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Chance or Dance: an evaluation of design

Templeton Foundation Press, 2008
RRP $40.95

Reviewed by Joel Corney, a physicist and member of Sherwood Uniting Church.

This collaboration between Professors of chemistry (Mr Davis) and faith and culture (Mr Poe) aims to give an informed background to the current debate about intelligent design.
The first few chapters Mr Poe give an excellent introduction to the history of the concept of design.
Beginning with the beliefs about the origin of the world, of the great world religions and the philosophical insights of the ancient Greeks, Chance or Dance charts the development of conceptions of the physical universe and its origin over the centuries to the rise of modern science, which grew out of the reawakening of intellectual life in the renaissance and reformation.
This section clearly demonstrates the long historical pedigree and the ubiquity of the view (though in different forms) of the universe as designed.
In the Christian West, where much of the development of modern science occurred, the ‘designedness’ of the cosmos was linked to specific concept of a designer – namely the creator God revealed in Jesus Christ.
However, it was only since the enlightenment that the apparent design of the universe started to be used as an independent argument or proof for the existence of God.
Mr Davis gives a wide-ranging review of the insights into the structure of the natural world unearthed by physics, astronomy, chemistry and biology in recent centuries.
These chapters present a lot of interesting information in a very accessible way to demonstrate how nature conveys the appearance of design.
However, I was left wondering whether so much information was necessary to prove its main point: that it is ironic that ‘design theory’ is unfashionable in scientific circles when we have never before had so much accumulated knowledge of the apparent design of the universe and the of life it contains.
This leads to the question of whether the origin of the apparent design can be settled scientifically.
In a jointly written chapter, the authors contend that it possibly can be, although the science of design is still in its infancy.
I would commend Chance or Dance to anyone wanting an introduction to the history and science of a concept that is at the heart of much of the contemporary religion-science dialogue.