As part of our attempt to begin to understand something about God, we first need to look at what God has done up to this point with and in our universe, as well as with life here on Earth. Included in this analysis is the question of how God has accomplished all this incredible work. These will be our initial signposts. So we need to begin at the beginning. In doing this we must strive to keep an open mind, while we seek a better understanding of the facts that can provide us with some of the answers we are looking for.
Our starting point in this endeavor would be the moment before the Big Bang, the event that set into motion everything that has led to us. That’s where existence itself changed from there being essentially nothing to something. One of the two key words for all of our analysis in this endeavor is change. The other is consistency. These two words should be our basic guiding stars in discerning what God has done in the real world. As we will see, God works through large and small changes over vast periods of time, all the while keeping certain primary factors immutable. It is through incremental change coupled with a set of permanently fixed values in the realms of physics which values are ordained by God that God has produced our physical universe.
This universe we are focused on is, however, an utterly amazing place. And the same can be said for our planet, Earth. The universe’s governing laws – those of quantum mechanics, or as some physicists refer to them, quantum physics, Newtonian physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics – are so consistent and precisely formulated that they produced our universe in all its vastness, our planet, and life as we know it. Even small variations in any one of an incredible number of the component parts or sequences of these laws would render our universe and us impossibilities. So, if just one thing had gone wrong or was different in the process and its chain of positive events, no universe friendly to biological life, no us.
The issue then becomes what or who insured that all the necessary factors and variables in the chain of events that constitute this progression would turn out to be just right for us? That chain by the way starts with the first nanosecond of time after the Big Bang and at the most basic subatomic molecular levels. It then proceeded forward in a precise sequential order all the way up to the universe itself and us. And if anything had gotten out of place in that sequence or broke this chain, poof, we and the universe we depend on wouldn’t be here.
So was it God or chance? To make up our minds as to how to choose between the two possible answers to that question, chance or God, let’s look at a summary of just a portion of the more understandable of the interlocking cosmic lottery wins that had to come into existence in just the right sequences for us to be here reading this. Obviously we have to start with the Big Bang itself. That event occurred approximately 13.8 billion years ago. The instant before that bang nothing existed. Not matter, energy, or forces. There was no universe. Time itself had not begun.
But with that unbelievably gigantic explosion which came out of nothing, all the makings of our universe burst into existence. When we say the makings, we are talking about all the particles of matter and forces needed to create, over billions of years of time, the immense expanse of galaxies, stars, and planets that now populate the universe.
The driving forces that both created and ejected all those particles outward from nothing – as part of that initial explosion – had to be exactly balanced against the force of gravity, which winked into existence at the same time. If the outward explosive push had been too strong, the universe-wide plasma field of matter particles that burst into existence would have dispersed like gas in a void. If, on the other hand, the countervailing gravitational forces that likewise suddenly appeared and began pulling against that expansion had been greater than they were, that plasma would have collapsed back in on itself under gravity’s pull. Either way, there would have been no material universe as we now observe it in the heavens above us.
And keep in mind that in almost 14 billion years that bang has been a onetime only event. That is to say it has happened just once and has not been repeated since then. If it had, everything in existence would have been annihilated in the searing heat and radiation of that next explosion and the whole process would have had to start all over again. But that hasn’t happened.
As it was, however, the resultant particle plasma, which was so suddenly created out of nothing, was made up of vast amounts of both matter and antimatter. We know from our science classes or sci-fi movies that when matter and antimatter collide they annihilate each other. So, if that primordial plasma of subatomic particles had been equally balanced between antimatter and matter, it would have destroyed itself leaving nothing but a massive field of radiation. But that wasn’t the case. Instead there was an infinitesimally small imbalance in favor of matter over antimatter. This, of course, meant that after all the antimatter had finished off itself and a corresponding amount of matter, what was left was enough subatomic matter particles to create our universe of nearly endless numbers of galaxies, suns, and planets. However, it didn’t have to be that way. That original nearly endless cloud of particles could just as easily have been equally balanced between matter and antimatter, or even have had an imbalance that favored antimatter. In either of those cases no universe, no Earth and no us.
The remaining subatomic particles of matter that survived had to also be just right in terms of the infinitesimally small, but nonetheless real, amounts of mass and electronic charges each particle carried in varying degrees. Without the correct combinations of mass and electrical charges the remaining subatomic particles could never have combined into the various different atoms that now make up the stuff of the visible universe we see around us. And once again those electron and mass-per-particle properties could well have been different resulting in no hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, iron, etc., that we are dependent on for our existence.
But in order for these vast amounts of matter particles to, in fact, combine into the critical atoms we depend on, two other things, two forces, had to come into existence calibrated with just the correct strengths and ability to interact. Those two forces are known today as the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force.
The strong nuclear force is what binds particles together to form the atoms we and everything around us are made of. The weak nuclear force in turn allows some of those atoms to undergo a species of synthesis as they morph into the other atomic forms of the rest of the elements that constitute visible matter. If either of these two forces had been slightly stronger or weaker, when as physicists will tell you clearly they could have been, our atoms wouldn’t have been able to form or hold together as the solid world we experience today.
Initially, those two forces combined to create just a few different types of atoms: hydrogen and helium making up the majority of them. Today those two elements constitute ninety-nine percent of all the matter we can directly detect in our universe. It is the synthesis of the other one percent of those atoms under the influence of the weak nuclear force that has produced all the rest of the elements such as carbon, oxygen, and iron that are so vital to our existence. And once again, that synthesis shouldn’t have happened absent a set of extraordinary circumstances. Something had to jimmy the system in order for these elements to appear in the amounts needed to make our universe biologically friendly. And it did.
Under the normal laws of nuclear physics we should hit a bottleneck at carbon, the fifth element to form following hydrogen and the sixth in the periodic table of elements. Given carbon’s composition of six protons and six neutrons it should have been extraordinarily difficult for the strong and weak nuclear forces to combine the necessary sub-atomic particles in such a way as to produce the vast amounts of carbon we find in the universe.
Incredibly, at just this point an unexpected resonance appears. As a result of that resonance atoms of helium, the second element, could interact with the forth element to form, beryllium producing carbon, the sixth element. This resonance only appears at just the right energy level setting of the strong nuclear force. If that force setting had varied by less than one percent the binding energies of atom nuclei would change to such an extent that the formation of carbon in any quantity would have been impossible. And without carbon, no carbon based life forms, us. But, with this bottleneck removed the synthesizing process could move on to the creations of the rest of the elements that make up our visible universe.
Taking a step back, however, something else happened at the formation of those vast clouds of hydrogen and helium. With their appearance the forces of gravity continued their work in a different way. The gravitational pulls on all those atoms interacting together caused them to begin aggregating into larger and larger galactic clusters, which over millennia eventually coalesced into numberless individual star systems grouped together in protogalaxies. When each of these protostar balls of hydrogen achieved a sufficient density, its resultant critical mass generated gigantic thermonuclear explosions, which in turn burst into star after star in endless numbers.
And once again the setting of the force of gravity played another critical role in this process. Its consistent strength across the entire universe controlled and dictated the rate at which each newly ignited star burned up its accumulated fuel source, the amount of hydrogen it was made of. This in turn determined how long each star would last. Using our own star, the Sun, as an example, if gravity’s strength were, say, doubled, our Sun’s lifetime would have shrunk from about ten billion years to a mere 100 million years. Given the fact that it has taken 4.5 billion years for life to evolve to its current state here on Earth, a sun that lasted less than that long before it burned out wouldn’t have cut it. So something had to once again cause gravity’s strength setting to be just right and it did.
An excerpt from “God Is” by Alan G. Greer. All Rights Reserved, 2019.