Astrophysicist Hugh Ross and his organization Reasons To Believe have done quite a bit of research into how the world around us is structured to support life. The basic idea is that life, and specifically intelligent life, could not exist if factors in the world around us were different. Ross has compiled several hundred factors, all of which must be within a very close range of tolerance for human life to survive. Ross’ basic list can be found here. A few of them are:
- The distance of our sun from the center of the galaxy: if too great, not enough elements to make a rocky planet; if too close, the density of our planets would be too great.
- Mass of the sun: if too great, luminosity would change too quickly; if too small, distance of earth to sun would be too small, tidal forces would not support life.
- Color of the sun: if too red or too blue, photosynthesis would be insufficient for life.
- Distance of earth from the sun: if too great or too close, temperatures would not allow water to support life.
- Tilt of earth’s axis: if too great, temperature changes would be too great; if too small, temperature changes would be too small.
- Rotation speed of earth: if too long, day/night temperature differences would be too great; if too short, winds would be too great.
- Magnetic field of earth: if too great, electromagnetic storms would be too great and solar radiation reaching earth would be too small; if too weak, atmosphere would not be sufficiently protected from solar radiation.
- Carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the atmosphere: If too great or small, life would not survive.
Ross goes on to list many other factors, such as water vapor in the atmosphere, rate of heat loss, seismic activity, volcanic activity, gravity of the moon, size, mass, and position of Jupiter, atmospheric pressure, and many more. He lists over 400 factors, all of which have very close tolerances to support life. The basic idea is it is not reasonable to assume that so many factors would have such small tolerances without some sort of intelligent guidance, which we call God. Ross has calculated the likelihood of all of the factors aligning, and states “Thus, less than 1 chance in [10 to the 390th] exists that even one planet containing the necessary kinds of life would occur anywhere in the universe without invoking divine miracles.”The argument has been used by Ross and other science-oriented Christian apologists to show that it is reasonable to conclude that God exists and created the universe, and as we learn more about the world around us, it is unreasonable to conclude that it happened without an intelligent cause. The argument has been called the teleological argument for the existence of God.
Atheists have, of course, not been silent, and have developed a response. One atheist friend gave what is a typical response: if you look at a room full of people sitting in seats, what are the odds that they would all sit in exactly those seats? If you look at a theater with 300 people sitting in seats, the odds of them sitting in exactly that pattern is astronomical. Therefore any pattern that we observe in the universe is equally likely as any other pattern, and therefore looking for an intelligent cause is merely the equivalent of seeing images in the clouds. A second common response is to claim an infinite number of worlds — if we assume an infinite number of possible worlds, one of them will result in life, and we happen to be in the one that does. No big deal, just chance. A third response is that while it is unlikely, it happened, and however unlikely the possibility of the current universe, it could happen this way by chance, and the argument is not an ironclad proof for God.
The problem with the atheists first response is that it misses the point entirely. Yes, it is true that any combination is equally likely as any other, but the point is that all those other possibilities do not result in life. We do not do science based on highly unlikely scenarios coming to be by chance, but rather by making conclusions based on what is repeatable and predictable and regular, and without God, the current universe is none of these. Concerning the second argument, we have no evidence of any other world but this one. The logical possibility of an infinite number of worlds does not prove anything about whether they came to be. The only evidence we have is based on the one existing universe we see and experience, and it is more than astronomically unlikely.
Of the third argument, the atheists are correct in that this argument is not a proof in the same way that the cosmological argument is a certain proof for God. However, this response does not defeat the original teleological case for God for several reasons. First, merely saying ‘it could happen’ does not present a defeat of the argument for God, for ‘it could happen’ does not present a logical defeat of anything. Second, the teleological argument does not claim to be a logical proof in the same way that a math formula is a proof of something, but rather in the same way we do any empirical investigation. We look at the evidence and make a logical conclusion, which is how we make any conclusion based on all historical scenarios that we cannot repeat. If the police investigate a crime, they make conclusions based on the evidence they see before them. Third, the atheists are well-known for accusing theists of being biased due to their foregone conclusions about God. The atheist response to the teleological argument reeks of the same problem, namely that in spite of the vast amount of empirical evidence for the existence of God, they cling to ‘that’s not a logical proof, and it could happen by chance’ and continue on their merry way. If a man were to win the lottery, then go on to win every lottery every week, the police would launch an investigation after about the fifth or sixth time he won. It would not be reasonable to say, ‘yes, I know he’s won 10 to the 390th times in a row, but it could happen.’ It appears that however likely, however reasonable the conclusion becomes that the universe was caused by God, they clench their fists and refuse to budge.