Tag Archives: Cosmology

Luke Barnes discusses the fine-tuning of the fine structure constant

Fine-tuning of the strong nuclear force and the fine structure constant
Fine-tuning of the strong nuclear force and the fine structure constant

Here is an article from The New Atlantis written by cosmologist Luke Barnes about one specific example of cosmic fine-tuning. (H/T Uncommon Descent via J. Warner Wallace tweet)

Excerpt:

Today, our deepest understanding of the laws of nature is summarized in a set of equations. Using these equations, we can make very precise calculations of the most elementary physical phenomena, calculations that are confirmed by experimental evidence. But to make these predictions, we have to plug in some numbers that cannot themselves be calculated but are derived from measurements of some of the most basic features of the physical universe. These numbers specify such crucial quantities as the masses of fundamental particles and the strengths of their mutual interactions. After extensive experiments under all manner of conditions, physicists have found that these numbers appear not to change in different times and places, so they are called the fundamental constants of nature.

These constants represent the edge of our knowledge. Richard Feynman called one of them — the fine-structure constant, which characterizes the amount of electromagnetic force between charged elementary particles like electrons — “one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man.”

[…]A universe that has just small tweaks in the fundamental constants might not have any of the chemical bonds that give us molecules, so say farewell to DNA, and also to rocks, water, and planets. Other tweaks could make the formation of stars or even atoms impossible. And with some values for the physical constants, the universe would have flickered out of existence in a fraction of a second. That the constants are all arranged in what is, mathematically speaking, the very improbable combination that makes our grand, complex, life-bearing universe possible is what physicists mean when they talk about the “fine-tuning” of the universe for life.

Atheists, both rank-and-file and expert, almost universally misunderstand the fine-tuning argument. They imagine that if the constants and quantities specified at the origin of the universe were different, then humans would just have green skin, or maybe forehead ridges, or pointy ears. Atheists tend to get their view of science from science fiction in novels or television or movies. Just this week I was talking to an agnostic woman (who since reverted to atheism) and brought up the fine-tuning argument. And she said “well, maybe if the initial constants and quantities were different, then we would have evolved differently”. No, the whole point is that life of any conceivable kind becomes impossible if the constants and quantities are altered higher or lower. Even slightly. It’s not that you have green skin, pointy ears, and forehead ridges. It’s that you have a universe that recollapses into a hot fireball, or contains only hydrogen, or does not form stars and planets at all.

I got the impression that she hadn’t read anything about the fine-tuning from peer-reviewed scientific publications, but had just read popular responses to it from atheists with degrees in English and drama and philosophy. If you want to understand a scientific argument, then you have to go to the scientific publications, and read the science. Here is an excellent start, from two astrophysicists, and published by Cambridge University Press.

So what does the scientific evidence actually show?

Barnes explains:

The strong nuclear force, for example, is the glue that holds protons and neutrons together in the nuclei of atoms. If, in a hypothetical universe, it is too weak, then nuclei are not stable and the periodic table disappears again. If it is too strong, then the intense heat of the early universe could convert all hydrogen into helium — meaning that there could be no water, and that 99.97 percent of the 24 million carbon compounds we have discovered would be impossible, too. And, as the chart to the right shows, the forces, like the masses, must be in the right balance. If the electromagnetic force, which is responsible for the attraction and repulsion of charged particles, is too strong or too weak compared to the strong nuclear force, anything from stars to chemical compounds would be impossible.

Stars are particularly finicky when it comes to fundamental constants. If the masses of the fundamental particles are not extremely small, then stars burn out very quickly. Stars in our universe also have the remarkable ability to produce both carbon and oxygen, two of the most important elements to biology. But, a change of just a few percent in the up and down quarks’ masses, or in the forces that hold atoms together, is enough to upset this ability — stars would make either carbon or oxygen, but not both.

It’s very important that theists are well-equipped to explain how individual cases of fine-tuning work. We need to know what you lose if you alter these constants and quantities even slightly. You can read about some more examples in this previous post.

How the WMAP satellite confirmed nucleosynthesis predictions and falsified atheism

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

Prior to certain scientific discoveries, most people thought that the universe had always been here, and no need to ask who or what may have caused it. But today, that’s all changed. Today, the standard model of the origin of the universe is that all the matter and energy in the universe came into being in an event scientists call “The Big Bang”. At the creation event, space and time themselves began to exist, and there is no material reality that preceded them.

So a couple of quotes to show that.

An initial cosmological singularity… forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning, or even the concept of spacetime, through such an extremity… On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself.

Source: P. C. W. Davies, “Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology,” in The Study of Time III, ed. J. T. Fraser (Berlin: Springer Verlag ).

And another quote:

[A]lmost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.

Source: Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time, The Isaac Newton Institute Series of Lectures (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 20.

So, there are several scientific discoveries that led scientists to accept the creation event, and one of the most interesting and famous is the discovery of how elements heavier than hydrogen were formed.

Nucleosynthesis: forming heavier elements by fusion
Nucleosynthesis: forming heavier elements by fusion

Here’s the history of how that discovery happened, from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) web site:

The term nucleosynthesis refers to the formation of heavier elements, atomic nuclei with many protons and neutrons, from the fusion of lighter elements. The Big Bang theory predicts that the early universe was a very hot place. One second after the Big Bang, the temperature of the universe was roughly 10 billion degrees and was filled with a sea of neutrons, protons, electrons, anti-electrons (positrons), photons and neutrinos. As the universe cooled, the neutrons either decayed into protons and electrons or combined with protons to make deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen). During the first three minutes of the universe, most of the deuterium combined to make helium. Trace amounts of lithium were also produced at this time. This process of light element formation in the early universe is called “Big Bang nucleosynthesis” (BBN).

The creation hypothesis predicts that there will be specific amounts of these light elements formed as the universe cools down. Do the predictions match with observations?

Yes they do:

The predicted abundance of deuterium, helium and lithium depends on the density of ordinary matter in the early universe, as shown in the figure at left. These results indicate that the yield of helium is relatively insensitive to the abundance of ordinary matter, above a certain threshold. We generically expect about 24% of the ordinary matter in the universe to be helium produced in the Big Bang. This is in very good agreement with observations and is another major triumph for the Big Bang theory.

Moreover, WMAP satellite measurements of mass density agree with our observations of these light element abundances.

Here are the observations from the WMAP satellite:

Scientific observations match predictions
Scientific observations match predictions

And here is how those WMAP measurements confirm the Big Bang creation event:

However, the Big Bang model can be tested further. Given a precise measurement of the abundance of ordinary matter, the predicted abundances of the other light elements becomes highly constrained. The WMAP satellite is able to directly measure the ordinary matter density and finds a value of 4.6% (±0.2%), indicated by the vertical red line in the graph. This leads to predicted abundances shown by the circles in the graph, which are in good agreement with observed abundances. This is an important and detailed test of nucleosynthesis and is further evidence in support of the Big Bang theory. 

“An important and detailed test”.

For completeness, we should learn how elements heavier than these light elements are formed:

Elements heavier than lithium are all synthesized in stars. During the late stages of stellar evolution, massive stars burn helium to carbon, oxygen, silicon, sulfur, and iron. Elements heavier than iron are produced in two ways: in the outer envelopes of super-giant stars and in the explosion of a supernovae. All carbon-based life on Earth is literally composed of stardust.

That’s a wonderful thing to tell a young lady when you are on a date: “your body is made of stardust”. In fact, as I have argued before, this star formation, which creates the elements necessary for intelligent life, can only be built if the fundamental constants and quantities in the universe are finely-tuned.

Now, you would think that atheists would be happy to find observations that confirm the origin of the universe out of nothing, but they are not. Actually, they are in denial.

Here’s a statement from the Secular Humanist Manifesto, which explains what atheists believe about the universe:

Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.

For a couple of examples of how atheistic scientists respond to the evidence for a cosmic beginning, you can check out this post, where we get responses from cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, and physical chemist Peter Atkins.

You cannot have the creation of the universe be true AND a self-existing, eternal universe ALSO be true. Someone has to be wrong. Either the science is wrong, or the atheist manifesto is wrong. I know where I stand.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

How the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation falsified atheism

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

Prior to certain scientific discoveries, most people thought that the universe had always been here, and no need to ask who or what may have caused it. But today, that’s all changed. Today, the standard model of the origin of the universe is that all the matter and energy in the universe came into being in an event scientists call “The Big Bang”. At the creation event, space and time themselves began to exist, and there is no material reality that preceded them.

So a couple of quotes to show that.

An initial cosmological singularity… forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning, or even the concept of spacetime, through such an extremity… On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself.

Source: P. C. W. Davies, “Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology,” in The Study of Time III, ed. J. T. Fraser (Berlin: Springer Verlag ).

And another quote:

[A]lmost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.

Source: Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time, The Isaac Newton Institute Series of Lectures (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 20.

So, there are several scientific discoveries that led scientists to accept the creation event, and one of the most interesting and famous is the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

Here’s the history of how that discovery happened, from the American Physical Society web site:

Bell Labs radio astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were using a large horn antenna in 1964 and 1965 to map signals from the Milky Way, when they serendipitously discovered the CMB. As written in the citation, “This unexpected discovery, offering strong evidence that the universe began with the Big Bang, ushered in experimental cosmology.” Penzias and Wilson shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978 in honor of their findings.

The CMB is “noise” leftover from the creation of the Universe. The microwave radiation is only 3 degrees above Absolute Zero or -270 degrees C,1 and is uniformly perceptible from all directions. Its presence demonstrates that that our universe began in an extremely hot and violent explosion, called the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago.

In 1960, Bell Labs built a 20-foot horn-shaped antenna in Holmdel, NJ to be used with an early satellite system called Echo. The intention was to collect and amplify radio signals to send them across long distances, but within a few years, another satellite was launched and Echo became obsolete.2

With the antenna no longer tied to commercial applications, it was now free for research. Penzias and Wilson jumped at the chance to use it to analyze radio signals from the spaces between galaxies.3 But when they began to employ it, they encountered a persistent “noise” of microwaves that came from every direction. If they were to conduct experiments with the antenna, they would have to find a way to remove the static.

Penzias and Wilson tested everything they could think of to rule out the source of the radiation racket. They knew it wasn’t radiation from the Milky Way or extraterrestrial radio sources. They pointed the antenna towards New York City to rule out “urban interference”, and did analysis to dismiss possible military testing from their list.4

Then they found droppings of pigeons nesting in the antenna. They cleaned out the mess and tried removing the birds and discouraging them from roosting, but they kept flying back. “To get rid of them, we finally found the most humane thing was to get a shot gun…and at very close range [we] just killed them instantly. It’s not something I’m happy about, but that seemed like the only way out of our dilemma,” said Penzias.5 “And so the pigeons left with a smaller bang, but the noise remained, coming from every direction.”6

At the same time, the two astronomers learned that Princeton University physicist Robert Dicke had predicted that if the Big Bang had occurred, there would be low level radiation found throughout the universe. Dicke was about to design an experiment to test this hypothesis when he was contacted by Penzias. Upon hearing of Penzias’ and Wilson’s discovery, Dicke turned to his laboratory colleagues and said “well boys, we’ve been scooped.”7

Although both groups published their results in Astrophysical Journal Letters, only Penzias and Wilson received the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the CMB.

The horn antenna was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. Its significance in fostering a new appreciation for the field of cosmology and a better understanding of our origins can be summed up by the following: “Scientists have labeled the discovery [of the CMB] the greatest scientific discovery of the 20th century.”8

It’s the greatest scientific discovery of the 20th century.

In the New York Times, Arno Penzias commented on his discovery – the greatest discovery of the 20th century – so:

The best data we have [concerning the Big Bang] are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the bible as a whole.

Just one problem with the greatest scientific discovery of the 20th century: atheists don’t accept it. Why not?

Here’s a statement from the Secular Humanist Manifesto, which explains what atheists believe about the universe:

Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.

For a couple of examples of how atheistic scientists respond to the evidence for a cosmic beginning, you can check out this post, where we get responses from cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, and physical chemist Peter Atkins.

You cannot have the creation of the universe be true AND a self-existing, eternal universe ALSO be true. Someone has to be wrong. Either the science is wrong, or the atheist manifesto is wrong. I know where I stand.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Is the acceleration of the universe’s expansion compatible with Hinduism?

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

First, a news story – and then we’ll see how the accelerating universe relates to the existence of God.

Excerpt:

Three astrophysicists who discovered that the universe’s expansion is accelerating rather than decelerating, as had been expected, win the Nobel Prize in physics.

Adam Riess was sure he’d spotted a blatant error in his results. It was 1997, and the young post-doc’s measurements of distant, exploding stars implied that the universe was expanding at a faster and faster rate, instead of slowing down, as he had expected.

It wasn’t an error at all. Instead, what was at fault were some basic assumptions about the workings of the universe.

On Tuesday, the Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist received the Nobel Prize in physics for the revolutionary discovery and its implications, along with team leader Brian Schmidt of Australian National University and astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter of UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who had reached the same conclusion independently.

At the time of their work, astrophysicists believed that the rate of expansion of the universe — set in motion by the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago — would be slowing down as matter was pulled together by gravity. The goal at the time was to figure out how rapid the deceleration was.

What the two teams found instead was that the expansion of the universe was accelerating — an observation that could best be explained by the existence of a mysterious “dark energy” that pushes matter farther and farther apart.

Many scientists had thought that, just as the universe started with the Big Bang, it would end with a Big Crunch — with gravity pulling all the matter in the universe inward.

Does anyone remember that week that I wrote those posts about “Why I am not a… <insert some religion here>”? I explained why I was not all kinds of different religions and denominations, including Roman Catholicism, Calvinism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, etc. Everyone was offended and we fought about it. Ah, I remember it well.

Now let’s apply science to the Hindu religion and see if they go together, especially this new discovery about the expansion of the universe.

Why I am not a Hindu

  1. Hindu cosmology teaches that the universe cycles between creation and destruction, through infinite time.
  2. The closest cosmological model conforming to Hindu Scriptures is the eternally “oscillating” model of the universe.
  3. The “oscillating” model requires that the universe exist eternally into the past.
  4. But the evidence today shows the the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.
  5. The “oscillating” model requires that the expansion of the universe reverse into a collapse, (= crunch).
  6. In 1998, the discovery of the year was that the universe would expand forever. There will be no crunch.
  7. Therefore, the oscillating model is disconfirmed by observations.
  8. The oscillating model also faces theoretical problems with the “bounce” mechanism.

So that’s one reason why I am not a Hindu. And now we have more scientific confirmation that there is no cycle of universes coming into being and going out of being.

The absolute origin of the universe out of nothing is also incompatible with Buddhism and Mormonism and maybe other religions. They also require an eternally existing universe.

And modern cosmology disagrees with atheism, too

I think it’s important for all of you to be familiar with the scientific evidence for the Big Bang. It will help you with your cosmological argument, and it will help you to refute many, many other religions that require eternal universes, including atheism.

I wrote about how the Big Bang cosmology falsifies atheism before.

Excerpt:

According to the Secular Humanist Manifesto, atheism is committed to an eternally existing universe, (See the first item: “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.”). If something non-material brought all existing matter into being, that would be a supernatural cause, and atheists deny that anything supernatural exists. The standard Big Bang theory requires that all the matter in the universe come into being out of nothing. The Big Bang has been confirmed by experimental evidence such as redshift measurements, light element abundances and the cosmic microwave background radiation. This falsifies eternal models of the universe, which are required by atheist Scriptures.

The experimental evidence that confirms the Big Bang creation out of nothing falsifies many worldviews. Those who care about evidence will have to choose some other religion that is compatible with what we know from science today.

Neil Shenvi: can quantum fluctuations make something appear out of nothing?

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

New article from Dr. Neil Shenvi.

Author bio:

As it says on the main page, my name is Neil Shenvi; I am currently a research scientist with Prof. Weitao Yang at Duke University in the Department of Chemistry. I was born in Santa Cruz, California, but grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. I attended Princeton University as an undergraduate where I worked on high-dimensional function approximation with Professor Herschel Rabitz. I became a Christian in Berkeley, CA where I did my PhD in Theoretical Chemistry at UC – Berkeley with Professor Birgitta Whaley. The subject of my PhD dissertation was quantum computation, including topics in quantum random walks, cavity quantum electrodynamics, spin physics, and the N-representability problem. From 2005-2010, I worked as a postdoctoral associate with Prof. John Tully at Yale where I did research into nonadiabatic dynamics, electron transfer, and surface science.

Here is the introduction to the new article:

Many modern Christian apologists such as William Lane Craig or John Lennox present the origin of the universe in the finite past as evidence that God exists. In response, many modern atheists have sought to undermine such arguments by claiming that the existence of God is not required to account for the universe’s origin, usually by appealing to various scientific models of the universe’s origin. Because my expertise is in theoretical chemistry and quantum physics rather than in cosmology, I don’t have the background to evaluate the scientific plausibility of these cosmological models as alternatives to traditional Big Bang cosmology (nor -I expect- do most atheists!) However, I am qualified to address a claim that I frequently see advanced on the internet as a purportedly knock-down response to the claims of theists: the idea that ‘quantum fluctuations’ in some vague and unspecified sense explain the universe’s origin. In this essay, I’ll briefly explain what quantum fluctuations are and why they should not be invoked to explain the origin of the material universe out of nothing.

My argument is straighforward:

  • P1. If a ‘quantum fluctuation’ occurs, then it can be described by a wavefunction
  • P2. Wavefunctions describe ‘something’, not ‘nothing’
  • C. Therefore, if a ‘quantum fluctuation’ occurs, then it is ‘something’ not ‘nothing’

If this argument is correct, then atheists should not argue that ‘quantum fluctuations’ show that ‘something’ can come from ‘nothing’ because quantum fluctuations assume the existence of ‘something’ not ‘nothing’.

Quantum mechanics is a pretty mysterious area for me, but it’s Neil’s specialty.

Here is his argument in brief:

  • P1. If a ‘quantum fluctuation’ occurs, then it can be described by a wavefunction
  • P2. Wavefunctions describe ‘something’, not ‘nothing’
  • C. Therefore, if a ‘quantum fluctuation’ occurs, then it is ‘something’ not ‘nothing’

He writes:

Regardless of how we view the ontological status of wavefunctions, there is little question that they somehow describe something that actually exists. To say it another way, it seems extremely strange to insist that this particular wavefunction describes something which does not exist! When we make use of wavefunctions in experimental physics, they never refer to ‘nothing’; they always refer to ‘something.’ Even the ‘quantum vacuum’, which people sometimes confuse with ‘nothing’, actually refers to an entity with real properties, the most obvious of which is a zero-point energy that has measurable effects on experiments. To posit a wavefunction which describes ‘nothing’ is therefore to posit a wavefunction which is unlike any wavefunction we’ve ever encountered.

So, you can’t get something from nothing by appealing to quantum mechanics after all.

Now, I’ll just add to his article based on something he mentioned – the quantum vacuum. A further requirement of cosmologies that have our universe come into being as a result of a quantum fluctuation is that there exists a quantum vacuum outside our universe that provides the environment for the quantum fluctuation that creates the universe. And of course, this quantum vacuum is not nothing. Alexander Vilenkin explains:

And of course, we have no direct evidence of that quantum vacuum that must exist outside of our universe. If it exists, then it’s outside our universe – outside of our ability to investigate it. The only argument for its existence is that naturalists need it to be there in order to undermine the cosmological argument.

Here’s William Lane Craig talking about quantum vacuum models of the universe:

William Lane Craig has an article that he published a while back which lists problems with naturalistic cosmologies.

I hope that’s enough for everyone to respond to the speculation that QM can cause a beginning of the universe out of nothing.

Previously, I’ve featured Neil’s defense of objective morality, his lecture on science and religion, his lecture on the resurrection of Jesus, and his introduction to quantum mechanics, all of which were really popular. These are easy to understand, but substantive, too.