Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Part III: Origins of the universe

I left part I stuck in the despair of Atheism, but I began to encounter scientific ideas that would make me question my beliefs. These ideas had to do with the origins of the universe. First of all, there is the question of how the universe went from nothing to a place filled with stars, planets and, in at least one small part of the universe life. Science shows that the universe began with a great expansion called the Big Bang, but what sparked this expansion is still a mystery. You could argue that it was God who set everything in motion, but I don’t want to talk about that argument; I want to talk about the constants that helped form the universe.

During the Big Bang 15 physical constants were set such as the speed of light, the magnetic constant, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. In “The Language of God” Dr. Francis Collins wrote:

The chance that all these constants would take on the value necessary to result in a stable universe capable of sustaining complex life forms is almost infinitesimal. And yet those are exactly the parameters that we observe. In sum our universe is wildly improbable.

For instance, if the weak nuclear force had only been slightly weaker then hydrogen would have been the only element that could have formed. Dr. Collins goes on to say:

If, on the other hand, the strong nuclear force had been slightly stronger, all the hydrogen would have been converted to helium, instead of the 25 percent that occurred in the Big Bang, and thus the fusion furnaces of the stars and their ability to generate heavier elements would have never have been born.

So, we see the chances of a universe forming that is so hospitable to life are very small. Donald Page, of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, in a much debated calculation, said that the chances of a universe forming like ours is 1/10,000,000,000124. These odds leave us with three possibilities:

1. God fine tuned the universe so that life could form.
2. Despite overwhelming odds the universe formed this way without the intervention of God.
3. There are multiple universes and we happen to inhabit one with conditions that would support life.

One of the main factors that moved me from Atheism to Agnosticism was the real possibility that a divine being played a factor in the formation of the universe. The idea that it is unlikely that the universe formed by chance certainly doesn’t prove the existence of God, but I think that it does show irrationality of Atheism because there is a real possibility that God exists. When I looked at the night sky I said that there may be a God out there, but I’m just not sure.

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