Does George Smoot, Nobel Laureate, See Evidence of Design in the Cosmos?

Jonathan Witt

The most recent Nobel prize for physics recently was awarded to John Mather and George Smoot for their contribution to the big bang theory of the origin of the universe. Smoot is a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley. He has no ties that I’m aware of to the Intelligent Design community, and I know that he doesn’t have ties to Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.
However, like several other prominent contemporary physicists (e.g., Arno Penzias, Owen Gingerich, and Paul Davies), Smoot has made remarks that suggest he considers the best explanation for certain features of the natural world to be a teleological or purposeful cause–what we in the ID community refer to as intelligent design and what the pope recently described as creative reason.

For instance, a quotation web page hosted by The Veritas Forum at the University of California Santa Barbara features several pro-design quotations from leading physicists around the world, and includes one from Wrinkles in Time: The Imprint of Creation. There Smoot and co-author Keay Davidson write, “The big bang, the most cataclysmic event we can imagine, on closer inspection appears finely orchestrated” (p. 135). And in the same book: “Until the late 1910’s, humans were as ignorant of cosmic origins as they had ever been. Those who didn’t take Genesis literally had no reason to believe there had been a beginning” (p. 30).
Several of his comments touching on the question of teleology in nature can be found at a site featuring excerpts from science journalist Fred Heeren’s book Show me God:

Discovery 5 – 1992: NASA’s COBE satellite team discovered the predicted ripples in the cosmic background radiation. George Smoot, the team’s leader, called these seeds for future galaxy superclusters “fingerprints from the Maker.”

And this:

Stephen Hawking wrote, “If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million, the universe would have re-collapsed before it ever reached it present state.” Slightly faster than the critical rate and matter would have dispersed too rapidly to allow stars and galaxies to form. George Smoot describes the creation even[t] as “finely orchestrated.”

In an interview in the same book, Smoot describes the evidence for purposeful fine tuning in greater detail:

“In order to make a universe as big and wonderful as it is, lasting as long as it is–we’re talking fifteen billion years and we’re talking huge distances here–in order for it to be that big, you have to make it perfectly. Otherwise, imperfections would mount up and the universe would either collapse on itself or fly apart, and so it’s actually quite a precise job. And I don’t know if you’ve had discussions with people about how critical it is that the density of the universe come out so close to the density that decides whether it’s going to keep expanding forever or collapse back, but we know it’s within one percent.” (p. 168)

Philosophical materialists insist that matter and energy are all there is. How do they respond to the testimony of such scientists? They hope no one will notice. One tactic of philosophical materialists (who represent roughly 10 percent of the American population as well as a small minority of the global population) is to try to present those who see physical evidence for design in nature as marginal crackpots or as purely motivated by religious faith. This tactic becomes increasingly difficult when respected scientists stand up and notice in public the plain evidence of nature. Here are a few more relevant quotations from the Veritas Forum web page:

Paul Davies has moved from promoting atheism to conceding that “the laws [of physics] … seem themselves to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design.” (Superforce, p. 243) He further testifies, “There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all … it seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe … The impression of design is overwhelming.” (The Cosmic Blueprint, p. 203)
Paul Davies
Superforce, p. 243
The Cosmic Blueprint, p. 203
“The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.”
Freeman Dyson
Disturbing the Universe
New York: Harper & Row, 1979, p. 250
“The scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation … His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.”
Albert Einstein
“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
Sir Fred Hoyle
“If we accept the big bang theory, and most cosmologists now do, then a ‘creation’ of some sort is forced upon us.”
Barry Parker
Creation–the Story of the Origin and Evolution of the Universe
New York & London: Plenum Press, 1988, p. 202
Compared to the alternative of supposing that matter and energy somehow always existed, British physicist Edmund Whittaker says, “It is simpler to postulate creation ex nihilo–Divine will constituting Nature from nothingness.”
Edmund Whittaker cited in
Fred Heeren
Show Me God: What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God
Day Star Publications, 2000, pp. 121
“We do, of course, have an alternative. We could say that there was no creation, and that the universe has always been here. But this is even more difficult to accept than creation.”
Barry Parker
Creation–the Story of the Origin and Evolution of the Universe
New York & London: Plenum Press, 1988, pp. 201-202
Einstein later chided himself for introducing his famous fudge factor in order to make his theory fit. He called the addition of his cosmological constant “the greatest blunder of my life.” (cited by Richard Morris, The Fate of the Universe, New York: Playboy Press, 1982, p. 28) He wrote: “The mathematician Friedmann found a way out of the dilemma. His results then found a surprising confirmation by Hubble’s discovery of the expansion (of the universe).” (cited by Barry Parker, Creation–the Story of the Origin and Evolution of the Universe, New York & London: Plenum Press, 1988, pp. 53-54). After this Einstein wrote not only of the necessity for a beginning, but of his desire “to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thought, the rest are details.” (cited by Nick Herbert, Quantum Reality–Beyond the New Physics, Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1985, p. 177).
Fred Heeren
Show Me God: What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God
Day Star Publications, 2000, pp. 135
“Certainly there was something that set it all off. Certainly, if you are religious, I can’t think of a better theory of the origin of the universe to match with Genesis.”
Robert Wilson
An interview with Fred Heeren
Show Me God: What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God
Day Star Publications, 2000, p. 157
“How is it that common elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen happened to have just the kind of atomic structure that they needed to combine to make the molecules upon which life depends? It is almost as though the universe had been consciously designed…”
Richard Morris
The Fate of the Universe
New York: Playboy Press, 1982, p. 28
“Every one of these forces must have just the right strength if there is to be any possibility of life. For example, if electrical forces were much stronger than they are, then no element heavier than hydrogen could form … But electrical repulsion cannot be too weak. if it were, protons would combine too easily, and the sun …(assuming that it had somehow managed to exist up to now) would explode like a thermonuclear bomb.”
Richard Morris
The Fate of the Universe
New York: Playboy Press, 1982, p. 153
“Stronger (nuclear) forces would cause all of the primordial hydrogen — not just 25% of it — to be synthesized into helium early in the history of the universe. And without hydrogen, the stars could never begin to shine.”
Richard Morris
The Fate of the Universe
New York: Playboy Press, 1982, p. 153
“To make sense of this view (design as opposed to accident), one must accept the idea of transcendence: that the Designer exists in a totally different order of reality or being, not restrained within the bounds of the Universe itself.”
George F. R. Ellis
Before the Beginning — Cosmology Explained
London and New York: Boyars/Bowerdean, 1993, 1994, p. 97

And here is one more they could add to their page, this from Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias:

In summary, therefore, astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say “supernatural”), plan.
(from The New York Times, Jan. 2, 1979)

Jonathan Witt

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Witt, PhD, is a senior fellow and senior project manager with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. His latest book is Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design (DI Press, 2018) written with Finnish bioengineer Matti Leisola. Witt has also authored co-authored Intelligent Design Uncensored, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, and The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. Witt is the lead writer and associate producer for Poverty, Inc., winner of the $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award and recipient of over 50 international film festival honors.