The physics and philosophy of cosmology is at once a deeply intriguing and intellectually challenging topic, and I love to increase my knowledge in this area. Dr. Paul Davies has a great book on the subject entitled, The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life?
Paul Davies is a theoretical physicist and a cosmologist currently working at Arizona State University. He is a committed atheist, but unlike many high-profile non-believers, he is never unfair or abrasive towards theism in his treatment of the Big Questions. For this reason (and the fact that he is an utterly brilliant guy), I thoroughly enjoy his work and often learn a great deal from it. Click to visit Davies’ website.
Here I will repeat my mantra: NEVER settle for reading about origins issues from only Christian scholars (or from only non-Christian scholars)!! It is crucial that you learn the different perspectives FROM the proponents of each. Otherwise, you will likely have an incomplete (or mistaken) perception of the individual views. Unfortunately, bias sometimes (intentionally or not) taints how one author represents the views of another. Human nature. I commend Davies for being cautious in this regard. I will say that he misrepresents intelligent design theory a couple of times, but I don’t believe he does this intentionally.
I’m not going to give you a full synopsis of the book here. Instead, I will offer commentary and showcase the crazy extremes some cosmologists go to in order to avoid the “God” hypothesis for explaining the origin and habitability of the universe. (Mind you, Davies openly recognizes how ridiculous some of the theories are.)
Davies sets out to elucidate the eerie fine-tuning of the universe that makes it a place where life (particularly intelligent, self-aware life) can exist. There are MANY cosmic parameters that are all at once “just right” (a la Goldilocks) for the possibility of life, and this astronomically improbable situation cries out for explanation. The book outlines the several main schools of thought on this fundamental problem of cosmology. I will very briefly introduce them here.
1. The Universe is Just Absurd
There is no explanation for the fine-tuning exhibited by the cosmos. Indeed this is weird, but if things had been otherwise, we wouldn’t be here to argue about it. So, there you have it. Let’s all just move on. [This is a total cop-out, but a popular view in the scientific community, according to Davies.]
2. The Universe is Unique and Science Will Someday Explain Why
Physicists will eventually formulate a “grand unified theory” (String Theory/M Theory) that will encompass all the laws of physics, constants of nature, quantum mechanics, relativity, and the origin of the universe. Based on this mathematical theory, we will see that our universe was physically inevitable, that it exists and has the characteristics it has because it could not have been otherwise. Ours is an existence by necessity. (There is a less extreme version of this view that says the universe could have been different than it is, but if it were, it would still have a comprehensive theory explaining it.) Davies comments that a “final theory would represent the greatest triumph of the human intellect. We would finally know the reason for existence: it had to be like this (or not exist at all).” Due to the laws of physics being what they are and the associated constants having the values they have, this universe was physically inevitable. He offers the caveat that the ultimate question of existence would still remain: Why that particular unified theory? This is a metaphysical brick wall for physics. Science cannot, by its very definition, supply an answer for why we have the laws of nature that we have–laws that allow for (or have produced) a life-permitting universe. Some hope for a “theory of everything” that will demonstrate that the laws and constants of physics could only have been what they are, but elsewhere, Davies dismisses this idea as completely untenable. He says, “Even if the laws of physics were unique, it doesn’t follow that the physical universe itself is unique…the laws of physics must be augmented by cosmic initial conditions…there is nothing in present ideas about ‘laws of initial conditions’ remotely to suggest that their consistency with the laws of physics would imply uniqueness. Far from it…it seems, then, that the physical universe does not have to be the way it is: it could have been otherwise.” (Davies, The Mind of God, p. 169. Hat tip to Allen Hainline.)
3. There are Many Different Universes (a Multiverse); We’re Just the Lucky One
A growing group of scientists are jumping on the Multiverse bandwagon. If there is an enormous collection (or even an infinite number) of universes, some of them would end up with parameters aligning in such a way that life could emerge. Just like with rolls of the dice: the more times you toss them, the more chances of successfully getting the number you want. The Big Bang would have been only one of many such events, each of which resulted in a “bubble” or “pocket” universe. Now, based on the very laws of physics, it would never be possible, even in theory, to ever observe these supposed universes that are beyond ours (because of the speed of light and the speed of our universe’s expansion). All those other universes would have to be taken on faith. What’s more, there is still the need for explaining the universe-generating mechanism itself. Davies says, “The multiverse does not provide a complete account of existence because it still requires a lot of unexplained and very ‘convenient’ physics to make it work”
4. Everything That Can Possibly Exist DOES Exist!
I love this one. I love, love, love it. It is actually an extreme form of the multiverse theory that has been proposed by Max Tegmark, who says that all possible worlds with all possible features do, in fact, exist. So, somewhere out there, for example, there is a universe in which your doppelganger lives, with life experiences and circumstances all identical to yours. In another universe, your “twin” is President of the United States. In another, an inmate on death row. You get the picture—all possibilities are actualized somewhere. In some universe far, far away, I am taller than five feet, I can cook a perfect chicken parmigiana, and I’ve already written ten best-selling books on science and faith. Yes!!
5. Intelligent Design
This view attributes the finely tuned, design-like features of the universe to—-get this—-an intelligent designer. (What a radical idea!) Most advocates of this view hold that the designer exists necessarily, with no need for its own causation.
6. A Life Principle
There is some mysterious, unconscious Force (yes, much like the one the Jedi invoke), an over-arching law that causes the universe(s) to evolve towards the goal of life and intelligent mind. This raises the problem of how to explain this enigmatic Force and why it is aimed towards life and intelligence. (And why we can’t detect all those midichlorians.)
7. The Universe Explains Itself
Proponents of this view often attempt to explain this “life principle” by positing a future state of the universe in which everything (all matter, space, life, etc.) has become unified into a cosmic “super mind” that can manipulate the past in some sort of causal loop, effectively bringing itself into existence through BACKWARDS causation. Uh, sure.
8. Fake Universes
We’re all living in something very much like The Matrix. No, I’m not making this up. Davies calls it “a variant on the Intelligent designer scenario but upgraded for the information age.” There are many simulated universes, all generated by a super-computer, and that explains why things are so finely tuned.
So which category does Davies choose? Well, he doesn’t fully commit to any one of them. What he does say is intensely interesting to me:
I do not believe Homo sapiens to be more than an accidental by-product of haphazard natural processes. Yet I do believe that life and mind are etched deeply into the fabric of the cosmos, perhaps through a shadowy, half-glimpsed life principle, and if I am to be honest I have to concede that this starting point is something I feel more in my heart than in my head. So maybe that is a religious conviction of sorts.
Additionally, he highlights the fact that anyone who is hostile towards the goal-oriented views, such as Intelligent Design, is exhibiting “the hallmarks of an extra-scientific agenda.” He says:
Their arguments…carry barely concealed overtones of an ideological agenda. In this respect they are little different from those who have decided in advance on this or that religious interpretation of nature and then shoehorn the scientific facts to fit their preconceived beliefs.
I applaud Davies for pointing out this fact with such honesty and candor.
So, you can see the great lengths many will go to circumvent the need for a designing Creator of the cosmos. Entertaining to say the least, but profoundly tragic. Once again, I think of Romans 1:20.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.