Is Someone Out There?

(2 of 11 in a series)

Let’s start our journey of discovery with some observations about the world as we know it.  Our first observation is that we inhabit an extremely complex yet orderly universe.  Many explanations for why this is so have been offered ranging from intelligent design to supernatural creation to the unguided march of evolution.  The detailed analysis of competing theories of origins has been written about in many places.  For our purposes, I ask you to trust me with this simple observation.

Just as a wedding cake implies a baker and a watch implies a watchmaker, there is nothing in my geophysical training or practice that dissuades me from the straightforward conclusion that the incredibly complex and orderly world in which we dwell implies a creator.  Call this creator “intelligent design”, or a “first cause”, or the God of the Bible.  Allow this creator the flexibility of creating over long periods of geologic time or instantaneously.  Time is not the issue here.  The issue is who made us and the world we inhabit.  The existence of a creator based on observing his creation does not require any intellectual gymnastics or a leap of faith.  To this scientist, it appears the most reasonable explanation for why we are here.

Many scientists have reached the same conclusion.  Intelligent Design advocate, John Calvert writes, “…the values assigned to the four fundamental forces of the universe, its initial conditions and many other constants that dictate its structure appear to be finely tuned for life.  Thus, life itself appears to be a purpose of the universe.  Secondly, these values all appear to be arbitrary and not dictated by any known material or natural cause.  Thirdly, the combination of all the values being set by chance to precisely the settings necessary to achieve life is considered by many to be completely implausible.”

Dr. Francis Collins says basically the same thing from an evolutionary perspective in his best-seller The Language of God.  “Altogether there are fifteen physical constants whose values current theory is unable to predict.  They are givens:  they simply have the value they have.  This list includes the speed of light, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces, various parameters associated with electromagnetism, and the force of gravity.  The chance that all of these constants would take on the values necessary to result in a stable universe capable of complex life forms is almost infinitesimal.  And yet those are exactly the parameters that we observe.  In sum, our universe is wildly improbable.”  Dr. Collins goes on to conclude that, “It is not a long leap to suggest that the Creator might have established the parameters (physical constants, physical laws, and so on) in order to accomplish a particular goal.”  In Dr. Collins view, the Big Bang and subsequent evolution of life on earth require a creator.

Professor Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge University is the world’s leading authority on Convergent Evolution.  He writes in The Map of Life, “Inherency refers to the extent to which features of the evolving world were effectively pre-ordained at an earlier time.  This question obviously implies an indefinite regress: if not in terms of crystallin proteins, then perhaps back to amino acids and the genetic code, or even pre-biotic processes in interstellar clouds.  But if so, why stop there?  Maybe we need to go back to the exploding stars from which carbon and the other elements necessary for life were derived.  Or back to the actual process of nucleosynthesis.  And if that is not far enough back, then what about the Big Bang?  So precise are the initial conditions necessary to produce a habitable universe that it seems perfectly sensible to argue that the emergence of intelligence (which is convergent) was inevitable from the instant of the Big Bang.  That at least is one view, and convergence certainly argues for a far greater degree of determinism in the evolutionary process than has previously been acknowledged.”

I believe the question of the existence of a creator based on examining his creation can be safely answered in the positive.  We are focusing on the big picture here, not the details.  But the more penetrating question for us is, “Does this creator have a particular interest in us, the man he has created?”

The Truth That Sets Us Free – A Geophysics Lesson

(1 of 11 in a series)

The author of this blog is a geophysicist.  Geophysicists study the physical properties of the geo, the earth, and make predictions about the composition, structure, and geologic attributes of the earth based on our observations.  With the entire earth (and beyond) as our “data set” to study, geophysicists are taught to think big picture.  Geophysicists are trained to develop both global and local theories based on sparse and sometimes conflicting data.

We measure.  We study.  We evaluate.  We postulate.  We theorize.  We do algebra in our heads.  And we test our theories against the facts.  The theories that hold up become principles and laws of nature.  In essence, it is the job of the geophysicist to discover the truth about the earth and its form that we cannot see through careful measurement and observation of what we can see.

Let me give you an example.  Have you ever thought that the continents of South America and Africa look like they fit together like pieces of a puzzle?  Well, maybe they do.  In the 1960’s, geophysicists discovered the “Mid-Atlantic Ridge”; a north-south trending ridge that bisects the Atlantic Ocean and based on magnetic measurements of the sea floor is thought to be a “spreading center” where new earth’s crust is being formed and “pushed out” such that South American and Africa were indeed being “pushed” apart.  At the same time, a new world-wide array of seismic monitors revealed that the Pacific Ocean is surrounded by a narrow band of active earthquake epicenters.

Putting these two ideas together, new crust being formed in the Atlantic and a narrow band of earthquakes around the Pacific, the theory of Plate Tectonics was born.  That is the idea that the earth is is like a giant, moving jigsaw puzzle with new crust being formed at “spreading centers” and being devoured in “subduction zones” along the margins of the continents where these earthquakes are occurring.  The east coast of Japan, home of last spring’s devastating earthquake is one example of these “subduction zones.”  Since its initial suggestion in the 1960’s, more spreading centers and subduction zones have been identified and many more geophysical observations have been taken that fit and confirm the Plate Tectonics model.

The story of the Plate Tectonics model fits the pattern of discovering truth about the world we can’t see from measurements of what we can observe.  Most geophysicists work on a much smaller scale such as identifying a single fault plane in the earth’s crust that serves as a focal point for a local set of earthquakes or finding subterranean geologic structures where oil and natural gas have accumulated.  Whatever the specifics of an individual practicing geophysicist’s job, the overarching task is always the same:  discovering truth about what we cannot see through observation of what we can.

Discovering truth through observation is what this next series of posts is about.  Can we take our scientific training and experience and our knack for observation and apply them to the broader questions of life?  Can we discover the truth that sets us free?