Monday, February 22, 2010

Is There a God? The Evidence of Design

In my last post, I presented some contemporary astronomical evidence that points towards the existence of a transcendent Creator - a being outside of time and space (the universe as we know it) who brought the universe into existence. In this post, I want to continue by presenting clues from the intricate design, or fine-tuning, of our universe. In a nutshell, the clue that we are looking at acknowledges that the universe looks exquisitely fine-tuned in order to support the development and support of life, particularly human life on earth; and that the natural conclusion to draw is that the universe is actually designed.

II. The Clue From Design – the Teleological Argument for God’s Existence

If the origins of our universe strongly points towards the existence of God, the fine-tuning of our universe is both an argument for God’s existence, and an indication of God’s intimate concern with humanity. The anthropic principle points to the various ways in which the universe seems uniquely designed in order to support human life on earth. The anthropic principle demonstrates the immense range of cosmological constants and physical laws which are necessary for the universe to have the qualities necessary for human life to flourish upon Earth.

Proponents of the anthropic principle argue that the precise nature of the universe’s construction is finely-tuned in just such a way as to make life possible, and that it is nearly impossible that this fine tuning could have arisen from random chance. Instead, the fine-tuning of the universe is direct evidence for the existence of a Creator who ensured that the universe would spawn life on Earth.
There are many things about our universe which need to be “just so” in order for life to be possible anywhere in the universe. Hugh Ross has made his life’s work studying the fine-tuning of the universe and its suitability for life. He relates 35 different laws and constants which are precisely arranged in order for life to exist in the universe. We will briefly examine just three of them - the cosmological constant, the electromagnetic force constant, and the relationship between the gravitational and electromagnetic constants.

1. Our Finely-Tuned Universe

A. The Cosmological Constant

The cosmological constant “is best described as a self-stretching property of the space-time fabric of the universe.” It acts against gravitational force to govern the rate of expansion of the universe. The constant has to be precisely fine-tuned. Why? If the cosmological constant were even slightly smaller than it is, then the early expansion of the universe would not have been rapid enough to have overcome the force of gravity - the universe would have collapsed back in upon itself almost instantly after the Big Bang. If, on the other hand, the cosmological constant were even slightly larger than it is, the universe would have expanded much more rapidly, so that galaxies and stars would not have been able to form. As Francis Collins says, “The unexpected, counterintuitive, and stunningly precise setting of the cosmological constant is widely regarded as the single greatest problem facing physics and cosmology today.”

B. Electromagnetic Force

The electromagnetic force, along with the ratio of the mass of the electron to the mass of the proton, governs the ability and rate of molecular bonding. Molecular bonding is necessary for life because the molecules necessary for life require the bonding ability of at least 40 different elements. The electromagnetic force governs the attraction of elements to one another. It is set precisely so as to allow molecular bonding at the rate necessary for life to flourish. If the force were even 0.3% stronger than it is, then atoms would be so tightly bound to their electrons that they would never be shared with other atoms. No molecular bonding would occur. If, on the other hand, the electromagnetic force were even 2% weaker than it is, then atoms would not be bound to their electrons at all, and they would never be able to share electrons with one another - again, no molecular bonding would take place. Either way, life would be “impossible at any time and any place within the universe.”

C. Electromagnetism and Gravitational Force

Another precise example of cosmic fine-tuning is the relationship between the electromagnetic force constant and the gravitational force constant. The two interact together to govern star creation. “If the electromagnetic force relative to gravity were increased by just one part in 10[40] , only large stars would form. And, if it were decreased by just one part in 10[40], only small stars would form. But for life to be possible in the universe, both large and small stars must exist. The large stars must exist because only in their thermonuclear furnaces are most of the life-essential elements produced. The small stars like the sun must exist because only small stars burn long enough and stably enough to sustain a planet with life.”

D. Other Necessary Universal Constants

These are just three of the physical and cosmological constants which are required to be precisely configured in order for life to be possible anywhere in the galaxy. Others include the strong and weak nuclear force constants, the gravitational force constant, the entropy level of the universe, the mass density of the universe, the speed of light, the initial uniformity of radiation caused by the Big Bang, average distance between galaxies, the decay rate of the proton, the mass excess of the neutron over the proton, and the ratio of the mass of exotic (dark) matter to ordinary matter. All of these universal constants are required to be very finely-tuned in order for life to be possible. The fact that all of them are precisely fine-tuned is evidence that there was a transcendent, supernatural being behind the origin of the universe - Davis proclaims that “this remarkable fine-tuning of the universe cries out for a philosophical or theological explanation.”
It’s supremely improbable that the fine-tuning of the universe could have occurred at random, but it’s not at all improbable if it were the work of an intelligent designer.

To this point, we have considered only the universal laws and constants that are required for life to exist anywhere in the universe at any time. There are also laws and constants that are necessary for life to be possible on a particular planet within a particular galaxy somewhere in the universe. Ross has documented 122 such parameters, of varying degrees of probability. Space does not permit a discussion of these parameters here, but Ross concludes that the possibility of all parameters being met in any single planet is 10[-160], and that accordingly, it is virtually impossible to expect that there would be even one planet anywhere in the universe that meets all of the criteria necessary for life to emerge. Thus, the fact that we live on such a planet is itself in defiance of all expectations and odds. The universe seems to be rigged to allow life to exist somewhere; it seems to be further fine-tuned so as to produce intelligent life on earth. Hugh Ross concludes:
“While there is not the remotest chance that the natural conditions and physical laws of the universe will spawn a planet capable of sustaining physical life, there is nothing to stop the Creator of the universe from miraculously designing several planets, rather than just one, with the capacity to support life. The question of how many planets God created for physical life is open to speculation.”

2. The Undeniability of Apparent Design

The logic of the anthropic principle as a theological argument for God’s existence is accepted even by those who do not agree with the outcome of the anthropic principle:

Francis Crick - “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the condiions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.” Crick, Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature, p. 88. Crick immediately goes on to argue that this does not mean we should believe that life is a miracle. See Crick, pp. 88-105.

Paul Davies - Davies, Cosmic Jackpot, p. 132-151. “The collection of felicitous ‘coincidences’ in physics and cosmology implies that the Great Designer had better set the knobs carefully, or the universe would be a very inhospitable place.” (p. 146) “Scientists have long been aware that the universe seems strangely suited to life, but they chose mostly to ignore it. It was an embarrassment - it looked too much like the work of a Cosmic Designer.” (p. 151) Davies then proceeds to argue that the fine tuning only appears that way because our universe is just one bubble in the extravagant multiverse.

Richard Dawkins - Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 143. “The actual number [of six cosmological constants] sits in a Goldilocks band of values outside which life would not have been possible. How should we respond to this?” (p. 143) Dawkins proceeds to dismiss the work of a divine designer, arguing instead for multiverse theory. (p. 143-145)

Stephen Hawking - Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p.126-130. “The laws of science … contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. … The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.” (p. 129) “Most sets of values would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at that beauty. One can take this either as evidence of a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the laws of science or as support for the Strong Anthropic Principle.” (p. 130) The Strong Anthropic Principle as Hawking defines it holds that “there are either many different universes or many different regions of a single universe, each with its own initial configuration and, perhaps, with its own set of laws of science. In most of these universes the conditions would not be right for the development of complicated organisms; only in the few universes that are like ours would intelligent beings develop.” (p. 129).

Such scientists find a different explanation for the apparent cosmic fine-tuning of the universe. The notion of invoking the divine to explain the universe is just beyond comprehension - it is outside the "pool of live options" contained within their worldview - and so they design alternative explanations. This is the primary reason for the current popularity of multiverse theory - it not only gives a partial explanation for the origin of our universe (although as we have seen, this explanation is entirely unsatisfactory), but it also gives as a palatable naturalistic explanation for the apparent fine-tuning of the universe. Because there are countless (perhaps infinite) universes that are generated by the multiverse, and because each universe will be governed by different physical laws and astronomical constants, then it is inevitable that one of those bubble universes will have the laws and constants necessary for the emergence of life. We just happen to be living in such a universe.

It must be admitted that multiverse theory does present an alternative explanation of the cosmological data demonstrating both the finite origin of our universe, and the obvious fine-tuning that has made our universe suitable for human life on earth. The problems raised earlier with multiverse theory remain, however. The multiverse itself requires an explanation, and exists in the absence of concrete evidence.

As a theist, I wish that I could say that the evidence we have examined to this point conclusively proves the existence of God. But this would be a stretch. It is fair to say that the evidence clearly points in the direction of the existence of a transcendent, supernatural creator of the universe; but it falls short of conclusive proof. There are alternative ways of explaining the data. The alternatives, however, do seem to fall logically short of the theistic explanation. It is, indeed, “quite reasonable to choose the design theory over the chance theory.”

3. What is Your Levitating Super-Turtle?

Paul Davies, although he personally adheres to multiverse theory, openly admits that theistic explanations of the universe are just as rationally defensible. He describes an age-old illustration where an old lady debates a cosmologist by claiming that the universe is carried on the back of a turtle, which is on the back of another turtle, and in fact “it’s turtles all the way down.” Then he goes on to say that, ultimately, everyone seeking an explanation for the universe accepts, at some point, what he calls “their levitating super-turtle” to bolster their universal model.

“Scientists who crave a theory of everything with no free parameters are happy to accept the equations of that theory … as their levitating super-turtle. That is their starting point. … Multiverse devotees … accept a package of wonders, including a universe-generating mechanism, quantum mechanics, relativity, and a host of other technical prerequisites as their super-turtle. Monotheistic theologians cast a necessary God in the role of super-turtle. All three camps denounce the other’s super-turtles in equally derisory measure. But there can be no reasoned resolution of this debate because at the end of the day one super-turtle or another has to be taken on faith (or at least provisionally accepted as a working hypothesis), and a decision about which one to pick will inevitably reflect the cultural prejudices of the devotee. You can’t use science to disprove the existence of a supernatural God, and you can’t use religion to disprove the existence of self-supporting physical laws. … It should be clear from this chapter that all attempts to explain the world completely … eventually hit a wall, and demand that something truly huge be accepted on faith alone.”

Such intellectual honesty from a self-professed naturalist and multiverse theorist is shocking - especially given the virulence with which other naturalists (e.g. Hawking, Dawkins) denounce the mere possibility of a divine explanation for the universe. Cosmology, astronomy, and the laws of physics give abundant evidence for the existence of God. They cannot prove God’s existence, but they certainly make it reasonable and rational to accept a transcendent creator of a universe who has supernaturally fine-tuned the universe in such a way as to facilitate human life on earth. The evidence shows, that it is reasonable not only to believe that God exists, but furthermore to believe that God is intimately interested in us as human beings. I propose that the evidence not only makes the existence of God a reasonable possibility, but furthermore, when you consider the incredibly increased complexity required to accept naturalistic alternative views (which end up being no less supra-natural than theism), the existence of God becomes the most reasonable explanation by far.

III. The End of the Matter

Do the clues from the origins and design of the universe rationally compel a naturalist to abandon their worldview and embrace theism? Obviously not. Do they provide the theist with a rational underpinning for their worldview? Quite clearly yes. Do they also provide the sincere seeker with reasons to embrace theism? We pray that through the power of the Holy Spirit, that the clues from the origins and design of the universe – the cosmological and teleological arguments for God – will point people towards faith in the one true Creator God.