Sunday, October 08, 2006

Intelligent Design

Here is an extract from a Sunday Times article published today.

Why is the universe, like the porridge in the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, “just right” for life? Even cosmologists have said it looks like a fix or a put-up job. Is it a fluke or providence that it appears set up expressly for the purpose of spawning sentient beings?

Until recently the Goldilocks question was almost completely ignored by scientists. But dramatic developments in our understanding are propelling the issue to the forefront of the agenda, according to the acclaimed British physicist and bestselling author Paul Davies. To stoke the fire, he is to chair a debate between advocates of alternative theories at Oxford on Friday

What concerns him in his new book The Goldilocks Enigma is science and the universe’s stringent conditions for existence, so finely tuned that even the slightest twiddle of the dials would wreck any hope of life emerging in the universe. “No scientific explanation of the universe can be deemed complete unless it accounts for this appearance of judicious design,” he says.

Beyond the obvious prerequisites such as water, the sun’s energy and the various chemical elements (oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, etc) needed to make biomass, there’s the tricky stuff. If protons were a tiny bit heavier they would decay into neutrons, and atoms would disintegrate. No carbon would have been formed by nuclear reactions inside stars if the nuclear force varied by more than a scintilla.

He is fascinated by an alternative answer to the Goldilocks question. “Somehow,” he writes, “the universe has engineered, not just its own awareness, but its own comprehension. Mindless, blundering atoms have conspired to make, not just life, not just mind, but understanding. The evolving cosmos has spawned beings who are able not merely to watch the show, but to unravel the plot.”

The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life? by Paul Davies is published by Allen Lane, £22.

This is the conundrum that has one obvious answer: The universe appears to have been designed because it has a designer. This answer is unpopular with scientists because it takes the question out of the realm of science into theology where it cannot be tested by the scientific method.

Cosmologists seek to explain the bio-friendliness of the universe by postulating a multitude of universes or a multiverse, believing that the laws of physics would be different in neighboring universes. Particle physicists, particularly adherents of string theory, regard this as a cop-out. Since experiments can't be done to show what even one other universe would be like, it is just a God-free escape from scientific examination. Then there is Richard Dawkins, who believes that life is an essentially pointless by-product that came about by chance. Note the "believes". We are still in the realm of theological debate.

I fear that it will remain there, but it is good to see a scientist recognize the problem.


Steve Madden said...

I always thought it was the Daleks :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with you because I believe in a higher being; however, the counter-argument is that we are here because the universe just happened to end up this way. If conditions were not conducive to life, we wouldn't be here, and there would be no way to test the theory.

I also don't think string theorists believe that physics would be different in another universe. That is possible, but even physicists who believe in the 'Standard Model' believe that physics was probably much different at the creation of the universe, whether by God's hand or just some random act of the expansion of vacumm energy.

These questions are not testable by science, so they are matters of faith/religion, which is how they should be.

vance esler said...

This is one of those topics that one can choose to obfuscate, but in reality, is self-evident to the open-minded.

I don't know how anyone can dissect a cadaver and not see design. I don't know how anyone can study biochemistry and not see design. How can one unravel the genetic code and not see design?

Sometimes the things that are most difficult to prove are the things that should not require proof.

Anonymous said...

Well then - who designed the designer?

And if He is so all-encompassing, why would He need us at all?

And what if the ultimate trick of it all is to fool us into believing there is a design instead of just the probability that we were bound to happen somewhere in the infinity of space?

We know so little yet are so quick to pass judgement - even if it is judgement of the wonder that is life.

Where is the humility of mankind presupposing God's will? What a dangerous and often errant practice.

Terry Hamblin said...

The point of this post is that Professor Davies, who is a secular humanist, (and who has been all over the media since the publication of his book) recognises that there is a problem for secular humanists in the 'rightness' of the universe for the presence of intelligent life. It is not a problem that can be solved by appealing to the 'infinities of space' since it is a property of the mass of an atom of hydrogen. All physical laws portend towards life.

Believers in God answer by appealing to an intelligent designer outside the Universe, while cosmologists apply a Darwinian argument of natural selction to a (supposed) multitude of universes (the multiverse). The point is that this is a problem that has been ignored by people like Dawkins because they have closed minds.

vance esler said...


Exactly. Humanists keep trying to confine everyone to the contents of the black box, ignoring the possibility that anything could reside outside the box.

They call that faith. So do I.

Their belief is based upon the presupposition that nothing resides outside the box. Our belief is based upon the presupposition that the designer of the box lives out there.

They ignore evidence that points to anything outside the box because, by definition of their position, it cannot. We, on the other hand, are bolstered by finding such evidence as it gives us a glimpse into something bigger than ourselves.

We see design where they simply think that everything just arose out of the primordial goo. It designed itself, so to speak.

They call us religious, but I think their position takes a lot more faith to adhere to.

Anonymous said...

"Sometimes the things that are most difficult to prove are the things that should not require proof."

I thought science is a search for knowledge. While scientists require proof before they assume they have knowledge, the presupposition in the scientific field has always been that knowledge is an evolving thing. I do not believe based on this presupposition that one can tar the endeavors of science and the scientists with having a closed mind.

It looks to me that those who require a leap of faith to justify their beliefs are simply hypercritical about the lack of evidence to back them up. The wonders of the universe are just that - wonders. They are to be appreciated - not justified. The desire to learn how things tick is just one of those wonders.

The place I am coming from is this - religion is not really a matter of faith so much as a political choice. Spirituality is more a matter of faith - a belief in a power that is universal in nature and beneficent to all living things. Religions may profess the power and even worship it with their own labels but they are hardly beneficent - each jockeying with the other for acceptance and prominence amongst the masses. It is really a battle of political wills - human history has proven that time and again.

Anonymous said...

"(R)eligion is not really a matter of faith so much as a political choice."

I don't know if I've read anything less true than this statement. Obviously, only a non-believer would write or believe such a thing!

Since you don't believe in faith, why don't you prove beyond a doubt that God does not exist? That should be easy for you.

The fact that the critical numbers for the forces and matter in the universe are exactly that that allows life to exist is certainly a legitimate assertion that can be debated, but never answered scientifically.

And I do wonder why non-believers are bothered so much by those of us who are Christians. If you don't believe, then don't believe. Leave believers alone, why don't you? Or is there something in you that does crave meaning and purpose???

Anonymous said...

"And I do wonder why non-believers are bothered so much by those of us who are Christians."

Christ was spiritual - not religious. He did not believe in top down theology. He preached that God was in all things. Church authority was one of his great pet peeves - he saw the avarice and corruption that power brought upon organized religion.

So you are erroneous in suggesting I am a non-believer. What I dont believe in are Christians who profess to faith yet choose a life of hypocrisy by joining with politically entrenched religious organizations and their required doctrines of exclusivity of those people and things they dont understand.

Terry Hamblin said...

"He preached that God was in all things"

Can I have a citation please?

Are you sure you are not thinking of the Buddha? These Eastern mystics can be so confusing.