I watch a lot of science programs on PBS and the History Channel. I have a pretty good science grounding for an amateur. I’ve been keeping up with the latest in quantum physics and astronomy and the origins of the universe. I heard Stephen Hawking say on TV lately that you don’t need a creator to explain where the universe came from. Particles just appear and disappear at random. I watched Brian Greene’s “The Fabric of the Universe.” He is a spokesperson for that scientific community that is investigating this very intersting topic.
Let me set up the problem that Greene’s community is involved with.
Here I am sitting at my computer typing this essay. Back 12 billion years ago, there was nothing but quarks. So how did I get here from those quarks and why am I smart enough to write this essay?
If I do not accept a creator, then the only solution is that I got here by chance. Yes, the same chance/luck that is involved when you are sitting at a slot machine. (Well, not exactly because they are fixed to favor the house.) But explaining how I got here by chance requires a lot of lucky outcomes. Here are just a few: By lucky-chance, stars were formed. By lucky-chance, our sun was formed to be just the right size. Cosmic dust was attracted by our sun, and formed planets and by lucky-chance one of them — the planet Earth — was just the right distance from the sun to have the right temperature and just the right weight to keep its atmosphere from spinning off, etc., etc., etc. All these strokes of luck are now called the “Goldilocks effect”: Everything had to be “just right” for life to even start.
What are the chances that each of these fortuitous circumstances would happen? And that they would occur at a given moment in the progress of the universe, because if they don’t happen at the proper instant as the universe progresses, they do not have a second chance.
Just like you have to pull the lever on the slot machine quite a number of times to finally get the lucky prize, so there has to be multiple universes in which the chances for all these events can play out to finally get a universe (ours) and a planet (ours) where life can evolve and I can sit here at this computer.
The task that Greene and others have set for themselves is to put into mathematical formulae all the variables that go into all these chances happening, ultimately resulting in me sitting here. It takes more than one blackboard on which to write them all out.
They use the mathematics of statistics. That’s what all those equations are that fill their blackboards. This is what Brian Greene means when he keeps saying “mathematics says that you have to have billions of this or billions of that”– and of course he is right — you would have to have billions of universes if everything depended on chance. And because he is a philosophical Determinist (no free will, everything is “determined”) he goes one further: He maintains that in some of these universes, there could be another person just like you.
Do you have to accept this theory? Will you be considered a science denier if you don’t? Will professors look at you with a condescending smile?
Many of them probably will. We’re supposed to be intimidated by all those equations on those blackboards. Because we’re not cosmologists in the halls of science, it can be considered “rubey” (do they still use this word?) to disagree with these very learned researchers.
But you know what? They put their pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us. Yes, they have doctorate degrees. I know lots of people who have doctorates. I knew a doctor of literature one time who believed that the world was made 6,000 years ago! My physician has a doctorate. And you know what he tells me? That I have to manage my own health.
I keep up with science. I keep up with biblical studies that investigate the meanings of the opening chapters of Genesis. I listen to physical and astronomical scientists explaining their theories. I look at their evidence with an open “scientific” mind. But I manage my own world view.
Some of these scientists, you know, are not even following the scientific method. Scientific method says you start “with an open mind” and proceed to gather evidence no matter where it leads you. And if you find there are two possible conclusions, you follow the principle of Occam’s razor and accept the one with the least complications. But if you start with a premise (like there is no creator) and then proceed to weave theories that back that premise up, is that true science?
And, as for Stephen Hawking’s theories: Yes, particles can come in and out of existence, seemingly by themselves. But to conclude from this that the universe came into existence by itself is more than a stretch. It’s not good science.
My advice to the Brian Greenes et al is to put away your blackboards for a while and come out into the real world. Take a walk in a park or by the seashore. Many a genius has come up with an important inspiration while walking along the seashore.
Wouldn’t it be a lot more economical and logical scientifically to search for a simpler solution: A creative force, for example, of some sort somewhere?
The Rev. Joseph R. McKenna is a semi-retired Catholic priest who lives in Portland.