Friday, October 24, 2014

Pondering the Big Bang

For years I’ve quoted the work of Roger Penrose, whose calculation regarding the improbability of a natural origin of our universe have greatly emboldened creationists and proponents of a designed universe.  Penrose concluded that, of all the possible initial conditions that our universe could have had, our universe started in an extremely rare, highly ordered, low entropy state. (For those of us needing reminder of what entropy is – it is the degree of disorder in a system; a measurement of disorder, which is always increasing in the universe.) So rare in fact that the chance that our universe began with such a low entropy is just 1 in 1010^123.  That is a 1 with 10123 zeros behind it!  Incredible!

The number is hard to appreciate without a little more explanation.  A man couldn’t write the number out longhand even if he began writing it on the day Adam was created!  That’s a very big number, representing a very special universe.  The Penrose calculation is the mother of all arguments for a finely tuned universe.  From it, many have made the obvious inference for the existence of God.

Not only did the universe began in a very rare state, but this condition is also necessary for life to exist.  In intelligent design lingo we call this “specified complexity”.  The universe is finely tuned for life.  That’s the amazing thing.

Since I had been quoting Penrose, I decided I should learn a little more about him.  Is he just a nutty
Sir Roger Penrose
professor, out on a limb, or is he someone who knows what he is talking about?  I learned that Roger Penrose is actually Sir Roger Penrose, having been knighted for his mathematical ability.  With Steven Hawking, he worked out the implications of the General Theory of Relativity on cosmology and the “big bang”.  Penrose is no nutty professor.  He is a world class mathematician, a brilliant man.

I wondered how he calculated such a large number.  Was it just a combination of the other "fine tuning" arguments rolled into one?  Is it a mysterious formulation, decipherable by few mortal minds?  Or is it profound yet understandable?   So, I found the book where he makes the calculation, The Emperor’s New Mind, and began reading with great interest.  As it turns out, in a nutshell he is saying that out of all the possible initial entropy states of each particle in the universe, all were at an amazingly low entropy (highly ordered) state.  He arrives at the number using relatively simple formulas and justifiable assumptions.

In The Emperor’s New Mind  Penrose also argues that the known laws of physics are inadequate to explain the phenomenon of human consciousness.  He seems willing to go against the flow of materialist thought – matter is all that exists – and provides views on the human thought process that are not popular within the scientific community.  Though he wrote the book about twenty years ago even referring to a Creator in the text (without giving definition), he is still trying to figure out a natural explanation for the low entropy initial state of the universe.  Wikipedia claims he is an atheist. Online I found an intriguing interview, where it is evident that he is still wrestling with the implications of his own work.  Trying to devise a natural explanation, all he has found is what he refers to as crazy ideas.  Check out the interview at

Other atheist cosmologists suggest the explanation for our existence, against all odds, is the "multi-verse", an infinite number of parallel universes. Thus, we just happen to be in the universe with the right entropy, the right fundamental forces, etc. Lucky us!

There are at least a couple of big problems with this idea. First, it is a metaphysical (beyond physical) explanation which secular scientists have told us is out of bounds.  As Physicist Stephen Barr mused, “It seems that in order to abolish one unobservable God, it takes an infinite number of unobservable substitutes.”

Another problem with the multi-verse is that it can explain anything, therefore it explains nothing. In a parallel universe, a guy who looks just like you invented ice cream. That's not really an explanation, but shows the absurdity of the multiverse. Anything can happen as a result of a random quantum fluctuation, even things we normally attribute to natural law.

The obvious answer to the puzzle of "fine tuning" is that, as another knighted cosmologist, Sir Fredrick Hoyle, once put it, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology.”  As Christians, we know Who the Superintellect is!  Isn’t it amazing that what our God spoke into existence still confounds even the brilliant among us!!  I am reminded of  Isa. 29:14, "Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”