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Why is the universe so big, and why is so much of it hostile to life?

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

Review: In case you need a refresher on the cosmological and fine-tuning arguments, as presented by a professor of particle physics at Stanford University, then click this link and watch the lecture.

If you already know about the standard arguments for theism from cosmology, then take a look at this post on Uncommon Descent.

Summary:

In my previous post, I highlighted three common atheistic objections to to the cosmological fine-tuning argument. In that post, I made no attempt to answer these objections. My aim was simply to show that the objections were weak and inconclusive.

Let’s go back to the original three objections:

1. If the universe was designed to support life, then why does it have to be so BIG, and why is it nearly everywhere hostile to life? Why are there so many stars, and why are so few orbited by life-bearing planets? (Let’s call this the size problem.)

2. If the universe was designed to support life, then why does it have to be so OLD, and why was it devoid of life throughout most of its history? For instance, why did life on Earth only appear after 70% of the cosmos’s 13.7-billion-year history had already elapsed? And Why did human beings (genus Homo) only appear after 99.98% of the cosmos’s 13.7-billion-year history had already elapsed? (Let’s call this the age problem.)

3. If the universe was designed to support life, then why does Nature have to be so CRUEL? Why did so many animals have to die – and why did so many species of animals have to go extinct (99% is the commonly quoted figure), in order to generate the world as we see it today? What a waste! And what about predation, parasitism, and animals that engage in practices such as serial murder and infant cannibalism? (Let’s call this the death and suffering problem.)

Here’s an excerpt for the size argument:

(a) The main reason why the universe is as big as it currently is that in the first place, the universe had to contain sufficient matter to form galaxies and stars, without which life would not have appeared; and in the second place, the density of matter in the cosmos is incredibly fine-tuned, due to the fine-tuning of gravity. To appreciate this point, let’s go back to the earliest time in the history of the cosmos that we can meaningfully talk about: the Planck time, when the universe was 10^-43 seconds old. If the density of matter at the Planck time had differed from the critical density by as little as one part in 10^60, the universe would have either exploded so rapidly that galaxies wouldn’t have formed, or collapsed so quickly that life would never have appeared. In practical terms: if our universe, which contains 10^80 protons and neutrons, had even one more grain of sand in it – or one grain less – we wouldn’t be here.

If you mess with the size of the universe, you screw up the mass density fine-tuning. We need that to have a universe that expands at the right speed in order for the matter to clump together to form galaxies, stars and planets. Too fast, and you get no clumping. Too slow, and the whole thing re-collapses into a hot fireball. You need stars and planets to have a place to form life – a place with liquid water at the surface, and more.

And an excerpt for the age argument:

(a) One reason why we need an old universe is that billions of years were required for Population I stars (such as our sun) to evolve. These stars are more likely to harbor planets such as our Earth, because they contain lots of “metals” (astronomer-speak for elements heavier than helium), produced by the supernovae of the previous generation of Population II stars. According to currently accepted models of Big Bang nucleosynthesis, this whole process was absolutely vital, because the Big Bang doesn’t make enough “metals”, including those necessary for life: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and so on.

Basically, you need heavy elements to make stars that burn slow and steady, as well as to make PEOPLE! And heavy elements have to be built up slowly through several iterations of the stellar lifecycle, including the right kinds of stellar death: supernovae.

Read the rest! These arguments come up all the time in debates with village atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. It’s a smokescreen they put up, but you’ve got to be able to answer it using the scientific evidence we have today. They always want to dismiss God with their personal preferences about what God should or should not do. But the real issue is the design of the cosmological constants that allow life to anywhere. That’s the part that’s designed. And that’s not a matter of personal preference, it’s a matter of mathematics and experimental science.

Michael Strauss lectures on scientific evidence for a Creator at UT Dallas

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

The lecture: (from 2013)

Note: there is a period of 19 minutes of Q&A at the end of the lecture.

About the speaker:

His full biography is here.

Summary:

  • It used to be true that most of the great scientists were believers in God
  • But now science has advanced and we have better instruments – is it still true?
  • Today, many people believe that science has shows that the universe and Earth are not special
  • We used to believe that the Earth was the center of the universe, and Darwin showed we are not designed
  • The problem with this view is that it is based on old science, not modern science
  • Three topics: origin of the universe, fine-tuning of the universe, the Rare Earth hypothesis

Experimental evidence for the origin of the universe:

  • #1: Hubble discovered that the universe expands because of redshifting of light from distant galaxies
  • #2: Measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation show the universe had a beginnning
  • #3: Measurements of the light element (hydrogen and helium) abundances confirm an origin of the universe
  • The best explanation for an absolute origin of space, time, matter and energy is a supernatural cause

Experimental evidence for the design of the universe:

  • #1: The amount of matter: a bit less = no stars and galaxies, a bit more = universe recollapses
  • #2: The strong force: a bit more = only hydrogen, a bit more = little or no hydrogen
  • #3: Carbon resonance level: a bit higher = no carbon, a bit lower = no carbon

Experimental evidence for galactic, stellar and planetary habitability:

  • #1: Galaxy: produces high number of heavy elements and low radiation
  • #2: Star: long stable lifetime, burns bright, bachelor star, third generation star (10 billion years must elapsed),
  • #3: Planet: mass of planet, stable orbit, liquid water, tectonic activity, tilt, moon

Naturalistic explanations:

  • Humans evolve to the point where they reach back in time and create finely-tuned universe
  • Eternally existing multiverse

Hawking and Mlodinow response to Rare Earth:

  • There are lots of planets so one must support life
  • Odds of a planet that supports life are low even with 10^22 planets

Hawking and Mlodinow proposal of M-theory multiverse:

  • There is no experimental evidence for M-theory being true
  • M-theory is not testable now and is not likely to be testable in the future
  • But science is about making testable predictions, not about blind speculation

Hawking and Mlodinow no-boundary proposal:

  • This theory requires the laws of physics to exist prior to the universe
  • But where do you get laws of physics before there is any physical world?
  • There is no experimental evidence for no-boundary proposal
  • All the evidence we have now (redshift, CMBR, H-He abundances) is for Big Bang

What science has revealed provide abundant evidence for a transcendent Creator and Designer.

Related posts

Can a person be a committed Christian while ignoring apologetics?

Ratio Christi event at Ohio State University featuring Frank Turek
Ratio Christi event at Ohio State University featuring Frank Turek

I would like to describe a situation that arises frequently that concerns me. The situation I describe below brings out a flaw I see in the way that rank-and-file Christians respond to criticisms of Christianity in the public square.

Here is the situation

Eve is busy programming away at her desk, rushing to check in her unit tests so she can spend her lunch hour reading the latest Stephenie Meyer novel, or check on the schedule for her local sports team, “the Vicariouses” (she has tickets for Thursday). Suddenly Eve hears Alice talking to Bob on the other side of her cubicle. She stops typing to listen to the following unencrypted conversation.

Alice: I was watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel last night that said that the universe has always existed, so there is no God!

Bob: I was watching a documentary on PBS last night showing simulations of how the first life started on Earth! God didn’t do it!

Alice: I saw “Inherit the Spin” on the weekend! The only reason people oppose evolution is because of the Bible! Not because of science!

Bob: I’m going to see “The Va Dinci Code” this weekend! It says that the Gospels are unreliable and that Jesus didn’t even die on the cross!

Alice: I just bought the latest Dichard Rawkins book “Christians Should Be Fed to Lions and the Bible Should Be Burned”!

Bob: I will read that as soon as I finish Histopher Chritchens’ book “Why God is the Evilest, Stupidest Person in the World”!

Eve double-majored in business and computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology, and has an MBA from the London School of Economics. She has spent a ton of time, effort and money studying very difficult subjects for her job, and she even publishes research papers. She works full-time and runs her own business part-time, and teaches night classes for a well-known university. She earns about 200K per year. She lives in a huge house, drives an expensive car, and goes on vacation abroad to all the best vacation spots.

Eve thinks she is a Christian. She has attended church since childhood, her husband is a church elder and she sings in the church choir. She reads the Bible and prays every night, because it helps her to get sleepy before bed. She gives lots of money to the poor. She teaches Sunday school to very small children.  She has even read all of the Narnia novels five times! She even has a calendar filled with nature scenes and itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny Bible verses posted on her office wall at work! Judging from all of these facts, you might expect Eve to get in on that conversation with Alice and Bob, and set them straight.

But she won’t. Why not?

Why won’t Eve stand?

I am wondering if anyone can explain to me why it is that most church Christians are not able or not willing to make a public defense when God’s reputation is called into question. It seems to me that there are two bad effects that follow from Eve’s unwillingness to stand up and invite Alice and Bob to lunch so that she can address their questions and concerns.

  1. God’s reputation is being trashed by Alice and Bob on the basis of lies they’ve swallowed from pop culture. These lies about God’s existence and character could be easily corrected with a minimal amount of study, which Eve is capable of – she is a genius and has amazing entrepreneurial skills.  If someone said similar lies about her husband or children, she would speak up, but she won’t speak up for God.
  2. Alice and Bob are bound for Hell unless someone cares enough to correct their mistaken beliefs, which, along with their sinfulness, is what is keeping them from a relationship with God that would go on in Heaven. If Eve’s husband or children were mistakenly about to drink poison thinking it was Aspirin, then Eve would speak up. But to save her co-workers from Hell, she won’t speak up.

Eve is capable of studying to defend the faith, because of her great success in other areas where so much time and effort were required to master difficult material. So why has she not applied herself to answering public challenges to her Christian faith from her professors, teachers, actors, the media, politicians, scientists, historians, etc.? She’s heard these questions about God’s existence and character all through high school and into university and then now in her career. Doesn’t she believe the Bible when it says to prepare a defense? Doesn’t she believe the Bible when it says to acknowledge God before men? Doesn’t she believe the Bible when it says that all authentic believers in Jesus will suffer a little for their faith?

It seems to me that if she did spend some time studying, and then made her defense to her co-workers, then two good things would follow:

  1. Eve would be demonstrating her love for God and her friendship with God by protecting his reputation when it is called into question by unbelievers in public settings. That’s what friends do – if Eve wanted to be God’s friend, she would care that no one believed lies about him and told lies about him in public settings.
  2. Eve would be demonstrating her love for her neighbor if she was able to correct some of these false beliefs, such as that the universe is eternal, or that a historical case cannot be made for the resurrection, or that evil is not compatible with theism. It’s important for Alice and Bob to know that Christianity is not stupid.

So why is it that Eve is able to go to church for 20 years, sing in the choir, read the Bible, read the Narnia stories, pray on her knees, and yet still be unwilling to do the best thing for God and the best thing for her neighbor? If a Christian is smart enough to know how to get a degree and how to hold down a job, then that intelligence should also be used to defend God’s reputation when it is called into question. I don’t see how it is possible to claim that you love God, but then not apply your mind to defending him when you apply your mind to other things like education and work.

Why is the universe so big, and why is so much of it hostile to life?

Chris Kyle, Navy SEAL
Chris Kyle, Navy SEAL, can hit a very small target from a mile away – very improbable

Review: In case you need a refresher on the cosmological and fine-tuning arguments, as presented by a professor of particle physics at Stanford University, then click this link and watch the lecture.

If you already know about the standard arguments for theism from cosmology, then take a look at this post on Uncommon Descent.

Summary:

In my previous post, I highlighted three common atheistic objections to to the cosmological fine-tuning argument. In that post, I made no attempt to answer these objections. My aim was simply to show that the objections were weak and inconclusive.

Let’s go back to the original three objections:

1. If the universe was designed to support life, then why does it have to be so BIG, and why is it nearly everywhere hostile to life? Why are there so many stars, and why are so few orbited by life-bearing planets? (Let’s call this the size problem.)

2. If the universe was designed to support life, then why does it have to be so OLD, and why was it devoid of life throughout most of its history? For instance, why did life on Earth only appear after 70% of the cosmos’s 13.7-billion-year history had already elapsed? And Why did human beings (genus Homo) only appear after 99.98% of the cosmos’s 13.7-billion-year history had already elapsed? (Let’s call this the age problem.)

3. If the universe was designed to support life, then why does Nature have to be so CRUEL? Why did so many animals have to die – and why did so many species of animals have to go extinct (99% is the commonly quoted figure), in order to generate the world as we see it today? What a waste! And what about predation, parasitism, and animals that engage in practices such as serial murder and infant cannibalism? (Let’s call this the death and suffering problem.)

In today’s post, I’m going to try to provide some positive answers to the first two questions: the size problem and the age problem.

Here’s an excerpt for the size argument:

(a) The main reason why the universe is as big as it currently is that in the first place, the universe had to contain sufficient matter to form galaxies and stars, without which life would not have appeared; and in the second place, the density of matter in the cosmos is incredibly fine-tuned, due to the fine-tuning of gravity. To appreciate this point, let’s go back to the earliest time in the history of the cosmos that we can meaningfully talk about: the Planck time, when the universe was 10^-43 seconds old. If the density of matter at the Planck time had differed from the critical density by as little as one part in 10^60, the universe would have either exploded so rapidly that galaxies wouldn’t have formed, or collapsed so quickly that life would never have appeared. In practical terms: if our universe, which contains 10^80 protons and neutrons, had even one more grain of sand in it – or one grain less – we wouldn’t be here.

If you mess with the size of the universe, you screw up the mass density fine-tuning. We need that to have a universe that expands at the right speed in order for the matter to clump together to form galaxies, stars and planets. Too fast, and you get no clumping. Too slow, and the whole thing re-collapses into a hot fireball. You need stars and planets to have a place to form life – a place with liquid water at the surface, and more.

And an excerpt for the age argument:

(a) One reason why we need an old universe is that billions of years were required for Population I stars (such as our sun) to evolve. These stars are more likely to harbor planets such as our Earth, because they contain lots of “metals” (astronomer-speak for elements heavier than helium), produced by the supernovae of the previous generation of Population II stars. According to currently accepted models of Big Bang nucleosynthesis, this whole process was absolutely vital, because the Big Bang doesn’t make enough “metals”, including those necessary for life: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and so on.

Basically, you need heavy elements to make stars that burn slow and steady, as well as to make PEOPLE! And heavy elements have to be built up slowly through several iterations of the stellar lifecycle, including the right kinds of stellar death: supernovae.

Read the rest! These arguments come up all the time in debates with village atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. It’s a smokescreen they put up, but you’ve got to be able to answer it using the scientific evidence we have today. They always want to dismiss God with their personal preferences about what God should or should not do. But the real issue is the design of the cosmological constants that allow life to anywhere. That’s the part that’s designed. And that’s not a matter of personal preference, it’s a matter of mathematics and experimental science.

One last parting shot. If God made the universe have life everywhere, the first thing atheists would say is “See? Life evolves fine by itself without any God!” The only way to recognize a marksman is when he hits a narrow target (not hostile to life) from a wide range of possibilities that have no value (hostile to life). We don’t credit Chris Kyle for hitting the wall above an Islamic terrorist from a mile away, we credit Chris Kyle for hitting an Islamic terrorist a mile away. The design is not how much of the universe is hospitable to life versus how much is hostile to life. The design is in the cosmological constants – where we are in the narrow band that is hospitable to life and not in the huge regions that are hostile to life.

You can read the best explanation of the design argument in this lecture featuring Robin Collins. That link goes to my post which has a summary of the lecture. He has a new lecture that I also blogged about where he extends the fine-tuning argument down to the level of particle physics. I have a summary of that one as well.

Physicist Michael Strauss discusses Christianity and science at Stanford University

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

This is one of my favorite lectures.

The lecture:

Dr. Strauss delivered this lecture at Stanford University in 1999. It is fairly easy to understand, and it even includes useful dating tips.

Here is a clip:

The full video can be watched on Vimeo:

I pulled the MP3 audio from the lecture in case anyone wants just the audio.

Summary:

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

It’s a good lecture explaining basic arguments for a cosmic Creator and Designer. If you add the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion (Stephen C. Meyer’s arguments), then you will be solid on science apologetics. That’s everything a rank-and-file Christian needs.

Positive arguments for Christian theism