Q&A #1: Can We Remove a Star or Galaxy and Still Have a Fine-Tuned Universe?
From Liam in Bunbury, Western Australia:
Some skeptics say that it is a waste to create such a massive and complex universe only to place in it a little speck called Earth. But as knowledge has increased we’ve learned about fine-tuning and the importance of time and the structure of not only our solar system but also our galaxy and beyond. This huge structure makes our existence possible. So how finely tuned is it? Would removing a galaxy billions of light years away be akin to removing a small and seemingly insignificant gear cog from a watch? How about just one star in that galaxy? Where’s the tipping point? Or is there another consideration, i.e. time. When answering this question must we not only define what we take out of the universe but when?
Liam, you’re correct to conclude that when is an important consideration. Adding or subtracting a star or even a whole galaxy to or from the universe today––if that galaxy or star were far enough away––would do nothing to disturb the survivability of life on Earth. However, the mass, or to be technically correct, the mass density, of the universe needed to be exquisitely fine-tuned when the universe was very young for any possibility of life later.
The mass density fine-tuning shows up in two ways. First, between two and four minutes after the cosmic creation event the universe underwent an era of cosmic fusion. If the mass of the universe were even slightly greater than it is, too much helium would have been fused from hydrogen during those early minutes and future stars would fuse all ordinary matter too quickly into elements heavier than iron. If the mass of the universe were slightly less, future stars would never make elements heavier than helium. Either way, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen would be lacking and life would be impossible.
Second, too little mass in the universe would allow the universe to expand so fast that stars would never form. Too much mass would have the universe expand so slowly that only neutron stars and black holes would form. Again, either way life is impossible.
How fine-tuned must the cosmic mass density be? In the absence of dark energy it would need to be fine-tuned to one part in 1060 (that’s sixty zeroes after the one)! With dark energy, the fine-tuning, though still impressive, would be substantially less. However, the dark energy fine-tuning would be one part in 10122! For more on this subject see my book, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, pages 27–41 and 209–11.
Q&A #2: Jonah Story Sounds Fishy
From Amanda, PhD candidate, microbiology and immunology:
Maybe you get this question a lot, but the guy I carpool with (an agnostic) wants to know how the story of Jonah in the fish is possible. He views most biblical stories as metaphor, but neither of us can determine where one draws the line between metaphor and fact.
Thanks for all you do! Your work has broken down my barriers against apologetics.
In Matthew 12 and Luke 11 Jesus refers to the story of Jonah and the “huge fish” as a literal event. Therefore, I don’t think the account in Jonah can be treated as just a metaphor or figure of speech. That said, it is not clear from the Old Testament text what kind of animal swallowed Jonah, what happened when Jonah was swallowed, or where in the animal Jonah resided. The animal could have been a large fish, a whale, a dolphin, etc. Jonah could have been held in the animal’s mouth, throat, or stomach.
One interpretation that requires no suspension of the laws of physics or anatomical functionality, for example, would be a very large sea mammal or fish grasping Jonah into its mouth and remaining on the sea surface for three days and three nights, subsequently spitting Jonah out onto the beach. Such a story would be akin to God sending ravens to feed Elijah while he hid in the Kerith Ravine (see 1 Kings 17). The Bible repeatedly declares that animals are subject to God’s control and that God created the “soulish” animals to serve and please humans.
Be wary of stories claiming that modern-day sailors have been swallowed by whales and survived for several days in their stomachs. As Dr. Edward B. Davis has documented in an article on our website, “A Modern Jonah,” such accounts are unsubstantiated rumors. Another resource we make available that addresses the story of Jonah is the DVD, Mysteries Examined.