In my last article in this series we talked about how the universe appears to be finely tuned for life, and particularly for intelligent life (ie human beings). This is only part of the “design argument” as some have called it.
Previous articles in this series:
To take the design argument a step further, not only does the universe appear to be designed to support our particular species, but it also seems that the designer has woven the fabric of the cosmos together in such a way that the very conditions which make our existence possible here on Earth also lend advantage to our ability to discover those conditions, and much more.
The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. -Albert Einstein
The Human Mind – Before I talk more about the physical properties of the universe and our little corner of it, I want to talk about the human mind. We have been uniquely gifted with an infinitely curious nature, and the ability to think about and learn about all of the things related, not only to this particular discussion, but to a multitude of other subjects, both real (actually existing), abstract (such as mathematics), and non-existent (such as unicorns and vampires). Human beings are the only known creatures in existence that have these unique mental properties. You can read more about the improbabilities involved in the possibility of similar life forms evolving elsewhere in the universe, purely through naturalistic processes, here.
Given that the universe is inordinately vast, is it therefore reasonable to claim that intelligent extraterrestrial life almost certainly exists elsewhere in the universe? Not at all. Multiplying the many scenarios which led to the human developments of symbolic language, mathematical understanding, and advanced technology quickly leads to probabilities which are easily as insanely small as the universe is ridiculously large. [emphasis mine]
Discoverability: the right time – In addition to the qualities of the human mind, it is also difficult to account for the fact that we (humanity) are living at just the right time in cosmic history to observe the very conditions and circumstances that cause us to question whether or not the cosmos is designed in the first place. In a paper authored by Lawrence M. Krauss (certainly no friend to theism) and Robert J. Scherrer entitled “The End of Cosmology“, the authors have made the following observations. (Note, the quotations are not contiguous. Please read the entire article for context.)
We may be living in the only epoch in the history of the universe when scientists can achieve an accurate understanding of the true nature of the universe.
What will the scientists of the future see as they peer into the skies 100 billion years from now? … The big difference will occur when these future scientists build telescopes capable of detecting galaxies outside our own. They won’t see any! The nearby galaxies will have merged with the Milky Way to form one large galaxy, and essentially all the other galaxies will be long gone, having escaped beyond the event horizon.
We are led inexorably to a very strange conclusion. The window during which intelligent observers can deduce the true nature of our expanding universe might be very short indeed.
Rather than being self-satisfied, we should feel humble. Perhaps someday we will find that our current careful and apparently complete understanding of the universe is seriously wanting. [emphasis mine]
Now, 100 billion years may seem like a long time, but as the authors admit, it “may seem long but is fairly short compared to
the wilderness of eternity.” So, the obvious question would seem to be, given the insanely small (naturalistically speaking) probability of our existence, “Why us? Why now?”
Discoverability: Our Place in the Galaxy – The “galactic habitable zone” is defined as that area of the galaxy that is life permitting (see graphic). As you can see, this zone is roughly circular, about halfway out from the center, and in between the spiral arms of our galaxy. The reasons for this seemingly narrow area of habitability are varied, ranging from radiation from stars destroyed by the supermassive black hole in the center of the galaxy to a lack of the heavy elements needed for earth to form out near the periphery. For more specifics on this subject, you can read this article at Astrobiology Magazine.
It turns out that the very conditions which make our solar system’s location in the Milky Way advantageous for life also make it possible for intelligent life (such as human beings) to explore their surroundings in the galaxy and universe. Because our solar system is located between the clusters within the spiral arms, we can view both the shape and structure of the Milky Way galaxy and much of the universe at large. If we were closer to the center of the galaxy, or located within one of the spiral arms, stellar dust and gaseous clouds illuminated by nearby starlight would severely inhibit our ability to see very far, no matter how powerful the telescopes we were using. Why should the one (habitability) so closely coincide with the other (discoverability)?
Discoverability: Earth’s Atmosphere – From National Geographic: “The Earth’s atmosphere is more than just the air we breathe. It’s also a buffer that keeps us from being peppered by meteorites, a screen against deadly radiation, and the reason radio waves can be bounced for long distances around the planet.” Earth is the only planet in the solar system with a clear atmosphere. If we had an atmosphere like Saturn, or Jupiter, we obviously could not observe very much from the surface of our planet (not to mention that type of atmosphere is inhospitable to life). The very qualities of our atmosphere that protect us from danger and enable us to breathe also lend to our ability to discover the universe around us.
A Note on Observers: As a Marine, one of the jobs I trained for was Forward Observer (FO). The FO’s purpose was to survey the battlefield and call adjustments back to the indirect firing batteries (ie mortar reams, artillery batteries, air-to-ground strike forces) so that the ordinance was delivered to the proper locations to disrupt or destroy enemy positions and operations. When the commander positions his FO, he chooses the most likely position from which the FO can see the battlefield while also trying to minimize risk to the FO from the enemy.
The location of earth and humanity in our universe seems to follow these guidelines with respect to observation and discoverability as well.
I have mentioned just a few of the features of the universe that appear to be finely tuned which also make discoverability possible for intelligent life (ie human beings). I will also give you some links so you can check these things out yourself.
Those who disagree with the idea of a designer will of course say that it is only a happy coincidence that:
- the values for so many of the fundamental universal constants are such that they allow humanity to exist
- the unique qualities of our solar system and the planet earth are uniquely fitted to allow for humanity to exist
- many of these same constants and qualities that make humanity’s existence possible also place us in a privileged position to discover, observe and study our universe and surroundings.
My question to them is at what point do we look at the mounting pile of coincidences and ask ourselves “are these really coincidences after all or is there something else going on here?”
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
I’d love to discuss these things with you. Any questions and comments that are in line with this page’s Commenting Policy will be published and responded to (to the best of my ability).
For more information on how I keep my worldview informed please go to Cross Roads Church.