Saturday, December 27, 2014

Science and the Case for God

Recently I've posted several pieces on Viewpoint on how many aspects of the solar system and the earth must be just as they are in order for intelligent life to arise and persist on the earth (Here, here and here). Eric Metaxas has an essay in the WSJ (subscription required unless you google his name and the title) titled Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God in which he expresses his astonishment at how exquisitely engineered not only the solar system but the entire universe must be in order for creatures like us to exist.

Metaxas writes:
In 1966 ... astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 21 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.
In light of these calculations it seemed obvious to everyone that other intelligent beings were out there and that it was just a matter of time and effort before we detected their presence. Sagan's ideas were the inspiration for the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project and also for the movie Contact. It began in the 60s but, as Metaxas puts it:
[A]s years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis—0 followed by nothing. What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.
In other words, the earth, and the intelligent life it sustains, may be unique in the universe. For anyone who absorbed their science from shows like Sagan's Cosmos in the 60s through the 80s when it was simply assumed that life would be abundant in the universe this is a jaw-dropping conclusion. Metaxas goes on:
As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.

Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart....The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.
Yet here we are. How do we explain it? Or, as Metaxas asks,
Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?
I agree with Metaxas' point, but in the eyes of the materialist he's got things a bit backward. The materialist might counter Metaxas' implied conclusion by insisting that there is no God and thus, since we're here, the coincidences, as amazing as they are, must have occurred. Metaxas, in other words, sees these coincidences as clear evidence of intentional design, the materialist doesn't, or maybe more accurately, chooses not to.

Metaxas is astonished by the evidence of fine-tuning exhibited not only by the earth but by the whole universe:
There’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp(See here for a couple of even more incredible examples).

Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?

Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that “a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology . . . . The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.” Theoretical physicist Paul Davies [an agnostic] has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”
The sorts of facts Metaxas musters in WSJ have been circulating among scientists and philosophers for about two decades now and many books have been written about them. The fact that the arguments are making their way into more popular venues like newspapers means that more non-academics will be exposed to the impressive cumulative argument they make for the existence of intelligence as the ontological source of the cosmos. That can only be a good thing.