By Charles Rulon
Even if it looks to our limited minds that the only possible answer to some current mystery regarding life or the universe is that “God must have done it”, it’s arguably bad theology to claim as much. This is because the strength of one’s faith now depends on whether or not scientists can fill this gap in our knowledge. Since science has been extremely successful over the last few centuries in replacing “God did it” answers with fruitful naturalistic explanations, the risk of one’s faith being undermined is quite high. The following are four such examples from the non-living realm.
Theist: Our solar system is very stable, with all the planets orbiting the Sun in the same direction and in roughly the same plane. It’s highly improbable that this could have happened just by random chance, since there are no laws of physics that would have prevented the planets from revolving every which way around the Sun with disastrous effects. Even Issac Newton believed God was needed to keep the planets from eventually flying away into space or falling into the Sun. Isn’t this evidence that our solar system had to have been designed and finely tuned by an intelligent creator?
Response: But then along came Pierre-Simon de Laplace a century after Newton. Laplace demonstrated mathematically that our solar system didn’t need God’s intervention to remain stable after all. In addition, modern theories of solar system formation explained away all of this so-called miraculous planetary motion. Our planets formed from a pancake-like disk of material that orbited the early Sun. Conservation of angular momentum also explains why such pancake-like disks are so common throughout our universe.[i]
Besides, to make matters worse for the “God did it” folks, the structural details of our solar system are sloppy from an engineering perspective, but just what one might expect if only the blind laws and forces of nature were involved. Plus, modern studies have even demonstrated that contrary to Laplace’s claim the orbits of our planets may eventually become chaotic after all.
The “Big Bang”
Theist: Our universe couldn’t have exploded into existence from nothing. Therefore, it had to have had a creator.
Response: According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, the energy of a gravitational field is negative and the energy of matter is positive. Calculations adding up all the matter and all the gravity in the observable universe come out to equal zero.[ii] As one cosmologist put it: “The universe could come from nothing because it is, fundamentally, nothing.”[iii]
Furthermore, writes physicist Victor Stenger, the laws of physics are those that would be expected to exist if the universe arose mostly by chance from no matter, no energy, no structure and, most significantly, no information.[iv] And cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, author of the book, A Universe from Nothing, writes: “The discoveries of modern particle physics and cosmology over the past half century allow not only a possibility that the universe arose from nothing, but in fact make this possibility increasingly plausible. Everything we have measured about the universe is not only consistent with a universe that came from nothing…, but in fact, …makes this possibility ever more likely.” “The old idea that nothing might involve empty space, devoid of mass or energy, or anything material, for example, has now been replaced by a boiling bubbling brew of virtual particles, popping in and out of existence in a time so short that we cannot detect them directly.” Krauss further adds that “nothing”, meaning no space, no time, no laws of nature, is an unstable state and would collapse into something. “Modern science has made the something-from-nothing debate irrelevant… Empirical discoveries continue to tell us that … ‘something’ and ‘nothing’ are physical concepts and therefore are properly the domain of science, not theology or philosophy. (Indeed, religion and philosophy have added nothing to our understanding of these ideas in millennia.)” [v]
Theist: Our universe is exquisitely fine-tuned for the evolution of life. In fact, the famous astronomer Fred Hoyle even commented that our universe looks like a “put-up job,” as though somebody had been “monkeying with the laws of physics.” An apt comparison is a safe which can only be opened by registering a complicated series of numbers. The mathematical odds against opening the safe by randomly spinning the dial are astronomical. This is strong evidence for an intelligent creator of the universe.
Response: As cosmology and astrophysics continues to advance, a naturalistic explanation for all of this apparent fine-tuning has emerged. It is the multiverse, a gigantic number of universes, each with different randomly appearing fundamental constants and, therefore, different properties. Our universe just happens by chance to be one of these universes in which the evolution of carbon-based life was possible. No supernatural designer is now needed; no “amazing coincidences” now need to be explained.
Of course, many theists see the multiverse hypothesis as merely a desperate attempt by atheists grasping at straws to explain away all the amazing cosmological coincidences. But according to astronomer William Jefferys, the proposed existence of a multiverse is not a response to the apparent fine-tuning of our universe, but a consequence of the current leading theory in cosmology — a theory best supported by the evidence — the theory of chaotic inflation. One possible consequence of inflation is that the universe contains an infinitely of regions that have each inflated into expanding universes much like ours, but perhaps with physical constants different from ours. As further evidence, the concept of a multiverse is consistent with a leading model of string theory, which suggests that there could be 10500 possible universes, all with different self-consistent laws and constants.
When asked if scientists will ever be able to prove that the multiverse is real, physicist Andrei Linde responded that nothing else fits the data. He explained that physicists don’t have any other explanation for the dark energy, or for the mass of the electron, or for the many properties of various particles. Besides, if nature can produce one universe, why couldn’t it produce many universes? Indeed, it might even be expected. Physicists know nothing in principle to prevent it.
The “fine-tuned” Earth
Theist: There is a staggering amount of evidence that Earth is not some average planet, but is exquisitely fit to support life. This amazing evidence all but proves the existence of an intelligent designer.[vi]
Response: In 2010, Geoff March, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley estimated that, judging from his observations, our galaxy may contain tens of billions of planets roughly the size and mass of Earth.[vii] Thus, with so many planets it’s not surprising that here or there is a planet friendly to life.
Besides, how human-friendly is Earth in the first place? After all, it took over two billion years for even simple multi-cellular life to evolve. Then it took another two billion years for humans to evolve, an event that included so many accidents and contingencies of history that, were evolution to start over, the big money is on space-age intelligent beings never evolving again. In addition, catastrophic events such as meteor impacts, gigantic volcanic eruptions, ice ages and plate tectonic movements tearing apart entire continents have devastated Earth’s surface for eons, resulting in at least five major mass extinctions over the last 600 million years. Surely there might be other planets much more suited for the evolution of advanced species than Earth was.
Has science disproved God?
There are still a number of cosmologists who believe that the arguments for a multiverse are questionable. Also, they observe that the “multiverse answer” still leaves ultimate questions unresolved, such as did the multiverse come into existence through necessity, chance or purpose? Furthermore, they point out that proof of other universes radically different from our own may permanently lie beyond the domain of science.[viii]
Perhaps modern science is not incompatible with the idea that there could be some kind of “higher mind or intelligence or purpose” behind our universe’s existence. But so far no such purpose or “intelligent designer” seems apparent or necessary. Besides, as Krauss, Dawkins and numerous other non-theistic scientists have emphasized, there is no logical connection between some kind of “intelligence” behind the universe and the interventionist, genocidal, sin-punishing, prayer answering God of the world’s major religions.
Besides, if humans actually are central to some kind of master plan then, skeptics ask, why is our universe so unfathomably huge and old and violent? Black holes suck in entire star systems. Gigantic explosions at the center of galaxies destroy millions of worlds. Also, why does this “master plan” have our universe expanding faster and faster, only to eventually once again become “nothing”?
Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize winner in physics, sees no evidence for God in our universe and observes: “If we were to see the hand of a designer anywhere, it would be in the fundamental principles, the laws of nature. But contrary to some assertions they appear to be utterly impersonal and without any special role for life.” [ix]
Of course, many major scientific questions remain and always will. Of course, scientists can only attempt to answer empirically testable questions. Of course, just because a phenomenon can be explained naturally doesn’t mean that some kind of “god” had nothing to do with it. Yet, as scientific knowledge has continued to advance over the last 400 years, supernatural explanations for events have continued to retreat and retreat….and retreat. Today all relevant scientific evidence—from astrophysics, evolutionary biology and biochemistry, to the lack of any solid evidence for the existence of paranormal or supernatural events—strongly supports the conclusion (at least in the minds of non-theists) that there never were any gods in the first place, certainly not in any kind of manifestation that is of interest to the overwhelming majority of Christians, Muslims, Jews and other religious folk.
———————————————————————- Charles Rulon is an Emeritus, Life Sciences, Long Beach City College
[i]See “A Universe of Disks” by Omer Blaes in Scientific American, October 2004, p. 50+.
[ii] The total energy of the universe is zero! http://www.astrosociety.org/pubs/mercury/31_02/nothing.html
[iii] Lemley, Brad. “Guth’s Grand Guess”, Discover, April 2002.
[iv] Stenger, Victor; God: The Failed Hypothesis—How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist. <http://www.colorado.edu/ philosophy/vstenger/VWeb/Home.html>. Also: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mark_vuletic/vacuum.html
[vi]For example, see the 2000 book Rare Earth by Ward and Brownlee and the 2004 book The Privileged Planet by Gonzalez and Richards.
[vii] Discover, Jan./Feb. 2011, p. 34
[viii] Ellis, George. “Does the Multiverse Really Exist?”; Scientific American, August 2011.
[ix]Weinberg, Steven, 2001, A Designer Universe? Skeptical Inquirer, Sept./Oct. 2001.