Sunday, March 18, 2007

Electron:Proton Ratio

How about that for a snappy title? Makes you want to call all your friends into the room to check out this blog post, doesn't it?

In the last post, I began to talk about the anthropic principle, the recognition on the part of astronomers, physicists, and chemists that the universe is made with intelligent life as its goal. Today I want to help you begin to appreciate what proponents of this principle mean when they discuss "fine-tuning." The example I'll give you comes from astronomer Hugh Ross' book, The Creator and the Cosmos.

The number of electrons (in the universe) is equivalent to the number of protons to an accuracy of one part in 10 to the 37th power. If it were not so, galaxies, stars, and planets would never form (because electromagnetic forces would so overwhelm gravitational forces).

So what does one part in 10 to the 37th power look like? Ross asks us to imagine the entire North American continent covered in dimes, and that continent-wide pile of dimes reaching all the way to the moon. Now, consider a million such continent-wide, to-the-moon-high stacks of dimes, and among all those dimes a single one painted red. One part in 10 to the 37th power is like a blind-folded person successfully selecting that one red dime on the first try!

And the ratio of electrons to protons is just one of more than 93 characteristics of the universe (so far documented) that exhibit extreme fine-tuning for life. That's why the evidence for design in the universe has led so many astronomers and physicists to use theological language when discussing their results. Take astronomer George Greenspan, for example...
As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency--or, rather, Agency--must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?

5 comments:

island said...

In the last post, I began to talk about the anthropic principle, the recognition on the part of astronomers, physicists, and chemists that the universe is made with intelligent life as its goal.

More likely as a practical means to an end, but you make your leaps of faith where ever you feel the need to read-in your preconceived belief-system.

Rick Gerhardt said...

Hi, Island! Thanks for reading.

I share the anthropic principle with my readers because (as you suggest) it comports nicely with the worldview to which I have come independently. As for the physicists, astronomers, and chemists whose research has culminated in the anthropic principle, most of them were reluctant (but forced by the strength of the evidence) to come to such a theistic conclusion.

island said...

As I indicated, evidence that we're not here by accident can't "force" anyone to such a conclusion without preconceived predispositioning toward theism, because the first most likely reason for it will be that we are simply *needed into existence* by the physical process of our universe.

You already have your belief, and so you search for vindication, but there is nothing that forces this conclusion without such a pre-existing idea.

To each his own, I guess.

Rick Gerhardt said...

Island:

I'm not sure I'm following what you're trying to say, but...

I agree with you that no amount of evidence can force anyone to any conclusions. Science certainly doesn't work that way. A conclusion is far more often arrived at as an inference to the best explanation (of the sum of the evidence). I merely am pointing out that many scientists studying the physical laws and constants of the universe have--often in direct contradiction to their own presuppositions--ended by concluding that there is a Designer, a Supreme Intelligence behind these laws. So I used "forced" to mean "compelled by the weight of reason."

I'm not sure whether you are suggesting that we (human beings) are necessary given the make-up of the universe. While there have been those who have argued that the universe itself is necesssary, the consensus position is that it is instead contingent. (This is especially true with the discovery that it had a beginning.) And I can't even imagine how one could argue that something (like human beings) are a necessary product of a universe that is itself contingent.

island said...

I'm saying that you won't naturally infer a deity from the evidence without having a preconceived idea that this is what the evidence is pointing toward, because it isn't the most natural conclusion if you don't already harbor this idea.

And I can't even imagine how one could argue that something (like human beings) are a necessary product of a universe...

Really?

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/edit/archives/2004/09/30/2003204990