THE WONDER OF THE UNIVERSE: Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World by Karl W. Giberson. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 201 pages, bibliography, notes. Paperback; $16.00. ISBN: 9780830838196.
Karl Giberson is a prolific writer of science and religion and was asked to write a faith-friendly book about science, including its history and philosophy. The intended audiences are Christians with a limited knowledge of science. Science, apart from some philosophical distortions, strongly supports a Christian worldview, and this book presents an accurate, nonthreatening affirmation of this claim. The book excels in two ways. First, this huge subject is pared down to a two-hundred-page nontechnical book. This paring requires Giberson to be very selective in which topics to include. The guiding principles should be to make the book an easy read with clarity, reasonable completeness, and without prejudicial distortion of the true relationship between science and religion. Giberson has the foresight and experience to make wise choices in accomplishing this task. Secondly, the book excels in its storytelling narrative. Beginning with the ancient Greeks and advancing through modern science, Giberson gives interesting and enlightening short stories of the more humane side of scientists. The stories display the importance of discoveries, showing how science has evolved and developed.
The fine-tuning of the universe (anthropic principle) is not presented until nearly the middle of the book. Giberson discusses many of the varied viewpoints of leading scientists on the significance of fine-tuning and gives an excellent rebuttal of the atheistic multiverse explanation of fine-tuning. He also provides an accurate description of what science is and its limitations, including some philosophy of science.
Giberson’s main argument in the chapter on evolution uses evidence to argue that evolution cannot be fully explained by random chance. Near the end of the book he briefly touches on a broader worldview which goes beyond science and includes religion and other human experiences. He expresses the beauty of the natural laws as manifested in mathematics, raises the question of whether or not we live in the best possible world, and addresses the problems of evil, pain, and suffering. One conclusion Giberson comes to is the following:
If we find the world filled with wonders that move us spiritually or point beyond themselves or inspire us in ways not captured by our explanatory nets, we need not simply shrug our shoulders about why that might be. I think we can reasonably embrace the idea that there must be a transcendent reality in which these experiences are grounded. (p. 195)
There are a few minor blemishes in the book. As mentioned earlier, Giberson skillfully selects a boundary between topics to include and those not to include. For example, he discusses the Big Bang which signifies the beginning of the known universe, but he chooses not to mention that modern cosmological theories, including pre-Big Bang theories, consider the universe to be of infinite extent with no spatial boundary. This was a wise choice because its introduction would be a distraction from the main story. On one occasion Giberson does cross his self-imposed boundary to mention something that should have been avoided. In three separate places Giberson claims “Einstein wouldn’t accept quantum mechanics” (pp. 71, 127, 129). This claim is superfluous since Giberson leaves quantum mechanics (QM) out of his story. The only context in which QM enters is that the theory allows, but does not require, the possibility of multiverses. Secondly, this claim is false. QM is the most successful and accurate theory of humankind, and Einstein knew and confirmed this. QM is also the least understood theory; Einstein rejected the most dominant philosophical interpretation of QM and strongly suggested that QM is incomplete. Currently, both the interpretation and possible incompleteness of QM are still open questions involving extensive study.
Another blemish is present in Giberson’s discussion of the fine-tuning of the universe. He points out that it is critical that neutrons are more massive than protons in order for atoms, which are essential for life, to exist. Giberson fails to mention that the neutron’s mass must be in a very narrow range. If it were even 1% heavier than the proton, it would not be stable inside key nuclei, and multinucleon atoms would not exist. Instead Giberson says, “The decay of neutrons is not a big deal though, and losing them has no consequence for life” (p. 121).
I have one wish for this excellent book. If a second printing is forthcoming, Giberson should include a section on another kind of fine-tuning. Our earth and universe are fine-tuned for us to be able to observe and learn about our universe. No atmosphere known to exist, which is as thick as the earth’s atmosphere, is as transparent to light as the earth’s is. The earth is also strategically located in our galaxy, which allows us a reasonably good view of our universe. The universe is also fine-tuned to enable us to study it. It is mind boggling that we can observe and study our universe in historical slices all the way back to the Big Bang, billions of years ago. A reasonable conclusion is that God intended us to study and marvel at his creation and glorify him. Science can be considered a God-blessed occupation.
Reviewed by William Wharton, Professor Emeritus of Physics, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL 60187.