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Design and Living Beings

Living beings certainly look as if designed by somebody. Their parts come together to serve purposes in intricate ways. Hearts are fine mechanisms for pumping blood. Eyes are superbly constructed for collecting information. Still, we can accept this without accepting the Argument from Design. Darwin explained that the complex, elegant, useful arrangement of a living being’s parts might well have come about without the action of a divine designer, through natural selection. When talking about hearts, a scientist of today could say “designed for pumping blood” without having to reject Darwin. All that would be meant would be that hearts were good at pumping blood, and had been produced by natural selection because of this.

It is impossible to prove firmly that Darwinian processes working on atoms which obeyed the laws of physics, and not supplemented by any Life Forces or miraculous acts of divine interference, would be enough to produce such structures as the human eye. Let me just say that any deity who supplemented laws of physics by Life Forces and acts of interference would have produced a disappointingly untidy universe. One would wonder why he had not simply decided to run the whole thing by magic. Naturally, we must avoid being narrow minded about what might count as laws of physics. My belief that everything obeys laws of physics is a hunch that events all conform to a fully unified set of laws, expressible by some reasonably short equation. The equation almost certainly leads to all kinds of phenomena which physicists have not yet dreamed of. The central point is merely that there are not three separate realms of Matter, Life and Mind, each obeying basic laws peculiar to itself. It would, however, be absurd to try to prove this point firmly, which would involve knowing all the details of how the world works. Instead let me try to show that anyone accepting the Argument from Design could have plenty to offer as evidence without needing to speak of miracles or Life Forces.

We must not fancy that the only manner in which a designer could operate would be to take clay, so to speak, clay with properties beyond his control, and mould it into appropriate shapes. When the designer was God, he would have created his own clay with just the properties he wished. Divine design could be revealed by the fortunate nature of the physical laws which atoms and atomic particles obeyed. We could perhaps find evidence of design in the laws of special relativity, which permit living mechanisms to operate identically no matter how fast they move relative to one another. There is no problem of the forces inside some system acting particularly weakly in one direction, particularly strongly in another, just because the system is in rapid motion, absolutely, in the one direction rather than the other, for special relativity recognises no such reality as being in rapid motion absolutely. Again, we might detect design in the laws of quantum physics that stop atoms from collapsing and which permit seemingly dissipated wave energy to be released in concentrated bursts so that it can do useful work. Let us pay special attention, though, to the marks of design that many have seen in the apparent fine tuning of our universe.

Contributed by: Dr. John Leslie

Cosmic Questions

Was the Universe Designed? Topic Index
The Meaning of Design

Design and Living Beings

The Argument from Design
Fine Tuning
Design and Divine Conservation
Fine Tuning and the Laws of Nature
Anthropic Principles
The Best of All Universes
Design and Human Survival
A Platonic Approach
Spinoza's Compromise


John Leslie

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