Reprinted with permission of Crisis Magazine.
It may well be the most important intellectual movement to occur in the last 200 years, if not the last half-millennium. Its roots are in the sciences, but when it reaches full flower, it may branch into nearly every discipline, from theology, philosophy, and the social sciences to history and literature, and redefine almost every aspect of culture, from morality and law to the arts.
It's the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, and it's reshaping the face of science.The revolution began in the latter half of the 20th century as a result of discoveries in the various sciences that seemed to point to an intelligent being as the cause of nature's amazing intricacies. The aim of ID is included in its origin: the investigation of nature to uncover every aspect of its stunning complexity. Such complexity is the sure sign of intentional design, and the discovery and contemplation of it is also the natural delight of our intellect.The ID movement directly contradicts the modern secularist intellectual trend that has so thoroughly dominated Western culture for the last two centuries. In the "secularist" branch of philosophy, one denies the existence of any truth beyond what is humanly contrived. The secularization of science manifests itself in the belief that nature has no need for an intelligent designer, but is self-caused and self-contained. Secularized science tries to reduce apparent design (whether cosmological or biological) to the unintelligent interplay of chance and brute necessity. If nature itself has no intrinsic order, then (by default) the human intellect is the only source of intellectual order. The ID movement investigates the possibility that nature, rather than being the result of unintelligent, purposeless forces, can only be understood as the effect of an Intelligent Designer. This contradicts secularized science. The contradiction arises from the evidence of nature itself. In science, the ID movement points to the growing evidence of intelligent fine tuning (both cosmological and biological) and it opposed the idea that the order of nature can be completely reduced to unintelligent causes. As more and more evidence is gathered, secularized philosophy will be forced to confront the scientific evidence that truth is not a mere human artifact. Soon enough, secularized culture will be compelled to realign.
The critics of ID deny that it is a scientific revolution. They say ID is merely a religious ruse wearing a scientific facade. Often they assert a close connection between ID and creationism, using such terms as "Intelligent Design Creationism," and criticize ID on grounds of mixing religion and politics. A major source of the critics' ire is that ID has entered the realm of biology and raised questions concerning the established canons of Darwinism. It is all fine and good, they say, to investigate cosmological fine-tuning, but anathema to consider biological fine-tuning. Indeed, such critics very strongly oppose anyone who would doubt the claims of evolutionary theory (that design has been eliminated from biology). The outspoken Richard Dawkins puts it stridently: "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet someone who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." This overstatement about ID is typical of the critics' approach.Against this, I argue not only that it is quite reasonable to have doubts about evolutionary theory, but that the rise and development of ID theory, as an antidote to Darwinism, is both intellectually welcome and historically inevitable. It is intellectually welcome because Darwinism is too small to fit the facts it claims to explain, and ID is large enough to include a modified form of Darwinism. ID is historically inevitable because it is part of a larger, cosmological revolution that has already forced itself upon physics and astronomy. Let's begin with the latter claim because it is both most startling and most obvious.The Design Revolution in Cosmology
In physics, the term "the anthropic principle" refers to the discovery that the universe appears rigged, astoundingly fine-tuned to produce life (indeed, intelligent life). This fine-tuned conspiracy occurs on all levels, from the fundamental constants governing the formation of all the elements in the cosmos, to the extraordinarily precise relationship of planets in our solar system, to the delicate balances on our own planet.If, for example, the strong nuclear force that holds together the protons and neutrons in the nucleus of atoms were a tad weaker, elements other than hydrogen would either be unlikely or impossible; if a tad stronger, you wouldn't have hydrogen. Change the ratio of the mass of the electron to the proton just a mite and molecules cannot form. If gravity were made just a bit weaker, stars large enough to produce the heavier elements necessary for biological life would not exist; a bit stronger, and stars would be too massive, producing the necessary elements but burning too rapidly and unevenly to support life. Fiddle a smidgeon with the expansion rate of the universe, and you either cause it to collapse or exceed the ideal rate at which galaxies, and hence solar systems, can form.The conditions of our solar system are wonderfully intricate. For example, our sun is both massive and very stable. The sun hits the Goldilocks mean for life -- neither too hot (like a blue or white star) nor too cold (like a red star). Earth has the right combination of atmospheric gases to block out harmful radiation but opens like a window for visible light. Jupiter acts as a debris magnet, keeping Earth from being pummeled. Our moon is just the right size and distance to stabilize Earth's axial tilt, and so we have seasonal variations but not wildly swinging temperature changes.This article is too short to summarize the already vast but continually growing literature on such cosmic fine- tuning. I have given just a taste so that I could return to an earlier point and make it more explicit: The ID movement, understood in its proper and widest context, is cosmological in scope, looking for evidence of design in all of nature, and biology is just one aspect of nature where it seeks evidence of fine-tuning. Against those who would so jealously guard biology from ID, one must ask: How could the fundamental physical constants be fine-tuned, our solar system be fined-tuned, the atmospheric and geological features of our planet be fine-tuned, but all biological beings and processes be the result of unintelligent, purposeless forces? In addition, the ID approach is both quite natural and scientifically fruitful. The discovery of such exceedingly precise fine-tuning not only draws one to the conclusion that a designer is behind it all but also leads to further scientific discovery. In the mid - 20th century, astronomer Fred Hoyle concluded that "a commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature." That statement came as a result of Hoyle discovering the wildly improbable presence of just the right nuclear resonance levels in carbon and oxygen to allow for the formation of these elements necessary for life. For Hoyle, such wonderful calibration could not be an accident: "I do not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce inside the stars."But as the growing anthropic evidence attests, the conviction that the universe is finely tuned has led many scientists to look for additional instances of fine-tuning -- and they have not been disappointed. ("The Anthropic Cosmological Principle" by John Barrow and Frank Tipler goes into detail -- or simply browse Amazon.com for books on the anthropic principle or cosmology.) Thus, the common charges made by critics of ID that it is mere religion disguised as science, and that the assumption of ID has led to no scientific discoveries, is misplaced. Since the last half of the 20th century, the discovery of fine-tuning has been the impetus leading to the discovery of more fine-tuning, and the inference to a designer (as we see from Hoyle) is quite natural and quite respectable on the cosmological level.