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Scientifically, the conditions that make life possible at all represent only a very narrow band on the full spectrum of possibilities. In fact, life itself seems pretty unlikely, given the available options.
That is an absolutely astonishing fact – one that becomes even more amazing the more we understand about life scientifically.
Why? Because the prerequisites in our universe that permit life as we know it to flourish can only occur when certain narrow physical constants – the precise conditions that govern the proportions of the components of atoms, the ratio of water to air, the ratio of gravity to electromagnetism, etc., etc. – exist within a very small and limited window.
- The density parameter, also known as Omega (Ω), determines the overall density of the universe, balancing the relative importance of the forces of gravity and expansion energy.
- At the macro level, if gravitational force was only a tiny amount stronger, our universe would have collapsed before life evolved – and if it were only a fraction weaker, no stars could have formed.
- At the micro level, if the precise ratio of electromagnetic force to gravitational force (known as N to physicists) between a pair of protons were significantly smaller, only a small and short-lived universe could have ever existed.
- Our universe has three dimensions – no life, at least as we know it, could have evolved in a two- or four-dimensional universe.
- Every lifeform is based on carbon, including human life. But unless carbon atoms – originally produced in stars – reach a very specific energy level (called the Hoyle resonance after its discoverer, the British astronomer Sir Frederick Hoyle), most carbon atoms would become oxygen, depriving the universe of the abundant main building block of life. Many scientists have argued that this very specific number – known as the 7.656 MeV Hoyle state – is highly unlikely to happen by chance. Sir Hoyle himself wrote that this carbon resonance provides evidence of a what he termed a “superintellect:”
Would you not say to yourself, “Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
This extremely limited range of physical constants and ratios has led many scientists to believe that the universe is consciously formulated and “fine-tuned” to generate living things – in other words, that creation must have a Creator.
Several years ago The New York Times interviewed the prominent philosopher and theologian Alvin Plantinga – an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, a former president of the American Philosophical Association, and the author of the book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. The interviewer asked Dr. Plantinga to give an example of an excellent argument for theism – the existence of God. Here’s what Dr. Plantinga said:
One presently rather popular argument: fine-tuning. Scientists tell us that there are many properties our universe displays such that if they were even slightly different from what they are in fact, life, or at least our kind of life, would not be possible. The universe seems to be fine-tuned for life. For example, if the force of the Big Bang had been different by one part in 10 to the 60th, life of our sort would not have been possible. The same goes for the ratio of the gravitational force to the force driving the expansion of the universe: If it had been even slightly different, our kind of life would not have been possible. In fact the universe seems to be fine-tuned, not just for life, but for intelligent life. This fine-tuning is vastly more likely given theism than given atheism.
This particular line of reasoning – “the universe seems to be fine-tuned for life” – strikes many people as one of the best and most conclusive pieces of evidence for the existence of a Creator.
Even the renowned physicist (and avowed atheist) Stephen Hawking, in his book A Brief History of Time, offered a similar perspective on the “finely-tuned universe” theory:
The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. … The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.
Of course, science – which studies, measures, and quantifies the physical world – by its very definition and inherent limits can never conclusively prove or disprove that a Creator exists. But many scientists and theologians have begun to conclude that the conditions which allow the presence of life in the universe cannot possibly be a coincidence, as Alvin Plantinga explains:
It’s as if there are a large number of dials that have to be tuned to within extremely narrow limits for life to be possible in our Universe. It is extremely unlikely that this should happen by chance, but much more likely that this should happen, if there is such a person as God.
This particular “fine-tuned universe” argument for the existence of a Creator, initially put forth in the West by the chemist Lawrence Joseph Henderson in 1913, was actually preceded by the very congruent Baha’i view, explained here by Abdu’l-Baha in his 1906 book Some Answered Questions:
This composition and arrangement through the wisdom of God and His pre-existent might, were produced from one natural organization, which was composed and combined with the greatest strength, conformably to wisdom, and according to a universal law. From this it is evident that it is the creation of God, and is not a fortuitous composition and arrangement.
In this respect, the Baha’i teachings offer humanity a fundamental principle – the essential agreement of science and religion. Accordingly, this remarkable coherence between the Baha’i view and the current science shouldn’t be surprising. But does it mean that Baha’is rule out other, non-carbon-based life forms? No, it doesn’t – in fact, the Baha’i teachings anticipated, as long ago as the 19th Century, the most prevalent arguments against the “finely-tuned universe” theory. In the next essay in this series, we’ll examine what the Baha’i teachings have to say about the potential for life on other planets.