Guy Crouchback: It’s all a bit too perfect to believe…or not

09 Jul 2008

By The Record

The more we learn about the universe the more fantastically improbable it seems, and the more literally astronomical the chances against intelligent life ever having evolved.

I have written previously about some of the biological long-shots – amino-acids arranging themselves into proteins, for example. But it is not simply a matter of biochemistry on Earth.
Dr John G Cramer is one who has pointed out that if gravity were a little stronger, the universe would collapse to a black hole. If it were a little weaker, galaxies would never have formed, for the matter that makes them up would never have come together.
If either strong or weak electromagnetic forces were a bit different, the neutron would be less massive than the proton, and the universe would be filled with neutrons and neutron stars, with few atoms of nuclei. If the 7.654-MeV energy level in Carbon-12 were not precisely where it is, the nuclei of carbon and other heavier elements could not have formed from helium in burnt-out stars and supernovas, and there would be no heavy elements to make planets and people …
The list of fantastic improbabilities necessary for the creation of life goes on and on. If the moon were slightly bigger, its gravity would have skimmed Earths atmosphere away. If it were smaller, or did not exist, Earth, like Venus, would have too much atmosphere.
And the moon, as far as we can tell, is unusual for its size in relation to Earth, making it almost a double-planetary system. If water did not, very unusually, expand rather than contract when it freezes, ice would not float, and again life could not have evolved on Earth.
If the sun were either a little hotter or a little cooler, or a little closer or a little further away, life would also be impossible, because water is only liquid within a narrow temperature range. Water, for some reason, behaves differently to other substances in that it occupies a larger volume as a solid than as a liquid.
If it did not, ice would not float, and the ice-fields would at the bottom of the sea, again probably making life on Earth impossible.
Yet again, if the Earth were closer to the sun, even if the sun were cooler than it is, solar tidal forces would make life impossible.
The Earth would have ceased to spin on its axis.
But beyond all these fantastically long chances coming off, it may also be relevant to keep in mind the apparent, not improbability, but apparent impossibility, of the universe having been created at all. Where did it come from?
What was the Act of Creation (or the Big Bang)? We cannot grasp it. Could there have been such an Event without a Cause?
Chesterton once said something sarcastic to the effect that: “A believer foolishly and irrationally believes God created the Universe out of nothing. An atheist, on the other hand, sensibly and rationally believes the Universe created itself out of nothing.”
Professor of Atheism Richard Dawkins was quoted recently as saying be might be convinced of the existence of God by “a large-scale miracle which could not have been engineered by a conjuror.”
Setting aside the injunction that we should not seek to test God, someone might lead Richard Dawkins aside and point out to him gently that he’s standing in one.