, would it not take an even more complex creator to do so and this yields the unending “who created that creator” question.
    In peroration, regardless of whether we can say “we dont know” regarding the universe, it does not grant you the ability to place a god there as an explanation.

    What you do think? Thanks in advance for taking the time.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s what I’m thinking too. What makes dialoguing with atheists so difficult is it’s like trying to nail jello to a wall in just getting them to understand what is actually being claimed. So, what ends up happening is that I have to painstakingly explain to them what is actually being claimed and the response is “no it’s not you’re being illogical.”
        Not sure what to do with this guy. Anyway thanks for responding.

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          1. I responded to him. Here’s what I wrote:

            Sorry for my later than usual response. I’ve been busy in my shop in the department of chem making mosquito feeders for a grad student. I don’t know what she is specifically researching but I’ve been having fun building them. Also, I will do my best to not simply abandon a thread. Even if I have to say, “O.K., I give up.” (in a polite way of course) I will do that so at least we will both know where we stand. I’ll put your words in quotes and then I will respond after that. Thank you again for being polite in your responses to me.

            “Let us proceed with a few underlying facts regarding fine-tuning
            The first is that the fact we exist cannot be used as any type of argument since the alternative would not leave us here to question it.”

            This is either a straw man or glittering generality fallacy. The argument we are discussing isn’t about ontology per se but rather which is the inference to the best explanation when it comes to the fine-tuning of the universe. The three live options that have been put forth in the argument are chance, necessity, or design. To give an example, the homeowners’ insurance industry has arson experts to investigate the cause of a fire. The two live options are chance or an intelligent cause. The only thing the arson expert has to work with is the aftermath of the fire. So, she sifts through the rubble trying to find what caused the fire. If the evidence points to a “chance” cause (like faulty wiring or a dropped cigarette) then no crime has been committed. If she finds a gas can in the middle of the now burnt out hallway in the living space then that counts as evidence that an intelligent agent caused the fire. The more evidence that points to an intelligent cause the greater reason to believe that a person started the fire and the house is now considered a crime scene.

            “The second is that no matter how remote a chance there is for this configuration it still remains a chance.”

            If I’m not mistaken the threshold of what’s called an “operational impossibility” is 1 in 1 X10^70. In other words, any “chance” of something happening above that probability is essentially zero. In my view, it is not reasonable to simply plea “chance” as a sort of last-ditch Hail Mary pass in the fourth quarter with five seconds to go. A person who is seeking the truth should follow the evidence where it leads. Sir Anthony Flew, towards the end of his life, came to the conclusion (after a lifetime of evangelistic atheism) that “There must be a god” based on the evidence from I.D. (irreducible complexity). He even wrote a book about it that you can read for yourself on Amazon. Yes, it’s true, he didn’t become a Christian, but he was drawn to the person of Jesus and no longer consider himself a classical atheist when he died.

            “The third is given the sheer size and extent of the universe and the amount of time it is virtually certain to hit upon a correct combination.”

            OK, so what are the actual chances? Scientists have done the actual math so report back here when you have that info. Then tell me why it’s reasonable to believe that. Also, the fine-tuning of the universe precedes the existence of the laws of physics.

            “The fourth is that if it is simply chance we would expect a tiny island of life within a gigantic amount of hostile environment. This is precisely what we see regarding the tiny planet here compared to the immense vastness of hostile space”

            I’m not granting the “chance” hypothesis (see reasons above), because I find it unreasonable given the actual chances. Again, the fine-tuning of the universe precedes the existence of the laws of physics.

            “And the last, and most damning, is if what you claim is created, would it not take an even more complex creator to do so and this yields the unending “who created that creator” question.”

            This would assume that the creator must be made of physical parts in order to create a universe. Since all matter, time, space in energy came into being at the singularity (Big Bang) it does make any sense to think the creator must be made of physical parts.

            In summary, I have to ask you E.T., Do you really understand the argument from fine-tuning? One of the things I have to really strive for is to really listen to my opponent and truly understand where they are coming from. It shows respect and makes the conversation more productive. The second thing I have to ask is “do you hold to your atheism dogmatically?” What would qualify to falsify your atheism? For me, I would not be a Christian if Jesus did not rise from the dead. Paul says as much in 1 Cor chapter 15. However, if the resurrection where disproved it would not automatically lead atheism for me. Some form of theism could still be true, but Christianity is false.

            Take care my friend.

            Liked by 1 person

          1. Whoops! Hit the wrong button. My responses to his four “facts” (misunderstandings):

            First: the fact that we exist is not the fact that needs to be explained. Rather it is the incredible fine-tuning of the universe (from the moment of the Big Bang) which allows for life of ANY kind to exist which must be explained.

            Second, any mathematician will tell you that if there is less than a 1 in 10^50 that a thing will happen, then it is impossible, by the laws of probability that it will happen. And that therefore, if it does happen, IT DIDN’T HAPPEN BY CHANCE. The odds against the fine-tuning of the universe, not to mention the odds against habitabikity, far exceed thss

            Liked by 1 person

  2. He is pure Spirit, and therefore simple. The doctrine of Divine simplicity is an integral part of Christianity.

    Anyway, that’s my take. Hope it helps. It is sad to see people reject the Lord for such flimsy reasons.

    Like

  3. His third “fact” I had to reread. He seems to be saying that the universe itself tried to “get it right” over and over again, and finally did. No cosmologist worthy of the name believes this, Christian or not. If he’s referring to a multiverse, there’s more evidence for unicorns, and a multiverse would require fine-tuning as well anyway.
    Finally, fact four. The worst objection out there to the existence of God: “If God made everything, then who made God?”
    I will tell everyone in detail who made God, after they tell me where the bachelor’s wife is. Or how many sides a circle has. Or what color Wednesday smells like. It’s simply a massive category error, the same as asking who made this uncreated, eternal Being who didn’t need to be created.
    And God is not “more complex,” because He isn’t composed of parts. He is pure Spirit.

    Like

  4. One final word: Taking into account all of the constants that had to be exquisitely fine-tuned at the beginning, I would make a layman’s guess that the odds against all of these parameters being perfectly set by chance to be approx. 1 in 10^2000. Since there are only 10^87 particles in the entire UNIVERSE, this statistic alone pretty much puts chance to bed as a hypothesis.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Atheists say there is a chance. But remote chances will not happen in one spot a massive number of times.

    Maybe you could be lucky enough to get a fine turned universe perfect to sustain carbon based life on earth. Give them that if they want to the high odds I guess.

    But you still need it explain the origin of life on earth problem. The generation of all that information, the Cambrian explosion.

    The way in which you find it isn’t a nice tree of life but paths all over and similar advanced things randomly evolved multiple times even thought he oddas of it occurring once was high.

    The universe has only a finite amount of time matter and energy to play the odds game with.

    The number of remote chances exceeds an allowable standard of science

    Liked by 1 person

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