Elon Musk is certainly the man of the moment. Tesla is on the verge of releasing its first mass market vehicle. Solar City is on the cusp of transforming the economics of home-based solar production. Gigafactory is slated to come online sometime before the end of the year. Elon says his Hyperloop has received tacit approval for its first route from some lawmakers — although he didn’t say which lawmakers or what approval he’d received. The South Australian government has signed a deal with Tesla for installation of world’s largest battery farm. And Space-X seems to be kicking some real wins with repeat uses of its rockets. With so many of his dreams becoming reality, perhaps Elon’s dream of sending man to Mars by 2030 might just happen!
A search for life on Mars
Elon says the first ship he sends to Mars will be called “Heart of Gold” as a tribute to the ship powered by an “infinite improbability drive” from Douglas Adams’ science fiction novel ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’ NASA, of course, is intending to cooperate with Elon in making this real. NASA says it has made “extraordinary progress” developing a plan for sustainable Mars exploration, building partnerships in both the public and private sectors.
Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) wants any such expedition to Mars to first include a very careful search for life. “No matter what we send to Mars, I very much hope we conduct a thorough, careful search for life before we consider landing people and cargo. I believe the discovery of life or evidence of life would change the way we think about the cosmos and our place within it,” Nye added.
Let’s imagine NASA, Bill and Elon all get their way. Imagine that “Heart of Gold” arrives in orbit around Mars and conducts a careful reconnaissance of the planet. Incredibly, to everyone’s amazement, they do find signs of life. In fact, they find a geodesic dome made of glass panes and carbon fibre frames. On setting down an advance party, the report is that this structure contains a carbon dioxide pump to oxygenate the air. Another system pressurises the CO2 and passes it over martian rocks and soil in order to produce water. A water well has been connected to a hydroponic installation that is growing rice, legumes, potatoes and bamboo.
Having made such a discovery, what do you think the “Heart of Gold” crew would make of the geodesic greenhouse?
I’d imagine their first question would be to ask whether it was the Chinese, the Russians or maybe the French who had beaten them there?
Why would they go straight to these hypotheses? Because the technology they’ve discovered is clearly engineered. It is designed with a purpose. And it’s all of human provenance.
It would take quite some evidence for the crew to move beyond the inference to human origin. Let’s say though that Bill Nye has managed to weasel his way onto the crew, and manages to convinces them that the “Heart of Gold” really is the first human crew to arrive on Mars. What then would be the crew’s backup hypothesis?
Knowing Bill, we’re pretty sure the next hypothesis would be some type of intelligent alien species. After all, it takes intelligence to construct such a complex, interdependent, purposefully life-sustaining environment.
Two hypotheses for the martian geodesic dome that would be instantly dismissed are:
- The geodesic dome has always existed on Mars.
- The geodesic dome and its functionally engineered components “just happened” by chance.
It’s intuitively obvious why inference to these hypotheses is just not credible.
The universe is a greenhouse
It is amazing that the choices available to the discovery of a functioning life-support system on Mars are also the choices available when we consider the origin of the universe.
You see, astrophysicists have discovered that the universe itself appears to be the equivalent of a carefully-engineered greenhouse. The universe appears to be carefully engineered to support life. Here’s how.
Physics postulates that almost immediately after the Big Bang, the four fundamental forces of this universe emerged:
- weak nuclear force
- strong nuclear force
These four forces emerged either at their current values, or at values very, very close to their current values, almost at the first instant after the beginning of the universe. The values of these forces have been fixed throughout the existence of the universe. It is the action of these four fundamental forces that seem to explain the major features of the physical universe.
In addition to these, there are a variety of “cosmological constants” that are set to very specific values.1
- Speed of Light: c=299,792,458 m s-1
- Gravitational Constant: G=6.673 x 10-11 m3 kg-1 s-2
- Planck's Constant: 1.05457148 x 10-34 m2 kg s-2
- Planck Mass-Energy: 1.2209 x 1022 MeV
- Mass of Electron, Proton, Neutron: 0.511; 938.3; 939.6 MeV
- Mass of Up, Down, Strange Quark: 2.4; 4.8; 104 MeV (Approx.)
- Ratio of Electron to Proton Mass: (1836.15)-1
- Gravitational Coupling Constant: 5.9 x 10-39
- Cosmological Constant: (2.3 x 10-3 eV)
- Hubble Constant: 71 km/s/Mpc (today)
- Higgs Vacuum Expectation Value: 246.2 GeV
If any of these values were slightly different, life in the universe would be unsustainable.
The following table demonstrates just how finely tuned the cosmological constants are.
Fine Tuning of the Physical Constants of the Universe2
Parameter Max. Deviation
Ratio of Electrons:Protons 1:1037
Ratio of Electromagnetic Force:Gravity 1:1040
Expansion Rate of Universe 1:1055
Mass Density of Universe1 1:1059
Cosmological Constant 1:10120
“These are the fundamental constants and quantities of the universe. Scientists have come to the shocking realisation that each of these numbers have been carefully dialled to an astonishingly precise value — a value that falls within an exceedingly narrow, life-permitting range. If any one of these numbers were altered by even a hair's breadth, no physical, interactive life of any kind could exist anywhere. There'd be no stars, no planets, no chemistry, no life.
“Consider gravity, for example. The force of gravity is determined by the gravitational constant. If this constant varied by just one in 1060 parts, none of us would exist. To understand how exceedingly narrow this life-permitting range is, imagine a dial divided into 1060 increments. To get a handle on how many tiny points on the dial this is, compare it to the number of cells in your body (1014) or the number of seconds that have ticked by since time began (1020). If the gravitational constant had been out of tune by just one of these infinitesimally small increments, the universe would either have expanded and thinned out so rapidly that no stars could form and life couldn't exist, or it would have collapsed back on itself with the same result: no stars, no planets, no life.
“Or consider the expansion rate of the universe. This is driven by the cosmological constant. A change in its value by a mere 1 part in 10120 parts would cause the universe to expand too rapidly or too slowly. In either case, the universe would, again, be life-prohibiting.
“Or, another example of fine-tuning: If the mass and energy of the early universe were not evenly distributed to an incomprehensible precision of 1 part in 1010^123, the universe would be hostile to life of any kind.” 1
“The ripples in the universe from the original Big Bang event are detectable at one part in 100,000. If this factor were slightly smaller, the universe would exist only as a collection of gas — no planets, no life. If this factor were slightly larger, the universe would consist only of large black holes. Obviously, no life would be possible in such a universe.
“Another finely tuned constant is the strong nuclear force — the force that holds atoms together. The Sun ‘burns’ by fusing hydrogen and higher elements together. When the two hydrogen atoms fuse, 0.7% of the mass of the hydrogen is converted into energy. If the amount of matter converted were slightly smaller—0.6% instead of 0.7%— a proton could not bond to a neutron, and the universe would consist only of hydrogen. With no heavy elements, there would be no rocky planets and no life. If the amount of matter converted were slightly larger—0.8%, fusion would happen so readily and rapidly that no hydrogen would have survived from the Big Bang. Again, there would be no solar systems and no life. The number must lie exactly between 0.6% and 0.8% (Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers).” 2
The fact is our universe permits physical, interactive life only because these, and many other numbers, have been independently and exquisitely balanced on a razor's edge. So you see, we are living in an exquisitely constructed greenhouse. The real question is: How did this greenhouse we call “the universe” come to be so finely-tuned?
Explanation for the fine tuning of the universe
What is the best explanation for this astounding phenomenon?
There are three live options. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either:
- Physical necessity
- Chance, or
Which of these options is the most plausible? Well, our crew on the “Heart of Gold” seemed to instantly dismiss the inference to physical necessity—“it’s always been here” / “it just has to be this way.” They also dismissed out of hand the inference to chance. All their inferences focused on different subsets of design, and it’s intuitively obvious as to why they would do that.
Some of the best minds in science have also inferred design as the cause of the universe’s astounding features.
“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a Superintellect monkeyed with physics… And that 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.”
— Fred Hoyle, Formulator of the theory of Stellar Nucleosynthesis
“There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all… It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature's numbers to make the universe. The impression of design is overwhelming.”
— Paul Davies, Theoretical physicist and Chair of the SETI project
But let’s examine each of these possibilities anyway.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics indicates that the universe tends towards disorder. Given enough time, the universe would distribute its energy evenly throughout spacetime, and there would be no planets, no suns, no stars and no life.
Why would a universe whose tendency is toward disorder “need” to have initial starting parameters that are so conducive to life? There is no logical reason why the cosmological parameters “need” to be set the way they are.
There is no physical necessity for the incredibly finely tuned cosmological parameters.
The scientists who recommend the inference to “chance” do understand just how infinitesimally small the chance of the cosmological fine tuning. They understand that they are saying this universe won the lottery of life.
In order to explain the apparent improbability of it all, some speculate that our universe is not the only universe. Indeed, they speculate that there are many, many universes being generated, and that we only see this one because we are here. This is called the “multiverse hypothesis.”
The multiverse hypothesis, however, has a significant problem. The scientist is implicitly assuming that the multiverse necessarily generates universes in a way that performs a “dynamic search” of the available parameter space. In other words, they’re implicitly imagining the multiverse as containing a galactic search algorithm, exploring every possible combination of forces.
If they weren’t implicitly assuming this, it is likely that the initial starting conditions for every universe would be similar.
But if the multiverse did happen to generate billions or trillions of different alternatives, then it is the multiverse itself that is finely tuned. You see, the multiverse doesn’t solve the “problem” of fine tuning. It simply shifts the problem from this universe to the multiverse.
The possibility of forming this universe “by chance” is so incredibly small that we are rationally justified in joining Fred Hoyle and Paul Davies in rejecting this hypothesis. This leaves us with the third hypothesis: Design.
There appear to be just two suggestions for who could have intentionally designed the universe to support life.
The first suggestion, put forward by at least one scientist, is:
- Super advanced aliens from a distant future travelled back in time to shape the universe as it is to support life.
This is a pretty bold assertion. Unfortunately, it suffers from the problem of infinite regress. If it is advanced clients coming back in time, then who made their universe habitable for them to be able to develop the knowledge and technology to shape ours?
The second possibility is that the sentient cause of the universe’s fine-tuning is:
- God — the first cause, the creator.
Now, it is true that in labelling this possibility as “God,” we’re not claiming direct inference to the Christian God. We’re not claiming that the inference is to a moral, personal, knowable God. We’ve arrived at Deism, rather than Theism. Yet it is rational inference from the evidence to postulate a Designer.
What is the Orthodox perspective?
The Orthodox do not attempt to prove God rationally. We have, however, demonstrated that belief in a Creator is compatible with a logically coherent world-view. In fact in our estimation, acknowledging a Creator is the most coherent and logical inference from the evidence that is encoded into the very fabric of this finely-tuned universe.
The agnostic Carl Sagan looked at the universe and declared:
“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” 3
The Orthodox declare that Love became human and appeared to us. And because we have Seen Him, we know that the universe is shot through with the Glory of God. We see not the vastness of an impersonal universe, but the transcendent Love of the Divine God, who loved us, and gave Himself for us, that where He Is we may be.
- The probability of a life-supporting planet
- Why the universe suggests there may be a God
- Conflict between Science and Religion refuted
3. Carl Sagan, 1985, Contact. p. 430.