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.