Why Earth’s History Appears So Miraculous

Science is amazing and it’s also amazing what scientists believe. I’m not talking about the realm of provable science but of speculative physics. The world where we push past quantum mechanics (which I confess I barely grasp in layman’s terms) to the world of multiple parallel universes, multiverses and so on. This is the world where scientists go through the wormhole or black hole – you can pick your poison.

In a long and slightly rambling article that covers quantum mechanics, Louis Zamperini, nuclear war Peter Brannen in The Atlantic looks into the phenomenon of ‘observer selection’ and tries to figure out (with the help of some very smart people) as to why we exist. Here are some highlights.

It’s something of a miracle that life on our planet has been left to evolve without fatal interruption for billions of years. Such a long unbroken chain of survival, however unlikely, is necessary for bags of mud and water like ourselves to eventually sit up, and just recently, to wonder how we got here. And like the bullet-riddled—but safe—planes, our planet has survived countless near-fatal blows.

Basically it’s amazing that given all the possible things that could have gone wrong in 4.5 billion years the odds that we exist at all is staggering. After all, just consider the following:

Perhaps we’re truly extreme oddballs, held aloft by a near-impossible history—one free from deadly migrating gas giants and solar-system chaos, but also filled with freakishly favorable accidents, like a cataclysmic impact early in our history that created a strange, gigantic moon that stabilized our orbit and allowed complex life to flourish. As the solar system continued to shake out, we somehow ended up with just the right amount of water to lubricate plate tectonics, keeping the climate habitable over hundreds of millions of years and preventing a Venus-style planetary resurfacing catastrophe, but not so much water that we wound up on a lifeless water world.

And that’s not even close to being done with how lucky we really are:

Earth history teaches us that something as seemingly benign as briefly having a supercontinent can very nearly end the world several times over, illuminating just how fragile the entire project of complex life really is. And not only have we benefited from this astounding series of fortunate events, through it all we’ve somehow never been set back to square one over 4.5 billion years—even while potentially sterilizing comets like Hale-Bopp keep eerily sailing past us. Perhaps this fantastic luck—one that’s necessary to someday produce observers like ourselves—implies that the great Elsewhere is filled, to un-traversable distances, with indifferently swirling gas and lifeless rocks.

As I’ve written before we are either very, very special or very, very lucky. The general balance of scientific consensus is that we are the luckiest people ever. Luck isn’t usually an explanation that mathematicians and physicists settle for though and so the theory behind why we are so lucky is the multiverse.

Again, this is not an unpopular or esoteric theory. It is one of the most widely subscribed interpretations of the peculiar world of quantum mechanics among physicists.

There is just one ( a universe) but an almost infinite number and on most of them, none of the conditions for life has come about but in that huge number it is inevitable that there would be one where the monkey finally does type out the entire works of Shakespeare and we happen to be it.

Yet as Greg Cootsona points out

Some present the multiverse theory as a rejoinder [ed: to the argument for God from the fine-tuning of the universe] -in other words, there have been innumerable attempts at other universes that simply failed. But since most of my colleagues in science tell me this theory is metaphysical speculation because it is in principle inaccessible to our scientific verification…

There you have it – the multiverse is (as of now) metaphysical speculation. The late Stephen Hawking and other physicists put their hope in a version of string theory called M-theory. It is however a genuine theory.

But it still remains a challenge for current theoretical physicists to produce testable predictions and for experimental physicists to set up experiments to test them.

As Lorenzo Bianchi says,

Most great physicists and cosmologists are driven by a passion to find that beautiful, simple description of the world that can explain everything.

I don’t doubt it but I do doubt how much weight we should really put on their speculative notions at this stage. As I wrote in God, the universe, clutching at straws & the new high priests – there is something that looks a lot like religion only the new shamans and high priests are now theoretical physicists. So I stand by this

Scientists can it seems,without any evidence, believe in other dimensions but not heaven, an eternal universe but not an eternal God, the end of the world but not the final judgement, in other intelligent life but not intelligent design and that the meaning of life is to be found in the stars instead of the one who made them.

And this

In the midst of all that as I consider the evidence for the resurrection, as I see the change in people’s lives as they turn to Christ that I have good reasons to believe. I believe in something I can’t see because of the profound effects I can see when people encounter this unseen power.

Maybe, my beliefs in Christ and God are speculative and unprovable but then so it seems is pretty much everyone else’s. Yet in history I believe this to be true: He is Risen.

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