I continue pondering creation, noting its glory and—from our perspective—indifference.
Since I believe in the consciousness of all matter, in varying forms appropriate to the level of complexity and organization involved, I would be inconsistent to deny that a rock has awareness. Geologic time is on a very different scale from human time, so a rock may—speaking by analogy and metaphor—take notice of changes on the grand scale of millions of years, while I notice changes in earth’s seasons, days, and the human construct of seconds. To me, much happens in a day; to a boulder, precious little.
And yet, the exquisite tuning
Last year I read a book by the Royal Astronomer, Sir Martin Rees: Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (New York: Basic Books, 1999). Rees discusses the sensitivity of the universe to six numbers. Were they slightly different, there would be no stars and no life. They are:
- N = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. “This number measures the strength of the electrical forces that hold atoms together, divided by the force of gravity between them. If N had a few less zeros, only a short-lived miniature universe could exist: no creatures could grow larger than insect, and there would be no time for biological evolution.”
- ε = 0.007. This number “defines how firmly electronic nuclei bind together and how all the atoms on Earth were made. Its value controls the power from the Sun and, more sensitively, how stars transmute hydrogen into all the atoms of the periodic table. Carbon and oxygen are common, whereas gold and uranium are rare, because of what happens in the stars. If ε were o.006 or 0.008, we could not exist.”
- “The cosmic number Ω (omega) measures the amount of material in our universe—galaxies, diffuse gas, and ‘dark matter’. Ω tells us the relative importance of gravity and expansion energy in the universe. If this ratio were too high relative to a particular ‘critical’ value, the universe would have collapsed long ago; had it been too low, no galaxies or stars would have formed. The initial expansion speed seems to have been finely tuned.”
- λ “An unsuspected new force—a cosmic ‘antigravity’—controls the expansion of the universe, even though it has no discernible effect on scales less than a billion light-years. It is destined to become ever more dominant over gravity and other forces as our universe becomes ever darker and emptier. fortunately for us (and very surprisingly for theorists), λ is very small. Otherwise its effect would have stopped galaxies from forming….”
- “The fabric of our universe depends on one number, Q, which represents the ratio of two fundamental energies and is about 1/100,000 in value. If Q were even smaller, the universe would be inert and structureless; if Q were much larger, it would be a violent place, in which no stars or solar systems could survive, dominated by vast black holes.”
- D = the number of spatial dimensions in our world (three). “Life couldn’t exist if D were two or four. Time is a fourth dimension, but distinctively different from the others….”
—From pages 2 and 3
The physical laws of creation may be supremely indifferent to human existence but they are finely tuned to allow not only for the glorious universe we participate in but also for the emergence of conscious, and even self-conscious, life. Some would argue that this demonstrates (“prove” is too strong a term) conscious design, a charming euphemism for “God or the equivalent thereof.” It may equally suggest that from a limitless number of big bangs, one, at least, turned out this way and we behold the results.
When Rees considers the meaning of the fine tuning of the universe, he is convinced by neither simple acceptance as the way things are (we cannot help but wonder why) nor by concluding that there must be a beneficent Creator. He is more attracted to the idea that there are multiple universes and this is how ours turned out. Others may have developed differently.
At this point, of course, we have entered the realm of faith, decisions about what cannot at this point be proved or disproved. In this essay, however, my focus is not on the question of faith in this sense. Rather it is considering the way things are.
The existence of this specific universe, the one we know and are part of, involves these numbers acting on cosmic scales in ways that boggle the mind (my mind, certainly). These numbers are part of the structure of reality.
If there is a Creator—as I believe there is, though it be unprovable—then the Creator, who establishes the laws of physics and the ratios which structure creation, is not likely to play with these laws and ratios, making exceptions to them or changing the numbers in specific instances for one purpose or another. Not likely unless one believes in a capricious deity, which I do not.
Without some structure all would be chaos. Without some randomness there would be no change, no growth and development, no evolution, no life. With change—specifically genetic mutation—life can evolve, and cancer can also happen. Not all changes are happy ones, not all experiments are successful. There are dead ends and disasters as well as breakthroughs. A world where cancer cannot happen is also a world where life cannot happen. A world without tsunamis is a world where the earth cannot deal with its internal pressures (or a world without water).
When the indifferent forces of creation cause loss to us, we suffer. To us it is disaster, loss, sorrow. We cannot deny this, nor would I. To me, one of the great failures of our society is the inability to express sorrow and grief and the social opprobrium given to those who do express them.
Suffering, disaster, loss, sorrow—all of these, but let us not be hasty to call the natural event evil. It simply is, in a realm where our moral judgments do not apply. They are the nature of creation, a creation that allows all the wonder of diversity and the flourishing of so many kinds of life, of beauty, and even the wonder of consciousness. Natural events are not punishments, nor is escaping them a sign of divine favor. It just is.
Next: considering Auschwitz.