Swamidass and Gauger: A Debate in California


@Agauger your physics is atrocious. The strong nuclear force is not between the proton and electron, that’s the electromagnetic force. @dga471 and @PdotdQ can you please correct @Agauger on the physics. Thanks.

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Funny thing was, I didn’t know it was a debate! For the interested, we have discussed this already here: Gauger and Swamidass: A Conversation About God and Evolution. You can see the video here:

A couple good quotes from her article:

Oddly enough Dr. Swamidass spent little time talking about science. Instead he spent most of his time talking about himself, about being a Christian in science, and how his faith rests in Jesus, not science. That’s fine. I don’t know if that’s what the organizers intended.

Good news. It is was what they asked us to do. It was what they intended.

The audience seemed interested and asked some good questions. My favorite was the one about dinosaurs. Why did God make them? My answer: God liked dinosaurs because he knew little boys (and not a few girls) would like them. No, seriously. Everything exists for its own sake, for its own time, and for its own reason.

@Art, an answer for you! She does think that girls like dinosaurs too. Good to know.

@Agauger at her best, also answered a hard question from the audience.

One remaining piece of business — a questioner challenged me on one of my slides, the one about the gravitational force constant. I promised to look it up. It turns out 1/10^40 is a ratio reflecting the strength of nuclear forces compared to the gravitational force, not a measurement. This massive number, 10^40, reflects the fact that the attraction between proton and electron is much stronger than any gravitational attraction between them, for example. And if it were not so, life could not exist.

Looks like she may have misstated it in her talk (?), but it was rooted in something correct. That’s great to clarify.

Well, just be sure, I emailed them. If I screwed up I want to know :smile:.

I asked the organizers:

Please let me know if I did anything that was not what you intended. It is my hope to serve you well, and I hope I did. If not, please let me know so I can be sure to improve in my service to you. Thanks!

And this is what the organizer emailed me:

Thanks for the article Ann. Josh, was very happy with everyone’s presentation. I’ve always wondered how we could incorporate the gospel message in one of these, and there you are-- you just did it!

I’m glad to hear it. Sounds like I was right on target. I’m glad. It takes a lot of energy and resources to put on these events. It is important that the organizers desires are respected.


I actually was just grading a quiz this afternoon about this for my Physics II class. I asked them to calculate the electrostatic force, using Coulomb’s Law, between and electron and proton in Hydrogen (using an average distance of 0.5 angstroms). You get 9.21x10-8 N . I then asked them to calculate the gravitational force, using Newton’s Law of Gravitation, between the electron and proton (using the same distance). You get 4.08x10-47 N.

So the ratio (gravitational force) / (electrostatic force) is 4.4x10-40

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Why is that fine tuning though? I don’t get it. Isn’t this the opposite of fine tuning?

Why base the relative strength of gravity and electromagnetism on these two particular particles? The proton is not even elementary but composed of quarks

Electromagnetism dominates at the atomic and subatomic levels. But on the planetary level it’s the other way around.

Well, I’m not super well versed in that, but my understanding is that the argument is usually that electrostatic forces are keeping atoms together where gravity is keeping macro scale (people and planets) things together. If you mess with that balance much you get weird things.

But I am confused as to why they aren’t throwing at least the strong nuclear force into it too. Maybe somebody more well-versed in fine-tuning arguments could enlighten us.

I was just simply asking “does gravity or electrostatic forces keep atoms together” to get them to think about magnitudes of forces.

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From what little I’ve read of the fine-tuning arguments about the ratio, that’s what they think is important. Something like, to get atoms to stay together and not be weird and to get people and planets and not be weird, you need something fairly close to that ratio.

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This just seems like the opposite of fine tuning though, as if the two are non-interacting. I will asking Hugh Ross, and may one of the @physicists can make sense of it. I don’t understand.

The strong force is super strong at very short distances. The EM force between the sun and the Earth is minuscule over 93 million miles but gravity isn’t because the masses of the Sun and Earth is so large.

Yea ask Hugh Ross where in the Book Of Job does it that show the relative strengths of the four forces of nature. :sunglasses:


Good thing is we can do parameter space scans like Adams:


SETTING THE PARAMETERS: The universe would have been habitable even if the forces of electromagnetism and gravity had been stronger or weaker. The crosshatched area shows the range of values consistent with life. The asterisk shows the actual values in our universe; the axes are scaled to these values. The constraints are that stars must be able to undergo nuclear fusion (below black curve), live long enough for complex life to evolve (below red curve), be hot enough to support biospheres (left of blue curve), and not outgrow their host galaxies (right of the cyan curve).Fred C. Adams


I found something in an article called The strength of the force of Gravity as an example of cosmic fine tuning:

The strength of the force of gravity is a specific example of cosmic fine-tuning. If gravity was much stronger than it is, complicated creatures like human beings could not exist.

The important point is how the strength of gravity compares with the strength of the electrostatic force. This is the force that operates between things that have electric charges. It holds electrons in their orbits in atoms, and it is responsible for the chemical bonds between atoms.

and later,

The force of gravity doesn’t affect the way individual atoms and molecules behave – this is controlled by the electrostatic forces between them. This means that the strength of materials would be the same, whether steel girders, concrete, bones, or tree trunks. But in a strong gravity world, the weight they would have to support would be much more. As animals or plants get larger, there would come a tipping point, where they would no longer be able to support their own weight.

and finally,

How finely is the force of gravity tuned? As we have seen, Collins argues that any kind of intelligent life would not be possible in a universe where gravity was more than 3000 times as powerful as it is in our universe.

Increasing the strength of gravity by 3000 sounds like a huge change. It certainly doesn’t sound like fine-tuning. However, with the electrostatic force being 1036 times stronger than gravity, (and the strong nuclear force 1040 times more powerful), even a 3000-fold increase in the strength of gravity is still only 1 in 1036 of the total range of forces. So this is actually very precise fine-tuning.


Nice figure, I think it maybe is even consistent with the example of fine-tuning argument I found. They said gravity couldn’t be more than 3000 times stronger, which seems consistent with the highest strength of gravitation in the hatched area of the figure being around 3 on the log scale.

What’s interesting is they seem to say the lower bound is essentially 0 (i.e. gravity must be attractive but beyond everything is fair game). So I’m thinking their issue is more in understanding the math involved rather than looking at different data.

Also, saying a factor of 3,000 is “very precise fine tuning” because 103 is a lot smaller than 1036 is a bit like saying the national debt is only going up a tiny amount because if you divide the U.S. national debt by the annual deficit you only get $16.

The number that is often cited to be fine-tuned is the ratio of the fine structure constant, \alpha_{EM} and the analogous constant for gravity, \alpha_G.

What are these constants?
In short, these numbers parameterize how strong particles interact with a particular field. i.e. \alpha_{EM} parameterize how strong a particle interacts with the electromagnetic field, while \alpha_G parameterize how strong a particle interacts with the gravitational field.

There are also analogous numbers for the strong and weak nuclear forces. Here is a list of their numerical values.

These numbers have a few important properties:

  1. They do not depend on the particular system under consideration (.e.g not based on the relative strength of gravitational or electromagnetic forces at some distance away from some particular particles)
  2. Their values cannot be predicted by the Standard Model, and instead must be experimentally obtained
  3. \alpha_{EM} is much bigger than \alpha_G by a factor of ~10^{36}; this simply states that electromagnetism is much stronger than gravity

Why are they fine tuned?
The idea is that if the ratio \alpha_{EM}/\alpha_G is even a little off its current value, the Universe will be very different than our Universe. Indeed, such alternative Universe would probably not support life. See e.g. the graph in @pevaquark’s post.

Can we explain this away?
The most popular explanation is that: during inflation an extremely large number (which could be infinite) of Universes pop into existence, each with possibly different values of \alpha_{EM}/\alpha_G. Because the number of Universes is very large, even if the chances are small certainly there are some Universes with the proper value of \alpha_{EM}/\alpha_G for life to exist. Because we must exist in these Universes, it is certainly not a surprise that we live in a Universe where \alpha_{EM}/\alpha_G is such that life can exist. This is an example of an anthropic principle.

The most common criticism is: we have no strong evidence for the existence of these other Universes. This is a valid criticism. However, the idea is that the current understanding of cosmology is consistent with explaining away the fine-tunedness of the Universe.

Further note
We do not even know what is the probability for a Universe to have a certain value of \alpha_{EM}/\alpha_G, so in a sense, all of this argument is moot.


You are comparing two forces with arbitrary parameters. EM force is charge dependent and Gravity is mass dependent. You picked two tiny particles with little mass and short distance to compare gravity and EM force strength. How about picking big masses like the Sun and a Planet at huge distances?

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I don’t think that is correct @patrick. Do you see why?

Clue 1: no such thing as negative mass.

Clue 2: functional form of gravity and electromagnetism is identical.


In @Agauger’s article in Evolution News (“Debate in California: A Piece of Business”), the most important paragraph I thought was this one:

“Oddly enough Dr. Swamidass spent little time talking about science. Instead he spent most of his time talking about himself, about being a Christian in science, and how his faith rests in Jesus, not science.”
[Joshua, I thought this was a clever intro.]

“…He did talk about Mount Everest being designed …”
[Okay, I know what she’s talking about there…]

“… and human embryology being both natural and knit together by God at the same time. He presented it as if holding the two ideas in your head at the same time was enough.”
[Joshua, I’ve always liked that Unifying concept… nice.]

“On embryology, I pushed back, emphasizing that there needed to be guidance for the developmental process to have come about.”
[This is the only one that hurt my head. I can’t remember from the video exactly what was said on this … but if you are in the lion’s den of Intelligent Design, I would have expected, and hoped, that you forcefully said: God designs it all! - - not based on science, but based on your faith in the Bible!"

"On this point, there should never be anyone saying they are “pushing back” on whether you do or don’t think God designed the genomes for all life. It should be your default position, only adding the qualifier at the end that it is your FAITH that tells you this, not the scientific method!!!]



Doesn’t that article confuse the strength of gravity as expressed by the gravitational constant with the strength of the surface gravity of a planet? Reduce the gravitational constant and earth would just have to be larger (or denser) to achieve the same surface gravity; increase the constant an it would just have to be smaller (or less dense). No problem for life.