Tag Archives: Cosmology

An experimental particle physicist answers speculations about creation and fine-tuning

I was corresponding with Dr. Michael G. Strauss recently regarding some comments that my previous articles on the kalam, fine-tuning and habitability arguments had drawn. Dr. Strauss is a tenured professor but he also does research on particle physics.

I wanted to draw your attention to a lecture given by Dr. Strauss to the students at Stanford University. In the lecture, he gives 3 arguments from the progress of science that support the conclusion that the universe was created and designed by an intelligent agent of immense power.

I highly recommend this lecture, entitled “Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God”.

Dr. Strauss is not a Christian philosopher or debater – he is a practicing physicist with a stack of publications, who is excited by scientific discoveries that confirm the existence of God.

Here is an outline of the lecture:

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

What Dr. Strauss thinks about science

As you listen to the lecture, pay close attention to the fact that it is the progress of science that has disproved atheism and given support to theism. Atheism is based on old science. And people who continue to cling to atheism against the new evidence must resort to speculations that are either not testable at all, or not confirmed by experimental testing.

Let’s take a look at two of the speculations that sound scientific, but aren’t confirmed by any research. The first is quantum mechanics (i.e. – vacuum fluctuation model). It argues that the universe is an event without a cause, because there is an unobservable hyper-universe that spawned our universe. The second is a response to the fine-tuning. It argues that there are an infinite number of unobservable universes that are not fine-tuned, and we just happen to be in the fine-tuned one.

Notice that both responses are theoretical speculations that take refuge in unobservable entities in order to escape the good experimental science that proves that there is a Creator and Designer. It’s atheism-of-the-gaps!

Vacuum fluctuation:
– offered as a response to the big bang
– what can QM do: explain how particles appear in a vacuum when the vacuum is sparked
– speculation is that this same process may explain the origin of the universe
– in order to test it, our universe would have to be contained within a larger universe, with similar laws of physics
– but there is no evidence that this unobservable hyper-universe exists

Chaotic inflationary model:
– offered as a response to the fine-tuning
– speculates that inflation may cause other universes to come into being, with different constants
– no experimental verification has been offered
– no evidence of any of these other universes

So, what we have here is a clear cut case of logical arguments and evidence for theism, vs atheist faith and wish-fulfillment. All the data we have today is for theism, but all the untestable speculating is on the part of the atheists, who have faith and hope that the progress of science will overturn what we know and replace it with the what atheists hope for. (And I haven’t even talked about the origin of life and molecular machines, etc.!)

In fact I e-mailed Dr. Strauss about these two speculations, and this was his response:

Wintery Knight,

Quantum mechanics works within the laws of physics. So if you postulate that this universe was created from QM then you must also postulate that a previous universe with similar laws existed previously.

There are a number of theories that would allow multiple universes, though none have any experimental verification. Have you read Jeff’s “Who’s Afraid of a Multiverse?” It is very good.

-Mike

I think that we need to be careful when we explore these issues of faith and science. This is not a game. We need make decisions about what is true today, not hold out hope that some discovery will be made later that validates what we want to believe.

Further study

Dr. Strauss gave a similar lecture more recently at the University of California (Santa Cruz) and in the Q&A, he actually faced questions regarding quantum mechanics and the chaotic inflationary model. You can hear him express his mistrust of theories that haven’t been proven as he urges the audience to go with the evidence, not with the self-serving speculations. Dr. Strauss takes part in a panel discussion on science and religion here.

Also on this topic is the debate between William Lane Craig and atheist physicist Victor Stenger, (audio here). Also, a lecture titled “Beyond the Big Bang”, was delivered at the University of Colorado at Boulder, in front of Victor Stenger and other physicists (audio here). There is a period of Q&A in which Bill must face challengers. These are both available on DVD. More Bill Craig debates are here.

In this published research paper from the journal Astrophysics and Space Science, William Lane Craig responds to the several naturalistic attempts to evade the implications of the kalam argument. Vacuum fluctuation, chatoric inflationary, steady state and quantum gravity models are all addressed.

How to defend the fine-tuning argument just like William Lane Craig

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from Colliding Universes! Thanks for the link Denyse!

This post is the second in a two part series. In case you missed it, here is Craig’s first argument on the kalam argument.

First of all, if you’re not clear on the fine-tuning argument, click here and read Walter Bradley’s exposition of it. Dr. Walter L. Bradley (C.V. here) is the Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor University. He was also a professor and department head at Texas A&M before going to Baylor. He had his Ph.D at age 24 from the University of Texas and was a tenured professor at 27.

The first argument presented by Bradley in that post is the same argument that Craig used against Hitchens in their debate. (It’s Craig’s second argument in the set of five). Bradley’s version of the argument has been presented live, in-person by Bradley at dozens of universities here and abroad, in front of students and faculty. The lecture I linked to in that post is an MP3.

The fine-tuning argument

The argument goes like this:

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe to support life is either due to law, chance or design
  2. It is not due to law or chance
  3. Therefore, the fine-tuning is due to design

What does it meaning to be fine-tuned for life?

Here are the facts on the fine-tuning:

  • Life has certain minimal requirements; long-term stable source of energy, a large number of different chemical elements, an element that can serve as a hub for joining together other elements into compounds, etc.
  • In order to meet these minimal requirements, the physical constants, (such as the gravitational constant), and the ratios between physical constants, need to be withing a narrow range of values in order to support the minimal requirements for life of any kind.
  • Slight changes to any of the physical constants, or to the rations between the constants, will result in a universe inhospitable to life.
  • The range of possible ranges over 70 orders of magnitude.
  • The constants are selected by whoever creates the universe. They are not determined by physical laws. And the extreme probabilities involved required put the fine-tuning beyond the reach of chance.
  • Although each individual selection of constants and ratios is as unlikely as any other selection, the vast majority of these possibilities do not support the minimal requirements of life of any kind. (In the same way as any hand of 5 cards that is dealt is as likely as any other, but you are overwhelmingly likely NOT to get a royal flush. In our case, a royal flush is a life-permitting universe).

Examples of finely-tuned constants

Here are a couple of examples of the fine-tuning. Craig only gave one example in the debate and didn’t explain how changes to the constant would affect the minimal requirements for life. But Bradley does explain it, and he is a professional research scientist, so he is speaking about things he worked in his polymer research lab. (He was the director)

a) The strong force: (the force that binds nucleons (= protons and neutrons) together in nucleus, by means of meson exchange)

  • if the strong force constant were 2% stronger, there would be no stable hydrogen, no long-lived stars, no hydrogen containing compounds. This is because the single proton in hydrogen would want to stick to something else so badly that there would be no hydrogen left!
  • if the strong force constant were 5% weaker, there would be no stable stars, few (if any) elements besides hydrogen. This is because you would be able to build up the nuclei of the heavier elements, which contain more than 1 proton.
  • So, whether you adjust the strong force up or down, you lose stars than can serve as long-term sources of stable energy, or you lose chemical diversity, which is necessary to make beings that can perform the minimal requirements of living beings. (see below)

b) The conversion of beryllium to carbon, and carbon to oxygen

  • Life requires carbon in order to serve as the hub for complex molecules, but it also requires oxygen in order to create water.
  • Carbon is like the hub wheel in a tinker toy set: you can bind other elements together to more complicated molecules (e.g. – “carbon-based life), but the bonds are not so tight that they can’t be broken down again later to make something else.
  • The carbon resonance level is determined by two constants: the strong force and electromagnetic force.
  • If you mess with these forces even slightly, you either lose the carbon or the oxygen.

Either way, you’ve got no life of any conceivable kind.

Is the fine-tuning real?

Yes, it’s real and it is conceded by the top-rank of atheist physicists. Let me give you a citation from the best one of all, Martin Rees. Martin Rees is an atheist and a qualified astronomer. He wrote a book called “Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe”, (Basic Books: 2001). In it, he discusses 6 numbers that need to be fine-tuned in order to have a life-permitting universe.

Rees writes here:

These six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator?

There are some atheists who deny the fine-tuning, but these atheists are in firm opposition to the progress of science. The more science has progressed, the more constants, ratios and quantities we have discovered that need to be fine-tuned. Science is going in a theistic direction. Next, let’s see how atheists try to account for the fine-tuning, on atheism.

Atheistic responses to the fine-tuning argument

There are two common responses among atheists to this argument.

The first is to speculate that there are actually an infinite number of other universes that are not fine-tuned, (i.e. – the gambler’s fallacy). All these other universes don’t support life. We just happen to be in the one universe is fine-tuned for life. The problem is that there is no way of directly observing these other universes and no independent evidence that they exist.

Here is an excerpt from an article in Discover magazine, (which is hostile to theism and Christianity).

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 multiverse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life.

The second response by atheists is that the human observers that exist today, 14 billion years after the universe was created out of nothing, actually caused the fine-tuning. This solution would mean that although humans did not exist at the time the of the big bang, they are going to be able to reach back in time at some point in the future and manually fine-tune the universe.

Here is an excerpt from and article in the New Scientist, (which is hostile to theism and Christianity).

…maybe we should approach cosmic fine-tuning not as a problem but as a clue. Perhaps it is evidence that we somehow endow the universe with certain features by the mere act of observation… observers are creating the universe and its entire history right now. If we in some sense create the universe, it is not surprising that the universe is well suited to us.

So, there are two choices for atheists. Either an infinite number of unobservable universes that are not fine-tuned, or humans go back in time at some future point and fine-tune the beginning of the universe, billions of years in the past.

Why the fine-tuning argument matters

We need to make a decision today about how we are going to live. The evidence available today supports the fine-tuning of the universe by a supernatural mind with immense power. The progress of science has strengthened this theory against determined opposition from rival naturalistic theories.

Those are the facts, and we must all choose what to do with them.

Further study

Here is a paper by Walter L. Bradley that contains many more examples of the fine-tuning, and explanations for what happens when you change the constants, quantities and rations even slightly.

How to defend the kalam cosmological argument just like William Lane Craig

UPDATE: Welcome readers from The Way the Ball Bounces! Thanks for the link!

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from Colliding Universes! Thanks for the link Denyse!

This post is the first in a two part series. In case you missed it, here is Craig’s second argument about fine-tuning.

I’ve been watching Bill Craig debates for a long time now, ever since I did my first degree in computer science a dozen years ago. Today I thought we could all learn how to argue Craig’s first argument for God, which he used in his debate with Christopher Hitchens.

Let’s go over Craig’s kalam argument in brief.

The kalam cosmological argument

The argument goes like this:

  1. Whatever begins to exist requires a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore, the universe requires a cause (M.P. 1,2)

The most important thing for you to realize is that nothing can be sustained in a debate unless it can be phrased as a valid argument according the rules of inference. All of Craig’s arguments can be broken down into logical propositions that use the standard laws of logical reasoning in order to force their conclusions deductively, so long as the premises are true.

Understanding the logical form of the kalam argument

The form of the kalam argument is valid because it allows for a modus ponens inference. (Here’s a primer on logical reasoning)

  • if p is true, then q is true
  • p is true
  • therefore, q is true

That means that so long as premise 1 and 2 are true, the conclusion follows necessarily. This is the same form of argument (deductive) used by Sherlock Holmes in his cases.

Proving the premises

Can the atheist deny that either or both of these premises are true?

  1. “Whatever begins to exist requires a cause”
    If the atheist denies this premise, then they are denying a fundamental law of natural science, namely, that matter can neither be created or destroyed. That is natural law.
  2. “The universe began to exist”
    The universe came into being. If the atheist denies this they are denying the state of the art in modern cosmology.

First, quantum mechanics is not going to save the atheist here. In QM, virtual particles come into being in a vacuum. The vacuum is sparked by a scientist. The particles exist for a period of time inversely proportional to their mass. But in the case of the big bang, there is no vacuum – there’s nothing. There is no scientist – there’s nothing. And the universe is far too massive to last 14 billion years as a virtual particle.

Secondly, atheists will say that the big bang is speculative physics that could change at any moment. But the trend is in favor of an absolute beginning out of nothing. We have had a string of solid, recent scientific discoveries that point in a definite direction, as follows:

  • Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and the scientific confirmation of its accuracy
  • the cosmic microwave background radiation
  • red-shifting of light from galaxies moving away from us
  • radioactive element abundance predictions
  • helium/hydrogen abundance predictions
  • star formation and stellar lifecycle theories
  • the second law of thermodynamics applied to nuclear fusion inside stars

So, insofar as atheists question these discoveries and the origin of the entire physical universe out of nothing, they are opposing the progress of science.

What came into being at the moment of creation?

You need to understand that the big bang theory states that space, time and matter were all created at the moment of creation.

  1. There was no space causally prior to the universe beginning to exist
  2. There was no time causally prior to the universe beginning to exist
  3. There was no matter causally prior to the universe beginning to exist

All of these things began to exist at the first moment.

What can we infer about the cause?

So, space, time, and matter began to exist. What could have caused them to begin to exist?

  1. Whatever causes the universe to appear is not inside of space, because there was no space causally prior to the creation event. The cause must therefore be non-physical, because physical things exist in space.
  2. Whatever causes the universe to appear is not bound by time (temporal). It never began to exist. There was no passage of time causally prior to the big bang, so the cause of the universe did not come into being. The cause existed eternally.
  3. And the cause is not material. All the matter in the universe came into being at the first moment. Whatever caused the universe to begin to exist cannot have been matter, because there was no matter causally prior to the big bang.

So what could the cause be? Craig notes that we are only familiar with two kinds of non-material realities:

  1. Abstract objects, like numbers, sets and mathematical relations
  2. Minds, like your own mind

Now, abstract objects don’t cause of any effects in nature. But we are very familiar with the causal capabilities of our own minds – just raise your own arm and see! So, by process of elimination, we are left with a mind as the cause of the universe. As Sherlock Holmes says, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

This cause created the entire physical universe. The cause of this event is therefore supernatural, because it brings nature into being and is not inside of nature itself. The cause of the universe violates the law of conservation of matter is therefore performing a miracle.

Responding to alternative naturalistic cosmologies

In this published research paper from the journal Astrophysics and Space Science, William Lane Craig responds to the several naturalistic attempts to evade the implications of the kalam argument. I will list each one by name and explain the main problem with each. I highly recommend you read the paper and become conversant with the arguments and evidences.

  1. The steady-state model: disproved by recent empirical observations of radio galaxy distributions, as well as red-shifting of light from distant galaxies moving away from us at increasing speeds
  2. The oscillating model: disproved in 1998 by more empirical measurements of mass density which showed that the universe would expand forever, and never collapse (was named Discovery of the Year)
  3. The vacuum fluctuation model: the theory allows for universes to spawn at every point in space and coalesce into one extremely old universe, which contradictions observations of our much younger universe
  4. The chaotic inflationary model: does not avoid the need for an absolute beginning in the finite past
  5. The quantum gravity model: makes use of imaginary time which cannot be mapped into a physical reality, it’s purely theoretical

Why the kalam cosmological argument matters

We need to make a decision today about how we are going to live. The evidence available today supports the creation of the entire physical universe from nothing, caused by a supernatural mind with immense power. The progress of science has strengthened this theory against determined opposition from rival naturalistic theories.

Those are the facts, and we must all choose what to do with them.

Further study

A good on this topic is the debate between William Lane Craig and atheist physicist Victor Stenger, (audio here). Also, a lecture titled “Beyond the Big Bang”, was delivered at the University of Colorado at Boulder, in front of Victor Stenger and other physicists (audio here). There is a period of Q&A in which Bill must face challengers. These are both available on DVD. More Bill Craig debates are here.

What conditions are needed to create a habitable planet?

UPDATE: Welcome, visitors from Post-Darwinist! Thanks for the link Denyse! New visitors may be interested in this post, which is a jumping off point for all of posts on science and faith issues.

Everyone who isn’t Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins already knows about the standard fine-tuning argument. But have you ever considered what it takes to make a planet that is capable of supporting the minimal requirements of living systems? The area of science that specializes in answering this question is called astrobiology. Let’s take a look!

I will be working from a lecture (with Q&A) delivered in October 2007 at California State University – Fresno, by two of my favorite scholars, Jay Wesley Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez.

The Copernican Principle

Richards introduces the idea of the Copernican Principle. This principle states that the progress of science will show that there is nothing special (designed) about man’s place in the universe.

The minimal requirements for life

I’ve written about this before here, but basically life requires a minimum amount of encoded biological information to allow it to replicate itself. The only element in the periodic table that allows you to encode information is carbon. Carbon is the hub of large molecules which form the paper and text of biological information. No carbon = no life.

Secondly, you need some environment in which to form molecules around the carbon, such as amino acids and proteins. That environment is liquid water. And you need the liquid water to be at the surface the planet where you want life to exist.

The requirements of a habitable planet

Here are just a few of the requirements mentioned in the lecture.

  • 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

Note that these requirements are connected. If you mess with one, some of the others will be thrown out of tune. For more habitability requirements, see this article by Gonzalez and Richards.

What are the probabilities that we will get these conditions?

Richards explains that the question of whether this is designed is like winning the lottery. Your chance of winning depends on two things:

  1. the odds of getting all the conditions correct
  2. the number of tries that you get

If the odds of winning are 1 in a million, you could still win by buying a million tickets with all the different numbers. In the universe, there are only about 10^22 possible solar systems. So if the odds of getting a habitable planet are 1 in 10^9, you’ll get tons of life. But what if the odds are 1 in 10^40? Then you’re not likely to win.

But this is not the argument that these two are making, because even though there are a lot of factors needed for a habitable planet, we still can’t say for certain how likely it is that each of these conditions will obtain. Therefore, we can’t make the argument except by estimating the odds of getting each condition.

Although you could use very generous estimates, it would still be guessing, and you can win a debate by guessing. So are we stuck?

How to make a design argument using habitability

Gonzalez explains why you can still make an argument for design by arguing that the coorelation between habitability and measurabiliy is intentional. (By measurability, he really means the ease of making scientific discoveries). And you do this by correlating the conditions for sustaining life with the conditions for allowing scientific discoveries.

Gonzalez gives two examples:

  1. Solar eclipses require that the sun and moon have certain sizes and certain distances from the sun. The surface of the Earth is the optimal location in our solar system for observing solar eclipses. We were able to make many valuable discoveries due to this fine-tuning, not the least of which was confirming the theory of general relativity, which was cruicial to the science of cosmology.
  2. The location of our solar system is fine-tuned within two spiral arms of a spiral galaxy. We escape from radiation and other dangers, but to also allow use to capture heavy elements that are needed to make a suitable Sun and humans bodies, too. But the same conditions that allow life also allow us to make scientific discoveries, such as star formation theory and cosmic microwave background radiation measurements, which was needed in order to confirm the creation of the universe out of nothing (the big bang).

Spooky. And what until they list off a half-dozen more examples in their book “The Privileged Planet”. It’s downright terrifying!

Conclusion

Richards sums up the argument with an illustration. He asks why scientists construct observatories high up on mountains. The answer is in order to avoid “light pollution” from nearby cities, which ruin the ability of scientists to observe the stars and make discoveries. And this is what we see with our planet and solar system. No one builds a planet that can be used to make scientific discoveries in a place that doesn’t support life. It turns out that the very places in the universe that are good for making observations are also the best places for supporting life.

Further study

I would recommend checking out the documentary DVD, if you find the book too scary. There is also a university lecture DVD with both authors, filmed at Biola University. If you want to see the DVD online for FREE, then click here (narrated by John-Rhys Davies). Awesome! Go science!