A PLAIN GUIDE TO ...
A struggle is presently being waged
amongst Christians in many lands about how to understand the origin of the
universe. Those who wish to retain a traditional theological system of thought
are promoting the idea that the natural order we humans experience exists
because God designed it that way. Others are less
The idea that our world was created by a
divine power is as old as humanity itself. It has been refuted by many and
affirmed by many over the ages. Affirming creation became more fashionable in
the late 20th century. More and more people now suppose that we can be sure that
God created our world and the universe.
It is widely supposed today that the universe had a definite beginning - the
so-called "Big Bang" which took place (according to recent measurements) about
13.7 billion years ago. Eventually, about 5 billion years ago,
our planetary system evolved. Very soon after our planet was formed the first
primitive life evolved. Evolutionary change took place until the life-forms we
know today eventually came about.
The Big Bang theory was first proposed in 1948 by
the Russian-American physicist George Gamow. He posited that the universe was
created in a gigantic explosion and that the various physical elements observed
today were produced within the first few minutes after the Big Bang. The theory
provided a basis for understanding the earliest stages of the universe and its
Available evidence seems to have confirmed the
Big Bang theory:
A change in the light reaching us from far-distant stars indicates that
they are moving rapidly away from Earth. Their light reaches us at the speed
of light reduced by the speed at which the stars are moving away from us
(known as Hubble's Law).
The red parts of the spectrum consist of light moving more slowly than the
blue parts. So we see far distant stars moving away from us as red. This is
called the "red shift".
We are able to calculate by the degree of red shift just how far away from
earth these stars now are. And by calculating backwards in time, we can tell
roughly when the explosion which got them moving away from us happened. The
current consensus is that the Big Bang took place about 13.7 billion (13 700
000 000) years ago.
The matter existing in the earliest moments of the universe would have
expanded rapidly after the initial Big Bang. Scientists are able to
calculate that the first elements which would have come into existence as
the universe expanded would have been hydrogen and then helium (the two
As the new universe expanded, the hydrogen and helium would have eventually
cooled and condensed into stars and galaxies by a complex process we are
only now beginning to understand.
Residual radiation from the Big Bang would have continued to cool, until now
it should be at a temperature of about 3 degrees Kelvin (about -270�
Centigrade). This background radiation was detected by radio astronomers in
1965, and has been confirmed many times since then. It provides what most
astronomers consider to be a cast-iron confirmation of the Big Bang theory.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that everything has a property
called "entropy". That is, everything in the universe is changing from hot
to cold, from positive energy to zero-energy, from motion to immobility.
This seems to confirm that the universe had a beginning of some sort. If it
didn't, we'd have no reason to suppose it would ever "end" by reaching
maximum entropy - that is when all matter has ceased moving and everything
is absolutely stable and unchanging. Thus the universe is in a state of
constant change which will lead to its inevitable death. For something to
have an end, it has to have had a beginning.
This is of course a grossly over-simplified account of the Big Bang theory
. But it has to be mentioned because some have concluded from it that
the universe is the outcome of intelligent design. Something which makes so much
sense to us must, they say, have been created by an intelligent being.
If the universe was designed by an intelligence, it is argued, then it is a
valid step to suppose that the way the world works is also the result of
intelligent design. That being the case, the designing intelligence (God) must
have intended evolution and its mechanisms. All the species throughout history
have appeared and disappeared according to God's plan. That is, there is nothing
random either about evolution or about the appearance of humanity.
Note that this is not quite the same as a more crude variation also often
called "intelligent design" and now being enthusiastically promoted by some
Christians, mainly in the United States. This variation asserts that God created
the earth as we now know it in finished form only a few thousand years ago. It
is thought by most scientists to be based on specious reasoning. As Peter Atkins
... is not science: it is an untestable assertion pursuing and impelled by
an anti-science, religiously motivated agenda ... [it is] a literary device
for showing that a scientific explanation, in this case evolutionism, provides
superior explanations .
One of the leading advocates of the latter version of intelligent design,
William Dembski, says that
... there are natural systems that cannot be adequately explained in terms
of undirected natural forces and that exhibit features which in any other
circumstance we would attribute to intelligence. 
In other words, some creatures could not have evolved from simple beginnings
because they are "irreducibly complex". They would die if only one of their
features was taken away. That is, they have a nature which, if reduced by one
factor, would cease to work. An eagle without eyes could not survive for long.
It is impossible, says Dembski, that such life forms could have evolved from the
extremely simple beginnings which evolutionary theory proposes as the starting
points of life today. They must therefore have been designed by God. The eagle
was made with eyes from the start, though from there it may adapt to changes in
One illustration of irreducible complexity seems simple enough. Take a
mousetrap: it consists of the base, a catch, a spring and a hammer. All these
parts must there if the mousetrap is to work. Remove just one piece and it will
cease to be a mousetrap. This is sometimes called the "scaffolding objection".
Just as a scaffold supports a building until it is complete enough to stand on
its own, so must certain features first be present if an organism is to develop.
But the argument is weak. It is possible that a part of any system may
initially be to that system's advantage, though not essential to the operation
of the whole. What is at first only an advantage may later become essential as
that particular living system changes. Thus dinosaurs may have developed
something like feathers as a device to make them look bigger and therefore more
dangerous to their natural predators. This would be an advantage. Some of these
dinosaurs may later have adapted to survival threats by developing these
feathers to assist flight and so escape predation more effectively. What started
as an advantageous later become essential to long-term survival.
In relation to the argument that the nature of the universe justifies the
idea of intelligent design there are some important observations:
In order to have resulted in our universe as it is, the Big Bang must
have occurred within very tight parameters. It was not a random, chaotic
event. If it had been, the elements which in fact constitute the universe
could not have evolved.
The balance of the Big Bang had to be precise down to the last atom in order
for the elements which make up the universe to have come into existence.
This could not, it is argued, have come about by chance. As William Craig
... various discoveries have repeatedly disclosed that the existence of
intelligent carbon-based life on earth at this time depends upon a
delicate balance of physical quantities, which is such that were any one
of these quantities to be slightly altered, the balance would be destroyed
and life would not exist. A life-inhibiting universe is inconceivably more
probable than a life-permitting universe like ours .
In relation to the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy), the universe
must have started with a high level of order (negative entropy). What became
the universe was originally packed into an infinitely small, near-perfectly
ordered ball of matter (which Stephen Hawking calls a "singularity" because
it can't be observed or described).
If the universe had been disordered from the beginning, the level of entropy
would have been at its maximum from the start. Nothing could therefore have
evolved, since everything moves naturally from negative to positive entropy
(from order to disorder). For example, the probability of any disordered
state (positive entropy) organising itself into order (negative entropy) -
such as all gas in a container suddenly rushing into one corner of the
container - is extremely tiny (about1 in 10 followed by at least 18 zeroes).
This means that the singularity before the Big Bang must have been at
maximum negative entropy (order) .
Despite its highly-ordered initial state before the Big Bang, it turns
out that today's universe could only have resulted from what appear to be
improbable anomalies. That is, a totally uniform universe at the moment of
the Big Bang would simply have remained the same for ever. There would have
been no variations and therefore no change.
As P Davies notes, the universe was in fact nearly uniform but "...
not so exactly co-ordinated as to preclude the small scale, slight
irregularities that eventually formed the galaxies, and us"
What we know at present indicates strongly that if these irregularities had
been only slightly greater or smaller, the Big Bang only slightly slower or
faster, the elements of the universe could not have evolved.
If the tiny variations of the Big Bang itself indicate "design", so do
the four fundamental forces governing everything physical - gravity,
electromagnetism and what are called the "strong" and "weak" nuclear
interactions. These must all have been intrinsic to the singularity before
the Big Bang.
Gravity Everything which has mass also has the force we call
gravity. The greater the mass, the stronger the gravity.
Electromagnetism Physical bodies also display a "charge" which
attracts or repels other bodies depending on the nature of their charges.
This force is many trillions of times stronger than gravity. But we usually
don't notice it because the positive and negative charges tend to cancel
each other out.
Strong nuclear interaction Forces also operate within the
nucleus of an atom. They can be extremely powerful (about 130 times greater
than electromagnetism) - but because the power falls off so rapidly with
distance, they are not felt outside the nucleus itself.
Weak nuclear interaction Other parts of the atom (leptons) also
display a force. But it is only about one one-hundred- billionth as strong
as electromagnetism (but still much stronger than gravity).
This summary helps illustrate the extraordinary fact that if the strong
nuclear interaction had differed by only as much as one or two percent, the
known chemical elements of our universe could not have formed. And if the strong
nuclear reaction had been different, so would the other fundamental forces - if
they could have been there at all. If the near-perfect regularity in the initial
singularity had not been the case, our universe could not have formed as it has.
The technical name given to this variation of "intelligent design" is the
Anthropic Principle, first proposed by Brandon Carter in 1974. William Paley
(1743-1805) proposed an analogy which might help us appreciate the force of the
Suppose you were walking along a sandy beach and
came across a stone. You would be justified in asserting that it had been
there as long as the beach itself had. It would be extremely difficult to
disprove your assertion.
But suppose you stubbed your toe on a fully-functioning watch lying on the
beach. The same argument (that it had always been there) would not be at all
convincing. But why not?
The answer lies in the very high probability that the watch was designed and
made, if only because it is a complex mechanism comprising delicate,
intricate parts, but also because nothing is known to reach that kind of
physical arrangement by natural processes. The nature of the watch is such
that it must have been designed and made, whereas rocks are clearly
Some think that the same analogy can be applied to the origins of the
universe. They suppose that if the universe shows clear signs of "design" in the
way that the watch on the beach does, it follows that the argument for a
"designer" becomes strong, if not irrefutable.
How persuasive is the anthropic principle in terms of a "designer" universe?
[A] We normally think about our lives in terms of cause
and effect. I drove too fast (cause) and was given a speeding ticket (effect).
I failed to watch the steps (cause) and took a bad fall (effect). The Treaty
of Versailles after the First World War put too much strain on the German
economy (cause) which led to the Second World War (effect).
It's therefore natural that we should think of the Big Bang as
an effect of some cause (God). But this may merely be our need to impose some
sense (in human terms) on the universe as a whole, to see in it the same process
by which we make sense of our world.
However, it is just as valid to propose that the universe is
not an effect and has no cause - that it just is. This may not strike
us as intuitively convincing - but it is a valid conclusion.
[B] Our tendency to assume that the universe is
intrinsically ordered may be the outcome of the way we reason about things in
our daily lives.
All reason rests upon the Principle of Contradiction. This
states that we cannot validly say that "x" is true and simultaneously that "x"
is untrue (not-x). For example, anyone who claims that he is Napoleon
the Duke of Wellington is not only insane but also illogical, since nobody can
ever be a particular person (x) and also another person (not-x).
Without the principle of contradiction (also known in formal
logic as the Law of the Excluded Middle) no language, including mathematics, can
work. And without language we can't reason.
If the Principle underpins all reason, then it is hardly
surprising that the universe is to us an orderly place. It may be that we
the universe as orderly and therefore open to reason simply because reason is
the way we make sense of our surroundings. We need order and therefore we
impose it on our environment so that we can comprehend it.
In other words, this argument turns out to be a
difficult-to-spot tautology. What we're actually saying is that life exists on
our planet because both it and the universe are able to support life. Or, to
put it another way, everything is ordered because we perceive it as ordered.
The universe is the outcome of intelligence because we create order using our
[C] How strong is our scientific evidence for the nature
of the Big Bang and the subsequent evolution of the universe? At the moment it
appears powerful. But then so did the evidence for a "clockwork" universe in the
decades after Isaac Newton. It then seemed as though certain physical laws
worked without exception and without variation. To Newtonians it was as though
the universe ran like a clock, God having wound it up at the start.
For more than one hundred years it appeared that humanity
would one day discover all the fundamental laws governing the cosmos. Many
supposed that we would eventually be able to order things as we wished by
manipulating these laws. This has proved a pipe-dream. The world is much less
predictable and far more complex than the Newtonians thought.
So who is to say that the paradigms we now use to make sense of the universe -
including the Big Bang paradigm itself - will serve for ever? Just as we have
ditched the idea of a clockwork universe, so one day we may also have to ditch
the Big Bang theory.
An example of possible new ways of perceiving the universe is
the uncomfortable new discovery that the observable physical universe provides
only some 5-10 percent of the universe's total necessary mass. It is now
increasingly certain that the missing 90 percent consists of "dark matter"
(dark energy) - called "dark" because nobody knows what that actually is.
If we can one day know something about dark matter, how will
that change the way we construe the universe? We have no way of knowing at
[D] An important objection to the Anthropic Principle concerns
the necessity of our universe. Let's accept that our universe evolved from a
Big Bang and that its form, given the nature of that Big Bang, could be no
other. Why should this be the only universe which has developed from a Big
In other words. it's just as possible that many other
universes arose from the Big Bang or from other Big Bangs, in parallel with
our own. The only reason we don't know about them is that their fundamental
laws (or lack of laws) are by definition
different from ours and therefore can't be known by us. We have developed
according to the laws of our universe and can therefore not perceive any
Some people suggest that the number of other universes is
infinite - but that's just a guess. It's just as possible that there are two
universes or sixteen or (as some think) nineteen or twenty-three (depending on
the mathematics used). However, no matter how good the mathematics of
alternative universes may appear (and it seems that it is in fact rather
shaky), the argument is of singularly little use to us.
To sum up, it's not surprising that no other forms of life
exist as far as we know - because we are unable to perceive any life form
other than those which conform to the laws of the universe we inhabit. Ask
yourself: Does a chimpanzee think you're human? 
In summary, the Anthropic Principle does nicely for those who need God. But
for those who don't, it 's an interesting but unnecessary theory.
Those who propose that "intelligent design" demonstrates the existence of God
have simplified and distorted the evidence beyond what it will bear. The Big
Bang may prove to be an abiding fact. But the existence or otherwise of a Prime
Mover will always be a matter of supposition.
 The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Green, Penguin, 2004
gives the details
 The Design Revolution, 2004
 Galileo's Finger, OUP, 2003
 Theism and Physical Cosmology in A Companion to Philosophy of
Religion, Blackwell, 2000
 Living beings are examples of positive entropy being temporarily
organised into states of negative entropy. But we achieve this only at the cost
of increasing entropy (disorder) in the environment around us to the same degree
as we achieve negative entropy (order). That is, to stay alive we pass on
disorder to the universe, thus increasing very marginally the rate at which the
latter is decaying into disorder. The universe dies in order that we may live.
 The Accidental Universe, 1982 in God, Humanity and the Cosmos,
C Southgate et al, 1999
 For a much longer discussion of intelligent design which deals (less than
impartially) with the controversy over it in the United States, see the