Atheist Arguments for Chance Formation of the Cosmos Runs into More Problems

One of the positions held to by atheists that we have discussed from time to time in this journal is the assertion that the cosmos is a product of chance. The reason that this is such a significant issue is that it contradicts the biblical concept that the cosmos is an intelligently produced product of God. In the "Humanist Declaration," one of the better known atheist publications, the statement of faith is "The universe is self existing and not created." If we can prove that chance is an invalid method of producing the cosmos, then intelligence of the kind described in the Bible is a superior option.

We do need to hasten to point out that even this conflict of views ignores another major problem the atheist must contend with--that being the question of how matter/energy came into existence to begin with. In this discussion, however, we wish to focus on some new discoveries that impact the question of whether chance is a valid mechanism to explain the cosmos. This argument is really a kind of soft anthropic principle discussion--a new part of physics which bears heavily on the question of the validity of chance.

Let us assume that current theories are correct, and that the universe began with a "big bang." What would be the mathematical probability that an environment could come into existence that could support any kind of life (not ours necessarily)? Over the years the number of factors which would have to be "right" have increased with every new discovery. When galaxies were first discovered some 60 years ago, astronomers found that there were many different kinds of galaxies. Our spiral type B galaxy is only one relatively rare type of galaxy among many of the types. The most common type of galaxy in space is an elliptical galaxy. Elliptical galaxies contain very little dust or other interstellar material, so it would be virtually impossible to have a terrestrial planet with a rock make up in such a galaxy. Our knowledge of the solar system and of the earth has further impressed us with the fact that there are an incredible number of conditions that have to be met on a planetary level for any kind of life to exist. Discussions about carbon dioxide and global warming, ozone holes, El Nino, and the like just underline the critical nature of the conditions that are needed for a planet to support life.

Over the past several months astronomers have been examining stars with new and specialized telescopes. The Hubble telescope and a variety of instruments that "see" in the infrared part of the spectrum are opening whole new windows of observing the universe. The discoveries being made are exciting just as all knowledge is, and new questions are being raised as the data is sifted and analyzed. The data about galaxies tells us that there are many more dwarf galaxies then we thought. Galaxies like our own Milky Way contain up to 100 billion stars and are up to 100,000 light years across. Dwarf galaxies are so faint that they cannot be seen without superb instruments. The first of these dwarf galaxies was discovered in 1938. Some dwarf galaxies are so dim that a single star in the Milky Way outshines them. They are only about 8,000 light years across and have just a few million stars (as opposed to hundreds of billions in the Milky Way). Another reason for the low brightness of these dwarf galaxies seems to be related to a very low amount of interstellar material. There seems to be very little glowing gas or solid matter to reflect light in these objects. Finding a planet or any kind of life in such an object would be virtually impossible because there is nothing to make it out of. This limits even further the number of places where we can look for any kind of life in the cosmos.

Not only have the number of dwarf galaxies known to exist increased, but the distribution of stars that could support a life sustaining planet have also gone down. As astronomers study stars, they find that there are several factors that describe how a star behaves. The ones that are easiest to see are the brightness and the temperature. Brightness is simply how much light is given off, and can be measured with a variety of instruments. The temperature of a star is indicated by the color of the star. A blue hot star is hotter than a white hot star which is hotter than a red hot star. You can actually get a good idea of exactly what the temperature of a star is by examining what chemical elements are in its atmosphere. If there is iron in a star's atmosphere the star has to be hot enough to vaporize iron.

With our new instruments, we are able to see stars that in the past were too cold to give off much light. The result is that our estimates of what kinds of stars are most abundant in space has shifted somewhat. We now know that 70% of all stars visible from the earth are red dwarfs, 10% are K dwarfs, and 15% are white dwarfs. That means that 95% of all stars in space are dimmer than the sun. They give off very little energy proportionally, and any planet orbiting these stars would be too cold to support any kind of life.

The skeptic might respond to this discussion by saying that all we have to have in the case of a cold star is a shorter distance. If we are close to even a very cold star we can be quite warm. This proposal might seem quite reasonable but it does not solve the problem. One of the interesting principles of astronomy is a concept called Rouche's Limit. If a planetary body gets too close to a large gravity source, the forces from that source do not allow the body to stay together. This law is used to understand rings around planets, but it applies to any orbiting body. The point is that 95% of all stars in space are not the kind of stars that could sustain a functional planet.

The more we learn about the laws and principles that govern the cosmos, the more we see that the creation cannot be the product of a blind mechanical accident. There are too many conditions that have to be met to believe that all of them could work together capriciously to produce what we see. The Bible writers call us to that view as they challenge us to consider the heavens, deal with the creation, and learn about God through the things he has made (Isaiah 40:26; Psalms 19: 1ff; Romans l:19ff)

(Astronomical data: Astronomy Magazine, November, 1992, pages 47-48)

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