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Was the Universe Created for Life Forms to Live In? How To Know?

We can begin by looking at the fundamental constants that underlie the universe

In a continuing conversation with Swedish mathematician Ola Hössjer and Colombian biostatistician Daniel Díaz (podcast 153) on the fine-tuning of the universe — and Earth — for life, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks asks them about fundamental constants. This is the first part of Episode 3, “The universe is so fine-tuned!” (September 16, 2021). Earlier portions, with transcripts and notes, are listed below.

This portion begins at 01:09 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow.

Robert J. Marks: Why is the speed of light, the speed of light? Why isn’t it slower or faster? Why is the universal gravitational constant what it is? It turns out these and other constants of the cosmos are what they are so that the universe is habitable so that you and I can live on planet earth.

There is very little controversy that the universe is fine-tuned. Astronomer Robert Jastrow was head of NASA’s theoretical division and the founding director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He said “it is my view that the universe was created for men to live in.” And it’s because it’s very, very finely tuned by some of these constants that we’re talking about.

Note: Robert Jastrow (1925–2008) was founding director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and its head until 1981. In addition to his science and technical achievements, he took an interest in the great questions of philosophy. His influential books, God and the Astronomers (1978) and The Enchanted Loom explored the way that the Big Bang made theism a compelling philosophical idea.

“Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover. That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.” – God and the Astronomers

“Scientists have no proof that life was not the result of an act of creation, but they are driven by the nature of their profession to seek explanations for the origin of life that lie within the boundaries of natural law.” – The Enchanted Loom

He is remembered for insisting on confronting the conundrums rather than talking around them.

Robert J. Marks: Ola, Daniel, I’m an engineer. When I design something, I want robustness. If I use a resistor of 10 ohms and some sort of circuit, and the resistant changes to say, I don’t know, 10 and a half ohms, I want my circuit to still work. But there has to be some wiggle room for small changes in parameters, such as the ohmage. But eventually the circuit will break. If the resistance changes to something like a million ohms, my circuit might no longer work.

Now the universe… My example of a resistor in the universe isn’t applicable because I don’t think we’re talking about resistance here. But there’s lots of other parameters in the universe as it exists. And that’s what we want to talk about. They are fine tuned, just like my 10 ohm resistor, to work well. And there isn’t, in some cases, a lot of wiggle room.

So Daniel, let’s start with you. What are some of the constants in cosmology we can look for and what would the impact be on the universe if these constants vary too much? … Let me ask you, what is the gravitational constant?

Daniel Díaz: The gravitational constant is just a number that is attached to Newton’s gravitational law, more formally developed after Einstein’s general theory of relativity. There is a constant attached to the gravitational law. And in that gravitational law, that constant is producing some effect. Were the constant too small, then stars could not be formed.

Note: The gravitational constant: “the proportionality constant used in Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, and is commonly denoted by G” – Universe Today

This constant of the attraction between any two objects is expressed as an equation:

G = 6.673×10-11Nm2kg-2

Proposed by Isaac Newton in 1687, it was first measured by Henry Cavendish in 1798.

“Assuming you know both your mass and your weight, and you know the radius of the earth. Plug those into the equation above and solve for the other mass. Voila! Wonder of wonders, you’ve just obtained the mass of the Earth.” – John Carl Villanueva, Universe Today

Daniel Díaz: And as it happens, it is in the stars that carbon is also formed. So if stars are not formed, carbon does not come into existence. And if carbon does not come into existence, we living beings, based on carbon in order to exist, could have not existed.

On the other side were the constant too large, then the gravitational force would be too strong and everything would be collapsing into one single thing… So in that scenario also, life — as we know it — could have not existed. So that’s one example in the laws of nature.

Daniel Díaz: And there are other examples. It is not only fine tuning in the laws of nature, it also happens in the boundary conditions. For instance, it is assumed that entropy would have to be at a very low value at the beginning of the universe so that again, life could exist as we know it right now. That belongs to a category that is called boundary conditions.

Note: Entropy: “the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity” – Merriam-Webster

The entropy must be low at the beginning so that there is enough energy available for life to form.

Daniel Díaz: And there is another set of constants to look to look at as fine tuned, the parameters that come in the standard models in physics. Those models, as any mathematical model, have constants as parameters, free parameters as they call it in physics. Then those parameters also, in general, have to be finely tuned in order for life to exist.

Robert J. Marks: What are some of the other examples of universal constants that we can have interest in?

Daniel Díaz: Okay. So other examples for instance, are the cosmological constant that Einstein developed with his general theory of relativity.

Robert J. Marks: Let me ask you about the cosmological constant. I know enough to know a little bit about the history that Einstein fudged the cosmological constant to get the results that he want and later regretted doing so. Do we have a way of measuring the cosmological constant a lot more accurately today?

Daniel Díaz: There was some discrepancy — a big discrepancy actually — between [the constant and] what we’re observing, but it was theoretically predicted. And that’s why one of the biggest questions in physics right now depends on that cosmological constant.

Some people have pointed that the cosmological constant was introduced by Einstein in order to “correct” the theory that he was developing, because it was implying a beginning. And when he realized that his theory of relativity was implying a beginning, he tried to correct it because the worldview at the time was that the universe has existed for an infinite time. He called it the biggest blunder in his life.

Note: The cosmological constant as Albert Einstein’s biggest blunder: “In 1917, Einstein found his theory of general relativity indicated that the universe must be either expanding or contracting but, unable to believe his own equations, he introduced the idea of a cosmological constant, a vacuum energy to counterbalance the effects of gravity and achieve a static universe, a notion which was the accepted view at the time. Einstein abandoned the concept in 1931 after Edwin Hubble’s discovery proved the universe was expanding, dubbing it his “biggest blunder” and from the Thirties until the Nineties, most physicists assumed the cosmological constant to be equal to zero.

“More than half a decade later, Saul Perlmutter made a “strange discovery” which implied that around 68 percent of the mass-energy in the universe makes up for some kind of “anti-gravity” diluting slower than the universe’s matter expands, supporting not only an expanding universe, but one that is accelerating. – Express

Daniel Díaz: Some people have pointed out even Einstein’s mistakes ended up being useful. So that cosmological constant right now is a central topic of cosmology, and a lot of research is happening, trying to justify some discrepancies, big discrepancies actually that are observed in the cosmological constant.

Robert J. Marks: Okay. So some other constants that we have to pay attention to?

Daniel Díaz: There is also the primordial fluctuations, this is basically a quantum event. One of the things that we found in our paper [Daniel Andrés Díaz-Pachón, Ola Hössjer, Robert J. Marks “Is Cosmological Tuning Fine or Coarse?” Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, July 9, 2021] is that, for this particular example, the probability is very large. But as we measured, it is not as fine tuned as it was thought before. That’s another example at least of tuning, even if it is not fine, but close, according to our findings.

Note: Primordial fluctuations: “Although the universe at [the Big Bang] was almost completely homogeneous, the violent dynamics of inflation produced tiny inhomogeneities from the quantum vacuum. Virtual pairs of particles from the quantum vacuum began popping in and out of existence, some of which could absorb energy and become real. Physicists think that all matter today, from galaxies to living things, originated from these primordial quantum fluctuations.” – Phys.org

Next: Why did Stephen Hawking give up on a Theory of Everything?


Here are all of the instalments, in order, of the discussion between Robert J. Marks, Ola Hössjer, and Daniel Díaz on the fine tuning of the universe for life:

The first episode:

Ours is a finely tuned — and No Free Lunch — universe. Mathematician Ola Hössjer and biostatistician Daniel Díaz explain to Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks why nature works so seamlessly. A “life-permitting interval” makes it all possible — but is that really an accident?

and

Fine-tuning? How Bayesian statistics could help break a deadlock: Bayesian statistics are used, for example, in spam filter technology, identifying probable spam by examining vast masses of previous messages. The frequentist approach assesses the probability of future events but the Bayesian approach assesses the probability of events that have already occurred.

The second episode:

Life is so wonderfully finely tuned that it’s frightening. A mathematician who uses statistical methods to model the fine tuning of molecular machines and systems in cells reflects… Every single cell is like a city that cannot function without a complex network of services that must all work together to maintain life.

Can there be a general theory for fine-tuning? If you make a bowl of alphabet soup and the letters arrange themselves and say, good morning, that is specified. What are the probabilities? Ola Hössjer sees the beauty of mathematics in the fact that seemingly unrelated features in cosmology and biology can be modeled using similar concepts.

The third episode

Was the universe created for life forms to live in? How would we know? We can begin by looking at the fundamental constants that underlie the universe. The constants of the universe — gravitational constant, entropy, and cosmological constant — must be finely tuned for life to exist.

Why did Stephen Hawking give up on a Theory of Everything? Daniel Díaz and Ola Hössjer continue their discussion of the fine tuning of the universal constants of nature with Robert J. Marks. The probability, they calculate, that the fine tuning of our universe is simply random is down to 10 to the minus sixty — a very small number.

The fourth and final episode

Is life from outer space a viable science hypothesis? Currently, panspermia has been rated as “plausible but not convincing.” Marks, Hössjer, and Diaz discuss the issues. Famous atheist scientists have favored panspermia because there is no plausible purely natural explanation for life on Earth that would make it unnecessary.

Could advanced aliens have fine-tuned Earth for life? That’s a surprisingly popular thesis, considering how hard it is to account for life without assuming a creator. As Robert Marks, Ola Hössjer, and Daniel Díaz discuss, some prominent atheists/agnostics have chosen to substitute advanced extraterrestrials for God.

Our universe survived a firing squad and it’s just an accident? According to the Weak Anthropic Principle, if things weren’t the way they are, we wouldn’t be here and that’s all there is to it. Given the odds, a philosopher likens the Weak Anthropic Principle to surviving a firing squad and concluding, incuriously, well… that’s just the way things are.

In an infinity of universes, countless ones are run by cats… Daniel Díaz notes that most of the talk about the multiverse started to appear once it was realized that there was fine-tuning in nature.
Robert J. Marks points out that even 10 to the 1000th power of universes would only permit 3,322 different paths. Infinity is required but unprovable.

and

If extraterrestrials didn’t fine tune Earth, maybe there is a God. In the face of a grab bag of ideas like creation by ETs or countless universes (some run by cats), why does the idea of a Creator seem far out? Traditional philosophers, not committed to a religion, have thought that deism (and theism) are rational, science-based conclusions, based on fine tuning.

You may also wish to read: No Free Lunches: Robert J. Marks: What the Big Bang teaches us about nothing. Bernoulli is right and Keynes is Wrong. Critics of Bernoulli don’t appreciate the definition of “knowing nothing.” The concept of “knowing nothing” can be tricky.

Show Notes

  • 01:09 | Introducing Dr. Daniel Díaz and Dr. Ola Hössjer
  • 01:53 | Wiggle room
  • 06:06 | More gravity, more weight?
  • 07:37 | Other examples of universal constants
  • 12:36 | Are these numerous constants fine-tuned?
  • 13:38 | LPI
  • 24:02 | Are there any constants which are not fine-tuned?

Additional Resources

Podcast Transcript Download


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Was the Universe Created for Life Forms to Live In? How To Know?