Intelligent Design and the Complexity of God

For the past few months, I have been having an engaging and enjoyable discussion with my good friend, Leighton Taylor, centering on the issue of atheism. Most recently, our discussion has turned toward why it is that Richard Dawkins allows for the possibility of intelligent design, but excludes the possibility that the designer could be God. Dawkins states his position in the following video:

Below, I have included our discussion to this point.

Sam

I would be interested in your response to this video.

I am interested because I see a pattern in atheist thinking. It is as follows: “We don’t believe in God because we see no evidence for his existence.” When presented with potential evidence for God, the response is inevitably, “Any possible evidence for the existence of God must have a naturalistic explanation because no God exists.” This tells me the issue is not really evidence.

You see this kind of reasoning in Dawkin’s statements in the video above. He is saying that genomes are complex (they are vastly complex), and this leads to the possibility that an intelligent designer is behind them. This is a reasonable conclusion. But then he immediately jumps to the conclusion that it can’t be God because God doesn’t exist. Aliens are a more likely explanation. This is the fallacy of exclusion of evidence, and it is a very weak argument.

In the case of inductive reasoning, which is what science is, no possibility should be excluded. Just because we don’t have the ability to detect something with scientific instruments doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Not all truths are discovered in the same way.

Leighton

In Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, his central argument against the existence of any eternal deity is that a god would be “the ultimate Boeing 747,” referring to the creationist/ID argument that the development of complex life through natural processes would be like a tornado blowing through a junkyard and creating a 747.

Dawkins makes the case that the existence of a god would be like a 747 “poofing” into existence for no reason, since there is no apparent reason why a god should have always existed. As I discussed in my post, “Does Complexity Require a Creator?” both theists and atheists believe that either something has always existed, or that something came from nothing. As you stated in your comment on that article, “the simpler thing is always more probable,” so Dawkins believes it improbable that a god has always existed, or that a god simply appeared out of nothing.

Because evolution, mainly driven by natural selection, is the only means we know of for complex beings to arise gradually through natural processes, Dawkins assumes that if there is an intelligent designer, that designer can’t simply have appeared suddenly or always existed–the designer must have arisen through evolutionary processes as well.

You’re right that no possibility should be excluded a priori, but so far the overwhelming majority of the scientific community has found great success pursuing natural explanations and has seen no compelling evidence of a supernatural designer, so if there was a designer of some kind, it was more probably natural than supernatural.

There is no way to disprove that an all-powerful god did something. For example, we could have all been created 10 minutes ago with all our memories in place and with the entire universe having the appearance of being old. This scenario can never be disproved, since if there were a god we would have no way of knowing if he/she were mischievous and deceitful, given to playing “practical jokes” on his/her creation. Or perhaps evolution never happened and a god planted all the evidence of evolution in order to deceive us. Since there is no way to disprove this kind of supernatural intervention, and since there is no evidence of such mischief, we can only assume that evidence reflects reality and continue to pursue naturalistic explanations.

Sam

False Gods
One of the biggest problems I see with atheism in general, and Dawkins in particular, is the tendency to oversimplify. Dawkins finds the idea of a god very “unpleasant,” and he wants to disprove the existence of any deity. So he sets about to sweep away all deities in the same way–in one fell swoop. While this approach may make for easy caricatures and funny jokes about the tooth fairy, the truth is that not all theists have the same conception of God. Ideas about God vary greatly from one religion to another.

Dawkins’ approach is like trying to disprove the existence of all animals. It might be easy to disprove the existence of a winged unicorn, but it would be impossible to disprove the existence of a zebra (unless you ignore the facts). They are both animals, but they are not the same animal, and you cannot treat them in the same way. If he is going to be intellectually honest, Dawkins should not oversimplify and treat all conceptions of God in the same way, either.

There is a reason I am a Christian and not a Hindu. And that is because I believe Hindus are wrong about God. If Dawkins wants to disprove the Hindu conception of the divine, or perhaps the ancient Greek conception of the divine, I will join him because I am not a polytheist. I am a Christian because I believe it is the only religion that is theologically and philosophically consistent and defensible.
So the questions arises, what god (or gods) is Dawkins trying to disprove? He needs to choose, because they can’t all be argued against in the same way.

Material or Immaterial
Second, Dawkins continually makes the mistake of comparing God to a physical being by comparing him to a machine like a 747 and saying God is more “complex.” This is an absurd statement. In what way is God complex? If Dawkins is going to base his entire argument against the existence of God on the fact that God is complex, he must first define what he means by complex.

Does he mean composed of a multitude of physical parts that you can diagram? Does he mean complex in intelligence? Does he mean complex in personality? He must define his terms. I ask again, in what way is God complex? And once the nature of God’s complexity is defined, how does that complexity compare to the mechanical complexity of a 747?

What you will find is that the comparison simply doesn’t apply, at least not to the Christian God. It is a false analogy. In Christian theism, God is not composed of parts like a machine, and Christians have an extensive philosophical tradition behind that belief. You cannot compare a spiritual being to a physical one and say the spiritual one is more complex. As a “natural” comparison, it would be like comparing pure energy to a Ferrari and saying energy is more complex. Energy is a different thing altogether than a machine, and so is God.

This shows me that Dawkins is either completely ignorant of the philosophical underpinnings of the Christian faith, or he is being intentionally dishonest. And that leads me back to my first point: Which God is Dawkins arguing against? If Dawkins wants to disprove the existence of the Christian God, he must deal with the truth claims of Christianity. But as it is now, Dawkins is arguing against a god of his own creation.

What Kind of God
You said:
“There is no way to disprove that an all-powerful god did something. For example, we could have all been created 10 minutes ago with all our memories in place and with the entire universe having the appearance of being old. This scenario can never be disproved, since if there were a god we would have no way of knowing if he/she were mischievous and deceitful, given to playing “practical jokes” on his/her creation. Or perhaps evolution never happened and a god planted all the evidence of evolution in order to deceive us. Since there is no way to disprove this kind of supernatural intervention, and since there is no evidence of such mischief, we can only assume that evidence reflects reality and continue to pursue naturalistic explanations.”

You are excluding the possibility of revelation of any kind, and assuming that, if a deity exists, it would naturally be capricious and cruel. Why would this have to be the case? Why would a deity have to enjoy playing tricks?

Besides this, the world we live in doesn’t reflect such an evil deity. Would such a wicked god really create an orderly, consistent, beautiful universe, the depths of which we have yet to discover? Would such a god create orderly laws of thought which allow us to comprehend the world we live in? Would such a god give us intellects, emotions and freedom of the will? Would such a cruel God provide us with an appreciation for beauty, the capacity for love, the ability to create? I don’t think so.

You are absolutely right, we see no evidence of such mischief. Instead, the world we live in provides evidence of the Christian God, the God who has revealed himself as the essence of love and orderliness and consistency, the God who has not left us in darkness.

Logic and the Logos

At the back of all our thinking is the firm conviction that, if we think at all, we should think properly. That is, we should not think in circles, that our arguments should be structured in an organized and coherent way, and that two plus two never equals five.

All science, mathematics, and philosophy is based on this principle. These fields of knowledge assume an orderliness and predictability, not just of the world we can observe, but to the world we cannot–the world of abstract thought and ideas.  They assume that if one thing is proven true, then it follows that the opposite must be false, and that a syllogism, if properly constructed, carries all the weight and force of a definite law.

For there is a definite and universal character to the laws of logic and of thought. The strictness and regularity of these laws is even more easily testable and provable than the laws of nature, where mere probability is the rule. On the most fundamental and conceptual level, if A equals B, and B equals C, then A always equals C. This is not a matter of chance or probable outcome. This is not even a matter subject to empirical observation. The outcome simply follows with a more immutable certainty and necessity than the rising of the sun.

To those who take pleasure in thinking, this is a sacred truth, and there is nothing more feared than a fallacy. To embrace a fallacy would lead to intellectual impotence and a dissolution of the very fabric of reason. A fallacy is more than a mistake–it is a rebellion against the orderliness and harmony of the cosmos; it is a disregard for the truth and positivity of all things; it is a denial of our thought’s very relation to reality.

Now, the laws of logic, while necessary for all thought, are unusual things. They have a unique character, quite separate from the realm of  ordinary experience. This character can be described in three ways: They are immaterial and abstract–that is, their consistency is reflected in the material world but their existence is not contingent on it. They are also immutable, for what is proved logically true and necessary today cannot be proved logically false tomorrow. And they are universal–They are not simply conventions on which we agree, and there is no one to whom they do not apply.

It is not possible for me to have my own laws of logic by which I can prove with certainty that I am a cow. Nor can you have your own laws of logic where one and two equals twelve. There is an element of submission to the laws of logic–a recognition of a higher authority to which we must bow, not only for convenience but for comprehensibility.

This binding reality the ancients referred to as the Logos, the Logic–the basis of all thought and all argument; the unifying ratio or reason back of all that is. The Logos was divine in origin–for from whence but the Divine could a universal, immaterial constant emanate? Where indeed.

The materialistic atheist is quite insistent on being logical and rational–on not violating these laws of thought. And rightly so. Yet, this submission to an abstract, supra-natural entity is inconsistent with a materialistic philosophy–for it is not possible to intelligibly account for the laws of logic, independent of the material world as they are, when locked in a prison of matter. It is like arguing that oxygen doesn’t exist while using oxygen to breathe. It is, in fact, quite irrational.

No, there is but one fountain of all reality that can account for the rationality, logical consistency, and intelligibility of the universe, for the origin of an immutable, immaterial constant that governs our intellects and gives them life. And this fountain is not a principle, it is a person–the person of whom it was said, In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.