More Creationism in a Mainstream News Source

This is becoming an epidemic. First the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed column by a creationist who is also a fellow-traveler of the Discovery Institute — see More Creationism in the Wall Street Journal.

Now we see another formerly-trusted information source turning to the Dark Side. Look what shows up at the PhysOrg website: New evidence for anthropic theory that fundamental physics constants underlie life-enabling universe. They readily admit that their source for this item is a paper by “German scholar Ulf-G Meißner, chair in theoretical nuclear physics at the Helmholtz Institute, University of Bonn,” which is:

titled “Anthropic considerations in nuclear physics” and published in the Beijing-based journal Science Bulletin (previously titled Chinese Science Bulletin).

What do we know about either Meißner or the Chinese journal that published his paper? Here’s the website for the Science Bulletin. Wikipedia has an article about them using their former name: Chinese Science Bulletin, but it doesn’t tell us much.

We’ve heard rumors about that journal, but we won’t mention them because we don’t have reliable sources to cite, so it would be irresponsible to repeat them. That’s for other blogs, but not us. All we’ll do here is give you a few excerpts from the PhysOrg article about the “research paper” and then you can reach your own conclusions: The bold font was added by us:

For nearly half a century, theoretical physicists have made a series of discoveries that certain constants in fundamental physics seem extraordinarily fine-tuned to allow for the emergence of a life-enabling universe. Constants that crisscross the Standard Model of Particle Physics guided the formation of hydrogen nuclei during the Big Bang, along with the carbon and oxygen atoms initially fused at the center of massive first-generation stars that exploded as supernovae; these processes in turn set the stage for solar systems and planets capable of supporting carbon-based life dependent on water and oxygen.

Yes, everyone has heard of the anthropic principle. The Big Question is: Some things were unquestionably designed for the purpose of facilitating human life — your toilet seat, for example. So some people wonder whether the entire universe was likewise designed for a human-centered purpose. You know how it goes — if gravity were 10 times stronger or weaker than it is, then … well, never mind. Back to PhysOrg:

German scholar Ulf-G Meißner … adds to a series of discoveries that support this Anthropic Principle. In a new study titled “Anthropic considerations in nuclear physics” and published in the Beijing-based journal Science Bulletin (previously titled Chinese Science Bulletin), Professor Meißner provides an overview of the Anthropic Principle (AP) in astrophysics and particle physics and states: “One can indeed perform physics tests of this rather abstract [AP] statement for specific processes like element generation.”

“This can be done with the help of high performance computers that allow us to simulate worlds in which the fundamental parameters underlying nuclear physics take values different from the ones in Nature,” he explains.

“Physics tests” that involve running a computer simulation built on different fundamental physical laws? That sounds like fun. Let’s read on:

Professor Ulf-G Meißner, in explaining his new groundbreaking study, states: “The Universe we live in is characterized by certain parameters that take specific values that appear to be remarkably fine-tuned to make life, including on Earth, possible.”

“For example, the age of the Universe must be large enough to allow for the formation of galaxies, stars and planets, and for second- and third-generation stars that incorporated the carbon and oxygen propagated by earlier exploding stars,” he says. “On more microscopic scales, he adds, “certain fundamental parameters of the Standard Model of light quark masses or the electromagnetic fine structure constant must take values that allow for the formation of neutrons, protons and atomic nuclei.”

[…]

“Such extreme fine-tuning supports the anthropic view of our Universe,” he adds.

Hey, we can do a computer simulation on our toilet seat hypothesis that there was a Toilet Seat Designer — the TSD. Let’s see, yes — if the seat’s aperture were 10 times larger, we’d fall through; and if it were 10 times smaller — egad, no go! Therefore, our TSD hypothesis is experimentally verified! Maybe we can get our work published in the Chinese Science Bulletin and PhysOrg will do a writeup on it. If not, there’s always the Wall Street Journal.

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27 responses to “More Creationism in a Mainstream News Source

  1. To me it seems you have been deluded by the phrase “extraordinarily fine-tuned to allow for the emergence of a life-enabling universe.” That sounds like Oogity-Boogity, but only shows imo that physicists can be sloppy. Compare the conclusion:

    “our Universe has a preferred status, and this is the basis of the so-called Anthropic Principle.”
    Between those two quotes there is only hard science.

    Prof. Meissner works at

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Bonn

    So I need much more evidence before I accept “Now we see another formerly-trusted information source turning to the Dark Side.”
    Note that I have mentioned before that the fine-tuning argument basically is the anthropic principle plus teleology. But this paper you quote from there is no trace of teleology at all.

  2. “we can do a computer simulation ….”
    That’s a silly comparison, dear SC. Physicists make damn sure that the assumptions computer simulations are based on are in agreement with what we know from physics. These simulations basically do nothing but making calculation you and I would need at least nive lives for.

  3. “our universe has a preferred status.” Preferred by whom? Us (the observers)? That’s a tautology – we specifically observe those things which are observable, which are specially observable because they exist, which we know because we observe that it is so. Pardon me if my jaw does not drop.

  4. Mike Elzinga

    If we are beginning to see an epidemic of ID/creationist crap in the news, it is probably due to the fact that the Republicans are in control of Congress and many state legislatures after the 2014 midterm elections.

    Since at least the 1970s – with the rise of “scientific” creationism – ID/creationists have been looking for favorable political winds to push their agenda. During the G.W. Bush years, and especially during election seasons, the letters to the editors of local newspapers have been full of crap pushing to get ID/creationism into the schools. I have been among the few who have been slapping down this crap in our local newspaper. My last response was back in early January of 2009, after a surge of ID/creationist hogwash that was being pushed during the 2008 election.

    It has been generally quiet since Bush left office; but I have no doubt that we are going to see this stuff in the news regularly now. I have some pretty good guesses as to what that might be; and I am ready.

    It may be time for the Curmudgeon to sharpen his pen for the next onslaught.

  5. My question to proponents of the Anthropic Principle:

    What would reality look like if life were ‘fine-tuned’ to planet Earth rather than the other way around?

    Exactly the same, of course. The only difference is that we have a plethora of evidence for the theory of how life is ‘fine-tuned’ for the planet by evolution, and nothing but mystical superstition to support the notion that the universe is ‘fine-tuned’ by undetectable Oogity-Boogity.

  6. My orthography needs some fine tuning; is there some mystical Mysterious Hand to apply it? In place of “undectable” in previous post, please amend to “undetectable,” O Great and Ineffable Corrector of Mortal Failings!

    [*Voice from above*] It is done!

  7. Richard Bond

    Why on Earth do people suppose that our present state of knowledge about the origin of the universe is adequate for understanding what might appear to be a fine tuning problem? We are probably in about the same relative state as a bunch of Middle Eastern goatherds 3,000 years ago who could not conceive of anything other than a flat Earth.

  8. Is it true that one can calculate some of the macroscopic values of matter from the Standard Model of particle physics? I thought that even nuclear physics had to rely on empirical models of the nucleus. And something like the folding of proteins was a really tough problem? What about the evolution of galaxies?
    How far are we from being able to solve such calculations if there were different values plugged into the Standard Model?
    And I thought that String Theories haven’t even been able to distinguish between various versions?

    Not to mention, of course, the calculations based on a model of fine tuning? Literally, those are ineffable.

  9. Rikki_Tikki_Taalik

    In other news…

    “Puddle temporarily distracted by discovery of water cycle”

  10. Didn’t Bush’s NCLB education program open the door for creationsim?

  11. “our universe has a preferred status.”
    Keith asks the wrong question:

    “Preferred by whom?”
    This just means that one status as a higher probability than some others.

  12. ‘”Preferred by whom?”
    This just means that one status has a higher probability than some others.’
    In a situation where the sample size is one and the data is derived within the system, it is the same question.

  13. TomS: Is it true that one can calculate some of the macroscopic values of matter from the Standard Model of particle physics? I thought that even nuclear physics had to rely on empirical models of the nucleus.

    Not anymore. With QCD plugged into a lattice model you can compute the properties of protons a priori. Of course, it takes a supercomputer to do all that phenomenology.

    And something like the folding of proteins was a really tough problem?

    Yes, still difficult, some progress– but irrelevant to fine tuning, because none of the “fine tuning for life” advocates ever go further than testing for carbon-carbon bonds. So they don’t test galaxy formation, solar system formation, the origin of life, protein folding, etc. They just test (IF AT ALL) to see if heavy elements can form and carbon-carbon bonds can form from those– and sometimes they don’t even test for that.

    So as I’ve said before, there’s no such thing as “fine tuning for life.” There are real fine tuning problems in physics, but “fine tuning for life” doesn’t exist. There’s no actual problem if there’s already a kinematic explanation for why changing some parameter affects something else in a big way– in this case, the obvious explanation is that life is the effect, laws of physics are the cause or at least the precondition. Laws of physics came FIRST, life came LATER; we already know they are dynamically related: that life adapted to physics. But “fine tuning for life” involves stupidly assuming that the laws of physics adapted to life.

    Besides the fact that there’s no actual fine tuning problem, when a kinematical explanation already exists, IF there were a fine tuning problem, it would at most be fine tuning for heavy atoms and carbon-carbon bonds– NOT fine tuning for life. We know there are organic molecules in meteorites and in outer space. So the vast majority of carbon-carbon bonds in the univers are not alive. “Life” as we know it is a tiny, tiny subset of all the carbon-carbon bonds in the universe– so when we call it “fine tuning for life”, that has no scientific justification and no motivation beyond replicator chauvinism.

    Then the IDiots get even more chauvinistic and claim that the laws of physics are fine tuned for HUMAN life– an even tinier subset of carbon-carbon bonds! Humans, a mere food source for mosquitoes and a vector for carrying gonorrhea, HIV, malaria and junk DNA. Yeah, we’re the subset of carbon-carbon bonds that E=mc^2 was fine-tuned to make possible.

    As I’ve said before, the Discovery Institute is just working up to their greatest scientific achievement ever: the theory that the laws of physics are all fine tuned to make possible the white male Protestant heterosexual with an income > $90,000/year.

  14. An article I read a while back (I think it was in Scientific American) discussed computer simulations of universes with different physical constants, and it turned out that it was possible to get habitable universes with significantly different ones–even, if I recall correctly, with no weak nuclear force at all. (The weak force is responsible for certain types of radioactivity.)

    But in any case, the ID’ers put the cart before the horse. Believing that the universe was created so that we could exist, they marvel at how finely tuned it is to allow our existence. It never occurs to them that the universe would get along fine if we had never existed, and that we are finely tuned–by evolution–to exist in it

  15. Yadda, yadda, yadda… 70 million years ago some T-Rex two finger typed that if the parameters of the universe were just a bit different, no dinosaurs would be in existence, so obviously the universe was created for dinosaurs.
    There but for an asteroid go us.

  16. A number of researchers have explored which clusters of fundamental “constants” will produce a universe. A universe doesn’t have to look anything like ours, and it doesn’t have to have the same periodic table of “elements.” Time could run at a much different rate in other universes, but any living organism that evolves in such a universe would have lifetimes roughly proportional to the age of its universe. What might be a microsecond compared to our universe might be equivalent to thousands of years in that universe.

    As to our being tuned to our universe, consider the fact that chemistry takes place at energies on the order of 1 or 2 electron volts (eV). Solids like iron come apart at energies on the order of about 0.1 eV.

    Liquid water exists between about 0.012 and 0.016 eV. Hypothermia to hyperthermia (about 60 Fahrenheit to about 108 Fahrenheit) is in the range of about 0.013 eV to about 0.014 eV. Any colder, and our nervous system shuts down, any warmer and it goes chaotic.

    Thus everything that happens within living systems takes place within an extremely narrow energy range in which the kinetic energies of the constituent molecules are just a tiny bit smaller than their binding energies. Such systems are called soft matter states.

    Whether or not analogous systems could exist in another universe is dependent on whether or not there are comparable temperature ranges in which systems can exist in a soft matter state and have sufficient complexity to be called “living” organisms.

  17. Anyone who thinks this universe was created specifically to provide a home for humans needs to stare into one of the Hubble Deep Field exposures and contemplate why all those hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars and unknowable numbers of planets, are necessary for our existence. “Fine-tuning?” Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha……!!!!!!!

  18. @retiredsciguy: Indeed, the universe, if it’s designed at all, clearly isn’t designed for us in an insignificant volume of it. In fact, one could argue, with more justification, that this planet is “fine tuned” for bacteria and archaea.

  19. @abeastwood: If I did the math correctly, the volume of the observable universe is 1.076 x 10^30 cubic light years, or
    1,076,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic light years.

    (The universe is 13.7 billion years old, so the radius of the observable universe is 13.7 billion light years, or 1.37 x 10^10. Plug that into the formula for the volume of a sphere, Volume = 4/3 π r^3, and we get the figure above.)

    The total volume of our entire Solar System, including the Oort Cloud, is perhaps 5 cubic light years. So, the fraction of the universe occupied by our solar system is about 1/200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. And that’s for the entire solar system out to a distance of about one light year. As you said, truly “an insignificant volume “, indeed. That’s about the ratio of the size of an atom to the size of the solar system — give or take.

    And this entire universe was created “just for us”! Oh, the inefficiency of it all!

  20. An easy retort to RSG’s argument: With such a huge creation, Ol Grandy was kind enough to give us something to study when he made it all. It’s “The Universe if fine-tuned to give jobs to astronomers” argument.

  21. The universe is fine tuned to give us the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics.

  22. gnome de net says: “The epidemic continues”

    Yes. That’s the same article that appeared in PhysOrg, but it’s another website that seems willing to promote nonsense.

  23. Diogenes Lamp

    RSG, your calculation is in error. The radius of the observable universe is larger than 13.7 billion ly because of acceleration of the expansion. The actual radius is ~42 billion ly.

    If you compute the volume of the spherical shell that contains air with sufficient density to support life (I.e. from sea level up to the death zone), then divide by the volume of the observable universe, the part habitable by us makes up 10^-62 of the observable universe.

    Yes, clearly such a life-friendly universe could only be created by an Infinite Mind.

  24. Thanks, D. L. So actually, we are even more insignificant than my figures would indicate.

    I included our entire solar system as our special realm, even though we presently inhabit such a tiny, tiny fraction of it, because life on earth is definitely influenced by the sun, asteroids, meteors, and comets. it’s almost a dead certainty that cosmic impacts by asteroids and comets drastically altered life on earth, and of course the energy from the sun is essential to our existence.

  25. @Diogenes Lamp
    One should also count the depth of the Earth which supports life – we don’t know how deep it goes, but I dare suggest that the fraction of the universe which contains Earth life could be as be as big as 10^-61.

  26. Ever the optimist, Tom. Ever the optimist.