Posts Tagged ‘Astronomy’

I’ve just about finished by series of responses to various views on the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life that I have encountered. Here I will respond to the work of Hector Avalos, who is professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University. In 1998, he wrote an article for Mercury Magazine entitled “Heavenly Conflicts: the Bible and Astronomy.” While most of the article pertains to the cosmology of the Bible and it’s (shock horror) apparent contradiction with modern cosmology, he spends five paragraphs near the end discussing the anthropic principle. He writes:

Attempts to relate the Bible to astronomy are often intertwined with the search for the meaning and purpose of human life. In particular, discussions by John A. Wheeler, John Barrow and other cosmologists concerning the so-called anthropic principle – the idea that the physical constants of the universe are finely tuned for human existence – have attracted interest. The anthropic principle would assert, for example, that if the charge of the electron were other than what it is or the weights of the proton and neutron were different, then human existence would not be. But do these precise quantities necessarily indicate that human beings were part of some intelligent purpose?

The primary assumption of the anthropic principle, which is really a new version of the older “divine design” or teleological argument, seems to be that the “quantity of intelligent purpose” for an entity is directly proportional to the quantity of physico-chemical conditions necessary to create that entity. But the same line of reasoning leads to odd conclusions about many non-human entitles.

… let’s use the symbol P to designate the entire set of physico-chemical conditions necessary to produce a human being … Making a computer requires not only all the pre-existing conditions that enable humans to exist but also human beings themselves. In more symbolic terms, making a computer requires P + human beings, whereas only P is needed to make human beings. By the same logic, garbage cans and toxic pollution produced by human beings would be more purposed than human beings. So measuring the divine purpose of an entity by the number of pre-existing conditions required to make that entity is futile.

This response to the fine-tuning of the universe is confused on many levels. (more…)


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Today I’ll be looking at a paper on the fine-tuning of the universe by Professor Fred Adams. He is professor of physics at the University of Michigan, where his main field of research is astrophysical theory focusing on star formation, background radiation fields, and the early universe.

Fred Adams published a paper in 2008 entitled “Stars In Other Universes: Stellar structure with different fundamental constants”. The paper garnered some interest from the science blogosphere and popular science magazines. Here are the relevant parts of the abstract:

Motivated by the possible existence of other universes, with possible variations in the laws of physics, this paper explores the parameter space of fundamental constants that allows for the existence of stars. To make this problem tractable, we develop a semi-analytical stellar structure model. [We vary] the gravitational constant G, the fine structure constant $\latex alpha$, and a composite parameter C that determines nuclear reaction rates. Our main finding is that a sizable fraction of the parameter space (roughly one fourth) provides the values necessary for stellar objects to operate through sustained nuclear fusion. As a result, the set of parameters necessary to support stars are not particularly rare.


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I’ve elsewhere described my views on the so-called fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. In the course of preparing that talk, I read some internet articles that were rather woeful. It’s time to quote John Leslie again: “The ways in which ‘anthropic’ reasoning can be misunderstood form a long and dreary list”.

My first target is Dr Hugh Ross. Ross was a postdoctoral research fellow in astronomy at Caltech before founding Reasons to Believe, a Christian ministry that aims to “show that science and faith are, and always will be, allies, not enemies”. (more…)

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Astronomy Royalty

I’m planning a series of posts on public speaking in science, which I generally find to be infuriatingly poor. There are exceptions, thankfully. The closing address of “Putting Gravity to Work”, a conference held over the last week at the IoA, Cambridge, was given by Martin Rees. It was a class above the normal “cure-your-insomnia” talk given at conferences and seminars. I hope to dissect the talk in more detail in a later post, but for now here’s an action shot of the Astronomer Royal in action:

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