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?
(A version of this post was originally published on this site on 18 March 2007.)