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2009-11-19 —

Origin of the Universe, Part 2

Bill’s Reply:

Tim, I just want to start by saying that I understand your questions about God and a created universe. Many of them have been questions of my own at some point in my life. And like you, I have sought answers because it is deeply ingrained in my being to do so. Not all of these questions have intuitive answers and so they must be researched a little in order to draw adequate conclusions. So, throughout this segment I will try to address your questions and provide answers that I hope you will find reasonable, and possibly even enlightening to some degree.

To start, it seems that we both agree on the idea of a beginning to the universe since the evidence overwhelmingly points in that direction. And so you asked “Where do we go from here?” Well, first let’s discuss briefly “where we can’t go from here.”

In regard to the Big Bang and what happened some 13 billion years ago to start it all off you said “I don’t know. I wasn’t there.” Well Tim, scientists around the world sympathize with you because they don’t know either. Nobody does. From a scientific stand point we can’t know. At least not yet. Many scientists believe it’s impossible to know what happened before the Big Bang (call it “day minus one” if you will). There is a wide spread assumption that whatever brought the universe into existence cannot lie within the scope of scientific inquiry. Science reaches an impasse when it comes to the beginning because it cannot penetrate the initial conditions of when the universe was compressed to an extraordinary degree. At this point of infinite density the physical laws break down and become invalid thus rendering them useless for discovering the forces or circumstances that preceded the Bang. In other words, science is blind at day minus one.

Just think about the enormity of this problem and the questions it leaves open. The questions are; what cause produced this effect? Who or what put all this matter and energy into the universe? Was the universe created out of nothing, or was it gathered together out of pre-existing materials? These are all questions that science can’t answer and most physicists agree that it never will. Basically, physicists will tell you that “you can’t get there from here”.

Now at this point it seems to me that we can go in one of a couple different directions. We can explore the slippery slope that is Theoretical Physics where theories and speculation abound, or we can take a deeper look at the evidence that exists today through the means of physics, cosmology and logic. As for me, I am more interested in the latter and the most reasonable inferences that come from them rather then the unsupported conjecture of the former.

So, to begin I will start from a stand point of logic and work my way into the physical sciences.

A few years ago I heard about something called The Kalam Cosmological Argument. It is a logical premise that has been around for centuries but I never really gave it much thought until recently. It has three simple steps which are as follows: 1. “Whatever begins to exist has a cause.” 2. “The Universe had a beginning.” 3. “Therefore the Universe has a cause.” This is simple logic but yet it can get very detailed in its explanation. I read a book on this subject called Theism, Atheism and the Big Bang Cosmology. The book is a debate between the theist Dr. William Lane Craig and atheist Quentin Smith. It was a difficult but interesting read I must say.

The first premise – whatever begins to exist has a cause – is pretty straight forward. It seems necessary that if something comes into being, it must have an initial cause that brought it about. In other words, things don’t just pop into existence uncaused. The evidence for this is overwhelming. First of all, this premise should be obvious once you really think about absolute nothingness. In the book Dr. Craig said “the idea of things coming into being out of complete nothingness is worse than magic. At least when a magician pulls a rabbit out of the hat, there is the magician and the hat.” Secondly, there is empirical evidence for this premise. And that evidence is the fact that we never see anything come into being out of nothing. It never happens. Not even in quantum physics.

At the end of the book Quentin Smith said “The most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing”. To me it is amazing that someone can think this is the most rational view. It goes against all the evidence and logical thinking. This first premise is consistently verified by science. At least in my mind there is more reason to think that the first premise is true rather then false.

At this point you may be asking “If everything has a cause then what caused God to exist?” But this question ignores the first premise of the Kalam argument. The first premise does not say “everything has a cause.” No reputable philosopher would make that claim. Rather, it says “whatever begins to exist has a cause.” See, people tend to think of God as someone with “lots of time” on his hands. But the Bible maintains that He is outside of time altogether. To put it another way, God existed “before time began” (1 Corinthians 2:7). The idea that God needs no beginning is not special pleading on the part of theism. Atheists have long maintained that the universe doesn’t need a cause because it’s eternal. Well, the Judeo-Christian view of God is that he is outside of time. God doesn’t need a cause because he didn’t have a beginning. This of course makes the assumption of the ultimate truth and accuracy of the bible above and beyond all other books. We can argue that the universe is eternal as well. That it had no beginning. Just “a” beginning.

The second premise – the universe had a beginning – is now the predominant thinking among scientists today as we have already discussed. It has become increasingly difficult to argue against a beginning to the cosmos. And with that beginning came the beginning of time itself. This is under debate with the cyclic universe theory With Einstein’s theory of relativity we now know that time is not an eternal entity. It is a physical property that was created and can be altered. I’m not so sure of this one – again, Time may not have began with the big bang.

Now, on to the main point. Given that whatever begins to exist has a cause and that the universe had a beginning, it then stands to reason that there must be some transcendent cause for the origin of the universe. Having said that, we know of only two different ways to explain cause and effect. One way is scientific and the other is personal. Scientific explanations explain things from initial conditions and natural laws. By contrast, personal explanations explain things in terms of a mind that has volition or will. For example, if I ask my wife why the water on the stove is boiling she might say, “the stove is generating heat which in turn excites the water molecules until they move fast enough to be thrown off in the form of steam...” That’s the scientific explanation. Or, she might say “the water is boiling because I want to make tea.” That’s the personal explanation. Both are legitimate but they explain the phenomena in different ways.

As we have discussed, science cannot explain the initial conditions of the universe and what preceded it in the terms of natural laws. Here is where science falls short. It isn’t a matter of “Oh! Well we just haven’t figured it out yet.” The real crux of the matter is that many scientists believe we can’t figure it out. The “first state” of the universe cannot be explained by earlier conditions. Well, if we can’t explain the origin of the universe using a scientific explanation then perhaps we can use a personal explanation – that is, a mind that has the volition or will to create it. This mind, I believe, is God. To me it seems more logical to assume that it all started from a mind rather then from complete nothingness. For someone to just throw their hands up and say “It just came out of nothing” is not acceptable to me. Talk about faith... In my opinion it takes more faith to believe that we came out of nothing then it does to believe in a transcendent Creator.

Of course the logical reasoning of the Kalam argument cannot answer everything. It has its limits just as science does. People who don’t believe in the creationist point of view have every right to play the skeptic. After all, the burden of proof lies on the person making the claim. So now we must look elsewhere for evidence that supports a personal Creator. For me, much of that evidence can be found in the study of physics. And so that is the direction I will now take.

In the last 35 years many scientists have noticed something rather peculiar about the discoveries in physics. They are beginning to see that the universe’s ability to sustain life is delicately balanced on a razor’s edge. In 1973, astronomer and cosmologist Brandon Carter gave a lecture in which he announced a new discovery. That discovery is the fact that the fundamental constants of the physical world must have been very delicately fine-tuned in order to make life possible. He called them "Anthropic Coincidences". The word Anthropic means "pertaining to human existence.” Since that time many such remarkable coincidences have been discovered. The existence of these coincidences is well recognized in scientific literature and is discussed at length within the scientific community. And now, many scientists are convinced that the fine-tuning constraints on a life-allowing universe are very tight because small changes would make the existence of life impossible, and that the probability of the universe having these properties is extremely low. And while many prominent scholars in the scientific community agree that the universe has the appearance of design, they are reluctant to attribute this to a transcendent Creator. But in light of more and more discoveries they are beginning to reevaluate the evidence.

So, what are some of these fine-tuned parameters that allow life to exist and just how finely tuned are they? Well, when scientists talk about the fine-tuning they are generally referring to the extraordinary balancing act of the fundamental laws of physics and the initial conditions of the universe. Here are just a few examples:

The first of these is the “Expansion Rate of the Universe” and it refers to how fast the universe expanded after the Big Bang (i.e. the speed at which the pieces of matter flew apart). Had the rate of expansion (velocity) been slightly slower, then gravity would have pulled all of the matter back together in a Big Crunch in a very short time, thus stars and planets would not have had sufficient time to form. If the rate of expansion had been slightly faster, then gravity wouldn’t have had a chance to pull any of the pieces of matter together. And again, planets, stars and even gases wouldn’t have been able to form and so there wouldn’t have been anything for life to exist on. Either way, the existence of life in these conditions is impossible.

The expansion rate, most physicists claim, is fine-tuned to one part in 10^55 power (that’s a 1 followed by 55 zeros). That means that if the expansion rate of the universe had been faster or slower by one part in 10^55, no life would exist. This degree of fine-tuning is difficult to imagine so to get an accurate picture of this extreme precision, think about this example: 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 in the same manner on a trillion other continents the same size as North America. Paint one dime red and hide it in the trillions of piles of dimes. Then, blindfold a friend and ask him to pick out the one red dime. The odds that he will pick the red dime on the first try are one in 10^55. The fine tuning of the expansion rate is incredible to say the least. The expansion rate would appear to some to be designed because it was “just right” to produce a universe that is capable of sustaining life.

Another property of the universe that is fine-tuned would be the Cosmological Constant which refers to the energy density of space (not to be confused with Einstein’s cosmological constant). Energy density is directly related to the expansion rate and the flatness of the universe. The expansion rate has been discussed already and “flatness” refers to the curvature of space-time which I don’t fully understand. But I do understand that scientists agree the Cosmological Constant is extraordinarily precise. They say it is fine-tuned to one part in 10^120 power. This degree of precision would be like throwing a dart from across the universe and hitting a bulls-eye that is a trillionth of a trillionth of an inch in diameter here on Earth. This discovery prompted an article in the highly respected publication of Nature Magazine. The article had this to say about the Cosmological Constant and the initial conditions of the universe:

"This type of universe, however, seems to require a degree of fine tuning of the initial conditions that is in apparent conflict with 'common wisdom'."


The next set of examples are known as the “Fundamental Laws of Physics” and are the forces that govern matter and energy in the universe. These forces are The Gravitational Constant (the strength of gravity), The Electromagnetic Coupling Constant (the force that binds electrons to protons), The Strong Nuclear Force (the force that holds the nucleus of an atom together) and The Weak Nuclear Force (the force which deals with radioactivity and decay). By themselves, these forces are extremely delicate. If you change the properties of any of theses constants by a miniscule amount, life is impossible. The way these forces interact and relate with each other is even more delicate. For example, Electromagnetism and Gravity work together to form stars and they determine the rate at which stars burn by fusion. If gravity were changed by one part in 10^40 relative to electromagnetism, stars would burn a million times faster and be a billion times less massive. And again life would be impossible. The strength of gravity is extremely fine-tuned. One part in 10^40 is equivalent to stretching a ruler all the way across the universe (about 27 billion light years long) and marking it off in one-inch increments. Change gravity’s current setting by one inch in this example and it has catastrophic consequences on life and our universe.

The examples I have used are just the beginning. Scientists have found more than 40 parameters that are equally fine-tuned and the list keeps growing. And just as interesting is the fact that physicists believe the physical constants could have taken on any one of a wide range of values. But they didn’t. They are exactly what is needed to support a universe capable of sustaining life. The odds of two of these parameters happening by chance are low. The odds of 40 or more of them happening by chance are astronomically unlikely (pun intended). It seems to me that chance cannot account for the highly unlikely, highly ordered structure of the universe. The universe just seems too contrived to be an accident. Think of it this way: If I bet you $1000 that I could flip a coin and get heads 40 times in a row, and then I proceeded to do it, would you pay me? Probably not because you know that the odds against that are so improbable - about one in a million billion - that it’s extraordinarily unlikely to happen. The fact that I was able to do it against monumental odds would be strong enough evidence for you to think that the game was rigged. And the same is true for the fine-tuning of the universe. I have come to the conclusion that the universe is rigged in our favor. That is, designed. It is difficult for me to believe that the fine-tuning occurred by random chance. Rather, it seems to me that the universe was crafted with human existence in mind.

And I am not alone. The following quotes are a few examples of secular scientists trying to come to terms with modern discoveries in physics and cosmology. Each one of these scientists is highly respected in their fields.

Sir Fred Hoyle (Astrophysicist): "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics. 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."

John O'Keefe (astronomer at NASA): "We are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures. If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the universe was created for man to live in."

John Wheeler (Professor of Physics at Princeton): “Is man an unimportant bit of dust on an unimportant planet in an unimportant galaxy somewhere in the vastness of space? No! The necessity to produce life lies at the center of the universe's whole machinery and design.....Slight variations in physical laws such as gravity or electromagnetism would make life impossible.”

Arthur Eddington (astrophysicist): "The idea of a universal mind or Logos would be, I think, a fairly plausible inference from the present state of scientific theory."

Arno Penzias (Nobel Prize in physics): "Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say 'supernatural') plan."

So, to sum up my point about the fine-tuning found in the universe and the laws of physics, I say this: The universe had a beginning and it has many properties that appear to be extremely fine-tuned or designed in order for life to exist. The idea of a Creator or Intelligent Designer is a natural extrapolation of what we already know. A “natural extrapolation”? Sorry, but to me it seems like giving up. Think about it for a minute. We already know that intelligent minds produce finely tuned systems and devices. Just look at a computer or a car or a house. We see minds creating finely-tuned, complex machinery all the time. So to attribute the delicate fine tuning of the universe to a Creator makes sense, at least to many it does. It is simply a natural conclusion to draw from the existing evidence of what we already know a mind can produce.

Ok, so now I will move on to a topic that’s closer to home. I would like to talk a little about the Earth and our galaxy in general.

When Copernicus proposed the idea that the Earth was not the center of the universe, it started a revolution of sorts. This revolution sparked what is known as the Copernican Principle. Its basic premise says that the Earth occupies no preferred place in the universe. In other words, the Earth is not special in terms of its status or location in the cosmos. This principle was made popular in recent years by astronomer Carl Sagan and his book titled Pale Blue Dot. It was written after he saw a picture of the Earth from billions of miles away taken by the Voyage 1 spacecraft. In it he wrote “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark”.

Many people agreed with Sagan and his belief that the Earth holds no privileged status in the universe. But as we find out more about our planet and solar system many scientists are beginning to see things in a different light. It’s turning out that we are anything but ordinary, that our sun is far from average, and even that the Earth’s position in our galaxy is extremely fortuitous. The idea that the universe is a cosmic incubator teeming with life and advanced civilizations is being undermined by new scientific discoveries. In short, new findings are suggesting that we are special. More and more scientists are studying the accumulation of extraordinary “coincidences” that must converge to make life possible on Earth. They are concluding that it can’t possibly be an accident. They are finding signs of design similar to the fine-tuning of physics that I discussed earlier.

As for the people who believe that habitable planets and complex life are abundant in the universe, I wonder if they fully realize the degree to which our planet is exquisitely and precariously balanced in order to make a suitable habitat for life. I think many people’s assumption that life is abundant in the universe is not based on any hard core scientific arguments, but rather it’s their impression that the universe is such a big place that life must have arisen somewhere else. To them, it seems the odds are good. But I don’t think they give the other side of the equation much thought. On the other side of the equation are the factors. It takes a lot of factors to produce a stable and habitable planetary system. Some people believe in the “just add water” hypothesis. They believe that all you need is a planet which meets a few criteria and if you add water, presto, life can flourish. Well, it’s true that water is needed because it is a universal solvent but that is only the tip of the iceberg. As it turns out, Earth’s location, its size, its composition, its structure, its atmosphere, its internal dynamics, and its many intricate cycles – carbon cycle, oxygen cycle, nitrogen cycle, and so on – are all finely tuned criteria that are absolutely crucial to the existence of life of any kind, advanced or primitive.

Here are a few of the dozens of factors that make Earth a habitable planet:

Distance from the Sun – The Earth sits in a very narrow band of space that scientists have labeled the Circumstellar Habitable Zone (also known as the Goldilocks Zone). This zone represents where the Earth must be in order to support complex life. If the Earth were just 5% closer or 5% further away from the Sun, life would not exist due to a runaway greenhouse effect (too much heat trapped in the atmosphere, similar to Venus) or a permanent ice age (similar to Mars) respectively.

Thickness of the Earth’s Crust – The Earth’s crust ranges from 4 to 30 miles thick. It consists of over 12 different tectonic plates that are constantly in motion. This activity regulates the Earths core temperature, recycles carbon, mixes chemical elements essential to living organisms, etc… The Earths dynamic geology is key to its ability to sustain life.

Oxygen/Nitrogen Rich Atmosphere – This ensures a temperate climate, protection from the Sun’s radiation, and the correct combination of gases for liquid water and complex life. Not just any oxygen/nitrogen combination will work. It must be very similar to what the Earth currently has.

A Large Moon (relative to planet’s size) – The current mode of thinking is that if our moon did not exist, neither would we. The moon is roughly one fourth the size of the Earth. Its size and gravitational pull stabilizes the Earths axis at 23.5 degrees. This helps to give the Earth moderate and rather even seasonal changes. If the moon were much different in size scientists believe the climate and tidal changes would be too severe for habitability.

Researchers have found over 40 of these factors and the list keeps growing. They list factors like: proper type of parent star, other nearby planets to shield from meteors (such as Jupiter and Saturn), a liquid iron core, magnetic field for radiation protection, and so on. All of these factors must happen together in one place and time in order for life to be possible. They also agree that a potentially habitable planet can’t be located too close to the galactic center. Scientists are learning more about gamma ray bursts and supernovae and that the frequency of these events dramatically increases the closer you get to the center of the galaxy. If you get too close to one of these, it’s lights out. Also, if you get too far towards the outer edges of the galaxies, there is a serious decrease in the amount heavy elements thus there is little or no production of carbon which is essential for life.

Tim, I know you said that you didn’t want to hear about the odds of another life-supporting planet existing out in space but I think it deserves mention. In order for us to even consider another planet as habitable it would have to meet a number of requirements and meet them all at the same time. The odds of this happening by chance are staggering. Scientists calculate odds by multiplying the probabilities of each factor together. For example, if one factor has a one-in-ten chance of occurring (1/10) and another factor also has a one-in-ten chance of occurring, then the two numbers are multiplied together to get the probability of both factors happening together (1/10 X 1/10 = 1/100). The two factors have a probability of one chance in a hundred of happening together. So, lets say that the odds are such that one planet in ten will have a certain factor required for life (this is extremely generous. Most scientists estimate some of the factors to be one in a million). If we take only 22 of the 40 factors required for a habitable planet and calculate their probability of happening to one planet, the number comes out to be .0000000000000000000001 (that’s one billionth of a trillionth). Basically, the odds of any one planet meeting only half of the criteria required for sustaining life are one chance in a billion trillion. Obviously, the odds of meeting all of the factors are even smaller.

Scientists don’t know how many planets are in the universe but an estimate would be about 900 million trillion. I know that is a huge number of planets but probability theory would suggest that habitable planets are extremely rare and not nearly as abundant as many people think. Some people assume that nature wants to make Earth-like planets but what probability is telling us is that an Earth-like planet is not likely to happen by chance.

Ok, let’s put all the math and science to rest for a moment. My whole point here is this: It seems to me that random chance is an inadequate mechanism to explain the complexity and fine tuning we observe in physics, cosmology, our planet, and the universe in general. Cosmological Evolutionists would have you believe otherwise. They will tell you that an extremely unlikely event happened by chance. They interpret the existence of all of the necessary parameters of the Earth, our solar system, and the universe as being random, undirected events that happened against all the odds. They say “That’s what chance is all about”.

But I would respond to them with this: Suppose 50 sharpshooters are sent to execute a prisoner by firing squad. The sharpshooters all raise their rifles, aim at the prisoner and fire. Now, suppose the prisoner survives – not a single bullet hits him. The prisoner could conclude that, since he is alive, all of the sharpshooters missed by some extremely unlikely chance. The odds are totally against that happening, but “That’s what chance is all about.”

The prisoner might want to attribute his life to pure luck, but it would be far more reasonable to conclude that some intelligent designer was behind the event. Isn’t it more likely that someone loaded the guns with blanks, or that someone persuaded all of the sharpshooters to deliberately miss? In other words, isn’t it more reasonable to think that someone took care of the details to make sure that the prisoner lived?

Basically, we are standing in the place of the prisoner. We don’t have 50 rifle barrels pointed at us but we do have all of those parameters and factors that are a danger to our existence aiming at us from all angles. We have the same decision to make as that which confronts the prisoner. Is our existence a matter of luck or is it the result of an intelligent designer working behind the scenes? Is the universe something that just happened by chance or is it possible that it is the result of a Creator who crafted every detail with us in mind. You make the call.


Tim’s Rebuttal:

Bill,

Your points are very well taken, and as usual, I will try to address as many of them as I can, then try to bring us back from life to the Universe, because I think we got off track a bit. I know that this is something that many, many people struggle with, because again, there is the question of “why?” The first point of yours that I’d like to discuss has to do with your argument about what it takes to make life possible in the universe. I apologize for skipping around, but this one’s just foremost on my mind at the moment. You wrote about a number of properties of physics, including:

“The Electromagnetic Coupling Constant (the force that binds electrons to protons), The Strong Nuclear Force (the force that holds the nucleus of an atom together) and The Weak Nuclear Force (the force which deals with radioactivity and decay).”

As much as I respect this argument, these are the laws that govern basic chemistry, and to say that without chemistry there is no life, while true, I’m not sure that this is a relevant argument for the existence of a creator. I’m also not sure that this a reasonable factor to include in the chances of life on other planets. Even though you discuss your statistics later in the habitability portion of your reply, I feel that this point is implicit in your argument, please forgive me if I’m mistaken.

These atomic forces, including gravity, that govern the laws of physics, chemistry, and ultimately biochemistry and therefore biology are indeed, finely balanced and it’s really cool how they work, but these are ubiquitous laws of nature in the universe. To say that life couldn’t exist in the Universe without, say the Strong Nuclear Force, (and therefore the atom) is like saying that beef wouldn’t exist without meat. Of course there is no life without atoms. There is no chemistry. There is no energy, there is no a lot of things. To say that life wouldn’t exist without gravity is an equally flawed argument.

But the laws of physics and chemistry – of Nature, if you will, do exist, and that the fact that they are “just right” or “finely tuned” is proof, to me, that our math is good. Although Lee Strobel and Robin Collins make pretty metaphors in their video about stretching a ruler all the way across the Universe and adjusting the force of gravity by one inch or about throwing a dart and hitting an atom-sized bullseye on Earth from miles out in space, the logic just doesn’t pan out.

While all of these forces may be needed to start life on this planet, we have them. But what matters is that the Universe has them too, which means that every one of the 900 million trillion planets you mentioned that happen to be in a green habitation zone around a star that’s like ours could have life too, because they also have all of these forces working for them. These are not mutually exclusive to OUR life, but that’s the way that they were presented by your source, and how you are, in turn, presenting them now. It doesn’t work.

Since these laws do exist everywhere though, I have to agree 100% with your statement:

“They are exactly what is needed to support a universe capable of sustaining life.”

I appreciate your describing all of the factors that make the Earth habitable, there are certainly a lot of things that have gone into the formation of this planet over the years. Before I go into that though, I’ll go into a little more detail about the green habitation zone. As you mentioned, this is the zone of the “right distance” from the star where a habitable planet may form.

Let me preface this by saying, however, that this particular concept of the Goldilocks Zone or the Green Habitation Zone can only be applied to the life that WE know. In other words life like us. This is what we need to replicate our conditions, and we assume – maybe because we were made in God’s image – that all the other aliens in the Universe have to come from a planet just like ours. There has been discussion in the scientific community that our view of life is far too anthropocentric, but how could it not be since we have only our own data pool to study. Since we are the only life we know, we make an unfair assumption that all life must be like us. Could there in inorganic life? Why not? Could there be life with methane as the prime constituent instead of water? Why not? Ok? Moving on. This zone is a certain distance out from the star in order to keep water liquid.

So this brings us back to the actual formation of the solar system, a long time ago. Since you also mention the size and density of the planets, and the larger outer planets, it’s convenient to examine the scientific theories for the formation of our planets. After the Sun was formed, the leftover gas and dust started forming into planetestimals in the solar nebula. The heavier elements are sparse in the mix, and the accretion of them into the small, terrestrial planets is a direct result of this lack of materials.

Most of the lighter gasses, blown out by intense solar wind of the now T Tauri Protostar went out beyond what is called the “frost zone” and formed the large outer gas giants , while the denser materials, able to take the heat, formed the inner planets through the aforementioned accretion.

Now these conditions are not all that uncommon, I would argue, as would a host of scientists. This phenomenon of the protoplanetary disc in solar system formation has been seen and is being studied, it is more than "just a theory", however. I’m not going to say that it happens every time, of course not. From what we have been able to observe though, it’s a natural part of stellar evolution, and we’re seeing it happen in real time (well, less the time lag for light travel) in a number of nearby nebulae, which we’ve known for years are stellar nurseries.

The Rare Earth proponents, however, seem to discount the fact that this is happening all around us, that we can observe it, and that while life on this planet is exceptional, it may not be unique. And there are 368 other planets listed at http://www.exoplanets.org to prove it.

You wrote:

“As for the people who believe that habitable planets and complex life are abundant in the universe, I wonder if they fully realize the degree to which our planet is exquisitely and precariously balanced in order to make a suitable habitat for life”

This is a good point. Our planet is so precariously balanced that it has almost been destroyed by giant meteorites and has nearly destroyed itself with ice ages (some caused by the meteorites, some not) and the entire ecosystem has had to reinvent itself time and again with every geological catastrophe. The fact is that it’s been a most unsuitable habitat due to environmental conditions a number of times, but somehow life found a way to adapt and make it work. Whew! We’re lucky that Life has such a strong survival instinct, or we’d have perished before we even made it to the hominid stage!

Just within the last few years, this stormy planet is proving to us what tiny bugs we really are. We had a tsunami in 2004, (the day after Christmas) in the Indian Ocean that killed 443,000 of us. Jeez, that’s almost half a million people. Flooding and volcanoes in the Philippines, flooding in Central and South America, and let’s not forget, of course, the hurricanes. In the recent past, we’ve had earthquakes and floods around the world, cyclones, including the tropical cyclone in 1970 Bangladesh that killed as many as 4,000,000 people, the drought in India in 1876-1878 that killed 25 million people due to the resulting famine, China’s famine in the late 50’s that killed as many as 43,000,000 people, as that’s not even counting the biological bugs that love to feed on us. The Spanish Flu in 1918 and 1919 killed an estimated 100,000,000 people, and let’s not forget our favorite, The Black Death in the 14th century, which killed an estimated 75 million people worldwide, plus those who got burned at the stake for causing said plague.

Life is certainly fragile on this hostile planet, isn’t it? For the reasons just listed here along with a host of others, I’m disinclined to agree with your conclusion:

“I have come to the conclusion that the universe is rigged in our favor. That is, designed. It is difficult for me to believe that the fine-tuning occurred by random chance. Rather, it seems to me that the universe was crafted with human existence in mind”

The reason I’m disinclined to agree, is that if the Universe was crafted with human existence in mind, why start with primordial goo, amino acid chains, simple microbes, eukaryotes, eventually leading into multicellular creatures? The ones that finally went reptilian and led up to the dinosaurs were killed off in a fireball from space that led to an ice age. What’s more is that our privileged place in the Goldilocks zone is a temporary advantage only. In a few billion years when our Mother Sun hits the menopausal red dwarf phase of her life cycle, that beautiful, life-giving star will grow in size and completely engulf the orbits of Mercury, Venus, and Earth. Our beautiful Pale Blue Dot and everything that it has ever stood for will be a memory.

If this is a Universe finely tuned and rigged in our favor, where the creator crafted every detail for us, I’d say that the creator needs a new prescription for his glasses. We are simple biological creatures who inhabit a temperamental but mostly friendly planet (for now) in a very hostile Universe.

To get back into sequence with your reply, this Universe of ours that we have been discussing is wonderful, even in its cold and fiery desolation. So let’s come back to the beginning, shall we? Both to the beginning of your Part 2 Reply and the beginning of the Universe. You mentioned early on that scientists are having trouble determining what happened the “day” before the Big Bang, and we’ve sort of been discussing this as the creation event, or the beginning of Time. You also mentioned Einstein’s theories of Relativity, and how it relates to the singularity, etc. It’s a heavy topic, an enormous point to ponder, that’s certain.

But again, what if this wasn’t the beginning, but merely a beginning? In my Part 1 reply I expanded a bit about the concepts of a repeating universe, one that is cyclic in nature, and further I told you why I liked this concept. Recently I’ve found a number of research papers describing theories about a cyclic Universe, one that fills in the spaces where the old Oscillating Theory broke down.

This new model (the Baum-Frampton model, proposed in 2007) of the Cyclic Universe factors in Dark Energy and Dark Matter, (which comprises about 96% of our Universe, according to notable astrophysicist Dr. Neil Degrasse-Tyson), and preliminarily, it’s a good theory. The entropy vanishes, and it doesn’t rely so much on the String theories that the previous models did. I have only the vaguest understanding of String theory anyways, so this one is better for me. I believe that this is something that needs to be factored into the equation though, since everything we know and understand in the universe only make up 4% of its total composition.

The math is frankly, mostly beyond my understanding, but conceptually, the idea is within my little pea brain’s ability to grasp, but it is mind blowing that the Universe actually could be a big loop. For the sake of clarity when I wrote early on in Part 1 that I thought the concept of and eternal Universe was absurd, I meant it, because we have evidence of expansion and therefore some semblance of life cycle in evident. I was referring only to this Universe.

So, if this Cyclic model does end up being proven in a few decades when we have some more technology, and let’s indulge the ‘what if’ for a moment, then it brings us to a larger question. Why did there have to be a creation event at all? We’ve been discussing this topic with the implicit understanding that this is the only Universe that has ever been, or ever will be. That there was nothing before it, and even though it hasn’t really been discussed, that there will be nothing after it expands away into obscurity. But if this is just another turn of the wheel, then the big bang was really just the cock crowing one random morning, and we don’t even know what day it is. Or for that matter what month, or what year, because Time just got a whole lot bigger. We find ourselves mere tiny lice born to a long proud tradition of lice it’s sure, who just found out that the world we know is merely host that exists in its own world that may have come from something before, and we can’t see through all of the hair into our host’s world.

As with any theory of Universal origin, it has its holes. But again, factoring in the Dark Matter and Dark Energy, which is still on the threshold of cosmological understanding, is a step in the right direction, I think. There is still so much out there that we don’t understand, but the one thing I cannot do is take the leap of faith and say that things work too well for this to be accidental. They don’t. This Universe and planet have been trying to kill us for as long as we’ve been on it, and we’re doing a good job trying to kill ourselves too.

We can see stars forming, we can see planets forming, and we know for a fact that there are hundreds of other planets. Why? Because that’s how the Universe works, and though it diminishes some who want to think they hold a special place or think that all of this was made for them, I can’t think that highly of myself. That we made it this far makes me very proud of my species and very thankful for all of the opportunities –even catastrophic ones – that this Universe has thrown at us, but I can only marvel at its magnificence, and hope that there are others out there thinking the same way. Maybe we find each other or maybe we won’t. When our sun devours us, maybe someone out there will be close enough to notice. But the Universe will go on. This one or the next.

In other news, I’m very excited to read about Ardi, and Carl Zimmer, who wrote an excellent book called Evolution, wrote an outstanding article about this fairly recently discovered hominid! Another major evolutionary link uncovered in the fossil record! Amazing!

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Want to comment? Speak up! 3 Quips to Date


stepfordtart - 2009-11-19 20:14:52
Cooooooool! Im loving this debate, Tim. Thanks for posting it up here, it makes great reading. s x
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Dan - 2009-11-24 15:02:21
Thanks for another excellent topic and discussion, guys. The origin of the universe has been a favorite subject of mine since middle school when “A Brief History of Time” was released, and I was just starting to grasp the fundamental principles of Einstein’s relativity. String Theory was beginning to come into its own, and (dare I say) cosmology was sexy. More than that, I think that this quest to drill down deeper and deeper into our cosmological origins is the sole topic that actually forces even the most atheistic hard-liners among us to consider the possibility of Capital G – God. As you have introduced above, the standard model for the origin of our universe is the Big Bang Theory. Of course the opposite model to that is the Static Model, but I think there is enough evidence supporting the former to suppose that this is most likely the how the universe began. When speaking of astrophysics and universal origins two fundamental tenets of mathematics cannot be avoided, and they are in fact central to the understanding of the theories that we are concerned with. These two concepts appear to be quite basic on the surface; however, even after reading dozens of books and being schooled in advanced mathematics and physics I have difficulty imagining both. The concepts of which I speak are, of course, singularities and infinity. There is just something within my human brain that tends to overload when I try to imagine both a single point and infinite space, and I have a pretty good imagination. So when we drill down into the moment of creation of our universe we necessarily approach a singularity which I find very hard to grasp - a single point containing all of the energy and mass of our infinite universe. Ouch! I think I sprained something. Here’s the thing with this singularity that was the seed for our universe as we know it. Since it is smaller than the Planck Length, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle governs its existence. At this quantum level, we are incapable of gleaning information from the singularity, and because our ability to observe that object is necessarily obstructed we cannot know and cannot predict its properties. The implications of this simple statement are quite shocking. Since we cannot predict or observe the singularity due to the Uncertainty Principle all possibilities are equally likely. Anything can happen…all possibilities are in play. However, another consequence of this is that no information is stored within the singularity. If we imagine a cyclic universe that keeps banging and crunching an infinite amount of times, each time the universe collapses back to a singularity the information stored about our physical principles that form this iteration of the universe are lost. There is no universal DNA that codes for the next attempt after the next bang (if there is to be another). Due to the reasons stated above, we will only be able to trace our origins back to immediately after the singularity exploded, a billionth of a trillionth of a second after creation of this universe as we know it. Before that, we can never know. When asked what came before the Big Bang, Stephen Hawking stated that the question itself was meaningless, and he compared it to asking "What lies north of the North Pole?...The actual point of creation lies outside the scope of presently known laws of physics." The very word “before” has no meaning in this context because there was no time at the point of the singularity. Yet we continue to pursue the question and likely will as long as we are in existence. This is the point where I and many other scientists tend to fall down a bit. Since we cannot answer the question of what happened before the singularity (or at the singularity) all possibilities are equally likely, no matter how remote. This includes the possibility of the existence of a creator. Although there is no evidence of a creator now, we cannot exclude a creator from the origin of the universe. Similarly, we cannot ascribe properties to this creator. There will only ever be questions regarding this entity. For example, if the Big Bang theory is true, then should we conclude that God is outside of the universe? Or was He in the singularity? Is He the universe itself? If He’s outside of the universe, then there’s no reason to expect that we are the only universe in existence, is there? Therefore, it’s safe to assume that we may not be that special to Him after all. What does a model of an expanding and contracting universe tell us about Capital G? Does it support one religion over another? I think the cosmological question of the possibility of the existence of god is quite different than the discussion of religion, and since we can never know what these possibilities are it is really just a point to argue for no reason. Taking this god track a bit further into statements made by Bill previously, I’d like to ask: why doesn’t god have a beginning? It seems like you could presuppose an infinite chain of gods creating each other with equal likelihood as this one god you presume. I guess I just don’t understand why the universe needs a beginning and god does not. Another point I’d like to touch on are the so-called Anthropic Coincidences. I think that people tend to use these as a bit of a cart-before-the-horse argument. The fact that life currently exists in one known area of an infinite universe is not a prerequisite for all of the myriad properties of physics that make it possible. Life is a consequence of those properties, not the other way around. The very word “coincidence” really has no place in discussions involving infinity. If we assume that the universe has banged and crunched an infinite number of times, then there would be an equal number of failures (assuming this universe is a success, of course). There would be an equal number of times that very different physical principles are present. The very framework of space would be different. Infinity makes very large numbers from the examples above possible…an infinite number of times. Just keep adding zeros. The question of the point of the origin of our universe still stands and will always stand. Our principles of physics demand it. So I suppose the real question is: why do we need to know? Or stated another way, why does it matter? Isn’t a billionth of a trillionth of a second close enough? The answers to these questions, of course, lie in the complexities of the human mind which is always driven by curiosity. And we will likely never stop supposing what happened one step further into the past.
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Bill - 2010-01-12 16:29:56
Dan, you make some very good points, as did Tim. My final thoughts are on the way but I will freely admit that in the end, when the dust settles and the debate is over, it is faith that we all rely on to answer these questions. Yes, I beleive that God exists and created the Universe and I beleive there is evidence of that creation in what we see around us. But I do realize that the proof I am talking about in this discussion is not emperical. In the end it is my faith in God that prevails in my heart. I really can't put it any more plainly than that.
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