IBRI Research Report #55 (2005)



David C. Bossard
Lebanon, New Hampshire

Copyright © 2005 by David C. Bossard. All rights reserved.


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 scientific fact, 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 dcbossard@valley.net. In particular, I solicit additional citations to work available over the internet, that may supplement or clarify some of the matters discussed.
  -- DCB


Although the author is in agreement with the doctrinal statement 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 of 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 first written.†

1The 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, perhaps stubbornness.

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 on.2

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 evidence.

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 Christian doctrine. 

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.

Ptolemy Cosmology

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 and omnipotence."
Martin Luther  (1483-1546), Table Talks13

A.  The Beginning of Modern Astronomy, 1500-1650.

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 Gregorian calendar.

Copernican Model
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.

Brahe's Quadrant

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 earlier.

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 previous year.24

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 the universe, and in one amazing insight, the motions and interactions of the entire universe suddenly became clear.

Philosophers of his day - Voltaire29,  Spinoza30, Locke31 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 had its 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 chemistry increased.

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 these lines.

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 peculiar stratum."
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.

This 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 systematically explored. 

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 better understood.

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 Naturalism

"Is not man an unimportant bit of dust in an unimportant planet in an unimportant galaxy in an unimportant region somewhere in the vastness of space?"42

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."
Robert Jastrow44

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 in 1859.

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, lamented.46

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 habitat.

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 materials.

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 argument used.

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 nucleus.

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 remarked, "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 remarked:

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 relevant 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 atoms in 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 5 microns).

Kinesin Molecule
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 matter.

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 code.

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 cell's activity.

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 earth 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 survive.

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 akinetes. 

The problem for scientific naturalism is to explain how all of this happened by chance almost instantly as soon as the earth could support life.

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."
Anthony Flew (2004)69

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 the words:

"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 conclusions."70

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
September, 2005


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 1903.

3 See Christopher F. B. Walker, Ed. Astronomy before the Telescope, St. Martin's Press 1996, for an excellent summary of astronomy during this era.

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, Tetrabiblos, and  Mathematicians/Ptolemy.

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 (retrograde).
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 Revolutionibus.

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 nature.

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 throughout.

37 Voltaire (1694-1778); Lamarck (1744-1829), Philosophie Zoologique published in 1809 was an early proponent of progressive 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 before Darwin, 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 Miller. See 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 atmosphere, etc.
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 site http://www.reasons.org 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 Foundation (1988).

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 Schuster (1998).

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 single designer.

64 Size Limits of Very Small Microorganism, National 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. Kettlewell.

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 to speak.

68 The Evolution of Ernest: 2004 Interview of Steve Mirsky (Acrobat PDF file, Scientific American) with Ernst Mayr, 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 is a re-issue of the book published in the 1960s.

You can contact IBRI by e-mail at: webmaster@ibri.org

Return to the IBRI Home Page

Last updated: October 5, 2005