Tag Archives: Cosmology

How the progress of science strengthened the fine-tuning argument

This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is here.

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 mean 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.

Comment warning

Everybody seems to like to comment on these things without making any claims or citing any authority or evidence. So if you are leaving a comment critical of this post, then cite the part you disagree with, quote someone who agrees with you who is an authority, and link to a piece of peer-reviewed evidence. I’d like to see some observations, please. Some data. If you cannot disagree with a specific point, and cite something specific to support you, then please – don’t leave a comment. Try to keep it short. I’ll delete any comments that go over 300 words, say.

If you would like me to cite some evidence for an assertion, you can leave a comment asking a question.

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 the progress of science strengthened the kalam cosmological argument

This is the first of a two-part series. Part two is here.

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.

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.

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.

Common objections

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 support the idea that the universe came into existence at some point in the finite past, as follows:

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

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

Comment warning

Everybody seems to like to comment on these things without making any claims or citing any authority or evidence. So if you are leaving a comment critical of this post, then cite the part you disagree with, quote someone who agrees with you who is an authority, and link to a piece of peer-reviewed evidence. I’d like to see some observations, please. Some data. If you cannot disagree with a specific point, and cite something specific to support you, then please – don’t leave a comment. Try to keep it short. I’ll delete any comments that go over 300 words, say.

If you would like me to cite some evidence for an assertion, you can leave a comment asking a question.

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.

MUST-READ: Doug Groothuis explains how science confirms the beginning of the universe

Post is here on the Constructive Curmudgeon.

No excerpt is possible, you must read the whole post.

Evidences cited for the origin of the universe (the Big Bang):

  • Einstein’s theory of general relativity (and experimental confirmation of the theory)
  • Hubble’s observations of red-shifted light from distant galaxies
  • Measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation
  • Confirmed predictions of light element abundances (H and He abundances)
  • The second law of thermodynamics

When you present the kalam argument, you should present it exactly the way Doug does here. You should hang the entire argument on the progress of science. Once upon a time before science, there was ignorance. But now we know better, thanks to the progress of science. Science disproved atheism. Five times over.

How to defend Christian exclusivism from the challenge of religious pluralism

Recently, I had posted a debate from the Unbelievable radio show, which is broadcast in the UK. The topic of the debate was whether India should pass an anti-conversion law to prevent Christians from trying to convert people to Christianity. Basically, many Hindus in India want Christians to adopt the Hindu notions of polytheism and religious pluralism. They want Christians to accept that Jesus is one incarnation of the divine among many, and they want to outlaw the Christian practice of using speech to convince people to become Christians.

You can listen to the debate here in my original post.

But I wanted to highlight another debate that occurred in the comments of this blog, between me and a Hindu reader, who challenged me for being intolerant because I said that Hinduism was false.

His initial comment is here.

Guys, all religions teach the same things. Its how each religion is interpreted that makes it different. If you follow any religion persistently, it will lead you to a peaceful and happy life.

[…]If one feels happy following Christian rituals, he may follow Christianity; if he feels happy following Hindu rituals, he is good to a Hindu. It all depends on what makes sense to the person. Enforcing or luring someone to another religion is wrong…It should be a personal choice. And no one should oppose a conversion made by personal choice.

[…]To say that someone’s God or method of worship is false or not real is absolute rubbish according to me.

[…]If one says that other’s God or religion is false, he/she is not tolerating the other’s beliefs. And its immoral. Such things lead to religious conflicts.

[…]I believe in Jesus and so in my religion which is Hinduism.

[…]Why convert when a human being’s main aim is to be happy? Every religion has scriptures that tell how to become happy and attain heaven/liberation.

[…]Everyone loves his/her religion. They would not want to hear anything bad about it.

And I replied:

Our view as Christians is that the purpose of religion is not to live a happy life and to be “good”. Our view is that we want to believe what is true and to know God as God really is. We believe that God is a person, with a real personality – likes and dislikes.

What you’re proposing is a Hindu approach to religion, except with Christian symbols and rituals. But Christians don’t care about symbols and rituals much. We are more interested in history, science and propositional logic. We treat religion like… any other area of knowledge. First we discover the truth, then we act on it.

Additionally, you have a Hindu approach to conversion, and you are trying to force that on Christians. You can keep your Hindu approach to yourself, and tolerate the fact that we have a different approach to conversion.

[…]You’re not in a position to know what Christianity teaches, or what Jesus believes, since you haven’t looked into these things at all. You know Hinduism. And you are projecting Hinduism onto other religions. But Hinduism is totally different than Christianity. They conflict in many areas, like cosmology and history. We believe that the universe had a beginning, you think it’s eternal. And science can arbitrate that claim. We are willing to change our beliefs to be in line with what we can test in the external world, using the laws of logic, and the study of science and history.

[…]You write “To say that someone’s God or method of worship is false or not real is absolute rubbish according to me.”, yet you think that Christianity is false, and not real. But I am actually not offended by that at all. You are welcome to think I am wrong. I don’t mind, this is the way that the game plays. Only one of us can be right, and if you were right, I would have to switch over to your view and that would be fine with me.

[…]You write “Everyone loves his/her religion. They would not want to hear anything bad about it.” No that’s your view. You identify Hindusim with India and patriotism and your people and culture. I don’t identify Christianity with anything except truth. I like it because it’s true. And that the only reason I like it.

[…]When I say that Hinduism is false, I am not “talking bad about your religion” any more than I am talking bad about the view that 2 + 2 = 5, when I say that 2 + 2 = 4. It’s not talking bad about an idea to say it is false.

And then he replied:

Do you believe that people who worship idols are devilish or all religions except Christianity are false? If yes then explain me with proper scientific reasoning and provide me a proof in the recent decades that logically explains the above two statements. You need to prove me that what you believe is experimented by scientists and proven by technology.

[…]I believe in all Gods no matter what religion because God is One. For me and this generation of educated Indians, we believe in tolerance and respect for all religions. We believe in co-operating with each other and not pointing flaws in others beliefs until its proven scientifically and attested by scientific authority. And we believe that people’s belief be respected!

Then I replied:

The current best theory of the origin of the universe is called the big bang theory. It states that all the matter, energy, as well as time and space and time, came into being from nothing. It is backed by experimental data from red-shift measurements, cosmic microwave background radiation measurements, and light element abundance measurements, etc. The theory states that the universe began 14.7 billion years ago. Additionally, the universe will not recollapse because measurements of mass density from Maxima and Boomerang show that the universe will expand forever.

The big 3 monotheistic religions agree with the universe coming into being from nothing. Unfortunately, other religions think that the universe is eternal, such as Mormonism and Hinduism. On that basis, I reject Hinduism, which requires that the universe be eternal.

“I believe in all Gods no matter what religion because God is One.” That view (pantheism/polytheism) is called Hinduism. You are a Hindu. Christianity (monotheism) is mutually exclusive with Hinduism, because the teachings are in conflict, (as with the example of cosmology). As a Hindu, you therefore think that Christianity is false. On your definition, you don’t “tolerate” Christianity – you think it’s false. You don’t “respect” Christianity, because you want to force your view (Hinduism) and your view of conversion (don’t tell other people their religion is false) on Christians.

[…]Note: I am ok with you saying that I am wrong and that Christianity is false.

And then we sort of wound things down from there.

Anyway, the point of this exchange is most people in most religions think that the point of religion is to be happy, to have a sense of community and to get along with everyone by never talking about whether religious claims about the external world are true or false. But that view of the purpose of religion is not the Christian view. On the Christian view, the goal is to seek the truth. And part of Christian practice is to defend Christianity in public, and trying to convince other people that Christianity is true.

So, I think that Christians need to be a bit tougher, and recognize when someone who is not a Christian is trying to get them to accept that the purpose of religion is not to seek the truth. That’s their view. That’s not our view. It doesn’t make any sense for someone to say that I am evil for thinking they are wrong, when they are thinking that I am wrong. I think a better way forward is to allow other people to disagree with you, but to keep the disagreement focused on arguments and evidence.

And just because you disagree with someone else, it doesn’t mean you have to be mean to them. In my office, I am friends with Hindus, Muslims, atheists and Jews. We try to outdo one another in good deeds to make our religions look good! And when we debate which religion is true, we use arguments and evidence to attack and defend. What I’ve found is that you get a much stronger friendship when you are comfortable being yourself. I keep telling my co-workers – it’s OK to disagree.

Related posts

Mentoring

Apologetics advocacy

Peter Atkins explains how to easily reconcile the Big Bang and atheism

It’s easy! Just watch the video of his debate with William Lane Craig, who responds to Atkins’ explanation.

So, just who is this Peter Atkins, and why is he a good spokesman for atheism?

From his Wikipedia bio.

Peter William Atkins (born August 10, 1940) is an English chemist and a fellow and professor of chemistry at Lincoln College of the University of Oxford. He is a prolific writer of popular chemistry textbooks, including Physical Chemistry, 8th ed. (with Julio de Paula of Haverford College), Inorganic Chemistry, and Molecular Quantum Mechanics, 4th ed. Atkins is also the author of a number of science books for the general public, including Atkins’ Molecules and Galileo’s Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science.

[…]Atkins is a well-known atheist and supporter of many of Richard Dawkins’ ideas. He has written and spoken on issues of humanism, atheism, and what he sees as the incompatibility between science and religion. According to Atkins, whereas religion scorns the power of human comprehension, science respects it.

[…]He was the first Senior Member for the Oxford Secular Society and an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of The Reason Project, a US-based charitable foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. The organisation is led by fellow atheist and author Sam Harris.

Peter Atkins thinks that nothing exists. He thinks he doesn’t exist. He thinks that you don’t exist.

If you watch the debate in full, he also argues that objective morality doesn’t exist, and that moral values and moral obligations are illusory. That’s right: atheists cannot even make rational statements about morality because there is no such thing as an objective moral standard. This is in addition to denying the science of the creation out of nothing.

You can watch the whole debate here, posted by ChristianJR4.

And now you know why atheists like Richard Dawkins run away from debates with Christians like Stephen C. Meyer and William Lane Craig. Because he’s an atheist, and it is very difficult to defend atheism, on the merits. Atheism’s appeal is entirely psychological, not rational.

Consider this quote from an honest, respectable atheist philosopher named Thomas Nagel:

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)

People embrace atheism for entirely psychological reasons, not on the basis of arguments and evidence. If they had the arguments and evidence, then they wouldn’t run from debates like Richard Dawkins does.