Taste: Designed for Living
Our world is intricate, complex, purposeful. How did it get that
way? By George Sim Johnston
Does God exist? You can answer that question in at least two ways,
notably, "yes." But how do you argue for that particular answer?
A new cottage industry among the religiously minded is the rearticulation of
the socalled "cosmological argument" for the existence of God. Its proofs
backward. They start with visible creation and reason that it can only be the
work of an uncreated First Cause. Such proofs were once compelling to
people. Now the average college graduate can do without them. He doesn't know
exactly why this is so; he simply believes that Darwin and Stephen Hawking
somehow managed to explain creation without reference to a Creator.
Darwin and Hawking, of course, have done no such thing. Science can never
answer the question: Why is there something rather than nothing? The universe
is a massive fact that does not account for its existence and some would say,
following Goedel's incompleteness theorems cannot do so. This does not stop
certain astrophysicists from trying to generate whole universes from
mathematical equations. But a mathematical model does not tell us why there is
a universe to describe in the first place.
If we cannot so easily dismiss the brute fact of the universe, neither
ignore its appearance of having been designed. As one staunchly atheistic
century astronomer put it: "A common sense interpretation of the data suggests
that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry
biology." How do you get around such a "common sense" interpretation? Darwin
supplied the answer: Any "design" in nature is only apparent, the work of
mechanisms. All you need to produce the bombardier beetle, for example, is
random variations directed by natural selection and a lot of time.
The Darwinian explanation is simple, elegant and popular. But organisms are
so complex and purposeful that even the most implacable Darwinist, one
suspects, must keep reminding himself that what he sees is not designed. Human
DNA contains more organized information than the Encyclopedia Britannica. If
the full text of the Encyclopedia were to arrive in computer code from outer
space, most people would regard this as proof of the existence of
extraterrestrial intelligence. But when seen in nature, it is explained as
workings of random forces.
At a recent conference in New York put on by the Wethersfield Institute,
"Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe," a number of philosophers
and scientists argued that it is time to restate the case for intelligent
design. The more science unpacks of material reality, the panelists
the harder it is to claim that mechanisms like natural selection can achieve
the "irreducible complexity" of, say, the human eye. Much of the afternoon
spent bringing William Paley's classic, 18thcentury argument from design into
the late 20th century.
William Dembski, a mathematician, began by admitting that "chance and
necessity" are clearly at work in nature. If you see a cloud shape itself
the image of a horse, you do not need any more explanation than wind currents.
If, however, you see written in the sky, "Yankees Win World Series," you
reasonably infer that some intelligent agent had been at work. The trick is
identify the threshold between chance and necessity, on the one hand, and
intelligent design, on the other.
The thrust of the conference was that much in nature points to skywriting
rather than coincidence. Michael Behe, a biochemist and the author of
"Darwin's Black Box," took a hard look at Darwin's famous assertion that the
human eye had evolved at random from a "light sensitive spot." A "light
sensitive spot" seemed a simple thing to Darwin; but modern biology shows that
the chemical process needed simply to register a photon is extremely complex.
Remove one step and it breaks down. In short, whatever biochemical gizmo
preceded the "light sensitive spot" would have registered no light at all and
so presumably would be rejected by Darwinian selection. So how did nature
"build" the eye?
When faced with such examples, Darwinists argue that science will someday
have an answer and that in the meantime it is inadmissible to talk about
intelligent design. Here they may have a point but only up to a point.
"Design" is indeed a philosophical concept, and, yes, it is not the business
of scientists to do philosophy. But the admission by scientists like Stuart
Kauffman that there are mysteries that elude a Darwinian explanation would
to leave open the door to intelligent design for anyone interested in such an
One scientist who is decidedly not interested is Steven Weinberg, who won
Nobel Prize for physics. In the current New York Review of Books, he
talk of a "finetuned" universe as a dangerous regression to Greek myths. He
also attacks religion, especially Christianity.
To keep his view coherent, Mr. Weinberg and physicists like him must
somehow explain the breathtaking specificity of what followed the Big Bang.
Picture a wall with hundreds of dials; each must be at exactly the right
setting for carbonbased life to emerge eventually in a suburb of the Milky
Way. If the cosmic expansion had been a fraction less intense, the universe
would have imploded billions of years ago; a fraction more intense, and the
galaxies would not have formed.
How to explain this remarkable exactitude? Mr. Weinberg favors the multi
universe theory, in which the Big Bang is just one of innumerable other big
bangs. The idea is that if there are billions of universes, then the odds are
pretty good that one would finally get it right so that man could dwell in
This would be "cosmic natural selection" and so there is no need to worry
about the appearance of design.
The only problem with the notion of a plurality of big bangs is that
not a shred of evidence to support it. The multiuniverse theory also violates
elementary logic. All these universes either interact or they don't. If they
do, they constitute one universe. If they don't, they are mutually
Mr. Weinberg, in fact, is guilty of what he accuses religious people of
taking refuge in the unobservable.
As for the defects of religion, the other side of Mr. Weinberg's brief, it
can be argued that the mindset of medieval Christianity made modern science
possible. The physicist Stanley Jaki has pointed out that science was "still
born" in every culture Greek, Hindu, Chinese except the Christian West. It
was the insistence of thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas on the rationality of
God and his creation that paved the way for Newton and Einstein.
It is unlikely, of course, that the Wethersfield conference would have won
over Mr. Weinberg had he been there. Scientists usually don't see the
differently until they change their interpretive framework. And the current
framework, for most scientists, is antitheistic. But for the rest, this new
school of intelligent design is appealing and a far cry from the crude
polemics of the creationists.
Mr. Johnston, author of "Did Darwin Get It Right?", is a writer living in