Q: Peter, there’s a debate going on in the scientific community between those who believe that all life, including human life, happened by “chance” and those who believe that the universe was consciously designed for the advent of life. Is this a new debate?
A: This debate goes back at least to the early 1900s. As science learned more about the complexity of the universe, many scientists embraced the atheistic viewpoint that intelligent life was the end point of a blind process that happened purely by chance. Darwin’s theory of evolution gave a big impetus to this viewpoint.
Q: So at the start of the twentieth century, the “chance theory” was the prevailing viewpoint in science?
A: Yes. Before then, most scientists believed in God, including Isaac Newton, one the greatest scientists of all time. Newton, so the story goes, believed so deeply in the existence of a divine creator that he once built a huge mechanical model of our solar system showing the rotation of the planets around the sun. He invited his friend, an agnostic, over to see it. Upon seeing the model, his friend said, “This is incredible and so complicated. Who made it?”
Newton had made his point: as complicated as the model was, it was nothing compared to the complexity of the universe. How could his friend think the universe didn’t have a designer?
Q: Can you explain why an increasingly greater number of scientists are beginning to see what was obvious to Newton — that the universe does in fact have a “designer?”
A: Scientific knowledge is at the point where we now understand how many physical properties of the universe had to be exactly right for human life to exist. Before science had this knowledge, it was easier to maintain the notion that the universe’s “life-friendly properties” had simply happened by chance.
But now there are so many examples of these unique “life-friendly properties” that science can no longer dismiss all of them as mere chance or coincidence.* As a result, the pendulum is now swinging back to the idea of an intelligent designer of the universe, a viewpoint sometimes described as “anthropic.”
Q: What are some of the properties of the universe that support the idea of intelligent design?
A: Many of the key discoveries of the last 100 years are based on the scientific study of the atom and the subatomic world, a field known as “quantum mechanics.”
Physicists have found that even tiny changes in the structure or forces within the atom would mean that life as we know it could not exist. For example, if the protons in atoms were just .2% larger they would be too unstable to support life — the atoms would disappear and we would not exist.
If we suddenly doubled the size of the electron, the same thing would happen: all life would cease to exist. In fact, any change in the size, properties, and interactions among protons, neutrons, and electrons would cause life as we know it to disappear.
Q: Can we conclude, then, that the size and structure of the atom are among the things that are “exactly right” for all life to exist, not only human life?
A: Yes. Paramhansa Yogananda, and also all modern scientists, refer to the atom as the basic “building block” of all matter and hence of all life. This fundamental yet microscopic particle of matter displays a level of precision in its form and function that points much more to intelligent design than to chance. Physicists who study the properties of atoms are finding more and more examples of this kind of “fine-tuning.”
Q: Other than the atom, are there other examples that point to intelligent design?
A: Yes, there are two examples relating to the formation of the Earth as a planet supportive of life. The planet Mars is a good example of how the Earth might have ended up with a change in one or two conditions.
Four billion years ago, when the Earth and Mars were forming, Mars, like the Earth, had surface water, an atmosphere, and a liquid molten iron core that created a magnetic field which protected the planet from harmful solar radiation. Initially, both planets experienced enormously high surface heat.
However, as cooling occurred, Mars, being much smaller than the Earth, cooled much more rapidly. As a result, its liquid molten core eventually hardened and Mars lost its protective magnetic field. Without a magnetic field, Mars was continually subjected to harmful solar radiation and solar winds. In time, this continual bombardment transformed the planet into a barren desert lacking an atmosphere.
Had the Earth been a little smaller, it could have easily ended up as a planet inhospitable to life, just like Mars. But today the earth still has a liquid molten core which gives it a protective magnetic field.
Q: It’s very difficult for the human mind to comprehend the vastness of an intelligence that set in motion planetary processes spanning billions of years. Do you think this vastness may be one of the reasons some people embrace the chance theory?
A: I’m sure that’s true for some scientists, but Einstein’s response to that cosmic vastness was a sense of reverent awe. He eventually embraced the intelligent design viewpoint.
Q:You said there were two examples of intelligent design relating to the formation of the Earth. What is the second?
A: The existence of the moon is another example suggestive of intelligent design. The scientific evidence shows that the moon formed when a small planetoid collided with the Earth billions of years ago. That collision not only formed the moon, it also forced the earth’s axis to tilt in relation to the sun to cause the familiar seasons: summer, fall, winter, spring.
If we didn’t have a moon, our weather would be much more extreme, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, for life as we know it to exist. Having a moon that supports rather than threatens our existence of life, is more evidence of intelligent design.
There’s other evidence of intelligent design I could cite but most of it is very technical. To understand it, you need a scientific background. But there are many other examples of the physical universe’s “life-friendly” properties.
Q: In the face of this kind of evidence, what’s the position of scientists who support the chance theory?
A: One of the main theories advanced by proponents of the chance viewpoint is the theory of the “multiverse,” which maintains that there are an infinite number of universes, and that our universe just happens to be the one where conditions are right for intelligent life. However, there’s no scientific proof that these other universes exist.
Q: How has the scientific community responded to the multiverse theory?
A: Skeptically. It makes little sense to talk about other universes if there’s no way to confirm their existence. Some physicists have pointed out that if you can hypothesize an unlimited number of universes, you can explain anything, but a theory that allows anything to be possible, actually explains nothing. *
I’ve always thought that the multiverse theory is really no different from saying, “If there were a million monkeys pounding away on a million typewriters for an unlimited period of time, eventually they’d write the Bible, all of Shakespeare’s plays, the Koran, and every other famous book that’s ever been written — just by chance.”
I like using that example because it’s so preposterous. When you cloak the multiverse theory in the garb of scientific language it appears more reasonable than when you substitute a goofy example.
Q: Have the proponents cited anything in support of the multiverse theory?
A: They’ve been able to show mathematically that the multiverse is a possibility, but, in science, being able to show that something is mathematically possible doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true.
The other evidence cited is the discovery of “dark energy.” In 1998 scientists discovered that the expansion of the universe is accelerating and not slowing down as previously assumed. An unknown form of energy, dubbed “dark energy,” is causing this expansion.
The proponents of the multiverse theory have seized upon this expansion of the universe through “dark energy” as support for the multiverse theory. However, science at this point doesn’t even know what dark energy is, so obviously it’s neither evidence nor proof that other universes exist.
In fact, many scientists have shown that the discovery of “dark energy” provides additional support for the intelligent design viewpoint.
Q: Can you explain how?
A: “Dark energy” is another example of the kind of fine-tuning that allows life to exist. Scientists have found that the calibration of “dark energy,” which appears to be a repelling force, is just enough to accelerate expansion of the universe but not so much as to cause the universe to rip apart. If the effects of “dark energy” were any greater, they would overwhelm the gravity that holds the universe together.
One prominent physicist describes the calibration of dark energy as an example of fine-tuning well beyond what one might expect if it were a “mere accident.”*
Q: What, then, will be the likely fate of the multiverse theory?
A: There have been plenty of theories in science over the centuries that have been popular yet eventually been proven false. Evidence is ultimately what brings about changes in scientific understanding. If the evidence doesn’t confirm a theory, at some point we have to change or abandon the theory.
Maybe multiverses exist. But as an explanation of why intelligent life exists on Earth, so far there’s no evidence to support the multiverse theory.
Q: Do you believe that the future will increasingly confirm the intelligent design viewpoint?
A: Yes. I believe that as these “life-friendly” coincidences continue to stack up, more and more scientists will embrace intelligent design. As one commentator put it: “The basic properties of the universe are uncannily suited for life. Tweak the laws of physics in just about any way – and life as we know it would cease to exist.”*