Friday, November 8, 2013

Balanced on a Razor's Edge

Life, especially human life, is balanced “on a razor’s edge.” The characteristics enabling life to exist in our universe are numerous and incredibly complex. Imagine the existence of a lifeless universe. It would still demand conditions of exceptional “fine-tuning.” No sentient beings would be present to observe these fine-tuned conditions--a fascinating scenario for the contemplation of modern philosophers. Beyond this, the existence of life balanced as it is on a razor’s edge, is a marvelous reality in itself, made even more marvelous by its dependence on a considerable set of razor’s edge conditions.

The term fine tuning has been commonly used by scientists for only about fifty years. Fine-tuning relates to physical constants, fundamental characteristics of environmental reality, expressed as physical quantities which cannot deviate from an exact value. Examples are consistent masses of particles in the atom or the unchanging speed of light. Both are examples of physical constants. Often the fine tuning concept speaks to whether or not life in our universe is possible. If it were possible to alter the fine tuned characteristics of matter and forces around us, we are told, life on earth would be impossible.

An understanding of this issue is more difficult than we might imagine. Only fifty years ago laypersons were not thinking deeply about the fine tuning of our universe. Today there is more interest and understanding of these topics. Our population has developed more sophistication concerning fine-tuning. Ironically, many people have tilted away from appreciation of divine authorship of our enormously fine-tuned cosmos. Instead, in the face of proliferation of evidence for divine authorship of the grandeur and magnificence of our cosmos, the past twenty-five years have seen intense cultural resistance to the fine-tuning concept from many in the secular scientific community. Some members of the Christian community including evangelical colleges have even disparaged the concept of intelligent design, endorsing the idea that science proceeds to explanations without recourse to the supernatural.

During the mid-20th century Moody Science films became popular. Without naming the concept of “fine-tuning” as it has become known today, (the term was not in use then) these films were a precursor of today’s better-known fine-tuning concepts. Embedded in my memory are recollections of God of the Atom, Dust or Destiny, God of Creation, and Where the Waters Run at rallies in the late 1940s and 1950s. Modern DVD reproductions today yet proclaim “Moody Science Classics have unfolded the miracles of nature’s mysteries while showing how the wonders of creation reveal the majesty of God. School-aged children through teens as well as parents and teachers will gain a fresh appreciation for the Creator and the intricate details of His handiwork, as presented in these award-winning programs.”

Fast forward to the 1960s. In 1961 Robert Dicke proclaimed that our universe must be fine tuned for life to exist anywhere in the universe. Other famous secularists such as Fred Hoyle proclaimed similar ideas. These thinkers realized something additional needed to be invoked to explain other unknown mysteries. Stephen Hawking is another secular scientist often quoted and respected. Theistic scientists and philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig have weighed in with their contributions.

In 1973 Brandon Carter introduced the idea of the anthropic principle to the world. Two versions came into prominence—the strong anthropic principle (SAP) and the weak anthropic principle (WAP). The former bears more resemblance to Christian teleological concepts of a universe with divine purpose. The latter is more dependent on the contingency that life is dependent on the development of our universe as carbon-based.

In our day simple answers to God’s existence and authorship of this universe are not found in the evidence supplied by the genius of either secular or theistic thinkers. Strong evidence comes from our knowledge that life is balanced on a razor’s edge. Our lives and personal existence do not exist on either edge of a dull or defective razor. May we acknowledge that life’s existence is not random, unpredictable, or uncertain? Our existence is produced creatively by an omnipotent God.