THE CASE FOR A CREATOR
from the book by the same name
LITTLE PROOF FROM PHYSICS
The Impression of Design
"When scientists talk about the fine-tuning of the universe," Collins said, "they're generally referring to the extraordinary balancing of the fundamental laws and parameters of physics and the initial conditions of the universe. Our minds can't comprehend the precision of some of them. The result is a universe that has just the right conditions to sustain life. The coincidences are simply too amazing to have been the result of happenstance—as Paul Davies said, 'the impression of design is overwhelming.'17
"I like to use the analogy of astronauts landing on Mars and finding an enclosed biosphere, sort of like the domed structure that was built in Arizona a few years ago. At the control panel they find that all the dials for its environment are set just right for life. The oxygen ratio is perfect; the temperature is seventy degrees; the humidity is fifty percent; there's a system for replenishing the air; there are systems for producing food, generating energy, and disposing of wastes. Each dial has a huge range of possible settings, and you can see if you were to adjust one or more of them just a little bit, the environment would go out of whack and life would be impossible. What conclusion would you draw from that?"
The answer was obvious. "That someone took great care in designing and building it," I said.
"That's right," he replied. "You'd conclude that this biosphere was not there by accident. Volcanoes didn't erupt and spew out the right compounds that just happened to assemble themselves into the biosphere. Some intelligent being had intentionally and carefully designed and prepared it to support living creatures. And that's an analogy for our universe.
"Over the past thirty years or so, scientists have discovered that just about everything about the basic structure of the universe is balanced on a razor's edge for life to exist. The coincidences are far too fantastic to attribute this to mere chance or to claim that it needs no explanation'. The dials are set too precisely to have been a random accident. Somebody, as Fred Hoyle quipped, has been monkeying with the physics."18
This has to be among the most fascinating scientific discoveries of the century.
"Who first noticed this?" I asked.
"Way back in the late 1950s, Hoyle talked about the precise process by which carbon and oxygen are produced in a certain ratio inside stars. If you tinker with the resonance states of carbon, you won't get the materials you need for building life. Incidentally, recent studies by the physicist Heinz Oberhummer and his colleagues show that just a one-percent change in the strong nuclear force would have a thirty- to a thousand-fold impact on the production of oxygen and carbon in stars. Since stars provide the carbon and oxygen needed for life on planets, if you throw that off balance, conditions in the universe would be much less optimal for the existence of life.
"Anyway-—-back to your question—most of the research and writing about the fine-tuning has taken place since the early 1980s. There have been hundreds of articles and books written on it from both a technical and popular perspective."
Physics can get very complicated very quickly. So when I asked Collins to describe one of his favorite examples, I was relieved that he chose one that's among the easier to envision.
"Let's talk about gravity," he said. "Imagine a ruler, or one of those old-fashioned linear radio dials, that goes all the way across the universe. It would be broken down into one-inch increments, which means there would be billions upon billions upon billions of inches.
"The entire dial represents the range offeree strengths in nature, with gravity being the weakest force and the strong nuclear force that binds protons and neutrons together in the nuclei being the strongest, a whopping ten thousand billion billion billion billion times stronger than gravity.19 The range of possible settings for the force of gravity can plausibly be taken to be at least as large as the total range of force strengths.
"Now, let's imagine that you want to move the dial from where it s currently set. Even if you were to move it by only one inch, the impact on life in the universe would be catastrophic."
"One inch compared to the whole universe?" I asked. "What kind of impact could that have?"
"That small adjustment of the dial would increase gravity by a billion-fold" he said.
"Whoa!" I said. "That sounds like a lot."
"Actually, it's not," he replied, "Relative to the entire radio dial-— that is, the total range offeree strengths in nature—-it's extraordinarily small, just one part in ten thousand billion billion billion."
""Wow, that puts it into perspective," I said. "What would happen to life?"
"Animals anywhere near the size of human beings would be crushed," he said. "As astrophysicist Martin Rees said, 'In an imaginary strong gravity world, even insects would need thick legs to support them, and no animals could get much larger.'20 In fact, a planet with a gravitational pull of a thousand times that of the Earth would have a diameter of only forty feet, which wouldn't be enough to sustain an ecosystem. Besides which, stars with lifetimes of more than a billion years—compared to ten billion years for our sun—couldn't exist if you increase gravity by just three thousand times.
"As you can see, compared to the total range of force strengths in nature, gravity has an incomprehensibly narrow range for life to exist. Of all the possible settings on the dial, from one side of the universe to the other, it happens to be situated in the exact right fraction of an inch to make our universe capable of sustaining life."
And gravity is just one parameter that scientists have studied. One expert said there are more than thirty separate physical or cosmological parameters that require precise calibration in order to produce a life-sustaining universe.21
As for Collins, he likes to focus on gravity and a handful of other examples that he has personally investigated and which he believes are sufficient by themselves to establish the case for a designer. I decided to ask Collins about another parameter—the so-called "cosmological constant"—a phenomenon so bewildering that it even boggles the mind of one of the worlds most skeptical scientists.
Throwing Darts at an Atom
Nobel-winning physicist Steven "Weinberg, an avowed atheist, has expressed amazement at the way the cosmological constant—-the energy density of empty space—is "remarkably well adjusted in our favor."22 The constant, which is part of Einstein's equation for General Relativity, could have had any value, positive or negative, "but from first principles one would guess that this constant should be very large," "Weinberg said.
Fortunately, he added, it isn't:
If large and positive, the cosmological constant would act as a repulsive force that increases with distance, a force that would prevent matter from clumping together in the early universe, the process that was the first step in forming galaxies and stars and planets and people. If large and negative, the cosmological constant would act as an attractive force increasing with distance, a force that would almost immediately reverse the expansion of the universe and cause it to recollapse.23
Either way, life loses—-big time. But astonishingly, that's not what has happened.
"In fact," Weinberg said, "astronomical observations show that the cosmological constant is quite small, very much smaller than would have been guessed from first principles."
When I asked Collins about this, he told me that the unexpected, counterintuitive, and stunningly precise setting of the cosmological constant "is widely regarded as the single greatest problem facing physics and cosmology today."
"How precise is it?" I asked.
Collins rolled his eyes. "Well, there's no way we can really comprehend it," he said. "The fine-tuning has conservatively been estimated to be at least one part in a hundred million billion billion billion billion billion. That would be a ten followed by fifty-three zeroes. That's inconceivably precise."
He was right—-I couldn't imagine a figure like that. "Can you give me an illustration?" I asked.
"Put it this way," he said. "Let's say you were way out in space and were going to throw a dart at random toward the Earth. It would be like successfully hitting a bull's eye that's one trillionth of a trillionth of an inch in diameter. That's less than the size of one solitary atom."
Breathtaking was the word that came into my mind. Staggering. "No wonder scientists have been blown away by this," I said.
"I'll tell you what," Collins said, "in my opinion, if the cosmological constant were the only example of fine-tuning, and if there were no natural explanation for it, then this would be sufficient by itself to strongly establish design."
I had to agree. The way I saw it, if the universe were put on trial for a charge of having been designed, and the fine-tuning of the cosmological constant were the only evidence introduced by the prosecution, I would have to vote "guilty"—assuming there was no hidden naturalistic explanation. Statistically, this would be a far stronger case than even the DNA evidence that is used to establish guilt in many criminal trials today.
Collins continued. "Now, think about adding together the evidence for just the two factors I've discussed so far—the cosmological constant and the force of gravity," he said. "This would create an unimaginably stronger case. "When you combine the two, the fine-tuning would be to a precision of one part in a hundred million trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion. That would be the equivalent of one atom in the entire known universe!"
And Collins wasn't through. "There are other examples of fine-tuning," he said. "For instance, there's the difference in mass between neutrons and protons. Increase the mass of the neutron by about one part in seven hundred and nuclear fusion in stars would stop. There would be no energy source for life.
"And if the electromagnetic force were slightly stronger or weaker, life in the universe would be impossible. Or consider the strong nuclear force. Imagine decreasing it by fifty percent, which is tiny—one part in ten thousand billion billion billion billion, compared to the total range of force strengths."
"What would happen if you tinkered with it by that amount?"
"Since like charges repel, the strong nuclear force would be too weak to prevent the repulsive force between the positively charged protons in atomic nuclei from tearing apart all atoms except hydrogen," he said. "And regardless of what they may show on Star Trek, you can't have intelligent life forms built from hydrogen. It simply doesn't have enough stable complexity."
I knew Collins could go on and on, but I needed a way to visualize the implications of these increasingly abstract concepts. "Go back to your Martian biosphere illustration," I said.
"Okay," he replied. "Set aside the issue of how the biosphere got there in the first place. Let's say when you found it, there were twelve dials that controlled the conditions inside the dome. Each dial had an incredibly huge range of possible settings. When you departed, you left the dials at random and as a result no life was possible in the biosphere.
"Then you come back a year later. When you look at the dials, you're amazed to find that each one of them has been carefully calibrated to just the right setting so that life is flourishing in the dome. Twelve dials, twelve different factors—all optimally set for life.
"Do you know what the headline would be in the newspaper the next day? It would say: extraterrestrial life exists. We would take that as proof that an intelligent being had landed and set those dials precisely where they needed to be for life.
"And I'm saying that the dials for the fundamental properties of the universe have been set like that. In fact, the precision is far greater. This would be totally unexpected under the theory that random chance was responsible. However, it's not unexpected at all under the hypothesis that there is a Grand Designer."
TO THINK THAT ALL THIS JUST BY ACCIDENT OR AT RANDOM EVOLVED OVER TIME, EVEN BILLIONS OF YEARS, IS ABOUT THE DUMBEST THING THE HUMAN MIND CAN COME UP WITH. AND WHY WOULD THE UNIVERSE EVEN BOTHER? WHY WOULD IT COME INTO EXISTENCE IN THE FIRST PLACE? NOW 99 PERCENT OF SCIENTISTS BELIEVE THE UNIVERSE STARTED WITH A "BIG BANG" - WHAT WAS BEFORE THE BIG BANG, AND WHY DID IT BANG OFF IN THE FIRST PLACE? AND THERE HAD TO BE SOME LAWS IN EFFECT FOR IT TO BANG INTO BEING! AND LAWS FOR IT TO CONTINUE TO MOVE AND DEVELOP OR IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A FROZEN BIG BANG, JUST KINDA HANGING THERE. THE WHOLE FORM OF THE UNIVERSE PROVES A DESIGNER WHO BROUGHT THE PHYSICAL OUT OF NOTHING, AND SET LAWS TO GOVERN THE FORMATION OF GALAXIES, STARS, PLANETS AND MOONS, BLACK HOLES, COSMIC DUST AND GAS, AND CREATION OF STARS; THE MOVEMENT OF THE UNIVERSE STILL EXPANDING OUTWARD IN ALL DIRECTION, IS PROOF OF LAWS AND PROOF OF AN INTELLIGENT DESIGNER.