Our Awesome Universe—A Product of Chance?

SOME people say: ‘Yes, our universe is all a matter of chance.’ Others, especially those who are religious, disagree. Still others are just not sure. What do you believe?

Whatever your view, you will no doubt agree that our universe is a marvel. Consider the galaxies. It has been estimated that there are about 100 billion of them in the observable universe. Each is a grouping of from fewer than a billion to more than a trillion stars.

Most galaxies are grouped in clusters of from a few dozen galaxies to thousands of them. For example, our neighboring galaxy Andromeda has been described as the twin of our Milky Way galaxy. These two immense star systems are bound to each other by gravity. Together with a small number of other neighboring galaxies, they form part of a cluster.

The universe is made up of an untold number of clusters of galaxies. Some clusters are bound by gravity to other clusters, forming superclusters. But from that scale onward, gravity loses its grip. Scientists find that the superclusters are moving away from one another. In other words, the universe is expanding. This amazing discovery suggests that there was a beginning when the universe was in a much smaller and denser state. The birth of the universe is often referred to as the big bang.

Some scientists seriously question whether man will ever be able to find out how the universe was born. Others speculate about ways in which our universe could have come into existence without an intelligent cause. The journal Scientific American, in its January 1999 issue, discussed the subject “How Did the Universe Begin?” Some of the scientists’ theories have already been found wanting. “Unfortunately,” the magazine says, “it may be very difficult . . . for astronomers to test any of these ideas.”

The idea that the universe is a product of chance requires belief in what scientists describe as many “lucky accidents” or “coincidences.” For example,  the universe is made up of an abundance of the simplest atoms—hydrogen and helium. Life, however, requires not only hydrogen but also an abundance of more complex atoms, especially carbon and oxygen. Scientists used to wonder where such precious atoms come from.

Is it just a coincidence that the complex atoms necessary to sustain life are manufactured inside certain giant stars? And is it just by chance that some of these giant stars explode as supernovas, spewing out their treasure chest of rare atoms? Sir Fred Hoyle, who was involved in the making of these discoveries, said: “I do not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed.”

Let us, then, take a closer look at the matter out of which our universe is made.

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Some scientists believe that certain characteristics of the early universe, such as its precise rate of expansion, can be explained without the need of an intelligent cause. They appeal to a theory or theories called inflation. However, the inflationary universe theory does not address the question of origins. It requires belief in something preexisting out of which our universe was accidentally born.

According to inflation theory, the universe grew from a size smaller than an atom to a size greater than our galaxy in less than a second. It is said that from that point on, the universe continued expanding at a slower, normal rate. Today, the visible part of our universe is considered to be a small fraction of a bigger universe. Inflation theorists claim that although the visible universe has the same orderly appearance in all directions, the greater unseen part may be different, even chaotic. “There can never be an observational test of inflation,” states astrophysicist Geoffrey Burbidge. In fact, inflation theory conflicts with new lines of observational evidence. It is now seen that if the theory were true, it would require a speculative new force of antigravity. One scientist, Howard Georgi of Harvard University, described inflation as “a wonderful sort of scientific myth, which is at least as good as any other creation myth I’ve ever heard.”

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Almost every object in this Hubble Space Telescope image is a galaxy

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Pages 3 and 4 (blurred): Robert Williams and the Hubble Deep Field Team (STScI) and NASA

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“The laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed.”—Sir Fred Hoyle, shown with supernova 1987A

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Dr. Christopher Burrows, ESA/STScI and NASA

Photo courtesy of N. C. Wickramasinghe