Design in the Physical Universe

Increasing attention is being given to the relationship between science and religion. How do these two ways of knowing relate to each other? Does a belief in science, which is grounded in the five human senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell), nullify knowledge claimed on the grounds of religion? Is there scientific evidence that the universe was designed and didn’t just happen by chance? A friend of mine, Dr. Ben Clausen, has spoken eloquently to these issues for many years. I thought I would share some of his best work as a guest blog over the next month. If you are at all interested in these issues, I highly recommend his work. I will do some light editing for the sake of my own blog format. Otherwise, the rest of this series are the words of Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute, based near the campus of Loma Linda University. The last in this series will include a bibliography of important works in this field.

Several years ago my wife and I were hiking in Utah at Arches National Park. The area was desert, so it wasn’t easy to pick out the trail, but we saw these little piles of rocks. If there had only been a couple piles and the piles contained only a couple rocks, we wouldn’t have particularly noticed or at least would have thought it was just a natural coincidence. However, the piles contained several rocks, stacked on top of each other, and occurred on a line every 100 feet or so. The piles (cairns) appeared to be designed by humans, and we took them to represent trail markers.

This article will describe evidence for what appears to be physical design on Earth, in the universe, and in the basic laws of nature. Some have used the examples of design as arguments for the God of religion as the intelligent designer; others have explained the design naturalistically. Some pros and cons of the arguments will be outlined along with cautions in using the arguments. Design in the universe is a reasonably good argument for an Intelligence behind nature; however, it is important to know the strengths when using the argument as well as some cautions. Each individual has a choice in how they interpret the evidence. As for me, I choose to believe that the God of the Bible is the Intelligent Designer and praise Him for his wisdom.

Everyone recognizes design in nature. The question is how to interpret it: what is its source? what does it mean? The Greeks saw design in nature and used the golden ratio (that we can see in nature’s spirals such as the chambered nautilus) in building the Parthenon (Livio 2003).

The founding fathers of science believed in a God of law and order and expected His creation to obey natural laws, to follow cause and effect relations, and to demonstrate design (Gingerich 1995). A number of these scientists used natural theology to demonstrate how intricately God had designed nature. A series of books was published in the early nineteenth century by William Pickering of London to provide evidence for the existence of God and examples of design by an all-wise Creator. They were titled the “Bridgewater treatises on the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, as manifested in the creation”. William Whewell (1794-1866) wrote on: Astronomy and general physics considered with reference to natural theology. William Paley wrote on: Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature. His classic example is, “The watch must have had a maker [who] designed its use, … [and] every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature.”

Today, a small but growing Intelligent Design group of scholars, with William Dembski as a leading proponent, find evidence for God in the design of the universe and in the design of living organisms. This group is providing rigorous criteria for making design inferences and elaborating the advantages of adopting intelligent design as a scientific research program. A number of them met at Biola University for a Mere Creation Conference, and eventually produced the book, Mere Creation: Science, Faith & Intelligent Design (Dembski 1998).

This ability to see design is not restricted to those who are religious. Richard Dawkins (1987, p.1), the famous biologist and opponent of religion, says in The Blind Watchmaker that “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Stephen Hawking, the atheist physicist, says in A Brief History of Time that the beginning of the universe was designed for beings like us. In a later book, The Grand Design, he gives options for how this design could happen naturalistically. However, he still says, “Our universe and its laws appear to have a design that is both tailor-made to support us and, if we are to exist, leaves little room for alteration. That is not easily explained, and raises the natural question of why it is that way” (Hawking and Mlodinow 2010).

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