Our Universe: Design, Chance or Necessity?

Stunning View of Starburst Galaxy (NASA, Chand...

Image by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center via Flickr

In my last post, I admitted my doubts about neo-Darwinian evolution. Evolution is a broad term, specifically my doubts concern the theories of common descent and random mutation plus natural selection as the vehicle for evolutionary development. My reticence stems from the lack of transitional forms found in fossil records, the complexity of the fossil forms found in the Cambrian explosion, the utter lack of scientific evidence for the theory of abiogenesis, and the amount of organisms found at the cellular level that are ‘irreducibly complex’.

But forget the evolution debate for a minute. Over history,while there has been intense debate, even the most conservative theologians usually ‘agree to disagree’ regarding their interpretations of the first few chapters of Genesis. Some believe in a literal six-day creation, others, an old earth and a form of progressive creation, and others believe in evolutionary creationism. I honestly feel free to go wherever the evidence leads. I just think the evidence for Darwinian evolution isn’t as good as we’re led to believe.  But let’s just say I grant the naturalist evolution; for evolution to even take place the universe has to have a staggering amount of ‘fine-tuning’, which points to the existence of God. What do I mean?

First, the term fine-tuning is a neutral term and isn’t necessarily meant to insinuate that there is a fine-tuner. Rather it just means there are certain constants of nature, such as gravity, or the subatomic weak force which are unchanging quantities that have to be extremely precise to have life. The tiniest fraction of variation from their real values results in an early universe that cannot permit life to evolve. To say that life as we know it is balanced on a razor’s edge is a massive understatement. Some examples that philosopher Robin Collins uses to drive this point home are:

  1. If gravity had been stronger or weaker by 1 part in 10 to the 40th power, then life-sustaining stars like the sun could not exist.
  2. If the neutron were not about 1.001 times the mass of the proton, all protons would have decayed into neutrons or all neutrons would have decayed into protons, and thus life would not be possible.
  3. Calculations show that if the strong nuclear force, the force that binds protons and neutrons together in an atom, had been stronger or weaker by as little as 5%, life would be impossible.
  4. If the initial explosion of the big bang had differed in strength by as little as 1 part in 10 to the 60th power, the universe would have either quickly collapsed back on itself, or expanded too rapidly for stars to form.

There’s also arbitrary quantities put into the first conditions of the big bang, such as the amount of entropy in the universe. Sir Roger Penrose, the famous mathematical physicist who has co-authored two books with Stephen Hawking, calculated the odds of the low-entropy state of 1/10^10^123. That’s just inconceivably low odds, and now we’re just piling on. You can see him explain below.

The degree of  this type of precision for some of these examples would be like a blindfolded man choosing a single marked penny in a pile large enough to pay off the United States’ national debt. There are just unfathomable odds against a life permitting universe happening.

So was this universe we observe just a happy accident? Some naturalists say we shouldn’t be shocked that we won some sort of cosmic lottery, because after all, we’re here! Philosopher John Leslie uses an illustration which I think hits the mark. (Pun intended…read on). Say you’re scheduled to be executed by firing squad, and 100 trained marksman are going to perform your execution. You hear the guns go off, but then to your absolute utter surprise you notice that you survived unscathed. You wouldn’t say to yourself, “Of course all the shots missed, otherwise I wouldn’t be here to notice that I’m still alive!” No, you think the thing was some sort of set up; that it was some sort of conspiracy.

Or to go back to the marked penny illustration. Let’s say that the blindfolded person had to find the penny, not just once, but several times in a row, or they’d be shot at gunpoint. If the blindfolded person picked up the ‘life-permitting’ penny at random several times in a row, she’d have to think something was fishy.

Was a life-permitting universe necessary? It’s implausible to think so given the constants are not determined by the laws of nature. Some might say they’ll eventually show themselves to be necessary, that one day there will be a Theory of Everything.  The best candidate so far has been M-theory, but it fails to predict a life-permitting universe.

The Hail Mary pass to get rid of the fine-tuning to date has been the Multiverse hypothesis, something that is just a bloated metaphysical idea hiding under the guise of science. There’s no evidence whatsoever for a so-called multiverse and it seems to me that it’s easily shaved off by Occam’s razor. Robin Collins gives 5 reasons for rejecting it, for the purpose of this post I’ll share just one. As a general rule, all else being equal, we should prefer theories for which we have independent proofs, and we have independent reasons for believing God exists. Here’s his illustration:

Most of us take the existence of dinosaur bones to count as very strong evidence that dinosaurs existed in the past. But suppose a dinosaur skeptic claimed that she could explain the bones by postulating a “dinosaur-bone-producing-field” that simply materialized the bones out of thin air. Moreover, suppose further that, to avoid objections such as that there are no known physical laws that would allow for such a mechanism, the dinosaur skeptic simply postulated that we have not yet discovered these laws or detected these fields. Surely, none of us would let this skeptical hypothesis deter us from inferring to the existence of dinosaurs. Why? Because although no one has directly observed dinosaurs, we do have experience of other animals leaving behind fossilized remains, and thus the dinosaur explanation is a natural extrapolation from our common experience. In contrast, to explain the dinosaur bones, the dinosaur skeptic has invented a set of physical laws, and a set of mechanisms that are not a natural extrapolation from anything we know or experience.

In the case of the fine-tuning, we already know that minds often produce fine-tuned devices, such as Swiss watches. Postulating God–a supermind–as the explanation of the fine-tuning, therefore, is a natural extrapolation from of what we already observe minds to do. In contrast, it is difficult to see how the atheistic many-universes hypothesis could be considered a natural extrapolation from what we observe.

So it would seem that chance and necessity are rather implausible in comparison to a super-intelligent Designer. Like with Leibniz’s cosmological argument, this doesn’t prove with 100% certainty that God exists, but I think it’s a rather strong argument. When coupled with other arguments, a very strong case for God’s existence can be made. Such design arguments are what led the famed atheistic philosopher Antony Flew to conclude there was a designer. Says Flew –

“I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence. I believe that this universe’s intricate laws manifest what scientists have called the Mind of God. I believe that life and reproduction originate in a divine Source. Why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than a half century? The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science.”

Isaiah 45:18

For this is what the LORD says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it;he did not create it to be empty,but formed it to be inhabited—he says:“I am the LORD, and there is no other.


10 thoughts on “Our Universe: Design, Chance or Necessity?

  1. You bring up Occam’s Razor and some odds for the random chance hypothesis of the universe’s creation. My response to that is thus: sure, when you phrase it the way you have, it sound more likely that God made the universe than that it happened as a result of millions and billions of chance-related occurrences. But I submit that it is utterly ridiculous to try and prove a point using ideas of chance without chancing the existence, omnipotence, and omniscient of a God or godlike being. What that? There are no statistics for that? That’s because by its very nature, such a thing would make moot any laws of science, probability, causation, etc. It is inherently arbitrary, and if one exception can be so what, other than arbitrary decision making, stops others from being so, hm? What justifies the “God is the exception to the rules because God made the rules” theory, the idea of the unmoved mover, whatever you want classify it as, other than a lack of knowledge? It’s pure postulate to fill the emptiness. Now, I’m hardly suggesting science is the answer to all of life’s mysteries, but if you’re trying to argue for the existence and universe-genesis involvement of a God, and your argument is founded on probabilities of chance of all things, you’ve lost me.

    • Maybe you’re missing the point. All I am asking is: Is it chance? If it is, then it all came to be by extremely long odds. Billions of times worse odds than say, the KC Royals, as they are, winning the world series several times in a row. So I guess you could call it chance, but the odds are so stacked against the universe being a life-permitting one that it’s crazy.

      OK, so maybe it necessarily had to be that way. But there’s no plausible reason to believe that. So then it has to be design, and if design, it would have to be a pretty tremendous mind to accomplish it.

      Unlike a God-of-the-gaps argument, what I’m arguing is that science without God’s action shows unfathomable precision of our universe. Fine-tuning is described in terms of physical constants and the initial conditions of our universe. Fine-tuning does not try to draw attention to where science has failed, it just shows how science has revealed the intricate balance of the universe.

  2. I’m sure I’m not going to introduce something new to you. I’m not trying to change your mind, but I’d like to know your opinion on certain things.
    I’d like to know what you know of the molecular evidence of evolution? Many evolutionary biologist (in fact all I’ve read that are not some kind of apologists) have steadfastly maintained evolution is just as strong even without one fossil. We have transitional fossils, not all of them, but quite a bit when one takes into account how fossils are formed and in fact, found. And how many scientists have a list of irreducibly complex cellular organisms? (this is not snark, I have just honestly never heard of such a group where scientific consensus exists that such organisms are irreducibly complex). Even if you do come up with a little poke here and there, that evidence does not amount up to enough to overturn all of the other evidence we have for the things which you dont believe in…if Pujols goes 0-4 that is evidence of a bad 4 at bats, but there is so much evidence of the awesome player he is, that we balance the evidence for and against, and see the scale overwhelmingly tips to one side.
    Isn’t the God you speak of the antithesis of Occam’s Razor?
    When you shrug off John Leslie’s illustration, you don’t really address why that analogy does not suffice. There could be many explanations as to why the condemned is still alive, all which are just as valid as the next one, that is, until some research is done to see what really happened.
    Also, our universe is a very, very big place. Beyond human comprehension. If you grant that the universe is infinite, even .000001 of infinity is still infinity. That is to say, extremely improbable things happen all the time in our universe.
    Finally, in regards to your Issiah quote, don’t you think if someone designed this universe for us, they would have made it a much more habitle place? Instead, we are stuck on a tiny portion of a tiny rock (we can’t even live in every place on said rock!), at a distance just perfect from our sun…it seems to me we are stuck where we live, because we can not live anywhere else in the (or most places in the universe) because they are…uninhabitable.

    • I’m not completely sure you understand the argument, maybe I wasn’t clear. I think Leslie uses a great illustration. No rational person would just shrug their shoulders and say “well, I guess I’m alive, so I shouldn’t be shocked.” The point is it would be laughably improbable if all the marksmen missed, unless the whole thing was a set up, that is to say they planned to miss. That is to say the whole thing was by design.

      I also must say, I find it odd that atheists appeal to Occam’s razor so often. To say God designed the universe is not to multiply causes beyond necessity. To say a super-intelligent Creator finely-tuned the cosmos for life is actually an extremely simple explanation in comparison to the far-fetched multiverse theory, or string theory, in which there is no evidence for whatsoever. Besides, there are supporting reasons for theism.

      In regards to improbability, again, for our universe to even permit life, these constants and arbitrary quantities had to be in the initial state of the big bang. Saying the universe is vast is meaningless, the universe didn’t exist until the big bang in the finite past, when these constants and quantities had to be in the initial condition.

      Improbable things happen all the time. Someone does win the lottery occasionally, I understand that. Let’s return back to the penny in the pile of pennies. Every penny drawn from the pile is equally improbable. But for a life permitting penny, amongst billions and billions of pennies, to be drawn several times in a row is incomprehensibly improbable. The point is if such a thing happened, you’d have to know the whole thing was designed. It was a set up. There’s no way such an improbable thing could occur strictly by chance alone.

      I guess I don’t see how the conflict with the earth being the only inhabitable plant. Maybe it’s all God needed to fulfill his plan for man. Other planets are uninhabitable for good reasons, like Saturn and Jupiter, for instance, for they shield us from meteors. Also, some astronomers have argued that our planet is not only perfect for life, but for scientific discovery. Our moon, the right kind of radiation and our location have made it clear that we live in some prime real estate to do scientific discovery in our universe. We do not just live on some pale, blue, insignificant dot, as Carl Sagan loved to say.

      Finally, regarding your question on the Bible. The Bible also speaks of a new heaven and a new earth when God’s purpose for this universe is finished.
      Hebrews 1
      10“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
      and the heavens are the work of your hands.
      11 They will perish, but you remain;
      they will all wear out like a garment.
      12 You will roll them up like a robe;
      like a garment they will be changed.

      So according to the bible, God will intervene and change the universe into something different. What that is exactly, I’m not sure. I do know that with entropy being what it is, if God doesn’t intervene, then the universe will enter into a heat death. I really do think this is another reason that on atheism life seems to be so pointless. For if we’re all just evolved animals created from nothing, by nothing and for nothing, destined to have our universe die in some heat death; then what objective meaning, purpose and value does our life really have? On atheism the whole show is rather absurd.

      • thank you for the response. even though i think it is obvious i disagree with you, your posts (only read a few so far) are a very nice change from other online, perhaps more prominent, defenders of their faith. I haven’t found many who use your path of persuasion. And thank you for clarifying your use of the Leslie illustration (in fact, I did miss the point). I am incredibly interested to hear your views on some of the issues where I think we would disagree with most because, like I said, I haven’t come across many people who can articulate their faith like you. Would it also be OK to email you? I promise not to take up too much of your time.

      • sure, Dave, free free to get in touch with me over email, I’d be happy to chat with you. eriknmanningATgmailDOTcom

  3. Erik,

    I’m only going to say this once, so if you’re not interested, feel free to ignore and continue writing/living as you see fit.

    But regarding evolution: I’m not interested in debate–if you don’t want to hear it, then I don’t want to spend time talking to you about it. I’ve been involved in enough online evolution “debates” to know that in most cases, it can never go anywhere. But if you’re ever interested talking to an evolutionary biologist about your questions about evolutionary theory, evidence, data, etc… well, I’m not the most accomplished researcher, and there’s plenty I don’t know. But I’ve got a ph.d. in biology with a focus on evolution along with animal behavior and physiology. It’s my day job. I’m willing to help you learn about the field if you find that you really want to learn. There is good work, theory, and data that deal with all of the various things you cite in your first paragraph. I could also try to address the other stuff you mentioned, but it’s more outside my field.

    Darwinian evolution is not a small field practiced by a handful of researchers around the world bent on convincing the uninitiated. It is, at this point, considered the unifying theory of all biology, and is fundamental to virtually all research in the life sciences. It is responsible for major advances not only in basic science, but in all kinds of applied sciences: medicine (where work on antibiotic resistance alone has saved countless lives), agriculture, conservation, etc, etc.

    Anyway, that’s all I’m going to say on it. Not looking for a fight. Just offering to help out. Feel free to ignore.


    • Sure, Justin. I’d be interested in whatever information you would like to share. Like I said, I’m willing to look at the evidence. I don’t find the case compelling so far, but I’m at least willing to listen. It’s not like I have a major theological axe to grind against evolution.

      Hit me up sometime eriknmanningATgmailDOTcom

    • Wow. Really good stuff, JW. I think that would change the way I go about using the teleological argument, by using likelihood rather than inferring the conclusion. Thanks also for sharing this ebook, as a pentecostal I especially enjoyed the contribution by Dan Morrison.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s