Tag Archives: Fine Tuning

Robin Collins explains why fine-tuning is necessary for life

A short video from Lee Strobel’s DVD “The Case for a Creator”.

Actually, that WHOLE DVD is available on YouTube if you want to watch it. Here’s the playlist. There is a lot more about the fine-tuning argument in that DVD.

Fine-tuning of the gravitational force

I actually wrote about the fine-tuning of the force of gravity, which is mentioned in the clip. I link to an article from the New Scientist in the post to show that the fine-tuning argument is quite mainstream.

You can read more about the fine-tuning of the gravitational force from Robin Collins, who is the best we have on the topic. Collins started a Ph.D in Physics at the University of Texas at Austin, but ended up completing a Ph.D in philosophy at Notre Dame, under Alvin Plantinga, the greatest living philosopher today, in my opinion. I heard Collins speak at the Baylor ID conference in 2000.

Other DVDs on design arguments

Actually, I prefer the Unlocking the Mystery of Life and The Privileged Planet DVDs, instead, especially for people who want more detail.

Is carbon required for complex life? Is the production of carbon fine-tuned?

Here’s an article by Fuz Rana at Reasons to Believe, talking about alternatives to carbon-based life. (H/T Tough Questions Answered)

Excerpt:

Life as we know it on Earth consists of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur (CHONPS). But could other elements constitute life as we don’t know it?

Not merely a discussion topic for science-fiction buffs, this question bears on origin-of-life discussions and on the search for extraterrestrial life. Carbon-based life requires a strict set of conditions. But perhaps life based on an element like silicon can exist under more extreme conditions. Few places in our solar system, and presumably beyond, can conceivably support carbon-based life. But for life built upon silicon, habitable sites may well abound throughout the universe.

However, of the 112 known chemical elements, only carbon possesses sufficiently complex chemical behavior to sustain living systems.  Carbon readily assembles into stable molecules comprised of individual and fused rings and linear and branched chains. It forms single, double, and triple bonds. Carbon also strongly bonds with itself as well as with oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and hydrogen.

Carbon serves as the hub of complex molecules. You can join lots of different things to it so that they stay put. But the bonds are not so strong that you can’t break things apart if you really want to. That’s what makes it suitable for making complex life, and why people talk about “carbon-based life”.

The rest of the article explains why other kinds of elements like silicon and phosphorus are not suitable for creating life.

Is carbon synthesis fine-tuned?

Here’s an article by agnostic physicist Paul Davies explaining why people think that the production of carbon in the universe is an example of fine-tuning.

Excerpt:

One of the best-known examples of this life-friendly ‘fine-tuning’ of the laws of physics concerns carbon, the element on which all known life is based. The Big Bang that kicked off the universe coughed out plenty of hydrogen and helium, but no carbon. So where did the carbon in our bodies come from? The answer was worked out in the 1950s: most of the chemical elements heavier than helium were manufactured in the cores of stars, as the product of nuclear fusion reactions. It is the energy released by these reactions that makes the Sun and stars shine.

However, while the details of stellar nuclear reactions are fairly straightforward, there is a notable exception: carbon. Most nuclear reactions in stars occur when two atomic nuclei, rushing around at tremendous speed care of the searing temperatures, collide and fuse, forming a heavier element. But carbon cannot be made this way because all the intermediate steps from helium to carbon involve highly unstable nuclei. The solution, spotted by University of Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle, is for carbon to form from the simultaneous collision of three helium nuclei.

THERE IS, HOWEVER, a snag. The chances that three helium nuclei will come together at the same moment are tiny. So Hoyle reasoned that a special factor must be at work to boost the rare reaction and lead to our abundance of carbon. If not, then life in general, and Fred Hoyle in particular, would not exist!

Hoyle knew that nuclear reactions can sometimes be greatly amplified by the phenomenon of resonance, similar to the way that an opera singer can shatter a glass by hitting a certain pitch. Carbon nuclei can resonate too, if the masses and energies of the colliding particles that go to form it are just right. Hoyle worked backwards — he knew the particle masses and energies, and he used them to predict the existence of a carbon resonance.

He then pestered Willy Fowler, a nuclear physicist at the California Institute of Technology, to do an experiment to test the prediction. And sure enough, Hoyle was right. Carbon has a resonant state at exactly the right energy to enable stars to manufacture abundant carbon, and thereby seed the universe with this life-encouraging substance.

Hoyle immediately realised just what a close-run thing this mechanism is. Like Baby Bear’s porridge in the story of Goldilocks, the energy of the carbon resonance has to be “just right”. Too high or too low, and the consequences for life would be catastrophic.

So what determines the carbon resonance? Ultimately it depends on the strength of the force that binds protons and neutrons together in the nucleus. That force is one of the unexplained parameters of basic physics — one of the knobs on the Designer Machine if you like. If the strength of the force that determined the carbon resonance was only a fraction stronger or weaker, it is doubtful there would be observers in the universe to worry about the distinct absence of carbon.

Hoyle himself was deeply impressed by this discovery. “It looks like a put-up job,” he quipped. “A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics,” he later wrote. A similar conclusion was reached by the Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson: “In some sense, the universe knew we were coming.”

He doesn’t accept that God is the fine-tuner though, so the article just concludes with “it could be” speculations, which is all that naturalists can offer against the standard theistic arguments. Still, what he said about the finely-tuned synthesis of carbon is accurate.

Does the progress of science support atheism?

Dr. Walter L. Bradley
Dr. Walter L. Bradley

Dr. Walter L. Bradley (C.V. here) is the Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor.

Here’s a bio from his faculty page at Baylor University:

Walter Bradley (B.S., Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin) is Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor. He comes to Baylor from Texas A&M University where he helped develop a nationally recognized program in polymeric composite materials. At Texas A&M, he served as director of the Polymer Technology Center for 10 years and as Department Head of Mechanical Engineering, a department of 67 professors that was ranked as high as 12th nationally during his tenure. Bradley has authored over 150 refereed research publications including book chapters, articles in archival journals such as the Journal of Material Science, Journal of Reinforced Plastics and Composites, Mechanics of Time-Dependent Materials, Journal of Composites Technology and Research, Composite Science and Technology, Journal of Metals, Polymer Engineering and Science, and Journal of Materials Science, and refereed conference proceedings.

Dr. Bradley has secured over $5.0 million in research funding from NSF grants (15 yrs.), AFOSR (10 years), NASA grants (10 years), and DOE (3 years). He has also received research grants or contracts from many Fortune 500 companies, including Alcoa, Dow Chemical, DuPont, 3M, Shell, Exxon, Boeing, and Phillips.

He co-authored The Mystery of Life Origin: Reassessing Current Theories and has written 10 book chapters dealing with various faith science issues, a topic on which he speaks widely.

He has received 5 research awards at Texas A&M University and 1 national research award. He has also received two teaching awards. He is an Elected Fellow of the American Society for Materials and the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), the largest organization of Christians in Science and Technology in the world. He is President elect of the ASA and will serve his term in 2008.

You can read more about his recent research on how to use coconuts to make car parts in this article from Science Daily.

Below, I analyze a lecture I chose from the hundreds of public lectures he has given all over the world on the integration of Christian faith with other public, testable areas of knowledge. In this lecture, entitled “Is There Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer?“, Dr. Bradley explains how the progress of science has made the idea of a Creator and Designer of the universe more acceptable than ever before. (It’s a little different from the one I posted earlier in the week, and now I have summarized it so people can discuss it without having to watch the lecture).

Evidence #1: The design of the universe

1. The correspondence of natural phenomena to mathematical law

  • All observations of physical phenomena in the universe, such as throwing a ball up in the air, are described by a few simple, elegant mathematical equations.

2. The fine-tuning of physical constants and rations between constants in order to provide a life-permitting universe

  • 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.
  • 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 and ratios: (there are more examples in the lecture)

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.

3. Fine-tuning to allow a habitable planet

  • A number of factors must be fine-tuned in order to have a planet that supports life
  • Initial estimates predicted abundant life in the universe, but revised estimates now predict that life is almost certainly unique in the galaxy, and probably unique in the universe.
  • Even though there are lots of stars in the universe, the odds are against any of them supporting complex life.
  • Here are just a few of the minimal requirements for habitability: must be a single star solar system, in order to support stable planetary orbits, the planet must be the right distance from the sun in order to have liquid water at the surface, the planet must sufficient mass in order to retain an atmosphere, etc.

The best current atheist response to this is to speculate that there may be an infinite number of unobservable and untestable universes. (I.e. – the Flying Spaghetti Monster did it)

Evidence #2: The origin of the universe

1. The progress of science has shown that the entire physical universe came into being out of nothing (= “the big bang”). It also shows that the cause of this creation event is non-physical and non-temporal. The cause is supernatural.

  • Atheism prefers an eternal universe, to get around the problem of a Creator having to create the universe.
  • Discovery #1: Observations of galaxies moving away from one another confirms that the universe expanded from a single point.
  • Discovery #2: Measurements of the cosmic background radiation confirms that the universe exploding into being.
  • Discovery #3: Predictions of elemental abundances prove that the universe is not eternal.
  • Discovery #4:The atheism-friendly steady-state model and oscillating model were both falsified by the evidence.
  • And there were other discoveries as well, mentioned in the lecture.

The best atheistic response to this is to speculate that there is an unobservable and untestable hyper-universe outside our own. (I.e. – the Flying Spaghetti Monster did it)

Evidence #3: The origin of life

1. The progress of science has shown that the simplest living organism contains huge amounts of biological information, similar to the Java code I write all day at work. This is a problem for atheists, because the sequence of instructions in a living system has to come together all at once, it cannot have evolved by mutation and selection – because there was no replication in place prior to the formation of that first living system!

  • Living systems must support certain minimum life functions: processing energy, storing information, and replicating.
  • There needs to be a certain amount of complexity in the living system that can perform these minimum functions.
  • But on atheism, the living system needs to be simple enough to form by accident in a pre-biotic soup, and in a reasonable amount of time.
  • The minimal functionality in a living system is a achieved by DNA, RNA and enzymes. DNA and RNA are composed of sequences of proteins, which are in turn composed of sequences of amino acids.

Consider the problems of building a chain of 100 amino acids

  • The amino acids must be left-handed only, but left and right kinds are equally abundant in nature. How do you sort out the right-handed ones?
  • The amino acids must be bound together using peptide bonds. How do you prevent other types of bonds?
  • Each link of the amino acid chain needs to be carefully chosen such that the completed chain with fold up into a protein. How do you choose the correct amino acid for each link from the pool of 20 different kinds found in living systems?
  • In every case, a human or other intelligence could solve these problems by doing what intelligent agents do best: making choices.
  • But who is there to make the choices on atheism?

The best current atheistic response to this is to speculate that unobservable and untestable aliens seeded the earth with life. (I.e. – the Flying Spaghetti Monster did it)

The problem of the origin of life is not a problem of chemistry, it is a problem of engineering. Every part of car functionality can be understood and described using the laws of physics and chemistry. But an intelligence is still needed in order to assemble the components into a system that has the minimal requirements for a functioning vehicle.

Conclusion

In all three areas, scientists expected that the data would be consistent with atheism. First, scientists expected that life could exist even if the physical constants and ratios were altered. The progress of science said NO. Second, scientists expected that the universe would be eternal. The progress of science said NO. Third, scientists expected that the origin of life would be simple. The progress of science said NO. Why do some people resist the progress of science and cling to the religious dogma of materialism?

Related posts

Walter Bradley presents the fine-tuning argument at UCSB

Walter Bradley is one of my favorite lecturers in the whole universe!

Here’s a 5-minute sample of the lecture he presented at the University of California (Santa Barbara).

And if you like it, you can watch the whole lecture here on Vimeo.

Here’s a bio from his faculty page at Baylor University:

Walter Bradley (B.S., Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin) is Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor. He comes to Baylor from Texas A&M University where he helped develop a nationally recognized program in polymeric composite materials. At Texas A&M, he served as director of the Polymer Technology Center for 10 years and as Department Head of Mechanical Engineering, a department of 67 professors that was ranked as high as 12th nationally during his tenure. Bradley has authored over 150 refereed research publications including book chapters, articles in archival journals such as the Journal of Material Science, Journal of Reinforced Plastics and Composites, Mechanics of Time-Dependent Materials, Journal of Composites Technology and Research, Composite Science and Technology, Journal of Metals, Polymer Engineering and Science, and Journal of Materials Science, and refereed conference proceedings.

Dr. Bradley has secured over $5.0 million in research funding from NSF grants (15 yrs.), AFOSR (10 years), NASA grants (10 years), and DOE (3 years). He has also received research grants or contracts from many Fortune 500 companies, including Alcoa, Dow Chemical, DuPont, 3M, Shell, Exxon, Boeing, and Phillips.

He co-authored The Mystery of Life Origin: Reassessing Current Theories and has written 10 book chapters dealing with various faith science issues, a topic on which he speaks widely.

He has received 5 research awards at Texas A&M University and 1 national research award. He has also received two teaching awards. He is an Elected Fellow of the American Society for Materials and the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), the largest organization of Christians in Science and Technology in the world. He is President elect of the ASA and will serve his term in 2008.

You can read more about his recent research on how to use coconuts to make car parts in this article from Science Daily.

My favorite lecture of all

My favorite lecture of all is “Giants in the Land”.

He delivered that lecture at the University of Georgia in 1997.

William Lane Craig answers a question from our own commenter Martin

Here’s the original comment from Martin.

I thought this was a pretty good objection, and I said so. Well, Martin submitted it as a question to Bill, and Bill replied.

Here is his question to Dr. Craig, which is similar to what he asked before:

I’ve been thinking about the fine tuning argument, and while I like it and think it carries some weight, something about it bothers me. It seems to suffer from “life chauvinism.”

In a poker hand a royal flush has intrinsic value and thus being dealt that hand is highly improbable and quite amazing. But that’s because the rules of the game define a royal flush as having value before the hand is dealt.

What is the justification for asserting that life is the royal flush?

Life could be defined as an “amazing and improbable phenomenon” X1. Singing gas could be defined as “amazing and improbable phenomenon” X2. Rainbow planets with rings of fire could be X3. And so on.

Each phenomena is equally improbable and can only come about by a certain setting of the universal constants. Why assert that X1 has intrinsic value? Couldn’t X2 “complain” that we are being phenomenonists by claiming that X1 is best?

It just seems to me that the rules about royal flushes are being made up only after the hand has been dealt.

Martin

And you can read Dr. Craig’s reply here. He starts by saying this “This is a very good question, Martin, about which I’d like to think more. But here are some preliminary reflections.”

I like this response because I actually had to study Bayes Theorem for my machine learning classes in grad school. So this was good because I actually get to use computer science for something useful for a change. (By the way, my New Zealand readers, I used the Weka machine learning software library).

Wow! We have the smartest commenters. Just last week that woman who I like was asking me about divine aseity. Like I know what to say about that. Well, I did say something to her that seemed to make sense to her, but she still has more questions. That’s Bill’s current area of research, you know.

On Guard

By the way, I know some of you have no idea who Bill Craig is, and I am afraid I will have to smite you with my foam bat for this grave infraction. But there is a way out. You can read chapter 1 of Bill Craig’s new book “On Guard” right here on his web site. It’s an introduction to apologetics from the top Christian apologist of all time. And if you like it, you can order it and read the whole thing. It’s dirt cheap on Amazon.com.