Friday, July 04, 2003

Creation and Science -- Part 2

Yesterday, I briefly sketched the sloppiness that tends to inhabit the domains of creation science. If you are interested in a more fully explained example of the problem, click here. The linked article, The Legend of the Shrinking Sun, explains a transient scientific problem and how the creation science community ran off with it. It contains an appeal similar to mine for common sense, integrity, and attention to details. It is far better to hold a young earth view and acknowledge the disconnect with current science than to construct a young earth edifice on sand. 

But I must move on.

The Anthropic Principle

Around the 1970's scientists began to notice that the universe was remarkably fine-tuned. They observed that even small variations of fundamental physical constants would entail dramatic changes in the structure of the universe. Indeed, most scenarios using differing values yielded lifeless universes. Larry Whitham in his book By Design identifies the beginning of this trend with Brandon Carter, an astrophysicist at Cambridge:

Carter asked why the unique observational role of humans could not again be taken seriously by science. He remonstrated against an "exaggerated subservience to the `Copernican principle."' And he called the scientific version of the Principle of Mediocrity "a most questionable dogma." But his punch line about the human location in the scheme of things was what galvanized his audience. "What we can expect to observe must be restricted by the conditions necessary for our presence as observers," Carter said. Thus, "although our situation is not necessarily central, it is inevitably privileged."

In his paper, Carter noted how coincidental it was that certain numerical ratios governed the mass of stars and the expansion rate of the universe. He commented on how certain fundamental parameters of physics allowed biological life to exist. The presence of observers-according to the anthropic principle-would predict that these coincidences and parameters are necessary for their existence in the first place, which would explain why the numbers are what they are. [Whitham, Larry. By Design: Science and the Search for God (San Francisco, Encounter Books, 2003) p. 41]

Thus was born the Anthropic Principle in secular science. From anthropos, meaning man, it states that our being here to observe the universe is one of the reasons the universe is what it is. It says that the universe is fine tuned for life and that such a state of affairs is far from certain. 

The fine tuning of the physical constants that make up the universe is one of science's modern problems. In 1999, Martin Rees, the Royal Astronomer of England and professor at Cambridge University published Just Six Numbers: the Deep Forces that Shape the Universe. In this book, Professor Rees describes six physical constants whose values make the universe what it is. Even small changes to these numbers would mean that life could not exist. Below are those numbers excerpted from his book. If you are not scientifically inclined, just read and note how often he makes reference to small changes and their disastrous outcomes:

This book describes six numbers that now seem especially significant. Two of them relate to the basic forces; two fix the size and overall ‘texture’ of our universe and determine whether it will continue for ever; and two more fix the properties of space itself:

• The cosmos is so vast because there is one crucially important huge number N in nature, equal to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. This number measures the strength of the electrical forces that hold atoms together, divided by the force of gravity between them. If N had a few less zeros, only a short-lived miniature universe could exist: no creatures could grow larger than insects, and there would be no time for biological evolution.

• Another number, E, whose value is 0.007, defines how firmly atomic nuclei bind together and how all the atoms on Earth were made. Its value controls the power from the Sun and, more sensitively, how stars transmute hydrogen into all the atoms of the periodic table. Carbon and oxygen are common, whereas gold and uranium are rare, because of what happens in the stars. If E were 0.006 or 0.008, we could not exist.

• The cosmic number O (omega) measures the amount of material in our universe – galaxies, diffuse gas, and ‘dark matter’. O tells us the relative importance of gravity and expansion energy in the universe. If this ratio were too high relative to a particular ‘critical’ value, the universe would have collapsed long ago; had it been too low, no galaxies of stars would have formed. The initial expansion speed seems to have been finely tuned.

• Measuring the fourth number, L (lambda), was the biggest scientific news of 1998. An unsuspected new force – a cosmic ‘antigravity’ – controls the expansion of our universe, even though it has no discernible effect on scales less than a billion light-years. It is destined to become ever more dominant over gravity and other forces as our universe becomes ever darker and emptier. Fortunately for us (and very surprisingly to theorists), L is very small. Otherwise its effect would have stopped galaxies and stars from forming, and cosmic evolution would have been stifled before it could even begin.

• The seeds for all cosmic structures – stars, galaxies and clusters of galaxies – were all imprinted in the Big Bang. The fabric of our universe depends on one number, Q, which represents the ratio of two fundamental energies and is about 1/100,000 in value. If Q were even smaller, the universe would be inert and structureless; if Q were much larger, it would be a violent place, in which no stars or solar systems could survive, dominated by vast black holes.

• The sixth crucial number has been known for centuries, although it’s now viewed in a new perspective. It is the number of spatial dimensions in our world, D, and equals three. Life couldn’t exist if D were two or four. Time is a fourth dimension, but distinctly different from the others in that it has a built-in arrow: we ‘move’ only towards the future. Near black holes, space is so warped that light moves in circles, and time can stand still. Furthermore, close to the time of the Big Bang, and also on microscopic scales, space may reveal its deepest underlying structure of all: the vibrations and harmonies of objects called ‘superstrings’, in a ten-dimensional arena.

Perhaps there are some connections between these numbers. At the moment, however, we cannot predict any one of them from the values of the others. Nor do we know whether some ‘theory of everything’ will eventually yield a formula that interrelates them, or that specifies them uniquely.

I have highlighted these six because each plays a crucial and distinctive role in our universe, and together they determine how the universe evolves and what its internal potentialities are; moreover, three of them (those that pertain to the large-scale universe) are only now being measured with any precision.

These six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator? I take the view that it is neither. An infinity of other universes may well exist where the numbers are different. Most would be stillborn or sterile. We could only have emerged (and therefore we naturally now find ourselves) in a universe with the ‘right’ combination. This realization offers a radically new perspective on our universe, on our place in it, and on the nature of physical laws.[Rees, Martin. Just Six Number-The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe (Basic Books 2000) p. 2-4]

Hugh Ross, a Christian and founder of the Reasons to Believe website, has documented many more numbers having to do with the fine tuning of the universe. Hugh Ross and other Christians, who have studied the Anthropic Principle, have no trouble attributing the cause to God who was the designing creator of the universe. Secular science, to avoid the God problem, suggests that an "infinity of other universes may well exist where the numbers are different." That secular science needs to suggest infinite universes underscores the conundrum of our finely tuned universe. Our choices, it would seem, are unbelievable co-incidence, a Creator, or an great many number of universes.

The sloppiness of creation science prohibits its practical use to evangelize scientists and informed secular people. The Anthropic Principle, on the other hand, is of their own making and provides a door to discuss matters of creation and design.. It is the modern expression of Psalm 19, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands."

There is, however, a catch.

Monday: The Catch

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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