How Did Our Universe Get Here?—The Controversy
ASTRONAUTS thrill to photograph the earth as it looms large through the window of a spacecraft. “That’s the best part of flying in space,” said one. But our earth seems very small when compared with the solar system. The sun could hold a million earths inside, with room to spare! However, could such facts about the universe have any bearing on your life and its meaning?
Let us take a brief mental trip into space to see our earth and sun in perspective. Our sun is just one of an awesome number of stars in a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy,* which itself is just a tiny part of the universe. With the naked eye, it is possible to see a few smudges of light that actually are other galaxies, such as the beautiful and larger Andromeda. The Milky Way, Andromeda, and some 20 other galaxies are bound gravitationally into a cluster, all of these being only a small neighborhood in a vast supercluster. The universe contains countless superclusters, and the picture does not end there.
The clusters are not evenly distributed in space. On a grand scale, they look like thin sheets and filaments around vast bubblelike voids. Some features are so long and wide that they resemble great walls. This may surprise many who think that our universe created itself in a chance cosmic explosion. “The more clearly we can see the universe in all its glorious detail,” concludes a senior writer for Scientific American, “the more difficult it will be for us to explain with a simple theory how it came to be that way.”
Evidence Pointing to a Beginning
All the individual stars you see are in the Milky Way galaxy. Until the 1920’s, that seemed to be the only galaxy. You probably know, though, that observations with larger telescopes have since proved otherwise. Our universe contains at least 50,000,000,000 galaxies. We do not mean 50 billion stars—but at least 50 billion galaxies, each with billions of stars like our sun. Yet it was not the staggering quantity of huge galaxies that shook scientific beliefs in the 1920’s. It was that they are all in motion.
Astronomers discovered a remarkable fact: When galactic light was passed through a prism, the light waves were seen to be stretched, indicating motion away from us at great speed. The more distant a galaxy, the faster it appeared to be receding. That points to an expanding universe!*
Even if we are neither professional astronomers nor amateurs, we can see that an expanding universe would have profound implications about our past—and perhaps our personal future too. Something must have started the process—a force powerful enough to overcome the immense gravity of the entire universe. You have good reason to ask, ‘What could be the source of such dynamic energy?’
Although most scientists trace the universe back to a very small, dense beginning (a singularity), we cannot avoid this key issue: “If at some point in the past, the Universe was once close to a singular state of infinitely small size and infinite density, we have to ask what was there before and what was outside the Universe. . . . We have to face the problem of a Beginning.”—Sir Bernard Lovell.
This implies more than just a source of vast energy. Foresight and intelligence are also needed because the rate of expansion seems very finely tuned. “If the Universe had expanded one million millionth part faster,” said Lovell, “then all the material in the Universe would have dispersed by now. . . . And if it had been a million millionth part slower, then gravitational forces would have caused the Universe to collapse within the first thousand million years or so of its existence. Again, there would have been no long-lived stars and no life.”
Attempts to Explain the Beginning
Can experts now explain the origin of the universe? Many scientists, uncomfortable with the idea that the universe was created by a higher intelligence, speculate that by some mechanism it created itself out of nothing. Does that sound reasonable to you? Such speculations usually involve some variation of a theory (inflationary universe model)* conceived in 1979 by physicist Alan Guth. Yet, more recently, Dr. Guth admitted that his theory “does not explain how the universe arose from nothing.” Dr. Andrei Linde was more explicit in a Scientific American article: “Explaining this initial singularity—where and when it all began—still remains the most intractable problem of modern cosmology.”
If experts cannot really explain either the origin or the early development of our universe, should we not look elsewhere for an explanation? Indeed, you have valid reasons to consider some evidence that many have overlooked but that may give you real insight on this issue. The evidence includes the precise measurements of four fundamental forces that are responsible for all properties and changes affecting matter. At the mere mention of fundamental forces, some may hesitate, thinking, ‘That’s solely for physicists.’ Not so. The basic facts are worth considering because they affect us.
The four fundamental forces come into play both in the vastness of the cosmos and in the infinite smallness of atomic structures. Yes, everything we see around us is involved.
Elements vital for our life (particularly carbon, oxygen, and iron) could not exist were it not for the fine-tuning of the four forces evident in the universe. We already mentioned one force, gravity. Another is the electromagnetic force. If it were significantly weaker, electrons would not be held around the nucleus of an atom. ‘Would that be serious?’ some might wonder. Yes, because atoms could not combine to form molecules. Conversely, if this force were much stronger, electrons would be trapped on the nucleus of an atom. There could be no chemical reactions between atoms—meaning no life. Even from this standpoint, it is clear that our existence and life depend on the fine-tuning of the electromagnetic force.
And consider the cosmic scale: A slight difference in the electromagnetic force would affect the sun and thus alter the light reaching the earth, making photosynthesis in plants difficult or impossible. It could also rob water of its unique properties, which are vital for life. So again, the precise tuning of the electromagnetic force determines whether we live or not.
Equally vital is the intensity of the electromagnetic force in relation to the other three. For example, some physicists figure this force to be 10,000,- 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (1040) times that of gravity. It might seem a small change to that number to add one more zero (1041). Yet that would mean that gravity is proportionally weaker, and Dr. Reinhard Breuer comments on the resulting situation: “With lower gravity the stars would be smaller, and the pressure of gravity in their interiors would not drive the temperature high enough for nuclear fusion reactions to get under way: the sun would be unable to shine.” You can imagine what that would mean for us!
What if gravity were stronger proportionately, so that the number had only 39 zeros (1039)? “With just this tiny adjustment,” continues Breuer, “a star like the sun would find its life expectancy sharply reduced.” And other scientists consider the fine-tuning to be even more precise.
Indeed, two remarkable qualities of our sun and other stars are long-term efficiency and stability. Consider a simple illustration. We know that to run efficiently, an automobile engine needs a critical ratio between fuel and air; engineers design complex mechanical and computer systems to optimize performance. If that is so with a mere engine, what of the efficiently “burning” stars such as our sun? The key forces involved are precisely tuned, optimized for life. Did that precision just happen? The ancient man Job was asked: “Did you proclaim the rules that govern the heavens, or determine the laws of nature on earth?” (Job 38:33, The New English Bible) No human did. So from where does the precision come?
The Two Nuclear Forces
The structure of the universe involves much more than fine-tuning just gravity and the electromagnetic force. Two other physical forces also relate to our life.
These two forces operate in the nucleus of an atom, and they give ample evidence of forethought. Consider the strong nuclear force, which glues protons and neutrons together in the nucleus of the atom. Because of this bonding, various elements can form—light ones (such as helium and oxygen) and heavy ones (such as gold and lead). It seems that if this binding force were a mere 2-percent weaker, only hydrogen would exist. Conversely, if this force were slightly stronger, only heavier elements, but no hydrogen, could be found. Would our lives be affected? Well, if the universe lacked hydrogen, our sun would not have the fuel it needs to radiate life-giving energy. And, of course, we would have no water or food, since hydrogen is an essential ingredient of both.
The fourth force in this discussion, called the weak nuclear force, controls radioactive decay. It also affects thermonuclear activity in our sun. ‘Is this force fine-tuned?’ you might ask. Mathematician and physicist Freeman Dyson explains: “The weak [force] is millions of times weaker than the nuclear force. It is just weak enough so that the hydrogen in the sun burns at a slow and steady rate. If the weak [force] were much stronger or much weaker, any forms of life dependent on sunlike stars would again be in difficulties.” Yes, this precise rate of burning keeps our earth warm—but not incinerated—and keeps us alive.
Furthermore, scientists believe that the weak force plays a role in supernova explosions, which they give as the mechanism for producing and distributing most elements. “If those nuclear forces were in any way slightly different from the way they actually are, the stars would be incapable of making the elements of which you and I are composed,” explains physicist John Polkinghorne.
More could be said, but you likely understand the point. There is an amazing degree of fine-tuning in these four fundamental forces. “All around us, we seem to see evidence that nature got it just right,” wrote Professor Paul Davies. Yes, the precise tuning of the fundamental forces has made possible the existence and operation of our sun, our delightful planet with its life-sustaining water, our atmosphere so vital for life, and a vast array of precious chemical elements on earth. But ask yourself, ‘Why such precise tuning, and from where?’
Earth’s Ideal Features
Our existence requires precision in other respects as well. Consider the earth’s measurements and its position relative to the rest of our solar system. The Bible book of Job contains these humbling questions: “Where did you happen to be when I founded the earth? . . . Who set its measurements, in case you know?” (Job 38:4, 5) As never before, those questions beg for answers. Why? Because of the amazing things that have been discovered about our earth—including its size and its position in our solar system.
No planet like earth has been found elsewhere in the universe. True, some scientists point to indirect evidence that certain stars have orbiting them objects that are hundreds of times larger than the earth. Our earth, though, is just the right size for our existence. In what sense? If earth were slightly larger, its gravity would be stronger and hydrogen, a light gas, would collect, being unable to escape the earth’s gravity. Thus, the atmosphere would be inhospitable to life. On the other hand, if our earth were slightly smaller, life-sustaining oxygen would escape and surface water would evaporate. In either case, we could not live.
The earth is also at an ideal distance from the sun, a factor vital for life to thrive. Astronomer John Barrow and mathematician Frank Tipler studied “the ratio of the Earth’s radius and distance from the Sun.” They concluded that human life would not exist “were this ratio slightly different from what it is observed to be.” Professor David L. Block notes: “Calculations show that had the earth been situated only 5 per cent closer to the sun, a runaway greenhouse effect [overheating of the earth] would have occurred about 4 000 million years ago. If, on the other hand, the earth were placed only 1 per cent further from the sun, runaway glaciation [huge sheets of ice covering much of the globe] would have occurred some 2 000 million years ago.”—Our Universe: Accident or Design?
To the above precision, you can add the fact that the earth rotates on its axis once a day, the right speed to produce moderate temperatures. Venus takes 243 days to rotate. Just think if the earth took as long! We could not survive the extreme temperatures resulting from such long days and nights.
Another vital detail is our earth’s path around the sun. Comets have a wide elliptic path. Thankfully, this is not so with the earth. Its orbit is almost circular. Again, this prevents us from experiencing death-dealing extremes of temperature.
Nor should we ignore the location of our solar system. Were it nearer the center of the Milky Way galaxy, the gravitational effect of neighboring stars would distort the orbit of the earth. In contrast, were it situated at the very edge of our galaxy, the night sky would be all but devoid of stars. Starlight is not essential to life, but does it not add great beauty to our night sky? And based on current concepts of the universe, scientists have calculated that at the edges of the Milky Way, there would not have been enough of the needed chemical elements to form a solar system like ours.*
Law and Order
From personal experience, you likely know that all things tend toward disorder. As any homeowner has observed, when left to themselves, things tend to break down or disintegrate. Scientists refer to this tendency as “the second law of thermodynamics.” We can see this law at work daily. If left alone, a new automobile or bicycle will become scrap. Abandon a building and it will become a ruin. What about the universe? The law applies there too. So you might think that the order throughout the universe should give way to complete disorder.
However, this does not seem to be happening to the universe, as Professor of Mathematics Roger Penrose discovered when he studied the state of disorderliness (or, entropy) of the observable universe. A logical way to interpret such findings is to conclude that the universe started off in an ordered state and is still highly organized. Astrophysicist Alan Lightman noted that scientists “find it mysterious that the universe was created in such a highly ordered condition.” He added that “any successful theory of cosmology should ultimately explain this entropy problem”—why the universe has not become chaotic.
In fact, our existence is contrary to this recognized law. So why is it that we are alive here on earth? As previously noted, that is a basic question that we should want answered.
The Milky Way galaxy is some 600 quadrillion miles [about a quintillion km] in diameter—yes, 600,000,000,000,000,000 miles [1,000,000,000,000,000,000 km]! It takes light 100,000 years to cross it, and this one galaxy contains over 100 billion stars!
In 1995, scientists noticed the strange behavior of the most distant star (SN 1995K) ever observed as it exploded in its galaxy. Like supernovas in nearby galaxies, this star became very bright and then slowly faded but over a longer period than ever before detected. New Scientist magazine plotted this on a graph and explained: “The shape of the light curve . . . is stretched in time by exactly the amount expected if the galaxy was receding from us at nearly half the speed of light.” The conclusion? This is “the best evidence yet that the Universe really is expanding.”
The inflation theory speculates as to what happened a fraction of a second after the beginning of the universe. Advocates of inflation hold that the universe was initially submicroscopic and then inflated faster than the speed of light, a claim that cannot be tested in a laboratory. Inflation remains a debated theory.
Scientists have found that the elements reveal amazing order and harmony. Interesting evidence is presented in the Appendix “Architectural Units of the Universe,” page 26.
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Trying to Number the Stars
It is estimated that the Milky Way galaxy has more than 100,000,000,000 (100 billion) stars. Picture an encyclopedia devoting one page to each of these stars—our sun and the rest of our solar system would be limited to one page. How many volumes would the set need to have in order to cover the stars in the Milky Way?
With volumes of reasonable thickness, it is said that the encyclopedia would not fit in the New York Public Library, with its 256 miles [412 km] of shelf space!
How long would it take you to examine those pages? “To flip through it, at the rate of a page per second, would require over ten thousand years,” explains Coming of Age in the Milky Way. Yet the stars making up our galaxy are but a small fraction of the stars in the estimated 50,000,000,000 (50 billion) galaxies in the universe. If the encyclopedia contained a page for each of these stars, it would not fit on all the library shelves on earth. “The more we know about the universe,” notes the book, “the more we come to see how little we know.”
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Jastrow—On the Beginning
Robert Jastrow, Professor of Astronomy and Geology at Columbia University, wrote: “Few astronomers could have anticipated that this event—the sudden birth of the Universe—would become a proven scientific fact, but observations of the heavens through telescopes have forced them to that conclusion.”
He then commented on the implications: “The astronomical proof of a Beginning places scientists in an awkward position, for they believe that every effect has a natural cause . . . The British astronomer E. A. Milne wrote, ‘We can make no propositions about the state of affairs [in the beginning]; in the Divine act of creation God is unobserved and unwitnessed.’”—The Enchanted Loom—Mind in the Universe.
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Four Fundamental Physical Forces
1. Gravity—a very weak force on the level of atoms. It affects large objects—planets, stars, galaxies.
2. Electromagnetism—the key attracting force between protons and electrons, allowing molecules to form. Lightning is one evidence of its power.
3. Strong nuclear force—the force that glues protons and neutrons together in the nucleus of an atom.
4. Weak nuclear force—the force that governs the decay of radioactive elements and the efficient thermonuclear activity of the sun.
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“Combination of Coincidences”
“Make the weak force slightly stronger and no helium would have been produced; make it slightly weaker and nearly all the hydrogen would have been converted into helium.”
“The window of opportunity for a universe in which there is some helium and there are also exploding supernovas is very narrow. Our existence depends on this combination of coincidences, and on the even more dramatic coincidence of nuclear energy levels predicted by [astronomer Fred] Hoyle. Unlike all previous generations, we know how we come to be here. But, like all previous generations, we still do not know why.”—New Scientist.
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“The special conditions on earth resulting from its ideal size, element composition, and nearly circular orbit at a perfect distance from a long-lived star, the sun, made possible the accumulation of water on the earth’s surface.” (Integrated Principles of Zoology, 7th edition) Life on earth could not have appeared without water.
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Believe Only What You See?
Many rational people accept the existence of things they cannot see. In January 1997, Discover magazine reported that astronomers detected what they concluded were about a dozen planets orbiting distant stars.
“So far the new planets are known only from the way their gravity perturbs the motion of the parent stars.” Yes, for the astronomers, the visible effects of gravity constituted a basis for believing in the existence of unseen heavenly bodies.
Related evidence—not direct observation—was an adequate basis for scientists to accept what was yet invisible. Many who believe in a Creator conclude that they have a similar basis for accepting what they cannot see.
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Sir Fred Hoyle explains in The Nature of the Universe: “To avoid the issue of creation it would be necessary for all the material of the Universe to be infinitely old, and this it cannot be. . . . Hydrogen is being steadily converted into helium and the other elements . . . How comes it then that the Universe consists almost entirely of hydrogen? If matter were infinitely old this would be quite impossible. So we see that the Universe being what it is, the creation issue simply cannot be dodged.”
[Picture on page 12, 13]
Our sun (box) is insignificant in the Milky Way galaxy, as illustrated here with spiral galaxy NGC 5236
The Milky Way contains over 100 billion stars, and it is only one of over 50 billion galaxies in the known universe
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Astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) realized that a red shift in light from distant galaxies showed that our universe is expanding and thus had a beginning
[Pictures on page 19]
Fine-tuning of forces that control our sun results in conditions just right for our life on earth