The Origin of the Physical World

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Written by Dr. Nash Popovic

In a quest to find a rational answer to the perennial question whether there is a meaning of life and what it might be, we start by examining the origin and properties of the physical world. If they all can be satisfactorily explained by random, chance events, we can be content with the conclusion that there is no meaning inherent to life and the universe. On the other hand, if this appears not to be plausible, we need to consider if the hypothesis that life is meaningful can provide an explanation that is at least as valid or better than pure chance. Before we examine empirical evidence in this respect, we will have a brief look at existing views on the origin of the physical world.

Existing Views

Religious – the origin of the world in most religious texts is described in essentially teleological terms, which means that this subject is intertwined with the issue of meaning or purpose, and usually implies the involvement of an agency. Such views may be based on genuine spiritual insights, but they are deeply embedded within historical and culturally specific constructs. So it is not surprising that religious explanations often appear to be in conflict with facts and reasoning; to give just one example, in Genesis, it is claimed that the Sun was created after the planet Earth, contrary to the fact that stars appeared before planets. Nor does the image of an anthropomorphised creator and his actions seem to be helpful. Of course, such creation myths can be taken as merely metaphorical expressions, but it is not clear what these metaphors stand for, beyond acknowledging that an agency may be necessary for the formation of the physical world.

Philosophical – philosophy seems at a loss regarding the question of origins. Aristotle and other Greek philosophers believed that the universe is infinite and does not therefore have a beginning: it has existed and will exist forever, but this standpoint has been heavily criticised from both rational and empirical standpoints[1]. The philosopher Kant called the question of origin an antinomy because according to him, both possibilities, that time and the universe have a beginning and that they do not, can be rationally proven even though they contradict each other. He therefore declared this question meaningless, but his arguments are based on somewhat limited assumptions, so such a conclusion may be premature.

Materialistic – science has largely avoided the incongruences present in religious interpretations, but some fundamental questions, such as how and why the universe came into existence and why it has certain properties still elude it. Starting from an a priori assumption that the whole of reality can be reduced to its physical aspect (which the materialistic framework requires) may lead to an impossible situation. It is comparable to a chick inside an egg that tries to find out how the egg was created, ignoring the possibility that anything outside the egg may exist. The commonly accepted interpretation in scientific circles at the moment, that everything came from nothing, in no time and for no reason, and yet in a very orderly and precise manner, seems as absurd as the claim that an all-powerful anthropomorphic being created the universe in six equal time periods[2]. We should bear in mind that the Big Bang and quantum singularity (a single point of infinite compression from which the Big Bang started) do not dispose of the questions of how and why the universe was born – only of science as it is, because the laws of physics break down near a singularity. Closing the case just because of methodological limitations is not justifiable.

Some materialists try to get away with the answer that nothing could have existed before and caused the Big Bang because time itself started with it. But even if time, as presently conceptualised, had not existed (the idea first expressed by theologian St. Augustine), this solution is not satisfactory. Imagine that you dream about two people discussing how the dream came to existence. One may claim that because the dream-time started with the dream, nothing could exist before the dream and cause the dream. But this, of course, would be mistaken. The fact that dream-time started with the dream does not mean that reality outside the dream doesn’t exist. It can be postulated that the universe is contained in reality within a different time (e.g. non-entropic one), or more radically, that in reality outside the material world movement may not be bound to the concept of time at all. Perhaps movement may exist without time – recognised as such in relation to other events, rather than to an abstract notion of time. These options open a possibility of explaining the origin of the universe, but materialism would not accept anything outside its own framework, so it remains incomplete.

True, science can come up with quite impressive calculations, but they do not guarantee that an account is complete. For example, if we start from a mathematical description of the universe as it is and go backwards, everything could lead to a point from which the process began. However, the fact that the universe may be traced back in such a manner does not guarantee that the events unravelled forward in the same way. For instance, a glass can be mathematically traced back to the chemical components of the material and the way they combine, without taking into account that, in order to produce a glass from these components, a glass maker is necessary.

In conclusion, neither of the above viewpoints seem to offer a fully satisfactory interpretation. This is probably the case because their ideological frameworks are inherently limited. To consider an alternative outside this baggage, we must first examine certain features of the physical world.

[1] Not all these criticisms have been justified, though. For instance, philosopher Heinrich Olbers’ objection that an infinite static universe would have so many stars that the sky should be bright at night as if it was daylight, does not hold water: the light of distant stars would be in the invisible infra-red spectrum. This example highlights the need for philosophy to pay attention to science.
[2] The advocates of both views sometimes claim that they seem absurd only to outsiders because they lack a full understanding, but there is a circularity in this argument – making sense of these views is predicated on prior acceptance of their respective frameworks (materialism or an Abrahamic religion).

One striking feature of the universe relevant to this question is its orderliness and conformity to formula and rational laws. The universe could have been chaotic, but it is not – it is very orderly. We should clarify that the principles behind this orderliness, such as the laws of physics, could not emerge spontaneously unless there were certain pre-set conditions that severely limit all possible options. If one such a fundamental law – the second law of thermodynamics – is correct and universal (and there is no reason to believe that it is not), entropy or disorder constantly increases. An increase in entropy means greater randomness and the reduction of information (entropy and information are inversely proportional). This implies that the universe was at the beginning even more orderly than now. The universe, therefore, could not have started from a high-entropy state, or it would not have its present complex structure. It had to begin as a low-entropy, high information state. In other words, a great deal of potential information was condensed in an extremely small space. This can hardly be reconciled with the idea of the spontaneous formation of the laws of physics through the interplay of matter and forces as they go along. Such configurations must have already been in-built (as a potential) at the beginning.

And this is not all. Not only do we have the laws of physics that make the universe orderly rather than chaotic, but many of its properties are very finely tuned and perfectly suited for life. The scientific theories of the origin of the universe do not predict that its properties have to be so finely tuned. There are infinite possibilities of bad balance that were far more likely to emerge if it was only down to chance. Any of them could have produced a universe that was incapable of generating stable stars, planets and life. We will refer to this curious phenomenon as the Anthropic principle[3]. Some examples will be highlighted to bring home how remarkable this is.


The Big Bang

To have a universe that will sustain galaxies, stars, planets and life, the conditions at the beginning must be right within very narrow ranges. The universe had to start with the right density, a certain inhomogeneity of radiation, and the initial rate of expansion:

  • According to science, there was a slight excess of matter over antimatter (baryons over anti-baryons, electrons over positrons, etc.) at the initial stages of the universe. If this excess had been smaller, there would have not been enough matter for galaxies and stars to be formed. If it had been greater, there would have been too much radiation for planets to emerge.
  • The initial inhomogeneity (lumpiness) in the radiation distribution was also necessary for the appearance of stars and galaxies. However, too much inhomogeneity would have led to black holes before the appearance of stars.
  • If the original velocity of expansion had been one millionth greater, the heavier elements and stars would never have come into existence; if it had been one million millionth smaller, the universe would have collapsed before it was cool enough for the elements to form.

The present theories do not indicate that this set of conditions had to exist. There are a great many other possible combinations that would not support stars, planets and life.

Four forces

Present day science claims that the four forces (gravity, electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear forces) govern all events in the physical universe. These too are, for inexplicable reasons, finely tuned. If any of them was slightly different, the universe (and, therefore, life) could not exist. Here are some examples:

  • If gravity was just a little bit weaker, galaxies would fly apart and stars would burn out prematurely. There would not be enough gravity to pull the debris from dead stars into new interstellar dust clouds. The formation of new suns and planets would be impossible. On the other hand, if gravity had started out even a fraction stronger, the rate of collisions between stars would have been so great that any typical solar system, such as this one, would not have survived long enough to produce stable planets and life.
  • If electromagnetic force is altered even slightly, chemistry would not exist, which again means no stars and planets, and no physical life.
  • The same applies to the strong force that holds the core of atoms together. If it were slightly weaker, the particles would not be able to form the nucleus of an atom. If it were a little stronger, protons would coalesce without the necessity of neutrons being around. The single proton that forms the nucleus of hydrogen would be unstable. So hydrogen, one of the basic building blocks of the universe, would not exist. Moreover, in the first case the stars would not be able to shine, and in the second they would inflate and explode before there was any chance to form planets and life on them.
  • If the weak nuclear force (responsible for various forms of radioactive decay) had slightly different properties, the stars could not burn and the elements necessary for life, such as carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, could not be formed inside them.

Furthermore, if these four forces were not mutually aligned in the way they are, the universe also could not exist. Any change in the relationship between them would result in the complete impossibility of material reality.

Subatomic particles

Each particle has a few defining properties which determine its behaviour. These properties are always and everywhere the same. For example, all electrons have a charge of –1 and a spin of ½; all positrons have identical properties to electrons, but a charge of +1; all protons have also the same charge and spin, but a much greater mass. There are a countless number of particles with these characteristics, but no known particles with intermediate features between the two kinds. Moreover, their features seem to be mutually tuned. For example, despite their huge difference in mass, for a reason unknown to science, the electrical charges of electrons and protons are precisely matched. If they were not, all material configurations would be unstable and the universe would consist of nothing more than radiation and a relatively uniform mixture of gases. This can hardly be just an accident. The celebrated scientist Hawking writes:

The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life. For example, if the electric charge of the electron had been only slightly different, stars either would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium, or else they would not have exploded… One can take this either as evidence of a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the laws of science or as support for the strong anthropic principle[4]. (1988, p.138-139)

Stellar objects

Stellar objects supernovae, or stellar explosions, are important for life. All the necessary elements (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, etc.) are manufactured in the interior of the stars. If these elements are to accumulate in planets such as the Earth, they must be released from the stellar interiors and dispersed throughout the cosmos. This is one of the results of supernova explosions (it is also likely that the shock waves that they generate are important in initiating the condensation of interstellar gas and dust into planetary systems). However, supernovae are also highly destructive. If they were too close to a planetary system, their radiation would obliterate any life. So supernovae must occur at a very precise rate, and the average distance between them and between all stars must be within a relatively narrow range. The distance between stars in this galaxy is about 30 million miles. If this distance were smaller, planetary orbits would be destabilised. If it were greater, the debris thrown out by a supernova would be so diffusely distributed that planetary systems (like ours) would never be formed.

The same precision is also apparent with regard to the ratio of longevity between galaxies and stars. Galaxies last several times longer than the lifetime of an average star, which allows the atoms scattered by an earlier generation of supernovae within a galaxy to be gathered into second-generation solar systems.

Complex structures

Not only are the properties of the universe precisely ordered to allow the formation of stellar bodies, but they are also synchronised to allow the formation of complex structures such as molecules (which, of course, must come later). If this were not the case, the creation of the chemical compounds instrumental for life and planetary systems capable of sustaining life would be impossible. Here are some examples:

  • Chemistry is the process of building up different molecular structures that need to be relatively stable to interact and form new structures. This could not have happened if some nuclear constants such as the fine structure constant (α) and the electron-to-proton mass ratio (β) were slightly different. If these constants had a higher value, the long chains of molecules such as DNA could not be formed; if they had a lower value, atoms would not be stable.
  • Other constants are also crucial: the fact that protons and neutrons have almost, but not quite, the same mass also turns out to be essential. If this value were much different, protons would decay before they could form stable nuclei. A neutron is heavier than a proton by 0.14%, but this small difference is important because it exceeds the total mass of an electron. If it had not, electrons would combine with protons to form neutrons, leaving no hydrogen. Moreover, if the neutron did not outweigh the proton in the nucleus, the active lifetime of the sun and similar stars would be reduced to a few hundred years, not enough for the formation of planets and life. Similarly, that electrons weigh so much less than protons or neutrons is crucial for the existence of chemicals essential for life. Otherwise, molecules like DNA could not maintain their precise and distinctive structures (the electron mass determines the overall size of atoms, and the spacing between the atoms in a molecule).
  • If the nuclear constant force increased by only 0.3%, it would bind two neutrons; an increase of 3.4% would bind two protons, in which case all the hydrogen would have burned to helium in the early stages of the Big Bang, and so no hydrogen compounds or stable stars could have been formed. On the other hand, a decrease of 9% would unbind protons and neutrons, which would prevent the formation of elements heavier than hydrogen. The consequence of either variation would be that larger elements, including carbon (the basis for organic life), could not exist. A small increase in electromagnetic force would have the same effect.
  • The universe contains exactly the right amount of heavy subatomic particles (baryons) to allow the formation of planets. If this amount were marginally greater, the higher density of stars would substantially increase the probability of interstellar encounters that would affect the stability of planetary orbits, and in doing so destroy any possible life.
  • The creation of complex atoms and molecules was also only possible because the properties of the basic elements were well synchronised, and there is no known reason why it should be the case. The first nuclei to be formed were hydrogen and subsequently helium, but they are too inert to create more complex atomic structures. Carbon served as a catalyst enabling the formation of heavier elements. This required large amounts of carbon in the first place. If two helium nuclei react, they can produce a nucleus of beryllium, a highly unstable isotope that almost immediately disintegrates into helium. To produce carbon, beryllium needs to enter into reaction with helium, which is only possible because the combined energy of the beryllium and helium nuclei is slightly smaller than the energy of carbon – the product of that reaction. However, if carbon so produced reacted with helium, it would be reduced to oxygen. This does not happen because their combined energy is slightly higher than that of oxygen, so it is not a ‘resonance reaction’. Here again one finds a most improbable fine-tuning of energy levels for four entirely different elements, but without it, more complex structures (including planets, and life forms) could not emerge.


Symmetries as already mentioned, the very existence of consistent and rational physical laws (that follow certain mathematical rules) is not something that should be taken for granted, but this precision and regularity does not apply only to physical laws. Physicist Murray Gell-Mann discovered that when the properties of sub-atomic particles like protons and neutrons are plotted on graphs, they take the form of hexagons and triangles, with the known particles sitting at various points within them. On the basis of gaps in these patterns, Gell-Mann predicted other sub-atomic particles that science had yet to discover. He also predicted that particles in fact consist of ‘sub-sub-atomic’ particles (now known as quarks). All his predictions have proved correct. Similar patterns, generally known as ‘symmetries’, have since frequently turned up in successive theories of physics.

We hope we have brought home how strikingly fine-tuned our universe is. Let’s now turn to possible explanations for this phenomenon.

[3] This principle is not used here as an explanation (such as that the universe must have properties that make intelligent life inevitable, because intelligent life exists) as this is essentially a circular argument with little explanatory power.
[4] The strong anthropic principle implies the multiple universes hypothesis, which will be discussed shortly.

Explanations for the ‘Anthropic Principle’

The above examples show that the universe has some extraordinary properties, discovered but not really explained by science. At present, some scientists are hoping that a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) may provide an answer to the above consistencies, but this is unlikely. Even if found, the cosmological constant makes it doubtful that a GUT will yield an explanation for the precision and alignment of all these laws and features[5]. Furthermore, as Laszlo (1993, p.66) points out, ‘…the problem with GUTs is that they cannot satisfactorily explain the progressive structuration of matter in space and time’. So perhaps we need to look for an explanation elsewhere.

There are several other speculative attempts to account for at least some of these regularities – for example, various inflationary models (that propose rapid expansion of the universe in its initial stages). These models, however, do not always fit well with some observable facts. Furthermore, as Hawking highlights, ‘the inflationary model does not tell us why the initial configuration was not such as to produce something very different from what we observe’ (1988, p.148). Hawking proposed his own theory that disposes of singularities and boundaries and involves imaginary time, so the universe ‘would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE’ (ibid., p.151). He concludes: ‘So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?’ (ibid., p.157). It is interesting that not only does such a universe in imaginary time make mathematical sense, but it is also remarkably similar to descriptions of ‘the other world’ found in various spiritual traditions from Buddhism to Christianity (stripped, of course, from their anthropomorphised embellishments). The problem is, however, that the universe familiar to human beings and that operates within real time still exists. Hawking admits: ‘When one goes back to the real time in which we live, however, there will still appear to be singularities…’ (ibid. p.154). The question is then, what is the factor that brings about the transition from ‘time-less’ reality to the familiar one? In other words, why did the universe with singularities, the Big Bang, and the time that goes only in one direction come into existence? If Hawking’s postulate is correct, it seems that there still might be a place for a ‘creator’.

Another attempt to explain the above regularities is the evolving universe proposed by cosmologist Lee Smolin. It claims that new universes are created on the other side of black holes. As our universe has black holes and is suitable for life, it is postulated that black holes are able to produce new universes with the right properties. ‘Bad’ universes will not be able to form a black hole and therefore not ‘reproduce’ – similar to natural selection processes. However, this concept has some fatal flaws. Firstly, there is no indication that these universes exist; they may be in different dimensions, but there is no reason why they should be if they are created by black holes in this universe. Secondly, it seems that the energy trapped in a black hole does not go anywhere, but in fact eventually gives birth to galaxies in this universe. And finally, the concept actually does not provide an answer, it only moves the question further down the line. The issue remains where the first ancestor universe came from to start this reproductive cycle. There are, however, two other interpretations of the anthropic principle that are both rationally consistent, although one operates within the materialistic framework, while the other does not.

The multiple universes theory (advocated, for example, by the physicist David Deutsch) can account for the precision and regularity of physical phenomena, and is consistent with materialism. The idea is that universes are constantly formed independently from each other. It is possible that a practically infinite number of universes come into existence. Most of them instantly collapse, but a few ‘survive’. If there is an infinite number of universes in becoming, some of them are bound to have the right properties however unlikely they are. The additional advantage of this interpretation is that it can explain some seemingly illogical experimental data in quantum physics. Although a speculation (multiple universes can never be empirically proven), this interpretation is a valid rational candidate to explain why this universe has the features that it has[6].

The teleological interpretation (not to be confused with theological interpretation) implies purposefulness. The above regularities indicate that the physical universe is intentional: the universe is as it is in order to enable the development of phenomena such as life and consciousness. Support for this view doesn’t end with the properties of the physical universe. Materialism has not yet come up with a convincing argument about why chemistry emerged from physics, why biology emerged from chemistry, and why the brain and the mind emerged from biology. A teleological view is that a particular type of physics emerged in order to enable the development of chemistry, a particular type of chemistry emerged in order to enable the development of biology, a particular type of biology emerged in order to enable the development of the brain, a particular type of brain emerged in order to enable the development of the mind. Teleological interpretation may be as speculative as the multiple universe one, but is not irrational, so it cannot be dismissed outright. Materialism rejects this possibility because of ideological bias rather than reason or evidence. The statements below show that some contemporary theologians, philosophers and scientists have come to remarkably similar conclusions. The theologian Swinburne writes:

That there should be material bodies is strange enough; but that they should all have such similar powers which they inevitably exercise, seems passing strange. It is strange enough that physical objects should have powers at all – why should they not just be, without being able to make a difference to the world? But that they should all, throughout infinite time and space, have some general powers identical to those of all other objects (and they all be made of components of very few fundamental kinds, each component of a given kind being identical in all characteristics with each other such component) and yet there be no cause of this at all seems incredible. (1991, p.145)

This statement comes from philosophers Polanyi and Prosch:

…our modern science cannot properly be understood to tell us that the world is meaningless and pointless, that it is absurd. The supposition that it is absurd is a modern myth, created imaginatively from the clues produced by a profound misunderstanding of what science and knowledge are and what they require, a misunderstanding spawned by positivistic leftovers in our thinking and by allegiance to the false ideal of objectivity from which we have been unable to shake ourselves quite free. These are the stoppages in our ears that we must pull out if we are ever once more to experience the full range of meanings possible to man. (1975, p.181)

The physicist Paul Davies makes a comparable point:

…certain crucial structures, such as solar-type stars, depend for their characteristic features on wildly improbable numerical accidents that combine together fundamental constants from distinct branches of physics. And when one goes on to study cosmology – the overall structure and evolution of the universe – incredulity mounts. Recent discoveries about the primeval cosmos oblige us to accept that the expanding universe has been set up in its motion with a cooperation of astonishing precision. (1982, foreword)

The very existence of universal and consistent laws of physics and extraordinary fine tuning of the universe renders conceivable the possibility that reality is purposeful. This, however, cannot be interpreted as a definitive proof. It only shows that a belief in a meaningful reality is rational and at least as plausible as a belief in a meaningless one. Neither the teleological nor multiple universes explanations can be proven; nor is one less reasonable than the other. So, the answer to the question of whether the universe is purposeful or not remains in the realm of personal choice. True, if we add other occurrences that are highly unlikely to happen accidentally (such as the onset of organic life, which we will discuss shortly), the teleological interpretation may seem more plausible. The other one though cannot be completely eliminated on that basis.

There is, of course, the third standpoint of an agnostic, undecided (the one who is waiting for a proof). This position is, however, highly problematic and inconsistent. One inconsistency is between the belief and action. Although the person may claim to be undecided, their actions, at least in some instances, have to be either congruent with a meaningless reality or a meaningful one (this is because either possibility eliminates some rational choices). For example, self-sacrifice (for others or for one’s ideals) could hardly be justified in a meaningless world. So, even if they refuse to take a stand, they must act as if they believe that life is either meaningful or meaningless (and it cannot be neither or both in this case). Also, many propositions have their roots in and can be traced back to this fundamental question, and are baseless unless one of the options is accepted. And finally, the immediacy of the material world (within which meaning remains elusive) creates an asymmetry that in practice often reduces this position to an unacknowledged materialist one. In any case, as neither of the above two positions can be definitely proven, there is no point in waiting for a proof. A believer in a meaningful world and a believer in a meaningless one may be right or may be wrong; an agnostic cannot be right in either case. Let’s then see which of the above two choices might have the edge.

Given that both standpoints cannot be logically or empirically excluded, a modified application of Pascal’s wager may be relevant here. Assuming that both options are rational and possible, it can be deduced that a person who believes that reality is meaningful loses less if they are wrong and gains more if they are right than a person who believes that reality is not. The original Pascal’s wager is criticised, among others, by a defender of atheism Richard Dawkins (2006, p.103), but his argument does not apply in this case. These losses and gains do not refer to material or possible afterlife losses and gains, but losses and gains related to our attempts to understand and conceptualise human existence in a coherent way. A simple analogy can illustrate this point: imagine you are shipwrecked on an island. You go around and it seems deserted. However, there may be a house beyond the hill – you cannot be sure because you cannot see it from where you are. You can either walk away, or you can climb the hill and check it out. If you do the latter and find that there isn’t a house, you lost a bit of time and effort. But if you walk away and there is a house, your miss much more. For the same reason, it is sensible to see if the option of meaningful reality can provide a more thorough perspective than we have now – otherwise our knowledge may remain limited and incomplete forever. This path is more challenging but it could be potentially more rewarding. So, let’s see if there is a house.

[5] The cosmological constant is in effect an ‘add-on’ that even a theory that is supposed to unify all the laws of physics would find difficult to incorporate.
[6] This is not to say that it is without controversy. For its criticism see, for example, Davies, 1992, p.215-221, and more recently Davis, 2007, 295-304, where the author evaluate the above two and some other possibilities. Those that Davis himself favours are not included here because of their bizarre and paradox prone requirements (e.g. backwards causation or causal loops).

It is not only the physical forces, constants, and solar objects that are precisely adjusted to enable life. Many physical and chemical properties, established long before life appeared, as well as physical, chemical and environmental conditions are also uniquely fit for carbon-based organisms. Biochemist and evolutionary biologist Michael Denton collected comprehensive and compelling examples that illustrate this. He argues that life could not exist if ‘various constituents – water, carbon dioxide, carbon acid, the DNA helix, proteins, phosphates, sugars, lipids, the carbon atom, the oxygen atom, the transitional metal atoms and the other metal atoms from groups 1 and 2 of the periodic table: sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium – did not possess precisely those chemical and physical properties they exhibit in an aqueous solution ranging in temperature from 0ºC and about 75ºC’ (1998, p.382).

Let us consider water, for example, arguably the most important substance for life. Water is very unusual. While most substances shrink when cooled, water starts expanding (below 4°C) so solid ice is atypically less dense than liquid water. Water is also extraordinarily slow in warming up – another anomaly. What is amazing is that all this and many other characteristics of water (e.g. the low viscosity, the surface tension, the capacity to dissolve a vast number of different substances, etc.[7]) are beneficial to life. For example, if ice were heavier (more dense) than water, the oceans would have frozen completely, killing all marine life; the slow warming up of water protects organisms against massive swings in temperature, and so on. Scientists find it hard to explain many of these properties. Interestingly, they are most likely linked to hydrogen bonds between water molecules – and these depend on zero-point vibration energy, energy from ‘nowhere’. We will return soon to that ‘nowhere’, as its significance goes way beyond the properties of water.

Many other physical and chemical features are also well adjusted for life. For example, carbon (the building block of organic matter) has a whole range of such properties: maximum utility of both the strong covalent bonds (that keep atoms together) and the weak bonds (e.g. hydrogen bonds) in the same temperature range at which water is fluid; the perfect fit between the α helix of the protein with the large groove of the DNA; the relative stability of organic molecules below 1000C; the relatively un-reactive nature of oxygen, a source of energy for carbon-based life, below 500C; the fact that carbon dioxide is a gas (which enables the excretion of the products of carbon oxidation); the sufficient strength of hydrogen and other weak bonds to hold proteins and DNA at temper­atures conducive to life, and so on. In fact, all the classes of atoms in the periodic table play a harmonious role in the formation and sustenance of life. We should also mention atmospheric gases (including water vapour) and liquid water, that absorb virtually all the harmful radiation from space and transmit only a tiny band that is of a visible range and, at the same time, fit for photochemistry.

Adaptation of life to these circumstances cannot be a sufficient explanation. If only a few of them had not been already there, life would not have had a chance to adapt to anything. Curiously, these properties are not only conducive to the appearance of the first microorganisms, but seem to anticipate more complex multicellular life forms. To quote Denton again:

Many of the properties and characteristics of life’s constituents seem to be specifically arranged for large, complex, multicellular organisms like ourselves. The coincidences do not stop at the cell but extend right on into higher forms of life. These include the packaging properties of DNA, which enable a vast amount of DNA and hence biological information to be packed into the tiny volume of the cell nucleus in higher organisms, the electrical properties of cells, which depend ultimately on the insulating character of the cell membrane, which provides the basis for nerve conduction and for the coordination of the activities of multicellular organisms; the very nature of the cell, particularly its feeling and crawling activities, which seem so ideally adapted for assembling a multicellular organism during development; the fact that oxygen and carbon dioxide are both gases at ambient temperatures and the peculiar and unique character of the bicarbonate buffer, which together greatly facilitate the life of large air-breathing macroscopic organisms. (1998, p.381-2)

We can also add to the list the decrease in the viscosity of the blood when blood pressure rises, which increases the blood flow to the metabolically active muscles of higher organisms (without it, the circulatory system would be unworkable); the quite slow hydration of carbon dioxide, which prevents a fatally high level of acidity in the body of complex organisms in anaerobic exercises (that require increased pace or greater effort). Curiously, only atmospheres with between 10 and 20% oxygen can support an oxidative metabolism in a higher organism; and it is only within that range that fire – hence technology – is possible. It seems that ‘…for every new constituent we required, there was a ready-made solution that seemed ideally and uniquely prefabricated… for the biological end it serves…’ (Denton, 1998, p.230). Even those phenomena that are taken as calamities are, in fact, often purposeful. For example, volcanic eruptions bring water and metals to the surface, contribute to the atmosphere, regulate heat, and finally, fertilise the land, enabling agriculture.

[7] Professor Martin Chaplin listed over 40 anomalous characteristics of water.

One has to have an almost religious faith in materialism to believe that all this could be the result of chance alone, and there is still more. We will demonstrate that the appearance of life by accident is equally incredulous.