I have no “philosophical axe to grind” in this discussion. Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant to me. I am simply stating the dilemma to which our present fundamental conception of physical law leads us. I see no way round it; but whether future developments of science will find an escape I cannot predict. The dilemma is this: Surveying our surroundings, we find them to be far from a “fortuitous concourse of atoms”. The picture of the world, as drawn in existing physical theories shows arrangements of the individual elements for which the odds are multillions to 1 against an origin by chance. Some people would like to call this non-random feature of the world purpose or design; but I will call it non-committally anti-chance. We are unwilling in physics that anti-chance plays any part in the reactions between the systems of billions of atoms and quanta that we study; and indeed all our experimental evidence goes to show that these are governed by the laws of chance. Accordingly, we sweep anti-chance out of the laws of physics–out of the differential equations. Naturally, therefore, it reappears in the boundary conditions, for it must be got into the scheme somewhere. By sweeping it far enough away from the sphere of our current physical problems, we fancy we have got rid of it. It is only when some of us are so misguided as to try to get back billions of years into the past that we find the sweepings all piled up like a high wall and forming a boundary–a beginning of time–which we cannot climb over.
A way out of the dilemma has been proposed which seems to have found favour with a number of scientific workers. I oppose it because I think it is untenable, not because of any desire to retain the present dilemma, I should like to find a genuine loophole. But that does not alter my conviction that the loophole that is at present being advocated is a blind alley.
Eddington AS. 1931. The end of the world: from the standpoint of mathematical physics. Nature 127:447-453.
The “way out of the dilemma” that Eddington references, and which he rejects, is: “If we have a number of particles moving about at random, they will in the course of time go through every possible configuration, so that even the most orderly, the most non-chance configuration, will occur by chance if only we wait long enough.”
Eddington was clearly conflicted, and if I understand him correctly, he recognizes that when physics is pushed back to the origin of the universe, design (or “anti-chance”) seems to rear its ugly head in the form of physical law, and he would like to find a way out of this, because he finds the idea repugnant (despite his seemingly contradictory claim that he has no “philosophical axe to grind”).
Here’s an interesting thought (at least to me): When life is pushed back to its origins, design (or “anti-chance”) seems to rear its ugly head. This idea might be philosophically repugnant to some, but what if it is true?
It appears to me that Eddington was desperate to find an excuse to deny that design underlies the physical universe, despite the fact that evidence was making it increasingly clear.
Are Darwinists doing the same thing with the origin of life?