Late yesterday, my good friend Nick Rischiotto—an itinerant Italian, equal parts Rocky and Romeo—passed along a refreshingly informative piece that he’d just come across. Writing in the June/July 2001 issue of First Things magazine, Stephen M. Barr, professor of particle physics at the University of Delaware, discusses “anthropic coincidences,” the myriad scientific factors that culminated in the universe, world, and life we know. The coincidences run from the telling waver of the strong nuclear force—”Had the strong nuclear force been weaker by even as little as 10 percent, it would not have been able to fuse two hydrogens together to make deuterium … Had the strong nuclear force been only a few percent stronger than it is, an opposite disaster would have occurred”—to the near-impossibility of the three-alpha process, formed in “a hundredth of a millionth of a billionth of a second.” The smallest tweak, the least shunt of magnitude, and the Mariners would not only still be without a World Series, but they’d be without an existence.
Barr’s essay was, in short, a paean to Intelligent Design, and one of the most compelling pieces of teleological science that I have ever read. (Seriously, take 20 minutes, and stimulate something other than Hulu.com’s hits.) He doesn’t offer this piece as proof, but part of mere discussion and alignment:
…However, absolute certainty may be beside the point. We might still be left with strong indications that the cosmos was made with us in mind, even if those indications do not add up to a proof. After all, the reasons that scientists like Weinberg, Dawkins, and Gould give for reaching the opposite conclusion are also not subject to proof.
Having just finished the article, trying to tune out the wailings of NCAA 2011 just outside my room, I’ve not fully digested Barr’s salience. But as I’ll have little free time throughout the remainder of the week—throughout the rest of my time in the States, actually—I’d be remiss not to shuffle out my reaction. (A couple of notes: I cite God throughout, but don’t take this to be some assertion of its* existence—I use it simply as a character that finds repetition throughout culture and cultures. Also, I don’t know string theory from string quartets, so my basis for discussion of particle physics comes from a combination of this article, Bill Nye, and the few times Neil deGrasse Tyson has been on The Daily Show.)
*I never understood why God received gender-based pronouns. God is neither male nor female, and it is certainly not a person—yet those who worship it subsequently brand It, denigrate it, with human character. You don’t do that for non-living entities, so why would a gender-neutral Creator need it?
Firstly, I credit Barr for his clear prose. Like Gould or Sakharov before him—or Bill Nye, for that matter—Barr has written quickly and cogently, explaining without condescending. And while, in the end, he falters, he does convincingly discredit (some of) those who would discredit him. For example, Barr saliently shows that the physicists who suspect God’s “hands were completely tied” in the creation of this life flub the basic understanding of God. As is inherent in its nature, God’s All Being would have simply worked another set of creation such that we would still be here, somehow, some way. God would have found a way.
As it is written with the scientific method in mind, I knew that the piece would follow a grand tradition of grating the line where scientists and deists have met since man first shouted “Eureka!”—the line Galileo trod, that Dawkins and his ilk now flout. It is the notion and the presence of the “God of the gaps,” the omnipresence that exists just beyond the grips of our scientific understanding. It began with weather: Rain, famine, drumming thunder all served as God’s communication, until we learned that they weren’t. God then moved on to and into geographic oddities, solar organization, material wealth, and, for some, America’s perceived providence. (In an odd nod to our ancestors, Bill O’Reilly recently claimed that we don’t know where the Moon came from, and thus that our “special place of being” was proven all the further.) These notions eventually—well, mostly—decomposed under the modes of science, and the God of the gap was pushed just a bit further into the ether.