A Fine-Tuned and Designer Universe

Precis: The precise values of the physical constants of nature and the serendipitous state (initial conditions) of the beginning of the universe all point to a cosmic designer who has fine-tuned the universe. The evidence available from contemporary science suggests that theism provides a more plausible explanation for the emergence of life in the universe than naturalism or atheism.

The Apostle Paul declares that nature displays clearly the existence of God and his divine power (Romans 1:19-20). The atheist may retort that this is just an assertion and demand for evidence. He would be surprised to be told that the evidence is available from recent advance in science, as the investigations of the intricate mechanism of the universe uncovered by modern cosmology rule out the suggestion that the universe is a product of chance. Indeed, a more plausible conclusion would be to view the universe as designed by a supremely intelligent and vastly powerful designer whom men of faith call the Creator God.

It is arguable that the first theologian to use the knowledge of modern science to support the case for the existence of God was William Paley who formulated the ‘watch-maker’ argument in his book Natural Theology (1802). Paley wrote, “suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; … There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.”

The logic of the watchmaker argument may be outlined as follows:

1. A watch shows that it was assembled for an intelligent purpose (to keep time)

a. The spring provides energy to keep the parts moving

b. The gears ensure the motion is regular and transmitted to the watch-hand

c. The glass cover protects the moving hand and allows easy reading of time

2. The world shows far greater evidence of design than a watch

a. The world displays greater complexity that a watch

b. The world shows endless variety of means adapted to ends.

3. Therefore, if a watch points to a clever watchmaker, then the world demands an even greater intelligent Designer.

 

We can frame the argument more succinctly:

1. All design implies a designer

2. Great design implies a great designer

3. There is evidence of complex design in the universe

4. Therefore, there must be a great Designer of the universe.

 

Put differently,

1. The material universe resembles the intelligent products designed by human beings

2. Like effects have like causes

3. Therefore the design quality of the universe is the effect of an intelligent designer (creator)

 

How persuasive or sound the argument is depends on the veracity of the first premise, that is, that the universe does exhibit marks of design. In this respect, the breathtaking advances and new discoveries of science since 1802 cumulatively provide compelling evidence of a designed universe. Scientists are increasingly aware that life emerged on earth under the most improbable (or miraculous) circumstances. Further reflection on recent scientific discoveries seems to suggest that the discovered pattern and regularities of nature must be fine-tuned to make life possible.

The world famous physicist-writer, Paul Davis observes that there is now broad agreement among astro-physicists and cosmologists that the Universe is in several respects ‘fine-tuned’ for life. He adds that the universe is not only ‘biophilic’ [friendly towards life] to make life marginally possible, but the universe is optimized to ensure the flourishing of life.

Indeed, scientists are beginning to appreciate the great precision of optimization or fine-tuning parameters that must be in place before life can emerge. These parameters must be exact to great order of magnitude.

Martin Rees in his book, Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe, highlights 6 numbers or dimensionless constants needed to be fine-tuned in order to have a life-permitting universe. These values control the interrelationship between space, time and energy.

 

N = ratio of the strengths of gravity to that of electromagnetism; if the ratio were smaller, there would have been only a short-lived miniature universe; no creatures would grow larger than insects, much less would there be time for biological evolution.

Epsilon (ε) = strength of the force binding nucleons into nuclei and controls the power of the Sun. It has a value of 0.007. If the number deviates say either to 0.006 or 0.008 we could not exist.

Omega (ω) = relative importance of gravity and expansion energy in the Universe; if the ratio were too high the universe would have collapsed long ago; if it were too low, no stars would have formed. In other words, the present universe exists because the value of Omega is just right.

Lambda (λ) = cosmological constant; the biggest scientific news in 1998. It is a cosmic ‘antigravity’ that controls the expansion of the universe. Fortunately, it is surprisingly very small to allow formation of stars and galaxies.

Q = ratio of the gravitational energy required to pull a large galaxy apart to the energy equivalent of its mass; If Q were smaller, the universe would be inert and structureless; if Q were larger it would be a violent place with no stars and dominated by vast black holes.

D = number of spatial dimensions in space-time. String theory for all its worth suggests that the 10 or 11 original dimensions at the origins of the universe were compactified into 3 (Time, the fourth dimension is different as it has a built-in arrow: we ‘move’ only towards the future). Rees observes that if D were two or four life could not exist.

 

Dr. Hugh Ross spells out more concretely why the precise balance of physical constants is absolutely necessary for the emergence of life (Hugh Ross gave 25 such parameters in his book The Creator and the Cosmos).

1. Strong nuclear force constant
if larger: no hydrogen would form; atomic nuclei for most life-essential elements would be unstable; thus, no life chemistry
if smaller: no elements heavier than hydrogen would form: again, no life chemistry

2. Weak nuclear force constant
if larger: too much hydrogen would convert to helium in big bang; hence, stars would convert too much matter into heavy elements
if smaller: too little helium would be produced from big bang; hence, stars would convert too little matter into heavy elements

3. Ratio of electromagnetic force constant to gravitational force constant
if larger: all stars would be at least 1.4 solar masses; hence, stellar burning would be too brief and too uneven for life support
if smaller
: all stars would be no bigger than 0.8 times solar masses, thus incapable of producing heavy elements

4. Expansion rate of the universe
if larger: no galaxies would form
if smaller
: universe would collapse, even before stars formed

5. Mass density of the universe
if larger: too much deuterium from big bang would cause stars to burn too rapidly for life to form
if smaller: insufficient helium from big bang would result in too few heavy elements

6. Initial uniformity of radiation
if more uniform: stars, star clusters, and galaxies would not have formed
if less uniform: universe by now would be mostly black holes and empty space

7. Ratio of neutron mass to proton mass
if higher: neutron decay would yield too few neutrons for the formation of heavy elements essential for life
if lower: proton decay would cause all stars to collapse into neutron stars or black holes

Indeed the ratio between the physical forces (physical constants) must be fine-tuned to amazing order of accuracy given below.

 Fine Tuning of the Physical Constants of the Universe

Parameter

Max. Deviation

Ratio of Electrons: Protons 1:1037
Ratio of Electromagnetic Force: Gravity 1:1040
Expansion Rate of Universe 1:1055
Mass Density of Universe 1:1059
Cosmological Constant 1:10120

 

These numbers represent the maximum deviation from the accepted values, that would either prevent the universe from existing now, not having matter, or be unsuitable for any form of life. The order of accuracy would probably remain an abstract number for most lay readers. Dr. Hugh Ross in his book The Creator and the Cosmos (p. 108) gives a graphic illustration to help the reader grasp the well-nigh impossibility of the universe achieving the required ration based on random occurrence or chance.

“Cover the entire North American continent in dimes all the way up to the moon, a height of about 239,000 miles…Next, pile dimes from here to the moon on a billion other continents the same size as North America. Paint one dime red and mix it into the billions of piles of dimes. Blindfold a friend and ask him to pick out one dime. The odds that he will pick the red dime are one in 1037. And this is only one of the parameters that is so delicately balanced to allow life to form.”

The necessity of precise physical constants must be maintained not only in the realm of physics but also in the realm of biology. The physical constants give a distinctive chemical quality to the Carbon atom which is foundational for formation of all life-forms as we know.

Alister McGrath elaborates,

“The entire [biological] evolutionary process depends upon the unusual chemistry of carbon, which allows it to bond to itself, as well as other elements, creating highly complex molecules that are stable over prevailing terrestrial temperatures, and are capable of conveying genetic information (especially DNA)…Although one might be argued that nature creates its own fine-tuning, this can only be done if the primordial constituents of the universe are such that an evolutionary process can be initiated. The unique chemistry of carbon is the ultimate foundation of the capacity of nature to tune itself.” (A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology, pp. 138-139).

Life emerged only as a result of an exact and unlikely combination of physical conditions pertaining to the strength of gravity and electromagnetic forces, and the precise density of the beginning state of the universe. The slightest departure from their actual values in an early universe would make life impossible.

Going by the immense odds, life could not have emerged through a random process of nature or by chance. But life has emerged from such improbabilities and this suggests some intervention from an agency outside the processes of nature. As one scientist surmises, it seems that some higher intelligence has cooked the physical constants under just the right condition at the beginning of the universe to make life possible.

We can formulate an argument for the existence of God based on the fine-tuning characteristics of the universe as follows:

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe to support life is either due to chance or design
  2. It is not due to chance
  3. Therefore, the fine-tuning is due to design

To conclude, the precise values of the physical constants of nature and the serendipitous state (initial conditions) of the beginning of the universe all point to a cosmic designer who has fine-tuned the universe. The evidence available from contemporary science suggests that theism provides a more plausible explanation for the emergence of life in the universe than naturalism or atheism.

 

Useful Books.

Alister E. McGrath. A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology. WJK 2009.

Hugh Ross. The Creator and the Cosmos. NavPress 1993.

Ropert Spitzer. New Proofs for the Existence of God. Eerdmans 2010.

5 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    What about the idea/theory that there are a large number of many other universes, and ours has the necessary laws and conditions to create life? Is this idea substantiated by any physical or theoretical evidence?

    And if so, does this make the likelihood of the presence of conditions necessary for life higher than assuming there are no multiple parallel universes?

  2. Kam Weng says:

    Wow, multiverse and endless contestation. Will just scribble a few quick points.

    Some atheists postulate that if there exists a multiverse (multiple universes) where each of these universes has a different set of physical laws, then the question of fine-tuning becomes irrelevant since with infinite possibilities every thing is possible.

    I shall only raise a few problems for the theory of multiverse, as this is only a footnote discussion and not an independent post.

    First, resorting to a multiverse violates the principle of parsimony or Ockham razor. Scientific reasoning always works with a minimum number of assumptions and limited explanatory causes. Now we are asked to factor in infinite possibilities and causes!

    Appealing to infinite possibilities says everything and nothing. For example, if you are playing cards with me and I win all the time by drawing all four aces, you want to find out how I made that possible (possibly cheating). A multiverse card player should just raise his hands, curse his luck and say, “What to do, we live in a multiverse where everything is possible?” Obviously, a postulated infinity kills off any interest in finding out scientific reasons to explain some unexpected phenomenon. It is an abdication from scientific pursuit that is premised on the assumption that we should opt for explanations that are natural extrapolations from concrete evidence that we have independent access to.

    Worse still, a multiverse is in principle inaccessible (multiple universes can be imagined as independent soap bubbles in an ocean of energy). That would be a problem for scientists who argue that what differentiates science from metaphysics is the possibility of falsification (Karl Popper). The postulation of multiverse (including string theory) can never be proven right or wrong because in principle we cannot access or verify if other universes exist, much less if they provide the right conditions for life – and the conditions for life multiply endless for infinite conceptions of what life is possible in the first place.

    Let’s be honest, so far the idea of a multiverse remains at the level of conceptual possibility and mathematical equations. There is no agreement among cosmologists about what initial or boundary conditions are needed to what configure possible life (again endlessly redefined with endless variations). It is all speculation. Hawkins himself asked, “Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” For me it is the Creator or super mind. Well, in contrast to inaccessible multi-universes, I can project from minds we know (empirically and psychologically) to the super mind that fine-tunes the universe for life.

    Second, even postulating multiverse only pushes the explanatory problem one step backwards et infinitum. Robin Collins observes, the MUH (Many Worlds Hypothesis) needs a “many-universes generator” (MUG) and the MUG seems to need to have been designed. Such a generator is governed by a complex set of physical laws that allows it to produce the universes. The question is, “how come we have just the right fitting MUG, or another MUG behind the MUG etc.?

    Of course the hard-core atheist is prepared to postulate an infinite number of MUGs behind MUGs. The challenge for the atheist would be the problem of actual infinite (Hibbert). While we may talk about potential infinites, the concept of actual infinites raises paradoxes and contradictions (re: the well known puzzles from Hibbert hotels or checking out books from an infinite library). In short, there is no actual infinite (I grant this is a controversial mathematical position); hence there is no actual infinite number of MUGs. The challenge of fine-tuning remains.

    Maybe the atheist just simply postulates the existence infinite (eternal) MUGs. In this case, he is exercising the same faith as the theist who postulates the existence of a personal creator God. In the end, it is a choice of one’s ultimate principle or presupposition – either eternal impersonal matter or an eternal personal God. That being the case, the atheist should not claim epistemological superiority against the theist. Both are exercising faith. At least, the theist can appeal to corroborative evidence – historical revelation and religious experience etc. What corroborative evidence or experience would the atheist offer?

    Finally, a theist can accommodate the possibility of multiple universes (for the sake of argument) since it is arguable that we do not need to restrict or impoverish ourselves to only one universe if there is an infinite creator. These ‘universes’ first existed in the mind of God. Creation (multiple universes) is what God ‘spoke into existence.’ That is to say, creation is a concretization, a translation of what was in God’s mind from eternity. Creation (multiple universes) is a true and accurate translation of God’s infinite thoughts although by definition this translation is also a partial (finite, dependent and mutable) image of the thoughts of an infinite and immutable God.

    Obviously, we are moving into deep metaphysics. But this is precisely the point. Once we project beyond the observable universe (into multiverse) we have moved from science to metaphysics. Multiverse exponents pretend to be doing science with their theory when they are doing metaphysics. In contrast the theist is honest about the metaphysical status of his doctrine of creation (which hopefully is substantiated by some measure of scientific corroboration).

    In the end, for the reasons given above, I see no reason to abandon theism and fine-tuning in exchange for what is arguably an equally, if not more speculative multiverse postulate that is completely unfalsifiable. We should echo Karl Popper and declare that the theory of multiverse is a metaphysical doctrine and not a scientific hypothesis.

  3. Paul Long says:

    Thanks doc!

  4. Hi

    I think the various theories have confused the reality that God actually made the world in the 6 days He declared in Genesis. Yes, the watchmaker thesis points to an intelligent designer. Equilibrium exists because God made it that way.

    But God did not use the theory of evolution and He did not indicate life in other universes (in your defense of a multiverse) unless you consider spirit beings like angels and demons in this defense. Anyway, multiverses et al remains theorems, not laws. Much like the Oort Cloud theory to explain how to replace lost comets and energy. Far away and long enough beyond imagination can explain anything but not prove it scientifically. It will forever remain a theory until proven wrong one day.

    We do not need to reconcile theories with God’s clear declaration on how He did it as He was the only one witnessing the Creation Days – our Triune Godhead. God says what He means and means what He says without us trying to reconcile various theories to God’s creation work.

    But thanks for the boldness to discuss such things that allow people to think and consider various alternatives.

    With due respect to Hugh Ross, he has totally missed the point and believing in homonids without spirit prior to the arrival of Adam is a clear insult to God’s word, and all because of trying to reconcile the theory of evolution to Genesis. God made man, not apes to evolve to become a living man with a spirit.

    Yes, a it is a young earth after all.

  5. Obviously a designer universe and multiverse theory are both equally unfalsifiable, so both possibilities must be left on the table. However, to bring up Occam’s razor: multiverse theory actually makes far fewer premises than the theory of either a designer universe or a single universe. As for the latter if our universe is the only one (a possibility I consider far less likely than that of a designer universe), this assumes that our universe somehow came into being without a cause, and that there was nothing to determine how or when this would happen, which is as unscientific as a theory can go.

    As for the theory of a designer universe, we have to keep in mind that a designer would themself have to live in a universe that either evolved or was created, so it only begs the question how their universe came into being. At some point, we need multiverse theory to solve the problem anyway, and it’s more probable that we’re in one of the evolved universes than that we’re in one of the designed universes, but even if we aren’t, it would be just as interesting to ask ourselves how the designer’s universe came into being. Again, the only answer we can think of is multiverse theory.