Al Moritz On Fine-Tuning

I meant to post this a while back when the conversation was actually fresh, but it fell by the wayside. I found it while doing some housecleaning around here. You know, some “getting ready for next year” type of stuff. Anyways, Al Moritz is biochemist who’s written articles for TalkOrigins and also comments now and again at Common Sense Atheism. He’s also a theist, of the Roman Catholic variety. Recently, CSA’s commenters tackled some arguments of his in this post. Al wrote:

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What Is Reality: Reviewing The Grand Design, III

After the general patterns established last chapter, I was surprised to see a change of pace in Chapter 3. One might get the impression that scientists drawing a dichotomy between natural and supernatural explanations are headed inexorably towards a declaration of scientism and a denigration of religion. That wasn’t the case here, well… at least not as explicitly as in some other books of similar nature. Of course, we’ve still got five chapters to go.

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The Rule Of Law: Reviewing The Grand Design, II

Chapter 2 of The Grand Design is titled The Rule of Law, and the authors give us a brief history of the concept of natural laws. If nothing else, it was an excellent vacation from what would have been an mundane bus ride otherwise. It was a good chapter, with a little bit of everybody: Aristarchus, Ptolemy, Aristotle, Galileo, Epicurus, Pythagoras, Democritus, Kepler, Newton, Descartes… even Thomas Aquinas and William Dembski get a brief mention [okay, I’m kidding about Dembski, and that’s no offense to him]. The authors gave a valiant effort at summarizing the history of natural law in a few pages, and they do a mighty fine job if you ask me.

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Reviewing The Grand Design, I

So I picked up the new Hawking / Mlodinow book, The Grand Design. I have a feeling this book will generate much discussion on (a)theist blogs, so I want to be sure I’ve read the arguments in earnest. Thus, a new book series [no I haven’t given up on reviewing The Atheist Afterlife, either].

As far as the aesthetics go, well… it’s a nice book: hardcover, 6×9″ format, with black-and-white and full color illustrations interspersed throughout on quality, encyclopedia-feeling stock. I guess that’s why they charge $30.00 for it! Personally, I prefer the utility of a trade paperback; the last thing I want to do is muddy this thing up with highlights and notes. The book is only about 200 pages long, so I figured I’d devote a post to each chapter, and then follow those up with a cohesive review. In this first installment, we’ll discuss chapter 1, which serves as a short introduction.

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Are We Alone In The Universe?

In general, I take a non-committal stance on the question of extraterrestrial life. Like nearly every other question entangled in religion and metaphysics, the question of humanity’s role in the universe is inevitably muddied by pop culture, mass ignorance of science and ulterior motive. It’s fine if UFO enthusiasts and little green men supporters want to believe that carbon-based biogenetics also happened to evolve metazoa capable of traveling to Earth in mechanical craft ala Newtonian means, but don’t say the facts of astronomy, physics or statistics support it!

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The Big Bang

By Big Bang, I mean simply the point of this universe's creation.

Cosmologists of previous centuries understandably supposed that the universe was static, timeless or self-sustaining, and these are all valid hypotheses considering the evidence of the times. Yet aside from the necessary requirement of being plausible against all current evidence, hypotheses must also stand the test of time and as new data pours in we must constantly reevaluate our theories.

Much like the stars in the heavenly array appear to be fixed in their respective order, a static universe would be a suspended one where planets and stars simply hung motionless in space. Some proposed a hypothetical repulsive force that could precisely counterbalance the effects of gravity, thus canceling out the universe’s expansion. Such a model explains how massive bodies that should normally attract minor bodies could remain static. From the vantage point of an observer on Earth there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of motion occurring in the cosmos, and this static universe theory met its first (and last) serious opposition around WWI when American astronomer Vesto Slipher and others observed that distant nebulae recede from Earth at very high velocities.

Electromagnetic energies such as light or infrared radiation travel in waves of differing frequencies, and by studying electromagnetic emissions from distant galaxies over time, scientists discovered that wavelengths from our remotest galactic neighbors are steadily elongating. These consistent fluctuations, called Doppler shifts, led to the conclusion that the universe was actually growing. This strongly suggests that the universe could not be static, but before the new evidence it seemed a stock observation to even the sharpest of analytical minds.

Building on Slipher’s observations, subsequent discoveries of Edwin Hubble in 1927 confirmed that our universe is indeed expanding as distant galaxies hurtle away from ours at rates exceeding thousands of miles per second. Over the thousands of years of human observation that took place before the advent of science, one could easily see why cultures around the world assumed the universe was eternal and had simply been here forever, but when combined with the evidence for an expanding universe, the fact that we can still see light from other galaxies strongly implies that the universe had a beginning in time. If the universe were both eternal and expanding, then stars, quasars and galaxies would have separated to remote distances long ago. Clearly the universe could not be both eternal and expanding, and the eventual conclusion was that all the matter in the universe was once at an ultra-dense, ultra-hot singularity that defies the laws the physics.

From a religious standpoint, there is nothing in scripture which contradicts the idea that all the matter in the universe was once at an ultra-dense, ultra-hot singularity that defies the laws the physics, and this, in hasty paraphrase, is the sequence of events that led to acceptance of the Big Bang.