Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Design Delusion


In this post, I'd like to return to the question of "design" - the claim that the cosmos is manifestly "orderly" and "designed" by some kind of higher entity or Being, putatively called "God". This will be examined from the point of view of astronomy and physics, however, as opposed to biology-evolution (which I have explored many blogs ago).

What I will do is offer the claim or "argument" and then its rebuttal. There is no particular order entailed, or importance - other than as they occur.

1. The clear order of the universe we see must have been by design.

Response: This is often trotted out, but is simplistic and commits the error of selective bias. In other words, because we see (or rather the claimants see) a tiny fraction that appears to show "order", then the whole cosmos must be "orderly" and hence designed.

However, when one goes to more exhaustive and enlarged perspectives, this falls apart. In particular, the balloon-borne Boomerang and MAXIMA UV measurements to do with Type I a supernovae, have disclosed a cosmic content:[1]

7% - ordinary visible matter

93% - dark component, of which:

- 70% is DARK (vacuum) energy and

- 23% is dark matter.

In effect, 93% of the universe can’t even be assessed for “order” as it is invisible. More over, the laws that appear to apply in the case of dark energy wouldn't engender aggregates as we know them, in terms of solar systems, galaxies, etc. The reason is that the dark energy force acting is not one of gravitation (holding pieces or bodies together in orbits etc.) but repulsion.

Specifically the term (rho + 3p), derived from the dark energy equation of state, acts as a source of gravity in general relativity, (where rho= energy density).

If we set: 0 = (rho + 3p) then:

p = -rho /3 (or rho = - 3p)

and if: p < (r /3) we have gravity that repels
2. The ratio of electrons to protons is exactly 1.0, meaning they are exactly equal! That MUST be by design!

Nice try, but as a matter of fact, there's a much more prosaic and boring reason: conservaton of electric charge, which is a fundamental law of physics.

Since charges must be conserved, on the basis of the Maxwell equation:

div D = rho

Here D is the displacement current, defined as D = eta(E), where eta denotes the electric permittivity of free space, and E is the electric field intensity. since the divergence (div) of the displacement current must always equal rho, then charge conservation means the number of electrons (-)and protons(+) in the universe must exactly balance each other - thus the universe is at all times electrically neutral.

3. The expansion rate is exactly fine tuned to be what it is.

Again, wrong answer. Since the recession (of galaxy clusters- the basis for expansion) is isotropic (in all directions) we can assume an expanding sphere, for which the total energy must be:

E(total) = K + V

where K and V respectively denote the kinetic and potential energies (In the latter case, we visualize the work done in displacing a reference mass, say m, away from a central attracting object – doing work against the gravitational force: F = GM m/ R^2.

where: K = mv^2 / 2 and V = - GM m/ R


Then the total energy of the expanding universe is:

E(total) = K + V = m (HR)^2 / 2 - G m r (4 pi R^ 2/ 3)

where the recessional velocity v = HR has been substituted in the first term, with H the Hubble constant, and R the distance.

We can then show that v is exactly what it needs to be and should be IF the total energy (potential plus kinetic) of the universe is conserved.

SO, again, the basis is another fundamental physical law, this time the law of conservation of energy-mass.

4. But surely the value (1/137) of the fine-structure constant (alpha) is an indicator of design, since:

a) for any value of alpha less than 1/160, the deuteron would not be able to split apart
b) if higher than 1/120 then electrical repulsion will be too great for protons to bind with each other....so no hydrogen fusion, no stars!


In fact, one can't take the number alpha in isolation, but in conjunction with another we can call Eff_n, the nuclear efficiency. The true fact is that stable nuclei are possible for a wide range of the two parameters, Eff_n and alpha, and neither are fine tuned for life!

5. What about the masses of neutrinos, aren't they fine tuned? And if too big or too small they would adversely affect star formation?

Again, wrong. This assumes the number of neutrinos in the universe is fixed, but it isn't. Any number of nuclear reactions spew out neutrinos (including p-p fusion reactions in the Sun.)

The number of neutrinos is actually determined by the mean neutrino mass at any one time, and the masses of particular neutrinos differ. For example, in order of descending mass the values are:

Tau neutrino (~ 35 MeV)

Mu neutrino (~ 250 keV)

electron neutrino (~ 8 eV)

where 1 eV (electron volt) = 1.6 x 10^-19 Joule

Thus, if neutrino masses throughout the cosmos are on average heavier (toward the Tau neutrino level) there will be fewer, and if the masses are on average lighter, there will be more.

Thus, design is a delusion. Or, to quote Physicist Victor Stenger ('The New Atheism'):


"There's no scientific basis for the claim the uiniverse is fine tuned for life. Indeed, the whole notion makes no sense. Why would an omnipotent god design a universe in which his most precious creation, humanity, lives on the knife edge of extinction? This god made a vast universe that is mostly empty space and then confined humanity to a tiny speck of a planet where it is destined for extinction long before the universe becomes inert."





[1] See: Physics Today, July, 2000, page 17.

1 comment:

janidebar said...

Another terrific article on design! If this doesn't shut the ID crowd up permanently I don't know what will.

However, we do know their background in physics is weak, if not non-existent, and this explains most of their silliness in tryying to hold on to a myth that just does square with physical reality.