The Alleged Fine-Tuning of Our Universe

It’s almost universally accepted that science has shown we are products of a random universe.  The Big Bang banged and eventually matter began to clump into galaxies and then solar systems within the galaxies.  We only exist, of course, because our system has conditions perfect for carbon to bond with other elements and eventually lead to proteins and to self-reproducing life.  If it weren’t so, I wouldn’t be here to write about it or you to read.

This is what is taught in our public schools and universities, and any other view must be categorized as religious, or at least a matter of faith, not science.

What might be under your radar, however, is that in the last few decades cosmologists have reached some conclusions that create wrinkles in this scenario.  Though additional discoveries and perhaps improved mathematics may in future iron these out, for now they remain, and everyone should know about them.

These conclusions are about what scientists call the apparent “fine-tuning” of the universe.  A piano’s fifth “A” key must be tuned to exactly 440 Hertz (vibrations per second) or it will sound wrong (or at least be wrong to a piano tuner).  Likewise, the physical laws of the universe, when described mathematically, include several constants that must be tuned perfectly or we would not be here.

But these constants must be tuned much more finely than a piano string.  If that “A” note is off by 1 part in 440 it won’t be an “A,” but in the case of the universe’s expansion rate immediately after the Big Bang (for example), it cannot be off by 1 part in 10 to the 16th power.  That would be 1/10,000,000,000,000,000.  That’s a lot less likely than it would be for you to win every single state lottery every day for the rest of your life.  (Try it!)  If that constant were different by that tiny amount, the universe right after the Big Bang would not have been able to expand.

If any of these mathematical constants in our physical laws varied by an infinitesimally small amount, it would be impossible for matter to exist or for the universe to have been Banged.

Take, for example, the constant for gravitation found in Newton’s law of gravity: G(M1M2)/R


G multiplied by the product of the masses (m1 and m2) and divided by the square of the distance.

What is “G”?  G itself is not determined by the law of gravity.  It is a constant; that is, it is the same no matter how large the bodies are or how far apart they are.

If G were different by just 1 part in 1036 –yes, that is 1 part in 10 followed by 36 zeroes—there would not be a universe permitting life.  Stars would not be stable enough to last.

Next: It gets wrinklier

Photo credit: Linus Mimietz on Unsplash