Magazine Article

More Than Mere Coincidence

The universe is the handiwork of the Fine-tuner.

Lorenzo M. Procopio
More Than Mere Coincidence
This image from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope shows the heart of M74, otherwise known as the Phantom Galaxy. Webb’s sharp vision has revealed delicate filaments of gas and dust in the grandiose spiral arms which wind outwards from the centre of this image. A lack of gas in the nuclear region also provides an unobscured view of the nuclear star cluster at the galaxy's centre. M74 is a particular class of spiral galaxy known as a ‘grand design spiral’, meaning that its spiral arms are prominent and well-defined, unlike the patchy and ragged structure seen in some spiral galaxies. The Phantom Galaxy is around 32 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Pisces, and lies almost face-on to Earth. This, coupled with its well-defined spiral arms, makes it a favourite target for astronomers studying the origin and structure of galactic spirals. Webb gazed into M74 with its Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) in order to learn more about the earliest phases of star formation in the local Universe. These observations are part of a larger effort to chart 19 nearby star-forming galaxies in the infrared by the international PHANGS collaboration. Those galaxies have already been observed using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based observatories. The addition of crystal-clear Webb observations at longer wavelengths will allow astronomers to pinpoint star-forming regions in the galaxies, accurately measure the masses and ages of star clusters, and gain insights into the nature of the small grains of dust drifting in interstellar space. Hubble observations of M74 have revealed particularly bright areas of star formation known as HII regions. Hubble’s sharp vision at ultraviolet and visible wavelengths complements Webb’s unparalleled sensitivity at infrared wavelengths, as do observations from ground-based radio telescopes such as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, ALMA. Scientists must combine data from telescopes operating across the electromagnetic spectrum, to truly understand astronomical objects – even a single observatory as powerful as Webb only provides part of the pictureeven one as powerful as Webb! MIRI was contributed by ESA and NASA, with the instrument designed and built by a consortium of nationally funded European Institutes (the MIRI European Consortium) in partnership with JPL and the University of Arizona.

Daniel 12:4 tells us, “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” This prophecy is being demonstrated now. As technology advances and comprehension of the complexity of our universe increases, physicists are achieving more and more precise measurements and a deeper knowledge of our universe. Science can explain the microscopic world, where our best current theory called quantum mechanics explains the behavior from fundamental particles to chemical reactions, and the macroscopic world, where our best current theory called general relativity explains the dynamics of galaxies and the effects of gravity on a large scale. This knowledge has led physicists to arrive at two seemingly opposite views. 

On one hand, the success in science has caused many scientists to believe that there is no need to consider God in explaining our universe. This view can be exemplified in the celebrated apocryphal phrase when the renowned scientist Pierre Laplace told Emperor Napoleon why it was not necessary to mention God in his book. He said, “I had no need of that hypothesis.” 

On the other hand, refined observations in the universe have, to some extent, encouraged scientists to admit that a large number of physical conditions in our universe must coincide for the existence of life. This unexpected view opens the door to the possibility that the universe might not just be a result of pure random processes, but that it has been carefully designed with the right conditions for life. 

Coincidence or Divine Design?

Those coincidences are known as anthropic coincidences and are the basis of what is called the anthropic principle. This principle is divided into two main versions: the weak anthropic principle, which claims that conditions in our universe are consistent with life to exist, and the strong anthropic principle, which claims that the universe has properties that must allow life to exist. The first one comes from pure logic, while the second one goes further from logic. To some extent, the anthropic principle suggests that the current conditions in the universe are special or privileged to allow life to exist. However, how do we know which conditions are special for life? 

Physicists have realized that if certain parameters change slightly, there would be dramatic conditions in the universe so that it would not be possible to sustain life or even for life to exist at all. There is clear evidence to believe that the universe is in a privileged condition. The number of coincidences needed to allow life to exist is great. As science progresses, more anthropic coincidences are appearing. Among them, the most known anthropic coincidences are related to the fundamental forces in our universe. 

Balancing the Numbers

To our knowledge, there are only four kinds of fundamental forces to describe all interactions in our universe. Those forces are the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force and the gravitational force. It has been widely discussed that if the strengths and balance between those forces were a little bit weaker or stronger than the current values, then catastrophic consequences in the universe would prevent the existence of life. 

For example, if the strong nuclear force were 10 percent weaker,1 it wouldn’t be possible to form chemical elements; in particular, it wouldn’t be possible to form deuterium, because a proton and a neutron couldn’t be combined to form it. Without deuterium, nuclear fusion would not be possible in our sun, and without the sun, life wouldn’t exist. Now, if we compare the strong nuclear force with the electromagnetic force, it turns out that the strong nuclear force is about 100 times stronger than the electromagnetic force. This creates a balance between the repulsive electromagnetic force and the attractive nuclear strong force between protons inside the atoms. This allows for creating more than 100 stable chemical elements, of which around 25 of them are necessary for biological life. If the electromagnetic force were slightly stronger, the number of chemical elements would be reduced. The stronger the electromagnetic force, the fewer stable chemical elements there would be. Thus, life would not exist. 

Likewise, when we compare the strength of the electromagnetic force with the strength of gravity force, there is also a perfect balance. It is known that the electromagnetic force is about 10^40 times2 stronger than the strength of gravity force.3 This particular ratio creates a balance between the electromagnetic radiation pressure and the inner gravity force in the sun. If the force of gravity were slightly different, the sun would no longer exist as it is now. It would end as a different type of star, like a red dwarf,4 if gravity force were slightly stronger, or a blue super giant star, if gravity force were slightly weaker. In all of these examples, those strengths are at the right value to allow life to exist. 

Furthermore, physicists have learned that the range of those possible values is much narrower than they expected, and only when those values are exact can life exist. Additionally, it is quite surprising that some specific numerical values of essential physical parameters of the universe have the values that they do. For instance, the parameter that determines the strength of gravitational effects in empty space, the so-called cosmological constant, has a value of less than about 10^-120.5 This value is an extremely small number, which physicists don’t know why the universe has to be adjusting with remarkable precision to allow life to exist. 

A Fine-Tuned Universe

Cosmological data shows that the cosmological constant is not zero. It’s close to zero, but not zero. Physicists have predicted that if this value were slightly different, the universe would no longer exist. Until now, nobody knows why the cosmological constant has this value. However, what we can learn from this value and from the strengths of the fundamental forces is that the universe has been carefully tuned with such high precision and balance as to allow life to exist. This idea leads us to interpret the anthropic principle as a logical explanation and that the reason the universe is fine-tuned is that there is a Fine-tuner. Isaiah 66:2 says: “ ‘For My hand made all these things, so all these things came into being,’ declares the Lord” (NASB). 

Most physicists have resisted this interpretation, giving rise to others’ interpretations, such as the multiverse or consciousness interpretation. Despite these other interpretations, I must say that the interpretation of the fine-tuned universe by a tuner, such as a personal God, is by far the most convincing one. According to Colossians 1:16, 17: “For by Him were all things created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” 

There is overwhelming cosmological data for supporting the tuner interpretation, namely our personal testimonies. Contrary to Laplace, I would conclude that we do have need of that great hypothesis. 

1 Stephen M. Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003). 

2 10^40 indicates that the decimal point in the number 10 would move 40 places to the right, which would result in an extremely large number. 

3 Brandon Carter, “Large Number Coincidences and the Anthropic Principle in Cosmology,” in Confrontation of Cosmological Theories With Observational Data, ed. M. S. Longair (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer, 1974), pp. 291-298. 

4 Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984). 

5 10^-120 indicates that the decimal point in the number 10 would move 120 places to the left, resulting in a number extremely small, and close to zero.

Lorenzo M. Procopio

Lorenzo M. Procopio, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot in Israel.