Reasons to Believe

Can Science Detect the Creator’s Fingerprints in Nature?

Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? (Job 12:9, NIV)

In early March (2017), I took part in a forum at Samford University (Birmingham, AL) entitled Genesis and Evolution. At this two-day event, the panelists presented and discussed scientific and biblical perspectives on young-earth, old-earth, and evolutionary versions of creationism.

The organizers of this forum charged me with the responsibility of describing old-earth creationism (OEC) from a scientific vantage point while also providing the rationale for my views. As part of my presentation, the organizers asked me to discuss the assumptions that undergird my views. One of the foundational tenets of OEC is an important idea taught in Scripture: God has revealed Himself to us through the record of nature. According to passages such as Job 12:7–9, part of that revelation includes the “fingerprints” He has left on His creation.

Detecting the Fingerprints

If Scripture is true, then scientific investigation should uncover evidence for design throughout the natural realm. Science should detect God’s fingerprints. And indeed, it has. As a biochemist, I am deeply impressed with the elegance, sophistication, and ingenuity of the cell’s molecular systems. In my view, these features reflect the work of a mind—a divine Mind. But the evidence for intelligent design in the biochemical realm is much more extensive. For example, the eerie similarity between the structure and function of biochemical systems and the objects and devices produced by human designers further evinces the Creator’s handiwork. In my book The Cell’s Design, I show how the remarkable similarities serve to revitalize William Paley’s Watchmaker argument for God’s existence.

To describe the hallmark features of human designs, Paley used the term “contrivance.” Human designs are contrivances—and so are biological systems. If human contrivances require the work of human designers, then it follows that biological systems—which are also contrivances—require a divine Designer. In The Cell’s Design, I introduce the concept of an intelligent design pattern. Following Paley, I identify several features that characterize human designs. Collectively, these characteristics form a pattern that can then be matched to the features of biological and biochemical systems. The greater the match between the intelligent design pattern and biological/biochemical systems, the greater the certainty that designs found in living systems are the work of a Mind.

Is Science Capable of Detecting the Supernatural?

In response to my presentation at the Genesis and Evolution event, cell biologist Kenneth Miller from Brown University—a well-known critic of intelligent design—argued that creationism and intelligent design cannot be part of the construct of science because science lacks the capability of detecting the supernatural. In his book The Triumph of Evolution: And the Failure of Creationism, paleontologist Niles Eldredge makes this very point:

We humans can directly experience the material world only through our senses, and there is no way we can directly experience the supernatural. Thus, in the enterprise that is science, it isn’t an ontological claim that a God . . . does not exist, but rather an epistemological recognition that even if such a God did exist, there would be no way to experience that God given the impressive, but still limited, means afforded by science. And that is true by definition.1

But as I pointed out during my presentation, there are scientific disciplines predicated on science’s capacity to detect the activity of intelligent agency. One such research program is SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence). Astronomers involved in this program seek ways to distinguish electromagnetic radiation emanating from astronomical objects from those hypothetically generated by intelligent agents that are part of alien civilizations. To put it another way, SETI is an intelligent design research program.

Aliens and Fast Radio Bursts

Research by scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics powerfully illustrates this point.2 These investigators propose that fast radio bursts (FRBs) emanate from alien technology, specifically planet-sized transmitters powering interstellar probes.

Astronomers discovered FRBs in 2007. Since then, around two dozen exceedingly bright millisecond-long bursts of radio emissions have been detected. Astronomers think that FRBs originate in distant galaxies, billions of light-years away.

The Harvard-Smithsonian scientists calculate that the transmitters could generate enough energy from sunlight to move probes through space, if the light was directed onto an area of a planet twice the size of Earth. Given the energies involved, the transmitters would have to be cooled. Again, the researchers estimate that a water-cooled device twice Earth’s size could keep the transmitter from melting.

The researchers recognize that construction of the transmitters lies beyond our technology but is possible given the laws of physics. They speculate that aliens built these transmitters to power light sails to move spacecraft weighing a million tons and carrying living creatures across interstellar space.

These astronomers maintain that the transmitter would have to continually focus its beam on the light sail to power it. Accordingly, because the sail, its planet, star, and galaxy all move relative to us, FRBs originate when the transmitter’s beam sweeps across the sky and briefly points in Earth’s direction.

So, are FRBs evidence for alien technology? Avi Loeb, one of the Harvard-Smithsonian scientists, admits that their proposal is speculative but justifies it because they “haven’t identified a possible natural source with any confidence.”3 Loeb argues, “Deciding what’s likely ahead of time limits the possibilities. It’s worth putting ideas out there and letting the data be the judge.”4

His Evidence Is Clearly Seen

So contrary to the protests of scientists such as Miller and Eldredge, science does have the tool kit to detect the handiwork of intelligent agents and even discern the capabilities and motives of the intelligent designer(s). Therefore, why not let intelligent design proponents and creationists put their ideas out there and let the data be the judge?

It is interesting that the Harvard-Smithsonian astronomers think they can recognize the work of intelligent designers who possess capabilities beyond what we can understand—and maybe even imagine. They also think that they can discern the purpose behind the alien technology—space exploration. Then why can’t science recognize the work of a Creator whose capabilities exist beyond what we can imagine?

Considering the proposal by the Harvard-Smithsonian investigators, it is disingenuous for Miller, Eldredge, and other scientists to reject, out of hand, the scientific evidence for God’s fingerprints in biochemical systems. I contend that the intelligent design pattern that I describe in The Cell’s Design can be used to rigorously—and even quantitatively—characterize the Creator’s activity in biological systems. Moreover, as I have discussed previously, science has the tools to identify the Designer.

As the apostle Paul wrote, evidence for the Creator is “clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:20). If only the scientific community would be willing to look.

Resources:

Endnotes:

  1. Niles Eldredge, The Triumph of Evolution: And the Failure of Creationism (New York: Holt and Company, 2001), 13.
  2. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “Could Fast Radio Bursts Be Powering Alien Probes?,” Science News (blog), ScienceDaily, March 9, 2017, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170309120419.htm.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.

Subjects: Intelligent Design, Old Earth Creationism