Am I Being Dishonest About Fine-Tuning?

In recent discussions with atheists on Twitter, I’ve encountered objections to the term “fine-tuning.” This term refers to the fact that, according to physics and cosmology, the fundamental physical constants and forces of the universe (the strength of gravity, the strength of electromagnetism, the cosmological constant, the number of spatial dimensions, and so forth) all appear to be precisely “tuned” within an extremely narrow range—an incredibly delicate balance that permits the existence of life in the universe. There are dozens of these constants and forces, and if just one of them had a slightly different value—if it were altered by as little as one part in billions or even trillions—life could not exist.

I find that most of the atheists I encounter have never heard of fine-tuning or the anthropic principle. When I explain it to them, they are aghast and refuse to believe what I’m saying. They frequently accuse me of lying or ignorance.

Those who are more astute and well-read will frequently object to the term “fine-tuning” because they think that even using that term is stacking the deck. “‘Fine-tuning’ requires a Fine-Tuner,” wrote one. “The term ‘fine tuning’ is a conclusion disguised as a premise: the argument is truly, technically circular.”

To his thinking, the term “fine-tuning” implies intentional tinkering with the laws of physics by a deity. That’s not how the term is commonly used and understood within the scientific community. “Fine-tuning” is actually a values-neutral, secular, scientific term that describes the nature of the constants and forces of the universe. Physicists, cosmologists, and astronomers actually do observe the universe to be “fine-tuned” without regard to how it got that way. It’s a description of the state of the universe, and does not presuppose how the universe got that way.

Whether or not there was a “Fine-Tuner” (i.e., God), the universe is fine-tuned. It is certainly conceivable that the universe could have come into existence by random-chance processes—with all of its physical constants and forces balanced within that incredibly narrow range, and without the intentional intervention of a “Fine-Tuner.”

Let me say that again for emphasis: Even if there was no intelligent “Fine-Tuner,” the universe is undeniably fine-tuned.

Atheists who wrongly accuse me of trying to bias the discussion with the term “fine-tuning” are themselves guilty of trying to force the discussion toward their conclusion by taking a perfectly common, descriptive, and neutral term, and trying to rule it out of bounds. If you read the literature on cosmic fine-tuning and the anthropic principle, it becomes clear that the term is used by scientists as the best way to describe the condition of the universe, and without any hint or suggestion of theistic propaganda. Some examples:

In The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, physicists John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler write:

Hoyle realized that this remarkable chain of coincidences—the unusual longevity of beryllium, the existence of an advantageous resonance level in C12 and the nonexistence of a disadvantageous level in O16— were necessary, and remarkably fine-tuned, conditions for our own existence and indeed the existence of any carbon-based life in the universe.

These coincidences could, in principle, be traced back to their roots where they would reveal a meticulous fine-tuning between the strengths of the nuclear and electromagnetic interactions along with the relative masses of electrons and nucleons.

—John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (New York: Oxford, 1988) 253.

Barrow and Tipler aren’t using “fine-tuning” to promote theism. They are simply describing some of the fine-tuned conditions in the cosmos that make life possible. Similarly, cosmologist Martin Rees, Britain’s Astronomer Royal (and definitely not a theist), also uses “fine-tuning” in a purely objective, scientific fashion:

These six numbers constitute a “recipe” for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be “untuned,” there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator? I take the view that it is neither. An infinity of other universes may well exist where the numbers are different. Most would be stillborn or sterile. We could only have emerged (and therefore we naturally now find ourselves) in a universe with the “right” combination. This realization offers a radically new perspective on our universe, on our place in it, and on the nature of physical laws. . . . If you imagine setting up a universe by adjusting six dials, then the tuning must be precise in order to yield a universe that could harbour life.

—Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 4 and 22.

In The First Three Minutes, Nobel-winning physicist (and atheist) Steven Weinberg writes about the fine-tuned nature of the cosmological constant:

There may be a cosmological constant in the field equations whose value just cancels the effects of the vacuum mass density produced by quantum fluctuations. But to avoid conflict with astronomical observation, this cancellation would have to be accurate to at least 120 decimal places. Why in the world should the cosmological constant be so precisely fine-tuned?

—Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (New York: Basic Books, 1993), 186-187.

In The Grand Design, physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow also write about the fine-tuning of the cosmological constant in Einstein’s general relativity equations, calling it “the most impressive fine-tuning coincidence” in cosmology. They go on to describe other fine-tuning problems in cosmology:

Most of the fundamental constants in our theories appear fine-tuned in the sense that if they were altered by only modest amounts, the universe would be qualitatively different, and in many cases unsuitable for the development of life. . . . The emergence of the complex structures capable of supporting intelligent observers seems to be very fragile. The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned, and very little in physical law can be altered without destroying the possibility of the development of life as we know it. Were it not for a series of startling coincidences in the precise details of physical law, it seems, humans and similar life-forms would never have come into being.

—Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2012), 160-161.

So, to answer the question “Am I being dishonest about fine-tuning?,” the answer is no. I’m using the term “fine-tuning” in exactly the same way physicists and cosmologists Barrow, Tipler, Rees, Weinberg, Hawking and Mlodinow use it. I’m not playing word games to force a preordained conclusion. I lay out the evidence, I tell you what I think it means, and you are free to draw a different conclusion.

One of the most annoying experiences I have on Twitter is when atheists who don’t understand my views accuse me of lying. Why would I lie? For one thing, I’m morally and ethically committed to the truth. For another thing, I’m convinced that the evidence stacks up on my side. I believe that if I honestly present the evidence, including the sources and footnotes, the evidence will speak for itself.

I hope you’ll examine the evidence rationally and skeptically. If you are intellectually honest, you’ll at least see that I have valid reasons for my views. You may not be persuaded. You may not agree with me. You may have some counter-arguments to toss my way. Please do. All I ask is that you think critically, challenge everything, demand evidence—then be willing to follow that evidence wherever it leads.

Madeleine L’Engle: Is There Conflict Between Science and Faith?

In her nonfiction book Walking on Water, novelist Madeleine L’Engle recalls an exchange she had following a talk she gave at a college campus:

“During the question-and-answer period after a talk, a college student rose in the audience and commented with some surprise, ‘You don’t seem to feel any conflict between science and religion.’

“I tried to explain. Of course not. Why should there be a conflict? All that the new discoveries of science can do is to enlarge our knowledge of the magnitude and glory of God’s creation. We may, and often do, abuse our discoveries, use them for selfish and greedy purposes, but it is the abuse which causes the conflict, not the discoveries themselves. When they upset the religious establishment it is not because they have done anything to diminish God; they only diminish, or—even more frightening—change, the current establishment’s definition of God. We human beings tend to reject change, but a careful reading of Scripture reveals the slow and unwilling acceptance of change in the ancient Hebrews’ understanding of the Master of the Universe, and the Incarnation demanded more change than the establishment could bear. But our fear and our rejection does not take away from truth, and truth is what the Bible instructs us to know in order that we may be free.

“Neither our knowledge of God and his purposes for his creation, nor the discoveries of science are static. I must admit that the scientists are often easier for me to understand than the theologians, for many theologians say, ‘These are the final answers.’ Whereas the scientists—correction: the best of them—say, ‘This is how it appears now. If further evidence is to the contrary, we will see where it leads us.’

“And of course I’m being unfair to the theologians. The best of them, too, are open to this uncertainty, which is closer to the truth which will set us free than any closed system.”

MADELEINE L’ENGLE, Walking on Water (Grand Rapids: WaterBrook, 2001) 190-191.

J.R.R. Tolkien, the Star of Bethlehem, and the Fairy-Story that Came True

From the Op-Ed by Jim Denney published December 24, 2012, at

JRR Tolkien, the creator of “The Hobbit,” once wrote that his goal as an author was to give his readers “the Consolation of the Happy Ending.” That consolation takes place at the point in the story when all hope is lost, when disaster seems certain—then Joy breaks through, catching the reader by surprise. In a 1964 essay, Tolkien called that instant “a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

Tolkien even coined a word for the moment when the light of deliverance breaks through the darkness of despair. He called it “eucatastrophe.” When evil fails and righteousness suddenly triumphs, the reader feels Joy—”a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears.”

Is the Joy of eucatastrophe just a literary device for manipulating the reader’s emotions? No. This same sudden glimpse of Joy, Tolkien wrote, can be found in our own world: “In the eucatastrophe we see in a brief vision . . .  a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.” Evangelium is Latin for “good news,” the message of Jesus Christ.

Tolkien went on to compare the Christian Gospel, the story of Jesus Christ, to “fairy-stories,” the kind of fantasy tales (like “The Hobbit”) that produce the Joy of “eucatastrophe,” the consolation of the happy ending. The difference between the gospel story and fairy-stories, Tolkien said, is that the gospel is true: “This story has entered History and the primary world.”

Living with Purpose

In 1970 or ’71, I sat in a university lecture hall and listened to a Holocaust survivor tell his story. The speaker was psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, and he talked about how to live a life of meaning and purpose in a world that makes no sense. Hearing him tell of the horrors he endured changed my view of life and the world.

Viktor Frankl

Before the outbreak of World War II, Dr. Frankl worked in Austria’s largest state hospital, taking care of patients who had either attempted suicide or were at risk for taking their own lives. In the course of treating and counseling his patients, Dr. Frankl also learned a lot from them. He observed that there was one over-riding factor in helping people to be healed of suicidal thoughts: A sense of purpose.

If people had a reason for living, they could go on living, even in very painful circumstances. If they had no reason for living, suicide became an attractive option. Out of these observations, Dr. Frankl developed an approach he called logotherapy, or meaning-centered therapy.

Dr. Frankl had nearly completed a book on logotherapy when he was arrested by the Nazis and sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. He kept his manuscript hidden in his coat. When he arrived at the camp, he showed the manuscript to a capo—a prisoner who collaborated with the Nazis and acted as a guard. He said, ‘I must preserve this book at all costs.’ The capo answered with an obscenity.

That book had been Dr. Frankl’s purpose for living—but at that moment he knew that everything, including his life’s work, would be stripped from him. He would have to find another purpose for living if he was going to survive the Nazi death camps. He later spent time in two of the most notorious of the all the death camps, Auschwitz and Dachau. He saw the human smoke rising from the ovens. He lost his wife, father, mother, and brother in those camps.

Dr. Frankl remained alive until the camps were liberated by the Allies. He told all of us in that audience that he was committed to re-writing the destroyed manuscript. That determination gave him a sense of purpose that kept him alive. Even while he was digging trenches or caring for dying prisoners, he was thinking about his book. He wrote notes of ideas, and jotted them down on scraps of paper that he kept hidden from the Nazis—and that sense of purpose even pulled him through a nearly fatal bout with typhoid.

Dr. Frankl told us his story about surviving the Holocaust, and how his theory of logotherapy was tested and confirmed during his three years in the death camps. He said that the people who survived the camps were the ones whose lives had a purpose for living—and he quoted Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

After Dr. Frankl and his fellow prisoners were liberated by the Americans, he went on to re-write the book that was destroyed at Theresienstadt. That book was published in 1946 as Man’s Search for Meaning—and it was a more complete and powerful book than his first manuscript, because it contained all of his experiences and notes from his time in the concentration camps. Dr. Frankl had a dream of helping people with their fears, depression, and suicidal impulses—and his dream was driven by a desire to apply logotherapy, meaning-centered therapy, to those problems and disorders. He proved that those who have a why to live for can survive any how—and driven by a sense of purpose, they can achieve their dreams.

As he stood there in that university lecture hall, telling about his experiences, he closed by telling us that while he was digging trenches in the bitter cold, he would visualize himself standing in a nice, warm, brightly lit lecture hall, speaking to an audience about the psychology of concentration camps. And I felt a tingle down my spine when it hit me that I was right there, in that warm, brightly lit lecture hall, witnessing the fulfillment of his dream! That was a powerful realization.

It was more than forty years ago that I heard Dr. Frankl tell his story, yet I remember it vividly. That’s the power of living with a purpose.

Pat Williams Recalls George McGovern

Sen. George McGovern in Vietnam, November 1965

Sen. George McGovern in Vietnam, November 1965

After I turned eighteen, I cast my first-ever vote in the 1972 presidential election—and I cast that vote for Senator George McGovern. So I was saddened on Sunday, October 21, 2012, when I heard that Mr. McGovern had died at age ninety in a Sioux Falls, South Dakota, hospice.

In a book I co-wrote with my longtime writing partner Pat Williams, the co-founder of the Orlando Magic, Pat tells the story of meeting Senator McGovern. Here’s an excerpt from that book, The Ultimate Manual of Effective, Persuasive Speaking for Coaches and Leaders  by Pat Williams with Jim Denney.  Pat Williams recalls:


In October 1996 . . . I had dinner with George McGovern, the former senator from South Dakota who ran unsuccessfully against Richard Nixon in 1972. Senator McGovern is a humble man and a fascinating dinner companion. He told me stories about his many famous friends (including JFK, RFK, LBJ, and HHH), and a few of his political opponents. He even had some fascinating stories to tell about an eager young man he hired as his Texas state campaign director, a twenty-six-year-old up-and-comer named Bill Clinton.

A few years later, I reconnected with Senator McGovern and interviewed him for my book Coaching Your Kids to be Leaders. In that interview, I discovered that Senator McGovern learned early in life that public speaking is the key that unlocks the door to leadership. His speaking ability enabled him to be elected president of his class in college, and he won a statewide speaking contest with a speech called “My Brother’s Keeper.”

As a B-24 bomber pilot in World War II, McGovern flew thirty-five combat missions over Europe. On his final mission—a raid on the heavily defended oil and ammunition depots at Linz, Austria—McGovern and his crew braved flak so thick that it blew more than a hundred holes in the fuselage and wings of his aircraft. His waist gunner was badly wounded and his flight engineer completely paralyzed by fright. The plane’s hydraulic system was shot away and one engine knocked out. McGovern had to improvise a new way of landing the plane. He brought it down steep and fast, had two crewmen deploy parachutes from the rear of the plane to create drag, and ordered the rest of the crew to huddle in the tail section to keep the plane’s nose up. The result was a barely controlled crash into a ditch—but McGovern brought everyone through alive.1

McGovern was elected to the Senate from South Dakota in 1962, then reelected in 1968 and 1974. He credits his speaking ability for his years of successful leadership in Washington, D.C. “My high school English teacher told me I had a talent in public speaking,” Senator McGovern told me. “She introduced me to the high school debate coach. Debating transformed me from a somewhat shy and reticent student to a more confident and persuasive public speaker.

“The Roman orator Marcus Fabius Quintilian once defined an orator as ‘a good man speaking well.’ You must first become a good man or a good woman before you are worth listening to as a speaker. It’s the same way with other activities: A good teacher is a good person teaching well. A good coach is a good person coaching well. A good parent is a good person parenting well. I encourage people, especially young people, to become a good person first, then a good speaker. Then use that ability to help others be better people. The life well lived is its own reward.”

Those are wise words from a man who has lived his life well, spoken well, and used his skills as a public speaker to achieve his party’s nomination for president of the United States.

—Pat Williams, senior vice-president of the Orlando Magic; motivational speaker, bestselling author and radio host

Why the Universe is Fine-Tuned for LIFE—Not Just “Life As We Know It”

God and Soul by Jim Denney“If we did not know of the existence of life (assuming we were something else), no one would have guessed that it was possible.” —HEINZ R. PAGELS, The Dreams of Reason (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 318.

I had a conversation today with someone on Twitter about the evidence for the fine-tuned universe (the anthropic principle). This person was unconvinced when I said that if just one of the many forces or constants of the universe were altered by one part in billions or trillions, then life in the universe would be impossible. He tweeted back: “Of course you’re only talking about Earth-based life, because that’s the only kind of life we know about.” No, I replied, not just life on Earth, not just life as we know it, but any remotely conceivable definition of life becomes impossible if the universe is not exquisitely fine-tuned. Here is an excerpt from my book God and Soul to explain why:


The following excerpt from God and Soul
is copyright 2012 by Jim Denney, and may not
be reproduced without permission.

You need carbon to make diamonds, pencil leads, petroleum, and people. You even need carbon to make alien life forms. Where does carbon come from? It is manufactured over billions of years in the hearts of stars. As in the words of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” — “We are stardust, billion year-old carbon.”

Carbon is the basic building material for all life on Planet Earth. It takes carbon to build the complex molecules that make up the cells, proteins, and other substances of living plants, animals, and people. Why carbon? It’s simply because a carbon atom, with its four valence (outer) electrons, is uniquely suited for bonding with other elements (especially oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen) to create the complex molecules that support the processes of life.

You might say, “Well, carbon is fine for creatures from Planet Earth — but couldn’t there be alien lifeforms based on some element besides carbon?” Yes, life could conceivably be based on silicon or some other element. After all, silicon also has four valence electrons — but there’s a huge drawback to silicon.

Atoms of silicon form covalent bonds and generally crystallize into stable lattices instead of the chains that carbon atoms tend to form. Carbon chains can easily break down and recombine into various compounds to form life-giving substances. Silicon lattices form hard, rigid, nonliving matter.

For example, join one carbon atom with two oxygen atoms and you have carbon dioxide, a life-giving chemical compound that animals breathe out and plants breathe in . But join one silicon atom with two oxygen atoms and you have silicon dioxide — which is quartz, a hard, inert mineral. The difference between carbon dioxide and silicon dioxide is the reason silicon-based life is highly unlikely.

And even if silicon-based life did arise somewhere in the universe, it could not live without carbon. As Richard Meisner observes, the most exotic and unearthly lifeform imaginable (even one that would use, say, liquid ammonia instead of water in its cells and bloodstream) “still requires carbon in its alternate forms of fats, lipids, amino acids, carbohydrates, proteins, and nucleic acids.”21

Fortunately, there is plenty of carbon in the universe. But why is that so? For decades, scientists pondered the fact that carbon should not exist — yet it does. As it turns out, the creation of carbon depends on an unlikely and delicately balanced condition in the laws of physics.

The problem that confronted physicists was that there was no known mechanism by which three helium nuclei could simultaneously collide inside a star and fuse to form a carbon nucleus and produce the abundance of carbon in our universe. In 1952, American astrophysicist Ed Salpeter suggested that perhaps carbon is formed in a rapid two-step process: two helium nuclei could collide, forming an unstable beryllium nucleus — so unstable, in fact, that it could only exist for less than a trillionth of a second. During that trillionth of a second, and before the unstable beryllium nucleus could decay into a pair of helium nuclei, a third helium nucleus just might collide with the beryllium nucleus and form a carbon nucleus.

But Salpeter’s calculations showed that this process could never yield the vast quantities of carbon that exist in the universe. Why? Because the unstable beryllium nucleus was much more likely to be split by the third helium nucleus instead of fusing with it. Physicists were stumped. The existence of carbon (and carbon-based lifeforms like ourselves) was a riddle.

According to Hoyle

Then English astronomer Fred Hoyle entered the fray. He took Salpeter’s idea and added a new wrinkle: nuclear resonance. The nucleus of an atom can exist in a number of discrete states, depending on its energy level. Expose that nucleus to just the right amount of energy and it will resonate at a specific frequency. The resonance, Hoyle suggested, might make it easier for atoms to fuse and form new elements.

Hoyle knew that the energy level of helium and beryllium inside a hot star was about 7.4 million electron volts (MeV). So he predicted that an unknown resonance level for carbon was waiting to be discovered at just above that level. Hoyle pegged the resonance level at 7.65 MeV. But how could he test his hypothesis?

In the early 1950s, Hoyle came over from England and spent several years as a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. A refugee from the staid atmosphere of Cambridge, Hoyle reveled in the freewheeling, intellectually stimulating environment at Caltech. He gave a weekly lecture course called “Experimental Cosmology,” in which he discussed how the elements in the universe might have been cooked within stars. His ideas were unconventional and his audiences (which included Caltech profs) were frequently contentious. They tried to trip him up with tough questions. Hoyle thrived on the verbal jousting and enjoyed defending his ideas under cross-examination.

Fred Hoyle could not have picked a better time to be at Caltech. He arrived soon after the university’s Kellogg Radiation Laboratory had acquired a new particle accelerator that was well suited to probing the carbon nucleus. The director of the laboratory was physicist William “Willy” Fowler.

When the two men met for the first time, Fowler found Hoyle brash and off-putting. Hoyle, however, knew that Willy Fowler was the gatekeeper at Kellogg. If Hoyle wanted to test his ideas on the particle accelerator, he had to go through Fowler. One day, Hoyle barged unannounced into Fowler’s office and began talking nonstop about his obsession with the energy states of carbon-12.

Fowler thought Hoyle was a lunatic for insisting there was an unknown resonance level just above 7.4 MeV. Experiments at Cornell in the 1930s seemed to prove that no such resonance existed. Fowler thought Hoyle suffered from delusions of grandeur, and he refused to give Hoyle access to the particle accelerator. Besides, the accelerator was booked solid for months to come. Fowler had no intention of interrupting other important projects merely to check out the harebrained hypothesis of this mad Englishman.

Hoyle saw he was getting nowhere with Willy Fowler, so he pestered Fowler’s assistants. Finally, Hoyle was able to win one of those assistants, Ward Whaling, to his side. Whaling persuaded Willy Fowler to reconsider — and Fowler reluctantly agreed.

In order to measure the energy of particles generated within the accelerator, Hoyle needed a spectrometer. But the only spectrometer at the lab was attached to the old particle accelerator at the far end of the building from the new accelerator. The spectrometer’s giant magnet weighed several tons and would have to be moved through narrow hallways and around two corners. It was quite an engineering problem — and the solution was sheer genius.

Lab workers placed the magnet on a steel plate that rested on a cushion of hundreds of tennis balls. When the team of physicists and grad students pushed the magnet down the hallway, the balls rolled. When balls rolled out from under the trailing edge of the steel plate, grad students would pick them up and toss them to other students at the front of the magnet who would feed them back under the steel plate. In this slow, tedious way, they moved the multi-ton magnet from one end of the building to the other.

Ward Whaling and his assistants set up the spectrometer and fired up the particle accelerator — a complex arrangement of power transformers, vacuum pumps, and steel chambers in which atomic nuclei were flung together. The team of physicists and grad students proceeded to bombard nitrogen-14 with deuterons. The bombardment stimulated the emission of alpha particles, leaving behind carbon-12 nuclei. The experiment performed a kind of alchemy known as “nucleosynthesis,” transmuting existing elements (in this case, nitrogen and hydrogen) into a new and different element (carbon). By measuring the energy level of the alpha particles, Whaling and his team could determine the energy level of the carbon-12 —

And they found the resonance level exactly where Fred Hoyle predicted it would be.

The carbon connection

Because the carbon bottleneck is overcome by a fine-tuned nuclear resonance, stars are able to synthesize vast quantities of carbon. Once large amounts of carbon have been synthesized, it’s a simple matter for stars to concoct the rest of the elements on the periodic table — nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, neon, sodium, and so on.

When Fred Hoyle made his universe-shaking prediction, he was an obscure astronomy professor from England. Soon after Hoyle’s idea was confirmed, Ward Whaling delivered a paper on the experiment before the American Physical Society. The paper listed Fred Hoyle as the lead author — and the English astronomer gained instant fame throughout the global astrophysics community.

Willy Fowler — who had once scoffed at Hoyle’s ideas — became one of Hoyle’s biggest fans. He later recalled, “We then took Hoyle very seriously, because of his triumph … in predicting the existence of a nuclear state from astrophysical arguments…. After Whaling’s confirmation of Hoyle’s ideas I became a believer.”22

Hoyle’s finding is incredibly important. The carbon resonance level is precisely adjusted to permit lifeforms to arise. Any energy level other than the precise level of 7.65 MeV would make carbon a rare trace element — and life in the universe would be impossible.

This finding was personally significant for Fred Hoyle himself. In a 1981 article in Caltech’s quarterly magazine Engineering and Science, Hoyle wrote: “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”23

From his youth, Hoyle had been a confirmed atheist. But the discovery of the lifegiving carbon resonance level shook his atheist world view and persuaded him that the universe was, as he phrased it, “a put-up, artificial job.”24

Fred Hoyle’s discovery of the fine-tuning of the nucleosynthesis of carbon is especially significant because Hoyle actually devised a testable hypothesis that affirms the validity of the anthropic principle. He realized that in order for human beings to exist, the resonance level for carbon had to be located at a specific energy level, and he predicted precisely where that energy level would be found.

In other words, Fred Hoyle had to think the Cosmic Designer’s own thoughts in order to solve the mystery of carbon. In so doing, Hoyle solved one of the great mysteries of life.



21. Richard D. Meisner, “Universe — the Ultimate Artifact?,” Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Vol. 107, No. 4, April 1987, 59.

22. Simon Mitton, Fred Hoyle: A Life in Science (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 209, 210.

23. Fred Hoyle, “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections,” Engineering & Science, November 1981, 12,

24. Ibid.

(Notes are numbered 21 to 24 because that is the original numbering in this section of the book.)

Remembering the Minister of Defense

The called him The Minister of Defense. Whether he was preaching or playing football, Green Bay Packers defensive end Reggie White always worked hardest on Sundays.

In the spring of 1996, I spent several days with Reggie, working with him on his football-and-faith memoir, IN THE TRENCHES. It was a fascinating few days, and I got to know Reggie, his wife Sara, and his kids Jeremy and Jecolia. He told me about the injury he had suffered just three months earlier—a torn hamstring which should have ended his season. And he told me about the miraculous healing he experienced, which enabled him to play again after missing only one game.

The Packers team physician, Dr. McKenzie, had scheduled Reggie for surgery to reattach the torn hamstring. But shortly before Christmas 1995, Reggie was playing with his kids in the living room by the Christmas tree when he suddenly felt the strength come back to his leg. He flexed the leg, walked on it, then ran on it. The more he exercised it, the better it felt. Then he went to Coach Mike Holmgren’s house and told him he was ready to play. And he was.

Dr. McKenzie couldn’t explain it, nor could Coach Holmgren. According to the MRI of his leg, Reggie shouldn’t have been able to walk, much less play football. But on the football field, he was as powerful as ever.

The following season, Reggie and the Packers went all the way to Super Bowl XXXI (January 26, 1997). Reggie set a Super Bowl record of three sacks in a single game, and won a championship ring. And he never had the operation to reattach the hamstring.

Fast-forward eight years.

The morning after Christmas Day 2004, my family and I were in a hotel room in Ojai, California, where we were visiting relatives for the holidays. I stood in front of the muted TV, getting dressed, when I saw Reggie’s picture on the screen. I said to my wife, “Hey, they’ve got a story about Reggie—” Then I was shaken to see the caption under Reggie’s photo: “Reggie White, 1961-2004.”

I sat down, grabbed the remote, and un-muted the TV. The announcer said that Reggie had died in his sleep, having suffered a fatal cardiac arrhythmia. He was 43.

Back in 1996, I had watched Reggie work out on the Stairmaster in the private gym behind his home. I remembered feeling the concrete floor tremble beneath my feet. At six-foot-five and 290 pounds, Reggie White was the most powerful human being I had ever met in my life. He seemed indestructible.

Now he was gone. I couldn’t believe it.

I thought about Sara, Jeremy, and Jecolia. And I thought about Reggie’s Christmas miracle—how he had experienced a healing while he was at home, playing with his children. Why should a man like Reggie receive a miracle at one point in his life—then die so young the morning after Christmas 2004? I couldn’t understand it. I still can’t.

But I remember what Reggie told me when we talked together about his miracle of healing: “God didn’t do this for Reggie White. I didn’t ask God to heal me—I couldn’t believe he would do that. But other people prayed for me to be healed, and God answered so that people’s lives would be impacted.”

And many lives—including mine—were certainly impacted by Reggie White.

Fifty Years of Wonder from ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

A Wrinkle in TimeIn September 1962—fifty years ago this month—my third-grade class filed into the school library in search of adventure. I found mine almost immediately—a book called A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. In my new opinion piece at, I recall the profound impact this one book had on my life and career. I hope you’ll read it and let me know what you think. —Jim Denney

In 1997, Carl Sagan Foresaw these Times

Carl Sagan in 1980

Carl Sagan in 1980

“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
(New York: Ballantine, 1997),  25.

God Bless Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury passed away on Tuesday, June 5, 2012. I only met him once, in the spring of 2007, plus we exchanged a few letters and a phone call over the years. But his impact on my life was immense. I would probably not be a writer today if not for the influence of Ray Bradbury. I have spent countless hours, from my boyhood to the present day, reading his stories and exploring his imagination.

One of the themes of my life and my writing is that science and religion are fully compatible fields of inquiry. They are NOT (as Stephen Jay Gould has called them) “non-overlapping magisteria,” mutually exclusive domains. Science and religion should support and empower each other in the search for truth, knowledge, meaning, and an understanding of who we are, where we came from, and why we exist in this universe. Many of my favorite writers have written on this theme (from a wide variety of viewpoints), including C. S. Lewis, Walter M. Miller, Jr., James Blish, Madeleine L’Engle, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert J. Sawyer, David Brin—

And, of course, Ray Bradbury. Here’s a brief passage from my favorite Bradbury novel, The Martian Chronicles:

The captain nodded. “Tell me about [the Martian civilization],” he said, waving his hand at the mountain towns.

[Spender replied:] “They knew how to live with nature and get along with nature. They didn’t try too hard to be all men and no animal. That’s the mistake we made when Darwin showed up. We embraced him and Huxley and Freud, all smiles. And then we discovered that Darwin and our religions didn’t mix. Or at least we didn’t think they did. We were fools. We tried to budge Darwin and Huxley and Freud. They wouldn’t move very well. So, like idiots, we tried knocking down religion.

“We succeeded pretty well. We lost our faith and went around wondering what life was for. If art was no more than a frustrated outflinging of desire, if religion was no more than self-delusion, what good was life? Faith had always given us answers to all things. But it all went down the drain with Freud and Darwin. We were and still are a lost people.”

“And these Martians are a found people?” inquired the captain.

“Yes. They knew how to combine science and religion so the two worked side by side, neither denying the other, each enriching the other.”

Beautiful thoughts, profound insight. I agree with Ray’s Martians, of course. Here’s something else Ray Bradbury once said—and though I don’t know that he intended this particular interpretation, I take these words as Ray’s intuitive affirmation of the fine-tuning (anthropic) argument for the existence of God:

“We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.”

Yes we are. We live our impossible lives inside a universe that defies explanation. Every human life is a miracle of rare device—and Ray’s life was more miraculous than most. It’s going to be a lot harder living on this planet now that Ray Bradbury is no longer on it. A lot harder.

Thank you, Ray, and God bless you.