November 27, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

ID Support from Unlikely Quarters

While Nature 11/24 described intelligent design (ID) as a threat to science, support for it came from two new scientific books reviewed in the same issue.  Both of them, while not using the phrase intelligent design, deal with concepts that imply science must reach beyond material causes.

  1. Just right universal soup:  Jim Al-Khalili (U of Surrey) reviewed Paul Davies’ new book, The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? (Allen Lane, 2006).1  He thought it would cause the biggest stir since Roger Penrose’s book The Emperor’s New Mind (1989).  Davies explored current explanations for our finely-tuned universe, from the dismissive anthropic answers (if it weren’t this way, we wouldn’t be around to argue about it), to the latest speculations about a multiverse.  According to Al-Khalili, the first half of the book is standard fare nicely worded, but then something happens:

    But it is the second half of the book that readers will want to skip to.  It is here that he faces head-on the question of why our universe is just right for us, and he covers all the main arguments thoroughly and shows up their shortcomings.  Eventually, he chooses a different path that does away with luck as well as the Multiverse.  But as Deep Thought, the computer in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, says, you are not going to like it.

    That distasteful speculation takes two forms.  In one, Davies suggests the universe has some sort of life principle built into the laws of physics.  The second is that humans created the universe—by observing it.  This extrapolation of quantum mechanical weirdness, first discussed by physicist John Wheeler, is sometimes called the Participatory Anthropic Principle.2  What is the lesson of this book?

    Just when the reader feels that Davies is losing his grip and sliding inexorably towards fantasy, he takes a well-timed reality check, reminding the reader, and himself, that in order to address the question of ‘How come existence?’, one must either play it safe and back away from the question, or be quite radical.  Many physicists will not like this book…. but Davies is courageous, entertaining and persuasive in laying them out clearly.  Many scientists might feel that the subject matter, as Davies acknowledges, should be ‘left to the philosophers and priests’, with scientists tackling only those questions they can hope to answer.  But it’s still a thoroughly good read.

  2. Mimic the Masters:  Robert Cahn (U of Cambridge) reviewed a new book on the imitation of natural designs:3 Biomimetics: Biologically Inspired Technologies (CRC Press, 2006), edited by Yoseph Bar-Cohen of JPL.  He quotes the editor defining the subject matter:

    The field of biomimetics encompasses a broad range of topics, generally based on the concept of ’learning from Nature’ in areas of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE).  This ’learning’ may be through inspiration in design, function or a combination of both.

    The book concentrates on robotics more than materials science, but has a chapter on spider silk (05/25/2005) and another on evolutionary computing (cf. 11/14/2006, also from JPL).


1Jim Al-Khalili, “Life in the universal porridge,” Nature 444, 423-424 (23 November 2006) | doi:10.1038/444423a.  The book is to be published in the US in April as Cosmic Jackpot (Houghton Mifflin).
2One critic called it the Completely Ridiculous Anthropic Principle.  The acronym is left as an exercise.
3Robert W. Cahn, “Learning from nature,” Nature444, 425-426 (23 November 2006) | doi:10.1038/444425b.

Despite how much the Darwinists rant and rave about how creationism will undermine science, the real cutting-edge scientific work, both theoretical and practical, is empowered by design principles.  The intelligent design leaders are arguing these principles not because of a political or religious agenda, but because they fit the world we observe.
    If cosmologists have to go to such extreme lengths as to suggest that we create the universe by observing it, then the secret is out: they choose to believe in materialism in spite of evidence and logic.  No pagan myth could be considered more outrageous.  And suggesting that the laws of physics have some sort of built-in life principle that can yield brains from hydrogen is as silly as Moliere’s chemist who, when asked why opium made people sleepy, responded that it had a “dormitive virtue.”  OK, now let’s hear something really profound.  How about In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth?  With their minds the evolutionists disbelieve it, but with their hands they assume it.

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