By Gerald Schroeder
With federal courts forbidding intelligent design (ID) to be taught in public school science classes, one might infer that the courts have declared that ID is an incorrect theory. No so. What has been adjudicated is that according to the currently popular, broad interpretation of the United States Constitution, the foundations of ID are too similar to a God-based religion to allow it to enter the schools as being a scientifically based theory. As Federal Court Judge John E. Jones III stated in his decision, ID may be true and should continue to be studied and debated, but not in public school science classes.
A basic principle of ID claims that the overwhelming complexity of life in any of its forms could not have arisen by unguided random reactions. There must have been an outside force active in the flow. A simple example may help clarify the problem. If numbers inhibit you, then just take the general conclusion from the following example.
The organic structures referred to as proteins are the basic building blocks of life. They are long molecules consisting of twenty different amino acids. The amino acids are joined into varying combinations to form chains, each of which coils into a highly specified shape. A mutation that inserts a wrong amino acid into the chain alters the final shape of the coil and makes that protein non-viable, and possibly lethal, to the animal that it resides in. In all of life, from bacteria to humans, there are fewer than a million different viable proteins. A current estimate is closer to 200,000. Mutant combinations result in lethal bio-gibberish. Since a typical protein has some 200 or more of these twenty amino acids joined together to form its chain, the number of possible combinations of amino acids in the chain is twenty to the exponent power of 200, or in the more usual ten-based system, ten to the power of 260. That number is a one with 260 zeros after it, or it’s a billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion. If purely random processes were responsible for the million viable proteins, nature would have had to discover by chance the fewer than one million combinations that allow for life from among this vast non-viable biological wasteland. The Laplacian probability of that happening is one chance out of a thousand billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion. In other words, there is no way that nature could have happened upon the viable combinations by chance. In his book, A Guided Tour of the Living Cell, Nobel laureate and organic chemist Christian de Duve summarizes this incomprehensibly complex and unlikely flow of non-living matter into life.
“If you equate the probability of the birth of a bacteria cell to chance assembly of its atoms, eternity will not suffice to produce one.… Faced with the enormous sum of lucky draws behind the success of the evolutionary game, one may legitimately wonder to what extent this success is actually written into the fabric of the universe.”
“Written into the fabric of the universe,” by what mechanism? Something or some Power directed the selection processes. The US Declaration of Independence refers to such a power as “Nature’s God … the Supreme Judge of the world.” This, of course, is exactly the claim of the legally disavowed theory of ID. (What we learn from this is never mention the Declaration of Independence in science class, or you may end up in court!)
ID identifies this directing Power as a metaphysical intelligence. Conventionally referred to as God, this intelligence must have been actively involved in the process of life’s origins and development. How God’s involvement might manifest itself is debated among even the staunchest supporters of ID. The difficulty in discerning God’s methods lies in our human limitations. All our thoughts arise from within the physical aspects of time, space and matter. There is no way we can think outside the physical. The greatest of poets, philosophers, scientists and even theologians all face this same limitation. How a metaphysical Designer, God, interacts with the physical universe is not limited to mechanisms we can conceive of from within the confines of our physical world. It would be folly to confine God’s power to that which we can imagine.
In short, the Big Bang creation is the best news for God since Moses came down from Sinai.
So how to discover God’s hand? Moses, in his final speech to Bnei Yisrael, teaches us that to discover God’s activity in our world, we should “Remember the days of old, consider the years, generation by generation” (Devarim 32:7). Nachmanides, kabbalist par excellence, relates “the days of old” to the six days of Creation, the amazing flow that led from the creation of the universe to the creation of humankind. The “years, generation by generation,” the social history of the world, the wondrous role the people of Israel have played and, thank God, continue to play in all aspects of human advancement.
Let’s take Moses’ advice and consider the improbable and amazing chain of events that led from the Big Bang creation to the splendor of sentient human life. Though ID may not be legally taught in public school science classes, the wonders of life can be. I’ll avoid the typical debate of how a fish may or may not have become a frog. There are brilliant scientists who argue for neo-Darwinian evolution of one into the other, and there are equally brilliant scientists who say that there is no way this could this have happened without some Outside help.
As for the evidence surmised from the fossil record, it is instructive to review some of the statements by leaders in the field of paleontology. Niles Eldredge, curator at the prestigious American Museum of Natural History, in New York, wrote several years ago, “The pattern we were told for the past 150 years to find in the fossil record does not exist.” The prestigious peer-reviewed journal Science published an article, “Did Darwin Get It All Right?” with the subtitle: “No, species in the fossil record appear with a most un-Darwinian abruptness” (Richard A. Kerr, 267:1421 ). This is what the late Harvard professor, Stephan Jay Gould, called “the trade secret of paleontology.” Darwin himself, in seven places in On the Origin of Species, urges us not to be confused by the fossil record if we are to believe his theory. In writing he implores us to “use [our] imagination.”
Probably the leading paleontologist alive today, Simon Conway Morris, the scientist who discovered the significance of the Cambrian explosion of animal life, writes in his seminal book Life’s Solutions that he is “convinced” that nature’s success in the lottery of life has “metaphysical implications.”
Since there are aspects of the fossil record that are interpreted in highly controversial ways, let’s just stay with the magnificence about which all agree. Unfortunately these most basic episodes are often glossed over in favor of the fish-into-frog conundrum.
Let’s start right at the beginning, the Big Bang creation of the universe. By the time we are old enough to realize that the very fact of existence is amazing, we’ve been around so long that we take the existence of the world for granted. That’s unfortunate since one of the strongest indications of the existence of a Creator is the Big Bang creation of our universe. Today we accept the Big Bang as common knowledge. Yet, less than fifty years ago, when scientists were asked their estimate of the age of the universe in surveys, the overwhelming majority replied that the universe is eternal. The Bible is wrong from its very first sentence. It was only in 1965, when Penzias and Wilson at the Bell Labs in New Jersey discovered the cosmic background radiation, often referred to as the “echo of the Big Bang,” that mainstream science gave up the view of an eternal universe and accepted Genesis 1:1, at least in part. There was a beginning.
While a beginning does not prove the existence of a Creator, it goes a long way toward opening the door for that possibility. Unfortunately many theologians fail to realize the theological implications of the Big Bang. In brief, the Big Bang creation is the best news for God since Moses came down from Sinai. There was a creation.
Now that we have a beginning, what were the products of that creation?
Science tells us the creation marked the beginning of time, space, matter and the finely tuned laws of nature.
Even with its avidly materialist viewpoint, in its May 2003 issue Scientific American admitted that the laws of nature of our universe are so perfectly suited for the nurturing of life, that if our universe is the only universe, then our universe has all the characteristics of having been designed for life. Of course in keeping with Scientific American’s materialist view, the author then insisted that design is an impossibility, and therefore there must be many other universes, in fact, an infinite number of other universes, most with other, less optimal laws.
Matter at the Creation was not in any of the solid forms we know today, not the elements, and not the protons, neutrons and electrons that make up the atoms of the elements. The sub-structure of all matter, as Einstein discovered, is energy. There are many forms of energy. I prefer to refer to this primordial energy as super, powerful light beams. Energy is so abstract, but we can wrap our minds around light. Since the Big Bang creation was the only physical creation, a fact accepted by both modern science and ancient kabbalah, everything we see around us, including our bodies, is the product of that primordial light, the energy of the creation, everything that is, except for our souls. Those are the spiritual creations mentioned on days five and six in the Creation narrative in Genesis. But the stuff of our bodies entered the universe at the Creation, as the light of the Creation. We are literally made of the light of the Creation.
So we have learned from the Torah, and 3,300 years later from modern science, that light beams became alive, eventually learned to love and feel joy and wonder, became self-aware, sentient. While this known truth of light leading to sentient life is amazing, since there is no way you can make secular sense out of it, it is usually omitted from the science classroom. But there is a metaphysical way in which we can understand this emergence of sentience from what seems to have been a previously non-living universe. And that bit of metaphysics is couched within quantum mechanics.
George Wald, Noble laureate and professor of biology at Harvard University, started his career as a materialist. Nothing spiritual in his scientific writings, every aspect of biology explained in terms of the physical world. But as his research progressed he discovered aspects of molecular biology and quantum chemistry that fail to fall within the confines of the purely material. And so in an article entitled “Life and Mind in the Universe,” which appeared in the peer-reviewed journal the International Journal of Quantum Chemistry: Quantum Biology, symposium 11 (1984): 1–15, Wald wrote the following:
It has occurred to me lately—I must confess with some shock at first to my scientific sensibilities—that both questions [the origin of consciousness in humans and of life from non-living matter] might be brought into some degree of congruence. This is with the assumption that mind, rather than emerging as a late outgrowth in the evolution of life, has existed always as the matrix, the source and condition of physical reality—that stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff. It is mind that has composed a physical universe that breeds life and so eventually evolves creatures that know and create: science-, art-, and technology-making animals. In them the universe begins to know itself.
By the time we are old enough to realize that the very fact of existence is amazing, we’ve been around so long that we take the existence of the world for granted.
Fifty years earlier, Sir James Jeans, knighted mathematician, physicist and astronomer who helped develop our understanding of the evolution of stars, wrote in his book The Mysterious Universe (Cambridge, 1931):
“There is a wide measure of agreement which, on the physical side of science approaches almost unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter. We are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail mind as the creator and governor of the realm of matter—not of course our individual minds, but the mind in which the atoms out of which our individual minds have grown, exist as thoughts” (my emphasis).
Mind is the essence of the creation. Light could become alive and sentient because within the light of the creation is the mind of God.
John Archibald Wheeler, former president of the American Physical Society, physics professor emeritus of Princeton University, winner of the Einstein Award and member of the National Academy of Sciences, described this aspect of reality most perfectly, when in a BBC special “The Creation of the Universe” he offered, “To my mind, there must be at the bottom of it all, not an utterly simple equation, but an utterly simple idea. And to me that idea, when we finally discover it, will be so compelling, and so inevitable, so beautiful, we will say to each other, ‘How could it have ever been otherwise?’”
Based on Proverbs (8:12, 22), the 2,100-year-old Targum Yerushalmi translates Genesis 1:1 not “In the beginning God created …” but rather “With wisdom God created the heavens and the earth.”
Idea, Mind, Thought, Wisdom—these are all the same concept. Science has finally reached into the secrets of nature and discovered that which Torah has claimed for 3,300 years. The wisdom of the Creator embedded within the creation is made manifest by the intelligence of the design.
Dr. Schroeder received his PhD from MIT in nuclear physics and earth and planetary sciences. After making aliyah in 1971, he conducted research at the Weitzman Institute, the Volcani Research Institute and Hebrew University. Since 1991, however, he has been lecturing on the integration of Torah and science for Aish HaTorah College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and writes and lectures on the extraordinary confluence of modern science and ancient biblical commentary. His books include Genesis And The Big Bang (New York, 1991), The Science Of God (New York, 1998) and The Hidden Face Of God, (New York, 2002). Dr. Schroeder lives in Jerusalem with his wife (the author, Barbara Sofer) and their five children.