The Universe: Accident or Design

May, 2005
Joe Spears MS

The universe is vast. The Earth seems large, yet when examined on a cosmic scale, it is like a spec of dust, even less than a grain of dust. The sun itself is large enough to hold about one million Earths. And the sun is only an average star in a galaxy containing many, many stars in a universe of many, many galaxies.

If we stop to think about it, the vastness of the universe is amazing. While we go about our day-to-day business, we may think of the Earth as being the entire realm of reality. Yet this whole planet is like a spec of dust in the solar system. And the solar system is like a spec of dust when compared with the galaxy. And the galaxy—there are clusters of galaxies, and even superclusters.

The universe is undoubtedly large, almost beyond imagining. Yet, all this majestic expanse of galaxies, stars, and other celestial bodies, could not exist if certain values were not precisely what they are. There are many constants, such as the gravitational constant, that could be any value, yet they are the correct value for the universe to exist, and in some cases for life to exist.

Laws, such as Newton's Law of Gravitation, involve a constant. But the value of the constant is not determined by the Law—it could be any of a range of values. Experimental measurement is needed to show the value of these constants. (Here we are referring to constants which cannot be derived from other constants.) These constants in many cases have no reason to be what they are. Theories may involve canceling out of infinities, resulting in some finite value, but the precise value may not be specifically determined by the theory. However, that value happens to be precisely what it would have to be in order for life to exist.

The point is that theory does not determine precise values of all these constants. What does? And why is that determined value just precisely what is needed for life?

There are many constants: the gravitational constant, the fine-structure constant, the masses of the proton, electron and neutron, the charge of the electron, the speed of light, Planck's constant, and so forth. And certain constants have to be certain values for the universe and for life to exist.

Scientists tell us that if some of these constants were off, even a little bit, that atoms would not exist, or stars would not exist, or water could not exist.

This is an amazing coincidence—that the values of certain constants are exactly what would be needed for the universe and for life to exist. The probabilities of this happening by chance are small—so small, in fact, that scientists have argued about how to explain the fact that these constants do have the values needed for life and matter to exist.

Here are just a few examples of the just-right values of these constants of nature.1

  • electron charge: if slightly different, stars would not be able to fuse hydrogen into helium

  • nuclear strong force: if it was only 2% greater in strength, the universe would be without atoms - only 5% weaker, and there would be no stars

  • gravity is millions of millions of times weaker than electromagnetism: if gravity was stronger, stars would burn out much faster

  • nuclear weak force: if it had been slightly weaker, all the hydrogen in the universe would be helium now - and water would be impossible

  • proton/neutron mass difference: if the were not exactly what it is, about 1/2000 the mass of a proton, we would not have chemistry or life

  • density of ice: if ice didn't float on water, the oceans would freeze from the bottom up. The density of ice is related to the properties of the hydrogen atom.

How unlikely is it that the universe could exist? Roger Penrose (a mathematical physicist, one of whose students is the famous Stephen Hawking) has calculated the chances of the appearance of our universe to be one chance in a very large number.2 This large number is greater than the estimated number of atoms in the universe! In fact, this number is several billion times greater than the estimated number of atoms in the universe. This number is 101030, while the estimated number of atoms in the universe is a 10 with an exponent somewhere between 70 and 100.

One explanation has been offered for the extremely unlikely occurrence of the universe and life, along with all the appropriate values of the physical constants. It is called the Anthropic Principle and states that the reason all these values of important constants of physics are what they are, is simply that they would have to be what they are in order for us to exist and be able to debate their meaning.

This seems obvious. Of course, we are here, and therefore the universe and life have to exist, and also the constants had to have been such as to allow life and the universe to exist. But this merely says that it happened—that the constants did have and do have the appropriate values. It does not explain why the constants are what they are, against the odds.

This, in a sense, merely states the obvious without explaining why the obvious exists. Yes, we are here and yes, life does exist. And obviously, any and all conditions needful for us to be here had to have been met, since we are here. But still this leaves us asking, "Why? Why did it happen?" In a real sense, this merely states that it absolutely did happen, not why it happened. Why? One answer is that it all happens by chance. Another is that it is by design.

The values for some of these constants that have to be just so are based on assumptions of a Big Bang and/or on other assumptions. But even if the assumption is contrary to creation, even if the assumption is of an evolutionary process, it still argues for design. In such a case, consider the following. If the specific values of constants are based on assumptions of evolutionary processes, the evolutionary process must be highly unlikely, and this argues against the evolutionary process.

If one argues for creation on the basis of the unlikely chance occurrence of the precise values of certain physical constants, with these evolutionary process assumptions involved in the calculation of the likelihood of their values, someone might say, "Your argument is not valid! You are arguing for creation but your argument assumes evolutionary processes."

This may be true, but consider this: If we assume those evolutionary processes, then this means we must have certain values of constants for those processes to occur—values which are highly unlikely to have occurred. It is not just one value of one constant—don't misunderstand—but several different constants that all have to be certain values, as required by accepted evolutionary theories.

Consider what William Bradley, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor University, says:

"There are so many different requirements that are interrelated, it seems difficult to imagine how all of these ‘accidentally' happened to be exactly what they need to be. Because of the many cross constraints, it appears unlikely that there is an alternative set of values for these constants which would ‘work'. Furthermore, the necessary values range over thirty orders of magnitude (1030), making their accidentally correct ‘selection' all the more remarkable. It is quite easy to understand why so many scientists have changed their minds in the past 30 years, agreeing that it takes a great deal of faith to believe the universe can be explained as nothing more than a fortuitous cosmic accident. Evidence for an intelligent designer becomes more compelling the more we understand about our carefully crafted habitat."3

Since the need for certain values of certain constants assumes evolutionary processes, what can be made of it? This: that the evolutionary processes require certain things to occur (or certain values of certain constants to exist) which are highly unlikely, based on current knowledge. Thus, we see the implication, the unlikelihood of those evolutionary processes.

There are two possibilities concerning these constants (that are needed for life to exist):

  1. evolutionary processes require certain values of the constants.

  2. the existence of life (and/or the universe) requires certain values of the constants.

Of course, many will see some overlap in these two categories.

In the first case, the clear implication is that the evolutionary processes are unlikely to have occurred by chance, since the fine-tuning is so unlikely. In the second case, the existence of life (or the universe itself) is unlikely to have occurred by chance. In either case, we have the unlikelihood of the existence of life (or the universe) by chance or the unlikelihood of the occurrence of evolutionary processes to bring about the occurrence of the life and the universe. In both cases, the chance occurrence of the universe and of life seems unlikely.

Then, what about the non-chance, by-design, existence of the universe? Hear what some scientists have to say: "Cosmic constants provide the strong appearance that the universe was designed with life in mind. The prominent astronomer and former atheist, Fred Hoyle, concludes that, ‘a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology.' Similarly, Paul Davies, a prominent physicist moved from promoting atheism in 1983 to conceding in 1984 that ‘the laws [of physics]...seem themselves to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design.' One year after this statement, Davies said that there ‘is, for me, powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all. The impression of design is overwhelming.' Robert Jastrow, Founder-Director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies refers to cosmic constants as ‘the most theistic result ever to come out of science.'"4


2 Davies, Paul. (1983) God & the New Physics, Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, 178-179.

3 Bradley, William L. (1999) The Designed "Just So" Universe.

4 Licona, Michael. God Spoke And Bang! It Happened.