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Our finely tuned universe inspires faith 

Milky WayAlan Fisher has been exploring current theories explaining how our universe works, and now shares his reflections on how recent scientific thinking strengthens our faith in a creator who was there from the very beginning.

I have just finished reading a book by the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, entitled “Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe”*. In it he argues that six constants play a key role in determining how our universe looks, and are, in effect, the basis of a ‘recipe’ for making the universe what it is.

Rees’s numbers are (and this is a bit heavy - skip it if you wish!):-

N is the ratio between the strength of electrical forces holding atoms together and the force of gravity between them.

Epsilon is the strength of the force binding nucleons into nuclei

Omega is the relative importance of gravity and expansion energy in the universe

Lambda is the cosmological constant

Q is a ratio of the gravitational energy required to pull a large galaxy apart to the energy equivalent of its mass

D number is simply the three spatial dimensions of spacetime

However, the central theme of the book is that each of the numbers seems to be finely tuned to enable our life supporting universe to exist. The billions of stars, black holes, dark matter and all the rest, together with the very different subatomic, quantum world - and indeed life itself - could not exist if these numbers were much different. Effectively, if any of them were ‘detuned’, even a little, then there would be no stars and no life.

For example, N is a very large number (10 to the power 36), but if there were just a few less zeros, then the universe could only have existed for a short time, and no advanced creatures, like us, could have evolved. Similarly, the value of Epsilon is 0.007. If it was just a little different, say 0.006 or 0.008, then we would not exist.

All very heady stuff. But, of course, the next question that everyone finds themselves asking is “How did this fine-tuning ever come into being?” There seem to be three possible explanations. It might just have been an accident; there is a creator, who sees purpose in his creation; or our universe is one of many – in other words, we are part of a ‘multiverse’.

At first sight, an accident would appear to be very unlikely, given the level of fine tuning. Nevertheless, some people consider that it would be unremarkable, on the basis that we cannot separate our assessment of the probability from the fact that we exist in a world where these values apply. In other words it is necessary for the values to be as they are, because otherwise no one would be there to observe them. It must be possible to observe some universe, and so the constants of that universe must accommodate that possibility (the anthropic principle).

However, others claim that this is not sufficient, and even that some versions of the anthropic principle are simply truisms. Rees obviously feels the need for something more, and quotes the Canadian philosopher, John Leslie, who said that if you had faced a firing squad of fifty marksmen, and they all missed, then you might be grateful, but you would certainly not leave it at that and would try to find out what had really happened.

Rees’s preferred explanation, and a seemingly fashionable one, is that our Big Bang may not have been the only one. Perhaps different universes cooled down differently and emerged with different laws governed by different numbers. If there were enough of them – maybe the multiverse is infinite – then clearly it would be reasonable that our wonderfully tuned numbers would appear somewhere.

Whilst quite logical, I must admit to finding this explanation also somewhat unsatisfying. If one conjectures a multiverse of infinite possibilities, then obviously anything at all can emerge, and will. There is something built into us, I think, that demands a more cogent explanation. Somehow the concept of an infinite multiverse as an explanation is just too remote and all-embracing to meet the need. **

For me, the precision of our universe as evidence of a creator, who set the mathematics, physics, and parameters to exactly produce our wonderful world, is the most compelling answer. This, of course, follows in the tradition of ‘argument from design’ for God’s existence. Most of the older arguments along these lines have now been repudiated, but here we have something that is more difficult to explain away.

The eminent quantum physicist and theologian, Rev Dr John Polkinghorne, said “the universe is not just ‘any old world’, but it’s special and finely tuned for life, because it is the creation of a Creator who wills that it should be so”.

We live at a time when many amazing cosmological discoveries are being made, mainly as a result of technical advances – larger telescopes, astronomical probes, the Large Hadron Collider and so on. However, it is interesting how recent advances in scientific knowledge at both the far reaches of the universe and at the microworld level, are leading cosmologists back to what are essentially philosophical questions.

One thing is clear; belief in a benign creator who made all things, and made them wonderfully well, is a perfectly reasonable intellectual position to take. As Genesis puts it very simply, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”.

*”Just Six Numbers”, from the Science Masters series, published by Orion Books Ltd.

** Some critics go further and argue that the multiverse debate is more metaphysics than science. For example, Princeton cosmologist Paul Steinhardt says “a Theory of Everything is useless because it does not rule out any possibility, and worthless because it submits to no do-or-die tests”.
Alan Fisher is a retired electrical engineer and a member of St Matthew’s Church in Ipswich. He has been involved in several cross-church projects over the years and is currently part of the Heart for Ipswich team.  He was previously editor of Network Norwich’s sister website, Network Ipswich, which comes under the auspices of Heart for Ipswich. 

The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Norwich and Norfolk, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate between website users. 
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