Design and the Anthropic Principle
Now that the limits and parameters of the universe can be calculated, and some even directly measured, astronomers and physicists have begun to recognize a connection between these limits and parameters and the existence of life. It is impossible to imagine a universe containing life in which any one of the fundamental constants of physics or any one of the fundamental parameters of the universe is different, even slightly so, in one way or another.
From this recognition arises the anthropic principle—everything about the universe tends toward man, toward making life possible and sustaining it. The first popularizer of the principle American physicist John Wheeler, describes it in this way, “A life-giving factor lies at the centre of the whole machinery and design of the world.”(1)
Of course, design in the natural world has been acknowledged since the beginning of recorded history. Divine design is the message of each of the several hundred creation accounts that form the basis of the world’s religions.(2, 3) The idea that the natural world was designed especially for mankind is the very bedrock of the Greek, as well as of the Judeo-Christian world view. Western philosophers of the post-Roman era went so far as to formalize a discipline called teleology—the study of the evidence for overall design and purpose in nature. Teleology attracted such luminaries as Augustine, Maimonides, Aquinas, Newton and Paley, all of whom gave it much of their life’s work.
The Earth as a Fit Habitat
Evidence for the design of the sun-earth-moon system(14-31)
The following parameters cannot exceed certain limits without disturbing the earth’s capacity to support life. Some of these parameters are more narrowly confining than others. For example, the first parameter would eliminate only half the stars from candidacy for life-supporting Systems, whereas parameters five, seven, and eight would each eliminate more than ninety-nine in a hundred star-planet systems. Not only must the parameters for life support fall within a certain restrictive range, but they must remain relatively constant over time. And we know that several, such as parameters fourteen through nineteen, are subject to potentially catastrophic fluctuation. In addition to the parameters listed here, there are others, such as the eccentricity of a planet’s orbit, that have an upper (or a lower) limit only.
1. number of star companions
- if more than one: tidal interactions would disrupt planetary orbits
- if less than one: not enough heat produced for life
2. parent star birth date
- if more recent: star would not yet have reached stable burning phase
- if less recent: stellar system would not yet contain enough heavy elements
3. parent star age
- if older: luminosity of star would not be sufficiently stable
- if younger: luminosity of star would not be sufficiently stable
4. parent star distance from center of galaxy
- if greater: not enough heavy elements to make rocky planets
- if less: stellar density and radiation would he too great
5. parent star mass
- if greater: luminosity output from the star would not be sufficiently stable
- if less: range of distances appropriate for life would be too narrow; tidal forces would disrupt the rotational period for a planet of the right distance
6. parent star color
- if redder: insufficient photosynthetic response
- if bluer: insufficient photosynthetic response
7. surface gravity
- if stronger: planet’s atmosphere would retain huge amounts of ammonia and methane
- if weaker: planet’s atmosphere would lose too much water
8. distance from parent star
- if farther away: too cool for a stable water cycle
- if closer: too warm for a stable water cycle
9. thickness of crust
- if thicker: too much oxygen would he transferred from the atmosphere to the crust
- if thinner: volcanic and tectonic activity would be too great
10. rotation period
- if longer: diurnal temperature differences would he too great
- if shorter: atmospheric wind velocities would he too great
11. gravitational interaction with a moon
- if greater: tidal effects on the oceans, atmosphere, and rotational period would he too severe
- if less: earth’s orbital obliquity would change too much causing climatic instabilities
12. magnetic field
- if stronger: electromagnetic storms would be too severe
- if weaker: no protection from solar wind particles
13. axial tilt
- if greater: surface temperature differences would be too great
- if less: surface temperature differences would he too great
14. albedo (ratio of reflected light to total amount falling on surface)
- if greater: runaway ice age would develop
- if less: runaway greenhouse effect would develop
15. oxygen to nitrogen ratio in atmosphere
- if larger: life functions would proceed too quickly
- if smaller: life functions would proceed too slowly
16. carbon dioxide and water vapor levels in atmosphere
- if greater: runaway greenhouse effect would develop
- if less: insufficient greenhouse effect
17. ozone level in atmosphere
- if greater: surface temperatures would become too low
- if less: surface temperatures would he too high; too much uv radiation at surface
18. atmospheric electric discharge rate
- if greater: too much fire destruction
- if less: too little nitrogen fixing in the soil
19. seismic activity
- if greater: destruction of too many life-forms
- if less: nutrients on ocean floors would not be uplifted
The Universe as a Fit Habitat
In recent years these and other parameters for the universe have been more sharply defined and analyzed. Now, nearly two dozen coincidences evincing design have been acknowledged:
1. The gravitational coupling constant—i.e., the force of gravity, determines what kinds of stars are possible in the universe. If the gravitational force were slightly stronger, star formation would proceed more efficiently and all Stars would be more massive than our sun by at least 1.4 times. These large stars are important in that they alone manufacture elements heavier than iron, and they alone disperse elements heavier than beryllium to the interstellar medium. Such elements are essential for the formation of planets as well as of living things in any form. However, these Stars burn too rapidly and too unevenly to maintain life-supporting conditions on surrounding planets. Stars as small as our sun are necessary for that.
On the other hand, if the gravitational force were slightly weaker, all stars would have less than 0.8 times the mass of the sun. Though such stars burn long and evenly enough to maintain life-supporting planets, no heavy elements essential for building such planets or life would exist.
2. The strong nuclear force coupling constant holds together the particles in the nucleus of an atom. If the strong nuclear force were slightly weaker, multi-proton nuclei would not hold together. Hydrogen would be the only element in the universe.
If this force were slightly stronger, not only would hydrogen be rare in the universe, but the supply of the various life-essential elements heavier than iron (elements resulting from the fission of very heavy elements) would be insufficient. Either way, life would be impossible.(a)
3. The weak nuclear force coupling constant affects the behavior of leptons. Leptons form a whole class of elementary particles (e.g. neutrinos, electrons, and photons) that do not participate in strong nuclear reactions. The most familiar weak interaction effect is radioactivity, in particular, the beta decay reaction:
neutron -> proton + electron + neutrino
The availability of neutrons as the universe cools through temperatures appropriate for nuclear fusion determines the amount of helium produced during the first few minutes of the big bang. If the weak nuclear force coupling constant were slightly larger, neutrons would decay more readily, and therefore would be less available. Hence, little or no helium would be produced from the big bang. Without the necessary helium, heavy elements sufficient for the constructing of life would not be made by the nuclear furnaces inside stars. On the other hand, if this constant were slightly smaller, the big bang would burn most or all of the hydrogen into helium, with a subsequent over-abundance of heavy elements made by stars, and again life would not be possible.
A second, possibly more delicate, balance occurs for supernovae. It appears that an outward surge of neutrinos determines whether or not a supernova is able to eject its heavy elements into outer space. If the weak nuclear force coupling constant were slightly larger, neutrinos would pass through a supernova’s envelop without disturbing it. Hence, the heavy elements produced by the supernova would remain in the core. If the constant were slightly smaller, the neutrinos would not be capable of blowing away the envelop. Again, the heavy elements essential for life would remain trapped forever within the cores of supernovae.
4. The electromagnetic coupling constant binds electrons to protons in atoms. The characteristics of the orbits of electrons about atoms determines to what degree atoms will bond together to form molecules. If the electromagnetic coupling constant were slightly smaller, no electrons would be held in orbits about nuclei. If it were slightly larger, an atom could not “share” an electron orbit with other atoms. Either way, molecules, and hence life, would be impossible.
5. The ratio of electron to proton mass also determines the characteristics of (he orbits of electrons about nuclei. A proton is 1836 times more massive than an electron. if the electron to proton mass ratio were slightly larger or slightly smaller, again, molecules would not form, and life would be impossible.
6. The age of the universe governs what kinds of stars exist. It takes about three billion years for the first stars to form. It takes another ten or twelve billion years for supernovae to spew out enough heavy elements to make possible stars like our sun, stars capable of spawning rocky planets. Yet another few billion years is necessary for solar-type stars to stabilize sufficiently to support advanced life on any of its planets. Hence, if the universe were just a couple of billion years younger, no environment suitable for life would exist. However, if the universe were about ten (or more) billion years older than it is, there would be no solar-type stars in a stable burning phase in the right part of a galaxy. In other words, the window of time during which life is possible in the universe is relatively narrow.
7. The expansion rate of the universe determines what kinds of stars, if any, form in the universe. If the rate of expansion were slightly less, the whole universe would have recollapsed before any solar-type stars could have settled into a stable burning phase. If the universe were expanding slightly more rapidly, no galaxies (and hence no stars) would condense from the general expansion. How critical is this expansion rate? According to Alan Guth,(6) it must be fine-tuned to an accuracy of one part in 1055. Guth, however, suggests that his inflationary model, given certain values for the four fundamental forces of physics, may provide a natural explanation for the critical expansion rate.
8. The entropy level of the universe affects the condensation of massive systems. The universe contains 100,000,000 photons for every baryon. This makes the universe extremely entropic, i.e. a very efficient radiator and a very poor engine. If the entropy level for the universe were slightly larger, no galactic systems would form (and therefore no stars). If the entropy level were slightly smaller, the galactic systems that formed would effectively trap radiation and prevent any fragmentation of the Systems into stars Either way the universe would be devoid of stars and, thus, of life. (Some models for the universe relate this coincidence to a dependence of entropy upon the gravitational coupling constant. [7, 8])
9. The mass of the universe (actually mass + energy, since E = mc2) determines how much nuclear burning takes place as the universe cools from the hot big bang. If the mass were slightly larger, too much deuterium (hydrogen atoms with nuclei containing both a proton and a neutron) would form during the cooling of the big bang. Deuterium is a powerful catalyst for subsequent nuclear burning in Stars. This extra deuterium would cause stars to burn much too rapidly to sustain life on any possible planet.
On the other hand, if the mass of the universe were slightly smaller, no helium would be generated during the cooling of the big bang. Without helium, stars cannot produce the heavy elements necessary for life. Thus, we see a reason why the universe is as big as it is. If it were any smaller (or larger), not even one planet like the earth would be possible.
10. The uniformity of the universe determines its stellar components. Our universe has a high degree of uniformity. Such uniformity is considered to arise most probably from a brief period of inflationary expansion near the time of the origin of the universe. If the inflation (or some other mechanism) had not smoothed the universe to the degree we see, the universe would have developed into a plethora of black holes separated by virtually empty space.
On the other hand, if the universe were smoothed beyond this degree, stars, star clusters, and galaxies may never have formed at all. Either way, the resultant universe would be incapable of supporting life.
11. The stability of the proton affects the quantity of matter in the universe and also the radiation level as it pertains to higher life forms. Each proton contains three quarks. Through the agency of other particles (called bosons) quarks decay into antiquarks, pions, and positive electrons. Currently in our universe this decay process occurs on the average of only once per proton per 1032 years.(b) If that rate were greater, the biological consequences for large animals and man would be catastrophic, for the proton decays would deliver lethal doses of radiation.
On the other hand, if the proton were more stable (less easily formed and less likely to decay), less matter would have emerged from events occurring in the first split second of the universe’s existence. There would be insufficient matter in the universe for life to be possible.
12. The fine structure constants relate directly to each of the four fundamental forces of physics (gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear). Compared to the coupling constants, the fine structure constants typically yield stricter design constraints for the universe. For example, the electromagnetic fine structure constant affects the opacity of stellar material. (Opacity is the degree to which a material permits radiant energy to pass through). In star formation, gravity pulls material together while thermal motions tend to pull it apart. An increase in the opacity of this material will limit the effect of thermal motions. Hence, smaller clumps of material will be able to overcome the resistance of the thermal motions. If the electromagnetic fine structure constant were slightly larger, all stars would be less than 0.7 times the mass of the sun. If the electromagnetic fine structure constant were slightly smaller, all stars would be more than 1.8 times the mass of the sun.
13. The velocity of light can be expressed in a variety of ways as a function of any one of the fundamental forces of physics or as a function of one of the fine structure constants. Hence, in the case of this constant, too, the slightest change, up or down, would negate any possibility for life in the universe.
14. The 8Be,12C, and 16O nuclear energy levels affect the manufacture and abundance of elements essential to life. Atomic nuclei exist in various discrete energy levels. A transition from one level to another occurs through the emission or capture of a photon that possesses precisely the energy difference between the two levels. The first coincidence here is that 8Be decays in just 10-15
seconds. Because 8Be is so highly unstable, it slows down the fusion process. If it were more stable, fusion of heavier elements would proceed so readily that catastrophic stellar explosions would result. Such explosions would prevent the formation of many heavy elements essential for life. On the other hand, if 8Be were even more unstable, element production beyond 8Be would not occur.
The second coincidence is that 12C happens to have a nuclear energy level very slightly above the sum of the energy levels for 8Be and
4He. Anything other than this precise nuclear energy level for 12C would guarantee insufficient carbon production for life.
The third coincidence is that 16O has exactly the right nuclear energy level either to prevent all the carbon from turning into oxygen or to facilitate sufficient production of 16O for life. Fred Hoyle, who discovered these coincidences in 1953, concluded that “a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology.”(10)
15. The distance between stars affects the orbits and even the existence of planets. The average distance between stars in our part of the galaxy is about 30 trillion miles. If this distance were slightly smaller, the gravitational interaction between stars would be so strong as to destabilize planetary orbits. this destabilization would create extreme temperature variations on the planet. If this distance were slightly larger, the heavy element debris thrown out by supernovae would be so thinly distributed that rocky planets like earth would never form. The average distance between stars is just right to make possible a planetary system such as our own.
16. The rate of luminosity increase for stars affects the temperature conditions on surrounding planets. Small stars, like the sun, settle into a stable burning phase once the hydrogen fusion process ignites within their core. However, during this stable burning phase such stars undergo a very gradual increase in their luminosity. This gradual increase is perfectly suitable for the gradual introduction of life forms, in a sequence from primitive to advanced, upon a planet. If the rate of increase were slightly greater, a runaway green house effectc would be fell sometime between the introduction of the primitive and the introduction of the advanced life forms. If the rate of increase were slightly smaller, a runaway freezing(d) of the oceans and lakes would occur. Either way, the planet’s temperature would become too extreme for advanced life or even for the long-term survival of primitive life.
This list of sensitive constants is by no means complete. And yet it demonstrates why a growing number of physicists and astronomers have become convinced that the universe was not only divinely brought into existence but also divinely designed. American astronomer George Greenstein expresses his thoughts:
As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency—or, rather, Agency—must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?(11)
It is clear that man is too limited to have created the universe. But, it is also evident that the universe is too limited to have created man. The universe contains no more than1080baryons(h) and has been in existence for no more than 1018 seconds.
Compared to the inorganic systems comprising the universe, biological systems are enormously complex. The genome (complete set of chromosomes necessary for reproduction) of an E. coli bacterium has the equivalent of about two million nucleotides. A single human cell contains the equivalent of about six billion nucleotides. Moreover, unlike inorganic systems, the sequence in which the individual components are assembled is critical for the survival of biological systems. Also, only amino acids with left handed configurations can be used in protein synthesis, the amino acids can be joined only by peptide bonds, each amino acid first must be activated by a specific enzyme, and multiple special enzymes (enzymes themselves are enormously complex sequence-critical molecules) are required to bind messenger RNA to ribosomes before protein synthesis can begin or end.
The bottom line is that the universe is at least ten billion orders of magnitude (a factor of 1010,000,000,000times) too small or too young for life to have assembled itself by natural processes.(i) These kinds of calculations have been done by researchers, both non-theists and theists, in a variety of disciplines.(42-58)
Invoking other universes cannot solve the problem. All such models require that the additional universes remain totally out of contact with one another, that is, their space-time manifolds cannot overlap. The only explanation left to us to tell how living organisms received their highly complex and ordered configurations is that an intelligent, transcendent Creator personally infused this information.
a. The strong nuclear force is actually much more delicately balanced. An increase as small as two percent means that protons would never form from quarks (particles that form the building blocks of baryons and mesons). A similar decrease means that certain heavy elements essential for life would be unstable.
b. Direct observations of proton decay have yet to be confirmed. Experiments simply reveal that the average proton lifetime must exceed 1032 years.(9) However, if the average proton lifetime exceeds about 1034 years, than there would be no physical means for generating the matter that is observed in the universe.
c. An example of the greenhouse effect is a locked car parked in the sun. Visible light from the sun passes easily through the windows of the car, is absorbed by the interior, and reradiated as infrared light. But, the windows will not permit the passage of infrared radiation. Hence, heat accumulates in the car’s interior. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere works like the windows of a car. The early earth had much more carbon dioxide in its atmosphere. However, the first plants extracted this carbon dioxide and released oxygen. Hence, the increase in the sun’s luminosity was balanced off by the decrease in the greenhouse effect caused by the lessened amount of carbon dioxide In the atmosphere.
d. A runaway freezing would occur because snow and ice reflect better than other materials on the surface of the earth. Less solar energy is absorbed thereby lowering the surface temperature which in turn creates more snow and ice.
e. The average number of planets per star is still largely unknown. The latest research suggests that only bachelor stars with characteristics similar to those of the sun may possess planets. Regardless, all researchers agree that the figure is certainly much less than one planet per star.
f. The assumption is that all life is based on carbon. Silicon and boron at one time were considered candidates for alternate life chemistries. However, silicon can sustain amino acid chains no more than a hundred such molecules long. Boron allows a little more complexity but has the disadvantage of not being very abundant in the universe.
g. One can easily get the impression from the physics literature that the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics is the only accepted philosophical explanation of what is going on in the micro world. According to this school of thought, “1) There is no reality in the absence of observation; 2) Observation creates reality.” In addition to the Copenhagen interpretation physicist Nick Herbert outlines and critiques six different philosophical models for interpreting quantum events.(35) Physicist and theologian Stanley Jaki outlines yet an eighth model.(36) While a clear philosophical understanding of quantum reality is not yet agreed upon. physicists do agree on the results one expects from quantum events.
h. Baryons are protons and other fundamental particles, such as neutrons, that decay into protons.
i. A common rebuttal is that not all amino acids in organic molecules must be strictly sequenced. One can destroy or randomly replace about 1 amino acid out of 100 without doing damage to the function of the molecule. This is vital since life necessarily exists in a sequence—disrupting radiation environment. However, this is equivalent to writing a computer program that will tolerate the destruction of 1 statement of code out of 1001. In other words, this error-handling ability of organic molecules constitutes a far more unlikely occurrence than strictly sequenced molecules.
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