The Case for a Creator: All the Starry Heavens

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 7

Chapter 7 of Case is about the argument from planetary fine-tuning. This time, Strobel has two interviewees: Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards, both affiliated with the Discovery Institute. Since we’re keeping count of scientific “authorities”, which is whom Strobel claims to be interviewing, let me point out for the record that Gonzalez has a legitimate Ph.D in astronomy from the University of Washington. Richards, meanwhile, is another Christian theologian, with a Ph.D from Princeton Theological Seminary.

You may have heard of Guillermo Gonzalez from a fracas in 2007, when he was denied tenure at Iowa State University. Naturally, the Discovery Institute went into a frenzy of claims that it was entirely due to anti-ID prejudice – despite Gonzalez’s unimpressive publication record and failure to attract significant research funding during his time there (remember: authorities!). But even if his pro-ID views played a role in the decision, that would be entirely appropriate, since tenure decisions are supposed to be based on the quality of the candidate’s work. For the record, Gonzalez is now a professor at Grove City College, a private Christian university in Pennsylvania – the kind of place where those strictly-scientific, not-in-any-way-motivated-by-religion ID folks seem to keep ending up. (Bill Dembski, for another example, is now a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.)

But, moving on. As I said, this chapter is devoted to Gonzalez and Richards’ argument that a multiplicity of factors make the Earth uniquely suited for life – indeed, that it’s the only planet in the galaxy or even the universe that is so disposed – and that fine-tuning by God is the only way to explain this. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, here’s a passage from Michael Denton’s Nature’s Destiny that Strobel favorably quotes in the introductory remarks of this chapter:

No other theory or concept ever imagined by man can equal in boldness and audacity this great claim… that all the starry heavens, that every species of life, that every characteristic of reality exists [to create a livable habitat] for mankind… But most remarkably, given its audacity, it is a claim which is very far from a discredited prescientific myth. [p.158]

Strobel also cites Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee’s book Rare Earth, an argument by two non-ID-affiliated scientists that complex, intelligent life is an extremely unusual phenomenon. But Ward and Brownlee don’t believe that life as such is necessarily rare – they believe that microbes, which are far more resilient than us large, fragile creatures, may be more common in the cosmos. Remarkably, even this is too much for Strobel to accept: “…Ward and Brownlee uncritically buy into the idea that microbial life may very well be more prevalent” [p.156, emphasis added].

I want to focus on this before moving on to the rest of the chapter. After all, if you think about it, this is a very curious position for Strobel to take. As we’ve said before, intelligent design, according to its founders, is supposed to be about science. And science is based on observation. Since we’ve never done any close-up observation of any planet outside our solar system, there should be no grounds for excluding the possibility that there may be life on one of them. Even if one agrees with every argument that’s given later on in this chapter, it doesn’t follow that life is a one-of-a-kind unique event, only that it’s rare. Yet Strobel is clearly uncomfortable with the idea that any life of any form might exist elsewhere in the universe, even if it’s only extremophile alien microbes.

Why should this be problematic? After all, didn’t he just spend the previous chapter arguing that the laws of the cosmos have been fine-tuned to extraordinary precision to allow for life to exist? It would be incredibly wasteful to go to that much trouble just for the sake of one tiny planet in a universe of ten billion trillion stars. If intelligent design is being presented as a scientific hypothesis, it seems to be an a priori possibility that the intelligent designer might have created life on many different planets. Shouldn’t this hypothesis be given at least some consideration?

But instead, Strobel brushes past it without a backward glance, and this tells us something. When discussing an issue where the truth is still unknown – and the question of extraterrestrial life surely qualifies – a genuinely scientific book would present the competing possibilities and evaluate them fairly (remember “teach the controversy”?). For a journalist like Strobel, this would be an ideal place to interview people with different views and see how they stack up.

This book, however, ignores every alternative and homes straight in on the conclusion that its author has clearly chosen ahead of time: that life on Earth is a one-of-a-kind unique phenomenon. And since this conclusion isn’t supported by scientific evidence (how could it be?), it must derive from the author’s personal religious faith. In other words, this chapter is another piece of evidence showing what we all knew already – that this book’s claim at being “science” is really just a pretense, a form of window dressing, that uses scientific language to disguise a conclusion that comes first and foremost from evangelical Christian religious beliefs.

Other posts in this series:

What the Bible Gets Wrong About Hymens
Weekend Coffee: Reusable Rockets
Beware the Man Who Knows One Thing
Turning the Corner on Climate Change
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.