What is the nature of the universe?

Simon Smart discusses some of the ‘hints’ of God’s existence that we find in the scientific study of the universe.

As a believer I’m not claiming any sort of proof for God. It’s more like assessing life as we experience it and making a judgment about what looks most likely. I feel like there are hints of God’s existence or, as Timothy Keller describes it, ‘fingerprints of God’ all around us. And funnily enough, the more we know about the universe through our scientific knowledge, the more some of us are convinced that the most likely explanation is an immense force behind it all.

The famous physicist Professor Paul Davies, who is not a believer in any conventional sense, nonetheless finds the idea of timeless laws of nature, capable of bringing the physical universe into existence, compelling. ‘Atheists claim that the laws exist reasonlessly and that the universe is ultimately absurd,’ he writes;

‘As a scientist I find this hard to accept. There must be an unchanging rational ground in which the logical, orderly nature of the universe is rooted. Is this ground like the timeless God of Augustine? Perhaps it is.’

Knowledge of the extraordinary detail of DNA was instrumental in the famous philosopher Antony Flew coming not to accept Judaism, Christianity or Islam, but to relinquish the atheism he had so long promoted and extolled. DNA research, he said, ‘has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved’.

Similarly, the idea of a Big Bang – that the universe is expanding explosively from a single point – fits comfortably with theism and may even point to it. Francis Collins, who led the Human Genome Project, suggests that the beginning of the universe 15 billion years ago from an infinitesimally small point implies there was nothing before this – creation out of nothing, or ex nihilo as the theologians describe it. ‘I can’t imagine how nature, in this case the universe, could have created itself,’ writes Collins. ‘And the very fact that the universe had a beginning implies that someone was able to begin it. And it seems to me that had to be outside of nature.’

I sometimes hear cosmologists and other experts talk about the fine-tuning of the universe, arguing that it looks a lot like the whole thing was prepared with humans in mind. They roll out a litany of mindboggling facts about the fundamental regularities and constants of physics that are absolutely necessary for organic life to exist, and explain that they all fall within the most ridiculously narrow range for it all to work – the rate of expansion of the universe, the weak and strong nuclear force (whatever they are), the electromagnetic force, the speed of light, gravitational force, the mass density of the universe, and on and on it goes. Everything had to be just right, calibrated within the tiniest range, for life to develop like it did or the whole project would never have got off the ground. If the atmosphere were even a tiny bit thicker we’d all freeze to death and even slightly thinner and we’d fry. You get the picture. The more detail you get on this, the more extraordinary it is to understand how unlikely we were ever to exist. It’s a compelling reason to consider whether there’s a God behind it all.

This is a short excerpt from ‘What is the nature of the universe?’, a chapter in For God’s Sake: An Atheist, a Jew, a Christian & a Muslim debate religion.