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Design and Human Survival

Again, a universe designed as a home for intelligent life might still not be one in which any particular intelligent species, for example humankind, would be guaranteed to survive for long. Remember always that God may well have created a cosmos containing infinitely many universes, while even our own universe may, if the currently popular inflationary models are correct, stretch farther than our telescopes can probe by a factor of perhaps ten followed by a million zeroes. In this connection, think of Enrico Fermi’s problem of why we have detected no extraterrestrials - a possible solution being that intelligent species almost always destroy themselves soon after inventing hydrogen bombs, germ warfare or highly polluting industrial processes. You can believe in a benevolent divine designer without rejecting this solution. In contrast, the solution that our own intelligent species happens to be the very first of many thousands to evolve in our galaxy could be judged preposterous.

If it does strike you as preposterous, then you might be interested in various themes of a book of mine published under the potentially alarming title The End of the World. Let me hurry to make clear that despite the title, plus the beautiful supernova exploding on the front cover of its new paperback version, I myself think that the human race has something approaching a half chance of spreading right across its galaxy. Still, I see considerable force in a point first noticed by Brandon Carter: that just as it could appear preposterous to view our intelligent species as the very first of many thousands, so it could appear preposterous to suppose that you and I were in a human race which was fairly certain to spread right across its galaxy, which would place us among the earliest thousandth, the earliest millionth, or even the earliest billionth of all humans who will ever have lived. It might well seem preferable to believe that humankind will become extinct in the not too distant future. Belief that divine benevolence designed our universe is compatible with thinking that Carter is right.

Also, belief in divine benevolence is compatible with recognising that the laws of physics do permit the existence of hydrogen bombs - and may actually lead to a vacuum metastability disaster if physicists push their experiments beyond the energies which are generally considered to be safe, the energies which have already been reached in collisions between cosmic rays. There have been some (but not nearly enough!) discussions of this last point in the physics journals. In his book Before the Beginning (1997) Martin Rees, who is Britain’s Astronomer Royal, draws firm attention to the calamity that might lie in wait for us here. If space is filled by a scalar field in a merely metastable condition, then a sufficiently powerful collision between particles might work like a pin pricking a balloon. As S. Coleman and F. De Luccia explained in 1980 in Physical Review D, a tiny bubble of new - strength scalar field might be formed, this at once expanding at almost the speed of light and destroying first the Earth, then the solar system, then our entire galaxy, et cetera. Divine design would not necessarily guarantee us against this. “Designed” need not be a word saying that the universe is always cosy, never threatening. If that were what it said, then the Design Argument for God’s Existence would be utter rubbish.

Contributed by: Dr. John Leslie

Cosmic Questions

Was the Universe Designed? Topic Index
The Meaning of Design

Design and Human Survival

The Argument from Design
Design and Living Beings
Fine Tuning
Design and Divine Conservation
Fine Tuning and the Laws of Nature
Anthropic Principles
The Best of All Universes
A Platonic Approach
Spinoza's Compromise


John Leslie

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Did the Universe Have a Beginning?
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