Things to be thankful for

June 19, 2009 | 11 comments
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If the gravitational constant were just a little bit different than what it is, you would not be here.  Nor, for that matter, would anything else.  So we’ve got that going for us.

11 Responses to Things to be thankful for

  1. Dan on June 19, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    oh I don’t know, life has a peculiar way of evolving.

    That all said, gravity is just a part of the equation. If you are creating a world, the laws of physics have to match up for things to work right. A living organism must be able to grow and exist in the conditions, so you set the proper permutations into the genetic code and let life do the rest.

    If however, you wanted to create a world where the gravitational pull was a bit stronger, say you wanted to create a larger planet, with a circumference of 30,000 miles instead of what we have now, at 24,000 miles. The gravitational pull of the larger mass will be different. As such any living organism you place on that planet has to have its settings changed to account for the different gravitational pull. You might even have to redesign some elements, and some organisms because they might not work the same at the greater gravitational pull. That’s one of the fascinating things I’ve learned from two sources. 1. The Biggest Loser. This last season, they had the father, weighing well over 400 lbs and he was discussing his health with the show’s doctor. The doctor had explained that all that extra weight he was carrying was making his vital organs not work properly. 2. There was a piece a while back on one of the networks about the world’s tallest man, some guy in Kenya I think. He was over eight feet tall. He had many problems with his heart, though, because he was too tall. The human body is designed to work within certain parameters, and when you get too close to the edge of those parameters, the body doesn’t function well, and soon will terminate.

    Now, according to the Bible, there was a time on this earth with “giants.” Goliath, for example, is said to be over nine feet tall. Most likely, his overall size was equal in proportion so that he had a larger heart than most, he had larger lungs, he had larger everything, so that his body would function properly without the threat of termination. Before his time, it is said in Genesis, that there were more than just one, and it was common to see them. How well we can take what Genesis says at face value, well, I haven’t delved into that much at all.

    One thing I’m pretty certain of, I don’t think a human being, designed as we are, will ever be able to maintain life as a being over 10 feet tall. Then again, we can maintain a human life at mere 15 to 20 inches in height… who knows what the possibilities really are.

  2. Frank McIntyre on June 19, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Dan, my point was a little more grandiose. Change the gravitational constant enough and the Universe would not have formed in any recognizable way.

  3. Dan on June 19, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Frank,

    I know it was. Just felt like sharing that. :)

  4. Raymond Takashi Swenson on June 19, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    This same point is true for just about every one of the constants of nature. They all have apparently arbitrary values that cannot be deduced from each other or from the fundamental laws of physics. There is no obvious reason why they are at the values they have. The second fact is that, if the values of those constants were different by just a few percentage points (in some cases less), the universe as we know it would not exist. In particular, the conditions that make life possible on earth would not exist.

    There are some serious scientists who argue that the causality goes both ways, that unless there are living minds able to observe the universe, it cannot exist. As fantastic as that sounds, the alternative is also fantastic: that every possible combination of different values of these fundamental constants exists somewhere in a larger universe we cannot observe, either in some other neighborhood of a vastly bigger universe, or in parallel universes that branch off every time there is a state of quantum uncertainty that needs resolution.

    Of course, if you believe in a Creator, there is a simple answer to the riddle of the fine-tuning of the universe. Indeed, compared to the pretty fantastic answers offered by physicists, it seems like a much simpler, more logical answer that does not require the ongoing, infinite creation of new universes with huge amounts of matter and energy, or some kind of spooky action backwards in time that essentially makes humanity, and perhaps other intelligent beings on other worlds, into de facto creators.

    Atheists who claim that their non-belief is the wave of the future argue that the only reason that belief in God was popular was to explain the gaps in man’s knowledge of the natural world, and that, as man’s knowledge constantly expands, the gaps are closing, and there will be no place left for the “God of the Gaps” to exist. The main problem with that argument is that, the more scientists actually discover about the universe, the more questions there are, and we seem to be finding lately some very intractable questions at the most fundamental levels of nature, including the reason for these arbitrary but wonderful constants that make the notion of randomness ruling nature actually incredible. This gap in our knowledge is fundamental, and there is not a single reason to think we have any idea how to close that gap.

    Then there is the gap at the beginning of life: no one has a credible theory of how inanimate matter transitions, all by itself, into a living cell, with DNA containing precise instructions on the construction of the whole shebang equivalent to a very complex computer; no one knows what dark matter is, though it represents some 3/4 of the mass of the universe; and no one knows what dark energy is, which include energy equivalent to 5 times the total mass of ordinary plus dark matter, and is accelerating the expansion of the universe. In other words, we have no idea what 95% of the universe is, how the fundamental constants all were fine tuned to allow life, and how life itself got started. In terms of their fundamental importance to our own existence, these unresolved questions show that we don’t know some 95% of the information in the universe, and there is no reason to believe that gap is going to get smaller anytime soon.

    Of course, the notion that belief in God is solely based on absence of knowledge is a false premise with regard to the God of the Bible and the Book of Mormon. People believe in Elohim and Jehovah because they positively impart knowledge about themselves to prophets, not because they are hypotheses intended to fill gaps in man’s knowledge. The reason deduction from observation of the universe leads us to conclude there is a need for an intelligent designer is because we already know that God told us he made all of it, and a series of men–Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Joseph Smith–have seen him do it. It is scientific evidence confirming the direct testimony of the Creator.

  5. Tatiana on June 19, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Yes, I’ve heard it called the multiverse, that conceptual space in which universes with all the possible values of fundamental constants exist. I remember reading something saying there are local minima of energy in which actual universes would likely exist, one of which is ours.

    If we somehow gain the ability to perceive these other universes, it won’t be the first time we’ve discovered that something we thought of before as being everything actually turned out to be just a small part of everything. This is true of the solar system at one point, and the galaxy. Both were once thought to be all there was. I remember reading about other galaxies, after Hubble’s discovery of their true distance, being called “island universes”. Seems we humans continually have to be taken down a peg. =)

  6. Sgarff on June 19, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Raymond #4

    Your allusion to the anthropic principle got me wondering what people here think of it. Is it simply a cop out in order to dismiss arguments of creationists who claim that the conditions of the universe are too perfect to be coincidence?

    I think that the “weak” version of the principle (which basically says “we are here after all, so all explanatory theories will have to take our existence into account”) to be compelling. The only problem with it is that it has little explanatory value and hence almost no relevance to the science/creationism debate.

    The “strong” version (which I take to be the notion that the universe would not exist at all unless it eventually gave rise to conscious beings that could perceive it) might be saying to much. It would certainly explain why the universe is the way it is in spite of its highly improbable nature. But it seems so close to Berkeley’s immaterialism that I imagine most opponents of creationism would reject it.

  7. Floyd the Wonderdog on June 20, 2009 at 7:11 am

    See Sunstone, 145, p. 58 (March 2007) on the importance of Jupiter to the viability of life on Earth. The size, distance from the sun, and orbit path of Jupiter all safeguard life on earth.

  8. Bookslinger on June 20, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    The concept of multiverses leads me to think of the Urim-and-Thummims mentioned in Revelation and the D&C. The earth, like a sea of glass, will be a giant Urim-and-Thummin which can be used to look into “lower order” “kingdoms”. The members of the Church of the Firstborn (the exalted or upper degree of the 3 in the CK), will also have a stone (Urim-and-Thummim-like)
    given them with which they can see “higher order” “kingdoms.”

    Interesting how all 3 degrees will be able to “look down”, but only those bound for god-hood themselves will be able to “look up”.

  9. Mike H. on June 20, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    Also, why are guinea pigs among the best mammals at reproducing? Their young are born with open eyes, and can eat solid food at 2 days. They can mate again right after birth. Why didn’t more of that get “evolved” into other species?

    While on guinea pigs, why is it that humans & guinea pigs are among the very few animals that need Vitamin C, but can’t make their own?

    Now, on Cosmology, we should also be glad the earth is located where it is in the galaxy. Too close to a giant star, and earth would be wiped out in a supernova. Get closer to the galactic core, at a certain point, and radiation & temperatures would be too high for life like we know.

  10. Raymond Takashi Swenson on June 22, 2009 at 10:53 am

    A number of astronomers have remarked on the fact that the solar system is in a “goldilocks zone” of the Milky Way galaxy. Current theories about the formation of solars systems assert that all of the elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were created inside stars through nuclear fusion, and that they were made available for planet formation when some stars exploded as supernovas. Indeed, nuclear theory says that many of the heavier elements did not form until the point of the stellar collapse that immediately preceded the explosion. To have sufficient density of heavier elements to condense into a solar system with planets like earth, you have to be close enough toward the center of the galaxy. On the other hand, if you are too far in, any life on the resulting worlds will be sterilized by the radiation from later nearby supernovas. Since supernovas are essential to give birth to a solar system, but can also sterilize it, worlds like earth with developed multicelular life can only exist at an outer margin where there are enough supernovas for creation but not enough for early sterilization.

    This point was one of the themes of the book Rare Earth, which argued, from a purely secular standpoint, for the low probability of planets like earth with complex and intelligent multi-cellular life. A book with a similar theme is The Privileged Planet, which also pointed to the elements about the earth and solar system that make it, not only suitable for life, but also suitable for intelligent life to observe the universe.

    One of the special features of the earth pointed out in The Privileged Planet is the fact that there are regular solar eclipses, when the diameter of the moon is a sufficiently precise match for the diameter of the sun so that we can observe phenomena precisely at the sun’s surface, a fact that has played a significant role in advancing astronomy. There is no obvious reason why this should be so. The current best theory of the moon’s formation is that, about 4.3 billion years ago, a proto-earth was struck by a mars-sized planet, at a precise angle that imparted a high rotational momentum to the melted and blended remnants of the two bodies, with lighter rocks vaporized and expanding under gas pressure out into orbit, where it eventually cooled and gathered into a sphere unusually large in comparison with the earth.

    The strong gravitational influence of the moon has, like a gyroscope, helped maintain the stability of the earth’s rotation, which prevents the kinds of extreme climates that could occur if earth’s axis tipped over like that of Uranus.

    So we have, with earth’s moon, a highly unlikely event contributing a major factor to the suitability of the earth for complex life. You can say we are very, very lucky. Or you can get suspicious about such luck and wonder if, like many of the unlikely events we encounter in history, it was the result of an intentional act by a being with power we can currently only imagine–though scientists can imagine eventually having such power in the far future.

  11. John David Payne on June 22, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Goldilocks proofs of a Creator are baloney. A non-straw man atheist would say that the universe has to be the way it is to produce the kind of life that it did. But if it were different, it could easily have produced a different kind of life. Read What Does a Martian Look Like for a good strong version of this argument. Authors Cohen and Stewart take on Rare Earth pretty directly– and demolish it, in my opinion. (See pp. 128-143, especially.)

    As for me, I believe God created the world because the Holy Ghost has told me so lots of times. I’m much happier with that kind of proof.

    PS – Frank, I know that this little comment of mine passes your original post like a ship in the night. And I’m okay with that.

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