By Louis A. Markos
Why Modern Science Points Toward, Not Away From, God
Although the media continues to present science and religion as antagonists, it is no exaggeration to say that many, if not most, of the major scientific discoveries of the last century have pointed not away from but toward theism. In this essay, I will survey some of those discoveries and gauge their theistic implications. I will then close with an annotated bibliography meant both to highlight the books that influenced and informed this essay and to provide resources for those who wish to explore further the issues raised below.
The Anthropic Principle
Through much study and observation, modern physicists and astronomers have come to realize that our universe is incredibly, if not miraculously fine tuned. For our universe to continue functioning, and for earth to continue being habitable, a large number of cosmic forces need to operate within precise parameters. Among these cosmic forces, the five best known are gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, the strong nuclear force, and the cosmological constant. Were any of these forces to shift up or down by the slightest degree, the universe would either fly apart or crush together; either way, life as we know it would be destroyed.
Modern science has taught us that our universe, and our life within that universe, is almost unfathomably unlikely; the odds against it are truly astronomical. If we run the odds against just one of the five constants being tuned the way it is, we get a number in the trillions, but when we calculate the likelihood of all five being in the necessary alignment, we get a number that exceeds the number of atoms in the known universe. Those who would have us believe that man could have evolved solely by time and chance expect us to believe that if a billion monkeys were set in front of a billion typewriters, one of them would, by chance, type out King Lear. For the universe to have achieved its fine tuning by chance is equivalent to putting a single typewriter in front of a single monkey and having him type King Lear on the first try; or, to be more accurate, having him type out the collected works of William Shakespeare.
When studied inductively, free from any pre-existing metaphysical assumptions, the cumulative evidence all but eliminates the possibility of chance. Everything we have learned over the last century about the fine-tuned nature of our universe has pointed away from chaos and coincidence toward order, purpose, and design. As Pythagoras, Euclid, Galileo, and Newton knew, the laws of nature and of the universe are written in the language of mathematics. Many non-theistic scientists—Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and the late Carl Sagan among them—view these cosmic mathematical laws with an almost religious awe; and yet, it is the numbers themselves that testify most strongly against their atheistic faith. The odds against mere chance having formed the universe we inhabit are simply too enormous to be ignored—unless one has a previous, unshakable metaphysical commitment against the existence of God. In that case, no amount of empirical, mathematical evidence will be sufficient to prove the existence of a super-natural creator.
The shocking discovery that our universe has been fine tuned in such a way as to make human life possible has been dubbed the Anthropic Principle (from Greek anthropos: “man”). One would think the Anthropic Principle would offer clear proof not only that there is a Designer but a personal Creator who purposed for man to exist, but many in the scientific community disagree. Indeed, the term Anthropic Principle (or AP) was partly coined as an alternative “scientific” shorthand for admitting the appearance of fine tuning without conceding its clear theistic implications. It is as if a liberal theologian who knew that Christianity was born out of the apostles’ eyewitness experience and proclamation of the Resurrection but who refused—on metaphysical rather than empirical grounds—to accept the possibility of resurrection, were to construct a naturalistic explanation for the birth of Christianity and then dub it the Resurrection Principle.
Those who have a previous metaphysical commitment to naturalism want to have it both ways. On the one hand, Carl Sagan founded the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) in order to scour the night sky for any signs of alien intelligence. Had he found, say, a quasar beating out the prime numbers, he would have concluded triumphantly that aliens exist. On the other hand, when it comes to our world, scientists who share Sagan’s militant agnosticism can study the astronomical precision that makes human life possible and fail to see the “alien” intelligence of a Creator. At times, they will even resort to an argument that is metaphysically and scientifically fallacious. Man, they will say, cannot possibly have been a special creation of God, for we and our planet are so insignificantly small compared to the vastness of the cosmos. I call this argument fallacious for it not only illogically makes size a marker of value but because it ignores the fact that the universe needs to be as vast and spread out as it is to make possible the production of the raw materials out of which our planet and our hominid bodies were formed. That is to say, the vastness of space is a central facet of AP; it is one of the cosmic preconditions for the existence of human life!
Most scientists today whose naturalist beliefs and presuppositions compel them to accept only physical, natural processes simply dismiss the supernatural implications of AP by saying, essentially, that we are here, so the odds obviously fell in our favor—end of debate! Such scientists might be compared to a naïve and optimistic gambler who does not believe it possible for a person to cheat at cards. He then plays a game of poker in which one of his opponents draws five royal straight flushes in a row. Since he refuses to believe his opponent is capable of cheating, he simply concludes that his opponent must have been very, very lucky. Though the odds against drawing five royal straight flushes are astronomical, the gambler has no choice but to conclude that, impossible as it seems, “luck” must have been on the side of his opponent. If cheating is ruled out, then the “coincidence” can only be explained by reference to some shadowy “Royal-Straight-Flush Principle.”
Of course, not all metaphysical naturalists have been satisfied with this somewhat embarrassing cop-out. A number of bolder (cockier?) scientists, Stephen Hawking chief among them, desperate to preserve a respectable “natural” explanation for AP, have concocted a theory straight out of science fiction. Granting the astronomical odds against the fine tuning of our universe, they theorize that these odds would be lessened if there were, in fact, billions of universes out there. Borrowing a page from the equally sci-fi quantum physicists who theorize that an infinite number of quantum realities exist to account for all the possible actions we might have taken and all the potential consequences those potential actions might have caused, AP-phobic scientists have posited that our universe is but one of multiple universes (or multiverses). Given enough multiverses, they argue, it is not unreasonable to expect that one would end up like ours.
That respectable, even brilliant scientists would resort to the multiverse theory as an escape hatch from the theistic implications of AP exposes the weaknesses in a metaphysical naturalism that refuses to consider even the possibility of a super-natural God who is actively at work in the universe. Were I vacationing on a cruise ship, and I saw the captain abandon the ship to paddle off in a rotting canoe punctured with holes, I would know that the ship itself was doomed! I see the multiverse theory as just such a rotting canoe, a desperate, last-ditch effort to survive the impending collapse of metaphysical naturalism. And yet, ironically, even that rotting canoe cannot afford an escape; for, even if the multiverse theory could be proven, the existence of a finely tuned cosmic soup that could produce all these universes would itself point to a Designer.
The Big Bang
The theistic implications of AP are indeed strong and pose a major threat to scientists, and others in the academy and media, who are firmly committed to a worldview that excludes the supernatural. But the story does not end there. As strong as the theistic implications are for AP, they are even stronger for that other great discovery of the twentieth century: the Big Bang. In the century following the Enlightenment’s dismissal of God as an unnecessary hypothesis, many scientists, aware of the strength of the Kalam cosmological argument (that a universe which came into being must have a cause) began to theorize an eternal universe. Even after the Hubble telescope proved (in 1929) that our universe was expanding from a central point, many scientists continued to cling to a static (or “steady state”) universe. Einstein himself, aware that to accept an expanding universe meant to accept a universe with a beginning, theorized a groundless “fudge factor” to explain away the apparent expansion. He later recanted his “fudge factor” as the greatest mistake in his scientific career and accepted, if grudgingly, that our universe was expanding.
By 1980, abundant evidence had been amassed to prove that the universe began in an explosive event dubbed the Big Bang, an event which created not only matter, but the space-time continuum. Still, despite the evidence that our universe had a beginning, Carl Sagan began his successful and highly influential 1980 TV series, Cosmos, by asserting that the cosmos is all there is, all there has ever been, and all there will ever be. Sagan was certainly aware that a universe that begins with a Big Bang needs a “Big Banger” who exists outside of and separate from that universe to bring it into being—but this was something his philosophical (not scientific) presuppositions would not allow him to accept. Fifteen years earlier, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson had discovered, by accident, the “smoking gun” of the Big Bang: background microwave radiation spread out smoothly across the vastness of space. Sagan knew of their discovery and knew what it meant—that our cosmos had not always existed; nevertheless, he, a supposedly “objective” scientist, used his media platform to try to convince an entire generation that our universe is eternal.
That the universe had a beginning, that there was a time when neither matter nor space nor time itself existed, came as an unpleasant shock to metaphysical naturalists like Sagan. It should, however, have come as no shock to Jews and Christians who believed in the revealed truth of Genesis 1:1 (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”; NIV 1984 throughout) and/or Hebrews 11:3 (“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”). Though few realize it, the Bible is the only ancient book to claim God created the world ex nihilo (“out of nothing”); all the other pagan nations, from the Greeks and Romans to the Egyptians and Babylonians to the Indians and Scandinavians, believed that matter, not spirit came first. Unlike the eternal God of the Jews, the one whose name is I AM, the gods of the Gentiles were born out of the initial chaos and then used their powers to shape that chaos. Outside the Bible, the belief was not “in the beginning, God,” but “in the beginning, stuff.”
Today nearly all scientists accept the Big Bang, placing it about 14 billion years ago (with the earth at 4 billion years old)—a time frame, incidentally, that is far too short to account for the kind of slow evolution theorized by Darwin and his heirs. That, of course, does not mean all scientists accept the theistic implications of the Big Bang. The science-fiction scenarios of the multiverse theorists have also been applied to the Big Bang, but they bear as much resemblance to real science as mermaid legends do to ichthyology. Indeed, further research into what happened in the first few seconds of the Big Bang has revealed an even greater fine-tuned precision that boggles the mind. The message that the Big Bang is telling us, if only we will have ears to hear it, is that there exists an eternal “something” outside of our space-time continuum. In the absence of that “something,” neither our planet nor our universe would exist. There would be nothing.
The Fossil Record
Whereas the Big Bang and the Anthropic Principle point to the need for a divine Designer in the realms of physics and cosmology, other evidence suggests that just such a Designer is also necessary in the fields of biology and chemistry. Although Darwinists—by which term I mean scientists and people in general who argue that life could have evolved on this planet solely by means of natural, physical, material processes—have long pointed to the fossil record as proof of macroevolution, the record that has emerged over the last several decades of paleontology tells a far different story.
Six generations of avid Darwinian fossil hunting have failed to unearth the necessary transitional forms between species; instead, the actual fossils we have unearthed point to an abrupt appearance of species followed by variation within species. Far from forming themselves into a branching Darwinian tree, the fossils resemble a grassy field with individual stalks of grass shooting up side by side.
Indeed, during the Cambrian explosion (also known as the “biological big bang”), nearly all animal phyla appeared during a brief space of geological time about 600 million years ago. This is not what the Darwinists expected to find when they began their search for fossils that would back up their theory. What they should have found in the fossil record was an evolution toward the various phyla; what they found instead were numerous variations from the phyla.
Modern cars and planes vary quite widely in their shapes, styles, and accouterments, but all cars and planes, no matter their individual specifications, follow the basic model and design set forth by Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers. Contra Darwin’s theory of evolution, the same is the case for the major animal phyla—they still maintain, with variations, the basic model and design that appeared (abruptly) during the Cambrian explosion. For over a century, the raison d’être of paleontology has been to prove Darwin’s theory; ironically, despite its resounding failure, Darwinists still invoke the fossil record as proof of macroevolution. Needless to say, the long sought for missing link between ape and man has not been found either, nor has a sound reason been offered for why there have been no new species since man. Since evolution is driven by undirected chance, how could it “know” to stop with us?
Although the distinctly non-gradual nature of the fossil record has been one of the best kept secrets of Darwinism, at least one evolutionist did muster the courage to suggest an alternate explanation that would preserve the tenets of naturalism while accounting for the gaps in the fossil record. His name was Stephen Jay Gould, and in the 1970’s he, together with Niles Eldredge, posited sudden mutational change (punctuated equilibrium) as a way to account for the lack of intermediate species—even though by doing so he essentially broke with Darwin’s theory of slow descent by modification! The technical word for such sudden mutational leaps is saltationism (from a Latin verb that means “to leap”). That an evolutionist like Gould would embrace saltationism as a way to explain the fossil record betrays a desperation on the part of naturalistic science to at least preserve the appearance of Darwinism.
If truth be told, modern Darwinism no longer adheres to Darwin’s theory of slow descent by modification. The neo-Darwinian fusion that reigns today combines slow modifications with sudden mutations. These mutations occur as a byproduct of the elaborate system by which the DNA replicates itself, a system that occasionally yields mutations. And yet, there is a great irony here. Although our increased knowledge of DNA has provided us with evidence of a system that could bring about mutations, that knowledge has simultaneously provided what is perhaps the strongest argument that life on planet earth was supernaturally designed—an argument that might very well have convinced Darwin if he were alive today!
Over the last fifty years, scientists have discovered that our cells are vastly more complex than Darwin could ever have imagined. Even a single-celled animal is a veritable storehouse of information. From Watson and Crick’s heralded discovery of the double helix structure of the DNA to the successful mapping of the human genome, the secrets of life have opened before us. We have discerned not only the structure of the DNA but the ingenious way it replicates: a replication system that does allow for small mutations that can drive (micro) evolution. What is not admitted, however, is that though this replication system can and does facilitate adaptations within species, it could not itself have evolved merely by undirected time and chance. It is simply too complex and does not lend itself to the types of mechanisms that drive natural selection. The proteins that make up our genes are assembled piece by piece in a process that may seem to suggest natural selection but that in actuality betrays the existence of supernatural design. For the assembling is done in accordance with a detailed blueprint that is stored in our DNA, and that has been there, as far as we can tell, from the beginning of life.
The DNA of all living creatures, from a one-celled amoeba to Einstein, is frontloaded with an enormous amount of coded information, and no mechanism exists that can evolve information. Indeed, the old idea that the universe is made of matter and energy is in great need of modification. Our discovery of the cell has shown us that the universe is composed not of two things but of three: matter, energy, and information. One doggedly naturalistic scientist who was clearly aware that the information-rich nature of DNA precluded its having been blindly assembled by evolution was Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the double helix. That is why he published a book in 1981, Life Itself, in which he seriously suggested that aliens might have seeded our planet with DNA (a theory known as panspermia). If this is not a veritable admission that our DNA is the product of intelligent, supernatural design, then I don’t know what is! And Crick’s admission is no fluke. In the documentary Expelled (2008), during a debate between Ben Stein and neo-atheist and radical Darwinist Richard Dawkins, Stein gets Dawkins to suggest as well that our DNA might have been seeded by extra-terrestrials.
Another area of research that points toward theism can be found in the work of Intelligent Design (ID) theorist William Dembski. Dembski has argued that those who would find evidence for a supernatural designer in nature must distinguish carefully between complex patterns (as one finds in crystals) and what he calls specified complexity—a recognizable design or pattern that has meaning apart from the phenomenon itself.
The best way to understand what Dembski means by specified complexity is to consider the methods used by archeologists and anthropologists. If the former digs up a heap of stones in a roughly circular shape, he will not immediately infer that the stones were laid there by a conscious agent. If, however, those stones are carefully arranged in a complex pattern that the archeologist recognizes as being that of a temple or a human dwelling, he will infer that the stones did not end up there by chance but were put there for a specific purpose. In the case of the latter, if he finds a rock that seems to have a somewhat pointy end, he will likely dismiss it as a natural phenomenon. If however, the rock has been clearly shaped into a tool recognized by the anthropologist (say, a knife), he will conclude that the specified complexity of the rock-knife proves that it was shaped by an intelligent agent.
Indeed, Dembski argues, all of us have a natural understanding of the difference between chance/regularity and specified complexity. If we are taking a walk through South Dakota, and we notice on the side of a cliff the rough image of what appears to be a face, we will most likely dismiss it as the result of natural weathering forces. But if we discern on the side of a second cliff the image of four distinct faces that clearly resemble four Presidents whose pictures we have seen—namely, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt—we will immediately conclude that the second image is not random but designed. The specified complexity of the phenomenon convinces us of this fact beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Likewise, if we are walking on a beach, and we see wavy lines and patterns on the sand, we will conclude they were caused by the natural forces of wind and tide. But if those lines form a linguistic pattern, we will recognize it as the work of an intelligent agent, even if we don’t ourselves know the language. I doubt that any person, Darwinist or otherwise, will dispute the four examples I have given, and yet, what I have described is exactly parallel to the type of information-rich specified complexity we encounter in our cells and DNA. Well, not really parallel—for the specified complexity of the DNA is vastly more intricate than a hundred Mount Rushmores!
Dembski, though well versed in the sciences, writes primarily as a philosopher; still, his findings match perfectly with those of an accomplished biochemist named Michael Behe. In Darwin’s Black Box, Lehigh professor Behe argues that clear evidence for design can be found within our cells. Behe, referencing Darwin himself, argues that if any biological system can be found that cannot be evolved through a series of slow steps, Darwinism will be disproved. Since evolution is blind, it does not know where it is going, each step in natural selection must possess some type of survival value; otherwise, it will not be selected for preservation by the organism. If a chemical or biological system could be identified that could not be formed by a gradual process in which each step possessed survival value, then that system would be “irreducibly complex” and would offer concrete evidence for the existence of some form of intelligence that is not a part of the unconscious, non-purposeful system of natural selection. Irreducibly complex systems, that is to say, necessitate the pre-existence of a controlling intelligence that could frontload the information for the blueprint that assembled the system.
Behe claims to have identified just such a system in the bacterial flagellum, a microscopic, multi-part system that works like an outboard motor to propel the organism. The “motor” is composed of a number of intricate parts—including a rotor, a drive shaft, rings, studs, and a universal joint—that must all be in place for it to work. Remove even one part, and the flagellum ceases to function. In addition to its remarkable sleekness and efficiency, the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex. It cannot have evolved in stages, for until all its pieces are in place, it does not perform any function that would benefit the cell. In his book, Behe compares the flagellum to a mousetrap, which is composed of five basic parts: the platform, the holding bar, the spring, the catch, and the hammer. Remove even one of these five parts and the mousetrap is useless—it cannot perform its function of catching mice. Like the flagellum, the mousetrap is irreducibly complex.
Icons of Evolution
While Dembski and Behe have carried ID into the realms of philosophy and biochemistry, Jonathan Wells has taken a step back and helped us to understand how and why Darwinism has come to exert such a firm grip on the western mind. In Icons of Evolution, Wells, without specifically mentioning ID, deconstructs a number of (false) icons that Darwinists still use to lull the public, especially public school and university students, into unquestioning belief.
The first of these icons is the laboratory, replete with test tubes and Frankenstein-like gadgets, in which Stanley Miller claimed to have produced life out of pre-biotic soup. For decades now, Miller’s experiment, meant to prove that life could have sprung out of non-living matter through the intervention of lightning, has been discredited for being false to early earth conditions. Despite this, however, the image of Miller’s laboratory persists, etched in the minds of countless students.
Another icon that Wells highlights is Darwin’s tree of life, with its graceful evolutionary branches. In biology textbooks across the country, the tree continues to be presented as a picture of reality, on par with the periodic table; yet, it has never been proven, and, as I noted above, it directly contradicts the fossil record and the evidence of the Cambrian Explosion.
A third icon also dates back to the nineteenth century, when a German Darwinist named Ernst Haeckel published a series of drawings of the human embryo in various stages of growth. Haeckel claimed that his drawings supported evolution by documenting that the human fetus, in its earliest stages, proceeds step by step through the evolutionary process in its mother’s womb. Over a century has passed since Haeckel’s drawings were exposed as fraudulent; yet, they continue to crop up in textbooks as embryological “proof” of Darwinian evolution.
I think it fitting to end this essay with these three icons for the strongly-held, often unshakably-held, belief that science has disproven God is itself one huge false icon. As I’ve tried to demonstrate above, modern scientific discoveries have given us far more reason to believe in a supernatural Designer than in random, naturalistic, blind processes that could not have fashioned a wristwatch, much less the macro-complexity of our fine-tuned cosmos or the micro-complexity of our DNA.
About the Author
Louis Markos (www.Loumarkos.com), Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his books include Apologetics for the 21st Century, From Achilles to Christ, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, From A to Z to Narnia with C. S. Lewis, and The Dreaming Stone.
Allen, Lad (director). Unlocking the Mystery of Life: The Scientific Case for Intelligent Design (DVD, 2002). This excellent documentary, produced by Illustra Media, presents some of the strongest scientific evidence for Intelligent Design.
Behe, Michael J. Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. NY: The Free Press, 1996. Behe argues on the basis of irreducible complexity that the slow gradual changes of Darwinian natural selection cannot account for the existence of complex biological “machines” like the bacterial flagellum.
Dembski, William A. The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). In this path breaking book, Dembski lays out his design inference, a “filter” that allows researchers to determine whether a given structure or phenomenon is random or designed.
Frankowski, Nathan (director). Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (DVD, 2008). In this playful but very pointed documentary, Ben Stein exposes the strong arm tactics used by the scientific establishment—and their accomplices in the media and other watchdog groups—to crush and/or humiliate the work of Intelligent Design theorists. It concludes with a face-to-face debate between Stein and Richard Dawkins, during which Dawkins suggests our DNA was seeded by aliens.
Gonzalez, Guillermo and Richards, Jay. The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery. Washington, DC: Regnery, 2004. This fascinating book not only argues that our earth is fine-tuned for life but that we were placed in just the right part of the cosmos to allow us to study the universe.
Heeren, Fred. Show Me God: What the Message from Space is Telling us about God. Wheeling, IL: Searchlight Publications, 1995. I think this book offers the best overview of the many scientific discoveries that led up to the almost universally accepted theory of the Big Bang. Though Heeren has a quirky sense of humor and will offend some readers, his book is both highly entertaining and carefully researched and presented.
Johnson, Phillip E. Darwin on Trial, Revised edition. Downers Grove, IVP, 1993. This is the book that kicked off the Intelligent Design movement; in it, Johnson exposes both the numerous weaknesses in Darwinism and the near irrationality of those who continue to defend it in the face of the mounting evidence against it.
Lennox, John. God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is it Anyway? Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2011. An engaging refutation of Hawking’s multiverse theory and his other attempts to defuse the theistic implications of the Big Bang.
Meyer, Stephen C. The Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. New York: Harper Collins, 2010. This monumental, well-researched book gives a full account of how our knowledge of DNA and how it replicates points unswervingly toward an intelligent Designer.
Ross, Hugh. The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Latest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993. Ross, an astrophysicist, has written a number of books about how modern science not only points toward the God of the Bible but helps us to understand things about the nature of the Creator. I think this is the best and most accessible of his books.
Strobel, Lee. The Case for a Creator. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. In the space of a single book, Strobel covers with sufficient depth all the main arguments for the existence of an eternal, personal Creator that have been granted to us by advances in physics, cosmology, astronomy, biology, biochemistry, and a host of other sciences.
Wells, Jonathan. Icons of Evolution: Why Much of What We Teach about Evolution is Wrong. Washington, DC: Regnery, 2002. A major study within the Intelligent Design movement that helps expose ten icons (or, better, idols) that have made Darwinism a part of the modern mind.
Woodward, Thomas. Doubts about Darwin. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003. The definitive history of the Intelligent Design movement.
This essay is adapted from chapters 14 and 22 and the bibliography of my Apologetics for the 21st Century (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).