IBRI Research Report #55 (2005)
THE RISE AND FALL
OF SCIENTIFIC NATURALISM
David C. Bossard
Lebanon, New Hampshire
Copyright © 2005 by David C. Bossard.
|Scientific naturalism is the
view that our world is wholly a result of natural processes that can be
explained by ordinary science, without the need to postulate
intervention by a Creator. There have always been those who held this
view, but with Copernicus and the rise of modern science, it came to be
the common view among scientists, and was dominant by 1900. However in
recent years, science has uncovered ever stronger evidence of design
embedded in the very fabric of the natural universe, in the geological
record of Earth’s history, and in the nature of life itself. This talk
summarizes the evidence that led to the rise of scientific naturalism,
and how discoveries of science have challenged that view in recent
years and decades.
|I have tried to be accurate in the statement of
but it is possible, perhaps likely, that some factual errors have crept
in. I would appreciate any corrections of factual errors. Please email
them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In particular, I solicit additional citations to work available over
internet, that may supplement or clarify some of the matters discussed.
|Although the author is in agreement with the doctrinal
of IBRI, it does not follow that all of the viewpoints espoused in this
paper represent official positions of IBRI. Since one of the purposes
the IBRI report series is to serve as a preprint forum, it is possible
that the author has revised some aspects of this work since it was
Rise and Fall of Scientific Naturalism
David C. Bossard
Preface - Scientific Naturalism
Scientific naturalism is the view that our world is wholly a result of
natural processes that follow the rules of ordinary science. There is
no need for a creator (except, perhaps, to establish the rules), and
apparent evidence for design in creation is only an illusion that
demonstrates the power of natural, unguided selection.
Those who accept scientific naturalism do not necessarily believe that
science can explain every detail - perhaps important details from
the past have been forever lost. But scientific naturalists insist that
their view is "scientific" in that the objective facts of science
confirm it. In their view, nature shows no compelling evidence for a
creator. If this seems strange to those who see evidence for a caring
creator all around us - the beauty and intricacy of creation, for
example - it is because such things as beauty and design are dismissed
as subjective, unscientific judgments.
Not all scientific naturalists are atheists, but all atheists are
necessarily scientific naturalists, unless they have some chaotic
rule-less view of the world that disregards science.
Scientific naturalism flourished as the age of science developed. By
about 1900, it seemed to have triumphed, its success aided by some
influential evangelists for the cause. As the earth receded to an
insignificant speck in the vastness of the cosmos, so the significance
of mankind in the universe seemed also to recede to nothingness, and
any claim for a creator, or the special character of the human
creature, or for a world specifically designed as the abode of mankind,
seemed conceit and vanity. To maintain a creationist view in the face
of scientific naturalism required considerable grit and determination,
But since about 1900, as science continued to grow and mature, the very
methods and findings of science began to uncover challenges to the
naturalist view. Perhaps the first suggestion of this was the
remarkable book, Man's Place in the
Universe by Alfred Russel Wallace which we will mention further
The discoveries, which have accelerated in recent years and continue to
the present moment, increasingly suggest that the world we inhabit is
the product of a rational, thinking creator. At the present the
evidence is so powerful, that to maintain the scientific naturalist
view requires a stubborn determination to dismiss the strong contrary
It is our plan to trace out this rise and fall of scientific naturalism.
Prelude - In the Beginning
(before 1500 A.D.)3
One outcome of the Crusades was that Greek philosophy was re-introduced
into the universities and seminaries of Europe4,
after having been lost during the dark ages, and it came to have a
strong influence on intellectual thought. Through the work of Thomas
Aquinas and others, Greek philosophical thought was integrated into
Of course it must be understood that the Greek pantheon was at the
opposite extreme from the monotheism of the Church, so acceptance of
the Greek intellectual achievements did not necessarily imply a belief
in Church doctrine. Indeed, throughout all ages, there have been
scientists and scholars who maintained independence of thought from
Church dogma. Their independence of thought was sometimes more,
sometimes less open, depending on the tolerance of their sponsors and
the hold that the Church had on the local societies.
The Bible begins with the Creation. God created the heavens and the
earth, hanging the earth on "nothing"5 as
the dwelling place for Adam,
the father of the human race. The universe is not eternal; it had a
beginning, and creation was designed for man's habitation and
oversight. Man's place in Creation is central.
With this understanding, it is natural that the Church adopted the
Greek scientist Ptolemy's earth-centered model for the universe, which
he developed in the second century A.D. It was, moreover, the most
advanced and successful scientific achievement of antiquity, and had
demonstrated the ability to make remarkably accurate predictions of the
movements of the heavenly bodies, and in particular predictions of
solar and lunar eclipses6. The Church
accepted the conclusions of the most advanced science of its day: Not
only accepted, but incorporated it into official Church doctrine,
because it also was consistent with the Bible's Creation account.
Indeed, given the state of science at the time, the Ptolemaic model was
the simplest, most direct affirmation of the Biblical doctrine of the
central position of man in creation.
Ptolemy's universe had a motionless, non-rotating earth at its center.
He fit the astronomical data to that kind of model, by having the
planets, sun and stars follow circular7
orbits such as those shown here.
The Ptolemaic Cosmology
Over the years, some adjustments were made to Ptolemy's model (there
were lots of parameters that could be fine-tuned!), so that by the
middle ages, it was quite accurate in its predictions of the planetary
positions, and agreed very well with the naked-eye observations that
were available at the time.8
A model with a spinning earth together with the planets orbiting the
sun (a "central fire") on circular tracks, had been proposed (and
rejected) by Aristotle, and then proposed again by Aristarchus of Samos9 around 250 BC. But such a model did not
seem reasonable for a number of reasons. Would not we feel a sense of
motion if the earth were spinning? What keeps it spinning? These
questions of course are based on a misunderstanding of physics, but
they are quite understandable, and I suspect many people even today
don't know the answers.
Looking ahead, almost certainly Copernicus would not have known the
answers to these questions. Most likely he just ignored them - which,
of course, is no answer at all. Or, perhaps, that is one of the reasons
why Copernicus treated his work as just a mathematical convenience,
with no necessary connection with reality. The final answers didn't
come until Galileo did his famous experiments, over a hundred years
later. When I ponder this, I come to the startling thought that I might
well have opposed Copernicus if I were an academic scholar in his day -
and not only for religious reasons. I would have argued that his
solution is not well thought out, and leaves too many loose ends. Which
it was, and does!
And then there is the clincher: How could the fixed stars remain fixed,
if the earth orbited the sun? Such a thing would imply that the
distance to the fixed stars is incredibly huge in order to have no
apparent motion over the diameter of the earth's orbit. Such immense
distances were so far beyond the human experience as to be unbelievable.10
One should note that there is no basic conflict between a sun-centered
universe and Church theology, except for the fact that the Church
unwisely incorporated Ptolemy's universe into its dogma. In the fifth
century AD, Augustine11 had remarked and
Luther later affirmed over a thousand years later, that the Biblical
accounts are written as they would appear to a man standing on Earth,
and that specific statements should be understood that way. Augustine
illustrated his view with a few examples from the creation account (Day
4 in particular) but I do not know whether he would extend this to
statements about the Sun rising in the East and setting in the West, as
we would today. Ptolemy's system had a fixed earth, so the Sun
literally did "rise" and "fall". Augustine also noted that the Church
should not take positions on obscure scientific views and
interpretations of the Biblical text, but should allow for different
views. Unfortunately that good advice was not followed.12
I. The Rise of Scientific Naturalism -
Copernicus to 1900
|"We are at the dawn of a new
era, for we are beginning to recover the
knowledge of the external world that was lost through the fall of Adam.
We now observe creatures properly... But by the grace of God we already
recognize in the most delicate flower the wonders of divine goodness
|Martin Luther (1483-1546),
A. The Beginning of Modern
Nicholas Copernicus14 and Martin Luther15 were contemporaries in the early 1500s.
In 151416 Copernicus developed a model for
the solar system, in effect re-discovering the work of Aristarchus. His
model was not quite as accurate at prediction as the well-tuned
Ptolemaic system, but it was much easier to use in astronomical
calculations. Eventually, the Copernican model was used in preparation
of the Gregorian calendar, in 1582 under Pope Gregory XIII, replacing
the earlier Julian calendar. Our modern calendar is based on the
The Copernican Model for the Solar System.
Martin Luther's colleague Phillip Melancthon sent a young scholar,
Joachim Rheticus17 to study under
Copernicus. Rheticus urged Copernicus to publish his work, which he did
in 1543, shortly before his death. Some argue that Luther was opposed
to the Copernican system, based on a single off-hand remark quoted in
the Table Talks. However
without the urging of Luther's colleagues,
Copernicus would not have published his model of the Solar System, and
it was largely Protestant support in the face of official Catholic
opposition that led to the beginnings of modern astronomy and the
ultimate capitulation of the Church.
Tycho Brahe18, born shortly before
Copernicus died, devoted a lifetime to the preparation of more accurate
star charts. He built an observatory (with the Protestant Danish King
Frederick's funding) on the island of Hveen just off Elsinor in
Denmark, home of Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Tycho's measurements are accurate to one arc-minute, equivalent to a 1
inch error at 100 yards, about what a good marksman can achieve with
the naked eye. His quadrant had a 7-foot radius (see figure).19 The readings were so accurate that they
were sensitive to traffic moving past the observatory, so he built a
second observatory underground to avoid the traffic vibrations.
Part of Tycho's success is due to the great advances in precision
instrument-making20 at the time. The great
artistry of these craftsmen can be seen in the beautiful brass
instruments that have survived from that era. Aside from the
availability of these precision instruments, there is no fundamental
reason why Tycho's work could not have been done thousands of years
Johannes Kepler21 was a young
protégé of Tycho, and at age 29 carried on Tycho's work
after his death in 1601. Kepler struggled for about 10 years to find a
model of the solar system that agreed with Tycho's data, concentrating
on the orbit of Mars, which deviates from a circular orbit more than
other nearby planets.
The problem was that Tycho's data were so
accurate that deviations of any proposed mathematical model, his own or
Copernicus's, could not be explained away as measurement error.
Finally, after 10 years of intense effort, Kepler discovered the
answer. Using Tycho's data, he published New Astronomy in 1609 which
asserts that the planets (using the example of Mars) follow an
elliptical orbit. This was Kepler's First Law for planetary orbits22, one of three laws that characterize the
orbits of planets. This was the same year that Galileo23
first used a telescope for astronomical observations, invented just the
With the publication of Kepler's laws and the discoveries of Galileo,
the geocentric model of the solar system came under serious attack. No
longer could a Copernicus hide behind the excuse that this is just an
exercise in mathematics. The evidence from the data showed otherwise.
Now an Occam's razor argument24a
clearly pointed to the Kepler solution.
The geocentric cosmology was doomed, although it took
most of the 17th Century for the details to play out. The power and
simplicity of Newton's universal law of gravity finally triumphed, with
a clear explanation of the physical reason for elliptical orbits.
Kepler thought that his work glorified God, remarking "observe how
through my effort God is being celebrated".25
Not everyone shared his view. Not only did the earth lose its central
position in the universe, but the accepted size of the universe grew
enormously - the earth was miniscule in comparison. Thus the earth and
by implication life and humans, were deposed from a central position in
creation. Martin Luther's "new era" appeared to question the centrality
of the human creation in the natural scheme of things. Galileo's
measurements showed that the stars are very distant, and that the Milky
Way has innumerable stars. The earth and solar system are just a small
part of a much larger universe, but just how small a part was not known
for 300 years.26
B. The Beginnings of Modern Physics,
1650-1700. The Clockwork Universe.
|"When I behold this goodly
frame, this world,
Of heaven and earth consisting, and compute
Their magnitudes, this earth a spot, a grain,
An atom, with the firmament compar'd
And all her number'd stars, that seem to roll
Spaces incomprehensible, (for such
Their distance argues and their swift return
Diurnal,) merely to officiate light
Round this spacious earth, this punctual spot,
One day and night, in all their vast survey
Useless besides; reasoning, I oft admire
[admire = wonder, marvel - dcb.]
How Nature, wise and frugal, could commit
Such disproportions with superfluous hand
So many nobler bodies to create,
Greater so manifold, to this one use,
For aught appears,..."
|John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667)27
Milton wrote Paradise Lost in
1667. Adam's skepticism expressed here, reflects everyman's dilemma at
the time. Midway between Galileo and Newton, the world was well aware
that appearances seem to clash with church teachings. Is not the
incomprehensible vastness of space and the stars, the "nobler bodies",
out of proportion with the "one use ... merely to officiate light" that
these stars serve? Does it not seem to be "disproportions with
superfluous hand" if by a "wise and frugal Nature's hand?" These words,
put into Adam's mouth before the Fall, show that he is already
contemplating things that may imply that God's account to him is not
trustworthy, the seeds of doubt that the Serpent exploited in Eve. In
fact, it would be 300 years - the mid-1900s - before Adam's dilemma
could be satisfactorily answered.
About 80 years after Kepler formulated his laws of planetary motion,
Newton showed that they are consequences of his famous law of
gravitation, a result published in 1687.28
It immediately became evident that Newton's laws apply everywhere in
universe, and in one amazing insight, the motions and interactions of
the entire universe suddenly became clear.
Philosophers of his day - Voltaire29,
and many others - quickly saw the implications of a universe that is
governed by mechanical laws. The view came to be known as the
"clockwork universe." Everything operates naturally according to
pre-determined laws. The task of the scientist is simply to describe
these laws, and then the secrets of the universe will be
revealed. In such a clockwork world, some would argue, there is
no need for God.
C. The Beginnings of Modern Chemistry
and Biology, 1700-1800. The Continuum of Life.
The next century after Newton was a time of further simplification. All
chemicals were shown to be composed of a small number of unchangeable
elements, which occur in fixed proportions. It is hard to overstate how
this clarified the confusing complexity of the chemical science that
roots in alchemy.
By the early 1800s, even the chemicals found in living matter were
found to be made up of the ordinary elements - mainly Hydrogen, Carbon,
Oxygen and Nitrogen. The need to assume that there is some mystical
"life force" in organic substances passed as the understanding of
If the physical and chemical worlds can be described with a few laws
and a handful of elements, then can the biological world be far behind?
Perhaps all of nature runs mechanically like clockwork. What is the
need for a divine Creator - particularly if matter and the universe are
themselves eternal? Some contemporary philosophers speculated along
Galileo's research used the telescope, invented by Hans Lippershey in
1608 and quickly applied by Galileo and others to study the heavens.
The microscope had actually been invented a bit earlier - in 1590 by a
10-year old boy named Zacharias Janssen [1580-1638], but this discovery
was not well publicized until it was re-invented by Hans Lippershey in
1609.32 The microscope led to the
discovery of the world of microbes33 and
the realization that life extends from the visible to the microscopic.
Around the mid 1700s, several scientists began the immense task of a
systematic description of all animal and plant life. It became clear
that plants and animals can be grouped by similar body plans, and that
there is a kind of sameness between species that superficially seem
quite different. Linnaeus34 and Buffon35 cataloged many thousands of species.
Linnaeus organized them into the familiar groupings -- kingdom, phylum,
class, order, family, genus and species - a general
classification system based on physical similarities that is still
followed today36. The phyla distinguish
the different overall body plans, and the other divisions concern
progressively finer distinctions within the body plans.
The classification based on similar appearance can be loosely arranged
in a tree-like structure of increasing complexity. This gave rise to
contention between those who believed that the tree implies physical
descent (Lamarck and Voltaire37 for
example) and those (Buffon and Linnaeus and many geologists before the
mid-1800s) who argued that there remain un-bridgeable gaps - a position
called "essentialism". This argument continued into the mid-1800s up to
the time of Darwin's Origin of the
Species (1859) which argued that all living
species descended from common ancestors. Many scientists took this view
to mean that all species of life came about by purely natural means,
with no need for divine intervention.
D. The Beginning of Modern Geology,
1800-1850: The Record of the Rocks.38
|"Fossils have been long studied
as great curiosities, collected with
great pains, treasured with great care and at a great expense, and
shown and admired with as much pleasure as a child's hobby-horse is
shown and admired by himself and his playfellows, because it is pretty;
and this has been done by thousands who have never paid the least
regard to that wonderful order and regularity with which nature has
disposed of these singular productions, and assigned to each class its
|William Smith, notes written
January 5, 1796
The most astounding discovery, at the very end of the 18th Century, was
the realization that earth's rock formations contain a detailed and
systematic record of earth's history that can be traced all the way
back to a time before the beginnings of visible life. The fossil record
shows a steady progression in species complexity over this time, and
records the first appearances of major animal groups.38a The progression in complexity parallels
to a remarkable degree, the classification schemes of Linnaeus and
Buffon, a fact that Charles Darwin later used to argue for natural
descent of all living species from a common ancestor.
message contained in the rocks was first described by William Smith39, a canal and mining engineer, in
1799, some decades after the works of Buffon and Linnaeus first
appeared. In that year, it was first publically recognized that rocks
preserve a detailed record of the Earth's ancient history. It was
perhaps a fortunate accident that the geological formations of Great
Britain span nearly the full range of the fossil record of visible
animals (the so-called phanerozoic era), from outcroppings of the very
earliest Cambrian fossils in the northwest of Scotland to recent times
in the vicinity of London. This gave William Smith the
ability to get an overall view of things, in his travels over Wales,
Great Britain and Scotland.
The extent and detail of this story told by the rocks was a total
surprise to the scholars of the day, and remains a surprise even today.
Not that they lacked notions about the earth's past in those
days-Buffon's work included remarks along these lines, but those
notions were mostly based on philosophical considerations rather than
on systematic, objective science.
After Smith's revelation in 1799, the same rock classifications were
discovered to hold worldwide, and over the next century the geological
character of virtually all of the accessible landmass worldwide was
The geologist Charles Lyell, provided
much of the theoretical explanation for the new findings in
geology. He introduced the notion of uniformitarianism and argued
that the present appearance of the earth's surface is due to slow
changes over very long periods of time. From his systematic study of
sedimentary rocks, he concluded that the earth is very old and that its
surface crust floats on a molten interior. He argued very carefully, in
two extensively documented books,40
because his conclusions contradicted what scientists thought they knew
about the sun's heat generation and the earth's heat retention. Lyell's
very careful argument carried the day, even though the contradiction
with well-established physics was not resolved until almost a century
later when the vast energy production of nuclear fission and fusion was
Fossils played an essential role in the conclusion that the earth is
very old. An early French geologist, Georges Cuvier41
remarked, "without [fossils] we could never have surmised that there
were successive epochs in the formation of the globe."
Interlude - The Height of Scientific
|"Is not man an unimportant bit
of dust in an unimportant planet in an
unimportant galaxy in an unimportant region somewhere in the vastness
The cumulative effect of these discoveries in astronomy, physics,
biology and geology is that life and mankind in particular appeared to
have been dethroned from the position of central importance in
creation. The advances of science led to a secular triumphalism
that appeared to eliminate any need to consider - and indeed seemed to
argue against - divine providence in creation.
Physics showed that the universe appears to be described by a few
deterministic laws, by which the motions of the stars and planets are
determined far into the past and future. Chemistry showed that organic
chemicals are not essentially different from inorganic ones, that
organic chemicals can be formed from inorganic chemicals, so that there
appears to be no "life force" that distinguishes one from the other.
Biology showed a relatedness in all forms of plant and animal life.
From geology, it appears that life extends back in time over vast eons,
and that the fossils show gradual progression in development. Man
appears to be only latest stage in a long tree of life. This seems to
be supported by biology, which shows the relatedness of all kinds of
life in terms of similar body plans and body parts.
All of this seemed to argue against the idea that there was something
special or extra-ordinary about the earth, and about life and
mankind in particular. Surely an Occam's razor argument would point
towards the ordinariness if not inevitability of life and mankind as an
unremarkable accident in a small corner of the vast universe. Thoughts
of man's special place in creation were relegated by many scientists to
the dustbin of dead religious superstition.
The theory of evolution seemed to argue that life, from the smallest
microbe to man, is a chance thing, the result of purely accidental
happenings. Astronomy, measuring the vastness of space, and the small
place of Earth, seemed to echo an affirmation. So it is not surprising
that a hundred years ago, scientists and philosophers were proclaiming
the supreme insignificance of life, and of man in particular. Bertrand
Russell called Man “the product of causes which had no prevision of the
end they were achieving” and his origin, “the outcome of
accidental collocations of atoms."43.
II. The Fall of Scientific
Naturalism - 1900 to the present.
|"For the scientist who has lived
by his faith in the power of reason,
the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of
ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself
over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have
been sitting there for centuries."
For a change of pace, we will now move ahead to the present and look
back to see how the evidence in favor of scientific naturalism has
radically changed. But before that, I would like to mention
two books that came out shortly after 1900. These books re-discovered
themes that had been lost or overlooked since the publication of
Darwin's Origin of Species
Darwin's book caused a revolution of thought that almost overnight
threw out decades
of prior work which pointed to evidence of design in Nature. The
pre-eminent example of this earlier work was the 12-volume publication
known as the Bridgewater Treatises, published in the 1830s.45
The evidence was not refuted as much as it was "ignored and brushed
away" as Lydia Miller, widow of a prominent geologist Hugh Miller,
One of the first acts of the
twentieth century was to reconsider some arguments along lines that
were reminiscent of that pre-Darwinian period.
The first book was Man's Place in
the Universe47 by Alfred Russel
Wallace, published in 1903. This book examines the question of whether
life is common in the universe, a view often held by those who believed
that life arose by chance. He concludes after a review of the physical
and chemical requirements, that the earth is unique in the universe as
a habitat suitable for the production of advanced life,47a
and that to
produce such a habitat, "such a vast and complex universe as that which
we know exists around us, may have been absolutely required."48 He used probability arguments that
consider the special conditions that must be satisfied in such a
This is an early expression of what became known as the Anthropic
Principle, the observation that the universe and the earth are uniquely
fit for the existence of advanced life. With this book, Wallace
directly refutes the common but naïve view that the
"insignificance" of the earth in comparison with the universe implies
the insignificance of life, and in particular the human creation.
The second book, coming in 1913, is The
Fitness of the Environment, by Lawrence J. Henderson.49
Henderson focuses his attention on the physical and chemical properties
of the common materials of life. The book concludes that the elements
found in living matter -
hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon and a handful more, and of water and
carbon dioxide, and a few other compounds formed from these elements -
are essential to have life of any kind. They have unusual combinations
of physical and chemical properties that are uniquely suited for life.
By this he refutes the notion, popular even then, that various "alien
life-forms" could exist which are based on substantially different
Water, for example, is uniquely suitable for life in many of its
physical and chemical attributes. For one thing, water is the most
nearly perfect solvent, and this ability is essential to life. But this
is only one of the properties that are used in essential ways by living
matter itself or in a life-supporting environment, and that set water
apart from any other known material.
Carbon, the backbone of the vast majority of organic compounds, nearly
equals water in its marvelous properties that are exploited by all
living species, in particular the ability to form the long chain
molecules that carry out nearly all of the functions of life, and in
the remarkable properties of carbon dioxide and its carbonic acid form,
which are essential to cell metabolism.
Henderson's book has stood the test of time and is often cited even
today.50 He extends the "Anthropic
Principle", introduced by Wallace, to the chemistry of life by
itemizing the many peculiar, apparently tailor-made, properties of
life's basic building materials. Clearly life is very special, and
makes heavy use of very unusual features found in these materials.
Henderson acknowledges that much of his line of reasoning originated in
the "forgotten literature of natural theology,"51
referring in particular to the Bridgewater Treatises. This literature
vanished from the scene when Darwin's Origin
of Species appeared, and
the "hypothesis of purpose" (again using Henderson's words) was
forgotten - a hypothesis that "even skeptics were nearly or quite
unable, however strong their desire, to account for the facts with a
plausible theory." Henderson's book revived and extended many of
the same arguments that had been developed in this "forgotten
literature." The book’s concluding sentence is: “The biologist may now
rightly regard the universe in its very essence as biocentric.”
In summary, Wallace and Henderson argued that the perception of earth's
insignificance in the universe - or as John Milton put it, "this
world/Of heaven and earth consisting, and compute/Their magnitudes,
this earth a spot, a grain/An atom, with the firmament compar'd"
- is false. Factually, the earth may be all of that, and yet the
universe, large and majestic as it is, serves the earth and life
itself, and constrains its own scope of vision to accommodate earth's.
These books worked in the same milieu as the contemporary science of
1900. Now let's jump ahead to the present, and look back over the past
century to see how Scientific Naturalism has fared with the advances
that science has seen in that time.
Adam's Dilemma. First, let's
look at Adam's dilemma, the skeptical query which John Milton put into
the mouth of Adam: what are stars for - why "Such disproportions with
superfluous hand/So many nobler bodies to create?"
In the century that has passed since 1900 the worlds of general
relativity and nuclear physics have been added to science. General
relativity led indirectly to the Big Bang, the recognition that the
universe had a beginning. The universe is large, but not infinite, and
the time since creation can be measured with some precision.
Nuclear physics has led to an understanding of what goes on inside of
stars. The stars, and the death of stars in cataclysmic supernova
explosions, are where the elements - other than primordial hydrogen and
helium - are created. The "primordial" elements, hydrogen and helium,
were mostly formed within the first few minutes after the Big Bang. The
general details of these creation processes are well-known.52
The matter that makes up the earth was formed in the interior of a
star, which went through its life cycle generating the elements up to
the iron group, and then died in a supernova explosion which generated
the heavier elements through uranium. The sun is at least a second
generation star, with the planets of the solar system formed from the
ashes of a supernova explosion. Any life-supporting star would have to
be at least second-generation. Thus Adam's universe expanded at the
speed of light long enough to see the birth and death of at least one
generation of stars, and the birth and maturation of another generation
-- a process that would require billions of years. From this
perspective, the universe is not disproportionate in size - in fact it
is relatively young since only very few generations of stars could have
passed since the Big Bang. The "many nobler bodies" are similarly
engaged in producing the very dust from which Adam was made. Nothing is
disproportionate or superfluous, although John Milton would have to
wait 300 years to learn this.
Along with the discovery of how the universe itself, and the elements
were created, nuclear scientists also made remarkable new discoveries
which show how "biocentric" as Henderson would say it - the universe
had to be in order to be a dwelling place for mankind. There are many
of these instances of "fine tuning" that can be cited.53
I will briefly mention a few just to give the flavor of the kind of
To start back in the beginning: if antimatter were not very slightly
more unstable than matter, then the material universe would not exist.
Nobody knows why this asymmetry should exist - in fact the first
evidence discovered in the 1950s shocked the physics world.54
Second, the force of gravity is vastly less than electrical force -
again, for totally inexplicable reasons. However if either force were
more than a few percent different from its actual value, the earth and
life would be impossible. Similar remarks can be made about the values
of the strong and weak nuclear forces, two nuclear forces discovered by
high energy experiments. These are the forces that hold the nucleus
together, despite strongly repulsive electrical forces between the
protons in the
Another example of fine tuning was discovered (actually predicted, and
then discovered a few years later) in 1950 by the Nobel physicist Fred
Hoyle55. He was puzzled about the
formation of the carbon atom when stars burn. It seemed to require a
triple collision of helium nuclei, which physics calculations show is a
very rare event. Without going into technical details, if it were not
for the fact that the carbon and oxygen nuclei have resonances at
certain precise energy levels55a that can
be computed from physics, then
either no carbon would have formed (and hence no carbon-based life) or
else all of the carbon would have fused into oxygen and higher elements
(and hence no carbon-based life).
In contemplating this, Hoyle
"A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super
intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and
biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in
nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so
overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."56
In 1983 John Barrow and Frank Tipler wrote The Anthropic Cosmological Principle
which documents some examples of this fine tuning. Frank Tipler later
When I began my career as a cosmologist
some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest
dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to
show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact
true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of
physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these
conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics.57
Reacting to this fine-tuning, Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson writes
in his book Disturbing the Universe,
"The more I examine the universe and
the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the
universe in some sense must have known we were coming."
The existence of fine-tuning implies that the underlying physics
and chemistry of the universe is designed with the creation of life in
view, a conclusion that Henderson had come to 60 years earlier. This
is, of course, a heavy blow to scientific naturalism. No
longer can naturalists confidently point to science for support of
their view, rather they have to consciously side-step the implications
of design that are part of this fine-tuning.
There are, of course, ways to do this and still appear to be
scientific. One way is to assume that this universe we are in is only
one of an infinity of universes. We just happen to be in one that will
support life because the fine-tuning is just right. Of course we are
... because otherwise we would not be here to be pondering the issue.
Mathematicians have had fun with infinities for many years since Georg
Cantor58 dissected them in the early
1900s. By postulating sufficiently big infinities of things, anything
is possible. But in my humble view, invoking infinities of universes to
"solve" problems like the near-impossibility that life could arise
spontaneously, or to explain why fine-tuning exists without having to
let God into the equation, is pure sleight-of-hand. I don't think I am
alone thinking this.
The theoretical physicist Paul Davies makes the following remark about
infinities of universes:
"To postulate an infinity of unseen and
unseeable universes just to explain the one we do see seems like a case
of excess baggage carried to the extreme. It is simpler to postulate
one unseen God.
"The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a
knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge,
and would be total chaos if any of the natural constants were off even
slightly. You see, even if you dismiss man as a chance happening, the
fact remains that the universe seems unreasonably suited to the
existence of life - almost contrived - you might say a put-up job.
"I hope the foregoing discussion will have convinced the reader that
the natural world is not just any old concoction of entities and
forces, but a marvelously ingenious and unified mathematical scheme.
...these rules look as if they are the product of intelligent design. I
do not see how that can be denied."59
The Electron Microscope. It's
hard to decide which discoveries of the past century are the most
to the question of scientific naturalism, but I think I must place very
high the electron microscope, which was invented by Ernst Ruska in
1931, following up on an audacious suggestion by Louis de Broglie60 in 1924, that not only photons but
electrons (and all other matter) have a wave/particle duality.
That first electron microscope led to a series of improved
microscopes which today allow scientists to examine what goes on at
many levels of magnification - even down to the level of individual
some cases. Within a dozen years of its invention, the electron
microscope was producing visual images of viruses and other minute
objects that up to that time had been invisible.61
In 1900, progress in observing the microscopic world was blocked by the
limitations of the light microscope. At the highest light microscope
resolutions, the bulk of a living cell appeared to be an amorphous,
undifferentiated blob of jelly. Some small bacteria were barely
visible, and viruses were entirely invisible.
At the time, this was thought to be an insuperable limit.
The inability to examine the finest details of living matter in 1900
led, ironically, to the view that "things must be simple down there,"
which led in turn to a gross underestimation of the vast complexity
found in even the simplest living species. In a sense this misjudgment
was understandable. Progress in physics and chemistry showed that the
complex material world is based on a few, relatively straightforward
principles. Even the formidable world of organic chemistry was shown to
be just ordinary chemistry. So, it was reasonably thought, time would
show that life is based on some relatively simple principles that would
be discovered in due time. Just the opposite occurred. What is less
understandable is that even today, scientists who should know better,
still carry on the myth that the generation of "simple" life is almost
inevitable, given the right conditions.
By the 1970s microscopes were able to examine the fine details of the
protoplasm, and revealed fine structure and functions that were
previously impossible to imagine.
Today we know that eukaryotic cells, that is cells that have a nucleus,
and which are generally much larger than bacterial cells, are able to
function because the "protoplasm" contains an extensive cytoskeleton
that provides structural support, contracts and twists like muscles to
enable movement, and forms pathways for motor kinesin molecules that
literally walk along carrying food and waste between specialized
organelles, and between them and the cell wall. The food transport
mechanism of eukaryotes contrasts with bacteria which rely exclusively
on diffusion to move food and wastes through the cell interior. As a
result there is a practical limit to the size of bacteria which is
determined by diffusion rates and cell metabolism requirements (around
The Kinesin Molecule.62
The kinesin follow a microtubule pathway, a compact spiral of two-piece
molecules (a red/green pair in the illustration). One kinesin "foot" is
attracted to one end of this molecule, which causes the other foot to
span the molecule, touch the next molecule along the path, and then
release the first foot. In this way it advances along. Minute,
delicately balanced, electrical forces of attraction or repulsion cause
the feet to move.
The cell's organelles are controlled environments that perform various
specialized tasks as part of the overall cell metabolism. The cell
walls, and more generally the membranes that enclose the various cell
contents, are themselves marvels of complexity, with very specialized
molecules that act as gatekeepers to admit or exclude various kinds of
There are many specialized motor molecules that can be found in living
matter. We have already mentioned the kinesin molecule, which is a
linear motor - it moves along a track. A rotary motor is found in the
bacterium E. Coli, for example, which has a whip-like flagellum with a
complex electric motor fixed on its base at the point where the
flagellum passes through the cell wall. The motor can spin the
flagellum at high speed in either direction, and reverse direction in a
small fraction of a second. At first the discovery of this motor was
met with great skepticism; it was thought that the flagellum did not
rotate but simply whipped back and forth. The proof came when a
scientist found a way to glue the flagellum to a glass slide, and when
this happened, the bacterium spun around the flagellum.63
A third kind of motor is used in photosynthetic bacteria and in plants.
This motor, called ATP synthase, manufactures the energy storage
molecule called ATP. The motor is fixed in a membrane and a flow of
protons passes through it, causing it to spin. Every time the motor
spins one cycle, three molecules of ATP are formed.
A fourth kind of motor is a specialized molecule that walks along the
DNA as it splits apart the double spiral while transcribing the genetic
Life is not possible without these and similar levels of complexity.
How is it possible to imagine that these intricate details of the cell,
which all have to work in order to carry on life's basic functions,
could form as the result of mindless chance? Suddenly scientific
naturalism doesn't look so scientifically compelling.
The Genetic Code and the Central Dogma.
In 1900 the complex way that genetic information is recorded in the
cell was completely unknown.
Since the systematic study of biology began in the 1700s, scientists
sought to know how a cell stores and passes on its genetic information.
The work of Mendel (which passed un-noticed for many years) and others
showed that there were statistical rules that could predict how certain
traits are passed on, but this did not provide much information about
how or where the information is stored, and how the information is used
to guide cell metabolism.
Eventually, in 1944, DNA, a complex molecule found in every functioning
cell, was singled out as the main (if not only) storage place for
genetic information. In 1953 Watson and Crick solved its basic
structure: DNA is a long double-strand spiral, a ladder-like molecule
that links together thousands of other molecules called
nucleotides which form the rungs or base pairs of the ladder. There are
4 kinds of nucleotides, often represented by the letters U, C, A, and
T. Long segments of these nucleotides code for the genes that build all
of the cell's special molecules (including themselves!).
A sequence of three nucleotides codes for a single amino acid. With 4
nucleotides available, there are thus 4x4x4 = 64 possible triplet
combinations. Each combination codes for one of 20 amino acids, or
indicates the beginning or end of a particular gene. The amino acids
then form proteins, that directly or indirectly conduct all of the
All of life, from the lowliest viruses and bacteria to the most complex
plants and animals, uses this same digital scheme (with very minor
variations) to record and transcribe its genetic information. A
description of the complete (and very complex!) building process from
the gene in the DNA to the protein product is called the Central Dogma,
a term coined by Francis Crick in 1958. A cell cannot carry on its life
functions without this complete process in place.
Over 150 genes with a total length of over 150,000 base pairs, are
needed just to build up the complex molecules required to carry out the
Central Dogma, and this assumes that the nucleotides and amino acids
are already present and available in the right amounts - if not, then
additional genes are needed to manufacture them. Since all life follows
the same central dogma, it follows that this is a bare minimum size for
the DNA of the very simplest imaginable self-reproducing life form. 63a
The extreme complexity of all living species should be a bit unsettling
to those who hold to undirected natural evolution. The question
naturally arises whether this complexity is necessary, or whether it
just reflects the piling up of billions of years of evolution.
In 1998 the National Research Council of the National Academy of
Science held a symposium to look at theoretical lower limits to the
complexity of life. The symposium had the title, Size Limits of Very Small Microorganisms.64 The report was published in 2000.
The context of this symposium was a controversy over earlier claims by
some NASA scientists that they had discovered "Mars fossils" in a
meteorite fragment. The controversy centered on the minute size of
these "fossils" and whether they were large enough to contain the
molecules that would be necessary to carry on all of the basic life
functions. The conclusion of the conference was that they were too
small, and therefore they are not fossils, and they are not valid
evidence of life on Mars.
The symposium looked at size limits dictated by physical and chemical
as well as biological considerations, so it was a genuine
cross-discipline effort. Its conclusion, assuming that food (including
organic food!) is available for the organism:
"Free-living organisms require a
minimum of 250-450 proteins along with the genes and ribosomes
necessary for their synthesis. [A sphere having a diameter of] 250
± 50 nm constitutes a reasonable lower size limit for life as we
know it. ... A biosphere consisting entirely of ultra-small organisms
is highly implausible"
Such a living organism must have a genetic code with a length of at
least several hundred thousand base pairs. In addition, these genes
must be precise and interact in very specific, subtle ways, or life
will quickly die out.64a
The question that this poses for scientific naturalists is: How does
the first such minimal life form get started? How is it possible to
even imagine such a subtle but extensive structure coming together by
undirected random chance?
In fact, a similar question was posed to mathematicians in 1966, long
before this symposium, with the conclusion that such a random
production is an incredibly improbable event.65
Even so, some of the prominent apologists for science, such as Stephen
Jay Gould and Carl Sagan, still asserted throughout their lives, that
life must be abundant in the universe, despite the overwhelming
evidence to the contrary.
The Geological Record of Life.
The geology that followed William Smith's discovery primarily concerned
the phanerozoic era, that is, the era of visible fossils, which began
with the Cambrian rock formations.
All of the major phyla of animal and plant life show up as complex,
multi-cellular fossils at this time. Even in 1900, it was assumed that
life must have extended further back in time. Over the next century,
ancient life forms have been found in the earlier formations. At the
present time, the earliest observed fossils are about 3.5 billion years
old, and there is indirect evidence that life existed as early as 3.8
to 3.9 billion years ago.66 Since the
did not cool off sufficiently to have liquid oceans until around 4
billion years ago, the implication is that life began almost
immediately, as soon as the physical conditions would allow it to
This is a big problem for the scientific naturalists because
it does not allow for the long expanses of empty time needed for chance
combinations of amino acids (or any other primitive building blocks) to
build up the random structures that would become living matter.67
Compounding this problem is the fact that the earliest actual fossils
appear to be photosynthetic. Photosynthesis is a complex process
which is built around the complex chlorophyll molecule – a process, one
would think, of very advanced, highly developed bacteria, not the very
first ones to appear on earth.
One step in photosynthesis is the production of the universal
energy-storing molecule ATP and involves the complex molecule ATP
synthase, a molecular motor (the first on earth?). Nitrogen
fixing is another complex process that the earliest life on earth had
to invent. It involves the complex molecule nitrogenase. But for it to
work, nitrogen fixing must be isolated from oxygen, which is a waste
product of photosynthesis. Thus still more complexity is required to
allow nitrogen fixing to take place in specialized cells called
The problem for scientific naturalism is to explain how all of this
happened by chance almost instantly as soon as the earth could support
There are other problems posed by the geologic record: (1) the "arrow
of life" which shows a constant, orderly increase in the complexity of
life from the very first; and (2) the sudden appearance of new kinds of
plants and animals without transitions, which we will not mention
further at this time.
The Rarity of Life in the
Universe. The net effect of these discoveries of the 20th
century is that the most knowledgeable scientists have realized that
the very occurrence of life in this universe is a miraculous event
(they may not use that term!). The universe is exceedingly hostile to
life: except for the earth, there does not appear to be any place in
the universe where life, particularly advanced live, could develop.
In an interview celebrating the 100th birthday of Ernst Mayr, a
prominent evolutionary biologist, he was asked about the SETI project
(Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). He remarked,
"There are two groups of people: the
ones who believe that [SETI] will be successful and the ones who are
quite sure that this won't be successful. Well, most scientists and
particularly biologists are totally convinced it will not be
successful.... One day I said to Ed [Wilson], 'How can you support
spending money for this search when it is so totally impossible that
there will be intelligent life?' He smiled and said, 'Oh, I know that,
I realize that this is totally improbable.' "68
If you ask, why "most scientists" are totally convinced that SETI will
not be successful, the answer is that they know that the natural
development of something as complex as advanced life, is extremely
unlikely - so unlikely, in fact that it seems silly and naïve even
to entertain the possibility.
Ironically, many of these scientists will take the opposite view and
argue that "simple" life may appear frequently in the universe -
everywhere someone finds evidence of liquid water, someone will suggest
that we should look for life.
From a position of strength in 1900, Scientific Naturalism has not
fared well in the face of extensive evidence that our universe and
earth, and life itself exhibit all of the hallmarks of careful design
and execution. We have only hit a few highlights which could be
amplified with many more examples.
Predictably, perhaps, those who dislike the intrusion of theological
concepts into science react to this with ridicule or bemusement.
Anthony Flew, a prominent atheist, remarked in a recent interview,
"It seems to me that the case for an
Aristotelian God who has the characteristics of power and also
intelligence, is now much stronger than it ever was before."
But despite this statement - I doubt that he would call it an
admission - he appears not to have made a fundamental change in his
personal views. In the recent introduction to his book God and Philosophy, which was still
in preparation at the time of this interview, Flew qualified this by
"those who already judge that they have
good reason to have reached theistic conclusions may very reasonably
see [these facts] as further and very strong confirmation of these
The others, Flew remarks, just view them as "brute facts" with no
further implications. Regardless of Flew's views, some scientists over
the years who earlier viewed themselves as atheists, have come to see
from these "brute facts" that evidence for a creator is very powerful,
and some have abandoned atheism to affirm a faith in God.
Scientific naturalism no longer holds the high ground in objective
science, as it did in 1900. A fair assessment today would say that an
Occam's razor argument would favor a creator.
David C. Bossard
1 Delivered in September, 2005 as part of the IBRI
Lecture Series. This is an audio recording of the talk.
2 Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1914). Man's Place in the Universe
3 See Christopher F. B. Walker, Ed. Astronomy before the Telescope, St.
Martin's Press 1996, for an excellent summary of astronomy during this
4 The perspective here is Western science. That
qualification will be assumed without further comment.
5 Genesis 1:1,2 and Job 26:7.
6 See Walker, op. cit. Accounts of Ptolemy's geology
are found at these web sites: Vatican.Exhibit,
7 The planets trace out epicycles - circular orbits
about a point that itself circles the earth. This is needed to account
for retrograde motion. Retrograde motion occurs at those times
when the earth moves in its orbit across line of sight faster than the
planet, so that the planet gives the illusion of moving backwards
8 There were some curious systematic errors in
Ptolemy's position measurements, which, for example, made it impossible
to predict the location of eclipses precisely, although they were
approximately correct as to time. Tycho Brahe greatly improved the
accuracy of Ptolemy's tables.
9 Aristarchus of Samos 310-230 BC.
10 Archimedes 287-212 BC objected to Aristarchus'
model along these lines.
11 Augustine of Hippo (354-430). For example, The Literal Meaning of Genesis,
Book 2, §33
"Concerning the stars, [certain
persons] go so far as to maintain that many are the size of the sun or
even larger than it, but that they appear small because of their
greater distance....And yet we must hold to the pronouncement of St.
Paul, 'There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon,
and another of the stars, for star differs from star in glory.' But of
course, one may reply, without attacking St. Paul, 'They differ in
glory to the eyes of men on earth.' Or, again, ... 'Even in themselves
the stars differ in glory, yet some are larger even than the sun.'
" [emphasis added].
12 Augustine, op. cit. §37
"In matters that are obscure and far
beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy
Scripture, different interpretations are sometimes possible without
prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not
rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if
further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this
position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the
teaching of the Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to
conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of
Sacred Scripture."... [§39] "Usually, even a non-Christian knows
something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this
world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and
relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and
moon... and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and
experience. Now it is a disgraceful thing for an infidel to hear a
Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking
nonsense on these topics, and we should take all means to prevent such
an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a
Christian and laugh it to scorn."
13 "Without the Reformation, modern science
would probably have developed in any event because of the ethos of
rationality and the doctrine of creation conducive to it. The
Reformation, however, hastened the development by criticizing
scholasticism and by putting emphasis on the direct observation of
nature. Luther has been called the Copernicus of theology while, on the
other hand, Copernicus has been called the Luther of astronomy." From http://www.leaderu.com/science/kobe.html.
14 Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543).
15 Martin Luther (1483-1546).
16 Copernicus made his discovery in 1514. Luther
posted his 95 theses in 1517.
17 Georg Joachin von Laucher Rheticus (1514-1574). He
attended the University of Wittenberg, home to Martin Luther, and in
1539 at age 25 with the sponsorship of Philip Melancthon, Martin
Luther's associate, he studied for two years under Copernicus. The text
is online at De
18 Tycho Brahe (1541-1601). See biography at
http://www.skyscript.co.uk/brahe.html. Shakespeare (1564-1616) was a
contemporary of Tycho. The characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in
Shakespeare's Hamlet, bore names of Tycho's ancestors, and Claudius
perhaps alludes to Claudius Ptolemy. Hamlet was first performed
in 1600 or 1601 (the year of Tycho's death). See article at Hamlet.
19 Tycho made numerous measurements, so individual
measurement errors could be reduced somewhat by multiple measurements.
For example, his measurement of the angle of the Earth's ecliptic (tilt
of the Earth's orbit relative to the Sun) was accurate to 0.5
arcminute. This value is of course the result of averaging of many
sightings over the extent of the Earth's orbit. Naked eye resolution of
binary stars is generally considered to be about 2-5 arcminutes;
possibly less for a very keen eye. None of the instruments used by
Tycho have survived war and fire. For a tabulation of Tycho's Mars data
see Tycho Data. In practice,
his measurements were relative measurements, the angular difference
between known star positions. Earth's rotation will cause a star to
move about 1 arc minute in 4 seconds, so precise measurements of
absolute position were exceedingly difficult and required accurate and
reliable clocks, which did not exist at this time.
20 See Walker op cit.
and Charles Singer, et al, Ed. A
History of Technology, Vol. III. P. 582ff. Oxford, 1957.
21 Johannes Kepler 1571-1630. Kepler was responsible
for the discovery that the Christian calendar was in error and that
Jesus had been born in 4 BC.
22 Kepler's three laws were shown by Newton, 80
years later (1687), to be equivalent to his law of gravitational
attraction between the Sun and the Planets, where each planet/sun pair
(in this case a 2-body problem) fits the data quite well, despite the
potential complexity of the many-body solar system. Multibody problems
are notoriously difficult, one might say virtually impossible, to solve.
23 Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).
24 However, the proof of the heliocentric model
of the solar system did not depend on the discovery of the telescope.
Tycho's data were of such excellent quality that the conclusion stood
on his data alone, aided of course by Galileo's discovery of another
"planetary system" in the moons orbiting Jupiter.
24a William of Occam (1258?-1349?) Quadlibeta, Book V (c. 1324). The
principle is “Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem
-- entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” In other
words, “seek the simplest solution that fits the known facts."
25 Cited in http://www.leaderu.com/science/kobe.html.
26 In 1835 Friedrich Bessel measured parallax of the
nearby star 61 Cygni (distance 11.43 lightyears). The value, 0.32
arcseconds was almost 100 times smaller than the accuracy that could be
resolved at the time of Galileo and Newton. Cassini in 1671 used
parallax in the orbit of Mars to measure solar system distances. The
significance of parallax measurements is that it provides a direct way
to measure a star's distance. Currently, star positions can be measured
to an accuracy of 0.001 arcseconds. With this accuracy, parallax could
theoretically be measured out to about 3000 light-years. In the
mid-future, space probes may extend this by a factor of 10 or more.
27 John Milton (1608-1674), Paradise Lost, Book V, line 15ff.
(1667) Adam's Dilemma.
28 The finding is even stronger: Kepler's laws imply
Newton's inverse-square law of gravitation. No other law is possible.
29 Voltaire (1694-1778).
30 Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677).
31 John Locke (1632-1704).
32 Zacharias Janssen [1580-1638] discovered the
compound microscope in 1590 at age 10. Hans Lippershey [1570-1619] is
also credited with co-discovery in 1609.
33 Anthony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) was the first
to describe ciliated single-celled “animacules” and the first bacteria
(1683) using a minute single-lense microscope.He was a Dutch merchant
with no formal higher education, but his letters and discoveries were
regularly published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal
Society of London. See Brian J. Ford,
Single Lens: The Story of the Simple Microscope.Harper &
Row, 1985. Bacteria were not observed again for almost a
century (Müller, 1773) using a compound microscope which, at this
time, suffered from chromatic aberration (achromatic lenses were
developed by Joseph Lister in 1830).
34 Carl von Linné (Linnæus) (1707-1778)
Linnæus' great work on the systematic description of plants and
animals, Systema Naturae, was published in many editions. He worked on
this throughout his life. The 10th Edition, published in 1758,
established the Linnaean classification system. He firmly believed that
species could vary only within certain limits.
35 Georges Buffon (1707-1788) worked on the 44 volume
Historie Naturelle, a vast attempt to catalog and describe all of
36 See, for example, Tudge, The Variety of Life and Margullis, Five Kingdoms. The organizing
criteria change with time and the author's viewpoint (Tudge is a
Cladist, Margullis is not), but the overall outline has remained
37 Voltaire (1694-1778); Lamarck (1744-1829), Philosophie
Zoologique published in 1809 was an early proponent of
development, or evolution as it is known today.
38 For a more detailed discussion of the early days of
geology, see David C. Bossard, Geology
IBRI Research Report #53 (2003).
38a An excellent summary of the fossil documentation
of species development is Stephen Jay Gould, The Book of Life, Norton (2001).
See also the fossil chronology recorded in paintings in Barbara Page
and Warren Allmon, Rock of Ages
Sands of Time, U. Chicago Press (2001).
39 William Smith (1769-1839).
40 Sir Charles Lyell (1795-1875), The Principles of Geology and The Elements of Geology, written in
many editions beginning in the 1830s. Both Texts can be viewed at 19thcenturyscience.org.
41 Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) The Revolutions of the Earth 1831, pg.
36, at 19thcenturyscience.org.
42 A rhetorical question of John A. Wheeler, in the
Foreword to John D. Barrow & Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle,
Oxford, 1986 (Wheeler's answer is "no!").
43 Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), Why I am Not a Christian.
44 Robert Jastrow, God
and the Astronomers.
45 More formally known as the "Bridgewater Treatises
On the Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God as Manifested in the
Creation." One volume from this series can be viewed at 19thcenturyscience.org.
46 Hugh Miller (1802-1856), Sketchbook of Popular
Geology, 4th Ed. 1869, Preface p. xxx. The book can be viewed at 19thcenturyscience.org..
This edition was edited and published posthumously by his wife, Lydia
http://www.hughmiller.org/ for more on Hugh Miller. Other books,
also written by Hugh Miller and brought into publication by his wife,
include: Testimony of the Rocks
(1857), and Footprints of the Creator
(1851). The titles hint at the acceptance of design arguments in
geology prior to Darwin's book.
47 Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1914). Man's Place in the Universe
1903. His "universe" would correspond to the Milky Way galaxy, since
the true extent of the universe was not known at that time.
47a Advanced life requires, in his view, a long time
of development from simple life. This distinction between mere “life”
and “advanced life” is still commonly made today – for example see the
remark on the SETI project below. In Russel’s day, mere “life” was
thought to be relatively simple to produce, given a suitable
environment. This view is false, as will be shown below.
48 Ibid., p.
306. On p. 311 he enumerates the essential physical conditions:
distance from the sun, planet mass, orbital parameters, quantity of
water, landmass distribution and stability, composition of the
49 Lawrence J. Henderson (1878-1942), Fitness of the Environment,
MacMillan, 1913. This book is available at 19thcenturyscience.org.
The summary of his argument is stated beginning at p.267.
50 A contemporary update to Henderson's work is A. E.
Needham, The Uniqueness of
Biological Material, Pergamon Press (1965).
51 Henderson, Ibid.
p.viii. He remarks, "It is , indeed, a very curious episode in the
history of thought that these well-known facts should have been so long
forgotten or misconstrued." At p. 4 he confirms the accuracy of Lydia
Miller's remarks (ibid.), "With a suddenness which to many seemed
catastrophic Darwin's hypothesis of natural selection changed the whole
aspect of the problem."
52 See K.R. Lang, Astrophysical
Formulae, Springer-Verlag, 2nd Ed. (1980), Chapter 4 for a
detailed description of how each element is produced.
53 See Barrow & Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle,
Oxford (1986) for many examples; also Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos. His web
provides regular updates for information on fine-tuning
parameters. See also the list at http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/designun.html.
54 See, for example, the discussion of antimatter
asymmetry in Leon M.Lederman and Christopher T. Hill, Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe,
Promethius (2004), p.184ff. A particle and its antiparticle behave in
slightly different ways, which is why the universe consists of matter,
rather than antimatter, or worse yet, nothing. The universe started out
with equal amounts of matter and antimatter, but in a fraction of a
second all of the primordial antimatter was annihilated leaving only
matter. It is estimated that all but one out of every 300 million.
matter/antimatter pairs mutually annihilated, but that the one
remaining became the matter that we see today. See also Fred Adams and
Greg Laughlin, The Five Ages of the
Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity, Free Press, 1999, p22.
See also http://www.cerncourier.com/main/article/39/8/16
and Eric Sather, The Mystery of the Matter Asymmetry
(an Acrobat pdf file).
55 Interview with
Freeman Dyson, Wired
magazine, Feb. 1998. "If you
look at just the physical building blocks, there's a famous
problem with producing carbon in stars. All the carbon necessary
for life has to be produced in stars, and it's difficult to do. This
process was discovered by Fred Hoyle. To make carbon, you've got to
have three helium atoms collide in a triple collision. Helium has an
atomic weight of 4, and carbon is 12, while beryllium, at 8, is
unstable. Therefore, you can't go from helium to beryllium to carbon.
You have to make helium into carbon in one jump; this means the three
colliding together. But Hoyle came up with one of the most brilliant
ideas in the whole of science. He said that in order to make carbon
abundant as it should be, there must be an accidental, coincidental
resonance. This means that there's a nuclear state in the carbon
nucleus at precisely the right energy level for these three atoms to
combine smoothly. The chances of having that resonance in the right
place is maybe 1 in 1,000. Hoyle believed it must be there in order to
produce the carbon. Of course, the nuclear physicists then looked for
this resonance and found it." See also Barrow & Tipler, Op. Cit. pp. 252-3.
55a That is, there must be a resonance in the
formation of carbon between the energy level of a berillium-helium pair
and a carbon nucleus, but not in the formation of oxygen between a
carbon-helium pair and the oxygen nucleus.
56 Fred Hoyle, The
Intelligent Universe, Michael Joseph (1983) pp.20-21, 23.
In the 1960s, commenting on his discoveries regarding the significance
of the carbon and oxygen resonance levels, he said "I do not believe
that any physicist who examined the evidence could fail to draw the
inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately
designed with regard to the consequences they produce within stars."
57 Tipler, Frank (1994), The Physics of Immortality (New
York: Doubleday), preface.
58 Georg Cantor (1845-1918).
59 Paul Davies (1946-), The Cosmic Blueprint, Templeton
60 Louis de Broglie (1892-1987) won the Nobel prize in
1929 for his discovery of the wave nature of electrons, which he
proposed in his doctoral thesis in 1924. He was a theoretician,
not an experimenter, so the experimental proof of the wave nature of
electrons was done by other physicists, in 1927.
61 Development of the electron microscope was hampered
by the outbreak of World War II. An interview of one of the early
inventors, James Hillier, who made the first commercial electron
microscopes for RCA in 1941 is at I.E.E.E.
Oral Histories. In this interview Hillier states that in 1941 he
made an electron
microscope image of the Tobacco Mosaic Virus, a rod-shaped virus, for
Dr. Wendel Stanley, who later got a Nobel prize for his work on this
virus. The image (x18,000), credited to Dr. Stanley, appears in
L. Marton, The Electron Microscope,
J. Bact. 41 (1941) p.408.
62 From "The Engine of Creation", New Scientist, 19
June 1999. Used by
permission. For more information including an animated movie of the
kinesin motor, see the Kinesin Home Page.
63 For a description of the flagellar motor, and the
implications for "irreducible complexity" see Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box, Simon and
63a Since the Central Dogma is universal for all
life, but some parts of it seem arbitrary (the nucleotide coding
scheme, for example), the general view of biologists is that all
current living matter descended from a single original “parent;”
otherwise one would expect to see several “dogmas” represented among
the living species. A similar line of reasoning concludes that all
humans came from a single “Eve”. Of course one could also postulate a
64 Size Limits of Very Small Microorganism,
Research Council, 2000.
64a Many of the cell activities are done by groups of
genes acting in concert, not by a particular gene acting alone.
65 Moorhead, Paul S. & Martin M. Kaplan (eds.): Mathematical Challenges to the
Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution. A Symposium held at
the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology, April 25 and 26, 1966.
Philadelphia: Wistar Institute Press, 1967. Contributors and
participants include Ulam, Ernst Mayr, George Wald, Lewontin,
Waddington, Sewall Wright, I. M. Lerner, Medawar, Weisskopf, H. B. D.
66 See J. William Schopf, Cradle of Life: Discovery of Earth's
Earliest Fossils, Princeton, 1999. The indirect evidence comes
from the analysis of carbon isotopes. Carbon deposits that come from
living matter have a different ration of carbon isotope abundance,
compared with inorganic carbon.
67 In fact, all of the time since the Big Bang would
be insufficient given the minimum requirements for a living cell, so
this early appearance of life on earth only adds insult to injury, so
68 The Evolution of Ernest: 2004 Interview of
Steve Mirsky (Acrobat PDF file, Scientific American) with
celebrating his 100th birthday.
69 Antony Flew & Gary R. Habermas, My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: An
Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew
Philosophia Christi, Winter, 2005.
70 Anthony Flew, God and Philosophy, Promethius
Books, April, 2005, Introduction, p. 16. The preface to this book
pointedly remarks that Flew's alleged belief in a god, is a
misrepresentation based on an early draft of his introduction. The book
re-issue of the book published in the 1960s.
can contact IBRI by e-mail at: email@example.com
Return to the IBRI Home Page
Last updated: October