Much has been written about the evidence for design in biological organisms. In fact, the appearance of design is largely uncontroversial. Even famed atheist and evolutionist, Richard Dawkins has written, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” But what, precisely, are the attributes of design most of us believe (either consciously or unconsciously) are most reasonably explained by an intelligent designer? In my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I make a case for Intelligent Design based on the contributions of many great scientists and thinkers, my own experience as a designer (my education and training is in design and architecture) and my professional investigative career as a detective. The result: a cumulative case approach to the appearance of design and the reasonable inference of an Intelligent Designer. I believe there are eight attributes of design we employ when reasonably inferring the existence of a Designer. To make them easier to remember, I’ve assembled them in an acronym (DESIGNED):
D- Dubious Probability (Given Chance) Is random chance an insufficient explanation for the formation and assembly of the object we are examining?
E -Echoes of Familiarity Does the object resemble other structures we know (with certainty) were designed by intelligent designers?
S- Sophistication and Intricacy Does the object display specificity, sophistication and intricacy consistent with the involvement of an intelligent agent?
I - Informational Dependency Is there any evidence the object was directed and created by way of instructional information?
G - Goal Direction (and Intentionality) Does the form and assembly process of the object process to be goal-directed?
N - Natural Inexplicability (Given Laws of Physics or Chemistry) Are the laws of physics and chemistry insufficient to account for the form and function of the object?
E - Efficiency / Irreducible Complexity Does the object display efficient, irreducible complexity reflecting the involvement of an intelligent designer?
D - Decision / Choice Reflection Does the object display evidence of conscious choices indicative of an intelligent designer?
Like every cumulative case built on a collection of seemingly innocuous pieces of evidence, no single aspect of the case may appear all that compelling. But the cumulative collection of evidences, when they all point to the same reasonable inference, provide us with good reason to believe an intelligent agent has been involved in the design process. In God’s Crime Scene, I provide an example of this kind of reasonable inference from my own casework. In one cold-case from 1979, the responding officers discovered a garrote at the scene of the crime. As I describe in the book, they immediately recognized it as an intelligently designed weapon. Why? Because the garrote demonstrated all the characteristics of design we’ve just described:
All Illustrations from God’s Crime Scene
I explain this in much greater detail in the book, of course, but this simple illustration graphically depicts the nature of the cumulative case. As it turns out, this cumulative template can be applied to any object we are evaluating for the evidence of design. Let’s take a look, for example, at something with which we are all familiar: a bird’s nest. We know intelligent agents (birds) are responsible for the design of the nest because, like the garrote, the nest displays some (but not all) of the aforementioned attributes of design:
Notice that we don’t need all the attributes of design to be present in order to correctly infer the involvement of an intelligent agent, but the more attributes we identify, the more reasonable the inference. Now let’s turn a corner and examine a modern icon of the Intelligent Design movement, the bacterial flagellum. This biological micro-machine propels bacteria much like a rotary engine. Discovered in the late 1970’s bacterial flagella display several attributes of design:
Once again we see the familiar attributes of design we’ve identified, and even if we skeptically rejected the presence of some of these characteristics, the strength of the inference for design is still very strong, given the remaining pieces of the cumulative case. In God’s Crime Scene, I describe each of these design attributes in much greater great detail as I navigate the structure of Bacterial flagella. I also examine the naturalistic explanations of those who deny the existence of an Intelligent Designer. Can natural laws, time, chance and natural selection account for the design characteristics we see in flagella? I hope my investigation in God’s Crime Scene can help you answer that question. When the cumulative evidence for a Designer is robust and diverse, the existence of such a Designer is reasonable and one significant element in the larger case for the existence of God.
Even as an atheist, I understood the challenge offered by the “Standard Cosmological Model” (the Big Bang Theory) when examined from my naturalistic worldview. This model infers a “cosmological singularity” in which all space, time and matter came into existence at a point in the distant past. In others words, “everything” came from “nothing”. I knew this presented a problem for me as a naturalist; if the universe had a beginning, the “principle of causality” inclined me to believe there must have been a cause. But, what could cause something as vast as the universe? Could it have caused itself to come into existence, or must the first cause of all space, time and matter be non-spatial, atemporal and immaterial? How could “everything” come from “nothing”?
I've written about this in my new book, God's Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe. In this book, I examine the universe as a “crime scene” and investigate eight different pieces of evidence through the filter of a simple investigative question: “Can the evidence ‘in the room’ be explained by staying ‘in the room’? This question is key to determining whether a death scene is a crime scene, and I typically play a game I call “inside or outside the room” whenever I am trying to determine if a death is, in fact, a murder. If, for example, there is a victim in the room with a gunshot injury lying next to a handgun, but the doors are locked from the inside, all the DNA and fingerprints in the room come back to the victim, the gun is registered to the victim and there are no signs of an outside intruder, this is simply the scene of a suicide or accidental death. If, however, there exist fingerprints or DNA of an unknown suspect, the gun does not belong to the victim, and there are even bloody footprints leading outside the room, I’ve got to reconsider the cause of this death. When the evidence in the room cannot be explained by staying inside the room and is better explained by a cause outside the room, there’s a good chance I’ve got a murder. When this is the case, my investigation must shift direction. I must now begin to search for an external intruder. I think you’ll find this investigative approach applicable as you examine the case for God’s existence. If all the evidence “inside the room” of the universe can be explained by staying “inside the room”, there’s no need to invoke an ‘external’ cause. If, on the other hand, the best explanation for the evidence “inside the room” is a cause “outside the room”, we’ll need to shift our attention as we search for an “external” intruder.
One of the key pieces of evidence in the universe is simply it's origin. If our universe began to exist, what could have caused it's beginning? How did everything (all space, time and matter) come into existence from nothing? One way atheist physicists have navigated this dilemma has simply been to redefine the terms they have been using. What do we mean when we say “everything” or “nothing”? At first these two terms might seem rather self-explanatory, but it’s important for us to take the time to define the words. As I've already stated, by “everything” we mean all space, time and matter. That’s right, space is “something”; empty space is part of “everything” not part of “nothing”. For some of us, that’s an interesting concept that might be hard to grasp, but it’s an important distinction that must be understood. When we say “nothing”, we mean the complete absence of everything; the thorough non-existence of anything at all (including all space time and matter). These two terms, when defined in this way, are consistent with the principles of the Standard Cosmological Model, but demonstrate the dilemma. If everything came from nothing, what caused this to occur? What is the non-spatial, atemporal, immaterial, uncaused, first cause of the universe? A cause of this sort sounds a lot like a supernatural Being, and that’s why I think many naturalists have begun to redefine the terms.
Lawrence Krauss, Arizona State University Professor (School of Earth and Space Exploration and Director of the Origins Initiative) wrote a book entitled, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing. As part of the promotion for the book, Krauss appeared on the Colbert Report where he was interviewed by comedian Stephen Colbert. During the interview, Krauss tried to redefine “nothing” to avoid the need for a supernatural first cause:
“Physics has changed what we mean by nothing… Empty space is a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles popping in and out of existence… if you wait long enough, that kind of nothing will always produce particles.” (Colbert Nation, June 21st, 2012)
Now if you’re not careful, you might miss Krauss’ subtle redefinition. In describing the sudden appearance of matter (“particles”), Krauss assumes the prior existence of space (“empty space”) and time (“if you wait long enough”). If you’ve got some empty space and wait long enough, matter appears. For Krauss, the “nothing” from which the universe comes includes two common features of “everything” (space and time), and something more (virtual particles). This leaves us with the real question: “Where did the space, time and virtual particles come from (given all our evidence points to their origination at the beginning of our universe)?” Krauss avoids this inquiry by moving space and time from the category of “something” to the category of “nothing”.
If you’ve got a teenager in your house, you might recognize Krauss’ approach to language. I bet you’ve seen your teenager open the refrigerator door, gaze at all the nutritious fruits and vegetables on the shelves, then lament that there is “nothing to eat.”
An Illustration from God's Crime Scene
Teenagers often redefine the term “nothing” in situations such as these. It’s not that the refrigerator is truly empty; it’s just that your teenager doesn’t want to acknowledge the value of the stuff that’s in there. That stuff’s not really food; it’s nothing worth eating, and your teenager is willing to redefine the term to win the point. Like Krauss, many naturalists want to redefine the term in order to win the point. But changing the language won’t eradicate the dilemma. We still have to account for the sudden appearance of space, time and matter (even if we are simply talking about "virtual" particles). The Christian worldview provides an explanation for the cosmological singularity described by the Big Bang because Christianity proposes an eternal, non-spatial, immaterial, uncaused, first cause that is capable of creating “everything” from “nothing”.
My career as a Cold Case Detective was built on being evidentially certain about the suspects I brought to trial. There are times when my certainty was established and confirmed by the cumulative and diverse nature of the evidence. Let me give you an example. It’s great when a witness sees the crime and identifies the suspect, but it’s even better if we have DNA evidence placing the suspect at the scene. If the behavior of the suspect (before and after the time of the crime) also betrays his involvement, and if his statements when interviewed are equally incriminating, the case is even better. Cases such as these become more and more reasonable as they grow both in depth and diversity. It’s not just that we now have four different evidences pointing to the same conclusion, it’s that these evidences are from four different categories. Eyewitness testimony, forensic DNA, behaviors and admissions all point to the same reasonable inference. When we have a cumulative, diverse case such as this, our inferences become more reasonable and harder to deny. Why did I take the time to describe this evidential approach to reasonable conclusions? Because a similar methodology can be used to determine whether everything in the universe (all space, time and matter) came from nothing. We have good reason to believe our universe had a beginning, and this inference is established by a cumulative, diverse evidential case:
Philosophical Evidence (from the Impossibility of Infinite Regress)
Imagine a linear race track with a start and finish line. Now imagine you’re a new police recruit and I’ve asked you to put on your track shoes and step into the starting blocks for a physical training (PT) test. The finish line is one hundred yards away. As you place your feet in the blocks and prepare to run, I raise the starting pistol. Just before I fire it, however, I stop and tell you to move the start line and blocks back six inches. You reluctantly do that. Again I raise the pistol to the sky—only to command you, once again, to move the line back six inches. You grudgingly comply. Imagine this continues. Question: Will you ever reach the finish line? No. Unless there is a beginning, you’ll never get to the finish. In a similar way, time also requires a beginning in order for any of us to reach a finish; unless time has a beginning, we cannot arrive at the finish line we call “today.”
Theoretical Evidence (from Mathematics and Physics)
Albert Einstein’s calculations related to the general theory of relativity 1916 indicated the universe was dynamic (either expanding or contracting). The notion of a static universe was so common at the time, however, that Einstein applied a mathematical “constant” to his calculations to maintain the unchanging, uniform nature of the universe he hoped for (he later referred to this effort as “the biggest blunder he ever made in his life” ). Einstein’s calculations suggested the universe was not eternally old and unchanging. Alexander Friedmann, a Russian mathematician working with Einstein’s theories in the 1920’s, developed a mathematical model predicting an expanding universe. This conclusion inferred the universe must have had a beginning from which it was expanding.
Observational Evidence (from Astronomical Data)
Vesto Slipher, an American astronomer working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, spent nearly ten years perfecting his understanding of spectrograph readings. His observations revealed something remarkable. If a distant object was moving toward Earth, its observable spectrograph colors shifted toward the blue end of the spectrum. If a distant object was moving away from Earth, its colors shifted toward the red end of the spectrum. Slipher identified several “nebulae” and observed a “redshift” in their spectrographic colors. If these “nebulae” were moving away from our galaxy (and one another) as Slipher observed, they must have once been tightly clustered together. By 1929, Astronomer Edwin Hubble published findings of his own, verifying Slipher’s observations and demonstrating the speed at which a star or galaxy moves away from us increases with its distance from the earth. This once again confirmed the expansion of the universe.
Thermal Evidence (from the Second Law of Thermodynamics)
Imagine walking into a room and observing a wind-up toy police car. The longer you watch it roll, the slower it moves. You realize the car is winding down—that is, the amount of usable energy is decreasing. It’s reasonable to infer the car was recently wound up prior to your entry into the room. The fact the toy car is not yet completely unwound indicates it was wound up recently. If the car had been wound much earlier, we would expect it to be motionless by the time we entered the room. In a similar way, the fact our universe still exhibits useful energy—even though the Second Law of Thermodynamics dictates we are on our way to a cosmic “heat death”—indicates a beginning. Otherwise, and if the universe were infinitely old, our cosmos should have run out of usable energy by now. We can reasonably infer it was once tightly wound and full of energy.
Quantitative Evidence (from the Abundance of Helium)
As Astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle studied the way elements are created within stars, he was able to calculate the amount of helium created if the universe came into being from nothing. Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe (Hydrogen is the first), but in order to form helium by nuclear fusion, temperatures must be incredibly high and conditions must be exceedingly dense. These would have been the conditions if the universe came into being from nothing. Hoyle’s calculations related to the formation of helium happen to coincide with our measurements of helium in the universe today. This, of course, is consistent with the universe having a moment of beginning.
Residual Evidence (from the Cosmic Background Radiation)
In 1964, two American physicists and radio astronomers, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson detected what is now referred to as “echo radiation”, winning a Nobel Prize for their discovery in 1978. Numerous additional experiments and observations have since established the existence of cosmic background radiation, including data from the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite launched in 1989, and the Planck space observatory launched in 2009. For many scientists, this discovery alone solidified their belief the universe had a beginning. If the universe leapt into existence, expanding from a state of tremendous heat, density and expansion, we should expect find this kind of cosmic background radiation.
There are numerous, diverse lines of evidence pointing to the same reasonable inference. As we assemble the philosophical evidence from the impossibility of infinite regress, the theoretical evidence from mathematics and physics, the observational evidence from astronomical data, the thermal evidence from the second law of thermodynamics, the quantitative evidence from the abundance of helium, and the residual evidence from the cosmic background radiation, we quickly recognize the different nature of these varied forms of evidence. That’s what makes the case so powerful. Just like my criminal cases, when multiple divergent lines of evidence all point to the same conclusion, you can trust you’re making a proper inference. The evidence for the beginning of the universe is decidedly diverse:
I’ve briefly excerpted this case from one chapter in my new book, but if you’re interested in the detailed summary of the evidence (and the reason why this evidence points to an eternal first cause “outside the room” of the natural universe), please read God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe. In addition, if you would like a printable copy of this simple cumulative case diagram, I’m offering it as this month’s FREE Bible Insert. Just visit the home page at ColdCaseChristianity.com and click the Bible Insert link in the right tool bar.
Much has been written and discussed about this year’s Pew Research Center poll, America’s Changing Religious Landscape, and I’ve also weighed in on the findings. The percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. When statistics like these are released, it’s tempting to panic and respond without properly examining the trends. The devil is always in the details, however, and a careful analysis of the data ought to energize rather than discourage us. Opportunities abound, and the case for Christianity is more important than ever.
While more and more people say they no longer identify as Christians, the ranks of atheists and agnostics are not growing in equal percentages. During the same seven year span, as Christian affiliation dropped by 7.8%, those claiming an atheist affiliation only grew by 1.5%. So where did all the Christians go? They went to the ranks of those claiming no affiliation with any established Christian denomination or belief system (a category affectionately called, “the nones”). Importantly, those who no longer claim a Christian attachment, have not yet jumped in with the atheists or agnostics. They haven’t even jumped in with other religious groups (such as Jewish, Muslim or other believers). This is an important reality for all of us who seek to make the case for Christianity. We sometimes mistakenly think our culture is becoming more and more atheistic. It isn’t. Instead, it’s simply becoming less and less Christian.
People are not nearly as resistant to the existence of God as the more liberal, atheistic media would like us to believe. In fact, 92.9% of the country rejects atheism and is open to the existence of God in one form or another. We are a country of theists, even though we might be divided on which form of theism (or deism) is true. That’s why the case for Christianity is more important than ever.
Those who believe in the existence of God, yet reject Christianity, can still be reached for Christ. I sometimes think this group of “nones” has rejected their experience in the Church rather than their belief in Jesus. That may simply be a reflection of the sad, non-evidential nature of the Church rather than a reflection of the strong evidential nature of Christianity. Some of those who have left our ranks may never have heard anything about the evidence supporting the Christian worldview in all the years they were attending church with us. My own anecdotal experience, as I speak at churches around the country, supports this uncomfortable hypothesis. Most churches are still uninterested in making the case for Christianity, while more and more Christians want to know why Christianity is true.
Now is the time to make the case for the reliability of the New Testament, the historicity ad Deity of Jesus and the reasonable inference of the Resurrection. People are still hovering in the “nones” category, open to the existence of God, but skeptical of their past experience in Christianity. Now is the time to show them a new way forward and a reasonable path to belief. The reasonable, evidential case for Christianity is more important than ever.