Cosmic Miracles

© Copyright 1994/2006 by Timothy Conway, Ph.D., based on John Gribbin, Theodore Roszak, Paul Davies, George Ellis, et al.

Our existential situation together is certainly a mass of Cosmic Miracles piled one upon another.

Physicist-philosopher James Jeans remarked early in the 20th century that the universe looked to him a great deal “more like a great thought than like a great machine.” And Jeans' contemporary, scientist Arthur Eddington, simply suggested: “the stuff of the world is mind-stuff.”

Various parameters of the universe are exquisitely, astonishingly “fine-tuned.” Without such fine-tuning, the universe simply would not have flourished these last 13.7 billion years (the best age estimate for the universe, revealed by the 2006 WMAP project).

The initial “boundary conditions” had to be absolutely perfect for a stable universe to come into being. Moreover, many factors had to be maintained in a perfect balance at various stages over time for the universe to continue its existence. Such fine-tuning and perfect balance have led many cosmologists to conclude that a Super-Intelligence underlies the cosmos.

Let’s look at some of the amazing “coincidences” or “miracles” that characterize our universe. There are dozens and dozens of these "just so," "perfectly fine-tuned" parameters. We'll cover only several here. I've discussed many more of these cosmic miracles in the opening chapter of an upcoming book, Spirit, Science, and Deep Wonder.

One of the great cosmic anomalies is that at every epoch in the universe, for instance, at the initial “Planck time” of 10-43 second old (the smallest “moment” in physics), at 1 second old, at 300,000 years old, and today, nearly 14 billion years later, the critical density had to be “just right.” Critical density had to be perfectly balanced at a level insuring that gravity would be strong enough to cancel any infinite expansion of the universe, yet weak enough to prevent the premature collapse of the universe. Esteemed science writer John Gribbin states: “If the Universe could have any density at all, why should it just happen, by coincidence, to sit right on the dividing line between being open and being closed—why should it be as big as possible without being infinite? This discovery is even more surprising because, throughout the past 15 [13.7] billion years, the density must have been getting further away from the critical value. It is very difficult to balance the opposing mechanisms of expansion and gravity. ... The Universe seems to have been set up, in the beginning, with just such a precise balance between being open and being closed.” (In the Beginning, Little, Brown & Co., 1993, pp. 163-4) Just how fine-tuned is the “critical density” factor? Well, when the universe was 1 second old, it had to be “flat” (balanced between open and closed) to one part in 1015: “the amount by which the density differed from the critical value was represented by a decimal point followed by 14 zeros and a 1. If the value of the critical density is set at 1, then when the Universe was one second old the actual density was between 1 and 1.000,000,000,000,001. ... A Universe that is flat to one part in ten today, and was flat to one part in 1015 at the age of one second, must have been flat to one part in 1060 at the moment of creation, the Planck time.... Even a tiny deviation from flatness during the first second of the Universe would have been quickly magnified, making life impossible.... But these conditions are so extreme that they make the mind boggle.” (John Gribbin, pp. 164-6)

Another cosmic miracle: the parameters during the sudden inflationary period of the early universe (10-35 second old), which allowed the universe to become full-blown and stable after it apparently emerged as a mere “bubble” of spacetime, a “ghostlike virtual reality” emanating out of a “quantum fluctuation”—such inflation parameters had to be just right, by a stupendously precise degree. Otherwise no universe would have stabilized into existence. One big question, for instance, is what brought the inflationary period to an end at exactly the right moment? For if it had expanded too much, no universe could be sustained.

Alan Guth is a respected cosmologist and a primary developer (along with Andrei Linde) of the much-discussed inflationary model of the universe. This model, say materialists, obviates the need for any Creator of the Big Bang event because, in this model, it is "the laws of physics" operating at the level of the vacuum that are themselves responsible for emanating the universe. Yet Guth, at the conclusion of his long-awaited book on inflationary theory, provocatively declared that we are “left with one deep mystery of existence: What is it that determined the laws of physics?” (The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1997, p. 276.)

The Four Forces of physics happen to have certain necessary strengths and are balanced together in remarkable ways. The electromagnetic force is arbitrarily given a strength of 1. The force of gravity has a strength of only 10-38; the strong force (which holds the atomic nucleus together) has a strength of 1,000 on this scale. And the weak force (responsible for radioactive decay, and for the way in which a neutron can eject an electron and turn itself into a proton) has a strength of 10-10. If any of these 4 forces were just slightly, slightly stronger or weaker than they happen to be, the universe could never have happened. Atoms would not have formed through nucleosynthesis, the delicate biochemistry of life would have been impossible, and so forth.

The mass of the neutron and of the proton are nearly the same. This is puzzling. “There is no explanation for this in terms of standard physics; it is just one of the facts of life that a neutron weighs just 1.29 MeV more than a proton.” (Gribbin, p. 183) Yet if the masses were too different, no universe would have formed.

Here's another of our cosmic miracles: the chemical processes inside stars have to be just right for stars to form. Two particularly crucial processes involve the nuclear energy levels of alpha particles vis-à-vis carbon-12 and oxygen-16. Gribbin: “There are two remarkable coincidences which allow life-forms like us to exist at work inside stars. The first makes it possible for carbon to form at all; the second prevents all the carbon turning into oxygen, but allows enough oxygen to be made to carry the process of nucleosynthesis on up the chain to iron-56.” (p. 173)

Given that the mysterious “dark energy and dark matter”—which are not any kind of energy or matter known to us—comprise about 96% of the physical universe (according to the 2006 WMAP findings), and that fully 99% of “ordinary, known matter” (the trillion galaxies each containing an average of 100 billion stars) is in the form of hydrogen and helium atoms, then, clearly, the earth and all other planets, their life-forms, the atmospheres we breathe, and our own bodies involve a kind of matter (carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, etc.) that represents just 0.004 per cent of the mass of the universe. And, again, how very unlikely that any of this “special stuff” should have arisen at all to form planets and sentient organisms. (from Gribbin, p. 41)

Water is another peculiarity. Our planet is dominated by it and life as we know it depends upon water. (Our bodies are largely comprised of water.) Yet biochemist Lawrence Henderson of Harvard University, writing in the second decade of the 20th century, deeply intrigued by the “fitness” of earth’s environment which seemed uncannily “prepared” to host life, was especially interested in water’s many unusual properties, compared to other substances. For instance, the ability of water to dissolve a wide range of substances is unique. It is an efficient thermal conductor. It has remarkable surface tension. Very importantly, water expands on freezing into ice, and the ice floats on top of the water. If ice sank when it froze, the way solids “ought” to when freezing out from the liquid form of the same substance, then in the winter ice would settle at the bottom of lakes and oceans, not the top. The water would lose energy and eventually ice would build up and freeze everything. But ice floats, and forms a protective cover, keeping warm the water below, stopping evaporation, and serving as an insulator. Moreover, water stays in liquid form even at relatively high temperatures, and does not evaporate away as comparable substances would at the same temperature. (See Gribbin, pp. 174ff.) From his various studies of water and other substances, Henderson concluded that “matter and energy have an original property, assuredly not by chance, which organizes the universe in space and time.... The biologist may now rightly regard the universe in its very essence as biocentric.” (quoted in Theodore Roszak, Voice of the Earth, Simon & Schuster, 1992).

“The range of coincidences that have to be explained by any satisfactory theory of how and why the Universe came to be as it is is vast.... The more you look at the way our Universe is set up, the more it seems to be set up in a very odd way, to encourage nucleosynthesis and the formation of stars, planets and people.... The extent to which the coincidences of cosmology... favor us is truly astonishing.” (John Gribbin, pp. 174, 185, 168)

Astronomer Fred Hoyle, a longtime atheist who turned into a believer in some kind of Super-Intelligence after his breakthrough work on the aforementioned anomalous internal chemistry of stars, has declared it looks as if “the laws of physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce inside stars.” He has also described the Universe, and the carbon and oxygen resonances in particular, as a “put-up job.” He declares: “A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.” Hoyle also stated, “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 stars.” (quoted in T. Roszak)

Cosmologist Paul Davies believes that “a hidden principle seems to be at work organizing the cosmos in a coherent way.” “It is hard to resist the impression of something—some influence capable of transcending spacetime and the confinements of relativistic causality—possessing an overview of the entire cosmos at the instant of its creation, and manipulating all the causally disconnected parts to go bang with almost exactly the same vigor at the same time, and yet not so exactly coordinated as to preclude the small scale, slight irregularities that eventually formed the galaxies, and us.”

Esteemed space-time expert George Ellis states: “The symmetries and delicate balances we observe [throughout the cosmos] require an extraordinary coherence of conditions and cooperation of laws and effects, suggesting that in some sense they have been purposefully designed (i.e., they give evidence of intention, realised both in the setting of the laws of physics and in the choice of boundary conditions for the Universe). This is the basic theological view.... To make sense of this view, one must accept the idea of transcendence: that the Designer exists in a totally different order of reality or being, not restrained within the bounds of the Universe itself. A scientific analogue of this idea is given by the now commonplace concept [from John Wheeler, and, especially, leading theorists of Superstring or M Theory] of the imbedding of the Universe in a higher dimensional space, where ultimate reality (the higher dimensional space) is of a different order to the reality experienced by those restricted, by their structure and sensory apparatus, to the 4-dimensional imbedded space time.... Thus we may envisage the transcendent Creator at all times maintaining the nature of the physical world so that a chosen set of laws of physics govern its evolution....It should be noted that none of this is in contradiction to standard physical understanding of the Universe. Rather what we have is an extra layer of explanation offered for the physical world we see around us, ... a meta-physical explanation for the existence and nature of physical laws.... Pure chance is very difficult to sustain, despite its logical unassailability, for it seems a totally inadequate explanation of the complexity we see ... nor can it satisfactorily explain morality and the desire for meaning.... Comparing the different possibilities, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Design concept is one of the most satisfactory overall approaches when broadly conceived.” (G. Ellis, Before the Beginning: Cosmology Explained, London: Boyars/ Bowerdean, 1993, pp. 97-8, 120-7).

I, for one, would argue that scientifically, metaphysically and theologically it makes far better sense to speak in terms of the Divine Superintelligence or Absolute Spirit emanating the universe within ItSelf rather than externally “designing” or “creating” the cosmos (like a clockmaker standing separate from his clock), but that, as they say, is another story, to be discussed elsewhere….