Metaxas continues to show that as knowledge of the universe has increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.
As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets plummets below zero. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability says that even we shouldn’t be here. Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life — every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface and so forth.
Metaxas concludes, the finetuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the finetuning required for the universe to exist at all. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction — by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000 — then no stars could have ever formed after the Big Bang at all.
“Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense.”
What is curious to me about this dialogue is several points:
- Western tradition, stemming from the Enlightenment period has placed a sharp divide between discussion around faith or spirituality in relation to science. The religious wars of Europe at the time resulted in an uneasy truce based on the determination to separate church and state, science and religion from each other. There is almost a ban on public discussion to this day of the combination of these ideas.
- However, scientists making strong athiestic statements of the ilk “God is dead” re-enter this debate as guiltily as any churchman or Musliman or Hinduman.
- Since the Romantic period of the late 1800s, art and culture has moved strongly towards a more spiritual dialogue, integrating what was denied during the rationalistic period of enlightenment debates. This re-ignited stories of spirits, other worlds, magic, time travel, dreams and re-opened questions of origin and being.
- Science fiction is a descendent of the romantic tradition, combining scientific knowledge with permission to wonder and imagine.
Science Fiction, not unlike ancient myth and legend, has long asked these questions with absolute permission. Unembumbered by rhetoric required to separate rationalism and spiritualism, questions of being, life, existence have been freely explored.
Moreover, the harsh modern and pre-modern debates are largely out of date in contemporary society, a society in which most people and cultures acknowledge a spiritual realm, even if they do not agree to the nature or name of that realm. Such an article, other than within the close circles of academia still bound to the strict mores of generations past, will not seem surprising at all.
In fact, I believe most people sigh a sigh of relief to hear that science is gradually catching up with the zeitgeist of the time to acknowledge it’s okay to discuss spirituality in the public realm again.