Friday, 26 February 2016

God, creation and the fine-tuned Universe

Lent 2016: Day 16

Dipping into the concept of chance, probability and fortuity via Michał Heller's book Filozofia przypadku, in which the Catholic priest /mathematician /cosmologist posits that chance is not randomly distributed throughout space and time, but at critical points in the matrix.

At this stage, before going on, it worth considering the notion of the fine-tuned Universe. This scientific concept looks at the laws of physics that needed to have been in place for life to have come into existence.

One of these, according to Martin Rees, British astrophysicist and cosmologist, is the value of Epsilon, (ε), the strength of the force binding nucleons into nuclei, is 0.007. If it were 0.006, no other atom other than hydrogen could possibly exist, and complex chemistry would be impossible. Yet, according to Prof Rees, if it were above 0.008, no hydrogen would exist, as all the hydrogen would have been fused shortly after the Big Bang.

There are many more, gravity; magnetism; dark energy - pushing galaxies apart at the right pace; water freezing from the surface down rather than from the bottom up, unlike other liquids. The energy state of the carbon atom allows for its abundance throughout the cosmos, a building-block of sentient life.

So - you can either consider these many factors creating conditions to be mere chance, without all of which we would simply not be here to marvel at the fact - or we can begin to ask why the Universe has been set up in such a way. A miracle here, a one-in-a-billion chance there, a statistical improbability over there. Yet all are in place, allowing life to exist here on our planet, at this particular time. Amazing, eh?

There are two schools of thought as to whether the Universe is teeming with life (the Drake equation) or whether further statistically-improbable factors, local to our Solar System have resulted in our Earth being an incredibly rare in our galaxy, the Milky Way, or indeed in any other galaxy (see the Rare Earth hypothesis). And indeed, there are scientists and authors who suggest that we are the only complex, sentient life forms that can do all the marvellous things we do (at least in our part of the Milky Way).

One way or another, all of these fortuitous coincidences must have come together to allow the Universe to form and expand, and for life on Earth to take hold and evolve - and the next question must be - for what purpose?  That will come later on.

In the meantime, it is worth pondering once again the stupendously improbable fact the you are here, alive, conscious, thinking, feeling... and here and now, at this time of year associated with contemplation, meditation. Be aware of this, and give thanks for your existence.

This time last year:
The infinitely long path from Zero to One

This time three years ago:
Images of God

This time four years ago:
City-centre living, Warsaw-style

This time five years ago:
Communist plaque on Zygmunt's Column

This time eight years ago:
Three weeks into Lent

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