Home » Intelligent Design » The Universe is Rigged — From Top to Bottom

The Universe is Rigged — From Top to Bottom

JanieBelle made the following comment in a previous UD thread about the possibility of alternative living systems:

“In order to rule out chance, don’t we have to rule out the chance of any possible kind of life? Do we know for an absolute fact that silicon or bzywhateverium can’t make life?”

Pick up a copy of Michael Denton’s second book, Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe. This book was recommended to me by Michael Behe when I chatted with him after a lecture he delivered at the University of California, Irvine. Denton addresses this very question in his second tour-de-force work. As it turns out, life other than we know it here on earth is virtually impossible.

Just for starters, the properties of carbon (unique among all elements in its chemically interactive properties, and which is miraculously formed within a tiny opportunistic window in stars), and the chemical and physical properties of water (unique among all liquids and chemical compounds in its life-permitting attributes) are absolutely essential for living systems of any kind.

It turns out that anthropic “coincidences,” usually associated with the fine-tuning of the physical laws of the universe, don’t stop there; they permeate chemistry and biochemistry as well.

But this is just the beginning, Denton also makes an interesting observation about human technology. What if metals could not be smelted in the temperatures achievable with carbon-based fire? In this case, technology could never have been developed.

The universe and living things are clearly rigged, from top to bottom.

P.S. My wife’s name is Janie. She is a French teacher. We met in French classes in college 30 years ago. “Belle” is the French word for beautiful, so JanieBelle has a special place in my heart. :-)

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24 Responses to The Universe is Rigged — From Top to Bottom

  1. 1

    “As it turns out, life other than we know it here on earth is virtually impossible.”

    So we really do live in a Star Trek universe! I wonder if they also speak English…

    Eh? All kinds of intelligences were featured in Star Trek. Spock did a mind meld with a rock in one episode! -ds

    Life other than we know it in terms of biochemistry and essential biochemical functionality. Perhaps I should have been more explicit. I might have erroneously assumed that the thesis was obvious. My bad. — GD

  2. 2

    Oh, I was just kidding. Actually, I’ve read the book. I certainly missed the one about the rock. Mostly I saw episode after episode of human-like variations filling the universe, and it turns out that might be quite reasonable after all.

  3. 3

    Yes, it almost seems as if some substances were created for the sole purpose of creating life. Consider water, for instance. Wikipedia has this to say about water’s effect on life –

    “From a biological standpoint, water has many distinct properties that are critical for the proliferation of life that set it apart from other substances. It carries out this role by allowing organic compounds to react in ways that ultimately allows replication. All known forms of life depend on water. Water is both vital as a solvent in which many of the bodies solutes dissolve, and an essential part of many metabolic processes within the body (e.g. significant quantities of water are used during the digestion of food).” — from

    Water’s abilities as a solvent are so good that it has been called “the universal solvent.” Its good abilities as a solvent are related to the high polarity of the water molecule. Wikipedia says:

    “Strongly polar compounds like inorganic salts (e.g. table salt) or sugars (e.g. sucrose) dissolve only in very polar solvents like water……” — from

    It is the belief that water existed on Mars (the “canals”) that led to speculation that life existed on Mars.

    There has been speculation about the possibility of living things that are not based on carbon compounds and water — see “Alternative Biochemistry” in Wikipedia, at –
    – but there appears to be no really good substitute for carbon and water. The preceding webpage had a whole big section about Star Trek:
    “The best-known example of a non–carbon-based lifeform in science fiction is the Horta in the original Star Trek episode ‘The Devil in the Dark’.”

  4. “In order to rule out chance, don’t we have to rule out the chance of any possible kind of life? Do we know for an absolute fact that silicon or bzywhateverium can’t make life?” –

    - Interesting…where else can we apply this? -

    “In order to rule out chance, don’t we have to rule out the chance of any possible kind of automobile? Do we know for an absolute fact that hydrolized spongecakes & cornflakes or clabhonzerized-xeonoprilophicasen-dental-probes can’t make automobiles?”

    Considering a materialistic world view, I’d guess the take home point is, we can’t rule out spongecakes. Because given enough time, the impossible becomes probable, the probable possible, and the possible certain. A spongecake based automobile is in fact, a certainy, based on the materialistic paradigm.

  5. “In order to rule out chance…”

    As DaveScot has pointed out many times, “chance” or “random” is another name for “we don’t know how it happened.” It’s a placeholder for causes as yet unknown by us. In this sense, attributing something to chance is a negative rather than a positive description. It’s a statement about what we don’t know rather than what we do.

    It follows that we can’t rule out chance the way we rule out positive causes, like gravity or intelligence. Positive causes have effects that are correlated with them. When the effects are not present, we have a reason to infer that the cause is not present either. That is how a positive cause is ruled out. This method doesn’t work with chance because chance isn’t really a cause and has no specific effect. “Chance” is the pot we toss something into when we find ourselves unable to account for an effect with a specific set of causes. It would take omniscience to absolutely rule it out, a complete and final causal understanding of the universe that left no event unaccounted for. That’s why philosophers like Aquinas said that chance is a matter of perspective. For us, some things happen by “chance”; for God, nothing happens by chance.

    ID says we don’t need to fallback on “chance” as an explanation for the complexity of life because we already know of a positive cause that is equal to it: Intelligence. The only way to challenge this explanation is with another positive cause that might account for the effect(the complexity of life). Darwinists attempt to do this with the positive cause of “natural selection.” But natural selection is manifestly unequal to the task, since it merely accounts for how things are destroyed, not how they come about in the first place. So Darwinists attempt to turbocharge natural selection with generous doses of “random mutation”, i.e. chance, which doesn’t explain anything but sounds like it does.

    In short, ID doesn’t need to rule out chance because chance isn’t truly an explanation of anything anyway.

    (BTW, as I understand it, the Explanatory Filter doesn’t rule out chance but natural causes. The probability calculations are a way to rule out a positive explanation in terms of deterministic natural causes, not rule out the mythical cause of “chance.”)

    Dave T.

  6. Wow. I was going to wait until after my shower to read this new post, Gil. Now I’m glad I didn’t. (DO NOT SMELL ME YET, OR I’LL ONLY HOLD A SPECIAL PLACE IN YOUR WORST NIGHTMARES!) Ok, I didn’t come up with some new Grand Unifying Theory of the Universe, or cure cancer, or anything cool like that. But I have been mentioned on the front page of UD. It’s my 15 minutes of fame and I intend to enjoy it.

    Ahhh my public needs me :)

    Now I just have to read the book by Michael Denton. It would almost be rude if I didn’t.

    Say hello to your wife, Gil. Us JanieBelles got to stick together, y’know. Glad to know we have a special place in your heart. :) Les Janies sont tres belle, non?

    Oh, and thanks for posting all that secondarily important science stuff. I’ll read that, too.

    HAHA! :)

    P.S. (Do I get a secret decoder ring now?)

  7. Water has all kinds of unusual and life-essential properties, which Denton details in the book. Not only is it a “universal solvent,” but it has the strange ability to dissolve a wide variety of chemicals and minerals without chemically reacting with them. Sulfuric acid dissolves a lot of stuff, but it’s a poor medium in which to carry out biochemistry.

    Hey, I just figured something out: Daniel Dennett has his universal acid (Darwinism), but nature has its universal solvent, that even dissolves the universal acid!

    Water has the extremely unusual property that it is less dense in its solid form than liquid form. If this were not the case, bodies of water would freeze from the bottom up and never thaw out. The negative implications for life are obvious.

    The bottom line is that life-permitting and life-essential “coincidences” keep accumulating as we learn more and more. These coincidences are found at scales ranging from the cosmologically huge to the microscopically small, and in an ever-increasing variety of scientific disciplines.

    At some point a critical mass in the evidence will be reached, and the scientific community at large will be forced to admit to the reality of design in the cosmos and living systems.

  8. Not necessarily, Gil. “Materialists” concerned on this topic have hypothesized about multiple universes, each with different tunings, such that the fact that we arose in one of the universes amenable to life is inevitable rather than surprising.

    It also seems true that different tunings could quite possibly give rise to life, but not as we know it, as well.

    Of course, postulating other universes and other natures, without evidence, is itself a form of (literal) supernaturalism, but I don’t think any scientists are claiming ‘it must be so!’.

    Follow the evidence wherever it leads.. but no farther.

  9. Taciturnus, your mind is a-glow with Aristotelian health.

  10. jonabbey: The problem is that there is not a shred of evidence for the multiverse hypothesis. It smacks of a desperate attempt to avoid the probabilistic hurdles which science has demonstrated exist for generating life sans intelligence. Its a fairy tale invented by those with a epistemological axe to grind and a terrible philosophical bias.

  11. 11

    In Denton’s book, while not saying so explicitly, I think he is making an argument that all of life is irreducibly complex. Gilder touches on this same point in his recent article for National Review.

    All of biotic reality is an irreducibly complex whole, not just certain features of it like flagella, blood clotting systems, etc.. The chemistry of life and the genetic code must be as they are, there are no other options to them whereby life could exist. I have a hunch we can go further and make the argument that the Universe itself is irreducibly complex — a conceptual tweaking of its laws is not worth considering as the slightest change to any of them would not result in a different Universe, but rather no Universe at all.

    Stu Harris

  12. jonabbey: The problem is that there is not a shred of evidence for the multiverse hypothesis. It smacks of a desperate attempt to avoid the probabilistic hurdles which science has demonstrated exist for generating life sans intelligence. Its a fairy tale invented by those with a epistemological axe to grind and a terrible philosophical bias.

    Sure, as I said, it’s not something that one should put any faith into, but if one tries to use the fine tunings of the universe to support a supernatural intelligent designer, well, that’s not the only hypothesis available, so you can’t “force” materialists to choose your hypothesis as the only possible alternative.

    Let faith be faith, or let evidence dictate, but don’t confuse the two.

  13. 13

    1. Thinking about water, I just realized I have a question about molecules that perhaps someone here can help me with. I envision them like cells, that is, having a membrane of sorts, but that isn’t true, is it? So if we have a body of water, how does each molecule maintain itself next to the others? For how long does it do so?

    2. There is, by definition, one universe. It seems that what little I understand of the MUT (multiple universe theory) supposes that the universes are all continually spawned off one another. Even if they are separately contained within some sort of bubbles, it is still one universe in the sense that they are causally connected. The MUT I read about (and it might be wrong) seems to me spatially and mathematically impossible, that is, they would be generated in ever-increasing numbers.

    If they are not spawning one another, then something deeper is spawning them, and that is where we must look.
    Therefore, they are still causally connected.
    But if they are somehow not causally connected and/or are in some way utterly impermeable to one another forever, then there is no way to ever prove anything about them, nor infer their existence in any way, and they are therefore less than meaningless. Effectively, they do not exist.

    In any causally connected scenario, there is no reason to assume different laws could apply for them. A non-causally connected scenario is miraculous beyond all extremes.

    3. Off topic question: Does anyone know of any ID or antiDarwinian publications, books or articles, available in the Russian language, either here, abroad, or on the net?

  14. Stu Harris comments how the Universe itself might be irreducibly complex. As an engineer I tend to take an “I know it when I see it” approach to design. Yes, it’s seat-of-the-pants and all, but it looks at things as systems. The thing is, I see design _everywhere_, so I like what Mr. Harris says.

    In fact, I have a hard time finding lack of design, so maybe y’all can provide me some good examples. Because–I hope you get my drift–from my naive and simplistic view, ID by itself seems a bit of a “duh!” thing and I’m wondering what all the excitement is about. Is the point to stack it against RM + NS to show how silly RM + NS is as an explanation?

  15. Water has all kinds of unusual and life-essential properties…

    So does Iced Tea, at least if you are living in Texas, as I am at the moment.

    …given enough time, the impossible becomes probable, the probable possible, and the possible certain.

    It is certainly possible that some event may never occur. But, given enough time, the possibility that some event may never occur becomes a certainty. It, in fact, becomes impossible that that event should occur. Given enough time, that is.

    I see. Extending that thought, given enough time someone will invent a time machine and go back in time to undo everything that ever happened. So at the end of infinitely long period of time, nothing ever happened. -ds

  16. In order to rule out chance, don’t we have to rule out the chance of any possible kind of life?

    Well, you’ve received a number of responses to this, all of them good. But unless I’ve missed something they have all overlooked the obvious. In order to rule out chance with regard to what? What is the referent? What you seem to be proposing is that to rule out chance as an explanation for some event X, that we must rule out chance as an explanation for all events.

    What is more likely I guess, considering the context, is that you have taken Salvador’s post as supporting the claim that chance fails as an explanation for life of any kind whatosever. So, the simple answer is that the question is ill-formed or misplaced, unless Salvador really means that. But I thought Salvador was pretty specific about what sort of life he had in mind.

  17. 17

    Regarding my previous comments, here are two quotes from George Gilder’s article regarding the irreducible complexity of biology as a whole, and of the Universe as a whole:

    “Mathematician Gregory Chaitin, however, has shown that biology is irreducibly complex in a more fundamental way: Physical and chemical laws contain hugely less information than biological phenomena. Chaitin’s algorithmic information theory demonstrates not that particular biological devices are irreducibly complex but that all biology as a field is irreducibly complex. It is above physics and chemistry on the epistemological ladder and cannot be subsumed under chemical and physical rules.

    . . .

    And the irreducibility of mathematical axioms translates directly into a similar irreducibility of physics. As Caltech physicist and engineer Carver Mead, a guiding force in three generations of Silicon Valley technology, put it: “The simplest model of the galaxy is the galaxy.””

    The Universe appears irreducibly complex (or “rigged” as Gil says) from top to bottom.

  18. 18
    sagebrush gardener

    quoth avocationist:

    3. Off topic question: Does anyone know of any ID or antiDarwinian publications, books or articles, available in the Russian language, either here, abroad, or on the net?

    It’s more creation science than ID, but you might try this as a starting point…


  19. Regarding top-down structures…

    I’ve read something recently and am curious if the math people here can answer. Math Professor at Tulane, Frank J. Tippler; sent a letter concerning hard sciences and political inroads of correctness.

    I’m curious how it bears on the discussions here regarding probability theory, Shannon Information, Kolmogorov, CSI, etc and the fine tuning of the universe, or probability of life.

    He makes some observations of political nature, but then makes a bold statement re: current teaching of probability in our universities.

    He makes the following statements,
    “Most university mathematics departments teach a theory of probability and statistics that was created in the early 20th century by psychologists and sociologists instead of a more sophisticated theory created around 1800 by the great physicists Simon de Laplace and Karl F. Gauss.

    Using the physicists’ probability theory, it is possible to show that the social scientists’ probability theory is designed to tend to confirm whatever the experimenter wishes to be true. To the best of my knowledge, the physicists’ theory of probability is taught only at four universities: Cambridge, Stanford, Washington St. Louis, and North Carolina State University.

    See Edward Jaynes’ Probability Theory (Cambridge University Press, 2002) for a history of this nonsense, together with a description of the correct theory of probability.

    Unfortunately, the incorrect theory of probability is required by the FDA in tests of drugs. Fortunately, DNA typing uses the correct theory of probability.”


    My question is 1) is this true? 2) If so, how does it relate to CSI? and 3) life as we know it?

  20. 20

    Does anyone have a link to an article where someone calculates all these probabilities of constants etc?

    “Does anyone know of any ID or antiDarwinian publications, books or articles, available in the Russian language”

    John Davison raves about a Russian called Leo Berg who wrote a book called Nomogenesis that is probably very anti-Darwinian.

  21. 21

    wow, the number of comments posted jumped huge in the time it took me to log in…anyway…
    regarding the Multiple Universe Theory (hmmm yes, a definitively self-contradictory term), if I may be permitted to ask this question while playing the darwinist’s advocate; if the universe is fine tuned for life (which it obviously is) wouldn’t it always be fine tuned for life no matter what the values of the constants if life appeared in it? More or less by “default”? This is something that bothers me about the multiverse argument, no matter which way I look at it…perhaps I missed an article or discussion somewhere that addresses this?

  22. Mung: Tipler must be talking about Bayesian analysis, which is the subject of Jaynes’ great book (for the most part downloadable for free, google your way there). It’s taught in many more places than just the 4 mentioned by Tipler.

  23. Raevmo, I’m aware of Bayesian… maybe I’ll have to follow up with Tipler himself.

  24. Suit yourself Michaels, but if Tipler refers to Jaynes, then he must refer to Baysian analysis.
    I don’t know when Tipler made that statement, but it’s very outdated now. Furthermore, the “other” statistics (the frequentist school) was hardly developed by social scientists IIRC, but rather by biometricians, and in particular mathematician and co-godfather of the modern synthesis and overall super-genius Sir Ronald Fisher.

    Here’s from Jaynes’ preface to his book (http://omega.albany.edu:8008/JaynesBook.html)

    “For many years there has been controversy over frequentist versus Bayesian
    methods of inference in which the writer has been an outspoken partisan on the Bayesian side
    The record of this up to ô€€€ô€€€ is given in an earlier book Jaynes ô€€€ In these old works there
    was a strong tendency on both sides to argue on the level of philosophy or ideology We can
    now hold ourselves somewhat aloof from this because thanks to recent work there is no longer
    any need to appeal to such arguments We are now in possession of proven theorems and masses
    of workedout numerical examples demonstrating the facts of actual performance As a result
    the superiority of Bayesian methods is now a thoroughly demonstrated fact in a hundred dierent
    areas We point this out in some detail whenever it makes a substantial dierence in the nal
    results Thus we continue to argue vigorously for the Bayesian methods but we ask the reader to
    note that our arguments now proceed by citing facts rather than proclaiming a philosophical or
    ideological position”

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