I published “The Right to Refuse Service” a day earlier than usual this week, so I decided to do a “bonus” post today. Besides, I hadn’t done anything science apologetic-y in a while. This is an excerpt from The God Abduction: How Scientific Discovery Strengthens the Case for a Creator by Ron Londen, writer, photographer, and self-described “lifelong science nerd”. I’m currently less than a third of the way through the book but am really enjoying it — delightfully & clearly written for the layman, providing lots of good information with plenty of end-notes referring curious readers to articles and books by notables in the various fields explored. Consider this post a sequel of sorts to my “Living on a Razor’s Edge” series….
“Remember back to Albert Einstein’s original idea of a “cosmological constant” (Chapter 3). He theorized an “antigravity” force that only acted at a distance, undetectable and irrelevant up close. He came up with the idea to allow general relativity to accommodate an eternal and unchanging universe. When the data came out strongly favoring an expanding universe, Einstein abandoned the cosmological constant, calling it the greatest blunder of his career. Eight decades later, the cosmological constant was discovered, performing the opposite function Einstein originally expected. How positively Einstein! Even his biggest mistake turned out to be correct.
The cosmological constant is also widely called “dark energy,” perhaps a rhetorical companion to “dark matter” and the recently discovered “dark flow,” which we won’t go into here. What’s with all the “dark” talk? Perhaps it’s a marketing ploy from Cosmology, Inc., to increase funding. Or maybe these terms are intended to make astronomers look dangerous and edgy, perhaps a ploy to attract more girls. If so, I predict failure.
(Let me beg the indulgence of the physics community for having a little fun at their expense. In truth, the term “dark energy” is invoked because there are several competing theories to explain the phenomena. The distinctions between them are technical and beyond the scope of this book. And no clear consensus has yet emerged. Suffice it to say whatever it is called or how it is explained, something is behaving very much like Einstein’s cosmological constant.)
There is a bigger point. The universe is flat, balancing on a knife-edge between wild expansion and a slowdown that will eventually collapse. “Flat” [as opposed to “open” or “closed”], as it turns out, is the most life-friendly condition for the universe, and we have the cosmological constant to thank for it.
But there is a theoretical fly in the observational ointment, and it’s a big one. The best theories of “quantum cosmology” — that is, using quantum mechanics (discussed in the next chapter) to explain the beginning of the universe — suggest that dark energy should actually be a very powerful factor, so powerful that it ought to rip the universe apart in a fraction of a second. Since the universe has not been ripped apart, scientists have assumed some unknown factor was driving the dark energy to zero by balancing one factor against the other. They didn’t know what was causing this equilibrium, but whatever it was appeared to balance out the cosmological constant to be zero — and zero is an easy number to ignore. But the 1998 discovery (and others since) have revealed a value that is not zero, and also much smaller than expected. The predicted value varies wildly from the actual measurement of the cosmological constant.
How much does theory disagree with fact? By 120 orders of magnitude. For decades, all observations indicated a cosmological constant of 0. Instead, we find a decimal point followed by 120 zeroes and a 1. “This apparent discrepancy would involve the most extreme fine-tuning problem known in physics,” wrote cosmologist Lawrence Krauss in a groundbreaking paper on the subject.
Something cancels the cosmological constant out to 119 decimal places, but fails at the 120th. What would happen if it didn’t? Using well-established methods of theoretical physics, as noted earlier, the “predicted” value would rip the universe apart. But what if dark energy were canceled out by, say, one less decimal place? Physicist Paul Davies weighs in:
“So our existence depends on the dark energy’s not being too large. A factor of ten would suffice to preclude life: if space contained ten times as much dark energy as it actually does, the universe would fly apart too fast for galaxies to form. A factor of ten may seem like a wide margin, but one power of ten on a scale of 120 is a pretty close call. The cliche that ‘life is balanced on a knife-edge’ is a staggering understatement in this case: no knife in the universe could have an edge that fine.”
As noted earlier, an original recognition that the mass of the universe was incredibly fine-tuned was explained away by the idea of inflation. But what replaced it was fine-tuned to a vastly more precise degree, almost beyond the ability to visualize. The ratio represented by that fine-tuning, astronomer Hugh Ross observes, is “vastly greater than the difference between the mass of a single electron and the mass of the entire universe.”
The depth of the fine-tuning we encounter makes a subtle point about the difference between our world and our tools for exploring it. Our human efforts are characterized by hard-won progress. We struggle with the facts, we argue, and some theories gain sway at the expense of others. In that sense it is an evolutionary process, after a fashion — with the effort, intellect, and will of human scientists standing in for natural selection.
But our universe had no such latitude. It had to be right, exactly right — “dime in the universe” right — from the earliest conceivable instant. Our best scientists argue and struggle to find the truth, and over the course of a century they have found this: an unexplainable moment forming a universe that is incomprehensibly fine-tuned for life.”
Reading and hearing of such exquisite fine-tuning of the universe for life, down to the subatomic level and the very fundamental forces of nature, reminds me of God’s incredibly great love for us. It also demonstrates His incalculable power and the fact that He not only created all matter, energy, space, & time, but He continues to hold it all together — balanced on that “knife’s edge” — as an act of His almighty will. There are many Bible passages that speak of this, but here is one of my favorites:
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power….” — Hebrews 1:1-3a (NASB)
Yahweh, Creator and Sustainer of the Universe!