Stardust: A Finely Tuned Universe (Polkinghorne)

Hello Stardust,

In this post, I ask you to consider three points: 1) we are made from explosions of stars; 2) the universe may be finely tuned and intricately designed; 3) there is an intelligible structure of the universe, which makes prayer possible.

Here are some passages for you to consider, on these points, from an essay by John Polkinghorne, a physicist and theologian.

And for more, read: his essay, John Polkinghorne, SO FINELY TUNED A UNIVERSE of atoms, stars, quanta & God (originally published, 1996 Commonweal).

1. We are made from explosions of stars.

On Stardust:

“The stars have another tremendously important thing to do. The nuclear furnaces that burn inside the stars are the source of the chemical elements which are the raw materials of life.”

 

“If you’re made from stardust, there’s got to be some dust from stars around for you to be made of. You’ve got to have stellar explosions.”

That means that we share the essential substance with the rest of the galaxy. When I look up at the stars, I know that we are one.

2. Regarding a finely tuned universe, consider how chance interacts with purposeful design. For instance, if you meet your soul mate, is the meeting random or purposeful? Here is another articulation of the matter by Polkinghorne.

 

“John Leslie, a philosopher at Guelf University in Canada, writes about these questions. He has written the best book about the anthropic principle, called Universes. He’s a beguiling philosopher because he does his philosophy by telling stories, which is a very accessible way for those of us who are not professionally trained in philosophy to get the hang of it. He tells the following story. You are about to be executed. Your eyes are bandaged and you are tied to the stake. Twelve highly-trained sharpshooters have their rifles leveled at your heart. They pull the trigger, the shots ring out—you’ve survived! What do you do? Do you shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, that’s the way it is. No need to seek an explanation of this. That’s just the way it is.” Leslie rightly says that’s surely not a rational response to what’s going on. He suggests that there are only two rational explanations of that amazing incident. One is that many, many, many executions are taking place today and just by luck you happen to be the one in which they all miss. That’s a rational explanation. The other explanation is, of course, that the sharpshooters are on your side and they missed by choice. In other words there was a purpose at work of which you were unaware.

 

That parable translates well into thinking about a finely tuned and fruitful universe.”

3. Concerning prayer, prayer only makes sense if there’s some correspondence between our own minds or intelligence and the structure of the world. Otherwise, how could our own intentions, which we lift to God/the Spirit in prayer, have an impact on the world?  As Einstein said, “The only incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”

For more on this them, see the Polkinghorne essay.

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