Big Bangs and Trained Riflemen

In my opening post I stated that  although I am far from sure, I have pretty much decided that Christianity is true, and so I thought it would be a good idea to use my next few posts to outline why that is, since it is the framework upon which most of the forthcoming discussion will rest. Once that’s done however, I’d like to begin to discuss the problems I have with Christianity – those nagging inconsistencies which keep me up at night.

So to begin with, in this post, I want to briefly outline why I believe that the universe we live in was not a freak accident, as atheists like Richard Dawkins would contend. Of course this has little to do with Christianity specifically, but it is very important in establishing a belief in God and a supernatural world that exists in tandem with our own. Here are my reasons:

1) A very big Bang

Until the 1930’s, cosmologists leaned uniformly towards a model of the universe that was eternal – a bubble of space and time which had always been, and which, to the best of their knowledge, always would be; changeless, unending and in which we were nothing but a single point upon a line of infinite length. But that all changed when scientists like Georges Lemaitre and Edwin Hubble discovered that the the universe was not static and unchanging at all – the stars around us were (and still are) being flung away from us at an ever increasing rate and the emptiness of space is permeated by scores of seemingly sourceless radio waves – the source of static on radios and televisions not tuned to any particular station. These were the artefacts of an event that had occurred somewhere in the distant past, one whose echoes are still audible 13 billion years later – the Big Bang. The more recent work of Stephen Hawking has hypothesised the existence of a ‘singularity’ an infinitesimally small and incomprehensibly dense ‘spark’ which contained all the matter and energy which ‘exploded’ into our universe. Naturally, the above is a very simplified version of the complex physics involved with this remarkable theory, but the fact is that modern physics has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that roughly 13.7 billion years ago, a universe appeared where before, no universe was.

Now, I can see no massively compelling reason to think that the rule of causation (everything that has a beginning has a cause) should apply beyond the borders of our universe – going only on what we know, what’s to say that singularities like the one that became our world aren’t able to materialise out of nothing? It would certainly be very strange, (and it probably isn’t the case), but we don’t have enough evidence to say that it is impossible. But even if singularities are in the habit of spontaneously materialising, the idea our universe is simply an uncaused, accidental universe is still very unlikely for the following reason:

2) Life on a Knife’s Edge

Forget the incredibly fragile and subtle mechanisms that life requires in order to function, simply in order for a universe to be able to contain matter more complex than disparate fundamental particles, a ridiculously specific sequence of numbers must be built in to it. The strength of gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces, the rate of expansion of the universe and many, many other mathematical constants must be tuned to an mind-boggling level of specificity just so that atoms can exist. For larger structures like stars and planets (and eventually of course, us) to exist, even more miraculous coincidences are needed. This is simply a scientific fact, and even the staunchest of atheists acknowledges that our ability to exist in this universe is one of the most ridiculously improbable things ever.

Atheist Dan Barker has an analogy (-ed. I’ve since learned that this analogy originally came from theistic philosopher Richard Swineburne, Barker’s is simply an attempt to give the analogy an naturalistic conclusion to counter Swineburne’s theistic one) which I find particularly apt; he describes life on earth as a prisoner tied to a chair and about to be executed by one hundred expert riflemen. (Each rifleman represents a universal constant for which only one, extremely specific value will allow for life). Blindfolded, the prisoner hears the order to fire shouted, and grits his teeth, preparing for oblivion, only to hear a deafening bang and realise that he is still alive. Naturally, Barker admits along with every other physicist and philosopher who takes themselves seriously: this demands an explanation. Pure chance could never account for every single rifleman missing his mark, and pure chance could never explain why our universe did not snuff us out before we had a chance to exist. Barker offers his explanation in the form of a Multiverse – he says that if the prisoner were to remove his blindfold, he would in fact find that there had been 101 prisoners, and he was the lucky one upon whom no rifle had ever been trained. This is a simplification of the idea that there are in reality, an infinite number of universes, and ours simply happens to be the one in which life can exist.

Admittedly, this is a logically coherent explanation – if there are an infinite number of universes, then it is no more surprising that one of them contains life than it is when one person out of a million wins the lottery.  It simply had to happen somewhere. But the problem with this theory is simple: there is no convincing evidence that it is true. While equations can be developed which allow for their hypothetical existence, this makes them only as real as the square root of negative one – theoretically conceivable, but with no actual counterpart in the real world. A die-hard skeptic would have to conclude that our universe is the only one in existence, because that is the only one which we can empirically show to be real.

So let me summarise the above information into three simple statements which are relatively uncontroversial scientific fact:

1) Our life-conducive universe began to exist 13.7 billion years ago.

2)  The chance that a universe should be able to support life by chance is negligibly small.

3) There is no conclusive evidence that any universe other than our own exists.

It is because of these three facts that I believe that our universe’s birth was not an accident at all, but an intentional, planned event, instigated with the express intention of allowing for complex life to exist – that is to say, somebody paid the riflemen to miss. The notion that the universe was ‘created’, i.e. brought into existence by an intelligent mind for an intelligent purpose is often laughed at today by many an atheist and agnostic as ridiculous, but this derision is based mostly in ignorance. Those who are aware of the current state of the science are much more open to the idea; even Richard Dawkins admitted in a debate with John Lennox that it is possible to have a ‘serious discussion’ about a deistic creator.

Having established that it is at least rational to believe that an intelligent being created our universe, we come to massively interesting question: who are they? A question I hope to discuss in my next post.

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