by Paul Scott Pruett
Provocative statement? Sure. But let me prove to you that it is necessarily true.
I’ve followed astronomy and cosmology for over three decades. In that time I’ve seen many discussions on the origin of the universe and its remarkable design. One of the things that has been increasingly revealed and noticed is that the universe seems to be fine-tuned for the existence of life. Not just “life as we know it,” but any life. In fact, fune-tuned for any complex molecules or objects at all. It has been noted that if any of the forces or constants of physics were tweaked up or down (often in even fractional ways) it would have a dramatic impact on the entire universe. We could get a universe that has no light elements, or one with no heavy elements. We could get one infested with black holes, or one with few stars. We could get one that is filled with nothing but diffuse hydrogen gas, or one that collapsed back upon itself before anything interesting happens.
As you might imagine, there has been quite a bit of reaction to these “anthropic coincidences,” some in book-length treatments(1). What is most interesting is to see what atheists do with this information after admitting it(2). What does one do with the thought that they live in a universe that is so providential? While some choose to offer flippant non-answers, like, “well you wouldn’t be here to observe it if it hadn’t happened,” many others have offered more creative solutions.
By the time I entered the world of astronomy, through books and college classes, the idea of the Steady State theory had already been left behind by the growing empirical support for Big Bang theory. According to the old theory (Steady State), the universe was an infinite thing, perhaps even infinitely creating new matter from some locus to keep things fresh and expanding. This, however, did not explain why the universe was so fortuitously designed. But then again, the anthropic principle was not yet fully in play. Steady State theory was more of an explanation for why the universe did not need a beginning – the idea of a beginning being most unsettling for atheists(3).
With the increasing prominence of Big Bang cosmology and anthropic observations, the question then to be answered was how the resulting universe had gotten such a lucky roll of the dice. At this point, the fate of the universe was as yet unknown. How much mass did it have? Would it expand forever? Would gravity slow it down and finally win the battle, bringing it all back together from whence it came? The thought was that there may be a “Big Crunch” to go along with the Big Bang. But the idea that our universe was nothing but one glorious flash in the pan did nothing to explain the mystery of fine-tuning.
Some suggested that if the universe could do it once, why not a second time. Perhaps it would be more like a “bounce” than a crunch, with each collapse rebounding in yet another Big Bang. Perhaps this could even be an infinite process, with no beginning and no end. Perhaps, even, each “oscillation” could consist of different laws of physics. In spite of various noteworthy flaws in this oscillating universe theory(4) it still surfaced regularly, in my experience, when the deep mysteries of the universe were called into question…
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