Cosmologist connects God to galaxies

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Luke Barnes is a cosmologist who believes our universe is the result of creation, not chance.

Barnes, a postdoctoral researcher at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy and fellow professor Geraint Lewis recently published a book titled “A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos.” As part of his book tour, Barnes visited UT Tuesday night and gave a talk about different possibilities for the universe and what this means for life.

Barnes began his talk by explaining the basic elements of the universe, its fundamental laws and how these laws balance each other out to form galaxies, planets and stars. His research analyzes how these forces work against gravity. He added that if nothing works against gravity, a black hole would form. According to NASA, a black hole is a region of space with such strong gravitational effects that not even light can escape.

“We can find out what’s fighting gravity through equations,” Barnes said.“The fundamental constants of nature such as gravity and the weight of an electron, (are) the things we put into our equations. The equations explain things in the universe. But the numbers themselves, we don’t know where they come from.”

According to Barnes, if there is a slight change to these constants that astronomers and physicists regularly work with, then the universe would not be able to support life. In his talk, Barnes used the example of the cosmological constant, or the number at which the universe is accelerating and expanding. He said that scientists can’t explain why the constant has the value it does. Part of his research involves changing this number and modeling the results. Barnes said his models show that if the cosmological constant is changed even slightly then galaxies may not form. 

“There is nothing mathematically wrong with these hypothetical universes. But there is one thing that they almost always lack — life,” Barnes wrote in The New Atlantis Journal of Technology and Society. “Or, indeed, anything remotely resembling life. Or even the complexity upon which life relies to store information, gather nutrients, and reproduce.”

During his talk, Barnes joked that his research allowed him to explore ways the universe as we know it could not exist. 

“There are some interesting ways to destroy the universe in my book if you’re interested, or some sort of super villain,” Barnes said.

The first part of Barnes’ and Geraint’s book explains their idea that the universe is “finely tuned,” or specifically arranged for life. 

It is in the latter half of the book Geraint, an open atheist, and Barnes, an open believer in God, discuss the implications of a finely tuned universe. Barnes said that Geraint supports the multiverse theory, which proposes an infinite number of parallel universes and ours happened to hit the jackpot to support life. Barnes, however, said he believes the way our universe works infers the work of God.

“The history of the universe takes a lot of time and effort and energy...maybe the universe is this way because someone thought it through, a fine tuner,” Barnes said. “If we had a creator it would explain why we have our rules as opposed to another set of rules.” 

Barnes added that although not every improbable thing requires explanation, he has faith in the presence of a moral creator. He ended the talk by encouraging people and scientists to think of ideas like this.

“Scientists are people too and it’s important to think of things outside your field,” Barnes said. “We’d like people to think deeply about what science is, what it has discovered, what our place in the universe is and what we would do if science ever discovered the ultimate, deepest principles of the natural world.”