If There Was A Designer, He Did A Poor Job
Updated: May 22
“But the order we observe, which is surely order in the universe and not of the universe, is such that it hardly evidences the marks of a perfect designer. Rather, if a designer at all, it bears the marks of an apprentice designer or a decrepit designer whose powers and insight were failing.”[i]
- Kai Nielsen
Kai Nielsen is a philosopher and an atheist. He was educated at Duke University and taught at universities in the United States and Canada for decades. His influence may have spanned students numbering in the tens of thousands. He is smart, influential and respected in the philosophical community. However, his statement about the lack of apparent design of the universe would make little sense to many scientists.
Even many atheist scientists readily concede that the universe does look designed. Stephen Hawking, an ardent atheist, was among them. [ii] However, to humor Kai Nielsen, let’s take a quick look at the universe to see if it shows any marks of design. We’ll look through the eyes of physics but we’ll keep it simple for us non-physics majors.
Let’s start by looking at the big things in the universe. Paul Davies, a physicist at Arizona State University, points out that the big things in the universe show coherence, order, uniformity and unity. The universe isn’t a mess. Davies says it looks like it was orchestrated:
"Instead of finding that space is filled with a dog’s breakfast of unrelated bric-a-brac, astronomers see an orchestrated and coherent unity. On the largest scale of size there is order and uniformity.”[iii]
Yet, somewhat strangely, Mr. Nielsen insists this observed order of universe doesn’t mean that it actually is ordered. [iv]
So, let’s look deeper.
Very tiny things
Many scientists used to embrace reductionism. This is the idea that complex things are composed of simpler less complex things with the ultimate things being really simple. However, things just aren’t that simple.
Even at the level of the very smallest things, we see standard complex components, forces, boundaries, uniform structure, constants, laws, progression and precision. In any other context, if we saw something which demonstrated all of these attributes, we would logically conclude it was designed.
Components – The universe is not actually composed of one simple thing; it’s composed of many component parts.[v] For example, every atom is composed of elementary particles – electrons, up quarks and down quarks. And, each of these types of particles have specific uniform qualities – spin, charge, mass and “color” charge.[vi] They’re also held together by force carriers (other particles) called gluons.[vii] That’s not exactly simple.
Forces – There are four fundamental forces at work in the universe. Yes, four – electromagnetism, gravity, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. We need all of them. The strong nuclear force holds quarks together to make protons or neutrons and the weak nuclear force can change a proton into a neutron or vice versa. Electromagnetism holds electrons in place and makes molecules possible.[viii] And, gravity holds big stuff like planets in place. All of these are important.
Boundaries – There are also boundaries. One is the Pauli Exclusion Principle – no two electrons can share the same quantum state.[ix] This is really helpful because it keeps electrons from collapsing in on each other. This enables atoms to share chemical bonds and form molecules. Without molecules, we wouldn’t be alive.
Structure – Atoms don’t just have a bunch of random components, forces and boundaries. They’re structured in uniform ways. An atom’s nucleus is composed of neutrons and protons.[x] However, every proton is composed of two up quarks and one down quark.[xi] And every neutron is composed of one up quark and two down quarks. They’re also organized based upon “color” charge with each grouping of three quarks requiring a blue, green and red color charge. And, they’re held together by eight variations of gluons (strong force carriers each possessing two color charges).[xii]
Neutrons and protons are also bound together by gluons (strong force carriers) to form a nucleus. Around it is spinning one or more electrons in defined energy levels (shells) – sort of like airplanes flying at different altitudes. No more than two electrons can be in the first shell, eight in the second, etcetera.[xiii] Electromagnetic force holds them in their assigned energy level, sublevel and orbital.
If you try to help a 6th grader build a model of this using toothpicks, foam balls and water colors, good luck. If you built it to scale, a proton the size of a golf ball would mean the electrons are orbiting over 200 yards away.[xiv] Most people can’t even hit a golf ball that far.
Constants – If the way the universe operates were to change, we could be in big trouble. Fortunately, it seems to operate the same way everywhere. The constants most of us are familiar with include gravity and the speed of light. However, there are constants even more fundamental than these. So far, twenty-six have been discovered.[xv] Change just one of them and the universe would be radically different and we likely wouldn’t exist.
Laws – The universe also operates based on laws – lots of laws. Conservation laws are just one example. The weak nuclear force alone displays laws of conservation related to energy, charge, linear momentum, angular momentum, lepton number, baryon number and color. (Don’t worry, if you didn’t understand this.) The point is that there are a huge number of laws which define how the universe works.
Progression – The story of our universe started with a singular beginning point – the big bang – an enormous explosion beyond comprehension. At that moment, space, time, matter, energy, distinct forces, laws and constants came into being.[xvi] And, things immediately started to take shape.
Physicist Frank Close conveys that, within one millionth of a second after the big bang, quarks “clustered together in threes, where they have remained ever since” as protons and neutrons.[xvii]About three minutes later, protons and neutron were cool enough to stick together. Then, 300,000 years later, they were cool enough to capture free electrons.[xviii] And, now – about 14 billion years later – we’re figuring all of this out.
Precision – Other than the cause of the big bang, perhaps the biggest mystery in physics is the fine structure constant. It’s approximately 1/137.035999206 or 1/137 for short.[xix] It’s a big-deal number – the strength of the electromagnetic force between charged elementary particles. It’s a number that connects electromagnetism, relativity and quantum mechanics. If that precise number were different, our universe as we know it may not exist.
This is what Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, had to say about it:
It’s one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say “the hand of God” wrote that number, and we don’t know “how He pushed his pencil.”[xx]
This is barely scratching the surface.[xxi] We haven’t even discussed photons, neutrinos, quantum fields, quantum states, anti-particles, symmetry and other attributes of the universe. However, what is clear are three things.
The universe does bear the marks of what we would normally conclude to be design.
The answers for what caused the universe and why it is as it is have not been found within the universe.[xxii]
Were even one of the components, forces, boundaries, structures, fundamental constants or laws to have been even the smallest bit different, we would likely not exist.
The universe isn’t simple and it isn’t a mess. It’s complex, structured, law driven, mathematically describable, elegant and beautiful. It’s also a great place to play golf.
What do scientists conclude from this?
Some scientists see the order of the universe and say “Wow. Aren’t we lucky the only universe in existence is like this?” Yet, the amount of luck required would be sort of like winning the Powerball lottery every second of your life without fail. The only way this could happen is if the lottery were rigged – if it were designed.
Other scientists say, “Wow. Aren’t we lucky there are an infinite number of universes and we just happen to live in this one?” Yet, no other universe has ever been observed or detected. So, to conclude this goes way beyond the evidence.
That leaves scientists who conclude, from the physical evidence, that the universe was designed. Great physicists of the past – Albert Einstein, Max Born, and Max Planck – saw the order of the universe and concluded there was a designer. It’s also interesting that all of these scientists were Nobel Prize winners.
Paul Davies is a modern physicist. He is not a theist and perhaps not a deist. However, he can’t deny the ingenuity of what he sees in the universe. This is what he said:
“I do take life, mind, and purpose seriously, and I concede that the universe at least appears to be designed with a high level of ingenuity. I cannot accept these features as a package of marvels that just happen to be, that exist reasonlessly.”[xxiii]
Perhaps if Kai Nielsen looked again, he might see more than order in the universe – he might see the order of it. The universe actually does look ingeniously designed. And, based on the physical evidence available, it seems reasonable to conclude there was a designer.
[i] Kai Nielsen, Atheism & Philosophy, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press, 2005), 83. The emphasis is Mr. Nielsens’. [ii] Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design, (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2012), 162 [iii] Paul Davies, Cosmic Jackpot (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007), 18-19. [iv] Kai Nielsen, Atheism & Philosophy, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press, 2005), 83. [v] The Standard Model of Particle Physics identifies the existence of 17 elementary particles. 12 of these are the 3 generations of up quarks, down quarks, electrons and neutrinos. 4 are the force carriers: photons, gluons, z bosons, and w bosons. The last is the Higgs boson. If you count anti-particles and gluon variations, there are even more. [vi] Electrons do not have color charge. [vii] The Map of Particle Physics | The Standard Model Explained (Domain of Science, May 1, 2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYcLuWHzfmE [viii] Frank Close, Particle Physics – A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2012), 6, 81-91. [ix] Each electron has 4 quantum numbers: spin number, magnetic number, azimuthal number and principal quantum number. [x] Hydrogen atoms only have 1 proton and no neutrons. [xi] Up quarks have an electric charge of +⅔, mass of 2.2 MeV/c² and spin of ½. Down quarks have an electric charge of -1/3, mass of 4.7 MeV/c² and spin of ½. There are also charm and strange quarks and top and bottom quarks. These are just like the up and down quarks but have greater mass and are unstable. They almost instantaneously decay and become up and down quarks. There are only three generations of quarks and only up and down quarks are stable. We don’t know why. [xii] The Map of Particle Physics | The Standard Model Explained (Domain of Science, May 1, 2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYcLuWHzfmE [xiii] The maximum number of electrons per shell can be calculated using 2n² with “n” being the shell number. And, within each energy level (shell) are sublevels and orbitals. Only two electrons can be in each orbital and they travel around the atom’s nucleus with a wave-like motion in different directions with different spin. Amazingly, there is not chaos in electron land. [xiv] Protons are also about 2,000 times heavier than electrons. [xv] The Speed of Light is NOT Fundamental. But THIS is… (Domain of Science, Oct. 30, 2020), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYIbC25GNKs [xvi] Peter Coles, Cosmology – A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2001), 8-9. [xvii]Frank Close, Particle Physics – A Very Short Introduction, 20. [xviii] IBID, 20-21. [xix] Dhananjay Khadikar, Physicists Achieve Best Ever Measurement of Fine-Structure Constant (Scientific American, 12-16-20), https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/physicists-achieve-best-ever-measurement-of-fine-structure-constant/ [xx] Richard Feynman, QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), 129. Richard Feynman was also an atheist, which makes his statement even more interesting. [xxi] Physics majors, please forgive the simplicity. [xxii] Frank Close, Particle Physics – A Very Short Introduction, 39. [xxiii] Paul Davies, Cosmic Jackpot (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007), 267. (The emphasis is Mr. Davies’.)
Copyright 2021, Patrick Prill