Home, Sweet Home - Evidence for Design I - The Universe
We are all familiar with the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, specifically the part about her breaking and entering into the Bear residence and discovering the three bowls of porridge. We remember her insolent sampling of a meal that was not hers; she found one bowl too hot, another too cold, but the last she found to her liking, it was "just right."
Now suppose Goldilocks were of such a physical disposition that if she tried porridge that was just a degree too hot or a degree too cold that she would have died. What if she were so sensitive to variant temperatures that she would have shuffled off this mortal coil after having made the fatal mistake of choosing the "too hot" porridge first? Alas, no more Goldilocks.
Science claims that life in the Universe is a bit like our new, hypersensitive Goldilocks. If so, what could this reveal about the possibility of a Designer-Creator. Is this hypersensitivity evidence for design?
Until recently, it was believed by many in the science community that life in our universe was inevitable. Given the vastness of it all, and its age, it was just a matter of time before some form of life would pop up somewhere. Earth just happened to be that place. The idea that there was some God in charge was just a quick and non-rational attempt to explain our existence.
But now, as we accumulate facts at a faster rate than at any time in human history, the idea of a Grand Designer is not so preposterous. The theory of the Big Bang, or Creation Event, that wells up all kinds of emotions among people, tells us that this universe had a beginning—that all matter, space, energy, and time were created from nothing. The inescapable conclusion is that there was a Beginner, transcendent of time and space, who started it all off. But is this where He stopped? Was everything else, including the possibility of life, left to pure chance? Is there any evidence that the Creator cares about what goes on here?
It appears Earth may be entirely unique and quite possibly the only planet able to support life—any life. What are the facts that lead to this conclusion and what would all of this tell us about the possibility that this whole great Home of ours is the purposeful design of an Almighty Intelligence? If there is an intelligent Personality behind it all, what does this Universe reveal about Him?
This is the first part of a series dealing with evidences for design. It will concentrate specifically on universal factors. Part II will examine the evidence specifically concerning our Solar System. In both it will be shown that the conditions necessary for life in the universe are, indeed, not too hot, not too cold, but "just right."
requirements for life
First we must establish some ground rules for any life, anywhere in the universe. This can help us to narrow down what and where to look for life and will help us to understand the importance of the universal factors which will follow:
Physics Now it seems that no matter where we look into the deep heavens around us, we observe certain traits which can be considered, in the truest sense of the term, "universal." We see at work everywhere the same laws of physics that we observe here on earth. And no matter how far back into the past we focus our lenses—looking farther out means looking deeper into the past—we see the same elements that we have on our planet; the Periodic Table of the Elements itself, it appears, is a universal periodic table. Thus, any physical life out there, past or present, must obey the same laws of physics that we observe on earth, and can only be built from the same building blocks, the elements of the Periodic Table.
Chemistry Life, even the simplest life, has some fundamental universal requirements; it needs somehow to be able to tap energy and then utilize it, and it must be able to somehow reproduce itself. We must therefore assume that any life must undergo chemical reactions to at least some degree. This would involve one atom or group of atoms sharing or transferring electrons with other atoms. This process will be covered in more detail below.
Complexity Even those requirements for life mentioned above, energy utilization and reproduction, require molecules with some degree of complexity. The only atoms of the 100+ different elements in the universe that are capable of forming complex molecules are boron, carbon, and silicon. Intricate silicon molecules have been formed but are not very stable; they break down easily. Carbon, of course, is what life on planet Earth is built upon; it is marvelously diverse in its degrees of complexity. Boron is a possible contender, but not enough is known of its role in this capacity. One way or another, the field has been quite narrowed, from over 100 possible elements down to three or less as the building block atoms of the complex molecules of life. [Note: The most simple "life" known, the virus, is so complex that we cannot even reproduce it under controlled conditions in a laboratory.]
With these prerequisites established—the physics and chemistry that life is subjected to, and the complexity it requires—let’s investigate some remarkable coincidences of nature found throughout the universe with respect to Life. We’ll start in the nucleus of the atom...
1. forces in the nucleus
Atoms have a very small central part called the nucleus. Its size relative to the atom is like a golfball suspended in the middle of the Louisiana Superdome. The nucleus is made up primarily of protons and neutrons. The protons and neutrons are able to "stick" together by virtue of what is called the strong nuclear force. This force is extremely short-ranged but incredibly powerful. (It is this same force that powers the sun.) The simplest element, hydrogen, has a nucleus of just one proton, but as we go deeper into the Periodic Table we find vast amounts of different combinations of protons and neutrons making up all the elements of the Table (and their isotopes). For example, "carbon-12" has 6 protons and 6 neutrons in its nucleus, "oxygen-18" has 8 protons and 10 neutrons, "uranium-238" has 92 protons and 146 neutrons. All these protons and neutrons are held together by the strong nuclear force.
• If the strong force were any stronger, the lowly proton—the hydrogen nucleus—could not exist alone; other protons and neutrons would stick tightly to it. No hydrogen means no hydrogen-burning, average, life-supporting stars like our sun; that would mean no life. Also, hydrogen is fundamental as a co-worker in the complex molecular chemistry that life requires.
• If the strong force were just slightly weaker, even slightly heavier elements, like carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, could not exist. Their protons and neutrons could not "stick" together. This universe would be nothing but hydrogen, thus no life.
It has been calculated that a strong force just 2% stronger or weaker than it is now means no life. It appears the strong nuclear force is "just right."
2. the electromagnetic force
"Opposites attract," the cliché goes. At the atomic level we usually think of opposite charges attracting, namely the positive protons in the nucleus mutually attracting the negative electrons in clouds surrounding the nucleus. These electrons can 1) be lost to or taken completely from one atom by another or 2) shared to some extent between atoms. This is the essence of chemical reactions; the transferring or sharing of electrons by different groups of nuclei and their clouds. This sharing and transferring allows energy to be tapped and used, it allows the building of complex molecules, it allows "communication" between areas of complexity (e.g. this is how parts inside the cell work together in life on earth, and how cells themselves communicate with other cells). It is because of billions of these exchanges happening now that you are able to read this.
• If the electromagnetic force were any stronger, the electrons and protons would be so attracted to each other that the electrons could not break free. Hence, no chemical reactions. Hence, no life.
• If the electromagnetic force were any weaker, electrons could not be held onto. No electrons around means no "glue" to hold the molecules together. Thus, no complex molecules or reactions. Thus, no life. It appears the electromagnetic force is "just right."
3. the force of gravity
What has mass, has gravity. (Because we have mass, we all have some amount of gravity associated with our bodies; even the piece of paper you are reading from has gravity, although only a miniscule amount.) Now throughout the universe there are huge clouds of gases, much of which is hydrogen and helium. These clouds have mass, thus gravity. Astrophysicists tell us that given enough time these clouds will begin to contract on themselves due to their collective gravitational forces. Eventually, after millions of years of contracting, the temperatures and pressures due to contraction within these "protostars" are tremendous enough to start what are called nuclear fusion reactions; here the lighter nuclei smash into other nuclei—that is, they fuse—to form heavier nuclei. This burning reaction gives off an enormous amount of energy; we now have a star. We see these same processes acting in our own star, the sun. Everyday you can feel the warmth and see the light that are products of these fusion reactions.
• If gravity were just a little bit greater, we’d have a problem. Almost all stars would form much faster, be considerably more massive, contract more powerfully, and burn very erratically. What’s wrong with that? If a star burned too erratically, it would wreak havoc on whatever life there might be in the near vicinity. And radiation that would get too intense would destroy the complex molecular structures necessary for life. Plus, these stars burn so relatively fast that planets would probably not have time to be established as "fit for life" before the stars burned out and died, so to speak. Moreover, when a massive star dies, it is accompanied by so violent an explosion that it destroys most everything around.
• If gravity were any weaker, we are told, only small, less massive stars could form. The most important consequence of this is that none of the heavier elements of life, such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc., would be formed. Why not? They are all produced in the burning of the big, massive stars and are expelled out into the universe when these great stars get old and explode. Not enough gravity, no massive stars. No massive stars, no building blocks for life (and no planets which it would inhabit).
The force of gravity in our universe is such that we can have a wide variety of star types from the very small to the very massive, with our sun a nice representative of the "average" star. It appears the force of gravity is "just right."
4. the expansion rate of the universe
Astrophysicists tell us that since the initial Creation Event our universe has been expanding. The three dimensions of space have been spreading out into the four (or more) dimensions for what astrophysicists believe to be between 16 and 19 billion years. But how can the rate of expansion—how fast it’s getting bigger—have any effect on potential life?
• If the universe were expanding any faster, so much would have been blown out and away after the Creation Event that galaxy formation could not have occurred. But what do galaxies have to do with life? Galaxies, like our own Milky Way, are huge collections of stars, billions of them. And there are billions of galaxies out there in Deep Space. (Much of what you see on a clear night as "stars" are really distant galaxies.) These collections of stars are necessary for recycling heavy elements. Remember life needs those heavier elements, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, formed in the massive stars—so do planets for that matter. If the universe were expanding any faster, the old, massive stars would just blow off their life-giving material with no one around to use it. The faster expansion would have carried everything away faster and farther from each other. As a result, there would be fewer next-generation stars, the newer elements would be diluted all over the place, there would be essentially no planets, and there would be no life.
• If the expansion rate were just a little slower, a strange occurrence would have developed. Remember, what has mass has gravity. The universe, had it expanded any slower, would have succumbed to its own collective gravity and eventually caved back in on itself; it would have collapsed. Like trying to shoot a rocket into space, if you don’t give it enough power to escape, it will crash back to the center of gravity. There would not have been the time, the distances, or the materials necessary to organize stars and planets so they would be fit for the introduction of life.
One astrophysicist says that the expansion rate of the universe is as precisely fine–tuned as 50,000 sharpened pencils simultaneously standing on their tips. It appears the expansion rate of the universe is "just right."
5. the uniformity of the universe
Uniformity here just means how nicely spread out all the matter of the universe is. If it were any coarser or smoother, things would be different. Let’s define "coarse" and "smooth": When a person stomps on a puddle of water the water drops disperse outwardly but tend to clump. This is due to the nature of water molecules and is considered a "coarse" dispersion. Now if one decides instead to stomp on a pile of fine dust, the "explosion" has a tendency to be more evenly dispersed. There is noticeably less clumping and this would be a "smooth" dispersion of particles. Since the universe’s "Big Creation Stomp," matter has been dispersing throughout with a characteristic uniformity.
• If the dispersion were any smoother than it is (like the dust stomp), we’d not have gotten the clumping needed to form stars. There would not have been the discrete areas of gas and dust which could have experienced the whole star-making process described above. It follows that a smoother universe would have also been devoid of star clusters and galaxies (remember, they are necessary for the recycling of our heavy elements). Therefore, no life.
• Had the universe been exploded with any coarser of a uniformity (like the stomping of the puddle), by now there would be nothing in the universe but black holes and empty space. The reason is this: The bigger clumps would have formed, almost exclusively, very massive stars. These great, massive stars, once they’ve reached the end of their lives and exhausted their fuel, don’t just collapse under gravity and explode into a supernova, oh no. There’s more. These monsters are so massive (and therefore, their gravity is so intense) that, when they have exhausted their fuel supply, they go on to collapse under their own gravity—but they keep collapsing so that they end up extremely small with their gravity now so intense that not even light can escape and so dense that a teaspoon of its material would weigh billions of tons. They would also suck up anything around near enough to be influenced by its gravitational pull. The universe would soon become nothing but black holes and empty space. It’s not a pretty sight. Black holes and empty space are not what one might call conducive to life. It appears the uniformity of the universe is "just right."
6. the average distance of stars
Our sun lies at a distance about two-thirds away from the center of our galaxy’s center. So what?, one may ask. So this:
• The closer we get to the center of a galaxy, the closer, on average, the stars are to each other. They get so close that any planets that may have formed from the rocky debris of interstellar junk cannot establish stable orbits around stars. Like a drunk trying to walk a circle, their orbits would be closer, then farther, then closer, then farther from their parent star because of the unequal pull of stars all around the neighborhood. If this tug and pull isn’t enough to break up a planet, it’s enough to cause wild temperature changes wholly nonconducive to life. (One more thing here: The more stars around greatly increases the frequency that a planet would experience the cataclysmic effects of a nearby supernova explosion.)
• The farther we get from the center of a galaxy the more thinly distributed is the material from which rocky planets are made and of which life is made; those heavy elements of iron and silicon and oxygen and magnesium, etc. There is just not enough around.
It turns out the optimal place to be for a stable rocky planet with a consistent orbit and a good supply of available heavy elements is, coincidentally, about two-thirds of the way out from a galactic center. It appears that there is a place in a galaxy which is "just right."
7. the age of the universe
What, possibly, can age have to do with the possibility of life? Well, think back to what is needed for both a planet and life—the heavier elements again. When our universe was very young it was mainly hydrogen with some helium. There were billions of years needed before the first stars formed could go through their life cycle and produce the first heavier elements. But even then there was not enough to build planets. A second and then a third generation of stars was needed before enough material could be gathered into rocky planets, before carbon, oxygen, iron, and the rest were abundant enough to make a difference.
• Therefore, if the universe were any younger, astrophysically speaking, there would not be enough of the building blocks either of planets or life. What if it were any older?
• If the universe were older than it is now, again astrophysically speaking, there would be no sun-type stars around in a stable burning phase, that phase needed to support any life; and there would be little left of the hydrogen and helium needed to continue the family tree of stars. It appears that there is an age for the universe which is "just right."
What has been described for you on these pages are factors which take us from the intricacies of the realms of the subatomic out to the grand scales of the dimensions of the Universe. Any of these, wavering by just a bit, means no life of any kind, anywhere.
We easily see the personality and intelligence which worked behind the scenes to give us great works like the cathedrals, art, and music, even computers, cars, and planes. We see the beautiful products and give praise to their creators. Is it really "irrational" and "mindless" to recognize a Personality or Intelligence behind the design of our Home, this Universe?
Christians conclude that a Grand Designer is responsible for the Grand Design of the universe. They acknowledge that a supernatural Superintelligence, transcendent to the universe itself, outside of the four dimensions of time and space, is our Creator. They see the marvels of the intricate worlds around them and see the Hand of Meaning. They argue that this Creator is the God of the Bible; the Bible being the only Holy Book to describe Him with such attributes—the only Book to set a personal Creator outside of His Creation.
Won’t you consider the possibility that this Home of ours is no random mistake? Will you take the time to look again at the importance of the purpose and function of everything from the tiniest subatomic particle to the greatest super galaxies? If a ball of dust and gas has a purpose, how much more you, who can contemplate and question your own existence, and who Christians claim is created in the image of God?
The conclusion from the evidence of design is that there is a thoughtful, caring, superintelligent, multi-dimensional Creator. This conclusion is not too emotional, not too intellectual — it’s "just right."