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Universe maker’s mark — the number within everything

18 November 2022

‘Because God made it that way’ is a valid scientific observation, argues Martin Kochanski


PHYSICS provides an example of the necessity of believing that God is the creator of all things, visible and invisible. It demonstrates the chaos that follows from avoiding or denying that truth.

If you throw a sack of potatoes out of a window, it will fall 16 feet in the first second, 48 feet in the second second, and 80 feet in the third. You could equally throw a rock or a cosmologist, and the result would be the same. A speed that increases by 32 feet per second in each second of the fall is characteristic of every falling object on earth. That “32” is a fact about the world.

As such, we are entitled to ask “Why?”, and the answer can only be: “Because things are the way they are.” There isn’t any deep mathematical reason for the speed to have to be exactly that number. Theologically, “Because things are the way they are” points to the fact that God created not only all created things, but also the laws they obey and all the numbers that go into those laws.

This example is easy to comprehend and confirm, but, by itself, it is not very important. If that “32” were “40” instead, then everyone would be that little bit heavier, and we would need legs that little bit thicker to hold us up: mildly interesting, at best.

Here is a similar example, except that this time it stretches across the whole universe, and puzzles every scientist who ever thinks about it. There is a number called the Fine Structure Constant. It is roughly 137 (If you are a physicist you will notice that I am simplifying matters by giving the name “Fine Structure Constant” to the reciprocal of the Fine Structure Constant. That is because it is most often quoted as its reciprocal, which has been measured as 137.03599908).

It is a kind of exchange rate between two kinds of atomic force. Unlike the force of gravity (which is different on Mars, say, or on the Moon) the Fine Structure Constant is the same throughout the universe, and it is exactly the same now as it was ten billion years ago.


MOREOVER, the Fine Structure Constant is genuinely interesting. It really matters. If it were much bigger, atoms would not be attracted to one another enough to make stable molecules, so there would be no chemical reactions. Since biology is made of chemical reactions, that means there would be no biology: and since we are biological organisms, that means that we would not exist.

If the Fine Structure Constant were much smaller, atoms would be so attracted to one another that once they met, they would never part. No atom would ever leave one molecule to join another, so again there would be no chemistry, no biology, no us.

If the number were not what it is, we would not exist. So the question “Why is it 137?” is an important and interesting one. And the question still has no answer, other than, “Because it just happens to be that way.”

For Christians, this is no problem. We believe in the omnipotent Father, maker of all things invisible, and that includes the laws and the numbers that go in the laws: “Constants of nature, bless the Lord!”

We don’t just stop there, because we must love the Lord our God with all our mind. We carry on doing science, but our belief means that we start from a sound foundation. If a number can be explained, we explain it; if it can’t be, we accept it for what it is: a gift from God.

For theophobes, who erect what they call “Science” as a wall against any hint of He Who Must Never Be Mentioned, the situation with the Fine Structure Constant is one of utter, utter terror.

They fear that any appearance of “Because it just happens to be that way” opens a crack in their defences through which, “Because God made it that way,” can easily enter.

Not being able to talk any sense on the subject of “Why?”, they erect towering fortifications made of nonsense instead, and hope that, awed by the authority of “Science”, we won’t notice the difference. But we do.

Here are two samples for your delight and derision. One defence is called the Anthropic Principle. It has been invented out of thin air. It is a kind of super-law which says that laws and numbers of nature are illegal unless they make human life possible. Inventing a magic principle like that sounds like wishful thinking, and it is.

Another defence is sillier still. It is called the “multiverse”. It says that there are infinitely many universes, none of which we can see. In each of them there is a Fine Structure Constant, and in each of them it is a different number. The aim is to make the question “Why 137?” as uninteresting as “Why do I live at 137 Acacia Avenue, rather than, say, number 11?”

You may well think that inventing infinitely many invisible universes is too high a price to pay for theophobia (not that God couldn’t have made other universes if he wanted — the Bishop of Paris was already insisting on this in 1277 — but the way the “multiverse” works makes science itself impossible). And meanwhile we, who know that God made “all things invisible”, are calm and safe and can carry on doing real science instead of losing ourselves in fear-induced fantasies.


This is an extract from The Creed in Slow Motion: An exploration of faith, phrase by phrase, word by word by Martin Kochanski, published by Hodder & Stoughton at £14.99 (CT Bookshop £13.49); 978-1-39980-154-6.

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