astronaut spacewalk.jpg
Astronaut at spacewalk. Cosmic art, science fiction wallpaper. Beauty of deep space. Billions of galaxies in the universe. Elements of this image furnished by NASA
Astronaut at spacewalk. Cosmic art, science fiction wallpaper. Beauty of deep space. Billions of galaxies in the universe. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Designed for Discovery

Published at NAMB

Read any book on the history of scientific discovery, and you’ll find magnificent tales of human ingenuity, persistence, and dumb luck. What you probably won’t see is any discussion of the conditions necessary for such feats. A discovery requires a person to do the discovering, and a set of circumstances that makes it possible. Without both, nothing gets discovered.

Although scientists don’t often discuss it, the degree to which we can “measure” the wider universe from our Earthly home-and not just our immediate surroundings-is surprising.  Few have considered what science would have been like in, say, a different planetary environment. Still fewer have realized that pursuing that question systematically leads to unanticipated evidence for intelligent design.

Think of the following features of our Earthly home: the transparency of Earth’s atmosphere in the visual region of the spectrum, shifting crustal plates, a large Moon, and our particular location in the Milky Way Galaxy. Without each of these assets, we would have a very hard time learning about the universe. It is not idle speculation to ask how our view of the universe would be impaired if, for example, our home world were perpetually covered by thick clouds. After all, our Solar System contains several examples of such worlds. Just think of Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Saturn’s moon, Titan. These would be crummy places to do astronomy.

We can make similar comparisons at the galactic level. If we were closer to our galaxy’s center or one of its major, and dustier, spiral arms, for instance-the extra dust would impede our view of the distant universe. In fact, we probably would have missed one of the greatest discoveries in the history of astronomy: the faint cosmic microwave background radiation. That discovery was the linchpin in deciding between the two main cosmological theories of the twentieth century. Underlying this debate was one of the most fundamental questions we can ask about the universe: Is it eternal, or did it have a beginning?

The Steady State theory posited an eternal universe, while the Big Bang theory implied a beginning. For a few decades, there was no direct evidence to decide between the two. But Big Bang theory predicted a remnant radiation left over from the earlier, hotter and denser period of cosmic history. Steady State theory made no such prediction. As a result, when scientists discovered the cosmic background radiation in 1965, it was the death knell for Steady State. But that discovery could not have been made just anywhere. Our special vantage point in the Milky Way Galaxy allowed us to choose between these two profoundly different views of origins.

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Guillermo Gonzalez

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Guillermo Gonzalez is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. He received his Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1993 from the University of Washington. He has done post-doctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin and at the University of Washington and has received fellowships, grants and awards from such institutions as NASA, the University of Washington, the Templeton Foundation, Sigma Xi (scientific research society) and the National Science Foundation. In 2024, he co-authored the YA novel The Farm at the Center of the Universe with Jonathan Witt.

Jay W. Richards

Senior Fellow at Discovery, Senior Research Fellow at Heritage Foundation
Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., is the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, and the Executive Editor of The Stream. Richards is author or editor of more than a dozen books, including the New York Times bestsellers Infiltrated (2013) and Indivisible (2012); The Human Advantage; Money, Greed, and God, winner of a 2010 Templeton Enterprise Award; The Hobbit Party with Jonathan Witt; and Eat, Fast, Feast. His most recent book, with Douglas Axe and William Briggs, is The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic Into a Catastrophe.