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ID’s Top Six — The Origin of the Universe

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Editor’s note: In the past we’ve offered the top 10 problems with Darwinian evolution (see here for a fuller elaboration), and the top five problems with origin-of-life theories. But somehow we neglected to offer a parallel listing of the top lines of evidence supporting intelligent design. Many different pieces of evidence pointing to design in nature could be adduced, but we decided to distill it all down to six major lines of evidence. Sure, five or ten would have been more conventional, but when did ID advocates start playing to expectations?

So here they are, their order simply reflecting that in which they must logically have occurred within our universe. Material is adapted from the textbook Discovering Intelligent Design, which is an excellent resource for introducing the evidence for ID, along with Stephen Meyer’s books Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt.

1. The Origin of the Universe

The famous Kalam cosmological argument is a three-part argument that the universe requires a first cause. Its name reflects its roots in Islamic thought.

  • Anything that begins to exist has a cause.
  • The universe began to exist.
  • Therefore, the universe has a First Cause.

The step in the argument that science can address is the middle one — evidence that the universe began to exist. That evidence comes in two major pieces — (i) the redshift and the Doppler effect, and (ii) the discovery of microwave background radiation.

In 1927, Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaître theorized that the universe began with a single explosion from a densely compacted state. That explosion eventually became known as the Big Bang.

Big Bang: A model of the universe’s origin that holds it is finite in size and age. According to this theory, the universe — including all space and time — originated with a single powerful expansion event, and is still expanding. 

Two years after Lemaître introduced his theory, astronomer Edwin Hubble published a study supporting it. Hubble’s study indicated that all galaxies are receding from one another and that the universe is, in fact, expanding. How did Hubble make this discovery?

The next time an ambulance drives past with its siren blaring, pay attention to the pitch of the sound. As the ambulance approaches, the pitch is high, but then as it screams past, the pitch suddenly drops. That is called the Doppler effect.

The Doppler effect states that sound waves are heard with a higher frequency when the source of the sound is moving toward you, but with a lower frequency when it is moving away from you. Although light waves behave differently from sound waves, a similar effect takes place — also called the Doppler effect.

Light waves coming from an approaching object will have their frequency shifted up toward the blue end of the spectrum of visible light. Correspondingly, light waves coming from a receding object are stretched to a lower frequency, and thus shifted down toward the red end — a phenomenon known as the redshift.

Hubble’s research confirmed that galaxies are receding from one another by discovering a disproportionately high level of red light coming from virtually every galaxy. If every observable galaxy is moving away from every other, the universe is expanding.

Final confirmation of the Big Bang model came when scientists discovered the precisely predicted microwave background radiation left over from this massive, explosive event.

In 1948, physicist George Gamow provided a way to settle the controversy between the Big Bang and Steady State theories. He and other cosmologists theorized that if the universe began with a Big Bang, there should be radiation left over from this explosive event.

This radiation was discovered in the 1960s. However, the debate continued because the measurements were made using earthbound instruments with limited accuracy.

Finally, in the early 1990s, precise measurements from NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite indicated that the universe was filled with radiation having the exact properties predicted by the Big Bang theory.

The COBE measurements confirmed that all matter in the early universe exploded from a densely compacted state. Scientists now had conclusive evidence that the universe had a beginning. As astrophysicist Neil F. Comins explained it:

Detection of the cosmic microwave background is a principal reason why the Big Bang is accepted by astronomers as the correct cosmological theory.

What all this means is that there is very strong evidence that the universe had a beginning. If the universe had a beginning, then it had a first cause. And if it had a first cause, then it makes sense to ask what kind of first cause is necessary to explain the origin of the universe. It must be:

  • A cause outside of the universe
  • Capable of generating all the matter and energy in the universe
  • Capable of generating all the order we see in inherent within the universe (more on this coming up).

That’s quite a job description — one that no known material cause or set of material causes appears capable of accomplishing. The need for such a powerful and intelligent first cause strongly suggests a purposeful design behind the origin of the universe.

William Lane Craig has an excellent video further explaining this argument:

Photo: Georges Lemaître, about 1933, via Wikicommons.