A Designed Universe

This is the fourth in a series of guest blogs on science, religion, and design by Dr. Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The words that follow are his.

The evidence for a beginning to the universe points to a beginner, or designer to get things started. Evidence for an expanding universe was observed in about 1930 by Edwin Hubble, but the idea did not take hold in the scientific community for more than thirty years because it seemed to point to the need for more than naturalism, the need of a “Beginner/Designer” (Gribbin 1976). This is a limit to scientific explanation because of an effect without apparent cause.

The second law of thermodynamics is tied to this concept of a need for a creator. As formulated by Lord Kelvin, the law indicates that the amount of useful energy in the universe is decreasing. One can find local increases in useful energy, order, or design, such as in crystal structures, living systems, or the source of hydroelectric energy, but only at the expense of a greater loss of useful energy elsewhere. Kelvin believed that the universe required a Creator/Designer to wind it up at the beginning with sufficient useful energy: “a necessary diffusion of energy which only God Himself could restore to its original concentration (Smith and Wise, p.332).

All of this leads to another concept of fine tuning in the Universe. If the Big Bang is assumed, the mass of the universe seems to be finely tuned. A little more mass at the early stages of the universe would have caused a rapid gravitational collapse; a little less mass would have resulted in too little gravitational attraction for clumping of matter into galaxies and stars. Much of the apparent fine-tuning seems to be related to a variety of fundamental constants that keep our universe powered. One of the most intriguing is the cosmological constant which remains difficult to explain within the naturalist construct.

In 1915 Einstein put into his general relativity equation a cosmological constant. He assumed a static universe and needed this constant to provide a repulsive force to keep the universe from gravitational collapse. Once evidence for an expanding universe became available fifteen years later, the constant appeared to no longer be necessary. Einstein later lamented that inserting the constant was the biggest mistake of his life, for without it, his equation could have predicted an expanding universe. The cosmological constant needs to be exactly zero to 120 decimal places, an unexpected specificity that appears to require design. Weinberg (1992, p.223) recognizes that the constants of nature are well suited for the existence of life, but believes that a final theory would be able to prescribe values for these constants without any surprising coincidences. However, even he recognizes that a cosmological constant of exactly zero to 120 decimal places may still require some kind of anthropic principle for explanation. Though no longer needed for a static universe, the constant seems to be important for other reasons. Silk (2010) notes that the acceleration of the universe is produced by dark energy, but yet the governing cosmological constant is 10120 smaller than predicted by particle theory.

The nucleus of an atom is another example where the forces of nature appear balanced beyond coincidence (Rees 2000). For most atoms, the nucleus contains many positively charged protons. Due to the electromagnetic force, like charges repel each other. How then do all the protons with the same charge stay inside the nucleus without flying apart? Apparently, some stronger force holds them together. For want of a better term, physicists call this force the “strong force.” To get the range of light-to-heavy elements necessary for life, the ratio between these two forces must be finely tuned. If the electromagnetic/strong force ratio were larger, protons would not be able to clump together. No heavier elements necessary for life, such as carbon and oxygen, would be stable. If the ratio were smaller, protons would too easily clump together to form the heavy elements, but no single-proton hydrogen atoms would remain for water or life. There might be plenty of gold and platinum, but no one to enjoy it.

Here are some other fine-tuned constants: (1) The mass of the neutron is slightly greater than the proton. If the relative masses were very much different than they are, the burning of stars and stellar evolution wouldn’t work. (2) The relative electron and proton masses need to be balanced in a particular combination, in order to have the chemical bonding forces combine to give the molecules important for life. (3) The number of positive protons and negative electrons needs to be balanced to cancel to zero, or else the electromagnetic force would dominate the much weaker gravitational force in the universe. (4) The great excess of matter over anti-matter is an unexpected and perhaps designed necessity after the Big Bang occurred. (5) Other examples are listed in The Creation Hypothesis by Moreland (1994) if you wish to read more. Notice that these fine-tuned forces are related to radioactive decay, so that a suggestion of change in decay rates would also suggest a change in the fine-tuning of the forces, thus making life impossible.

The universe seems to be designed with an abundance of the right elements for life to exist – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, etc. The relative abundances of the elements in the universe can be explained as due to stellar evolution. With a beginning material of hydrogen (single protons), stars produce helium and energy by combining protons into a helium nucleus with two protons and two neutrons in a process similar to how hydrogen bombs produce energy. Once the hydrogen is used up, three helium nuclei can combine to form carbon and the interaction of additional helium nuclei can make the heavier elements such as neon, magnesium, silicon, etc. up to iron. All of these reactions give off energy to fuel the sun or star, but elements heavier than iron require a different process that consumes energy. To form these heavier elements such as lead or gold or uranium requires additional energy from a stellar explosion called a supernova. (Chown 2001) If the elements were formed in this way, it lead to several questions: Was it by fiat or process? How long did it take? Is such creation continuing?

One physicist working in the 1950s made a prediction in regards to the abundance of the elements. In general it would be difficult to get three helium nuclei close enough together all at the same time to make carbon inside a star. Two helium nuclei could group together briefly (with a 10-16 sec half-life) to make beryllium-8, but to easily add another helium nucleus would require carbon to have a resonance (an excited state) with just the right energy for combining beryllium-8 plus helium-4. Fred Hoyle suggested the need for this carbon resonance to a fellow physicist. Fowler discovered that in fact there was such a resonance and received a Nobel Prize for its discovery. Hoyle’s 1959 response: “I do not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce inside the stars.” (Mitton 2011)

To be continued. . .

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