Origin and Evolution of the Universe: Evidence for Design?


300 pages
ISBN 0-7735-0617-9
DDC 523




Edited by John M. Robson
Reviewed by Hannah Gay

Hannah Gay is a history professor at Simon Fraser University.


The long history of the argument for design in the universe, and from design for the existence of God, has been given a new focus by some recent cosmological and biological claims. These claims form the leitmotif for this collection of papers first presented at a 1985 symposiurn sponsored by the Royal society of Canada and the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research.

Is it the case, as P.C.W. Davies claims in his book The Accidental Universe, that our world, a world capable of sustaining life, is a priori extremely unlikely? What happened at the birth of the universe shortly after the supposed Big Bang? And, using only naturalistic theories, is it possible to make a reasonable connection from those events to present-day appearances? Is today’s outcome the most likely or at least a likely outcome? Or is it, as Davies claims, highly unlikely? These questions are addressed by several contributors. W.G. Unruh clearly points out those features of our universe which are indeed difficult to explain, but argues well against a special creation. However, as he points out, creationists can argue that it is not the special structures per se that indicate design but rather the unlikely fact that the natural laws which the universe obeys are just those which make our existence inevitable. But how unlikely are these laws? This problem is cleverly dealt with in the paper by Michael Ovendon concerning the probability of the existence of stars, planets, and life. He concludes by defending the view that any probabilities that we ascribe are, even if widely shared, fundamentally subjective, and thus to claim that our existence is unlikely and therefore special is meaningless outside human discourse.

Other contributors deal with the adequacy of the theory of evolution to account for the variety of life forms. Some of the papers are straightforward expositions of current views but some, for example W. Ford Doolittle’s, discuss the Gaia Hypothesis, an earlier proposal of another of the symposium’s contributors, James Lovelock. Lovelock, intrigued by what he sees as a fact, namely the approximate constancy of environmental conditions on Earth since the origin of life, has proposed the existence of Gaia, “a complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.” If Gaia exists, then how might it have evolved? A sceptical Ford Doolittle claims existing models for natural selection will not do, raising the question of the possibility of design. Lovelock himself addresses these problems by introducing a cybernetic model that includes life and its geological environment but no teleological component.

Another problem for existing theory, Darwinian or other, is the evolution of mental life. This is discussed by Richard Swinburne who, perhaps more than any other contributor, is sympathetic to non-naturalistic explanations. Doreen Kimura, on the other hand, in a paper on the origin of human communication, sees nothing in our present intellectual makeup that cannot, in principle, be explained by a slow process of evolution.

Further papers in this volume include contributions from geologists, philosophers, and professors of religion. While the scientists’ contributions are the most stimulating, those of the others help place the current debates in both intellectual and historical perspective. Overall this is a very interesting collection of essays but the order in which they are presented is not the most logical.


“Origin and Evolution of the Universe: Evidence for Design?,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 26, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/34805.