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The Stars Above Us

Neil Thomas
Lucretius' De Rerum Natura, in the Cambridge University Library, by LegesRomanorum via Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s note: We are delighted to host a new series by Neil Thomas, Reader Emeritus at the University of Durham, “How I Came to Take Leave of Darwin,” of which this article is the fifth installment. Find the full series here. Professor Thomas’s recent book, Taking Leave of Darwin: A Longtime Agnostic Discovers the Case for Design, is available now from Discovery Institute Press.

Since what Lucretius once termed in the widest sense “the nature of things” is no respecter of modern scientific conventions (which draw a line of demarcation between biology and cosmology), there remains a further dimension to the Darwin debate to which I also give attention in my new book. In his later volume, Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis (2016), Denton acknowledges the indirect support afforded the anti-Darwinian turn by recent advances in the field of cosmology, acknowledging the welcome role played in the English-speaking world by Paul Davies in disseminating technical cosmological findings to a wider public.  It is now widely known that our “bio-friendly” planet stands out as a benign cosmic singularity in contradistinction to the little-less-than Hadean depths of the rest of the observable universe. In a series of books appearing in the last few decades, astrophysicist Davies goes further, describing astronomers’ growing awareness that the fitness of our earthly environment for life seems all too great to be accidental and that the laws of physics appear to be uncannily “fine-tuned” to support humankind. Ministered to by the sun for its light, warmth, and energy (there is also a “solar shield” against harmful cosmic rays), the Earth is perfectly served by a gravitational field precisely calibrated (to many decimal points) for human needs. 

The Nub of the Design Debate

These and other natural factors giving the Earth its uniquely privileged position run counter to the now somewhat dated opinion that our planet arose by a process of random cosmic vicissitude that “did not have us in mind.” Arguably, these factors go some way towards relativizing that demotion of humankind supposedly brought about by the Copernican Revolution. Geometrically the Earth is of course indubitably heliocentric rather than geocentric but recent astronomical findings have reinstated our planet in its position of at least symbolic centrality as the single locus of habitability amidst the lifeless maelstroms of our cosmic surrounds. One logical inference from the above is that some higher power must have been responsible for the benign dispensation, and this is where the nub of the intelligent design dispute lies. 

Next, “Intelligent Design and Natural Theology.”

Neil Thomas

Neil Thomas is a Reader Emeritus in the University of Durham, England and a longtime member of the British Rationalist Association. He studied Classical Studies and European Languages at the universities of Oxford, Munich and Cardiff before taking up his post in the German section of the School of European Languages and Literatures at Durham University in 1976. There his teaching involved a broad spectrum of specialisms including Germanic philology, medieval literature, the literature and philosophy of the Enlightenment and modern German history and literature. He also taught modules on the propagandist use of the German language used both by the Nazis and by the functionaries of the old German Democratic Republic. He published over 40 articles in a number of refereed journals and a half dozen single-authored books, the last of which were Reading the Nibelungenlied (1995), Diu Crone and the Medieval Arthurian Cycle (2002) and Wirnt von Gravenberg's 'Wigalois'. Intertextuality and Interpretation (2005). He also edited a number of volumes including Myth and its Legacy in European Literature (1996) and German Studies at the Millennium (1999). He was the British Brach President of the International Arthurian Society (2002-5) and remains a member of a number of learned societies.

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Copernican Revolutioncosmic rayscosmologyearthevolutionEvolution: Still a Theory in Crisisgravitational fieldheliocentric modelHow I Came to Take Leave of Darwin (series)humankindintelligent designLucretiusMichael Dentonsolar shield