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Showing posts with label design. Show all posts
Showing posts with label design. Show all posts

Friday, March 03, 2017

A Big, Dangerous Universe is NOT Evidence Against God

The recent discovery of the seven planets orbiting the TRAPPIST star has a lot of folks talking. As I wrote last week, even though they're labeled as "earth-like" and reside in what astronomers call the habitable zone, the idea that life could exist on them is remote in the extreme. The fact that our planet is so uniquely situated in just the right spot with just the right conditions around just the right kind of star provides strong evidence for design, like finding a cabin in the middle of an unpopulated forest.

Of course, others won't admit that our world shows marks of design. Some even offer the uniqueness of the earth as evidence against its design. I had one such interaction on Facebook where a gentleman names Simeon responded to my article by saying, "The rarity of habitable planets in the universe is actually evidence for a universe not designed for human habitation." After some interaction, he went on to claim "An all-powerful deity would not need to create an entire universe to support a single planet. He could have just made a single flat Earth with a dome over it, like some of the ancients believed." He finally summarized his position by writing "I think you are demonstrably wrong that the entire universe, as is, is required to support a single life-bearing planet. There is no way for planets around a distant star to have any bearing on Earth's habitability."

What Does it Take to Make a Biosphere?

I don't know if Simeon holds is a theist or not; we never discussed that issue. However, I've met many atheists who argue along similar lines, holding the vastness of space as evidence against a universe created to sustain human life. Couldn't God create any old kind of universe he wanted? Why would he need to make the universe so big just for one "pale blue dot" as Carl Sagan put it?

I think there's hubris in assuming that God can just create some kind of terrarium that holds the Earth but doesn't impact our biology and our experience. I remember being particularly intrigued at an extensive experiment to try and create a self-supporting environment that mimics the earth's in the 1980s. A group of scientists and investors built a large, airtight facility in the Arizona desert called Biosphere 2. Within it, they created a wetlands area, a desert, a rainforest, a savannah, and an "ocean" and then populated it with plants, insects, and animals. The goal was to create a mini-self-sustaining environment where people could live. If it worked here, it may have been possible to build a similar structure on another planet, making human habitation possible.

I loved the idea of biosphere 2. Unfortunately, creating a self-sustaining habitat on a smaller scale than the earth itself proved to be incredibly difficult. The New York Times reported that the results of a two year experiment in sustained living were a disaster: "The would-be Eden became a nightmare, its atmosphere gone sour, its sea acidic, its crops failing, and many of its species dying off. Among the survivors are crazy ants, millions of them."1 The paper reported how the facility was then sold to Columbia University who used it to model environmental catastrophes, instead of running tests on how to create sustainable environments.

Making Claims is Easy; Building Life-Supporting Universes is Hard

My point here is simple. It's easy to claim "God could have just made a smaller system" but that claim has no evidence behind it. Dr. Hugh Ross in his new book Improbable Planet discusses many of the factors of our universe that had to be just right in order for a livable earth to exist, using as one example its massiveness. He writes:
If the universe contained slightly lower mass density of protons and neutrons, then nuclear fusion in stellar furnaces would have yielded no elements as heavy as carbon or heavier; if a slightly greater mass density, then star burning would have yielded only elements as heavy as iron or heavier. Either way, the universe would have lacked the elements most critical for our planet and its life—carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and more. For life to be possible, the universe must be no more or less massive than it is.2
The fact that the universe, as massive as it is, still proves to be delicately set up for life on earth is a fact that hasn't escaped even secular scientists. Physicist Paul Davies, when he won his Templeton Prize, confidently proclaimed:
You might be tempted to suppose that any old rag-bag of laws would produce a complex universe of some sort, with attendant inhabitants convinced of their own specialness. Not so. It turns out that randomly-selected laws lead almost inevitably either to unrelieved chaos or boring and uneventful simplicity. Our own universe is poised exquisitely between these unpalatable alternatives.3
So, no, God couldn't have just made it smaller. Even if we discover there are no other truly habitable planets in any of the billions star systems across the billions of galaxies we know exist, it still wouldn't prove the universe wasn't designed for life. The interplay and complexity of the created world is a marvel to behold, and it clearly points to a Designer.


1. Broad, William J. "Paradise Lost: Biosphere Retooled as Atmospheric Nightmare." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Nov. 1996. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.
2. Ross, Hugh. Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity's Home. S.L.: Baker Book House, 2017. 24. Print.
3. Davies, Paul M. "Templeton Prize Address." Paul Davies Web Site. Arizona State University. 23 January 2010

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Three Facts Showing the Incredible Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Life

William Lane Craig is one of Christendom's most effective spokesmen arguing for God's existence. One of his famed "five arguments for God's existence" is the fine tuning of the universe for intelligent life. But the term "fine-tuning" really falls very short of just how precise the initial conditions and the universal constants are that allow us to live. They are infinitesimally fine numbers.

In his short book Does God Exist? Craig offers some examples as well as a couple of comparisons to set the stage. He writes:
Before I share a few examples of fine-tuning by way of physics, here are some numbers to help us to appreciate the delicacy of the fine-tuning. The number of seconds in the entire history of the universe is around 1017 (that's 1 followed by seventeen zeroes: 100,000,000,000,000,000). The number of subatomic particles in the entire known universe is said to be around 1080 (1 followed by eighty zeroes). These are simply incomprehensible numbers.

Being mindful of those numbers, consider the following: The force of gravity is so finely tuned that an alteration in its value by even one part out of 1050 would have prevented a life-permitting universe. Similarly, a change in the value of the so-called cosmological constant, which drives the acceleration of the universe's expansion, by as little as one part in 10120 would have rendered the universe life-prohibiting. Now here's a corker: Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of the universe's initial low entropy condition's existing by chance is on the order of one chance out of 1010 (123), a number which is so inconceivable that to call it astronomical would be a wild understatement.

The fine-tuning here is beyond comprehension. Having an accuracy of even one part out of 1060 is like firing a bullet toward the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and nailing a one-inch target!

The examples of fine-tuning are so many and so various that they aren't likely to disappear with the advance of science. Like it or not, fine-tuning is just a fact of life which is scientifically well-established.

But, you might say, if the constants and quantities had had different values, then maybe different forms of life might have evolved! No, that underestimates the truly disastrous consequences of a change in the values of these constants and quantities. When scientists talk about a universe's being life-permitting, they're not talking about just present forms of life. By "life," scientists just mean the property of organisms to take in food, extract energy from it, grow, adapt to their environment, and reproduce. Anything that can fulfill those functions counts as life. And the point is, in order for life so-defined to exist, whatever form it might take, the constants and quantities of the universe have to be unbelievably fine-tuned; otherwise, disaster results. In the absence of fine-tuning, not even matter, not even chemistry, would exist, much less planets where life might evolve.

The question we face, then, is this: What is the best explanation of the cosmic fine-tuning? Many philosophers and scientists think that the reason that the universe is finely tuned for life is because it was designed to be life-permitting by an intelligent Designer.1
1. Craig, William Lane. Does God Exist?. Pine Mountain, GA: Impact 360 Institute, 2014. Kindle Edition. (Kindle Locations 524-546)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Amazing Evidence of God in the Design of Our World

Yesterday, I began a discussion on how the universe is finely-tuned for human existence. We started with an analogy of being lost in a wood and stumbling onto a life-saving cabin. Then, I noted that just like our cabin, we see three key areas that are necessary for our shelter to sustain life. If you haven't read it yet, make sure you do.

Last time we looked at how the area is just right - that is  the laws of the universe allow life to exist. Today, I'd like to look more closely at the other two features that make life possible: our solar system is built for life and our planet itself is just right.

2.  Our planet and solar system are poised for life (the cabin is built right)

Going back to our cabin analogy, it's not merely that the area where the cabin is built is just right for you to survive—the cabin itself has to be made the right way with the right materials, otherwise it will do you no good at all. Imagine if the cabin had huge holes in the walls and ceiling. It would let the heat and the cold in and not sustain your life. Imagine also if the cabin was made out of paper or sand, which would quickly give way to the wild beasts outside or simple erosion. None of these situations would be of benefit to you when you needed it most.

Similar to the cabin, our little neighborhood in the universe, our solar system and the planet Earth, also show remarkable design for life. In their great book Rare Earth, scientists Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee note just how unlikely it is that another planet in the universe would have the perfect conditions for life that our planet Earth does. We live in a spiral galaxy, but not in a portion crowded with stars. Our sun sits far enough away from the center of the galaxy, yet in-between two of its more densely-packed arms, what Ward and Brownlee call the "Galactic Habitable Zone." They note that the distance of our Earth from the sun is also perfect , not letting the oceans boil away (possibly like Venus) or freeze over permanently (like all water on Mars). 5

Our sun is also the right kind of star. Did you know that 95% of stars in the universe are smaller than our sun?Planets need to be closer to smaller stars in order to get enough warmth for life, but when planets do get closer, the star's gravity keeps one side of the planet constantly facing toward it, freezing out the atmosphere. If our sun were much smaller, it wouldn't put out enough heat, and if it were larger, it would be so hot that it would sterilize the planet of all life.7 And because our sun is not too red (which would also make it too cold for life) or too blue (which would burn too quickly to sustain life), we are able to exist.8Everything seems to be not too hot nor too cold, but just right for life to exist on this particular planet.

Lastly, the fact that we have the gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) at the outside of our solar systems allows life on earth to continue. According to Ward and Brownlee, these gas giants not only carried elements such as carbon, nitrogen and water to earth in the early stages of its formation, but they continue to provide an invaluable service of catching large asteroid-type bodies that would otherwise smash into earth and extinguish all life on the planet. 9

There are many other examples of how our solar system is perfectly fit for life, but these will do well for a start. This is why Ward and Brownlee write, "With the best of intentions, but limited by natural laws and materials, it is unlikely that Earth could ever truly be replicated. Too many processes in its formation involved sheer luck." 10 You can see why Paul Davies calls the Anthropic Principle, "the Goldilocks Principle." Just as Goldilocks found to porridge and the bed that suited her, we've stumbled onto a cabin that suits us perfectly.

3.  The Earth is stocked for life (the cabin is properly equipped)

We've talked about the area being right for our cabin and the cabin being built properly to sustain us, but both those things wouldn't do us much good if we had to ride out several months of winter in a cabin not stocked with all the things that keep us alive. So it is with the Earth. It's not enough that it be in the right place with the right laws in the universe; it also has to protect and provide the ongoing sustenance for any life that may be found here. But yet again, we find that the Earth is just right to allow mankind to not only live, but to thrive. For example, the fact that our planet is 70% water has a major impact on supporting life. If there were too much water, then no dry land would appear to allow advanced life. Too little water and the temperatures on Earth would vary too drastically for advanced life to thrive.

Whereas most substances have very predictable behaviors based on their molecular construction, water seems to be unique in how it violates these expectations. For example, changing from a liquid to a solid means that as the molecules of most substances slow down, they get closer together, making the material heavier in its solid state. However, water does just the opposite: just before it freezes, it expands, allowing ice to float on liquid water. If this didn't happen, then all of the Earth's bodies of water would eventually freeze from the bottom up. But instead of freezing, the ice provides a cover over the liquid water, helping to retain the liquid water and therefore also adding to its stabilization of the surface temperature of the Earth.

Beyond water, other factors make Earth just right for life. The gases that make up our atmosphere help regulate the Earth's temperature, keeping it even too. Too many gases and we'd over heat, but too few and life would die from the radiation penetrating the atmosphere from space.11 Astronomer Hugh Ross gives us an impressive list of dozens of such conditions for life to thrive on earth: If the oxygen-to-nitrogen ratio in our atmosphere were larger, advanced life functions would proceed too quickly; if it were smaller, advanced life functions would proceed too slowly. If the Earth's crust were thicker, too much oxygen would be transferred from the atmosphere to the crust; but if thinner, volcanic and tectonic activity would be too great. Water vapor levels in the atmosphere are just right; if greater, a runaway greenhouse effect would develop; but if less, rainfall would be too meager for advanced life on the land. 12

The fact that our Earth has a single, sizable moon also becomes crucial to our existence on the planet. In their book The Privileged Planet, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards write that the Moon serves to stabilize our planet's rotation, keeps the Earth's axis at the perfect tilt to allow consistent seasons, and — by raising the ocean's tides — it delivers nutrients stirred up from the ocean floor and delivers them on land while it simultaneously promotes ocean currents distributing heated water throughout the different oceans.13

Is it All Just a Coincidence?

Perhaps someone desperate might hope to find a cabin in the wood, but to find it filled with the presence of your favorite food, stocked with insulin in the medicine cabinet, and containing all the clothing in your size is far beyond a stroke of luck, especially since these things are not contingent on each other. In finding so many of these "coincidences," it would be irrational to draw a conclusion that this was all chance. You may not be able to explain why it all works out, but it's obvious that whoever built this cabin had you in mind and did it on purpose. And scientists are finding more and more that the sheer number of "coincidences" in the universe of physical laws being just right for life is simply too much to dismiss. Paul Davies goes on to say:
"Certainly the existence of life as we know it… would be threatened by just the tiniest change in the strengths of the fundamental forces, for example. The laws that characterize our actual universe, as opposed to an infinite number of alternative possible universes, seem almost contrived — fine-tuned some commentators have claimed — so that life and consciousness may emerge. To quote Dyson again: it is almost as if 'the universe knew we were coming'."14
Indeed, the mountain of such factors points to the fact that someone "rigged" the system. Perhaps some of these factors are found elsewhere in the universe — there are other spiral galaxies and yellow suns, though not plentiful, that do exist. However, I think that when taken together, this evidence implies much more than mere coincidences. Robin Collins quotes philosopher John Leslie correctly saying, "Clues heaped upon clues can constitute weighty evidence, despite doubts about each element in the pile."15 If the universe itself is put together correctly to support life, then we can't stop at the universe as an explanation for our existence. We have to go to something or Someone who existed before the universe, Who designed the universe with the purpose of creating it so humanity can live and thrive in it. The design of the universe argues for the existence of God.


4. Ward, Peter D. and Donald Brownlee. Rare Earth; Why Complex Life is So Uncommon in the Universe. (New York: Copernicus, 2000) p.28
5. Ward and Brownlee. pp.16-20
6. Ward and Brownlee. p.23
7. Barrow and Tipler. p.338
8. Smith, Quentin "The Anthropic Principle and Many-Worlds Cosmologies". Australasian Journal of Philosophy VoI. 63, No.3; (September 1985)
9. Ward and Brownlee. pp.50-51
10. Ward and Brownlee. p.37
11. Ward and Brownlee. pp.50-51
12. Adapted from Hugh Ross' table 4.5 in "Astronomical Evidences for a Personal, Transcendent God." Moreland, J.P. The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1994. 165-169.
13. Gonzalez, Guillermo and Jay W. Richards. The Privledged Planet: How our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery. Washington D.C.: Regency Publishing, Inc., 2004. p.5-6
14. Davies. Templeton Adress.
15. Collins, Robin. "A Recent Fine-Tuning Argument." The Philosophy of Religion Reader. Ed. Meister Chad. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Three Ways Our Universe is Designed for Life

Just the fact the universe exists at all is pretty good evidence for God. It's an amazing thing that our universe exists and that we exist! But to stop there would be to do a disservice to what science continues to uncover about how our universe works. You see, it's not simply that the universe exists and we happen to live within it. Modern scientists have found that the universe could have existed just fine in many different configurations, but the laws that govern this universe are tuned very precisely. The way our planet is positioned within the universe is also very unique. What scientists continue to find is the universe is meticulously designed just so that it is capable of supporting life like our own. It's been rigged for life, if you will. The universe is finely-tuned for human existence.

Finding the perfect cabin in a dangerous wood

In order to understand how this works, I would like to offer an analogy. Imagine that you're lost in a dark, dangerous wood. The temperature fluctuates from extreme heat in the day to frigid cold at night. You have no food and no water. Aside from the other life-threatening conditions, there are dangerous animals that may attack you if you stay out in the open. You need to find shelter if you are ever going to survive. By chance, you stumble upon a cabin in a clearing of the forest. Crawling through an open window, you quickly hurry inside, thankful for your good luck. Luck is all you currently perceive finding the cabin to be. I mean it's quite possible that you could have taken any number of routes through the wood and ended up someplace else, but you just happened to end up here. However, as you start to explore the cabin, you attitude begins to change.

First, you notice that there's fresh food in the kitchen, and that the food just happens to be all your favorite kinds. Then, you see that there are some medical supplies in the bathroom that are exactly what you need: bandages for your cuts and scrapes, but also insulin for treating your diabetes. In the bedroom, there's a collection of CDs from all your favorite bands, three books are on the table that are your favorite books, and the reading glasses are your exact prescription! The mattress is the exact firmness you like and all the clothes in the closet fit you perfectly. Finally, you go to the front door, but it is locked. On a hunch, you pull out your house key from your pocket and try it in the door. The key unlocks the front door and you are able to enter and exit effortlessly. After these and many, many more discoveries, you finally come to the conclusion that this is not a random cabin at all, but one designed especially for you to help you survive within this dangerous forest.

Before you can create tuna, you must first tune the universe!

Now, you may be thinking that I'm stretching the facts a bit when I give the examples in my cabin analogy above. In fact, I'm actually downplaying the amazing precision of what science is finding out about the very delicate balance of features the universe must have in order to allow life to exist as it does on this planet. As we continue to learn more about how our universe works, we are finding two very interesting things:
  • It is not necessary that those laws should come together in the way they do now. There are many combinations of laws that still would allow the universe to exist but not support life, and
  • There are so incredibly many different types of laws that must be present all at the same time for life to exist, each so delicately balanced and perfectly set, that it seems hardly a coincidence. The universe is fine-tuned for life on earth.
Sometimes because of our familiarity with a situation, we neglect to think about how many elements must be just right for the desired goal to happen. Returning to our cabin illustration, we see a cabin in a clearing and run to it, perhaps wondering why it's there, but not really thinking about all the conditions it would take to make the cabin.

Really, for a shelter to be of any use in saving someone from dying in the woods, it is important that the area where that shelter sits be just right for the type of shelter it is and the materials used to construct the shelter be made out of the right stuff. The shelter also needs to have life-supporting elements inside. Otherwise you will simply be forced to abandon it or die. Let's take these one at a time and look at them more closely. We will examine the first one today and look at the other two in tomorrow's post.

1.  Laws of the universe make life possible (the area is right)

In order for a cabin to be built and help a desperate soul lost in the woods, it must be built in a location that has specific properties. For example, no one would want to climb into a cabin and find out it was built on quicksand. The ground must be firm and able to hold a strong foundation. The trees must be cleared away so that there is adequate room for the structure. A cabin built on a severe slope or on the other side of an impassible ravine would make it impossible to get to. Swampy areas would cause the wood that the cabin is built out of to rot.

Our universe has laws that govern how its build materials fit together and react to one another. Things like the strength of gravity or the force that allows protons and neutrons within an atom to stick together are delicately balanced. For example, gravity make a huge difference in whether we would have any stars that could support life like our sun does. According to scientists John Barrow and Frank Tipler, if the force of gravity had been slightly weaker, all stars would have formed into red dwarfs, not producing enough heat to sustain life on any planet. But if it had been slightly stronger, stars would all form to be blue giants, which burn too briefly for life to develop.The fine-tuning of this force must be set to a value so fine that a change of less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth would be catastrophic for stars like our sun. 2

There are many other laws that have a similar crucial impact on whether our universe is just right to even allow life to exist, such as the size of an electron relative to a proton, how fast the universe expands, the age of the universe, the speed of light, the amount and uniform level of radiation in the universe, and many, many more. See table 1 for just some of these balances.

Paul Davies, a widely respected physicist and cosmologist, noted that many of the laws of the universe we take for granted are not necessary at all, but function just like that clear, level area that allows us to construct the cabin. In fact, that the universe could have turned out much differently than it did. Davies said "You might be tempted to suppose that any old rag-bag of laws would produce a complex universe of some sort, with attendant inhabitants convinced of their own specialness. Not so. It turns out that randomly-selected laws lead almost inevitably either to unrelieved chaos or boring and uneventful simplicity. Our own universe is poised exquisitely between these unpalatable alternatives."3

Continue to Part Two here »


1. Barrow, John D. and Frank J. Tipler. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).336
2. Davies, Paul. The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life? (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006) 147
3.Davies, Paul M. "Templeton Prize Address." Arizona State University. 23 January 2010
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