The Radio at the Edge of the Universe
Some atheists have been crowing lately about the rise of the “nones.” Many of those “nones” aren’t atheists, and the trend toward atheism is greatly exaggerated. But the way many scientific materialists talk, anyone capable of walking while chewing gum must see the “overwhelming evidence” that “God is dead.”
My latest book takes the opposite position, arguing that nature strongly suggests foresight at many levels, the working of a designing mind. And three Nobel laureates endorsed the book. Such distinguished scientists, encouraging an open exploration of the evidence for design, aren’t supposed to exist.
I’m not supposed to exist either. I have almost 1,000 peer-reviewed science papers to my name and am the former president of the International Mass Spectrometry Society. And yet I am convinced that nature points to a mind, to one who foresaw and solved a myriad of stunningly difficult engineering challenges to make life in the universe possible.
Indeed, contemporary science has revealed that Earth and the cosmos display layer upon layer of features essential to life. I can mention, for instance, the numerous physical constants whose precise values must be just so to allow for life. Things such as the speed of light, the gravitational constant, and the Planck constant.
Tuning the Dials
Think of a radio dial that needs to be set at precisely the right frequency — “tuned” — to find the desired station. If the universe were a radio and the desired setting allows for life, it would have dozens of dials for setting the values of the universal constants. Muff even a single of these dial settings at the beginning of the universe, by even a tiny bit, and the result is a universe that can never host life.
Confronted by this, distinguished physicist Fred Hoyle commented, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”
Hoyle wasn’t a religious man. He simply recognized what many others scientists have as well, including some of the world’s leading physicists and astronomers: The fine tuning of the universe provides compelling evidence for a designing intelligence behind the cosmos.
What is Science?
Some of my fellow scientists offer something like the following objection: If we imagine that foresight was the act of a mind, then it must have been a supernatural being, one who transcends the cosmos and its laws, so any conclusion of foresight doesn’t count as science.
This response raises a fundamental question: How is science properly defined?
Contrary to popular perceptions, science is a diverse human activity and there are many different scientific methods. There is overlap, of course. But there are also some important distinctions. For instance, laboratory or bench science focuses on how things work now. It employs one methodology. The historical sciences, including origins science, draw on the methods of bench science but also on others, since origins science seeks to discover the cause of events in the past. Such events are not observable in the way one could, for instance, observe things in molecular biology using advanced microscopes.
If science is to be considered an unflinchingly truth-directed endeavor, reason and evidence must be the only constraints.
Different methodologies are used even among the experimental sciences — as, for instance, between ecology and physics. Accordingly, science has been defined by scientists and scientific societies in many overlapping but also, at times, competing ways.
The Kansas Board of Education has defined science as a human endeavor aimed at explaining the natural world, though they added one sweeping restriction: It can only appeal to natural forces. “Science is restricted to explaining only the natural world, using only natural cause,” the board wrote. “This is because science currently has no tools to test explanations using non-natural (such as supernatural) causes.”
But in fact, intelligent design is testable. Also, if the above definition were the proper definition of science, only one worldview would be allowed in science: naturalism. And that biased restriction would mean that evidence of apparent foresight in the universe and life must be ignored or explained away.
An Impoverished View of Science
Such a restriction betrays an impoverished view of science that excludes evidence just because it fails to match a desired conclusion. If science — the search for absolute truths hidden within nature — is to be considered an unflinchingly truth-directed endeavor, reason and evidence must be the only constraints.
With this neutral understanding of science, it becomes clear that investigating possible evidence for foresight and design is a valid scientific project. Honest debate and dialogue among people involved in a free scientific search for knowledge is the driving force behind science. We should follow the evidence no matter who finds it and no matter what the motivation of the finder, and regardless of what it may tell us about reality. That’s the only science I find worth doing.
Dr. Eberlin is a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, winner of the prestigious Thomson Medal (2016), and former president of the International Mass Spectrometry Society. Eberlin has published close to 1,000 scientific articles and is author of the new book Foresight: How the Chemistry of Life Reveals Planning and Purpose, from which this essay was adapted.