Sunday, March 8, 2015

Science Now Makes the Case for God

The Carina Nebula

For a long time the discoveries of science have been used to show up the biblical account of creation as extremely improbable. Certainly the timeline suggested in the book of Genesis could not be literally true, and in many other areas as well the accounts found in the Bible didn’t mesh with the physical world as we now understand it. In fact, since the 19th century science has been generally seen as a force tending to undermine the faith of religious people.

But this has changed markedly in the past few decades.

Contrary to popular belief, there is now a very strong scientific argument for the existence of an Intelligent Creator. And again contrary to what many people think, it has nothing to do with rejecting Charles Darwin.

As a Christian, I personally have never subscribed to Intelligent Design at the level of species, which is the way many researchers approached it. To do so is wrongheaded and unscientific. Of course Darwin was right. The myriad species that live on our planet were not "designed", rather they evolved. To try to make the complexity of certain features in current species into an argument for Intelligent Design is to start at the wrong end of the timeline. At the level of biological diversity, Intelligent Design is a fool's errand.

But at the level of cosmology, things look very different indeed.

The best science of the past couple decades is revealing our universe to be an environment fine-tuned for the existence of life. The chances of the four basic physical forces turning out as they did after the Big Bang are astronomically small. And they came out precisely right for life. Which is downright uncanny. It’s as if you had a bomb go off in a grocery store, and instead of blasting random ingredients in all directions, the explosion instead baked a perfect birthday cake. And there the cake sits on the sidewalk in front of the wrecked store. Frosting and all. “Happy 30th, Mike!” How explain it?

I’m not talking faith here. No. This is what the picture looks like in terms of physics and cosmology. This is what the hard sciences have discovered.

For those not interested in pursuing these developments in laborious detail, an article posted a few months back in the Wall Street Journal by Eric Metaxas sums up some of the basic points. Metaxas writes:
[A]strophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces--gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces--were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction--by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000--then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.

Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all "just happened" defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?

But I don’t think the writer puts it quite right here. It’s not really a matter of the universe not existing at all, but rather the kind of universe we live in: with stars and planets and physical forces that make life and evolution possible. Set any of the four dials on the Cosmic Oven in a slightly different way, and the universe would still exist, but it would be a place where life could never have arisen. Why, then, were the dials set so precisely right for life? Secular scientists now all acknowledge: The universe had no “reason” to turn out like this, but it did.

The sheer weight of the unlikeliness of our universe getting baked to be the Precise Cake it is finally wears down what many secularists and atheists have referred to (often quite reasonably) as the “anthropic principle”. Given what science knows now, that principle can hold its own only if one insists on a multiverse theory, for which there’s not a shred of evidence.

In short, militant atheists can only wriggle out of the likelihood of our universe having an Intelligent Creator by spinning a mythology of their own: the multiverse.

Understand that I don’t post this today to persuade readers to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. No, that’s a specific doctrine of Christianity, and this article isn’t about that. This article does, however, roughly introduce the case that our universe was made to certain specs--namely, those that would allow life, and eventually consciousness, to arise. And that in itself is arguably a religious assertion, because if our universe was made, there was a Maker.

I will leave the ball in the reader’s court: Assuming there is a Maker, can we know anything about that Maker? What can we know and how? Have we had any glimpses of that Maker in human consciousness? What was the purpose in creating this universe, very possibly fine-tuned for life to arise in it?

Eric Mader


Brian Bleakley said...

This is an interesting post. I've always thought that the idea of God and the idea of the multiverse are very similar from a skeptical point of view. We can perceive only our own universe and whatever lies beyond may be impossible to discern.

But I can't see the connection between the anthropic principle and a multiverse. Perception requires consciousness requires life requires stars- so no universe without stars could ever be perceived. Does it matter then how many others there are? Should we bother wondering why the universe is so hospitable? If it wasn't we'd be unable to even consider the issue. Of course there could be other universes, but that is probably an unprovable assertion (even moreso than the existence of God) and I don't see any connection between this and the habitability of our universe. Even though these two ideas are always thrown together it just doesn't click for me.

I love Hamlet's warning that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy". It would be foolish and arrogant to think that there is nothing that we cannot perceive, yet it would also seem foolish to me to suppose that any _particular_ thing was out there, just beyond our keen. I can't justify it from a philosophical POV, but from a _practical_ POV these sorts of guesses turn out to be true all the time. Example: Why are there three generations of matter? Why are there six flavors of quarks? These were predicted without any reason beyond "symmetry" which is almost analogous to "beauty" and though they have been proven to exist we have not yet shown them to be "required". When the muon (the first lepton) was discovered Rabi famously wondered, "Who ordered that?". The general assumption now is that there is an undiscovered substructure that causes the quarks and leptons to fit neatly together as they do (in the same way that atomic substructure gives us the periodic table). Isn't it curious that physicists look for new generations of matter, super-symmetric particles, cosmic strings and other objects being motivated purely based on the quest for "beauty" and yet skeptics could hardly care less? Granted, the physicists have been successful so far, but that doesn't make their search more defensible to me than the search for God, from a philosophical point of view.

I've never heard this mentioned before, but I think that the 20th century discovery of a minimum quantum of action _could_ be interpreted as evidence of a "God" of sorts. Let's say you were just a brain in a jar and the universe that you observe was a sophisticated simulation (and I don't think a simulation is meaningfully different from a construction). How could you know? What would you expect to differ between your universe and a "natural" one? Well if our whole reality is _contained_ within something else then perhaps it would be discrete at some fundamental level and we would be able to observe rounding or truncating of fine values. If somehow ICs and sophisticated computers were developed before QM, I could even imagine fans of the Matrix positing fundamental discreteness as a _prediction_ of the brain-in-a-jar model.

As for a purpose to the universe, I can't see how it could ever be possible to learn. I don't even think it would even be possible to learn IF there was a purpose. For example the purpose could be to create culture, or to create sentient life, or to create _any_ life, or to create stars. Each of these levels is considered beautiful to humans, and so could also be considered beautiful to a demiurge. If the universe was created as a sort of garden for stars life could simply be an unintentional byproduct, one that a creator might actually be unaware of even billions of years later. And this is all assuming a sentient, semi-anthropomorphic creator. If we try to imagine even more alien gods, then the theoretical purpose becomes even more inscrutable.

Brian Bleakley said...

By the way, why are all your post bolded now?

Eric Mader said...

Glad that my post led you to these open speculations, but not sure how I can reply so as to give you something of use. I would say of the anthropic principle that those who apply it in an absolute sort of way would never be convinced that it was wearing thin. Thus the universe's extremely unlikely hospitality to life leads them simply to say: "So there must be multiple universes."

As for the problem of beauty, and how it relates to the truth of things, that in itself would seem an interesting route for you to take up--at least it seems that this question sparks you to your more interesting remarks. Of course beauty is one of the serious ancient philosophical problems that few people take seriously. Which is a pity.

Eric Mader said...

As for the second question, I thought a bolder font would make for easier reading. Do you find it so, or do you think it's too heavy?