“Why the Universe is the Way it is” Critique – Part 1

Part 1

I was given the the book “Why the Universe is the Way it is” by Hugh Ross to read. Hugh Ross is an old earth creationist who founded a christian organization called Reasons to Believe (RTB). (See: http://www.reasons.org/about/who-we-are/hugh-ross) Even though he is a creationist, I actually respect Hugh Ross. I think he’s a sincere, caring, and passionate individual.

While Ross is very knowledgeable concerning science, I do not think he applies the same level of rigor and thinking to his faith. His arguments in favor of both creationism and christianity are nothing short of nonsense. While I can understand where he is coming from, Ross doesn’t seem to stop and question his assertions.

Here is a description of the book as on amazon:

“Increasingly astronomers recognize that if the cosmos had not unfolded exactly as it did, humanity would not, could not, exist. Yet these researchers–along with countless ordinary folks–resist belief in the biblical Creator. Why? They say a loving God would have made a better home for us, one without trouble and tragedy. In Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, Hugh Ross draws from his depth of study in both science and Scripture to explain how the universe’s design fulfills several distinct purposes. He also reveals God’s surpassing love and ultimate purposes for each individual.

Why the Universe Is the Way It Is will interest anyone who wonders where and how the universe came to be, what or who is responsible for it, why we are here, or how and when the universe ends. Far from leaving the reader at this philosophical jumping-off point, Ross builds toward answering the big question of human destiny and the specific question of each reader’s personal destiny.”

This critique will be broken up into parts so that each post is not too lengthy and so I can focus on each respective argument. Hugh Ross claims he’s responding to atheists’ objections to christianity, but most of these “objections” are quite frankly terrible and seem more like straw men to me. However, Hugh Ross’ response is worth addressing. I will start with chapter 2 as chapter 1 does not contain much in it. I probably will end up skipping responding to some chapters as some of his points can all be answered in a similar way.

Chapter 2 – “Why such a Vast Universe?”

Ross claims here that:

“Although skeptics once argued that the universe was too small, today they charge that it’s much too large to befit a divine Creator. They presume, ‘If God’s goal was to make a habitat for humanity, he would not have made so many useless galaxies, stars, planets, comets, elements, and other components.’ “

Eh? I guess I wouldn’t argue anything like that. I honestly do not care to address much of what he states here. However, there’s an interesting side comment in this chapter:

“Without carbon, physical life is impossible. No other element displays the rich chemical behavior needed to form the range of complex molecular structures life requires. Given that physical life must be carbon-based, why would God make a universe with so little carbon?

Researchers have found that the quantity of carbon must be carefully balanced between just enough and not too much because carbon, though essential for life, can also be destructive to life. Too much carbon translate into too much carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane. In large quantities, these gases are poisonous. In modest quantities, their greenhouse properties keep the planet sufficiently warm for life. In larger quantities, they can heat a planet’s surface beyond what physical life can tolerate.

One of the wonders of Earth is that it is sufficiently carbon-rich and carbon-poor. It carries enough carbon for life but not so much as to interfere with life’s atmospheric needs, such as the appropriate pressure and density for efficient operation of lungs and a temperature range (and variability) that supports a wide diversity of active, advanced species.”

I modified his quote (modifications in brackets):

“Without carbon, physical life [as we know it] is impossible. [Ignoring the fact that silicon displays similar characteristics to carbon,] no other element displays the rich chemical behavior needed to form the range of complex molecular structures life requires. Given [the unsupported assumption] that physical life must be carbon-based, why would God make a universe with so little carbon? [Indeed, we haven’t seen any other forms of life yet, but let’s pretend that all life must be carbon-based. We were already pretending in the first place. Our sample size of the universe is incredibly small, so that means we can make shit up.]

Researchers have found that the quantity of carbon must be carefully balanced between just enough and not too much because carbon, though essential for life, can also be destructive to life. Too much carbon translate into too much carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane. In large quantities, these gases are poisonous [to life as we know it]. In modest quantities, their greenhouse properties keep the planet sufficiently warm for life [as we know it]. In larger quantities, they can heat a planet’s surface beyond what physical life [as we know it] can tolerate.

One of the wonders of Earth is that it is sufficiently carbon-rich and carbon-poor. It carries enough carbon for life [as we know it] but not so much as to interfere with life’s atmospheric needs, such as the appropriate pressure and density for efficient operation of lungs [which evolved here on earth] and a temperature range (and variability) that supports a wide diversity of active, advanced species [which all evolved here on earth].”

Okay well I wasn’t meaning to be condescending toward Ross and anyone like him, but really, come on. How can you assert these things and not realize you are unjustified in saying these? Quite frankly, I’m not convinced all life must be carbon-based. Moreover, even if it was, so what? Humans and every living thing on this planet evolved here. The environment which drove evolution was on earth. Of course life here is going to be suited for this planet. It’s no wonder this planet contains a “ratio” we are suited for. This is the planet our ancestors evolved on and so evolution was guided accordingly. I realize that Hugh Ross doesn’t accept evolution, so in some sense I can understand that he doesn’t realize this point. Given the ENORMOUS amount of evidence for evolution, his entire argument here is moot.

Ross’ other arguments in this chapter are similar. He points to something in the universe and says life could not exist without these constants, these ratios, or anything else. My exact same response applies replacing “Earth” with “universe”. What Ross fails to realize is, is *another* form of life possible if you change these numbers, ratios, etc? Quite frankly, there’s no way for us to know. Moreover, there’s also the possibility that multiple universes exist (the multi-verse idea). This possibility alone is enough to show Ross’ conclusion is unwarranted.

At the end of the chapter, Ross finally has a quote which at first seemed promising: “The skeptic might say it’s conceivable, though not necessarily possible, that a difference set of laws, constants, and dimensions might provide humanity with an acceptable habitat without requiring such an incredibly vast universe. The following chapters address that challenge from the perspective of purposes beyond mere provision of a habitable environment. These additional purposes are reflected in the specific set of physical laws, constants, and dimensions the universe manifests. Given this unique set, the universe must indeed be as vast and as massive as it is.”

This quote from Ross reminds me of a quote from Richard Feynman, a famous physicist, while he was giving a lecture:

“You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot. And you won’t believe what happened. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357! Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!”

Feynman’s point was that seeing this exact license plate is a highly unlikely event in itself. However, given that he saw a license plate, he had to see some unique number! This helps to show how sloppy Ross’ argument is. Moreover, he is already putting a special significance on humans being the ones to exist. Why humans? How do we know if you change these things, other intelligent beings couldn’t exist? All we know is that it just so happened that we are the ones to exist. There could be other possibilities that could exist, or there could be other intelligent beings that do actually exist. What if we’re that license plate? How could we possibly know this at this point in time? We lack any information to make such claims, but Ross seems happy to go ahead and do so.

– Kevin