Thursday, 8 December 2016

Not So Finely Tuned!

EN-L2Pup-SPHERE ALMA: Composite sight of L2 Pup in visible light (by the VLT / SPHERE instrument, blue) and ALMA continuum light (orange). The light from the central star is subtracted from the ALMA image to better show as candidate planet.

© P. Kervella et al. (CNRS / U. de Chile / Observatoire de Paris / Lesia / ESO / ALMA)
ALMA observations of the nearby AGB star L2 Puppis | Astronomy & Astrophysics (A&A)

With that splendidly panglossian view of the Universe that is so endearing about creationists, they like to imagine they live in the best of all worlds in the best of all galaxies in the best of all Universes - a Universe their special best friend made specially for them.

They have even invented a wonderfully circular argument to try to justify that starry-eyed (or is that rose-tinted?) view. They call it the 'Finely Tuned Universe' theory.

Basically, this says that because the Universe is obviously a suitable place for a sun with a planet on which human life evolved, the Universe must be set up in such a way to make this possible. Because the entity who set it up that way is perfect and all-loving and loves humans above everything else, Earth must be the best possible for humans to live on. And because it is the best possible place, the Universe must have been tuned to produce it.

This of course ignores the fact that it the Universe was not capable of producing the conditions for human life to evolve somewhere in it there could not be humans discussing this stuff anyway. So, the fact that I am writing about it and you are reading it means we both must live in a Universe where we could be doing such a thing.

But, we don't even need this anthropic principle to explain things because we can show the Fine Tuned Universe theory to be false by simple observation. As this paper shows, Earth has a limited life-expectancy which is set by the way the sun around which it orbits works. The way the sun works, is of course central to Earth being suitable for life to evolve on in the first place. A hotter or colder sun, outside a fairly narrow range, or a sun with a different mass, again within a fairly narrow range, and life probably would not have evolved at all.

The international team of scientists led by Professor Leen Decin from the KU Leuven Institute of Astronomy, Belgium, has examined the star L2 Puppis, which is an almost identical twin the our sun, only five billion years older in older the get a good estimate of the most likely future for our sun. It is not good news, if you are bothered about what will happens 5 billion years hence.

Five billion years from now, the Sun will have grown into a red giant star, more than a hundred times larger than its current size. It will also experience an intense mass loss through a very strong stellar wind. The end product of its evolution, 7 billion years from now, will be a tiny white dwarf star. This will be about the size of the Earth, but much heavier: one tea spoon of white dwarf material weighs about 5 tons...

But the fate of the Earth is still uncertain; we already know that our Sun will be bigger and brighter, so that it will probably destroy any form of life on our planet. But will the Earth's rocky core survive the red giant phase and continue orbiting the white dwarf?

Professor Leen Decin, KU Leuven Institute of Astronomy. Lead author.
Quoted in KU Leuven press release

Which means that Earth is now about half-way through its life and a life which was determined the instant the sun's collapsing mass in the nascent solar system reached the critical mass that switched on the nuclear fusion reaction. It was determined by the starting mass and the inevitability of physics.

We can be pretty sure then, that in another 5 billion years, life will be unsustainable and what had been our home in the Cosmos will, at best, be just another sterile ball of rock orbiting a dead or dying star.

But, wouldn't a perfect, all-loving creator have been capable of sun and planetary system capable of lasting longer than this? In fact, if this (apparently infinite narcissistic) creator created everything so there would be humans to love and worship it, and it really is eternal, then what on Earth (sorry!) is it going to do for its fix of adulation after the sun it created has exterminated human life?

Of course it would have been easily possible. A planet could be placed in orbit around a lower-mass sun at such a distance that it received enough radiant energy to supply the needs of a living ecosystem, so extending the life of the system for much longer. But of course, no such system could last infinitely long because, no matter how slowly the resources are used, they are finite and will run out eventually. But still, surely a 20 or 50 billion year Earth would be better than a mere 10 billion years, wouldn't it?

In fact, because all this was entirely predictable when the mass of the sun was determined, if you believe in this supposed creator god and believe it is all-knowing and all-wise, you can not escape the conclusion that it set the life of Earth with the intention of destroying all life on it after about 10 billion years. And at that point there will not be humans discussing this stiff any more and the Universe will no longer be suitable for human life.

Which of course is not the act of a maximally loving god! And yet the fundamental laws by which the Universe works will be exactly the same!

So, is there any creationist who believes the Universe is fine-tuned to create a maximally good Universe for humans so they can worship the creator in perpetuity, willing to explain this strange paradox?

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