Testing the Hypothesis of Intelligent Design

on May 17, 2008

ScienceNews: “A Special Place” Is earth in a special place in the universe—and if so, what would that say about design? Two scientists writing in Physical Review Letters consider just how we could test that hypothesis.

The world of secular astronomy and astrophysics is dominated by the Copernican principle—the unproved idea that earth cannot be in a “privileged” nor central position in the universe. Rather, secular astronomers believe that earth’s vantage point to the rest of the universe is only as good (or as bad) as that of any other random observer in the universe. The “why” is obvious—unless you believe that earth was created and our place in the universe chosen (by the Creator or some other intelligent designer), any privileged position would be far too unlikely. Thus, rejecting the former option these scientists default to the latter view.

The report in Physical Review Letters centers on mysterious “dark energy,” an unknown substance invoked to explain why the universe seems to be expanding at an increasing rate.

Now to the recent news. The report in Physical Review Letters centers on mysterious “dark energy,” an unknown substance invoked to explain why the universe seems to be expanding at an increasing rate. Dartmouth College’s Robert Caldwell and Albert Stebbins, of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, hypothesize that dark energy may actually be a “cosmic mirage” that would be caused if humans live in “a special place in the universe with a peculiar distribution of matter,” reports ScienceNews.

What if the earth is in the middle of a giant bubble—relatively free of matter—but this bubble is surrounded by a “massive, dense shell of material,” Caldwell and Stebbins ask. In this case, gravity would pull galaxies inside the bubble toward the dense edges, fooling an inside-the-bubble observer into thinking some form of “dark energy” existed.

Caldwell, too, recognizes the unprovable nature of the Copernican principle. “Although the Copernican principle may be widely accepted by fiat, it is imperative that such a foundational principle be proven,” he explained (emphasis added). Thus, Caldwell and Stebbins suggest a way to check whether our part of the universe is similar or different from other parts of the universe—a test that relies on the cosmic microwave background radiation, a supposed legacy of the big bang.

Ultimately, until humans (if ever) can deploy spacecraft across the universe, our estimations of the size, shape, and composition of the physical universe will always be subject to numerous assumptions because we can only rely on data gathered from earth. To secular astronomers, the starting assumption is that we can’t be in a privileged place (such as the center), even if we are in an unusual place. In Caldwell and Stebbins’s test, there are two possible results. First, if the tests indicate a bubble, this is a sign that we are in a “special” place, but secular astronomers would say it is not a privileged place. Second, if the evidence points to “Earth’s corner of the universe [being] just like everywhere else,” secular astronomers will say the Copernican principle has been upheld.

But what if the universe appears consistent because we actually are near the center—i.e., a very privileged place not likely to have happened by chance—a place that would indicate design? Secular astronomers have ruled out this possibility a priori because their entire model of the big bang is rooted in secular presuppositions.

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