Friday, February 16, 2007

Three Worlds

One thing about a gout attack is how it focuses your mind. The cold I was whining about is suddenly a mere inconvenience. Debating with liberals: Who cares? Equinox is but a dream. Since I wasn’t able to limp off to Starbucks for my daily dose of puppy love and conversation, I’ve occupied my mind with a splendid new book by Harvard professor emeritus Owen Gingerich called God’s Universe. (Thanks to Greg Johnson for the recommendation.)

Now that I’ve taken an 800 mg IBU I feel up to writing about it. Gingerich explores a question that has fascinated me since I first realized it was a question, specifically: “Dare a scientist believe in design?” In the physics world the heroes have been believers and the majority of current physicists believe in God. Gingerich is a believer, also of design, but is skeptical of Intelligent Design, which he sees as a political movement opposing the trend of atheist-promoted materialist philosophy that is taking over the biological sciences. (Francis Collins notwithstanding)

One of the greatest attractions of a life in science has always been the possibility that an increased understanding of nature will reveal more about God the Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos. To Gingerich (and me) the universe is a more coherent and congenial place if it embodies purpose and reveals a grand design.

Anyone who has looked at the world seriously sees the “rich context of congeniality shown by our universe, permitting and encouraging the existence of self-conscious life.” I’ve written about the remarkable fine-tuning of physical constants that make a world inhabited by life a possibility. The more you know about it the more convinced you become of a master plan.

Francis Collins abandoned atheism during the course of his epic work mapping the human genome. Astronomer Fred Hoyle said that nothing shook his atheism as much as the discovery of how the stars overcome the gap at atomic weight five and the very special resonance that makes carbon possible. (But then physicist Steven Weinberg said, in a debate about science and belief, that most people are not entitled to be atheists because they haven’t thought enough about the matter. He reminds me of the angry liberals I wrote about in the last post.)

The question that intrigues me the most concerns the design that God used for the universe? We know about the Big Bang and the creation of stars and that a very particular set of forces and precise physical constants are parts of the design. I want to go beneath the surface to look at the design at a deeper level. I can think of three unique possibilities.

The grandest design, to me, is what might be called the hamburger helper world. In this design, God supplements the remarkable natural laws and the astoundingly precise physical constants with a circumscribed pathway from the Big Bang to human life. Some call this additional help a cosmic blue-print, I prefer to think of it as a life map that nature follows because God made it so. In this model God made the catalysts and unknown pathways that enable life to be born. For believers this is a marvelous tribute to God’s omniscience.

The hamburger helper world is attractive also to naturalistic philosophers and scientists who appreciate the absurd impossibility of the journey resulting from unaided chance. Materialists assume that natural catalytic processes and natural pathways guide the random processes. Just replace “God” with “nature” and it works fine for them.

A second world-design at God’s hand has been called the “multiverse,” that provides another way around the improbability problem. For a sense of the problem: The probability of a small protein being created by random chance is one part in 10 to the power 351. To see how small that is, note that the number of seconds since the Big Bang is only 10 to the power 17. (Pierre Lecompte du Nouy, Human Destiny, 1947) But any gambler knows that when something is really improbable one has to try it many times to have it happen. Thus if there is a near infinity of universes (the multiverse) then by random chance one is likely to evolve into the one we inhabit. We’re just astoundingly lucky!

Some physicists like to think that each of the multiple universes has a slightly different set of physical constants. String theorists take that viewpoint and hope that their “theory of everything” will emerge in one of the universes, and hope it is the one that we live in. Surely God could have designed the world to work as a multiverse, maybe as an entertainment for the Angels. But Einstein thought that God would not play dice with our world. Who knows?

Our third world-model involves God’s intervention at critical points, what Christians call miracles. Newton favored this world model but Leibniz disagreed: “When God works miracles, He does not do it in order to supply the wants of nature, but those of grace.” Atheists say that such a design proves the non-existence of God, since an all-powerful Being would not need to interfere with nature’s course to get His way. I regard that as an uneducated opinion and find the idea of God’s participation to be infinitely charming.

Critical events might include the inflation period that needed such fine control; the origin of life that looks to be impossible on its face; the creation of human sentience and conscience, when we got our Souls. Some, like Michael Behe, believe that micro-molecular machines (eg. the flagellum motor that drives the E. Coli bacteria) cannot (yet) be explained by natural means. Behe sees this as an example of non-Darwinian mini-macroevolution.

Scientists should, of course, search for the natural, non-miraculous paths; it’s what we do for a living. And whenever a natural explanation is found and proved, that is a triumph of the human intellect and it makes the third world-model less potent.

I do not know which model of the world God used and neither does anyone else. But I think that the greatest glory of science is trying to know God’s mind through the study of His wonders. Walt Whitman proclaimed: “A leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars.” And stars are child’s play compared to the complexity of DNA and the human genome. What a grand adventure!


Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

02 17 07

"But I think that the greatest glory of science is trying to know God’s mind through the study of His wonders."

Quite well said Bill. In fact the arrogance of many scientists to say that there is NOTHING else is inconsistent with an understanding of the complexities of nature!

Hey, I hope you feel better.

3:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is a remarkable post and worthy of reading several times as it contains thought-provoking detail.


2:08 PM  
Blogger fetching jen said...

Feel better Bill. Excellent post. Man in general is rather self-absorbed to think we are so superior to be "it."

4:25 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

"Our third world-model involves God’s intervention at critical points, what Christians call miracles...Atheists say that such a design proves the non-existence of God, since an all-powerful Being would not need to interfere with nature’s course to get His way."

Certainly an all powerful God could create a nature that worked exactly to His specification. However, what if that all powerful God wanted love to exist in his creation? That means that free will has to be introduced, because forced love is not love at all. In order for God to create creatures with free will means that the creatures have to have the ability to do things contrary to God's will. This means that God must free them from some of his omnipotence.

The atheist argument in this case assumes only one characteristic of God (omnipotence) as being the entire character of God. The real question is: Why does the atheist assume he knows the character of God when he doesn't even believe that God exists in the first place?

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


OK, a question for our liberal, non-believing friends:

They are all pretty smart, right? (Let's give them that.) Any of them smart enough to design the universe? Any of them smart enough to even understand it completely? I am not a scientist or a mathematician, but isn't the first supposition of reverse engineering that the object being studied was engineered to begin with? Why would we have searched for atomic and subatomic particles if all matter did not represent universally systemic architecture?

No one disputes that everything in this world that is artificial is the creation of intelligent design. We are the designers. We are intelligent.

So, why did apes become human (if in fact they did)? Precisely what conditions were present, must be present, for that evolution to occur? We treat evolution as science, even while we acknowledge its greater mystery. We are as far from understanding why, when, and how our species evolved into its present form as we are from swimming backstroke to the moon.

If a bicycle is in the desert, did it fall from the sky, evolve from a rock, or was it made by an intelligent designer? There is only one logical answer. We all know the answer. We just don't want to give God the same credit when we see our world, the planets, the galaxies, infinitely more complicated than your old Schwinn. Human ego is at the heart of all sin. "Eat the apple, and you shall be as God." We did, we aren't, and some of us hate Him for it.


11:47 AM  

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