If there is one thing that science fiction is good for, it’s for popularizing the phrase “carbon-based life”. Everyone has heard that carbon is essential for life. But do you know why carbon is so important? And did you know that the reaction that produced the carbon in our universe is actually fine-tuned, and therefore evidence for a Creator and Designer of the universe?
Now he starts off with a discussion of how the mass density of the universe needed to be fine-tuned in order to produce elements heavier than hydrogen from the (only) hydrogen that was present at the creation event. I’ve talked about that reaction previously, but I won’t repeat that here. Nucleosynthesis is one of the most important chemical reactions in science, and something every Christian should know and understand well enough to explain it.
You can’t make complex embodied intelligent creatures such as ourselves out of only hydrogen and helium, but you can’t make a life permitting universe without some hydrogen and helium. For one thing, you can’t have liquid water without some hydrogen.
But the element carbon is the center hub of all of the molecules inside of us that allow for the storage and processing of information necessary for life. And it turns out that the reaction that creates carbon from elements lighter than carbon is fine-tuned to an amazing degree.
But cosmic mass density is not the only thing that must have been exquisitely fine-tuned for the universe to contain any carbon. The nuclear resonance (or energy) levels for helium, beryllium, carbon, and oxygen also had to be exquisitely fine-tuned for carbon to exist. Here’s how that happens.
Stars fuse carbon and oxygen from helium through a series of reactions known as the triple-alpha process, in which three helium nuclei are combined to make one carbon nucleus. In the first step in this process, two helium nuclei (with 2 protons each) fuse together to make beryllium (which has 4 protons). Next, a helium nucleus fuses with a beryllium nucleus to make carbon (which has 6 protons). Then, some carbon nuclei fuse with helium nuclei to make oxygen (which has 8 protons).
The only reason that the triple-alpha process produces any carbon or oxygen at all is because in the first step, the ground state energy level (i.e., the state of an atom when all of its electrons are at their lowest energy levels) of the beryllium-8 nucleus (containing 4 protons and 4 neutrons) almost exactly equals the ground state energy level of two helium-4 nuclei (2 protons and 2 neutrons each). In the second step, the ground state energy level of a beryllium-8 nucleus plus a helium-4 nucleus almost exactly equals the energy level of an excited state of a carbon-12 nucleus (6 protons and 6 neutrons). In the third step, the ground state energy level of a carbon-12 nucleus at 7.65 million electron volts is just slightly larger than the ground state energy level of an oxygen-16 nucleus (8 protons and 8 neutrons) at 7.12 million electron volts.1
If it were not for the near equivalences or resonances of the nuclear energy levels of two helium nuclei relative to a beryllium nucleus, and of a beryllium nucleus plus a helium nucleus relative to a carbon nucleus, the universe would contain very little or no carbon and very little or no elements heavier than carbon. Life would be impossible.
Furthermore, unless the difference in the nuclear energy levels between a carbon nucleus and an oxygen nucleus were precisely 0.53 million electron volts, the universe would contain either a lot of carbon and no oxygen or a lot of oxygen and no carbon. Either way, physical life would be impossible in the universe.
In the early 1950s, astronomer Fred Hoyle and physicist Willy Fowler were the first to understand how critical the relative nuclear energy levels of helium, beryllium, carbon, and oxygen were for making life possible in the universe. Commenting on the highly fine-tuned nature of these nuclear energy levels, Hoyle wrote in an article he published in Engineering & Science,
A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion beyond question.2
The article continues to explain that there is an additional problem of carbon fine-tuning related to habitability.
The carbon formation problem is one of the best examples of fine-tuning, and as you can see, it’s even admitted by atheists. It’s not the easiest one to explain (because resonance levels are not familiar in every day life), but it’s worth knowing about all three of the fine-tuning topics in the post.
Keep in mind that the more science has made progress, the more fine-tuning problems we have discovered. The trend is very bad if you are a naturalist. But very good if you are a theist. Evidence matters, and scientific evidence is the best kind of evidence.
Sometimes Christian contact me through the blog and ask for advice on how to get their apologetics skills up. I usually send them a copy of “Is God Just a Human Invention?” and a set of 3 DVDs from Illustra Media. Well, Illustra Media decided to make ALL their DVDs FREE for the next 2 months. The videos cover topics about intelligent design (biology and physics) and evolution.
During this period of uncertainty and massive change in the normal cycle of our daily routines, the Illustra Media staff, board of directors, and our distributor (RPI) want to offer encouragement and hope through the films we have produced during the past 20 years.
For the next 60 days, we will make streaming of our full length documentaries available free of charge. Click on any of the titles below to access the English versions. To stream international translations click here. You may bookmark this page for future reference. Please feel free to share it with your friends, family, and social media contacts throughout the world.
The first 3 are the ones that I send to Christian defenders in training. You can get them here from RPI. I’ve bought from him many times, and this is the best place to get them.
Unlocking the Mystery of Life is about design in the cell, biological information, irreducible complexity and molecular machines.
The Privileged Planet is about cosmic fine-tuning, habitability fine-tuning related to stars and planets, and discoverability.
Darwin’s Dilemma is about the sudden origin of new information for different body plans in the Cambrian explosion.
The other three are about interesting features of birds, butterflies, dolphins and whales that are obviously designed.
Notice how there is a video about birds, but no videos about cats. That is because cats are not very interesting, whereas birds are not only very interesting but also morally good – especially parrots and hummingbirds. My parents have a parrot who adjusts all his behavior to fit in with the family’s wishes, and he is even good when no one is around to watch him. They also have hummingbirds that come and hover around them to say hello, just because my parents put out feeders for them.
You can imagine in the past when early Christians would debate atheists, all their arguments were just holding up birds and saying “look at this obviously designed thing that speaks like a human, and it has such good moral character, too”. You can’t do that with evil cats, who probably did evolve from worms and slime by random mutations and natural selection. The early atheists probably just held up cats and argued that a morally good, all-powerful God would not create such awful things.
Anyway, here are some nice trailers for some of the videos that I like best:
When people ask me whether the progress of science is more compatible with theism or atheism, I offer the following four basic pieces of scientific evidence that are more compatible with theism than atheism.
Here are the four pieces of evidence best explained by a Creator/Designer:
the kalam argument from the origin of the universe
the cosmic fine-tuning (habitability) argument
the biological information in the first replicator (origin of life)
the sudden origin of all of the different body plans in the fossil record (Cambrian explosion)
And I point to specific examples of recent discoveries that confirm those four arguments. Here are just a few of them:
Nature 302, 505 – 506 (07 April 1983); doi:10.1038/302505a0
The impossibility of a bouncing universe
ALAN H. GUTH* & MARC SHER†
*Center for Theoretical Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA
†Department of Physics, University of California, Irvine, California 92717, USA
Petrosian1 has recently discussed the possibility that the restoration of symmetry at grand unification in a closed contracting Robertson–Walker universe could slow down and halt the contraction, causing the universe to bounce. He then went on to discuss the possibility that our universe has undergone a series of such bounces. We disagree with this analysis. One of us (M.S.) has already shown2 that if a contracting universe is dominated by radiation, then a bounce is impossible. We will show here two further results: (1) entropy considerations imply that the quantity S (defined in ref. 1 and below), which must decrease by ~1075 to allow the present Universe to bounce, can in fact decrease by no more than a factor of ~2; (2) if the true vacuum state has zero energy density, then a universe which is contracting in its low temperature phase can never complete a phase transition soon enough to cause a bounce.
The universe is not only expanding, but that expansion appears to be speeding up. And as if that discovery alone weren’t strange enough, it implies that most of the energy in the cosmos is contained in empty space — a concept that Albert Einstein considered but discarded as his “biggest blunder.” The new findings have been recognized as 1998’s top scientific breakthrough by Science magazine.
[…]The flood of findings about the universe’s expansion rate is the result of about 10 years of study, said Saul Perlmutter, team leader of the Supernova Cosmology Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Perlmutter and others found such a yardstick in a particular kind of exploding star known as a Type 1A supernova. Over the course of several years, the astronomers developed a model to predict how bright such a supernova would appear at any given distance. Astronomers recorded dozens of Type 1A supernovae and anxiously matched them up with redshifts to find out how much the universe’s expansion was slowing down.
To their surprise, the redshift readings indicated that the expansion rate for distant supernovae was lower than the expansion rate for closer supernovae, Perlmutter said. On the largest scale imaginable, the universe’s galaxies appear to be flying away from each other faster and faster as time goes on.
“What we have found is that there is a ‘dark force’ that permeates the universe and that has overcome the force of gravity,” said Nicholas Suntzeff of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, who is the co-founder of another group called the High-z Supernova Search Team. “This result is so strange and unexpected that it perhaps is only believable because two independent international groups have found the same effect in their data.”
There has only been one creation of the universe, and the universe will never reverse its expansion, so that it could oscillate eternally. That view is popular, perhaps in part because many people watched videos of Carl Sagan speculating about it in public school classrooms, but all it was was idle naturalistic speculation, (Sagan was a naturalist, and held out hope that science would vindicate naturalism), and has been contradicted by good experimental science. You should be familiar with the 3 evidences for the Big Bang (redshift, light element abundances (helium/hydrogen) and the cosmic microwave background radiation. There are others, (radioactive element abundances, second law of thermodynamics, stellar lifecycle), but those are the big three. Point out how the experimental evidence for the Big Bang has piled up, making the problem even worse for the eternal-universe naturalists.
2) The multiverse has not been tested experimentally, it’s pure speculation.
Multiverse thinking or the belief in the existence of parallel universes is more philosophy or science fiction than science. ”Cosmology must seem odd to scientists in other fields”.
George Ellis, a well-known mathematician and cosmologist, who for instance has written a book with Stephen Hawking, is sceptical of the idea that our universe is just another universe among many others.
A few weeks ago, Ellis, professor emeritus of applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town, reviewed Brian Greene’s book The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (Knopf/Allen Lane, 2011) in the journal Nature. He is not at all convinced that the multiverse hypothesis is credible: ”Greene is not presenting aspects of a known reality; he is telling of unproven theoretical possibilities.”
According to professor Ellis, there is no evidence of multiverses, they cannot be tested and they are not science.
Ellis is not the only multiverse sceptic in this universe. A few months ago, science writer John Horgan wrote a column in Scientific American, expressing his doubt in multiverses.
When you get into a debate, you must never ever let the other side get away with asserting something they have no evidence for. Call them on it – point out that they have no evidence, and then hammer them with evidence for your point. Pile up cases of fine-tuning on top of each other and continuously point out that they have no experimental evidence for their speculations. Point out that more evidence we get, the more cases of fine-tuning we find, and the tougher the problem gets for naturalists. There is no evidence for a multiverse, but there is evidence for fine-tuning. TONS OF IT.
3) Naturalistic theories for the origin of life have two problems: can’t make the amino acids in an oxydized atmosphere and can’t make protein and DNA sequences by chance in the time available.
Estimating the prevalence of protein sequences adopting functional enzyme folds.
The Babraham Institute, Structural Biology Unit, Babraham Research Campus, Cambridge CB2 4AT, UK. email@example.com
Proteins employ a wide variety of folds to perform their biological functions. How are these folds first acquired? An important step toward answering this is to obtain an estimate of the overall prevalence of sequences adopting functional folds.
[…]Starting with a weakly functional sequence carrying this signature, clusters of ten side-chains within the fold are replaced randomly, within the boundaries of the signature, and tested for function. The prevalence of low-level function in four such experiments indicates that roughly one in 10(64) signature-consistent sequences forms a working domain. Combined with the estimated prevalence of plausible hydropathic patterns (for any fold) and of relevant folds for particular functions, this implies the overall prevalence of sequences performing a specific function by any domain-sized fold may be as low as 1 in 10(77), adding to the body of evidence that functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences.
So atheists are in double jeopardy here. They don’t have a way to build the Scrabble letters needed for life, and they don’t have a way to form the Scrabble letters into meaningful words and sentences. Point out that the more research we do, the tougher the problem gets to solve for naturalists, and the more it looks like an effect of intelligence. Write out the calculations for them.
4) The best candidate to explain the sudden origin of the Cambrian era fossils was the Ediacaran fauna, but those are now recognized as not being precursors to the Cambrian fossils.
Evidence of the single-celled ancestors of animals, dating from the interval in Earth’s history just before multicellular animals appeared, has been discovered in 570 million-year-old rocks from South China by researchers from the University of Bristol, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the Paul Scherrer Institut and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.
[…]This X-ray microscopy revealed that the fossils had features that multicellular embryos do not, and this led the researchers to the conclusion that the fossils were neither animals nor embryos but rather the reproductive spore bodies of single-celled ancestors of animals.
Professor Philip Donoghue said: “We were very surprised by our results — we’ve been convinced for so long that these fossils represented the embryos of the earliest animals — much of what has been written about the fossils for the last ten years is flat wrong. Our colleagues are not going to like the result.”
Professor Stefan Bengtson said: “These fossils force us to rethink our ideas of how animals learned to make large bodies out of cells.”
The trend is that there is no evolutionary explanation for the body plans that emerged in the Cambrian era. If you want to make the claim that “evolution did it”, then you have to produce the data today. Not speculations about the future. The data we have today says no to naturalism. The only way to affirm naturalistic explanations for the evidence we have is by faith. But rational people know that we need to minimize our leaps of faith, and go with the simplest and most reasonable explanation – an intelligence is the best explanation responsible for rapid generation of biological information.
I do think it’s important for Christians to focus more on scientific apologetics and to focus their academic careers in scientific fields. So often I look at Christian blogs, and I see way too much G. K. Chesterton, Francis Chan A. W. Tozer, and other untestable, ineffective jibber-jabber. We need to bring the hard science, and stop making excuses about not being able to understand it because it’s too hard. It’s not too hard. Everyone can understand Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator“. That’s more than enough for the average Christian on science apologetics. We all have to do our best to learn what works. You don’t want to be anti-science and pro-speculation like atheists are. I recommend reading Uncommon Descent and Evolution News every day for a start.
Guillermo Gonzalez is an Associate Professor of Physics at Grove City College. He received his Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1993 from the University of Washington. He has done post-doctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin and at the University of Washington and has received fellowships, grants and awards from such institutions as NASA, the University of Washington, the Templeton Foundation, Sigma Xi (scientific research society) and the National Science Foundation.
Is the Earth’s suitability for hosting life rare in the universe?
Does the Earth have to be the center of the universe to be special?
How similar to the Earth does a planet have to be to support life?
What is the definition of life?
What are the three minimal requirements for life of any kind?
Requirement 1: A molecule that can store information (carbon)
Requirement 2: A medium in which chemicals can interact (liquid water)
Requirement 3: A diverse set of chemical elements
What is the best environment for life to exist?
Our place in the solar system: the circumstellar habitable zone
Our place in the galaxy: the galactic habitable zones
Our time in the universe’s history: the cosmic habitable age
Other habitability requirements (e.g. – metal-rich star, massive moon, etc.)
The orchestration needed to create a habitable planet
How different factors depend on one another through time
How tweaking one factor can adversely affect other factors
How many possible places are there in the universe where life could emerge?
Given these probabilistic resources, should we expect that there is life elsewhere?
How to calculate probabilities using the “Product Rule”
Can we infer that there is a Designer just because life is rare? Or do we need more?
The corelation between habitability and measurability.
Are the habitable places in the universe also the best places to do science?
Do the factors that make Earth habitable also make it good for doing science?
Some places and times in the history of the universe are more habitable than others
Those exact places and times also allow us to make scientific discoveries
Observing solar eclipses and structure of our star, the Sun
Observing stars and galaxies
Observing the cosmic microwave background radiation
Observing the acceleration of the universe caused by dark matter and energy
Observing the abundances of light elements like helium of hydrogen
These observations support the big bang and fine-tuning arguments for God’s existence
It is exactly like placing observatories on the tops of mountains
There are observers existing in the best places to observe things
This is EXACTLY how the universe has been designed for making scientific discoveries
This lecture was delivered by Guillermo Gonzalez in 2007 at the University of California at Davis. If you like this lecture, but maybe want something a bit more user friendly, check out “The Privileged Planet” DVD, or watch it online here (first 60 minutes of that video).
This is going to be old news to readers of this blog who are familiar with the Michael Strauss, Walter Bradley and Guillermo Gonzalez lectures on habitability and fine-tuning. But, it’s nice to see these ideas show up in one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed science journals in the world (if not the most prestigious).
Scientists have known for several years now that stars, galaxies, and almost everything in the universe is moving away from us (and from everything else) at a faster and faster pace. Now, it turns out that the unknown forces behind the rate of this accelerating expansion—a mathematical value called the cosmological constant—may play a previously unexplored role in creating the right conditions for life.
That’s the conclusion of a group of physicists who studied the effects of massive cosmic explosions, called gamma ray bursts, on planets. They found that when it comes to growing life, it’s better to be far away from your neighbors—and the cosmological constant helps thin out the neighborhood.
“In dense environments, you have many explosions, and you’re too close to them,” says cosmologist and theoretical physicist Raul Jimenez of the University of Barcelona in Spain and an author on the new study. “It’s best to be in the outskirts, or in regions that have not been highly populated by small galaxies—and that’s exactly where the Milky Way is.”
Jimenez and his team had previously shown that gamma ray bursts could cause mass extinctions or make planets inhospitable to life by zapping them with radiation and destroying their ozone layer. The bursts channel the radiation into tight beams so powerful that one of them sweeping through a star system could wipe out planets in another galaxy. For their latest work, published this month in Physical Review Letters, they wanted to apply those findings on a broader scale and determine what type of universe would be most likely to support life.
The research is the latest investigation to touch on the so-called anthropic principle: the idea that in some sense the universe is tuned for the emergence of intelligent life. If the forces of nature were much stronger or weaker than physicists observe, proponents note, crucial building blocks of life—such fundamental particles, atoms, or the long-chain molecules needed for the chemistry of life—might not have formed, resulting in a sterile or even completely chaotic universe.
Basically, the best place for a galaxy that permits complex, embodied life to exist is one where you can pick up enough heavy elements from dying stars nearby, but not be in an area that is so crowded by stars that you will be murdered by intense gamma radiation when they die.
The cosmological constant has to be set just right that we spread out enough to make space between spiral arms for life-permitting solar systems, but no so spread out that we cannot pick up the heavy elements we need for a metal-rich star, a moon, and the bodies of the intelligent agents themselves.
As it turns out, our universe seems to get it just about right. The existing cosmological constant means the rate of expansion is large enough that it minimizes planets’ exposure to gamma ray bursts, but small enough to form lots of hydrogen-burning stars around which life can exist. (A faster expansion rate would make it hard for gas clouds to collapse into stars.)
Jimenez says the expansion of the universe played a bigger role in creating habitable worlds than he expected. “It was surprising to me that you do need the cosmological constant to clear out the region and make it more suburbanlike,” he says.
Remember, this is only one of many characteristics that must obtain in order for a have a location in the universe that can support complex, embodied life of any conceivable kind.
Let’s review the big picture
Time for me to list out some of the things that are required for a galaxy, solar system and planet to support complex embodied life. Not just life as we know it, but life of any conceivable kind given these laws of physics.
a solar system with a single massive Sun than can serve as a long-lived, stable source of energy
a terrestrial planet (non-gaseous)
the planet must be the right distance from the sun in order to preserve liquid water at the surface – if it’s too close, the water is burnt off in a runaway greenhouse effect, if it’s too far, the water is permanently frozen in a runaway glaciation
the solar system must be placed at the right place in the galaxy – not too near dangerous radiation, but close enough to other stars to be able to absorb heavy elements after neighboring stars die
a moon of sufficient mass to stabilize the tilt of the planet’s rotation
an oxygen-rich atmosphere
a sweeper planet to deflect comets, etc.
planetary neighbors must have non-eccentric orbits
It’s not easy to make a planet that supports life. For those who are interested in reaching out to God, he has left us an abundance of evidence for his existence – and his attention to detail.
And remember, these requirements for a habitable planet are downstream from the cosmic fine-tuning of constants and quantities that occurs at the Big Bang. No point in talking about the need for plate tectonics if you only have hydrogen in your universe. The habitability requirements are a further problem that comes after the fine-tuning problem.
The best book to read on this topic is “The Privileged Planet“, by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards. The latter is one of my absolute favorite Christian scholars, a real renaissance man. If the book is too much, there is a DVD by the same name that covers everything you need to know at a high level. Just FYI, Gonzalez made the cover of Scientific American in 2001, for his research on habitable zones. This is real evidence you can discuss with anyone, anywhere.
You can also watch the DVD for FREE on YouTube. Not sure how long that will be there. If you like it, buy the DVD, so you can show your friends.