Why think there is a God? (2) Goldilocks Effect

Those unfamiliar with astrophysics might get the impression that the Big Bang was just a random explosion of energy that just happened to produce galaxies with stars and at least one planet capable of supporting intelligent life. But nothing could be further from the truth. The more physicists have learnt about the conditions for a stable universe, and in particular a universe capable of sustaining intelligent life, the more it seems that the Big Bang must have been very finely tuned. Like Goldilocks porridge, the universe had to be just right.

One example of this fine tuning is the strength of gravitational force. If gravitational force were too strong then matter would clump together, if gravitational force were too weak then bounds between particles would be too weak. In either case, stars like our Sun could not have formed and without the Sun, life on planet could not exist. But what is really surprising is just how particular fine tuning is. If the strength of gravitational force had differed by one part in 1040 then our Sun could not exist. (1040 is scientific notation for a 1 followed by 40 zeroes, or in other words, ten thousand billion billion billion billion).

And the strength of gravitational force is just one example of many conditions that are remarkably finely tuned. Other examples include the difference in mass between a proton and neutron, and the density of the universe.

The point about these examples is not simply that they are improbable, but that they are crying out for an explanation. Imagine if you replayed the Big Bang over and over again, billions upon billions of times. And imagine that each time there was a Big Bang, you changed one of starting conditions (say, gravitational force) by a small degree. In almost every case the universe that emerged would either quickly collapse in on itself or would be entirely made up of hydrogen and helium; the scenarios under which the Big Bang produced a universe capable of sustaining intelligent life would be a tiny tiny percentage. This specified complexity requires an explanation and for a lot of people that explanation is a Designer.

And these examples of fine-tuning are not controversial. The physicist Paul Davies has written, “everyone agrees that the universe looks as if it was designed for life”. Both believers and non-believers agree that these remarkable coincidences require an explanation. However, there have been some attempts to propose an explanation that doesn’t require a Designer. Perhaps the most common alternative is the multiverse explanation, whereby there just are billions upon billions of universes and eventually one of them would turn out to be like ours. It is questionable whether this is a better explanation. Firstly, the multiverse is entirely theoretical and it is not clear how one might go about trying to prove it. Secondly, it seems odd to choose to hypothesize billions upon billions of universes just to escape the existence of one God. Thirdly, the multiverse hypothesis seems to complicate, not simplify the fine-tuning, as now one has to explain the origin of billions upon billions of universes.

God is the most straightforward explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe.

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Preceding article: Why think there’s a God? (1): Something from Nothing

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WMAP image of the (extremely tiny) anisotropie...

WMAP image of the (extremely tiny) anisotropies in the cosmic background radiation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Dr. Robin Collins explains two kinds of cosmic fine-tuning (winteryknight.wordpress.com)
    I was busy working my way through “Debating Christian Theism“, a book published by Oxford University Press in August 2013. It features about 20 different topics from science, to philosophy, to history. For each topic, there is an essay by a world-class scholar in favor, and one opposed. So you get both sides of many interesting issues, at a very advanced level. The section on cosmic fine-tuning features a chapter written by Dr. Robin Collins.
  • Evidence For Universe Inflation Theory May Lurk In New Data From Planck Space Probe (mukeshbalani.wordpress.com)
    At first, there was nothing — complete and utter emptiness. Zero energy and zero matter.

    And then, out of this nothingness, the universe was born. Tiny, but extremely dense and packed with energy. And then, within a miniscule fraction of a second, it rapidly grew in size — inflated — by at least a factor of 10raised to the 25th power.

    This theory, known as inflation, is currently the dominant explanation for what happened after the Big Bang and for how the universe came to be the way it is today. But although many scientists now believe that inflation did indeed take place, they still don’t know how or why it started, or how it stopped. And so far, there hasn’t been any solid experimental evidence for this accelerated expansion. [8 Baffling Astronomy Mysteries]

    Scientists hope that in just a few months they might start to unravel the riddle, when they examine the next set of data from the Planck satellite. Since 2009, this radio telescope, run by the European Space Agency (ESA), has been mapping the oldest light in the universe.

  • Come Reason’s Apologetics Notes: Can Infinite Universes Explain Fine-Tuning? (christianreasons.com)
    Barrow & Tipler, in their landmark book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, note that if Einstein’s cosmological constant varied in either direction by as little as 1 x 10120, (which is a fraction so small that it would take more zeros to write than there are atoms in the universe) If this were to be changed by even that amount, the universe would expand too fast for galaxies & stars to form.
  • Craig’s Five Ways, Part One [EvolutionBlog] (scienceblogs.com)
    Writing in the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas famously presented his “five ways” to prove that God exists. He relied largely on extrapolations from observable phenomena in our daily experience to grand claims about the origins of it all. Thus, he argued from the presence of motion in the natural world to an unmoved mover behind it all, or from the contingency of existence in the natural world to the presence of a necessary existent, and so on.

    These arguments have received detailed philosophical development over the years, from Aquinas and from many others, but they have not fared well. Few philosophers nowadays defend them, and for good reason. All of them rest on dubious premises, and their conclusions are generally underwhelming. (For example, there might be a necessary existent, but why should we equate a necessary existent with God?)

  • William Lane Craig debates Lawrence Krauss in North Carolina: Does God Exist? (winteryknight.wordpress.com)
    Would you like to hear a debate featuring the least intelligent atheist ever? Well, this is a good candidate.

    The full transcript of the debate is here at the Reasonable Faith web site.

    Audio of the William Lane Craig vs. Lawrence Krauss debate at North Carolina State University has now been posted at Apologetics 315. The people who recorded it did not do a good job, though.

    And I also posted some background information on Craig’s arguments.

  • Video, audio and summary of Wiliam Lane Craig vs Peter Millican debate (winteryknight.wordpress.com)

    This debate on “Does God Exist?” took place in front of a capacity audience at the Great Hall, University of Birmingham. It was recorded on Friday 21st October 2011 as part of the UK Reasonable Faith Tour with William Lane Craig.

    William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, California and a leading philosopher of religion. Peter Millican is Gilbert Ryle Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, University of Oxford and a noted scholar in studies of Hume.

    The debate was hosted by the University of Birmingham Student Philosophy Society, and the debate was moderated by Professor Carl Chinn.

  • Did Alien Life Evolve Just After the Big Bang? (lunaticoutpost.com)
    Traditionally, astrobiologists keen on solving the mystery of the origin of life in the universe look for planets in habitable zones around stars. Also known as Goldilocks zones, these regions are considered to be just the right distance away from stars for liquid water, a pre-requisite for life as we know it, to exist.

    But even exoplanets that orbit far beyond the habitable zone may have been able to support life in the distant past, warmed by the relic radiation left over from the Big Bang that created the universe 13.8 billion years ago, says Harvard astrophysicist Abraham Loeb.

  • Did Alien Life Evolve Just After the Big Bang? (space.com)
    “When the universe was 15 million years old, the cosmic microwave background had a temperature of a warm summer day on Earth,” he said. “If rocky planets existed at that epoch, then the CMB could have kept their surface warm even if they did not reside in the habitable zone around their parent star.” [Gallery: Planck Spacecraft Sees Big Bang Relics]

    But the question is whether planets — and especially rocky planets — could already have formed at that early epoch.

    According to the standard cosmological model, the very first stars started to form out of hydrogen and helium tens of millions of years after the Big Bang. No heavy elements, which are necessary for planet formation, were around yet.

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12 thoughts on “Why think there is a God? (2) Goldilocks Effect

  1. Dear me, there’s so many problems with this posting.
    The greatest problem is that it proposes that the most simplistic explanation (magic) must be the right explanation.
    Richard Carrier stated this argument in an interview with TheBestSchools:
    “Similarly the “fine tuning” of the universe’s physical constants: that would be a great proof—if it wasn’t exactly the same thing we’d see if a god didn’t exist. If there is no god, we will only ever find ourselves in a universe finely tuned (in that case, by random chance), because without a god, there is no other kind of universe that can produce us. Likewise, a universe that produced us by chance would have to be enormously vast in size and enormously old, so as to have all the room to mix countless chemicals countless times in countless places so as to have any chance of accidentally kicking up something as complex as life. And that’s exactly the universe we see: one enormously vast in size and age. A godless universe would also only produce life rarely and sparingly, and that’s also what we see: by far most of the universe is lethal to life (being a deadly radiation filled vacuum) and by far most of the matter in the universe is lethal to life (constituting stars and black holes on which no life can ever live). Again, all exactly what we’d expect of a godless universe. Not what we’d expect of a god-made one.”
    The fine tuning argument is very poor, and all items raised above have been addressed by science MANY times. The ONLY advocates of this argument are theists – it is not taken seriously by accomplishes physicists (by the way your ad hominem comments on Lawrence Krauss were nonsensical – arguing that someone held in high regard in the domain of science is the least intelligent atheist only betrays your apparent ignorance)
    Does it not bother you that you need to resort to these nonsense arguments to “prove” your god exists?

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  2. Thanks Scott for response.

    Firstly, calling Lawrence Krauss “the least intelligent atheist” wasn’t my comment – I think it came from the post linked. Hope that clears that up for you.

    Secondly, just a few thoughts. You say that it is only theists that advocate fine-tuning. That’s not the way it seems to me when I read philosophy journals. The fine-tuning is a genuine problem for atheists because this kind of “coincidence” seems to demand an explanation. The Richard Carrier quote seems to miss the point. This universe we inhabit is not likely on atheism. This universe is one of tiny fraction of universes on the spectrum of possible universes. The most likely universe is a universe of just hydrogen and helium molecules. The fact that the universe is the way it is requires an explanation. Also, I’m not sure why Richard Carrier assumes that if there is a God, he wouldn’t create a universe like ours – what is he basing that on? Lastly, no-one is suggesting the most simplistic explanation must be the right one – certainly no-one is talking about magic. But usually the most straightforward explanation is the right one.

    I hope that helps.

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    • Hi – thanks for the thoughtful reply.

      I think the Richard Carrier quote was just trying to put into perspective the vastness of the universe, and it’s unthinkable that billions of stars and planets would be created by a god just so we can look up at night – there’s just too much redundancy (not to mention the stars we can’t see with the naked eye)

      This fine-tuning argument is completely debunked. Very simply, if certain constants were different, we wouldn’t be here, or somethig else would be here, or we’d exist on a different planet.

      How can you claim fine tuning when the universe is such an inhospitable place? We live in an incredibly inhospitable universe, galaxy, solar system & even planet – there’s not even much of the planet that can be habitated by humans. Why would you think this suggests it’s tuned, let alone finely tuned?

      Whether you call god’s works miracles or magic, they are supernatural in nature & are neither observable or testable. Doesn’t it strike you as strange that such events seemed almost commonplace in Biblical times, but have halted with advent of science & ability of man to test such claims? The only miracles still claimed are crying/bleeding figurines of Jesus & Mary – all of which are easily debunked if tested.

      You’re right re H & He being the building blocks in the universe, but nuclear fusion within stars is established as the way heavier elements are produced. There is no mystery.

      In summary, this fine tuning argument is an argument from ignorance (god of the gaps) – you’re simply asserting that we don’t know why something happens to be, therefore “god”.

      Appreciate your time

      Scott

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      • Hi Scott,

        Interesting thoughts but I don’t think you’re is as conclusive as you think it is.

        Regarding redundancy, we can only make that judgment if we know God’s purposes. If God is only interested in this planet then the rest of the universe might seem redundant, but why assume this planet is the only thing God is interested in. I see no reason to dismiss other purposes.

        The fine-tuning argument hasn’t been debunked. The alternative you seem to be referring to is the anthropic principle (i.e. that if the universe wasn’t the way it is then we wouldn’t be around to observe). This is true but unhelpful because it doesn’t explain anything. It just says “we are very very lucky” – that’s not an explanation.

        The evidence for fine-tuning doesn’t depend on outcomes. Yes, much of the universe is uninhabitable but that doesn’t change the fact that the appearance of our universe by chance is unbelievably improbable.

        Regarding miracles, the fine-tuning argument does not prescribe how God created the universe. But yes, by definition the work of God would be supernatural. But you seem to think that because some things purporting to be supernatural are false then anything purporting to be supernatural must be false. I see no reason to agree with that. Essentially you are saying, we should never even consider the possibility of supernatural action – that is just deciding the argument before its started.

        Regarding hydrogen and helium, I think you’ve missed my point. The point is that if you re-run the Big Bang over and over again, changing the physical constants slightly each time then almost all the universes produced would be just hydrogen and helium atoms. The nuclear fusion that produces heavier elements would only happen in a tiny fraction of the universes. That is the essence of the fine-tuning argument. Why are we the lucky universe?

        And lastly, no, the fine-tuning argument is not God-of-the-gaps. It would be a God-of-the-gaps argument would be “we don’t know how to explain the universe, therefore it is God”. That is not the fine-tuning argument. The fine-tuning argument is an argument to the best explanation.

        Hope that helps.

        Tom

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        • Hi Tom

          Here’s a few more thoughts for consideration

          The claim assumes life in its present form is a given; it applies not to life but to life only as we know it. The same outcome results if life is fine-tuned to the cosmos.

          We do not know what fundamental conditions would rule out any possibility of any life. For all we know, there might be intelligent beings in another universe arguing that if fundamental constants were only slightly different, then the absence of free quarks and the extreme weakness of gravity would make life impossible.

          Indeed, many examples of fine-tuning are evidence that life is fine-tuned to the cosmos, not vice versa. This is exactly what evolution proposes. If the universe is fine-tuned for life, why is life such an extremely rare part of it?

          How fine is “fine” anyway? That question can only be answered by a human judgment call, which reduces or removes objective value from the anthropic principle argument.

          The fine-tuning claim is weakened by the fact that some physical constants are dependent on others, so the anthropic principle may rest on only a very few initial conditions that are really fundamental. It is further weakened by the fact that different initial conditions sometimes lead to essentially the same outcomes, as with the initial mass of stars and their formation of heavy metals, or that the tuning may not be very fine, as with the resonance window for helium fusion within the sun. For all we know, a universe substantially different from ours may be improbable or even impossible.

          If part of the universe were not suitable for life, we would not be here to think about it. There is nothing to rule out the possibility of multiple universes, most of which would be unsuitable for life. We happen to find ourselves in one where life is conveniently possible because we cannot very well be anywhere else.

          Intelligent design is not a logical conclusion of fine tuning. Fine tuning says nothing about motives or methods, which is how design is defined. (The scarcity of life and multi-billion-year delay in it appearing argue against life being a motive.) Fine-tuning, if it exists, may result from other causes, as yet unknown, or for no reason at all.

          In fact, the anthropic principle is an argument against an omnipotent creator. If God can do anything, he could create life in a universe whose conditions do not allow for it.

          Like

          • Scott,

            Sorry, but now you appear to be clutching at straws. You say “For all we know, a universe substantially different from ours may be improbable or even impossible”. This is just special pleading. Right now, the best scientific evidence is that there are billions of different options for the universe could have been, but almost all them would not even have heavy elements let alone life. That is the thing that needs explaining.

            And your alternative to a creator – “Fine-tuning, if it exists, may result from other causes, as yet unknown, or for no reason at all” – is a classic atheism-of-the-gaps. Now it is true that fine tuning says nothing about motives. What it does do is cry out for an explanation. And the best explanation available is design. If you’re not even willing to consider that possibility then you’re no longer engaged in logic.

            And finally, why would God want to create life in a universe whose conditions do not allow for it? I see no reason to suppose God would prefer that to any other option.

            How determined are you to avoid the possibility that there might be a God?

            Tom

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            • I’m simply saying that the fine tuning argument does NOT constitute a reasonable argument for any evidence of a god (keep in mind your god is one of about 3,000 gods that have claimed to have existed throughout time, ALL of which you reject for the EXACT SAME reason I reject your god – no reasonable evidence)

              It must frustrate you that your god used to provide so much evidence of his existance through miracles, etc and is now silent.

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