The Humble "I"

Muslims, Musings, Modernity

Was the Universe Expecting Us?

tarantula-nebula_01_2560x1600-1Freeman Dyson, one of the world’s foremost theoretical physicists, wrote: ‘The more I exam the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense knew we were coming,’1

Today scientists don’t hesitate to acknowledge this wondrous fact of how tailor-made to life our universe is. Or, as Anthony Flew declared in There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, that ‘the laws of nature seem to have been crafted so as to move the universe towards the emergence and sustenance of life.’2

And what precisely is the cause of this enchantment? Or on what grounds do so many cosmologists believe that the universe is compelled, in some sense, for conscious life to emerge in it? Well, it all has to do with our universe’s remarkable fine-tuning of its most basic, fundamental forces. Let me elaborate:

I

Cosmologists tell us, for instance, that had the force of gravity been a fraction weaker than it is: by 1 part in 1040 (that is, one followed by forty zeros), matter couldn’t have clumped together to form galaxies or stars. The universe would have been a lifeless sea of drifting gas of interminable darkness.

Had gravity been ever so slightly stronger, the universe would be radically different than it is now. Matter would clump together more aggresively. Stars could still exist, but they would be far smaller and burn out much more quicker than the time needed for complex planetary life to evolve. If it did manage to evolve, even insects would need thicker legs to support themselves because of the increased gravitational tug; indeed gravity would crush anything as large as ourselves. And that is assuming that planets could be stable. For in a strong-gravity universe, stars will be packed far closer together, making stellar collisions frequent. Planetry existence would thus be very unlikely, or extremely unstable.

So precisely-tuned is the force of gravity in relation to the other forces which operate throughout the universe that, had the initial explosion of the Big-Bang differed in strength by as little as 1 part in 1060, then the universe would have either collapsed back on itself or expanded too rapidly for stars to form. This incredibly slim margin is likened to firing a bullet at a fifty pence coin at the other side of the universe, billions of light-years away, and actually hitting the target!

II

A similar story holds true for the force binding protons and neutrons together in an atom: the strong nuclear force. Had it been a tad weaker, only hydrogen atoms could have formed; nothing else. If the strong nuclear force had been slightly stronger, the nuclear furnace which rages within the centre of stars would not be able to produce heavy elements like carbon, which is critical for all biological life. Again, the nuclear force appears to be tuned just sufficiently for carbon atoms to form.

Another example of such cosmic coincidences is the electromagnetic force: the force that causes the interaction between electrically-charged particles. If it was a tiny bit stronger, electrons would be bound to atoms so tightly that no chemical interactions could take place between atoms, which essentially means no life! On the other hand, if it were a fraction weaker than it is, electrons could not be bound to the nucleus of atoms, and thus no molecules could even form to give rise to life.

III

That our universe seems uniquely tuned to give rise to life; more specifically, human life, is known as the Anthropic Principle. And it remains a source of intense wonder, debate and speculation among scientists, philosophers and theologians since it was fullly appreciated a few decades ago.

All in all there are fifteen cosmological constants which, because they have the values and parameters they have, allow the emergence of a universe capable of supporting complex life.

Some have imaginatively likened the anthropic principle to a series of radio dials, with each instance of fine-tuning representing one dial. Unless all the dials are tuned to exactly the right settings, life would be utterly imposible. In his Just Six Numbers, Britain’s Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, states that such finely-tuned cosmological constants, ‘constitute a “recipe” for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life.’3 ‘The chance,’ says Francis Collins, head of the human genome project, ‘that all these constants would take on the values necessary to result in a stable universe capable of sustaining complex life forms is almost infinitesimal. And yet those are exactly the parameters we observe.’4

IV

McGrath tells us that the first few decades of the twentieth century were dominated by a scientific belief that the universe had always existed, and so for most scientists of the time, there was no good reason to deliberate upon what brought it into existence. Religious language about creation was seen as backwardness: mythological nonsense incompatible with cutting-edge scientific knowledge. By the 1960s, though, it became increasingly apparent to the scientific community that the universe did have an origin; a starting point – the Big Bang. Although the idea was initially met with fierce dismissal by some atheist scientists of the day, such prejudice was overwhelmed by the evidence in its favour.5

Both the Big-Bang and the growing realisation of how the universe is finely-tuned for life have seriously altered the tone of the debate in terms of God, science and reason. Nonetheless, as suggestive as fine-tuning may be, its explanation continues to stoke intense debate in scientific, theological and philosophical circles.

V

Three explanations are offered for the remarkable fine-tuning of our cosmos. The first is a sort of shrug of the shoulder response. That is, things are what they are, or we would not be here to discuss them. We are just very lucky. To this “it’s just the way things are” attitude, Rees writes the following: ‘Many scientists take this line, but it certainly leaves me unsatisfied. I’m impressed by a metaphor given by the Canadian philosopher John Leslie. Suppose you are facing a firing squad. Fifty marksmen take aim, but they all miss. If they hadn’t missed, you wouldn’t have survived to ponder the matter. But you wouldn’t just leave it at that – you’d still be baffled, and would seek some further reason for your good fortune.’6

The second continues to attract a growing number of advocates: There are multiple universes parallel to ours, each governed by different laws and defined by different values. Our universe is simply a result of trial and error in that it is one wherein all the anthropic constants act in concert to allow life. A setback with the “multiverse” hypothesis, its incredulity aside and its seemingly opportunistic reasoning, is that it only postpones the crucial question. Instead of asking how our universe came about, we now must ask how these multiple universes emerged. Another drawback with it has to do with Ockham’s Razor. This is the rule that insists, ‘All other things being equal, simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones.’ Invoking an infinite number of universes lacking empirical testability or observability, because they are in a different spacetime framework, is indeed extremely complex.

The last invokes divine providence. This is the belief that a wise, omnipotent Maker made the universe, endowing it with purpose, meaning and remarkable beauty for the specific intention of producing man. Stephen Hawking remarked in A Brief History of Time – in what seems like a moment of epiphany: ‘It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.’7

Indeed!

The Qur’an insists: And We created not the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in vain. That is the opinion of those who disbelieve; so woe to the disbelievers because of the Fire! [38:27]

1. Dyson, Disturbing the Universe, 250 – in Barrow & Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Calarendon, 1988), 318.

2. Antony Flew, There is a God (USA: HarperCollins, 2008), 114.

3. Just Six Numbers (Great Britain: Phoenix Books, 1999), 4.

4. The Language of God (London: Simon & Schuster, 2007), 74. Cf. the account of the anthropic principle by physicist and Christian theologian John Polkinghorne, Beyond Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 80-92.

5. Why God Won’t Go Away (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2011), 84-5.

6. Just Six Numbers, 164-66.

7. A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Press, 1998), 144. I am not suggesting by this statement that Hawkins is a theist. But simply showing that the universe having a wise, omnipotent Maker is more than within the scope of reason and sound logic.

About these ads

Single Post Navigation

23 thoughts on “Was the Universe Expecting Us?

  1. Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    JazzakAllahu khair

    Like

  2. A very nice piece! testimony to Allaah’s promise in Qur’an: ‘We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness?

    Like

  3. Yep, the universe is too much of a coincidence to be a mistake.

    Like

  4. gordon2 on said:

    ‘the flowers of the garden guide us with their (warm) smiles’ xxx Sidi Abou Madyan (12th century)

    Like

  5. Abdur-rahman on said:

    Absolutely love this piece. Mashaallah

    Like

  6. Atif Jung on said:

    More than just a coincidence!

    Like

  7. I saw that you previously had adwords on this blog but removed it. I think that you should instead advertise a course from Quran Academy.

    That way, you can fund the costs of this blog and people will also derive benefit from learning Quranic arabic.

    Here’s the link if you’re interested: http://understandquran.com/affiliates.html

    (By the way, I am in no way affiliated with them. I just thought that both you and the people who visit this blog may derive some benefit out of them)

    Like

    • Jazakallahu khayran. But I’m not advertising any specific adds. Whenever I boost a post on my FB page, they post their own adds. I’m still looking into how to boost the posts but bypass the adds. (any help welcome).

      Like

  8. I’m in awe of such discussions, and it recaptures for me the joy of discovery I had as a kid and avid amateur astronomer. God is Greater!!!

    Like

    • May Allah continue to fill our hearts with enchantment of His wondrous cosmos and creation, so that it inspires reverence, awe and love of Him.

      I too remember looking up at the stars as a teenager, through my telescope. I then went on to start a degree in Astrophysics (which, alas I did not complete).

      Like

  9. SubhanAllah. Thank you for an awe inspiring, almost breath taking piece.
    I do not have a scientific mind but reading about such things tends to leave me not only dumbstruck and dismayed as to how people can deny God, but also as to how I can be so unmindful and heedless of Him. May Allah guide and forgive us all.

    Like

    • Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      We are still going to face the trial of Bani Israel….the conflict between the scriptures account of creation and sciences account of creation.

      Furthermore, there is the narration in Sahih Muslim, and the narrations of at-Tabari which describe the universe as literally being created in a few days. I understand both have isnad issues(even the one in Sahih Muslim!)

      This isn’t exactly problematic-Allah does what he wills, and we know it is the truth because no one can imitate the Quran and because whatever Allah and His Messenger have promised either has come true is/will come true.

      Still, radiometric dating is pretty hard to disprove.

      And, whether you like it or not, there is a massive amount of evidence which proves evolution(though not for humans, scientists recently had a surprise there!) is true.

      I theorize that scientists too often fill in the gaps with their preconceived notions. If there are fossils lying around close by, they might assume they are of the same species, or of different species mistakenly for many reasons.

      This ayah comes to my mind by the ni’mah of our Rabb:

      قُلْ سِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَانظُرُوا كَيْفَ بَدَأَ الْخَلْقَ ۚ ثُمَّ اللَّهُ يُنشِئُ النَّشْأَةَ الْآخِرَةَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
      Say, [O Muhammad], “Travel through the land and observe how He began creation. Then Allah will produce the final creation. Indeed Allah , over all things, is competent.”

      It’s interesting-how is the Arab or the ajam of back then going to connect traveling through the earth and observing, specifically, not Allah’s creation, not the origin of creation, but HOW(I like to italicize this, but sadly, the option isn’t there-although I shouldn’t complain), HOW Allah originated creation. Creation of the heavens and the earth? Creation of man?

      Hundreds of years later, men would indeed travel through the earth, and with a bit of good observation, some would find the ability to test the contents and the date of the earth, and build the technology necessary to observe the skies above us.

      And they would also, with a bit of observation, look at how different animals and organisms differed from each other, connect dots between fossils and come up with a unifying theory on how our biological existence came to be.

      Nothing was ever done like this in the past. Before, humanity relied on myth and truth(in the case of those who had access the the kitab of Allah aza wa jal) to explain creation.

      Allah is opening the doors of knowledge and testing us by it. The problem is, I really don’t know a way out of this one. I can argue humans are so obviously different from other organisms, it’s obvious we are special. The universe and the earth are so finely tuned, it’s obvious there is a purpose behind this. The opening ayat to Surah Jathiya are among the most beloved ayat to me because of this.

      Right now, none of us really have the solution to this. I’ve never faced anything as close to a Dajjal like fitnah then this. How are we going to tell people you need to believe Allah and His Messenger and ignore your eyes(for a short while.)?

      Allahul Musta’an.

      Like

    • Sorry JG, I was meaning to reply to brother Abu Aaliyah but failed…….I thought I was simply posting another comment on this page. Pardon the inconvenience, although you might want to check out my comment.

      Like

      • The subject of religion and science is certainly an interesting one, and a crucial one too. Perhaps the rule here is akin to what Ibn Taymiyyah and other scholars say about religion and rational arguments – which I have written about in the article: Reason, Revelation, Religion; and from which the following is an extract:

        A core premise of Ibn Taymiyyah’s Dar’ is that whenever there is any conflict between reason and revealed knowledge, the proof with the higher degree of certainty must be preferred, regardless of whether it is rational or transmitted. Uncertainty in a rational argument may arise in the case of conjectural or weak reasoning. Uncertainty about revealed knowledge arises in the case of fabricated or poorly transmitted hadiths (but not the Qur’an, as it is textually authentic in its entirety), or if a verse of the Qur’an or text of a hadith is conjectural in terms of their meaning. He writes:

        ‘If it is said that two proofs contradict each other, be they revealed or rational, then it must be said that either both are certain (qat‘i), or both are conjectural (zanni), or one is certain and the other conjectural. As for both being certain – be they rational or revealed; or one rational, the other revealed – then them contradicting each other is impossible … Whenever one finds a seeming contradiction between two proofs which are thought to be certain, then it necessarily follows that both proofs or at least one of them, are not certain; or that the two indicated meanings do not [actually] contradict each other … But if one of the contradicting proofs yields certainty, then according to the consensus of people of reason, its priority is necessary regardless of if the proof is revealed or rational, since conjecture does not override certainty.’

        For instance, the apparent contradiction between the Six Day Creation verses and cosmological dating of the universe could possibly be reconciled by understanding the word “day”, not to mean 24h hours, but rather lengthy periods of time (which is certainly not far fetched as a Quranic interpretation).

        Yet with that being said, I do agree that it possess significant challenges to believers, and far more foundational/theoretical work needs to be undertaken by our scholar to clarify and elaborate upon such matters.

        May Allah strengthen our faith and guide us all to His good pleasure.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 493 other followers