Contingency, Complexity, and the Existence of God

In the previous blog, I argued that there is significant evidence that points to the fact that the universe is finite and has an origin (which points to the existence of God). This evidence rules out the possibility of a static, eternal universe, but it also must rule out any notion of self-creation and spontaneous generation.

First, it’s important to note that self-creation and spontaneous generation is a logical and rational impossibility. For something to create itself, it must have the ability to exist and not to exist at the same time and in the same relationship. In other words, for something to create itself, it must exist before it exists. A being can be self-existent and eternal without violating the law of non-contradiction, but a self-generating, self-creating being is a rational impossibility. Second, it’s important to note that if there was a point in which the physical universe did not exist, then this also means that there is no purely naturalistic reason for the why the universe does exist. In other words, there is no cause for the existence of the universe in and of itself – the cause of the universe must come from outside of itself. This means that the universe could not have been created by “chance”. Because chance is not an entity (i.e it has no being), it does not have any instrumental power to cause anything. Therefore, any appeal to “chance” for the existence of the universe is in effect an appeal for self-creation, which has been shown to be a rational contradiction.

Now, we must ask the next question: Why does the universe exist and what is the purpose of its existence? The fundamental Christian argument is that God has intentionally designed our world (and the universe in general) to declare His glory and to make Himself known (cf. Psalm 19:1-6). Here, I’m going to argue for evidence of purposeful design from the vantage point of the physical sciences, rather than the biological sciences.

A basic question that is usually asked is whether or not the scientific method can actually determine whether or not an event can be the result of a purposeful and designed cause. The emphatic answer is yes. Because of what we know about undirected natural causes and their limitations, the scientific method can be used to rigorously test whether or not there are significant design processes in the universe. First, we may ask whether a particular occurrence was naturally necessary or contingent. An occurrence is naturally necessary if the natural laws governing the physical objects involved are sufficient to explain the occurrence, whereas an occurrence is naturally contingent if it’s dependent upon a non-natural explanation. Second, we may ask whether a particular occurrence is simple or complex. Third, we may ask whether the inherent pattern in the complex occurrence is ad hoc or specific. An ad hoc pattern is one that has no true meaning or significance outside the single occurrence in which it is found. The argument of design easily explains the origin of the universe, but I want to apply this to the regularity and orderliness of universe.

Overview of the Standard Model of Particle Physics

Currently, the standard model of particle physics states that there are four fundamental forces throughout the universe which are constant everywhere and affect all physical objects everywhere. These four fundamental forces (or interactions) are the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, and the gravitational force. The standard model seeks to illustrate that matter and energy are best understood in terms of the interactions of elementary particles with their underlying physical field. Thus, the standard model attempts to unify the four fundamental forces into a unified field theory. Although there are problems with the Standard Model, the standard model demonstrates (and anticipates) that there is an inherent self-consistency within our universe. However, the Standard Model also shows that the relative strengths of the fundamental forces are so finely tuned to the extent that life as we know it would be virtually impossible without them.

We can start with the nuclear forces. The strong nuclear force ensures the stability of ordinary matter by binding subatomic particles together within the nuclei of atoms. This force is enormously strong because it must overcome the electromagnetic repulsive force between protons in the nucleus. If the strong force did not exist (or was weaker than it is), all atomic nuclei in the universe would undergo spontaneous fission and the universe would be almost entirely composed hydrogen and neutrons (and thus uninhabitable for human life). With the same reasoning, if the strong force was stronger, then hydrogen would not exist at all in the universe, leading to the same conclusion of an uninhabitable universe (see this article for a more detailed explanation). The weak nuclear force is the interaction which is responsible for radioactive decay of subatomic particles and nuclear fission. If the weak nuclear force increased, too much hydrogen would convert to helium and thus stars would produce an overabundance of heavy elements, making life chemistry impossible. Conversely, if the weak nuclear force decreased, too much helium would be produced and thus stars would not produce enough heavy elements, making life chemistry impossible.

The electromagnetic force binds electrons to the nuclei of atoms. If this force were slightly weaker, the electrons would be repelled by the nuclear forces and thus chemical bonding would be disrupted to the extent that molecules would not form. If the electromagnetic force were slightly stronger, the atoms could not share electrons (since they would strongly bind to the atomic nuclei) and again no molecules would form. Moreover, heavier elements (like boron) would be unstable to fission and thus would not exist. The gravitational force is the weakest of all of the fundamental forces, but it is responsible for the large-scale structure and evolution of stars, galaxies, and planets. If the gravitational force were somewhat stronger, the stars would be so hot that they would burn out too quickly and unevenly for life to form. If gravity were somewhat weaker, the stars would not become hot enough to ignite nuclear fusion. Such stars would burn quietly for a long time but make no heavy elements needed for planets.

The Conclusion of the Matter

So what are the conclusions that we should draw from this? First, we should note that the universe is balanced on a knife-edge and is clearly contingent upon external sources. It is not necessary that the gravitational force and the strong force are as strong as they are. Nor is it necessary that the physical constants and other phenomena of the universe have happened together, making the universe hospitable and observable for us. There are numerous other examples of the fine tuning in the universe that demonstrates that the universe truly is contingent and yet internally consistent. We don’t live in a universe in which instabilities and contradictions abound. These are undeniable realities and these realities become clearer when one takes the time to study the discoveries within these fields. Consider the words of Fred Hoyle, a renowed 20th century English astronomer:

A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.

Second, we should note that the universe is deeply complex and harmonious. Undergraduate physics students around the country who study theoretical physics feel an overwhelming sense of complexity, but also begin to sense a deep sense of internal consistency and harmony within the universe. This sense is magnified by the fact these fundamental interactions that we are describing are also described by deep mathematical symmetries. Again, it’s important to note that there is no necessary reason for why the physical processes of our universe are accurately described by mathematics. Here’s a quote from physicist Eugene Wigner regarding this point

The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning.

The last question to ask is whether the complexity and harmony in nature is ad-hoc or specific. First, the mere fact that our universe is coherent, understandable, and predictable indicates that the complexity is specific and purposeful. However, here I want to note that the complexity, regularity, and harmony observed in our natural world today is absolutely consistent with God’s covenantal dealings with man as revealed in scripture. In the Noahic covenant (cf. Genesis 9:8-17), God promised consistency and regularity in the cosmos, which means that the orderliness of our physical universe is because of the faithfulness of God. In other words, we don’t have a “natural” world in which supernatural events occasionally happen; rather our universe is held together by the Word of His power (cf. Hebrews 1:3), which includes ordinary events that occur daily and extraordinary events of redemptive history (such as the resurrection, the global flood, and the future return of Christ). The constancy of the physical world is not an a priori assumption, but rather it is the result of God’s covenant faithfulness to man and God’s providence throughout this physical world.

In the next blog, I will address how the harmony of the physical sciences with our human experience serves as evidence of God’s existence and knowability.

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3 thoughts on “Contingency, Complexity, and the Existence of God

  1. Pingback: Dunker Bunker ‘Non-Canadian Giveaway Winners’ Edition [Weekly Audio Headlines] | The Confessing Baptist

  2. Pingback: Providence and the Scientific Method | CredoCovenant

  3. Pingback: The Ultimate Fate of the Universe | CredoCovenant

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