The Herald has an op-ed written by physicist Jeff Tallon on atheism and the existence of God. Tallon makes the case for God based on the fine-tuning argument:
Is there in all probability no God? Can we account for the physical universe, the biological world and the nature of humankind without any recourse to a Creator? What is the likelihood that we are here merely by chance?
For the first time in our history we can start to quantify parts of this question in probabilistic terms. The result is surprising.
Let’s start with the physical universe. The field of cosmology tells us that the universe is exquisitely finely balanced.
Its density, back at the first moments of the “big bang”, was critically balanced to better than one part in one billion billion billion billion.
A fraction more dense and it all would have collapsed again. A fraction less dense and it all would have evaporated – no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no mother Earth.
A little this way and protons do not form. A little that way and neutrons don’t form. Tweak another way and no particles at all. Tweak another way and everything is hydrogen only.
Now if the universe were truly random this would not happen. It would be chaos with no structure.
If the existence of a God were the only solution to this problem then it would be a pretty compelling argument. But off the top of my head I can posit several alternatives, wiser minds than mine could no doubt offer more:
- Only one kind of universe is logically possible so a universe with, say, a different weak nuclear force or less spatial dimensions simply could not exist.
- All possible universes exist.
- Some as-yet-unknown property of the universe requires an observer, so the possibility of life is a pre-condition for the universe.
- The universe is infinite and it’s properties vary from region to region so there will be an infinite number of areas where the criteria for intelligent life to exist are met.
I’m not a fancy big city physicist but my understanding is that inflation theory favors the last option; that our universe is surrounded by inflationary vacuum expanding at many times the speed of light, containing a very large and possibly infinite number of varied universes.
Tallon moves onto the argument against evolutionary complexity with the very familiar reasoning known as Hoyle’s fallacy:
The biological world is constructed around amazingly complex molecules like proteins, DNA, RNA.
Each of these is like a sentence constructed of letters and words. It has been said that 1000 monkeys pecking randomly at 1000 typewriters will eventually type out all of Shakespeare’s works and The Encyclopaedia Britannica. The comparison is clear: wait long enough and the precursor to a protein, albeit complex, would naturally self-assemble.
Well, look at the odds for just the three words “The Encyclopedia Britannica”. It is easy to show that not even a billion monkeys typing on a billion typewriters for the lifetime of the universe will have a chance of coming up with just those three words.
Yet this problem is totally dwarfed by that of constructing a protein like nitrogenase. This is the catalyst that splits the bonds in a nitrogen gas molecule to make soluble nitrates.
Richard Dawkins demolished this argument in The Blind Watchmaker. He pointed out that evolution doesn’t work like that. Nitrogenase didn’t just spring into being, it evolved from simpler precursors via natural selection. To use the typing monkey analogy, line up 25 (or so) monkeys each of whom can only type a single randomly determined letter. If they type a letter that correctly corresponds to their corresponding letter in ‘The Encyclopedia Britannica’ (if the second monkey types the letter ‘h’, say) then it stays in the typing pool, incorrect monkeys are replaced with a new monkey that types another random letter. If you do this a couple times a minute then you get your row of monkeys correctly typing ‘The Encyclopedia Britannica’ in about an hour, depending on the breaks.
Of course evolution doesn’t work like this – organic molucules in the primordial ocean weren’t trying to arrange themselves into nitrogenase – but it does illustrate the enormous power of natural selection when applied to a random process.
I could be wrong, but the bus slogan “There’s probably no God” is probably, nay, almost certainly, incorrect. It is a purely dogmatic statement that is not informed by science. And we haven’t even considered the nature of mind, mathematics, morals and mankind.
I don’t know how or why the universe exists, or how life on our planet began, so I have to admit that God might turn out to be the answer. But all throughout history people have used ‘God’ as an answer to difficult problems like the origin of thunder, or the cause of sickness, or why crops grow in spring, and they’ve always turned out to be wrong. So I really think you want to use God as an explanation of absolute last resort. It took thousands of years to understand the pathology of disease, we might want to wait more than a couple of years before we declare that the fine-tuning problem is unsolvable without appealing to divine intervention.