Ready to Answer - Lesson 7

By Jim Baird

Why is the Universe So Friendly to Life?

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. Students can explain that the presence of order and purpose are the two signs that researchers look for when seeking evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence.
  2. Students can explain that the most fundamental structure of the universe displays order and purpose, and recognize that this is strong evidence that the universe was designed by an extraterrestrial intelligence - God.
  3. Students will be able to answer some of the common objections to this argument.


  1. It is important not just to read these notes to the class. Teacher should be very familiar with the outline and choose how to present the material, making notes in the margins as needed. Practicing the lesson a few times will allow the teacher to look at the students’ eyes while making the presentation.
  2. Some find it helpful to underline the key words that will spark their memory of what to say and do next.
  3. A teacher who is new to this subject would be wise to get copies of the resources listed at the bottom of this outline and study them as well.
  4. Blackboard should be provided, clean with chalk and erasers.
  5. Students should have access to Bibles, or have overheads of all scriptures.
  6. It would be helpful to have the quotes in the introduction and in the learning activities on overhead transparencies.
  7. If you are going to use the handouts associated with this lesson, give them out after the introduction. The underlined material in these notes appears in the handouts.


The fundamental laws of nature are designed to allow for life.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction: (about 8 minutes)

  1. Does anyone know what the SETI program is?
    1. SETI stands for the Search for Extra-Terrestria lIntelligence.
    2. Scientists use radio telescopes to search for radio signals coming from outer space that show signs of intelligent life.
    3. This is the part of the SETI site that tells about the Phoenix project, the current project for searching the stars for a signal from intelligent life.
  2. If you were listening, how could you tell if a signal were really from intelligent life?
    1. (Ask for suggestions and put them on the board).
    2. Points to emphasize:
      1. Just getting a radio signal is not enough. Stars,quasars and many other astronomical objects produce radio signals.
      2. Even getting an orderly signal is not enough,since several types of objects, like pulsars and binary stars, produce signals with regular pulses or other simple order.
      3. You need 1) an orderly signal that 2) matches some intelligent purpose.
  3. For instance, the SETI researchers are currently looking for a narrow band-width transmission, since this kind of transmission is not generated by any known natural process. They explain it this way:
    1. “Virtually all radio SETI experiments have looked for what are called “narrow-band signals.” These are radio emissions that are at one spot on the radio dial. Imagine tuning your car radio late at night? There’s static everywhere on the band, but suddenly you hear a squeal - a signal at a particular frequency
  4. and you know you’ve found a station. Narrow-band signals, say those that are only a few Hertz or less wide, are the mark of a purposely built transmitter. Natural cosmic noisemakers, such as pulsars, quasars, and the turbulent, thin interstellar gas of our own Milky Way, do not make radio signals that are this narrow. The static from these objects is spread all across the dial. In terrestrial radio practice, narrow-band signals are often called “carriers.” They pack a lot of energy into a small amount of spectral space, and consequently are the easiest type of signal to find for any given power level. If E.T. is a decent (or at least competent) engineer, he’ll use narrow-band signals as beacons to get our attention.” [from]
  5. So the key to finding radio signals generated by intelligent life is finding a signal that is very unlikely to have been produced by natural processes, but is very likely to have been produced by an intelligent being who built a transmitter for the purpose of getting a message out to the rest of the universe.
  6. The SETI researchers conclude that such a transmission would be enough for us to know for sure that there was intelligent life out there. This is true even if the life is of a very different kind from ours.
  7. Our conclusion is that when we find order matched up with a purpose, we have a sure sign of intelligence.
    1. [Erase the board and put ORDER and PURPOSE on it.]
  8. Based on this standard, are there any signs of intelligent life in outer space?
    1. So far, the SETI researchers have found nothing.
    2. But since the 1970’s, another branch of science, physics, has found the two marks of intelligence-order and purpose-written into the fundamental laws of nature.
    3. In the lesson today we will apply the standards of the SETI researchers to show that some intelligent extraterrestrial is trying to get our attention through the fundamental laws of nature.

Learning Experiences: (about 45 minutes)

  1. The Amazing Discovery
    1. It was often assumed in the past that the universe has fairly simple laws, so that it might have come from chance, or that if the laws were different, we would just have adapted to the different environment.
    2. But in the 1970’s physicists began to realize that what they were learning about the fundamental laws and constants of nature meant this assumption was false.
    3. It turns out that if the laws of nature do not have very precise, interconnecting values, not only would humans not be able to exist, but as far as we can tell, no life of any kind would be possible.
  2. The Cosmic Radio
    1. Let’s illustrate this by considering a radio. Some of you may know what it is like to tune in a radio by turning a knob rather than pushing a button.
    2. If you are in the desert far from any cities, it is often hard to find even one station, and the knob has to be just right to get it to come in clearly.
    3. Imagine that you had to use two knobs at the same time in order to get a station to come in. Imagine that each knob has over a hundred different positions. How long would it take you to find a station? How would you do a search?
    4. [Try to get them to answer. Hopefully they’ll say something like, “You would have to set the first knob on 1, search through all 100 positions of the second knob, then set the first knob on 2, and repeat the process until you found one.]
    5. Now imagine if you had to use five knobs. How would you search for a station then? [Have them answer again. Same kind of search, just takes a lot longer.]
    6. Now imagine that you had a dozen or more knobs. Imagine that some of the knobs had ten positions, and others had fifty, but others hundreds, and at least two had trillions of different positions. What would your search be like then?
    7. Now, suppose your car radio was this kind of radio. When you buy your car, all of the knobs are already set so that the one radio station in your area comes in loud and clear. What would you assume: 1) that someone in the factory pre-set the knobs, or 2) that it just happened by chance? The fact is that you could be certain beyond any reasonable doubt that someone had purposely pre-set the radio.
    8. [Incidentally, if you had a radio like this last one, as a matter of mathematics, it makes almost no difference whether there is one radio station or a million. You would still know that it was pre-set to one of the stations. The difference between one chance and a million chances is small potatoes compared to the mind boggling probabilities we are talking about. As a comparison, imagine that finding one of a million stations would be like hitting a circle the size of downtown Saint Louis with a rock moving at random from across the galaxy. On this scale, finding a single station by chance would be like hitting a quarter. While the first may be slightly more likely than the second, both are impossible beyond a reasonable doubt.]
  3. The Universe is This Radio
    1. This radio is a model for what physicists have been finding out about the fundamental laws and constants of the universe.
    2. The knobs on the radio may be compared to the fundamental laws and constants of nature: things like the forces of gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces, as well as the masses and charges of protons, neutrons and electrons. Most of them can be “set” at thousands, or even millions of different values, and some apparently have a nearly infinite number of settings. Now the strange thing is that, while science has been able to determine what these “settings” actually are, they have made no real progress in understanding why they should be “set” as the are. In other words, according to our current understanding, there is nothing in nature that says these fundamental laws have to be as they are - as far as science can tell, their “setting” is purely random.
    3. The radio stations we are trying to tune in represent the settings of the laws of nature that allow for some kind of life to exist in the universe.
    4. The real shock is that almost all the ways of setting the fundamental laws and constants would result in a universe where any kind of life is impossible.
    5. Nevertheless, the universe “comes from the factory”pre-set to allow life. What conclusion should we reach?
  4. A Little Detail: Let’s look a little more closely at some of the constants of the universe that have to be adjusted just right to make life possible. The following examples are just a few of those surveyed by John Leslie, Universes (Routledge, 1989)
    1. First, according to Einstein’s theory, the universe will either be expanding or contracting. Ours is expanding. But strangely, almost all the ways of “setting” the laws of the universe would cause the universe to collapse or expand too quickly for life.
      1. If the currently measured force of gravity varies by as little as 10100 (a one with 100 zero’s after it), the universe will either collapse into a sphere many times smaller than the point of a needle or expand so quickly that life-bearing planets become impossible. [32.]
    2. Second, out of those few possible universes that avoid catastrophic expansion or contraction, almost all will be devoid of steady, long-burning stars like our Sun.
      1. An increase in Planck’s constant by only 15% would make the normal fusion process impossible. Since this is the process that gives us sunlight, life would be ruled out in any universes like this. [40]
      2. One researcher says that a variation in the strength of electromagnetism by as little as 1040 would make stars like our sun impossible. [37]
    3. Third, out of those few possible universes that contain life-sustaining stars, most would be devoid of the stable, complex chemistry that even the simplest life requires.
      1. Complex molecular chemistry would apparently be destroyed by any significant variation in the ratio of the mass of the electron and the mass of the proton. [44]
      2. A 50% increase in the nuclear strong force would cause carbon atoms to disintegrate very quickly, and would affect all heavier atoms the same way. [36] If there were no atoms like carbon and the heavier atoms, then life-chemistry would be impossible. Organic chemistry is now defined as chemistry that uses carbon. Hence, no carbon=no life.
      3. If the rate of proton decay were increased so that a proton only lived 1016 years, your body would have so many proton’s decaying inside of it every minute that the radiation would kill you. [42]
  5. What Should We Conclude
    1. These are just a few of the examples of order and purpose that physicists have been discovering.
    2. Of course, some of these may be modified by future discoveries, but even so, there appear to be far more than enough for us to rule out the possibility that the universe just got here by chance.
    3. There is no question that by the SETI standards, the universe shows us both Order and Purpose to an incredibly high degree. If the SETI researchers found a radio signal with even a fraction of this degree of evident order and purpose, they would announce that they had succeeded in their search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
    4. Therefore, if you would be convinced by SETI’s standards, you would be convinced that the universe shows signs of being produced by an intelligent being. Since this being created the universe, he is therefore outside it. This makes a pretty conclusive argument for God.
  6. Some Objections [Only if you have time. Better to skip this than the application.] Of course, believing in God is such a life-changing step, it will take more than an argument like this to make up someone’s mind. Consequently, those who want to reject the argument will come up with various objections. Here are three of the most common ones.
    1. Maybe other kinds of life would be possible in the other kinds of universes.
      1. We have all seen enough science fiction to imagine all kinds of alien life forms.
      2. So this objection says that even if it appears that our universe is specially designed because it suits our needs so perfectly, this is just being closed-minded. If the universe were different, different kinds of intelligent life might well have arisen in it, and they would probably see it as specially designed for them. In this case, we would both be wrong, and the universe turns out to be not that special after all.
      3. In response to this, we would remind the objectors that we did not make an argument about human life, or life on earth. Our argument covers any kind of life that requires planets, steady-burning stars and stable, complex chemistry. It mentions carbon chemistry, but is still plenty powerful if you suppose forms of life chemistry based on something other than carbon.
      4. It is one thing to imagine Klingons, but it is quite another to imagine intelligent life that does not need planets, sunlight or complex chemistry. Even if we can imagine it, we have no evidence at all that such life is possible, so it would just be a blind hope.
      5. Of course, someone can always say “Anything is possible” and we can’t contradict that. But they certainly can’t claim that they have good reasons to reject the argument. And if they aren’t rejecting the argument for good reasons, they must be rejecting it from some other motives. They might want to ask themselves what those motives are.
    2. Science will explain all this in the future
      1. We have seen science explain so many things in the past that we tend to expect it to explain everything eventually.
      2. So some will argue that even if we don’t understand what physical processes could make the universe so finely tuned for life, someday science will explain it all in purely natural terms.
      3. But to see what is wrong with this, let’s do a thought experiment.
        1. Suppose the SETI radio telescopes detected just the kind of narrow band-width signal that the researchers are looking for, and that other researchers are able to confirm it independently.
        2. As they state in their literature, they would ask for money to build an even bigger telescope to decode any possible message that might be built into the transmission.
        3. Suppose that the one of the congressmen with the oversight of that part of the budget was to say, “Well, it might look right now like you have found a signal that has to have come from intelligent life, but I’m sure that future science will discover some natural process that produces signals like this.”
        4. Would this be a reasonable response? Wouldn’t you suspect some prejudice is at work? I think you would, and I think you can tell that there is prejudice at work in someone who hopes that future science will remove this current evidence for an intelligent designer of the universe.
    3. Maybe our universe is just one of many universes
      1. This is one of the stranger objections to the fine tuning argument, and the fact that some people have felt forced to make it shows just how troubling the argument is to those who reject the idea of an intelligent designer.
      2. The objection postulates that there are a nearly infinite number of universes that exist, with almost all possible variations in laws and constants of nature. Somewhere in this vast collection of universes there have to be a tiny percentage of universes that are actually capable of supporting life,and of course, we are in one of those. Where else could we be? Therefore, our universe is not fine tuned at all. We just can’t observe all the alternate universes, so we think there must be something special about ours.
      3. We could respond to this in a couple of ways.
      4. First, we could point out that since we cannot observe any of these universes, our only evidence for them is that they serve to explain the fine-tuning of the universe. But the hypothesis of a single intelligent designer can explain the fine-tuning at least as well. And it is much simpler than the hypothesis of a near infinity of alternate universes. Therefore, because it is simpler, the design hypothesis is a better explanation. (Remember the simplicity principle from lesson three.)
      5. Second, we could again draw a parallel with the SETI program. Imagine the same discovery as before. This time, the stingy congressman objects: “Actually,this signal only seems to be from an intelligent source. Since there is a near infinity of alternative universes with all kinds of variations in their laws, surely there is some small fraction of those universes in which signals like this arise for no reason at all. You have not discovered extraterrestrial intelligence.You have just proved we’re in one of those universes where stuff like this happens.”
      6. Again, we would not be, and should not be,impressed by this kind of reasoning. You could saythe same thing about any mystery that needed to be investigated. This would cause all funding forscience to come to a halt.

Application: (About two minutes)

The SETI researchers are still scanning the skies, but physicists have found an intelligent signal built into the fundamental lawsof nature. Somebody sent us that signal, and the day is soon coming when society will have to face up to that fact. There is Somebody out there, and more importantly, that Somebody was powerful enough to shape the laws that make the universe.

Further Resources:

John Leslie. Universes. Routledge, 1989. Not for the fainthearted. This guy is a neo-platonic philosopher, not a Christian, and his material is fairly deep. But the reviews indicate that he got the science basically right (for 1989). Hugh Ross, “Astronomical Evidence for a Personal,Transcendent God,” in The Creation Hypothesis, J. P. Moreland,ed. InterVarsity Press, 1994.

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