“A very skillful Watchmaker”

“A very skillful Watchmaker” February 26, 2020


MIT's iconic dome
The Great Dome at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or “MIT,” the small, obscurantist Bible college where Gerald Schroeder earned his BSc, MSc, and Ph.D.
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


I published this column in the Provo Daily Herald back on 8 June 1999, or thereabouts:


In 150 years of controversy, battle lines have too often been drawn between agnostic evolutionists, on the one hand, and biblical literalists on the other.  The debate is actually far more complex, and much more interesting.

Israeli-American physicist Gerald Schroeder trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  His 1997 book, The Science of God, not only seeks to harmonize science and biblical religion but to do so without expecting either side to yield much territory.

Schroeder contends that science itself refutes extreme evolutionists’ faith in an aimless universe. Did life emerge from random, undirected processes?  Not a chance, he says.  The game has been rigged.  “To this observer of nature, our universe looks like a put-up job.” 

He points, for example, to the astonishing commonness of carbon, the indispensable basis of all known life.  Given the way it forms, it should be extraordinarily rare.  Furthermore, if one of the “constants” involved in the energy of the “big bang” that began our universe were different by one part in 10 to the 120th power—that is, by a fraction with a numerator of 1 over a denominator of 1 followed by 120 zeroes, no life would exist anywhere.  As University of Chicago astrophysicist Michael Turner says, “The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bulls-eye one millimeter in diameter on the other side.”  Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose studies the seconds immediately following the big bang.  The laws of nature are so perfectly tuned for life, he says, that they must have been chosen by an intelligent Creator.

Schroeder does not dispute evolution.  And unlike Richard Milton, the British science writer whose fascinating Shattering the Myths of Darwinism insists that we really don’t know how old the earth is, he accepts planetary and cosmic ages in the billions of years.  But here is where his most original argument surfaces.

Using Einstein’s relativity theory and its predictions of the compression and dilation of time, Schroeder says that everything depends on whether our perspective is from the earth or that of the cosmos as a whole.  “When one asks if six days or fifteen billion years passed before the appearance of humankind,” he declares, “the correct answer is ‘yes.’”  And he is able to correlate the six days of Genesis with the sequence of events accepted by contemporary science.

For many years, advocates of “purposeless chance” took vague refuge in “lots and lots of time.”  Whatever seemed mysterious, impossible to explain or to demonstrate, simply must have happened over billions and billions of years.  In particular, they said, life gradually emerged from random processes in a primordial inorganic soup.  Yet we know now that single-celled life began almost instantly after the earth cooled and water appeared, 3.8 billion years ago.  There simply wasn’t time for amino acids to combine randomly.

But then, unexpectedly, 3.2 billion years passed, during which life remained confined to single-cell organisms.  Nothing suggests the gradual development that Darwin imagined.  One is reminded, instead, of the way one soldier described war:  “long periods of boredom, punctuated by brief moments of sheer terror.”

The basic anatomies common to all living creatures appeared only 530 million years ago, simultaneously, with no hint from earlier fossils.  (The evidence for this so-called “Cambrian explosion” was found in 1909, but effectively suppressed and forgotten until the 1980s.)  Since then, no new phyla or basic anatomical structures have appeared.  Even developments within phyla occur without warning.  Wingless creatures suddenly disappear from the fossil record, and are replaced by creatures with fully developed large wings—in some cases, 30 centimeters across.  The Jurassic marine reptile ichthyosaurus appears completely formed, with a fish-like body, fins, paddles, and bill.  After a hundred million years, at its extinction, it is identical.

Current theories suggest that our ancestors were separated from their ape kin by the tectonic shift that created the Afro-Syrian rift eight million years ago. Did humans really originate thereafter by random genetic mutations?  Impossible, says Schroeder, who calculates that such changes would require at least forty million generations.

“Our universe,” he says, “tuned so accurately for the needs of intelligent life, indeed ticks to the beat of a very skillful Watchmaker.”



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