Here is a cheeky little article by Dave Goldberg who is a physics professor at Drexel University and author, most recently, of The Universe in the Rearview Mirror: How Hidden Symmetries Shape Reality entitled “Four Reasons You Shouldn’t Exist”
It’s a nice little reminder of the wonderment that is this universe and our existence in it. His main point is that we are “impurities in an otherwise beautifully simple universe”. Think of your lineage back even just 5 generations, and how improbable the pairings of great-ancestors had to be to produce the unique DNA profile that is you. What were the chances of those meetings that resulted in the marriage-couplings that gave rise to you. As Goldberg says, “It was improbable that your parents met each other and conceived you at just the right instant, and their parents and their parents and so on back to time immemorial. This is science’s way of reminding you to be grateful for what you have.”
Of course, it goes much beyond that. We’ve talked many times here of the fine tuning of the physical constants of the universe. Goldberg says:
Your existence wasn’t just predicated on amorousness and luck of your ancestors, but on an almost absurdly finely tuned universe. Had the universe opted to turn up the strength of the electromagnetic force by even a small factor, poof! Suddenly stars wouldn’t be able to produce any heavy elements, much less the giant wet rock we’re standing on. Worse, if the universe were only minutely denser than the one we inhabit, it would have collapsed before it began.
I know that doesn’t impress some people – but it should. The change in the electromagnetic force would only have to be 1 part in 1040. How small is that?
Then Goldberg points out how symmetrical the universe and the laws of physics are. Which is (or should be) a problem for us.
“Which sounds innocuous enough until you realize that if the entire universe were made symmetric, then all of the good features (e.g., you) are decidedly asymmetric lumps that ruin the otherwise perfect beauty of the cosmos… Everything is kinda the same? Every Friday night is like every other one? Sounds almost comforting. But it would be a mistake to be comforted by the symmetries of the universe. In truth, they are your worst enemies. Everything we know about those rational, predictable arrangements dictates that you shouldn’t be here at all.”
He then brings up Olbers’ Paradox the paradox that in the night sky any line of sight from Earth must end at the (very bright) surface of a star and hence the night sky should be completely illuminated and very bright. This contradicts the observed darkness and non-uniformity of the night. Goldberg explains:
If you suppose that astronomers are just playing math games, go to the middle of a forest. Nearby trees will look big. More distant trees will look small, but there are so many of them that if you’re far enough into the woods, you won’t be able to see out in any direction. Now suppose that those trees were on fire and were as bright as the sun. In Darkness at Night: A Riddle of the Universe, the cosmologist Edward Harrison puts it rather poetically: “In this inferno of intense heat, the Earth’s atmosphere would vanish in minutes, its oceans boil away in hours, and the Earth itself evaporate in a few years. And yet, when we survey the heavens, we find the universe plunged in darkness.”
The symmetry of the universe would bake us in no time at all, but an asymmetry rescues us. Kepler recognized that for the sky to be dark at all, the universe must be “enclosed and circumscribed by a wall or a vault.”
That asymmetry is the arrow of time. Time only moves in one direction. Although the physics of very small particles and very small events seem to run the same in any direction; the physics of large scale events have, nevertheless acquired the unidirectional arrow we call time. Goldberg says:
Without an arrow of time, life certainly couldn’t exist as we know it. The chief—really the only—distinction between time and space is that in space you can go forward and backward, but time is one-way. Without a definite arrow of time—a broken symmetry—there’d be no future or past, no scientific discovery, no anticipation, and no memory. Is that really living?
The worst impediment to our existence, he says, is that “In the simplest of all possible universes, all fundamental particles should be massless, and some are, like the photon.” For 50 years, physicists have postulated that some kind of field would have to exist that gave rise to mass. In 2012, in the Large Hadron Collider, the Higgs boson was discovered .
In atoms, electrons allow for a flow of electricity, and by sharing electrons between atoms, allow for bonding, for chemistry itself. Just as a spaceship will escape the gravitational pull of the Earth, a massless electron (which, by definition, will travel at the speed of light) will easily break its molecular bonds. Without electrons binding to protons, there would be no chemistry, no molecules, and nothing more complicated than a cloud of charged gas.
But, improbable as it seems, there is. And therefore, we are. Now you don’t have to be a Christian, or even a theist, to appreciate this wonderment. But our viewpoint as Christians gives meaning and purpose to this wonder. Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” John 1:3, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Colossians 1:16, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.”
As improbable as it seems, we were created by him, and for him. That is reason enough for us to exist.