Archive for September, 2016


In recent posts, I’ve been explaining the Teleological argument, or the argument from design, as applied to the universe at large. Today, let’s zoom back to Earth and talk about the design of lifemousetrap which points to a Designer.

Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose. – Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker

Specified Complexity

As pointed out before, when we see cloudy words in the sky saying “Drink Coke,” it is an immediate inference that an intelligent, designing agent has been at work. Why do we come to that conclusion? It is because of specified complexity. Many natural, undesigned things can display complexity, such as the repeating geometric patterns of crystals, the streaming trails of clouds that sometimes form in the sky, or the complex regular pattern of bird footprints on a damp beach. The difference is in the information contained in the complexity.

So how does this apply to the appearance of design in terrestrial life? When we recognize information contained in a book, we know it did not come about by an explosion at a typesetter; nor do we see “Drink Coke” in the clouds and presume its origin in unguided natural processes of cloud-formation. No, we immediately and intuitively infer an intelligent designer responsible for the information. Why, then should we not assume the same when we see it in nature as well? DNA contains enormous amounts of specific information, represented by letters, used to create cells in a body. One amoeba has enough information in exactly the right order to fill 1000 complete sets of Encyclopedia Britannica. That is far more information than “Drink Coke,” which we know requires intelligence.

Irreducible Complexity

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case. ― Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

Charles Darwin recognized a few points at which his theory of evolution could be falsified, or shown to be untrue. One of these points concerns what has since been called “irreducible complexity,” or an organ for which Darwinistic evolution cannot account for. Take as an analogy of this a mousetrap. Designed for the purpose of catching mice, if it fails in it’s job, “natural selection” will weed it out of the gene pool an it will die out as a “species.” A mousetrap has six parts, the wooden base, the spring, the hammer, the arm, the trigger, and staples holding it all in place. Could this have “evolved” from successively simpler parts, or must it arrive on the scene fully formed in order for it to survive as a successful organism? If you have only the wooden base how many mice will you catch? Zero. What if you have the wooden base, the spring, and the staples? Will you catch 50% of the mice that you would with a fully formed mousetrap? No, still zero. It cannot function without the entire mechanism.

Of course that is just an analogy of an item that is clearly designed. Do natural systems exist that display irreducible complexity? There seem to be. The blood clotting cascade, the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies, the eye, and the bacterial flagellum are just a few which have been discovered. Here is a brief explanation of the irreducible complexity and evidence of design in the bacterial flagellum, explained by molecular biologist Michael Behe:

At the time which Darwin wrote about this, science had not yet produced any examples of this principle, and so Darwin felt confident in his theory. Now, with several examples of irreducible complexity found in natural systems and organs, we have more good reasons to doubt Darwin’s explanation. Does this prove the existence of a Designer? No, it alone does not. But it is evidence which must be taken into account along with the rest, and these lead me to find the theory of Intelligent Design very plausible indeed.

Next time, I’ll spend a little time on naturalistic explanations. Please join me!

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

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In the previous post, I presented and explained an argument for the design of the universe to make possible life on earth. The universe certainly appears designed, but could our intuitions

about this be wrong? Some think so, and have offered alternate explanations.

The Multiverse

The evidence and appearance of design is overwhelming. It seems an insurmountable challenge to explain how all the cosmological constants are so precisely calibrated to support life on earth without inferring design. Without design, the only other mechanism is chance, and as mentioned previously, the odds of all the constants falling in these “sweet spots” are practically, if not mathematically, impossible. The multiverse is an attempt to work around this problem.

In brief, the multiverse theory states that there is an ensemble of universes parallel to our own. There could be any number of other universes out there, each with different settings on their cosmological constant values. So, one may be quite different from ours, having life-crushingly heavy gravity, and another may be quite similar to our own, but perhaps having an Earth with high carbon dioxide and a runaway greenhouse effect. This multiplicity of universes are generated by some mechanism, a “machine” which produces these universes with such high quantity that eventually, one like ours would eventually pop out, develop, and evolve life.

A Multiplicity of Problems

 

So does the multiverse explanation offer an equal or superior alternative to a designing Agent? If so, it’s going to have to address a couple of problems.

The offering of a multiverse is an attempt at bypassing the implications of an Agent, whose properties begin to look like a personal Designer, one which we might call God. The problem here is that this explanation is, by definition as outside our universe, a metaphysical one, just as much as a belief in a God is; how can this sit well with materialists? Being outside our universe, there is no way, even in principle, to have any observation of, interaction with, or evidence for such a mechanism. To assert the existence of a multiverse ensemble or a multiverse generator is an act of blind faith exceeding the most fundamentalist theistic believer.

But even if we concede the existence of such a machine, it would also require some explanation of its origin, as noted before, an infinite regress of days (or other time units) is impossible to traverse. We must also have some explanation of its cause, and of its design, being necessarily a highly complex mechanism to be able to produce complex universes of various configurations. It seems to me that, at best, the multiverse pushes back the problem a level, but offers no solution for it.

The multiverse is an attempt to explain the appearance of design of the universe we live in. However, since it ends up not answering the question, but postponing it, and requires a lot of blind faith in an explanation without any evidence, even in principle, I find myself without any reason whatsoever to believe in such a thing.

But perhaps I’ve overlooked something. If you think so, leave me a note through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

Continuing in the study of arguments for God’s existence, let’s today turn our attention to the Teleological argument for God’s existence, otherwise known as the Design argument. It works likeskywriting this: a design requires a designer, and as the universe gives good evidence of design, we are well-justified in believing in a grand Designer. Here’s the formal argument:

  1. Every design had a designer.
  2. The universe has a highly complex design.
  3. Therefore, the universe had a designer.

1. Every design had a designer

This is an intuitively known fact that can be shown true without a whole lot of introspection, but since this notion comes under attack, let’s consider a couple of scenarios to flesh it out.

Paley’s Watchmaker

William Paley, a natural philosopher of the 18th century, underscored our intuition of design by imagining that within a forest a person discovers to the side of the path a pocket watch. Now, a pocket watch is a complex mechanism, with carefully calibrated and assembled gears, springs, and other precise components, working together to perform a function: accurate timekeeping. If one were to find such a device, even if they had never before seen or knew about watches, it seems clear that no one would conclude or even for very long consider the possibility that it assembled through natural processes over time. No, the immediate inference would be that of an intelligent agent having designed the pocket watch.

Skywriting

We’ve probably all seen it at some point – fuzzy white letters in a blue sky saying “Marry Me” or “Eat at Joe’s” or “How Do I Land?” What are our intuitions when we look up and see these words? Coincidence of clouds and water vapors and wind? No, not even a simple “I ♡ U” would be mistaken as the product of natural forces and random chance. Information is conveyed, and our uniform and repeated experience is that information originates from a mind.

2. The universe has a highly complex design.

The “Anthropic Principle” is the term used to categorize the ever-increasing evidence that the universe was designed to permit and support life on earth. This is quite a claim, isn’t it? But it is the best explanation of the evidence of the cosmological constants, seemingly tweaked to make life on earth possible. Here are just a few of those:

  1. Earth’s oxygen level – 21%; 25% would cause spontaneous combustion; 15% would cause human suffocation
  2. Earth’s atmospheric transparency – blocks right amount of solar radiation
  3. Moon-Earth gravitation interaction – greater interaction would mean tidal effects on oceans, atmosphere, and rotational period would be too severe. Less interaction would cause climactic instabilities.
  4. Carbon Dioxide levels – more would cause uninhabitable greenhouse effect; less would prevent photosynthesis and cause suffocation.
  5. Gravity effects – if any different by an infinitesimal amount, stars and planets would never have formed.

There are over one hundred of these constants, precisely and mind-bogglingly set so that man can thrive. Put all together, the odds are truly staggering that such a universe could have arrived by chance. For a more in-depth look at the anthropic principle, additional cosmological constants, and more numbers on the vanishingly small odds of these constants lining up randomly, please see this excellent article on the anthropic principle here. The author describes a very lucky Powerball winner, and then makes this great observation: “If someone won even two such lotteries consecutively, we would all assume the results were rigged. And yet, when it comes to life existing in our universe, the odds are far more remote than winning a hundred Powerball lotteries consecutively.” Our universe certainly seems to have been rigged.

3. Therefore, the universe had a designer.

As with the cosmological argument, I want to remain modest about the results of this argument. It doesn’t prove the Judeo-Christian God. It does, however, demonstrate that a super-intellect and super-power “set the dials” of the constants and designed the arrangement of the universe to be the way it we see it.

As with the Kalam argument, Reasonable Faith has made a great animated short film summarizing and explaining this argument. Check it out:

 

Next time, I’ll spend a little time on design objections. Please join me!

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

In my last post I explained the Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God, but perhaps some questions were raised in your mind which I did not answer. Today, I would like to try to radiotelescope-1412892-1279x849briefly address a few.

Objections

Firstly, some modern physicists attempt to get around the uncomfortable implications of the universe’s beginning out of nothing by redefining “nothing.” When we say that the universe came from nothing, it is a literal nothing that we are talking about: not a quantum vacuum, not a blank slate that an imperfection can arise on its own, not a quantum vacuum; no-thing. Anything in existence prior to this starting point would have to be explained in terms of causation itself, and this argument concerns that ultimate origin.

A second point sometimes raised concerns the confusing notion of infinities. Why can’t the universe be infinitely old? Aside from the observational data referenced in the Kalam argument post which indicates a beginning, a bit of careful thinking will reveal that actual infinites are impossible. Only mathematical infinites are useful; when one tries to imagine an actual infinite, absurdities begin to multiply. The main issue, specifically applied to an infinitely old universe, is that it is impossible to traverse an actual infinite number of points in time (days, minutes, seconds, etc.) to get to the present moment. If we move back in time ten years, we should have a smaller amount of time prior to today, right? Well no, it’s still infinite. What if we move back halfway in time? Is it a smaller amount? No, still infinite. What if we remove an infinite number of years from the past timeline? Infinity remains. I hope this clears it up a bit, but for more information, a further, more thorough explanation of this concept can be found by William Lane Craig at his website here.

Thirdly, what about the multiverse hypothesis? I am actually going to defer this to a later date, when I discuss Intelligent Design. For now, suffice it to say that any multiverse generator still must be explained in terms of first causes.

Which leads to the fourth issue sometimes raised, that is put forth something like this: “If everything must have a cause, what caused God?” The idea is that we as Christians are trapped in the same infinite regress absurdity that we identify as a weakness of naturalistic explanations in the second point above. But the answer to this is really quite simple – we do not believe in a created God, but one who is the uncaused cause of everything else. Does this sound like a sidestep, some sort of religious special pleading? The point is that every explanation is going to have to have some first cause without a prior explanation. God, I submit, an intelligent, purposeful, willful mind, is the best explanation of a first cause.

Age of the Universe?

Another quite important issue that I want to make some very brief comments about is that of my beliefs about the age of the universe. The second premise in Kalam cosmological argument, namely that the universe began to exist, is largely supported by modern scientific observation and evidence of the Big Bang, the single point in time and space which expanded eons ago into the universe we have now. Now we will revisit some of this in the Intelligent Design section, but the main point to think of here is that, as Greg Koukl puts it, “the Big Bang needs a Big Banger;” that is, we have to account for causes. The Big Bang explanation doesn’t remove the need for God; in my view, it underscores it! Furthermore, even though there is some disagreement among Christians, I believe that an ancient universe is at the very least compatible with the Bible, and indeed the best explanation.

However (and this is important), this is not a crucial issue of orthodoxy, nor is it one I feel such strong convictions over that I spend a lot of time trying to convince anyone. My reasons for adopting an old-universe view are several. For one, I believe that natural revelation points to an old universe, and since the biblical accounts may be vague in their interpretations on this point, I believe that we are justified in applying the more clear evidence from science about this question. For another reason, I don’t stand alone in this view. There are many dedicated, well-credentialed Christian scientists and theologians that have adopted an old-universe view. Finally, pragmatically, this view is convenient in interacting with unbelievers with apologetics. An ancient universe view can be held in common with most non-Christians and built on as a starting point.

That is all I really want to say about the issue of young-earth vs. old-earth creationism except for the good advice from St. Augustine,

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Christian friends, the age of the universe is not one of the essentials.

Finally, if you want to see some of the arguments that have persuaded me, the best one has to do with starlight over at Stand To Reason here. Another site which has done a lot of work to demonstrate from the scriptures and from science the old-earth view is Reasons to Believe, and some of their resources on this topic can be found here.

Next, I plan to discuss another argument for God’s existence from design. Please join me!

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!