Squaring the Culture




"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

12/01/2008 (3:54 pm)

I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist: Does God Exist, Part II

In previous installments, I’ve established

  • that there’s a need for explaining why Christianity is the most reasonable position for an educated, skeptical individual to take (see the post here);
  • that there exists such a thing as absolute truth, and that truth claims may be made about religion just as they can about any other topic (see the post here).
  • that using the Cosmological Argument, the scientific fact that our universe had a beginning establishes that something like a Theistic God must exist (see the post here).

Today’s post focuses on the Teleological argument, which goes like this:

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

This basic argument was offered by a philosopher named William Paley in his book Natural Philosophy, published in 1802. His discussion included how we would react differently to accidentally kicking a rock in a field, and accidentally kicking a watch in the same field. The rock, we would assume was there because of the operation of natural laws; the world is full of rocks, and most of them don’t need men to throw them around. If we found a watch, however, we would assume that some person had dropped it; we know the purpose of a watch, we understand it’s design, and we know there had to have been a designer at some point. Paley argued that we can make the same assertions about the universe; if there are evidences of design in the universe, then we can infer a universal designer.

It was to Paley’s argument that biologist Richard Dawkins was referring in his highly regarded book, The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins began his book with the admission that the biosphere has the look of a designed system — and then spent the rest of the book explaining why this particular system needs no designer.

I suppose I could take on Prof. Dawkins over this if I wanted to; it’s a highly controversial topic and fun to write about. I won’t, though, for several reasons including that I haven’t read that particular book. I don’t feel as though I have to, though; there are plenty of places in the universe where design is evident outside of our biosphere.

The Anthropic Principle — from “anthropos,” man — is one of those “duh” sorts of observations that seems self-evident, only nobody made it until recently. It’s the somewhat whimsical observation that when trying to determine characteristics of the universe, what we observe must be limited to those characteristics that make our own existence possible. We know that we’re here; therefore, we know that whatever happened, it has to have been something that made it possible for us to be here. That doesn’t sound like much of a discovery, but it turns out to be profound.

The Anthropic Principle was first named by astronomer Brandon Carter at a meeting in 1973 celebrating Copernicus’ 500th birthday. It was offered to combat the Copernican principle that stated that the earth does not occupy a special place in the universe. Carter, busily disputing the steady-state mathematics that suggested that the universe was statistically distributed, argued that earth’s position had to be privileged in some ways.

What’s happened since is that scientists have spent the ensuing decades observing how many characteristics of our universe must be exactly as they are in order for life like ours to be possible. It’s an astonishing collection of coincidences, so vastly improbable that one cannot escape the conclusion that our universe looks like it was designed specifically to produce carbon-based life forms exactly like ourselves, at this point in time, at this location. I keep hearing different numbers, depending on who’s reporting and when, but the last I heard, there are 128 different physical constants that have to have been precisely as they are in order for human life to have been possible.

Let’s examine one of those, the ratio between the electromagnetic force constant and the gravitational force constant. If the ratio between these two forces had been any larger than it is, then no stars would have formed with mass less than 1.4 times the mass of the sun. These more massive stars burn too quickly and unevenly for habitable planets like the earth to be possible. If the ratio between these two forces had been any smaller than it is, though, there would be no stars with mass greater than 0.8 solar mass. Since all the elements heavier than helium were formed in stars with greater solar mass, this means that there would be nothing in the universe but hydrogen and helium. So, the ratio between the electromagnetic force and the gravitational force has to have been exactly what it is for us to exist.

How precise did that ratio have to be? The answer is that if the ratio had been different in either direction by one part in 10 to the 40th power, no life would be possible. That’s a number that’s so small it’s impossible for us to imagine, so allow me to illustrate. Imagine that I have an infinite supply of dimes, and I created a stack dimes from the ground up to the moon. Then, I did it again, and again, and again, until I’d covered the entire North American continent with dimes in stacks clear up to the moon. Then, imagine that I had a trillion North American continents to cover with dimes. If, after stacking all those dimes, I removed ONE dime from ONE stack, I’d have reduced my count of dimes by 1 part in 10 to the 40th power.

That’s pretty precise. And that’s just one constant.

Let’s take another. This is one that I like: the particular privilege of our own planet. Dr. Hugh Ross took the trouble to list 41 parameters for our planet that had to be as they were for life to exist(1). It would have to have occurred in a spiral galaxy, one with enough supernovas to produce the heavy elements necessary for a rocky planet, but with enough white dwarf stars to produce flouride. That galaxy would have to have the right density of stars so that competing gravitational forces would not interfere with planetary orbits, but there would be enough elements to form the planet. The planet would have to be orbiting the right sort of star, and orbiting at the right distance so temperatures would be acceptable and stable. The planet would have to have the right rotational speed, the right axial tilt, the right sorts of planetary companions (for instance, if Jupiter were not nearby with its gravity sucking down space debris, we’d have long since been wiped out by a meteor strike), and so on. His calculation suggests that the likelihood of a single planet occurring with all these characteristics is 1 in 10 to the 53rd power.

Dr. Ross also points out that the theoretical maximum number of planets in the universe, given our current understanding of the singular explosion, is 10 to the 22nd power. If I’m doing the math correctly, this means that the likelihood of a second planet with all the characteristics necessary to support human life anywhere else in the entire universe is 1 over 10 to the 31st power. That is to say, virtually impossible. In fact, our own planet is virtually impossible — unless it was intended.

Unless it was intended. There’s the key. The most likely explanation, in our universe, for a vastly improbable event taking place is that somebody with a will decided to make it happen. If you’re just dropping dice to see where they land, a dozen sixes is pretty unlikely; but if you decide you want to see nothing but sixes, it’s a simple matter to arrange twelve dice with the sixes facing up. Or, to return to Brother Paley, if we discover a designed object in the field, we infer a designer; and if the universe appears to have been designed, then it must have a designer, too.

It’s the incredible improbability of these constants, revealed by the study of the Anthropic Principle, that drive many cosmologists to posit multiverses. If there exist an infinite number of universes, then the vast improbability of our own universe is explainable without a designer designing the universe with life in mind. There are two problems with this explanation that I can see. First, there’s no observable evidence that any universes exist apart from our own. Cosmologists examining the various multiverse theories have been consistent about attempting to find empirical tests that could plausibly demonstrate the existence of their proposed multiverses, but so far nothing has yielded any evidence.

The second problem I have, though, is that nobody believes that our universe is improbable in that manner. This is similar to my objection to relativism that I addressed back in the second installment of this series; one can argue whatever theory one likes, but when push comes to shove, we all live as though facts are knowable. Even those who claim there are no truths, use truths to make their arguments, and in fact it’s not possible to think without using truth-based thinking. By a similar token, one can argue multiverses all day long, but when push comes to shove, even those arguing for multiverses believe that highly improbable events only occur in our universe when somebody chooses to make them happen.

Imagine I’m playing poker with five physicists, all of whom believe there must be an infinite number of universes to explain the improbability of our own. And suppose I win a hand from these five physicists with four natural aces. Then, suppose I win the very next hand with four natural aces; and the next, and the next, and the next. By the end of the fifth hand, all five of them are glaring at me, wrapping their knuckles, finding objects to beat me with. Suppose I say to them, “Look, fellas, I’m not cheating; we just happen to live in the one universe out of all of them in which I manage to get dealt four natural aces five times in a row.” On the logic supporting multiverses, that’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. Will that explanation save me from the beating I’m likely to receive? I think not.

If there are an infinite number of finite universes, then an infinite number of people are winning five hands of poker in a row with four natural aces at some place in some of those universes (actually, at some places in an infinite number of universes). However, the guys who play poker in this universe understand how random events behave, and strings of five four-ace hands being dealt to the same player don’t happen. Wilfull cheating, on the other hand, does happen, and so do beatings by angry, cheated card-players. The point is, you can argue multiverses all you like, but we all live and believe that the best explanation for the occurrence of fantastically improbable events, when they occur, is that somebody with a will chose to make them happen.

I don’t have enough faith to believe, without a single shred of evidence, that ours is one of an infinite number of universes. I find it a great deal more plausible that the design of our universe was consciously and intelligently chosen to produce us. That means that our universe must have been designed by something fantastically intelligent, immensely powerful, and sentient. It’s the explanation that fits the facts.

Next time, the Moral Argument, unless I decide to take a detour into an explanation of DNA as a second source of evidence of design. I’ll let you all know.

(1) Ross, Hugh, PhD, The Creator and the Cosmos, Colorado Springs, CO, NavPress, 1995 revised edition.

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21 Comments »

December 3, 2008 @ 1:02 pm #

I think you are smart enough to know the problems with the Teleological argument. To argue that the Universe is so complex that it was obviously designed by a creator, you have to argue that this complex creator also needs a creator, and so on. It’s absurd to state “This complex universe obviously had a designer, but this designer, who had to be at least as complex and probably more so, does not need one.” By believing in the existence of God, you accept the idea that very complex things do not need to have a creator.

And of course, even if we were to accept this argument, it doesn’t even prove that an all powerful God exists right now. As Voltaire observed, at best it proves that a very powerful being exists, not ALL powerful. And since the argument only requires a being to exist at the time of creation, and doesn’t need to regulate the universe, this being doesn’t have to exist at this moment. He, She or They might have died or otherwise fizzled from existence sometime between now and the creation of the universe.

So basically this argument, even if you are willing to accept that it proves anything, only proves that “A very, but not infinitely, powerful being existed in the distant past.” If any modern culture is willing to call that “God,” I’d like to know about them.

December 3, 2008 @ 3:30 pm #

justfine,

Thanks for the comment, and the challenge.

Your first argument, I reject because I think you equivocate on the meaning of the word “complex.” A watch is complex, in that it requires the careful assembly of cleverly-devised parts that are engineered to fit together into a tiny space and operate as a machine, to move a tiny bit of metal a carefully-measured distance every second, etc., etc. The universe is likewise complex in this fashion: multiple parts carefully engineered to work together for planned outcomes. I see no reason to assert that God is complex in that fashion: no reason why we should assume that he’s cleverly-devised, with separate parts, to produce a pre-determined outcome, etc. In fact, I think God is very, very simple: pure love, pure intelligence, controls all things. I think that to call intelligence or love “complex” in the same manner that a watch is complex, commits a category fallacy. It’s like asking, “How many moving parts does love have?”

Your second observation, I’ll grant in part. You are correct in noting that the Teleological argument does not require infinite power, just immense power. The part about time is wrong because time was created when the universe was created, so whatever created the universe has to have been timeless, ergo eternal.

By granting the plausibility of a limited power (limited in a fashion that extends far beyond anything we would consider limited) but noting that it has to be eternal, we invite the sort of speculation that posits layers of gods: you know, our God is just a junior Godlet being let out to play by his parental gods, who are ancestors of yet another race of gods, etc. The problem with all of that, of course, is that there’s no evidence for it; it’s pure speculation. So the Teleological argument, while not absolutely proof of the one, infinite God, proves enough to make that view of God the best fit to the observed facts of our universe (the only one we can be sure exists), and leaves the plausible alternatives entirely in the realm of speculation. I’m good with that.

December 3, 2008 @ 4:13 pm #

Is there any example in nature of something “simple” creating something more complex? Wouldn’t that violate the law of entropy? It seems to me that every creation is always much more simple that its creator.

Plus, I think that it would be hard to argue that “love” is more simple than a watch. I have always found love very complex, even if it has no moving parts. And if it is complex, someone would have to create this infinite “love,” according to the logic in the teleological argument.

Basically, I think it’s strange to argue that creator of the Universe is “simple.” This is speculation, and outside of the scope of the argument. It’s also strange to argue that complexity that doesn’t have a physical presence is for some reason exempt from the “complex things need a creator” rule. (I know you didn’t argue this part explicitly, I’m just responding to that “no reason to assert that God is complex in that fashion” comment, assuming that you meant its possible that He is complex in a different fashion.)

In regards to time, I suppose it could be argued that it didn’t need to be created because it doesn’t exist, which is partly why physicists fold it into the physical world with “spacetime.” Obviously, an illusion created by limited perception doesn’t even need to be made by anyone. This I think still leaves open the possibility that the being described in the argument doesn’t currently exist.

I actually think you’re right about the speculation, in that the ultimate conclusions are all based on speculation. One can speculate about how powerful the being is, or how many of them there are, but as proof that “An omnipotent being created the universe and currently exists” it falls short.

December 3, 2008 @ 4:42 pm #

Ah, you’re there. Cool.

My argument rested on “design,” which is actually more than “complexity.” Complexity denotes an interaction of separate elements to achieve a single effect; design adds intent, claiming that the single effect was the intended point of the interaction. I say this to clarify what I mean by “designed” and “complex.” Complexity is part of the picture, intent is the other part.

If you keep the specific definition of complex, the problem becomes apparent. I understand that love is “complex” in the sense that it’s difficult to understand, and that it involves imperfect beings with conflicting needs, and such; but love is not “complex” in the sense that it’s a carefully engineered interaction of separate elements intended to achieve a desired goal. What you feel when you meet the love of your life is confusing, yes, but it has nothing in common with how you engineer a car. That’s where the equivocation takes place. You’re using “complex” to mean two very different things. God is difficult for us to comprehend, but he’s not complex in the sense that the universe is complex — separate elements moving together to achieve an intended goal. What are God’s parts? See the problem?

Sorry, I’m not buying onto that; I think the entire question of “who created God” commits a category fallacy.

Regarding the temporary God, you’re on the right track when you invoke space-time, ’cause that’s what I was talking about. But then you fall right back into the error, because “currently” in the phrase “doesn’t currently exist” is a time-bound concept. I’m not saying that time doesn’t exist, I’m saying that time is a created construct — and that whatever created that construct exists outside of it. Whatever created time, by simple definition, exists at the beginning of time, during all time, and at the end of time, simultaneously. Picture a guy making a linear model train track; he has to be there for the whole track to exist. The track is time, the train is us moving through time, the guy is God. It’s not possible for the creator of time to cease to exist while time exists.

Unless, of course, you want to argue that once God created time, He became time-bound. I understand William Lane Craig takes that tack. I haven’t gotten there yet.

December 3, 2008 @ 5:20 pm #

So are you arguing that love and intelligence need no creator? Though I understand the difference from material and immaterial complexity, I think it’s fair to lump them together when you are talking about design. Intelligence is obviously complex, and has the purpose of acquiring and understanding knowledge. Intelligence, therefore, is both complex and has intent, which meets your standard of design, even if it doesn’t exist in the physical world. And if it is designed, then someone must have designed an intelligent God according to this argument.

Again, I see that Intelligence is a different brand of complexity from a watch. But as it pertains to this argument, I think its fair for both brands to complexity to be held to the same standards of design.

I’m really failing to understand to see why it is that something that is complex and has intent doesn’t have to be created because it has no moving parts. I don’t think “Parts” is a prerequisite for design. God can’t claim exemption from questions of design because he can possibly have no physical presence.

The whole time issue is a little dizzying to me, and I really don’t understand it enough to argue it effectively, so I’ll concede the point.

December 3, 2008 @ 11:49 pm #

I hope you (plural) don’t mind a third voice in this discussion.

The evident complex design of the universe begs for explanation. A designer is the best explanation (as opposed to chance or necessity). The explanation needs only to be evaluated as to whether it is reasonable or not. The explanation does not have to itself be explained. Case in point: the SETI program gets a signal from deep space which contains mathematical information which defies random origin. It would be reasonable to attribute it to intelligent design (as opposed to chance or necessity)– even without being able to explain the designer(s). If we had to always explain the explanations nothing would ever be explained. Science itself would collapse.

As for the complexity of the creator: I would argue that that is not the same as design. Love may indeed be complex (or it may not), but it does not follow that it is designed since it has no components or parts which could be otherwise. The creator may be complex (or not), but that does not necessitate that the creator is designed for we know of no components or parts which could be otherwise (or even be evaluated).

Personally, I like William Craig’s wording for the Teleological argument.

Craig’s argument goes:

1) The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance or design.
2) It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
3) Therefore, it is due to design.

All one needs to do is show design as being the superior option over the other two. With little or no reason to get into the “design of the designer” (wording which is dangerously close to Phil’s first premise).

December 5, 2008 @ 1:35 pm #

That’s an interesting construction by Craig, but in my view there is one major problem with it. Namely “fine tuning” in the first premise is a verb, which by itself implies an actor. When you are trying to prove God, you can’t start out assuming that someone is acting upon the universe. It’s been a while since college, but I think that’s called “Begging the question.” It’s like saying “Since the universe was designed, there is a designer.” “Complexity” works better because it doesn’t make this assumption.

December 5, 2008 @ 2:17 pm #

justfinethanks–

Your view of a major problem doesn’t hold. Otherwise the following argument would be begging the question as well. And it does no such thing.

The fine-tuning of the “Balanced Rock” in Utah is due to either physical necessity, chance or design.
It is not due to physical necessity or design.
Therefore it is due to chance.

The “Balanced Rock” in Utah is indeed fine-tuned; it’s a given. That’s what draws the tourists AND the inquiry in the first place. And I will admit there is the implication of a “fine-tuner”/ actor behind it. But the implication and the begging of the question are two different things, especially when the three ‘actors’ are conveniently delineated right there in the argument.

December 5, 2008 @ 2:23 pm #

And don’t get me wrong. I think both Phil’s and Craig’s arguments work. I just thought it would be helpful for you to see the both of them.

December 5, 2008 @ 5:34 pm #

dullhammer, thanks for being the third voice, I had to attend to other things and couldn’t carry on the battle.

justfine, if you don’t mind a trivial correction, the fallacy called “begging the question” is the one that occurs when the arguer answers a challenge that has not been raised, but leaves the actual challenge unanswered. The fallacy that occurs when the premise assumes the conclusion is circularity. What you’re saying is that you think Craig’s argument is circular, not that it begs the question.

And I agree with dullhammer. Craig’s argument does posit fine-tuning as a premise, and you’re free to dispute it on a factual basis if you like, but you’d lose. The apparent fine-tuning of the universe is a fact; the question remains whether it’s the result of the three possibilities Craig raises, namely physical necessity, chance or design. If I were going to dispute Craig’s construction, I’d challenge his minor premise, saying that the plausibility of multiverses means we cannot say for certain that it’s not chance. Of course, I disagree with that, too, but that’s the place where Craig’s argument, and mine, can be attacked.

December 6, 2008 @ 3:08 pm #

The discussion on the historical arguments for a creator is entertaining – I would like to note that very, very few people who believe in a creator cite any of these arguments for the reasoning behind their belief.

I suspect, also, that those who do NOT believe, in general, do not rely mainly on philosophical arguments AGAINST God’s existence for their lack of belief.

A little correction on your picture of Jupiter, Phil: the scars shown on Jupiter’s surface were from the collision with comet shoemaker-levy 9 in 1994, not an asteroid. That was the most amazing collision, and one of the first sets of photos I was able to download on the internet.

For some more interesting material, check out the “F” ring of Saturn, which is a braided ring of material (astrophysicists have not explained it yet), which would dissolve into the other rings, except for the shepherd moons, which use their gravitational pull to hold the ring in place.

December 6, 2008 @ 3:40 pm #

darkhorse,

First off, if you’ve got a link regarding the scars on the surface of Jupiter, I’d love to see it. There are some other folks in addition to me who would benefit from more specific information like that.

Next, if you’ll recall the first post in this series (link appears at the top of this post,) you’ll note that I explained clearly that this material is not the basis of my belief. I explain further that this information can have the effect of bringing skeptical Westerners to the point of at least considering the possibility that there exists such a thing as a God like the Christian God; the guys who have been presenting this information in front of college audiences have noted this effect quite a few times. Finally, of course, there are plenty of aggressive atheists out there, not to mention university professors, who are using scientific information like this to persuade young, impressionable believers to reject their faith, so it’s helpful to those young believers to know there are sound reasons to believe. So there are plenty of good reasons for covering the material and establishing the proof.

C.S. Lewis once pointed out that the main purpose of good philosophy is to counter bad philosophy; that if it were not for bad philosophers, there would really be very little value to this sort of mental gymnastics. I suppose that’s what you’re getting at, in which case, I agree.

December 6, 2008 @ 11:21 pm #

Phil –

You are correct in what I was getting at – but also, if Christianity was taught to children by their parents as the vitally relational thing that it is, the impact of anti-theistic scientists would be a bit more minimal.

By the way, I will give kudos to anyone who has an appreciation for Hugh Ross – very important believing scientist there.

The best collection of photos of the 1994 impact of Shoemaker-Levy and Jupiter that I’ve seen is here:

http://seds.org/archive/sl9/sl9impacts.html

There is everything from infra-red to color to ultra-violet, before and after pictures. A little much to wade through all of them, but well worth it!

I remain elated at your opportunity to deal with the philosophical reasoning behind belief in God.

June 23, 2009 @ 1:00 pm #

[…] that using the Teleological Argument, the anthropic principle establishes that the universe was designed for life, which requires a designer something like a Theistic God (see the post here). […]

August 3, 2009 @ 9:54 am #

[…] that using the Teleological Argument, the anthropic principle establishes that the universe was designed for life, which requires a designer something like a Theistic God (see the post here). […]

August 3, 2009 @ 11:04 am #

[…] that using the Teleological Argument, the anthropic principle establishes that the universe was designed for life, which requires a designer something like a Theistic God (see the post here). […]

August 13, 2009 @ 5:19 pm #

[…] that using the Teleological Argument, the anthropic principle establishes that the universe was designed for life, which requires a designer something like a Theistic God (see the post here). […]

April 15, 2010 @ 8:43 pm #

[…] that using the Teleological Argument, the anthropic principle establishes that the universe was designed for life, which requires a designer something like a Theistic God (see the post here); […]

April 17, 2010 @ 8:24 am #

[…] that using the Teleological Argument, the anthropic principle establishes that the universe was designed for life, which requires a designer something like a Theistic God (see the post here); […]

April 22, 2010 @ 9:29 am #

[…] I discussed the Teleological argument for the existence of God (also called the argument from design) back in December of 2008, I wrote only about the Anthropic […]

July 7, 2014 @ 10:17 pm #

scott tucker

Plumb Bob Blog ยป I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist: Does God Exist, Part II

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