Four Kinds of Design In The Cosmos

Editor's Note: In the January/February 2000 issue of this journal, we ran an article with the above title. Since that time we have included it in our lectureships and have had a great many questions on it on our web site and through the mail. We have reproduced an updated version here for your use and edification. JNC

One of the major battles taking place today between atheists and believers is the question of whether the cosmos and everything in it is the result of intelligent design or whether it is the result of chance. One strong evidence for the existence of God is that, if there is an agreement that there is design in the creation, one is compelled to believe that there is a designer--an intelligence that is the source of the wisdom seen in the design. To counter that argument, atheists have attempted to prove that chance in one way or another can account for all that we see. Julian Huxley said it well, "We are as much the result of blind forces as is the falling of a stone to earth or the ebb and flow of the tides. We have just happened, and man was made flesh by a long series of singular beneficial accidents" (Anthony Smith, The Human Degree, J. B. Lippincott Co., 1976).

The purpose of this article is to provide some direction in the discussion about design in the cosmos. I would suggest that there are four types of design arguments, some of which have been made in the past and some of which are new arguments (or at least are more specific in their approach). One has to look at the weight of the evidence when one makes a personal decision about the validity of an argument for the existence of God. I would like to argue that there is a huge amount of evidence of design in each of the four areas that we will explore in this article. It is hoped that the reader will investigate each of these in more detail.

Intuitive Design

Sunset on ocean waters This kind of design is the oldest of all of the design arguments. Man from his earliest days has marveled at the creation around him and asked what the source of this design is. It is difficult to watch the birth of one's child and not be filled with awe at what has just taken place, as a new human enters the world and draws his or her first breath. Watching the beauty of a sunset, looking through a telescope at the complexities of the cosmos, or beholding the way in which every form of life survives can inspire belief in a designer of incredible intelligence that made all of this possible. In this periodical, we have had a series titled "Dandy Designs" from the time we started printing materials in 1968. We have written hundreds of these observations primarily with the idea of encouraging children to recognize that they live in a wonderful world, and to look with an appreciative eye at all that surrounds them.

Dandy Designs book cover The difficulty with this kind of design is that over the years people have been able to produce possible mechanisms for how they came to be. Biological examples can be explained by constructing models which give possible ways that the forms of life may have come to be as they are in terms of genetics and natural selection. The champion of this approach in recent years has been Richard Dawkins, and his book The Blind Watchmaker has become a Bible for atheism. The fact that one can construct a hypothetical model does not mean that this is in fact what actually happened--or even that the proposed explanation is even possible--because many times unforeseen complications take place in any biological process. Nonetheless, the point is well taken that science has been able to understand how many biological systems operate and even give reasonable proposals as to how they are sustained. It is also true that there is a tendency in this approach to use a scapegoat mentality of thinking. If we say that something is so complex that we cannot understand it, and then suggest that God designed it is the result of our thinking we have essentially used a god of the gaps argument. Our point is the opposite of this thinking. We suggest that if we work to understand the system, we can see its complexity denies the possibility of chance formation.

Many scientists who are believers view such understanding by scientists as an exercise of understanding the mind of God. Dr. Henry Schaeffer once said:

The significance and joy in my science comes in those occasional moments of discovering something new and saying to myself, "So that's how God did it." My goal is to understand a little corner of God's plan.

The most compelling point about intuitive design is the number of examples that can be given. These examples come from every discipline in science, and the weight of the number of examples is compelling.

Architectural Design

A second kind of design is what might be called architectural design. What is meant by this term is that we frequently see things of incredible beauty and/or pattern in the world around us that have no reason to be that way. A classic example of this is seen in Fibonacci's ratio. In 1202, a mathematician noticed some constant patterns in numbers that ultimately resulted in not only some interesting data about numerical sequences, but also in geometric patterns.

A spiral To the right is a spiral that has been made using these numbers. (For a copy of an article that appeared in this journal several years ago on Fibonacci, send us a stamped postage-paid envelope.) This spiral is used in making lots of things humans do--spiral staircases, music symbols, etc.

The spiral in a sea shell Mountain goats horns The curve of an ocean wave The spiral of a galaxy The interesting thing is that this spiral is also seen over and over in nature. Galaxy arms curve with the same shaped spiral that we have in this picture. The same spiral describes water as it goes down the drain. A wave curls with the same shape as does the tail of a comet. Subatomic particles curl in magnetic fields with the same shape. We find the same shape in the curl of the horns of animals, the curve of the roots of teeth, the curl of a spider web, or of the antenna of insects. The Fibonacci curl is seen in the tuber of plants, in the arrangement of seeds in sunflowers, or the shape of pine cones. We see the same curl in sea shells, in the inner ear of a human, in the internal structures of all brain tissue, and in the inside structure of algae.

The spiral in DNA It is important to notice that this curl is not confined to biological systems or to astronomical systems. Numerous examples abound in every discipline of science one can imagine. One cannot say that this is a common thread of DNA (although the helix of DNA also curls with the same curve) because gravity, magnetism, electricity, and the like, also experience the phenomena. You also cannot argue that it offers any advantage. The Fibonacci curl is not a form that increases strength. Hexagonal structures and triangular structures are much stronger than any Fibonacci curl. Having a Fibonacci curl does not offer some kind of evolutionary advantage that natural selection can work on to perpetuate the form--especially when we are talking about systems that are not biological in nature.

  Man carrying a painting You are an expert in something that reflects your appreciation of the creative ability of mankind. Some of us can look at a piece of art and know immediately whether it is a Picasso or a Rembrant. Others of us can identify a piece of music as having been composed by a certain person or played by a famous virtuoso--be it Luciano Pavarotti or Alan Jackson. We all have things we enjoy and perhaps have studied or created ourselves which reflect our creative wisdom and our ability to recognize design. The beauty that is seen in the creation that has no function or reason to be as it is reflects the creative wisdom and design of an intellect superior to our own. God has expressed His creative genius in color where there is no camouflage necessary and thus no survival advantage. We see patterns or immense complexity where there is no strength advantage and no survival advantage.

  The most common response of atheists to this argument is that the viewpoint that man has beauty created just for him is egotistic and not worthy of consideration. Whether the charge of egotism is valid or not, such a challenge does not address the question of why the beauty and design is there.

Irreducible Complexity

In recent years, a new kind of design principle has been introduced by several different writers. David Behe in his book Darwin's Black Box defines it this way:

Irreducible complexity--a simple system composed of several well matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease function.

Behe is a biochemist and his illustrations involve biochemical systems which he demonstrates could not have happened by chance because all have to be integrated for the system as a whole to work. On a physics/chemistry level, one might work with the systems responsible to produce a molecule.

In order for a stable molecule to exist, a variety of physical systems have to be operative. The mass of the components of the atom determines how much gravitational attraction will exist between the individual parts of the atom and of the atoms that make up the molecule. The electrical forces are also critical and have to be structured in a particular way for the molecule to exist. The magnetic forces within the electrons and protons that make up the atoms and the molecules are also critically integrated with the other forces. In addition to all of these, there are nuclear binding energy forces that contain all of the other forces and allow the atoms and therefore the molecules to exist. Modern nuclear science has drastically changed our understanding about how many forces and conditions are necessary for a simple atom to exist. In previous issues of this journal we have listed 43 separate forces and conditions necessary for the cosmos and atoms in it to exist. This list of 43 forces is available upon request. All of these forces and particles are claimed to have begun at the same point in time and space sometimes referred to as the big bang. If any one of them was not at the appropriate level, stable atoms and molecules could never have come into existence.

To suggest a series of chance events which could produce all of these forces and the mathematical constants which regulate them is an impossibility because there is no time sequence that would allow it to happen. Similar problems come up in biochemical processes of high complexity critical to life. Behe and others have shown the absolute necessity of intelligence to come up with a functional system that allowed these biochemical processes to take place.

Soft Anthropic Design

Over the past 30 years, mathematicians have entered the discussions about whether chance is a viable mechanism to explain the complexities seen in the cosmos. The term anthropic principal has taken on a variety of different meanings and has been modified by adjectives like hard and soft to explain the use to which the principle is being made. In our discussion here, the question is very simple--can chance mathematically and statistically be believed to be the cause of the complexity we see in the natural world? Probability can be used to evaluate the reasonableness of claims. For many years, there have been books and articles written by experts in the field on the question of statistical reasonableness of explanations of the origin of life and other evolutionary models.

The classic response to statistical studies has been to say that if there is any probability at all, the event will happen. If the odds of drawing the ace of spades out of a deck of cards is one in 52 and if you draw cards for a long enough period, you will eventually get the ace of spades. On the average, that will happen once every 52 draws. If the odds of anything happening can be expressed and if you have enough time and enough opportunities, eventually anything will happen. That argument is valid, but it makes impossible assumptions.

If the universe as we know it had a beginning, then infinite time and infinite space are not available. As a matter of fact, no matter what one suggests about the history of the cosmos, all evidence says that the conditions that would make life possible in any form have not been here forever. Nuclear physics has been able to put limits on the quantity of matter in the cosmos. Most scientists have accepted Dirac's work that says the number of baryons (subatomic particles of which atoms are made) in the cosmos is 1078 (one with 78 zeros after it). Even proposing other universes or parallel universes does not expand the possibilities since all of the events leading to a desired result have to occur in the same universe at the same moment in geologic time.

No matter who the calculator has been, the probability figures for any event involved with the origin of life is so large it is beyond the number of possible baryons in the cosmos. When Francis Crick calculated the odds of life being able to start by chance on earth according to the Miller Oparin model, he came out with a number that he recognized as a statistical impossibility. He solved this by proposing that aliens have seeded DNA packets throughout the cosmos (which does not solve the problem, but simply moves it one step further back into the past). Crick was not a believer and did not do his work to support some kind of religious fanaticism. Murray Eden at MIT did a similar study as did Shappiro and Frederick Hoyle. All of these studies have found probabilities much worse than one in 1078. There are so many variables that the odds are beyond the possible number of subatomic particles in the cosmos. No amount of time or space is going to solve this problem unless all known cosmology is discarded. If we are arguing from evidence, that is not a reasonable proposal.


It has not been the purpose of this discussion to fully explain all of the evidence or all of the implications of the four types of design that we have explored. What we have tried to do is to introduce the reader to the types of design available and some of the data on each of these. There is a logical flow of ideas to this discussion. We can prove that there was a beginning, that the beginning was caused, and that it was caused by an intelligence. The Bible makes this claim which is falsifiable (can be tested). Belief in God is not blind faith or an inherited system of behavior. It is a function of an open mind that can and will look logically at the evidence. The Does God Exist? program offers materials to continue this study. We encourage you to write us for a free catalog and/or bibliography if you would like to continue your own personal study. All our materials are offered free or on a loan basis.

--John N. Clayton

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