The Detection of Intelligent Design
Simple Stuff Mindless Nature Cannot
Sean D. Pitman, MD
© May 2008
Last Update: May 2010
Not knowing how something was created is not evidence for intelligent design. This is a common and apparently reasonable argument. I hear it all the time from very smart people. It makes sense - even to me. There is a bit of a problem with it however. We do know how certain types of phenomena could have been designed and are actually produced with deliberate intent while we have no idea how they could possibly have been produced without deliberate intent...
A rather simplistic idea - right? Yet, this simple concept is in fact the basis for all mainstream sciences that search for intelligent design - to include anthropology, forensics, and yes, even SETI science.
Take SETI scientists for example. SETI scientists are looking for a particular type of radiosignal coming from outer space. If they find this type of signal they will actually announce that they have found evidence of non-human intelligent activity in this universe. How could they possibly say this based only on a radiosignal without having ever met their proposed designer?
The basis for their argument is very interesting - - and very simple.
They are looking for a type of radiosignal that they know humans can and do
make, but that is well beyond anything that any known non-deliberate
process of nature makes or has ever made (at least within the specific locations
of outer space that SETI scientists are looking - i.e., planetary
regions). The type of signal they are looking for is actually quite simple - a
signal with a narrow band spectrum (see
Some might argue that this ID hypothesis isn't really scientific because it can
"explain everything and therefore nothing." What this means is that the ID
hypothesis isn't falsifiable - even in theory. However, the argument here
is not that intelligence can produce the phenomenon in question, but that
only a mechanism backed by at least human-level intelligence could produce
the phenomenon in question. This
ID-only theory is quite falsifiable. For example, as the basis of SETI,
all that would have to be done to falsify the SETI ID-only hypothesis for the
radio signals they are looking for is to show that some previously unknown
non-intelligent natural force producing essentially the same types of radio
signals that SETI scientists had claimed were clearly artifactual. Such a
demonstration would in fact neatly falsify the ID-only hypothesis proposed by
SETI scientists for their radio signals.
There are actually some famous examples of the falsification of the intelligent design theories within various mainstream sciences. One striking example of this is the story of Germaine Henri-Martin and her once popular theory regarding numerous "artifacts" she found in FontÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©chevade Cave in France. She thought she discovered the remains and artifacts of the "First Frenchmen" - but many years later these apparent artifacts were shown to be naturally produced and layered as natural flood deposits (see Link). SETI scientists also had a little bit of a glitch with the discovery of the first pulsars. "Pulsars were briefly tagged with the moniker LGM (Little Green Men) upon their discovery in 1967." (see Link).
Of course, the fact that many scientific hypotheses, even those having to do
with the detection of intelligent activity both here on Earth and coming from
outer space, have been falsified has not stopped science or the scientific
search for signs of intelligent activity
here on Earth and even coming from outer space - - as long as it has nothing to
do with explaining the origin of life or its diversity on this Earth (for some
Why then when some new phenomena is encountered, especially if it is a fairly simple phenomenon well inside the known range of human-level creativity and production, is the most logical default explanation some as yet unknown non-deliberate process of nature? How does one know that is the most reasonable conclusion without any real evidence that any non-deliberate force of nature can get remotely close to doing the job? How does one know that a non-deliberate process is a more likely explanation than a deliberate process? - especially if one knows how the phenomenon in question could be created deliberately even with human-level intelligence?
Why not just follow where the evidence leads instead of making a priori philosophical limitations to the paths which a scientist may or may not follow? - even if the various potential paths may have very significant philosophical or even "religious" implications - God forbid. Why not just let science be science?
A Very Special Universe
It has come to the attention of many scientists, especially physicists and astronomers, that the universe in which we live is a very special place that is filled with numerous fine-tuned coincidences that are "just right" to support life - kind of like the children's story of Goldilocks on a cosmic scale. These features are generally referred to as the "Anthropic Principle".
A few examples of this principle include the very precise speed of expansion of the universe - precise to 1 part in 10123. Any slower of a rate of expansion and the universe would have imploded upon itself before it ever got very far along. Any faster and galaxies and solar systems would not have formed. This level of precision is like picking the right gain of sand out of the Sahara Desert five times in a row - blindfolded. Not too shabby...
The size and distance of the Moon is just right as is the age, mass, distance and color of the Sun. The Earth's orbit, being nearly circular, is also just right to avoid overheating or overcooling.
The atom itself is a bundle of numerous very fortunate "coincidences". Within the atom, the neutron is just slightly more massive than the proton, which means that free neutrons can decay and turn into protons. A free neutron is unstable and will decay into a proton in about 10 minutes - if not within a nucleus. If the proton were larger and had a tendency to decay rather than the neutron, the very structure of the universe would be impossible. A free proton has a half-life of ~1033 years.
Charles Colson & Nancy Pearcey, "Let's Start at the Very Beginning," How Now Shall We Live?, 1999,Tyndall House Publishers, Wheaton, IL
The strong and weak nuclear forces also have to be very precisely balanced in order for the proper type of stars to form and even molecules necessary for complex life to be able to exist.
The proton mass is 1836 times that of an electron. If this ratio were off even slightly, molecules would not form properly. It is also interesting to note that although protons are very different in size and mass, the charges are exactly the same in opposite degree. If this were not the case, again, molecules necessary to support complex life could not form. The same is true of the electromagnetic coupling constant between protons and electrons - it is very precisely balanced to support complex life.
The ratio of the gravitational force constant to the electromagnetic force constant also cannot differ from its value by more than one part in 1040 without eliminating the possibility for complex life.
There are dozens of these very precisely balanced constants in the universe necessary to support life. While some can be significantly changed if balanced by equivalent changes in other constants to compensate, it is quite clear that the ratio of those parameters that would work vs. those that would not work is an extremely tiny fraction of all the possible ways which these constants could have been set up - which would not have allowed for the support of complex life.
Of course the classic argument is given in response to such anthropic arguments that one shouldn't be surprised to find these fine-tuned features in the universe because if these features weren't fine tuned, we wouldn't exist. Therefore, the fact that we exist means that such fine tuning should only be expected by the mere fact of our own existence - not at all surprising.
However, this argument is like a situation where a man is standing before a firing squad of 1000 men with rifles who take aim and fire - - but they all miss him. According the the above logic, this man should not be at all surprised to still be alive because, if they hadn't missed him, he wouldn't be alive.
The nonsense of this line of reasoning is obvious. Surprise at the extreme fine tuning of the universe, given the hypothesis of a mindless origin, is only to be expected - in the extreme.
This observation is not lost on even mainstream scientists - especially physicists and astronomers who believe in some sort of intelligent design behind it all compared to biologists.
For example, there are the interesting back and forth arguments from Paul Davies, and English astrophysicist. Although he is currently a seemingly conflicted atheist (Link), he was once a kind of theist and still manages to argue strongly for what seems like a nearly overwhelming impression of design that most physicists come away with when studying the fine tuned features of the universe.
The temptation to believe that the Universe is the product of some sort of design, a manifestation of subtle aesthetic and mathematical judgment, is overwhelming. The belief that there is "something behind it all" is one that I personally share with, I suspect, a majority of physicists. This rather diffuse feeling could, I suppose, be termed theism in its widest sense.1
The force of gravity must be fine-tuned to allow the universe to expand at precisely the right rate. The fact that the force of gravity just happens to be the right number with stunning accuracy is surely one of the great mysteries of cosmology...
The equations of physics have in them incredible simplicity, elegance and beauty. That in itself is sufficient to prove to me that there must be a God who is responsible for these laws and responsible for the universe.2
Davies, Paul C.W. [Physicist and Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of Adelaide at the time of writing], 1) "The Christian perspective of a scientist," Review of "The way the world is," by John Polkinghorne, New Scientist, Vol. 98, No. 1354, pp.638-639, 2 June 1983, p.638 (Link, Link) aand 2) Davies in his1984 book Superforce.
British mathematical physicist, Sir Roger Penrose, was among the first to voice the obvious philosophical conclusion:
The extremely high level of fine-tuning astronomers and physicists discern powerfully suggests a purpose behind the universe.
Roger Penrose, in the movie A Brief History of Time (Burbank, CA: Paramount Pictures Inc., 1992).
Nobel laureate Arno Penzias makes
this observation about the enigmatic character of the universe:
"Astronomy leads us to an unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing and delicately balanced to provide exactly the conditions required to support life. In the absence of an absurdly-improbable accident, the observations of modern science seem to suggest an underlying, one might say, supernatural plan."
Arno Penzias (Nobel prize in physics), Margenau, H and R.A. Varghese, ed. 1992. Cosmos, Bios, and Theos. La Salle, IL, Open Court, p. 83.
"As we look out into the universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked to our benefit, it almost seems as if the universe must in some sense have known that we were coming."
Sir Fredrick Hoyle, famous British astronomer who early on (1951) argued that the coincidences were just that, coincidences. But, by 1953 he had evidently changed his mind and wrote:
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... A superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology.
- Hoyle, Fred. "The Universe: Past and Present Reflections," in Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 20. (1982), p.16.
Physicist Eugene Wigner in a widely quoted paper entitled The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Physical Sciences (1960) notes:
"The enormous usefulness of mathematics is something bordering on the mysterious...There is no rational explanation for it...The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve..."
Albert Einstein in a letter to a friend (1956, Lettres a Maurice Solovine) commenting on the mathematical comprehensibility of the world noted:
"You may find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world to the degree that we may speak of such comprehensibility as a miracle or an eternal mystery. Well, a priori one should expect a chaotic world, which cannot be in any way grasped through thought... The kind of order created, for example, by Newton's theory of gravity is of quite a different kind. Even if the axioms of the theory are posited by a human being, the success of such an enterprise presupposes an order in the objective world of a high degree, which one has no a priori right to expect. That is the miracle which grows increasingly persuasive with the increasing development of knowledge."
Charles Hard Townes,
winner of a Nobel Prize
in Physics and a UC
Berkeley professor noted:
"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....
Some scientists argue that, "Well, there's an enormousnumber of universes and each one is a little different. This one just happened to turn out right.
Well, that's a postulate, and it's a pretty fantastic postulate. It assumes that there really are an enormous number of universes and that the laws could be different for each of them. The other possibility is that our was planned, and that is why it has come out so specially."
American astronomer George Greenstein expresses his thoughts:
"As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency - or, rather, Agency - must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?"
Greenstein, George. The Symbiotic, Universe: Life and Mind in the Cosmos. (New York: William Morrow, (1988), pp. 26-27
From the beginning of this book we have emphasized the enormous information
content of even the simplest living systems. The information cannot in our view
be generated by what are often called 'natural' processes, as for instance
through meteorological and chemical processes. . . Information was also needed.
We have argued that the requisite information came from an 'intelligence'.
Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramsinghe, Evolution from Space (1981), p. 148, 150
"It is quite a shock. From my earliest training as a scientist I was very strongly brainwashed to believe that science cannot be consistent with any kind of deliberate creation. That notion has had to be very painfully shed. I am quite uncomfortable in the situation, the state of mind I now find myself in. But there is no logical way out of it. I now find myself driven to this position by logic. There is no other way in which we can understand the precise ordering of the chemicals of life except to invoke the creations on a cosmic scale. . . . We were hoping as scientists that there would be a way round our conclusion, but there isn't.
Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, as quoted in "There Must Be A God," Daily Express, Aug. 14, 1981 and Hoyle on Evolution, Nature, Nov. 12, 1981, p. 105
Additional thoughts and comments along these lines are as follows:
"We are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures.. .. If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the universe was created for man to live in."
"It is, for example, impossible for evolution to account for the fact than one single cell can carry more data than all the volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica put together."
"It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design."
"When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics."
"This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible: In the beginning God created heaven and earth… [But] for the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; [and] as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."
"All of us who study the origin of life find that the more we look into it, the more we feel that it is too complex to have evolved anywhere. But we believe as an article of faith that life evolved from dead matter on this planet. It is just that its complexity is so great, that it is hard for us to imagine that it did".
"Amazing fine tuning occurs in the laws that make this [complexity] possible. Realization of the complexity of what is accomplished makes it very difficult not to use the word 'miraculous' without taking a stand as to the ontological status of the word."
"I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing."
"This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being."
"The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge, and would be total chaos if any of the natural 'constants' were off even slightly. You see," Davies adds, "even if you dismiss man as a chance happening, the fact remains that the universe seems unreasonably suited to the existence of life - almost contrived - you might say a 'put-up job'."
"Proud Obstacles and a Reasonable Hope", Touchstone, July/August 1999, p. 32
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