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Review
Peer-Review Record

Black Holes as Evidence of God’s Care

Religions 2021, 12(3), 201; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12030201
Reviewer 1: Anonymous
Reviewer 2: Anonymous
Reviewer 3: Anonymous
Religions 2021, 12(3), 201; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12030201
Submission received: 29 January 2021 / Revised: 8 March 2021 / Accepted: 10 March 2021 / Published: 18 March 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Christianity and Science: Fresh Perspectives)

Round 1

Reviewer 1 Report

 the paper can be strengthened with (i) some revisions, (ii) supporting some claims by additional citations, and (iii) elimination of some overly zealous claims. Overall, the assumption of the paper is very interesting to consider. Nevertheless, contrary to the concern the author raises in the abstract and introduction, I don't believe the many Christians, or even many theists in general, have expressed concerns about black holes as contrary evidence to the belief that this universe is designed by a divine Creator to yield life. So in some sense, the author creates a straw man to attack. In general, many other aspects of this universe are dangerous for life in particular regions. Other regions are more hospitable. Life will only appear where it is possible, and will only continue where it is sustainable. (This is admittedly a tautology, but that is the point.)  Outer space is also deadly for life, but its existence is necessary as the spatial environment for planets, a requirement for sustained life. Christians and theologians are more concerned about a consistent theodicy that explains the natural evil in the everyday world. 

In the following I will also point out suggestions, concerns, corrections, etcetera, regarding the test...

page 1, last paragraph: that black holes raise a danger for life on nearby planets is not significantly different than does too great a density of stars as found within the inner half of a typical galaxy. 

page 2, first paragraph, lines 3 and 4: exponents not raise here (and elsewhere in the paper), for example 5.7 x 1019 rather than 5.7 x 10^(19). 

 page 4, section 3: The author acknowledges that God could have created a universe without black holes and correctly writes that such a universe "would be governed by totally different laws or constants of physics". However, without knowing what those vastly different laws might be unjustifiably concluded that any such alternate universe would be a place in which physical life as we know it would be impossible. I would ask then if the author believes that black holes must exist in the angelic realm or, alternately, if the the laws of their realm allow for life without black holes. I suggest the latter. Carbon-based life is possibly a very minor subset of God's array of life forms in a wide range of universes with different physical laws. I don't believe we can justifiable set limits on what would be allowed in different universes should God will their existence. And clearly God has wiled at least one other vastly differnt type of life form-the angelic. 

page 5, paragraph 1: The author provides no citations or support for the claim that the Earth possesses r-process elements at abundance levels hundreds of times greater than the average for other rocky bodies in the universe. This seems an unjustifiable claim given that earth size exoplanets are just at the limit of present detection and up to present only super-earths and larger have been detectable. Such a claim would likely require at least a decade more of planetary detection before an adequate distribution of planetary properties could justify this claim. If I am wrong about current knowledge than I urge the author to provide a peer-review journal citation.

page 5, paragraph 3, line 4: SMBH should be written out. Whether it means "Supermassive black holes" or "stellar mass black holes" will not be clear to the reader. Stellar mass black holes is written in the next sentence and then Supermassive is written out in the next paragraph. 

page 5, last paragraph: The author makes the claim that the Laniakea supercluster is unique among all of the known superclusters. If so, then a reference to a peer-reviewed journal demonstrating this must be provided. This claim is otherwise suspect. 

page 6, first paragraph. Likewise, the author should provide a reference to the claim that the location of the Local Group appears to be optimal and unique also. This claim is suspect. 

page 6, 4th paragraph. Since there is no need for the Large Magellanic Cloud to be orbiting the Milky Way galaxy, whether or not it possesses a supermassive black hole (again it would fully here without the acronym) loses meaning. 

page 7, second paragraph: In acknlowledging that the Andromeda galaxy may have had a supermassive black hole in the past, that just implies that life could not have developed until it did not. 

page 7, section 5, paragraph 2: a reference must be provided to support the claim that astronomers have determined that the Milky Way galaxy's supermassive black hole (again don't use the acronym) is truly extraordinary and unexpected. 

page 8, paragraph 2: The author must provide a reference to justify the claim that the mass of our galaxy's supermassive black hole write out again) falls far below that the small adjustment would predict. The explanation of how the Milky Way galaxy remains stable if this is possible should also be discussed. 

page 9, paragraph 6: The physics explaining why our own galaxy's supermassive back hole  (again, write this out) currently remains unusually quiet should be provided. Or. if the author believes this to be a miracle, it should be so stated. 

Author Response

Your comments and critique were helpful. I accepted them all and made some significant revisions and additions to the paper. Thank you for spotting some missing explanations, the most significant being why advanced life in the Milky Way Galaxy needs accompanying galaxies akin the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. Thanks, too, for pointing out the need to document my assertion that some Christians see black holes as a threat to belief in God’s goodness, and your advice to allow readers to draw their own conclusions was well taken.

You’re right to say that the more significant issue I could have addressed is the physics of evil—how the laws and constants of physics and the cosmic spacetime dimensions facilitate the suppression and eventual eradication of evil. However, the special issue editor requested I submit a paper with content that has not appeared in any of my previous publications. Given that I have addressed the physics of evil in two of my books, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, Beyond the Cosmos, and elsewhere, I had to take on a different issue.

The editor suggested I submit a paper on cosmic fine-tuning, addressing some aspect of the design argument that does not yet appear in my books. So, the cosmic fine-tuning I chose to address in this paper adds to my previous work and is not intended as a general defense of cosmic fine-tuning. As David Waltham did in addressing the Moon’s features, I am attempting to provide additional evidence for the predictive power of the cosmological anthropic principle. I added two introductory paragraphs to the paper in an effort to make these points clearer.

Reviewer 2 Report

The article gives a large amount of interesting details about black hole physics, but nothing of this is original.  It is just standard material already published.   The original contribution in the article is the argument that relates the physics of black holes to the hypothesis of the existence of a creator.  The argument goes in two directions. First, a universe without the phenomenon of the black holes would not have produced the humankind. Second, humankind happen to be located in a region protected from possible damaging effects of nearby presence of black holes. These facts, according to the author, can be taken for evidence for, or at least framed within, a creation plan aimed at the existence of humankind.   Irrespectively on the scientific soundness of the two observations, which is irrelevant here, the conclusion does not follow and is based on a fallacy. Given any fact whatsoever, of course the past is arranged in such a way that this fact has followed.  But there is no planning needed for this, because with or without planning, this remains true.  The mistake is to assign excessive importance to the specificity of humankind.  To be fair, the article makes a weaker point: if we assume the existence of a creator and a plan, then we can see the role of black holes in the plan to be the one described.   But reduced to this weaker form the argument is nearly empty: everything in nature is obviously related and interconnected. So, if we start by assuming that there is a plan, everything can be very easily reinterpreted in that plan. The exercise is trivial, and the amount of technicality presented to support it is just smoke in the eye. 

Author Response

The arguments you have made against the cosmological anthropic principle are not new, and they have been responded to at some length by Richard Swinburne and William Lane Craig, as well as in some of the books I have written. I attempt to augment the work of these two and other philosophers by demonstrating that the evidence for cosmological fine-tuning rises as one considers the needs of each increasingly complex form of life, from microbes to megafauna to socially-engaging birds and mammals to humans. The evidence grows exponentially when one considers what’s needed for the existence of billions of humans with an opportunity, within a brief time period to hear and respond to the Christian gospel. In my view, each example of exquisite fine-tuning lends weightier credence to the cosmological anthropic principle.

It is was not my intent in this paper, however, to present a general defense of fine-tuning. As David Waltham did in addressing the Moon’s features, I am attempting to provide additional evidence for the predictive power of the cosmological anthropic principle. My aim is to show that the more we learn about each cosmic component or feature, the more we see indications of fine-tuning for the sake of human life and thriving. I added two introductory paragraphs to the paper to make my point clearer.

You are right in saying my paper includes no reporting of original astronomical observations. The special issue editor suggested I present evidence for cosmic fine-tuning that does not yet appear in any of my previous books or journal articles and that keeps the non-science-trained reader in mind. So, yes, the paper reads more like a review than a presentation of original astronomical research. However, it is a review that, to date, I have been unable to find elsewhere in the published literature.

One of my reviewers asked me to include some missing explanations that would benefit readers who are not astronomers. Consequently, I made a number of clarifications and additions, including an explanation as to why the position of the Large Magellanic Cloud and that body’s interaction with the Milky Way Galaxy are important for the existence of advanced life on Earth.

Reviewer 3 Report

This work, written for the journal Religions, argues that black holes are crucial for the existence of life as we know it and that this is a manifestation of God's care towards human kind. 

There are some basic assumptions of this paper which are not sustained on any physical evidence and, in fact, may be misleading, which clearly conditions the validity of the conclusion that the title manifests. 

First of all, there is no compelling evidence yet of the existence of black holes (being a black hole understood as a solution of some geometric theory of gravity with trapped surfaces). Observations of M87 support the existence of a photon sphere, but black holes are not the only objects able to generate one. Gravitational wave detectors provide evidence of the existence of very massive compact objects, but current sensitivity of those observatories is not enough to discriminate between different alternative for compact objects, including black holes and boson stars. Thus, some claims and statements should be improved to allow for this lack of observational confirmation regarding the existence of black holes. 

Secondly, the author claims in Section 3 (lines 126-128) that "Any alternate universe we hypothesise and test would be a place in which physical life as we can imagine it would be impossible". Obviously, this claim cannot be true because there are many different ways to modify the standard model of elementary particle physics which does not have any effect on Chemistry or Biology, and would leave veery little imprints on gravitational interactions and in the formation and evolution of cosmic structures. With statements of this kind, the author is artificially narrowing the range of reasonable possibilities in order to reach a specific conclusion. 

Thirdly, as the author correctly points out in lines (137-139), neutron stars mergers are crucial for the formation of key ingredients of life and planets like ours. There is no unique logical relation between those mergers and the formation of black holes, as other astrophysical compact objects could form after the merger. What is really essential for life and planets is the neutron stars mergers, not their aftermath.  Thus, the statement of line (152-153) is not a logical consequence of any physical observation. It is just an opinion. 

We can thus conclude that to the best of current scientifically stablished knowledge, what is essential for the existence of planets like ours and life is the occurrence of neutron stars mergers. Anything beyond that is pure speculation and the conclusions driven from that speculation are as weak and dubious as the assumptions made. 

 

Author Response

I agree that boson stars have been hypothesized as an alternative explanation for the observational evidence attributed to black holes and even supermassive black holes. However, the outcomes for the possible existence of humans are the same. The risks of deadly radiation and the need for r-process elements remains the same.

Since it is rare, even in the astronomical literature, to mention boson stars as an alternative to black holes, I am not persuaded that it would be worthwhile to sidetrack the predominantly non-science-trained readers of the Religions journal with a discussion of this debate. Nevertheless, if you and the other reviewers deem such a discussion essential, I can include it.

I revised the paragraph in which I discuss an alternate universe. I agree that the fine-tuning argument itself allows for a range, albeit a small range, of possible values for cosmic features in which humans could possibly exist. Furthermore, it is possible to conceive of life forms that are not physical, not composed of elements in the periodic table, and not subject to the universe’s physics, dimensions, and features existing in a realm with different physics and dimensions. One such example would be the existence of angels in a realm that transcends the cosmos.

Round 2

Reviewer 2 Report

I do not see anything in the author's response that changes the fact that the logic is based on a fallacy.  Using the same logic, I could equally well argue that the entire universe is so precisely fine tuned to realise its present aim. Clearly, any minimal change in the past history of the universe would not have lead to this. But from here to claim that this is plan whose objective is leading me doing this is obviously a fallacy. This is the fallacy on which the paper is based. 

Author Response

It was not my intent in this paper to provide a philosophical case for the legitimacy of the fine-tuning argument. Others already have done so. However, I have revised the opening paragraph of the paper, which now mentions the claim of fallacy and cite papers in which philosophers counter that claim.

Author Response File: Author Response.pdf

Reviewer 3 Report

I am not satisfied with the response of the author. The key point of my previous report was point 3: 

"Thirdly, as the author correctly points out in lines (137-139), neutron stars mergers are crucial for the formation of key ingredients of life and planets like ours. There is no unique logical relation between those mergers and the formation of black holes, as other astrophysical compact objects could form after the merger. What is really essential for life and planets is the neutron stars mergers, not their aftermath.  Thus, the statement of line (152-153) is not a logical consequence of any physical observation. It is just an opinion. 

We can thus conclude that to the best of current scientifically stablished knowledge, what is essential for the existence of planets like ours and life is the occurrence of neutron stars mergers. Anything beyond that is pure speculation and the conclusions driven from that speculation are as weak and dubious as the assumptions made. "

This essentially means that the author cannot make any grounded claims about humans and anything related to their social behavior, like religions, beyond the point defined by neutron stars mergers. Those mergers are the crucial element for the existence of life (on Earth or elsewhere) as we understand it. Whether black holes or other exotic objects are formed after that merger is completely irrelevant for the ingredients needed for life.

I would accept the claims of the paper, which is very well written and structured, if instead of black holes the focus were put on neutron stars mergers. 

Black holes could be included in the discussion if one had solid reasons to believe that heavy elements and other nuclei needed for life could be produced in accretion disks around black holes and then released to distant regions where new stars and planets could be formed, but I do not think that this might be the dominant mechanism as compared to neutron stars mergers. 

 

 

Author Response

I agree that black holes, or hypothetical exotic stars that could mimic black holes, are not the original sources that produce many of the elements needed for the formation of physical life. However, the original sources inevitably end up as black holes, or as their hypothetical mimics. Also, the characteristic features, populations, and locations of black holes, or their hypothetical mimics, do impact the long-term survivability of advanced physical life.

 

Thank you for pointing out the ambiguity in line 152. After examining that sentence, I see no need for it and have deleted it. After the first paragraph under the heading, “Paradoxical Nature of Black Holes,” I have added a paragraph wherein I mention boson and soliton stars and neutrino balls as hypothesized mimics of black holes and provide citations.

 

You motivated me to read more deeply about boson and soliton stars and neutrino balls. However, I was struck by how difficult it is to conceptualize such bodies in a way that mimics all the observed features of all the massive, superdense bodies we observe in the universe. This difficulty would seem to explain why my survey of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Astronomy & Astrophysics, Astrophysical Journal, Astronomical Journal, Astrophysical Journal Letters, Astrophysical Journal Supplement, Nature, Nature Astronomy, Science, and Annual Reviews of Astronomy and Astrophysics turned up 17,284 abstracts mentioning black holes and only 8 mentioning boson stars.   

Author Response File: Author Response.pdf

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