Why I Am a Christian (Part Four): Fine Tuning for Discoverability

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.

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Evidence for design keeps stacking up…

Previous articles in this series:

Why I Am a Christian (Part One)

Why I Am a Christian (Part Two): Because There Is Stuff

Why I am a Christian (Part Three): Fine Tuning (or, Design of the Cosmos)

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.

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Galactic Habitable Zone

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.

Privileged Planet (video documentary) playlist

Fine Tuning for Discoverability-Robin Collins

The Place of Life and Man in Nature: Defending the Anthropocentric Thesis – Michael J. Denton

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.

Why I am a Christian (Part Three): Fine Tuning (or, Design of the Cosmos)

In my previous article about the evidence I see in nature of a creator God, (Why I Am a Christian (Part Two): Because There Is Stuff) I talked about the beginning of the universe and how a beginning requires a beginner. It turns out that not only does the scientific evidence seem to indicate an absolute beginning to the universe, but that the universe itself has been finely tuned in order to allow life to exist. Taken further, the conditions of our little corner of space (the planet earth) seem to be tuned in order to allow intelligent observers (us).

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This universe is juuust riiight…

Scientists have observed that the properties of the universe seem to be uniquely “fine tuned” in order to make life possible. Sir Fred Hoyle, an English astronomer and the person credited with the term “Big Bang”, famously said

Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question. [Emphasis mine]

And this is just regarding the formation of the carbon atom (which, incidentally, is an absolute necessity for carbon based life)! Some other examples of fine tuning (there are many) include the strong and weak nuclear forces (that determine what kind of atoms are possible), gravitational forces (too much and everything collapses, too little and everything flies apart), spectrum of light (our sun provides just the right wavelength), distance of planet from sun (the earth is just the right distance)… the list goes on and on. Because of these “just right” conditions, some have said that the earth is located in a ” Goldilocks” zone.

There have been several different approaches by science to avoid what they see as “the problem of fine tuning“. One of the answers that has been proposed goes along the lines of “The only reason we can question these things is because we are here to observe them.” That is correct, as far as it goes, but given the overwhelming odds that all of these values are what they are, and that if any one of them had been off by the smallest fraction life and indeed the universe as we know it would not exist, we are entirely justified in asking “Why?”!

Another attempt to avoid this problem is the “multiverse hypothesis”, which I have addressed in “Patch” articles  here and here. Briefly, the argument goes that if there is an infinity of universes created at random, then it comes as no surprise that our particular universe has the parameters we find in it. This hypothesis, however, also fails to totally avoid the issue for both scientific and philosophical reasons. Scientifically, a multiverse generating mechanism must itself be “fine tuned.” Philosophically, God is still the most plausible explanation for the origination of the multiverse.

The “problem” of fine tuning remains. The universe and our planet give the strong appearance of having been designed to support life. Now those who have been following my blog can probably anticipate my next thought: fine tuning requires a “tuner”, and of course design implies a designer. If your view is that of a materialist (the physical is all there is) then these things may present a “problem.” For the Christian, it is another “evidence of things not seen.” We also see that taken together, the evidence we have for the beginning of the universe coupled with the evidence for fine tuning begin to build a more solid foundation for the reasonableness of God’s existence.

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.

Previous articles in this series:

Why I Am a Christian (Part One)

Why I Am a Christian (Part Two): Because There Is Stuff

Why I Am a Christian (Part Two): Because There Is Stuff

Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, let’s jump right into it. There are several lines of reasoning that, to me, offer compelling evidence to believe in the God of the Bible, in Jesus of Nazareth, and the veracity of the Old and New Testament historical accounts.

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A Creator God: The most reasonable conclusion

Belief in a Creator God

This issue is the easiest to address in my mind. There are several philosophical arguments that one can use to come to the conclusion that it is more reasonable to believe in a creator God than it is to hold there is no such being. First, in my mind, is the fact that there is anything at all. When we look at the “stuff” around us we realize that everything we see is temporal (finitely existing in time) and that it had a cause. If we trace the causation of each thing back, we realize that the cause had a cause, and etc. At this point we can infer one of two things: either there is an unbroken and infinite causal chain, going back into eternity past, or, more parsimoniously and probably, at some point in the finite past, there was a first cause.

Science actually confirms, as nearly as possible, that there is indeed a first cause. Here’s how: back in the early twentieth century, a man named Edwin Hubble discovered that our universe is undergoing constant expansion. Everything in the observable universe is actually moving farther apart from everything else. This was a huge surprise for scientists at the time, because if you simply “rewind the tape” you inevitably come to the conclusion that there had to be an absolute beginning. Many scientists of that day (and this day as well) did not like that implication and there have been several theories proposed to try to “rescue” the universe from an absolute beginning, but to this day all of the evidence we have from science (via observation and testable and repeatable experimentation) is that the universe did indeed have an absolute beginning.

In my article on the subject I walked through the reasons why positing God as the “Big Banger” is the most reasonable inference for the beginning of the universe. The most compelling and easily understood philosophical argument, in my mind, is what is commonly referred to as the Kalaam Cosmological Argument. It posits two premises followed by the conclusion that most naturally follows. Here it is in its simplest form:

Kalaam Cosmological Argument

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. God is the most reasonable explanation for the existence of the universe.

In my article entitled “Why is there SOMEthing and not NOthing?” I explain the reasoning behind the first two premises, and flesh out the conclusion.

There are similar arguments that trade on the need for a contingent being, and they follow through as well, but they are also more nuanced than the Kalaam. Perhaps down the road we can look at those types of arguments more closely. However, the Kalaam Cosmological Argument serves to show that belief in a creator God is indeed the most reasonable conclusion, given the evidence from science and observation that is available to us today.

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.

Stephen Hawking and Haman; Kindred Spirits

 

He taketh the wise in their own craftiness…

Who is Stephen Hawking? A prominent physicist, very famous, referred to by some as a modern-day Einstein. Stephen Hawking is one of the most famous scientists in the area of cosmology. In his book, “The Grand Design”, Stephen Hawking writes:

“as recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch-paper and set the universe going.” (Emphasis mine)

Let me tell you a story about two fellows in the Bible named Haman and Mordecai. Their story can be found in the book of Esther, which is a really good read and doesn’t take much time, if you are so inclined. Haman had been promoted to a very high position in the king’s court, while Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, held some type of functionary position. Haman enjoyed having the people bow and scrape before him, but to his great displeasure Mordecai refused to do so.

And all the king’s servants, that were in the king’s gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence. (Esther 3:2)

You would think that Haman would have been satisfied with his position and the respect he got from everyone save one old Jew, but of course he was not. He just couldn’t let it go.

Then went Haman forth that day joyful and with a glad heart: but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, that he stood not up, nor moved for him, he was full of indignation against Mordecai. Nevertheless Haman refrained himself: and when he came home, he sent and called for his friends, and Zeresh his wife. And Haman told them of the glory of his riches, and the multitude of his children, and all the things wherein the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the princes and servants of the king. Haman said moreover, Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come in with the king unto the banquet that she had prepared but myself; and to morrow am I invited unto her also with the king. Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate. Then said Zeresh his wife and all his friends unto him, Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and to morrow speak thou unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon: then go thou in merrily with the king unto the banquet. And the thing pleased Haman; and he caused the gallows to be made. (Esther 5:9-14)

That very night, by an amazing coincidence, the king couldn’t sleep a wink. So he had the royal chronicles brought to him and read them out of boredom. It happened that prior to all of these events, Mordecai had foiled an assassination attempt on the king’s life, but was never recognized or rewarded. So just about the time Haman comes be-bopping into his chambers to ask the king to hang Mordecai, the king asks him:

So Haman came in. And the king said unto him, What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour? Now Haman thought in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself? (Esther 6:6)

So Haman, thinking the king wants to honor him, says:

…For the man whom the king delighteth to honour, Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head: And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour. (Esther 6:7-9)

It turns out the king thought this was a capital idea, and commanded Haman to do that very thing for Mordecai. Can you imagine Haman’s surprise when he found out the king was talking about Mordecai? Can you imagine how Haman felt as he led Mordecai through town to the adulation of the king’s subjects? Not only that, but Haman (and his family) ended up being hung on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai. This is known, in today’s parlance, as receiving “come-uppance.” There are, it turns out, some very applicable Bible teachings on this situation:

The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken. The LORD is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. (Palms 9:15-16) He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong. (Job 5:13)

Now, you are asking, what does all this have to do with Stephen Hawking? Here’s the thing: Stephen Hawking, by ruling out God as the creator of the universe, has wedded himself to “Scientific Determinism.” Simply put, everything that happens is the result of particles (atoms, molecules, etc.) interacting with physics. Just like a in long chain of dominoes falling, each individual domino falls in accordance with the physics of the previous domino striking it. The individual dominoes have no choice to stand or fall, nor can they choose where and how to fall. You, my friend, and I, are just dominoes in the line (according to Hawking).

“It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion. ” (Emphasis mine)

What are the consequences of this view? Well, here are a few. If Hawking is right, and it’s all just dominoes, then he had no choice to write his book, and had no control over the things he wrote. He has no way or even ability to know if the things he has written are true. Anything he wrote has no more meaning than if a monkey had banged it out on a typewriter. Do you think Stephen Hawking really believes that? I don’t believe it, and I don’t think Hawking does either. How about you, dear reader?

If Hawking is right, then I have no choice but to believe the way I do, just as he has none (and you either!). The people who bought his book were determined (by the laws of physics and chemistry) to do so. However, if he wrote the book because he made a choice to do so (an act of free will), then he has just negated what he has said in his book. Stephen Hawking has “hung” his book in a gallows he made to hang another (God, in this case).

He taketh the wise in their own craftiness…

Over all, it looks like Mr. Hawking needs to go back to the drawing board. Somehow he needs to come up with a model of the origin of the universe that allows for free will. I have an idea, Mr. Hawking… read the first chapter of Genesis.

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.

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.

P.S. Of course I realize that Stephen Hawking has forgotten more science than I will ever know. This article is not about knowledge of science, or intelligence, and is in no way meant to be derogatory to Mr. Hawking. At issue is his acceptance of Scientific Determinism. Let’s discuss that in your comments!

Previous Writings Published on “The Patch” (Part 1)

About a year ago, I started publishing articles on a web site called “The Patch“, which a actually collection of sites specific to local communities. I started posting in the Woodstock Patch, and branched out from there to cover much of the metro-Atlanta area and even some other states. “The Patch” has recently undergone a major reformat, and thus far the tools provided to post articles on the new platform seem to be somewhat of a downgrade from what they were previously.

I tried somewhat to start working on a foundational basis of explaining why the Christian worldview is a reasonable worldview to hold. Here I will list links to the articles I posted there, and along the way I might pull them out, dust them off, and re-post them. Take a look. Let me know what you think!

CLIMATE CHANGE!! GLOBAL WARMING!! THE SKY IS FALLING!! Or is it?

Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear how man-caused climate change/global warming is in danger of making our planet an inhospitable desert unfit to live on. How do we deal with this information?

Christianity: A “Blind” Faith?

Is the Christian faith a “blind” faith, or are there good, solid reasons to hold the beliefs that we do? Hopefully we can answer this question together over a series of articles on some of the foundations of the Christian faith.

Climate change, Consensus, and Galileo

This is a follow-up post to my article on Climate Change/Global Warming (CCGW). Some issues were raised in the reader comments that were too lengthy to follow up on there, so I decided to post my reply as another article.

Why is there SOMEthing and not NOthing?

It was a difficult decision to try and figure out where to begin this series, but ultimately I decided to begin at the beginning! It seems like a natural “jumping off point” and after all, if we can’t trust Genesis 1:1, well what can we trust?

Why is there SOMEthing and not NOthing? (A response to critics)

My previous post seemed to draw the ire of several people who disagreed with my conclusions. I invite everyone to read the article and the comments by my detractors.

The “Art” of Discussion (AKA Argumentation)

I prefer to use the word “discussion” over “argument” because of the popular perception of the latter, but whatever you call it, it can be productive if pursued properly.

Multiverse? A note on the difference between observation and speculation…

Sometimes you hear something that makes you think of the Athenians during the time of the Apostle Paul. “[They] spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” Acts 17:21

God Did It: Ignorance or Best Answer?

Is it really a huge “Leap of Faith” to believe in an all-powerful God that has created our universe?

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