In a recent debate on the topic of design, I expressed amazement at all the huffing and puffing by anti-design proponents. Though they assert that a design hypothesis is “unscientific,” they say things in other places that make me suspicious. That is, many of these naturalists express profound astonishment at the universe’s precision-tuning for life, life’s emergence from non-life, or at the remarkable “engineering” of biological organisms, organs, and cells. Why then do scientists of all stripes and disciplines repeatedly use design language while repudiating design as a legitimate interpretation of the evidence? 

Let me hasten to add that one doesn’t have to oppose the process of evolution in order to defend design.  Indeed, if evolution from a bacterium to homo sapiens took place, then it would be an excellent argument for design!  Noted cosmologists Frank Tipler and John Barrow calculated that the chances of moving from a bacterium to homo sapiens in 10 billion years or less is 10-24,000,000.  What kind of numbers are we talking about?  A decimal point with 24 million zeros to the left of 1.! [1]  We’re not even addressing the origin of the universe (something coming from absolutely nothing—whose chances of happening are exactly zero). Nor are we speaking of the fine-tuning of the universe (non-theist Roger Penrose calculates this as being one chance in 1010(123)).[2] Nor are we speaking of getting the precise DNA sequence of the necessary 250 proteins to sustain life (whose chances have been calculated as 1 in 1041,000).[3] We are stacking such outrageously remote possibilities on top of more outrageously remote possibilities on top of still more. The naturalist must stake everything on an anti-design random process to produce what we see today in all its beauty and complexity. Never before have I seen such faith!  If the design idea is a live option, however, all the shock evaporates.  After all, getting from nothing to homo sapiens in 13.5 billion years isn’t a problem if design has taken place. 

Let’s set that all aside now. Let me just focus on how naturalistic scientists actually help support that idea that design and science in nowise conflict.  Here is a sampling of quotations.

PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE

Atheist Steven Weinberg (physicist): “sometimes nature seems more beautiful than strictly necessary.”[4] 

Pantheist Eugene Wigner (physicist): The “uncanny usefulness of mathematical concepts” in the natural sciences is “something bordering on the mysterious” and “there is no rational explanation for it.”[5]

ORIGIN OF LIFE

Alfonso Ricardo and Jack W. Szostak (in a recent Scientific American): “Every living cell, even the simplest bacterium teems with molecular contraptions that would be the envy of any nanotechnologist….It’s virtually impossible to imagine how a cell’s machines could have formed spontaneously as life first arose.”[6]

Atheist Francis Crick (Nobel Prize winner, biologist): “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which had to have been satisfied to get it going.”[7]

Jacques Monod (biologist): “…we have no idea what the structure of a primitive cell might have been…. the simplest cells available to us for study have nothing ‘primitive’ about them.”[8]

BIOLOGY IN GENERAL

John Wheeler (physicist): “When I first started studying, I saw the world as composed of particles. Looking more deeply I discovered waves. Now after a lifetime of study, it appears that all existence is the expression of information (my emphasis)” [9]

Bruce Alberts (strong design critic and former National Academy of Sciences president): “We have always underestimated cells. … The entire cell can be viewed as a factory that contains an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines. …Why do we call the large protein assemblies that underlie cell function protein machines? Precisely because, like machines invented by humans to deal efficiently with the macroscopic world, these protein assemblies contain highly coordinated moving parts.”[10]

Francis Crick: “biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”[11]

Richard Dawkins: Each mitochontria in a cell “can be thought of as a chemical factory which, in the course of delivering its primary product of usable energy, processes more than 700 different chemical substances, in long, interweaving assembly-lines strung out along the surface of its intricately folded internal membranes….Each nucleus [in all plant and animal cells]…contains a digitally coded data base, larger in information content, than all 30 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica put together. And this figure is for each cell, not all the cells of the body put together [which amount to 10 trillion]). ”[12] Dawkins defines biology as “the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” He says later on that “the living results of natural selection overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker, impress us with the illusion of design and planning.” [13] Elsewhere he says, “The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like.”[14]

THE BIG BANG

Michael S. Turner (in September 2009 in Scientific American): there “once” was “no previous era” and that “[m]atter, energy, space and time began abruptly with a bang.”[15]

John Barrow/Joseph Silk (astrophysicists): “Our new picture is more akin to the traditional metaphysical picture of creation out of nothing, for it predicts a definite beginning to events in time, indeed a definite beginning to time itself.” They ask: “what preceded the event called the ‘big bang’? . . . . the answer to our question is simple:  nothing.”[16]

Robert Jastrow (agnostic NASA astronomer): “Theologians generally are delighted with the proof that the Universe had a beginning, but astronomers are curiously upset. Their reactions provide an interesting demonstration of the response of the scientific mind—supposedly a very objective mind—when evidence uncovered by science itself leads to a conflict with the articles of faith in our profession. It turns out that the scientist behaves the way the rest of us do when our beliefs are in conflict with the evidence. We become irritated, we pretend the conflict does not exist, or we paper it over with meaningless phrases.”[17]

THE UNIVERSE’S FINE-TUNING

Sir Fred Hoyle (astronomer, mathematician): “Such properties seem to run through the fabric of the natural world like a thread of happy coincidences. But there are so many odd coincidences essential to life that some explanation seems required to account for them.”[18] Hoyle also said: “I do not believe that any scientist who examines the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce inside stars.  If this is so, then my apparently random quirks have become part of a deep-laid scheme.  If not, then we are back again at a monstrous sequence of accidents.”[19] Hoyle suggests that this is the activity of a “superintellect” who has monkeyed with the universe.[20]

Bernard Carr and Martin Rees state: “Nature does exhibit remarkable coincidences and these do warrant some explanation.”[21]

The thinkers I’ve cited above are all (so far as I can tell) naturalists.  Let me throw in several quotations from the Deist physicist Paul Davies, who is also an evolutionist.  (Keep in mind that design has been held not only by theists, but Deists like Davies, by pantheists such as the Stoics or the philosopher John Leslie, polytheists like the Mormons, and Aristotelians like, well, Aristotle, who was as good an Aristotelian as any!)

  • Paul Davies on the beginning of the universe:: “‘What caused the big bang?’ . . . One might consider some supernatural force, some agency beyond space and time as being responsible for the big bang, or one might prefer to regard the big bang as an event without a cause.  It seems to me that we don’t have too much choice.  Either . . . something outside of the physical world . . . or . . . an event without a cause.”[22]
  • Davies on the fine-tuning of the universe: “The history of life on earth is a gigantic lottery, with far more losers than winners.  It contains so many accidents of fate, so many arbitrary quirks, that the pattern of change is essentially random.  The millions of fortuitous steps that make up our own evolutionary history would surely never happen the second time around, even in broad outline.”[23] Davies writes elsewhere: “Life, it seems, is balanced on a knife edge. Changing some of the values [or cosmic conditions] by even a scintilla would prove lethal. The fact that the universe comes with just the right set of values to permit life looks like a fix.” [24] Again, Davies: “All the evidence so far indicates that many complex structures depend most delicately on the existing form of these laws.  It is tempting to believe, therefore, that a complex universe will emerge only if the laws of physics are very close to what they are….The laws, which enable the universe to come into being spontaneously, seem themselves to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design.  If physics is the product of design, the universe must have a purpose, and the evidence of modern physics suggests strongly to me that the purpose includes us.”[25]
  • Davies on living organisms: “Living organisms are mysterious not for their complexity per se, but for their tightly specified complexity.”[26]

So if we’re surrounded by appearance of design (as atheists like Crick and Dawkins acknowledge), must we insist that it is only apparent design rather than genuine design?  Must we suppress this intuition, as Crick insists?  And why can’t design be front-loaded from the very beginning so that the universe’s fine-tuning and the tightly specified complexity in organisms would reflect this design—even if all of this can be accounted for gradualistically?  Crick, Dawkins, and others tell us that nature doesn’t exhibit design, but yet they can readily detect where nature appears to exhibit design.  When scientists use terms like “miracle,” “engineered,” “uncannily computer-like,” “chemical factory,” or “elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines,” the allegedly huge difference between design and the appearance of design is lost on me. 

Ironically, philosopher of science Timothy Lenoir of Stanford University observes a general trend—namely, that design language in, say, biology is inescapable: “Teleological thinking has been steadfastly resisted by modern biology. And yet, in nearly every area of research biologists are hard pressed to find language that does not impute purposiveness to living forms.”[27] If this is so, then it seems to be pure philosophical prejudice—not scientific observation—that disqualifies design. I could say a lot more on this topic, but hopefully this is enough to ponder for now.

In closing, let me just cite a Nobel Prize winner in physics, Charles Townes (UC-Berkeley), who makes this point:  “Intelligent design, as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real. This is a very special universe: it’s remarkable that it came out just this way. If the laws of physics weren’t just the way they are, we couldn’t be here at all. The sun couldn’t be there, the laws of gravity and nuclear laws and magnetic theory, quantum mechanics, and so on have to be just the way they are for us to be here.”[28]


[1] John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 557-66.

[2] Roger Penrose, The Emperor’s New Mind (New York: Bantam., 1991), 344.

[3] Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell (New York: HarperOne, 2009). See his peer-reviewed essay, “Intelligent Design: The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (2004)117/2: 213-239.

[4] Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 250.

[5] Eugene P. Wigner, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.” Found online at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/MathDrama/reading/Wigner.html. Accessed 18 Aug. 2006. (Note: Toward the end of his life, Wigner became interested in the Hindu idea of the all-pervasive consciousness [Brahman].)

[6] Alfonso Ricardo and Jack W. Szostak, “Life on Earth,” Scientific American (September 2009): 54.

[7] Francis Crick, Life Itself: Its Nature and Origin (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981), 88.

[8] Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity (London: Collins, 1972), 134-5.

[9] John Wheeler, cited in Gerald Schroeder, “Can God Be Brought into the Equation?”  Review of Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? eds. Paul Kurtz and Barry Karr, in the Jerusalem Post, 23 May 2003, 13 B.

[10] Bruce Alberts, “The Cell as a Collection of Protein Machines: Preparing the Next Generation of Molecular Biologists,” Cell 92 (February 8, 1998): 291.

[11] Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit (New York: BasicBooks, 1988), 138.

[12] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), 17-18.

[13] Ibid., 1, 21.

[14] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (New York: BasicBooks, 1993), 18.

[15] Michael S. Turner, “The Universe,” Scientific American (September 2009), 39.

[16] John D. Barrow and Joseph Silk, The Left Hand of Creation, 2nd ed.  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 38, 209.

[17] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (New York: Norton, 1978), 16.

[18] Fred Hoyle, The Intelligent Universe (London: Michael Joseph, 1983), 220.

[19] Fred Hoyle, Religion and the Scientists, quoted in John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The

 Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 22.

[20] F. Hoyle, “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections,” Engineering and Science (Nov. 1981): 8- 12.

[21] Paul Davies, “The Anthropic Principle,” Nature 278 (1979): 612.

[22] Paul Davies, “The Birth of the Cosmos,” in God, Cosmos, Nature and Creativity, ed. Jill Gready (Edinburgh:  Scottish Academic Press, 1995), 8-9.

[23] Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), 272. 

[24] Paul Davies, “The Universe’s Weird Bio-Friendliness,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (6 April 2007): B14.

[25] Paul Davies, Superforce (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), 243.

[26] Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), 112

[27] Timothy Lenoir, The Strategy of Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), ix.

[28] B.A.Powell, “Web Feature,” UCBerkeley News (June 17, 2005): http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2005/06/17_townes.shtml


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

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