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07.14.2010 – A Fine-Tuned Universe?

I find myself intrigued by the various arguments for and against God. Lately, I’ve been considering the Fine-Tuning argument (a subset of the Teleological Argument). In a nut-shell, it goes like this:

The Fine-Tuning argument is a modern variant on the overall Teleological argument and is based on the anthropic principle. The anthropic principle deals with the seemingly delicate balance of conditions that are necessary in order to support human life. It finds its evidence mostly in the vast improbabilities that the universe would find the conditions that it has in order to produce human life. And because these improbabilities are so vast, that leads to the assumption that a designer needed to be present.

I’m not going to get into the specific numbers of this argument (they are, after-all incomprehensibly large), because the refutations to those are out there to be had (basically, life DID occur in this universe, so the probability is technically negligible and there’s nothing that we know of to measure it against. ie…a universe that did NOT produce life). What I DO want to discuss, though, is MY take on it. It may not be scholarly, or based on any kind of scientific data or research, but I believe it to be based on some common sense. And, as always, I’m open to other people’s takes on the topic.

What we see in the observable universe are mind-bending amounts of empty, black space. Vast areas of absolutely nothing in the Cosmos. And in all that space and time, to the best of our limited knowledge, WE are the only life that has developed in this universe (though, I fully expect in the coming years, decades, and centuries that may change, but for the time-being I must rely on reality, and reality is, we are all we know of). My trouble with the fine-tuning argument is this: If the universe is fine-tuned for human life, why are we the ONLY human life in an unbelievably enormous universe? Doesn’t it seem like an awfully huge waste of energy and matter in the universe to have only us here, on this tiny ‘Pale Blue Dot’ in the arm of an otherwise ordinary spiral galaxy? If the universe was fine-tuned for human life, shouldn’t it be absolutely bursting at the seams with human beings? It seems that if it WAS designed, it wasn’t done so very efficiently and that doesn’t seem like the modus operandi of an all-powerful, eternal engineer.

Now, I’m obviously not a scientist. I’m not even all that smart of a guy. I get that the constants in the universe, and the coincidences in the numbers are impressive. I also understand that even the slightest changes in those numbers could have resulted in a lifeless universe. However, reality is what it is. The universe has produced intelligent life. But how many other universes are out there that are completely void of life? We will probably never know.

I’m just starting my deep investigation of these claims, so I expect that I will post more on the topic as I learn and dig into the various explanations. And a lot of times I feel like I don’t have a clue what some of these arguments are talking about. But I’m making progress, and while sometimes they give me pause, ultimately, I’m secure in my belief set.

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06.15.2010 – What “The Pale Blue Dot” means to me

So, over the last few years, Carl Sagan’s “The Pale Blue Dot” has become one of my favorite pieces of writing. All of Sagan’s writing is beautiful, but this particular section just hits me somewhere special. I find that it gives me some much-needed perspective when I’m feeling like life has started to get to me. It makes me back up and say to myself, “Look Self…there is SOOO much out there. Why do you think the universe is lined up to just make YOU miserable? That’s ridiculous and arrogant. Now get over it, and go make something of your life”. Or something to that effect!

Sagan had a way of wording things that not only explains complex topics, but beautifully describes them with deep descriptive text. I just love his style. It’s such a pity that we lost him so soon.

The transcript (mildly altered in the video, and this video isn’t done by me for the record. just one of my favorite versions) :

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe:, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.