5. A special place in the universe


According to Stephen Weinberg, ‘Copernicus discovered that there was nothing special about the position of the Earth. It was just one of a number of planets.’ The statement is not correct, logically, historically or even factually. Copernicus showed that the earth revolved around the sun, and was therefore a planet, but for us to suppose that the only special position could be one at the centre of the universe is to think like a 17th-century cardinal. Having discovered that the solar system is part of an entire galaxy of stars, we can appreciate why the Earth does not occupy the centre. Even if one accepted the standard cosmological story whereby galaxies formed from the outside in and their nuclei grew as a result of gravitational attraction, it would be clear enough why Earth could not be at the centre. A black hole is a place of destruction, not creation. And as for the universe as a whole, we don’t know where we are in relation to its centre. That’s right: we don’t know, and it could be that we are.

It should be readily understandable why the earth is not at the centre of the solar system. Since in Copernicus’s time no one knew how big the sun was, it was quite possible to imagine the sun, along with other celestial bodies, revolving round the earth. But try imagining that arrangement on the basis of what we now know, with the sun’s radius more than one hundred times the Earth’s. The planet’s puny gravity would not be able to keep the sun in orbit. Genesis, of course, says nothing about their respective dimensions. Given their dimensions, the Earth must revolve around the sun.

That the Earth is not at the geometrical centre is therefore of no consequence. What makes its position special is its particular distance from the sun, ensuring that its range of temperatures is favourable for life. It is the requirements of life, not abstract geometry, that determine its position. Life is possible on Earth because it does occupy a special position. Creation theory predicts that no other planet, either in the solar system or anywhere else, will be found to have life of any kind.

But life – and not to think minimally here, this is the vast, actual diversity of organisms, from microbes to human beings – requires more than just a ‘special position’. It requires the host planet itself to have special features: seas of water to regulate temperature, land consisting of diverse minerals, an atmosphere endowed from the beginning with sufficient oxygen, and a circular or near-circular orbit, to mention just the most obvious examples. It also requires a host of complex mechanisms, geological and biological, to maintain stable surface temperatures against a trend of rising heat output from the star, as it goes through its evolutionary cycle, and of falling temperatures in the mantle as heat radiates out into space. Remarkably, during the whole of the Phanerozoic, from the first appearance of complex animals until now, average surface temperatures have fluctuated within a range of less than 10° C. Thus creation theory predicts that no other planet elsewhere in the galaxy will be found to have these special features.

A special environment is only a precondition for life: the right environment cannot of itself give rise to organisms. Creation theory predicts no extraterrestrials, no life on Mars, no ‘war of the worlds’, because life cannot arise by chance, however favourable the environment. The Earth was created specifically in order that man might inhabit it, and the heavens were created to reveal the glory of the one who made both them and him: to show not how special man is, but how great God is. Indeed, in the biblical view the Earth stands in relation to the heavens as a footstool before a throne. Man should be under no illusion as to who is king.

That neither the heavens nor the Earth look like the product of accident is beginning to be recognised even by cosmologists who think within the Big Bang framework. At a conference held in 1974 to commemorate Copernicus’s 500th birthday, astronomer Brandon Carter addressed the question of how it could be that conditions in our part of the universe were just right for the existence of intelligent life. Far from being inevitable, the physical properties of the universe could have been very different from those that actually characterised it. They were fine-tuned for life. They had an intentional, non-random quality, as if they had been specifically chosen by a Creator who had had intelligent life in mind. This was a problem for science, and by way of modifying the Copernican Principle he dubbed his proposed solution the ‘Anthropic Principle’: the conditions had to be just right, he argued, because otherwise we should not be here now to make the observation that conditions were just right. What made this obvious admission a solution rather than merely a statement of the problem was the suggestion that, since the appearance of being fine-tuned depended on our ability to imagine universes which were not fine-tuned, perhaps there were, or had been, universes different from our own in reality. Perhaps we were simply living in the one universe amongst them that happened to hit on the right conditions?

In an article for Discover magazine entitled ‘Science’s alternative to an intelligent Creator: the multiverse theory’, Tim Folger put the problem this way:
Atoms consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons. If those protons were just 0.2 percent more massive than they actually are, they would be unstable and would decay into simpler particles. Atoms wouldn’t exist; neither would we. If gravity were slightly more powerful, the consequences would be nearly as grave. A beefed-up gravitational force would compress stars more tightly, making them smaller, hotter, and denser. Rather than surviving for billions of years, stars would burn through their fuel in a few million years, sputtering out long before life had a chance to evolve. There are many such examples of the universe’s life-friendly properties – so many, in fact, that physicists can’t dismiss them all as mere accidents.
“We have a lot of really, really strange coincidences, and all of these coincidences are such that they make life possible,” [Andrei] Linde says. Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea.
… Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

Creation provides the obvious explanation for why the universe is as it is, and implicitly physicists acknow- ledge that it is an option. In the name of science (as per the title of the paper) they reject the explanation only because science’s materialist anti-God philosophy compels them to, even if the cost of so doing is to be left with ‘the biggest problem in physics’. Creation theory requires that the universe look like the product of a single designer, and it does. The only way to avoid the inference of creation is to swamp the universe we know with an infinite number of universes we don’t know, in an effort to dilute the improbabilities: to hypothesise a multitude of other universes that, unlike this one, do not bear the hallmarks of creation.