Designer Universe: Intelligent Design and the Existence of God

By Jimmy H. Davis and Harry L. Poe
Nashville, TN : Broadman & Holman (2002). 252 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
13.2 (Fall 2002) : 273-275

 Two professors at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, teamed up again to write this sequel to their first offering, Science and Faith: An Evangelical Dialogue. Their reading constituency, they noted, would most probably be Christians with an interest in “the relationship of modern science to their biblical faith” (xv). This statement, unfortunately, highlights what is true: those committed to evolution or theistic evolution rarely break the covers of a book on creation and design. Maybe it is expecting too much to hope that some would read this book and be stirred to re-think their worldview on origins.

Criteria, not made clear to the reader, was obviously exercised by the authors as they sought to cover concisely and in survey fashion quite a broad scope of writers on worldviews and the concept of design and purpose down through the ages. The treatment ends up being quite uneven. Readers will obviously differ on what they would like to have seen included, as they skim across material from Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Calvin, Pascal, Tennant, Butler, Paley, Descartes, Hume, Locke, and Aquinas, to name just a few—and that’s omitting mention made of modern-day researchers and writers. The constraints of surveying the material undoubtedly led to more detailed definition and categorization being bypassed. Endnotes are at a minimum, and that may prove to be the weakness of the book in that the reader could very well look for cross-references to other more detailed treatments and not find any pertinent information. The content assumes that the reader is at least aware of the philosophers being referred to and of the scientific theories mentioned. Regular insertion of short paragraphs headed “Observations” provides summaries of what has been presented and points to what is yet to come, or poses appropriate questions arising from what has been discussed.

Given the intense debate today on the age of the earth and on the reality of creation ex nihilo and on no pre-existing elements or matter, some cross-referencing to literature on this subject is decidedly preferable. Unfortunately, the reader’s attention is not directed to legitimate resources which critically accept an ‘old-earth’ theory. In fact, one short statement on Michael Behe not being a ‘young-earth’ proponent is suddenly introduced without any further response or explanation (200). It leaves the impression that being in such a category is not the thing to be. Why so? The matter of the age of the earth is not a settled issue in evangelicalism and deserves some response even if it be only a footnoted cross-reference to relevant material thereon. It is disappointing when excellent material authored by reputable scholars on a ‘young earth’ is overlooked. The Big Bang Theory, to be sure, has to be mentioned when dealing with origins and the question of time in relation to the beginning, especially when the origin of matter is not included in the explanation for the beginning of the universe (39), but it should not be left without some critique. Pointing to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and his challenging question “What place, then, for a Creator?” if the universe is completely self-contained, having neither beginning nor end, and just simply is, effectively demonstrates that evidence of design and purpose does not convince of the reality and immanence of God.

The fine-tuning of the universe, the uncommon, rare, state of the earth, intelligent design, irreducible complexity, information systems, and interdependence of living organisms all receive due attention in chapters 3-6. Reading of hedrons, leptons, and elemental bosons, of DNA and RNA, of string theory, and of an extradimensional universe will alert one to just how much he may have forgotten from past courses and of how much he has yet to learn! Again the point is made that scientists will not necessarily be coerced into acknowledging a Designer just because there appears to be design (109, 114, 194). Knowing the Designer perhaps comes first and means that the researcher and observer finds design and is also awed and amazed at the beauty of His handiwork (see Chapter 7, “Awe and Wonder”).

Some of the headings in the outline are humorous and bring forth a brief smile or moue. “Locke and the Key to Design,” or “Religion Boyles Down to Design, or “The Butler Did It,” or “Marshall Newton Tames the Wild, Wild Universe,” or “Where’s the Beef?” may have some mnemonic value.

This reviewer did find the book stimulating his desire to turn again to the bookshelves and to pluck off a couple of volumes for a re-read, namely Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, John Byl’s God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space and the Universe, and Stuart Burgess’ Hallmarks of Design: Evidence of Design in the Natural World.

Editorial laxity may be evidenced in that page numbers for Chapter 2 are cited differently on the page than for other chapters, and that Figure 6.3 is placed at the bottom of the page before it is introduced and referenced two pages later (169, 171).

Davis and Poe’s book could be profitably used if it is meshed with additional reading assigned by and extra notes supplied by the instructor.