Why is the Idea of a Creator God more controversial in Biology than it is in Cosmology?
It is notable that there is much controversy regarding design -i.e. intelligent design- within the science realm. Interestingly there appears to be a great deal more controversy surrounding the notion of design in biology than in cosmology. This essay will be aimed at examining each of these fields of science in turn to assess the reasons behind the controversy in each and to ultimately explain why there is more controversy in biology than cosmology with regards to the role of design. Key features within cosmology to be considered are the 'fine-tuning' of the universe and the relationship between mathematics and physics. With regards to biology the theory of evolution and also the tendency within science to presuppose that design is an appearance as opposed to a fact will be explored. Upon concluding these the reasons for different levels of controversy in the respective fields pertaining to intelligent design will be briefly considered.
“The remarkable picture which is gradually emerging from modern physics and cosmology is one of a universe whose fundamental forces are amazingly...'fine-tuned' in order for the universe to be able to sustain life. Recent research has show that many of the fundamental constants of nature, from the energy levels in the carbon atom to the rate at which the universe is expanding, have just the right values for life to exist” (Lennox,2007:70).
Lennox sums up the emerging consensus of the scientific community in his reasoning here. It is undeniable that change to any of the fundamental constants of nature would render the universe hostile to life. This fine-tuning which exists warrants explanation according to scientists and many others. For example Sir Fred Hoyle reasons that the carbon forming caused by resonance would cease if only 1% either direction (1982:16). Theoretical Physicist Paul Davies explains that if the ratio of nuclear strong force to electromagnetic force where off even fractionally no stars could have been formed (Davies in Lennox,2007:69). Davies uses the marksmen illustration to explain the likelihood of the exact conditions needed for forming starts being met. That is, that it is similar to a marksmen being able to hit a coin at the far end of the visible universe twenty-billion ligthyears away (Davies,1983:68). Thus the fine-tuning in this example is near to impossible as a chance happening.
The Blind Watchmaker?
Though Lennox is approaching the concept of design as it is emerging within the field of modern-science, the underlying consensus that the universe was subject to design or creation is not nearly new. Keith Ward refers back to the great classical philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle and Descartes s who understood the origin of the universe as lying in a 'transcendent reality'. Though these philosophers ventured different ideas about this and utilised different approaches they concluded that the universe was not self-explanatory thus requiring an explanation for it's existence as 'fairly obvious' according to Ward (Ward,1996:23). The 1978 Nobel Prize winner Arno Penzias describes a 'unique event' which astronomy inevitably heralds. The event he refers to is creation, at which time a universe was 'created out of nothing' characterised by the 'very delicate balance' required to permit life and seems to result from a plan- describable as 'supernatural' (Penzias,1992:83).
One aspect of design in cosmology which is easier for most to accept is the rational intelligibility of the universe. Einstein famously commented “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible' (Einstein in Lennox,2007:58). That the universe is intelligible dictates that there is rationality capable of realising this intelligibility. Rational intelligibility is one of the key factors that have lead the thinkers of each generation- from the early philosophers to modern day scientists-to conclude that the universe must be product of intelligent design (Lennox,2007:59).
Einstein furthers this reasoning in explaining that theories which are able to recognize patterns and the ordering of the world such as Newton's theory of gravitation could not come out of an unintelligible universe as they depend on the ability to reason (Einstein,1987:131). Lennox draws attention to the underlying mathematical nature of this intelligibility which is so able to recognise, explain and predict factors (Lennox,2007:59). Paul Davies along with many other challenges the perception that mathematics is only recognised as characterising that laws of nature because we define the fundamental laws as mathematical. In other words Davies argues that the mathematical nature of the universe is inherent. He points out that the mathematics used to describe and understand these fundamentals were utilising pre-existent mathematics exercises. He makes the strong point that it is striking that these supposed abstract mathematics of the human mind are also imperative to all branches of science (Davies,1992:150). Professor of mathematics Sir Roger Penrose FRS who possess an unquestioned grasp of the relationship between mathematics and physics describes that the idea of brilliant theories arising by random natural selection of ideas 'leaving only the good ones as survivors' is hard to believe (Penrose,1991:430). Consensus of the mathematical intelligibility of the universe comes from Ward also describes the 'continuing conformity of physical particles to precise mathematical relationships'. He describes the idea of a 'cosmic mathematician' and reasons that conformity to the laws of physics implies there is a God who formulates the laws and ensures this conformity (Ward,1996:85)Thus the link between seemingly intelligent design of the cosmos and a predisposition to intelligent interpretation of it is clear and one reason why design in cosmology is less controversial than in biology. Also, in this line of reasoning a faith in the science world is revealed in that there is the firm belief in the mathematical intelligibility of the world (Polkinghorne:1991,76). Thus cosmology has an inherent type of faith- that is in mathematics- and this mathematical faith pronounces consistency, patterns, predictability, i.e. design.
Unlike cosmology the idea of design in biology is highly controversial. Richard Dawkins talks of how nature gives an 'overwhelming impression of design' and even goes as far to define biology as 'the study of complicated things which give the impression of having been designed for a purpose' (Dawkins,1986:1).Many scientists including the Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick who co-discovered the double-helix structure of DNA warns scientists to bear in mind that what they study was not designed, but rather evolved (1988:36). One might question the impartiality of science when such a rigid presumption is put it place. Surely this would hamper the potential for unbiased inquiry and discovery.
Only the appearance of intricate design?
Indeed Lennox begs the question, why is something appears to be designed, would it not be accepted as having been designed (Lennox,2007:77)? The real of science is so set on avoiding this conclusion that it overlooks pointers to this, such as Dawkins admitted 'overwhelming impression of design'. When biological design is the question, Occam's Razor is immediately discounted, to the point of wilful bias such as Crick's warning for scientists to pre-emptively rule-out design when studying nature.
Lennox reasons that the underlying mechanism for this disconnect is the template of the theory of evolution which many scientists demand all other theories must correspond to. That is many scientists in the vein of Darwin maintain that evolutionary processes are capable of producing intelligent and complex existence including human life in the complete absence of intelligent input (Lennox,2007:77). Dawkins refers to evolution as an entirely material and unguided mechanism- not a divine mind. Dawkins book 'The Blind Watchmaker' explains more fully his postulation for the lack of directive in design using the analogy of a blind watchmaker to describe the natural selection brought about by the blind forces of physics to contrast with the idea of the genuine watchmaker who plans his design of the cogs and spring in his mechanism. He maintains that the blind watchmaker like the mechanism of evolution has no vision or foresight of his creation (Dawkins,1986:14).
The theory of evolution then, is a key barrier in investigating the concept of intelligent design. However, one could query whether evolution could negate the existence of a creator. It would seem that this is the prevalent notion is science with a legacy in place since Darwin published 'The Origin of Species'. The atheist Robert Green Ingersoll wrote that Darwen’s 'doctrine of evolution' would 'remove in every thinking mind the last vestige of orthodox Christianity' (Ingersoll in Lennox,2007:84). Interestingly his use of the word doctrine has proven rather accurate as Darwen’s theory of evolution is indeed now on par with religious doctrine in terms of it's widespread acceptance and the reverence with which it is treated in much of the scientific community. It could be reasoned that it is on par with Catholic Church's Doctrine of Papal Infallibility. The evolutionary biologist Sir Julian Huxley also famously stated in 1959 that 'In the evolutionary scheme of thought there is no longer either need or room for the supernatural' (Tax,1960:165). He simply reasoned that God had been displaced by evolution. Lennox thus reasons that if such a place of absolute certainty is given to evolution then naturally and logically atheism results. He consequently refers to the widespread belief that evolution has pushed God out of the picture.
Dawkins postulates two facts which are 1) Biological evolution does not allow for the existence of a creator, and 2) Biological evolution accounts for the existence of all things in their complexity (Dawkins,1976:1). Unsurprisingly, given these terms he finds that there is thus no creator. Like Dawkins, many imagine given this reasoning that the discussion ends there. Lennox however challenges this on the grounds that God and evolution do not belong to the same category of explanation Evolution is a biological mechanism, whereas those who believe in God see him as the agent of such biological processes and mechanisms. The existence of the mechanism therefore does not nullify the reality of the agent which operates it (Lennox,2007:86-87).
Thus, in conclusion, this essay has demonstrated that there is unequal controversy regarding the notion of intelligent design within the fields of cosmology and biology. It has become apparent that the universe and it's vast expanse is reason for most people to be more comfortable with the idea of design as it is perceived in popular culture as being shrouded in mystery which has been accepted since the ages of the early philosophers till the present time by Physicists such as Paul Davies,whereas the theory of evolution in biology has been seen to have removed this mystery and even explained the 'fine-tuning' in terms of natural selection proclaimed by those such as Francis Crick and Richard Dawkins. It is often a foregone conclusion that God has been disprove because science has uncovered the true nature of human existence through the theory of evolution. The extremity of fine-tuning in cosmology however has not been able to rule out intelligent design because of the unlikeness of achieving such high levels of accuracy necessary (such as that found in Paul Davies marksmen analogy) for existence through the same notion of natural selection. This leads people to be less willing to rule out an intelligent input into the creation of the stars and planets including our own Earth. As Lennox also made the point very well, that there are obvious mechanisms in place within biology does not remove the existence of an agent of this mechanism or process. As stated earlier in this essay, one can clearly see that the 'Doctrine of evolution' has become just that- a doctrine on par with religious doctrine in terms of it's infallible status and revered place within science and the general public- this is most likely the greatest reason that there is more controversy with regards to design within biology than is cosmology.