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God's Universe

Hal Harris's picture
Fri, 07/27/2012 - 15:49 -- Hal Harris

Owen Gingerich is author of The Book Nobody Read, and an article about Kepler in Physics Today that I have recommended in the past. As both an astronomer and a historian, he has an informed perspective on some of the great questions of philosophy, including whether it is possible or even necessary to identify God's hand in our universe. Reading this small and short book is like having a conversation (or an argument, depending on your position) with an erudite and informed natural philosopher.  With the ascendency and growing acceptance of the atheist viewpoints expounded by authors like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, I think it only fair to include similarly eloquent scientist-believers like E. O. Wilson and Owen Gingerich.  I think that some of the arguments that Gingerich presents have already been refuted, especially those based on "irreducible complexity". For example, the contention the little rotating tails (flagella) of mobile bacteria must have evolved as a whole mechanism has been shown not to be true. However, the most powerful and interesting of his discussion are the parts related to cosmology and nucleosynthesis.  The latter (where do the elements come from?) ought to be included in our introductory chemistry courses. Do you know why there are not nuclides of mass five, or why that is significant for the evolution of life?

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Belnap Press of Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA and London), 2006 9780674023703 139 pp. $16.95

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Friday, July 27, 2012
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Hal Harris's picture
Submitted by Hal Harris on

Why are there no mass-5 nuclides, such as 5He or 5Li? The energetics of adding a proton or a neutron to 4He are unfavorable, basically because 4He is especially stable.  While protons and neutrons can combine to add one mass number at a time up to helium, the process had to stop there, during the Big Bang - delayed until stars could form, which provide the nursery for carbon and oxygen atoms by combining heliums. If it were not for the mass-5 barrier, there would not be stars and there would not be a universe anything like what we know - and, of course, we would not be here to know it!

Hal Harris