British Christian philosopher William Paley began his argument for God’s existence with a thought experiment. Suppose, he says, that you were walking in open land and tripped over a rock. You would not spend much time asking how the rock came to be there, for you are outdoors and for all you know it may have always been there. And this would not be a ridiculous assumption. But suppose you were walking in the same area and came across a watch on the ground. You would not reach the same conclusion as with the rock. Rather, you would conclude that it was created by a designer because it is clearly made for a purpose—to keep time by the proper functioning of its moving parts. If any of its parts were differently sized or if its mechanisms did not operate in exactly the right way, the watch would not function properly or at all. What is true for the watch is not true for the rock. The rock is part of the open land because that is where rocks are found. A person did not fashion this rock at home and then place it outside where you would stumble upon it. But the watch had to find its inception in the imagination and construction of the watch maker before it could ever end up in this open land. It was designed.
In a similar manner, this universe has marks of intricate and intentional design that point to a cosmic Designer who created it for a purpose. This is true of the universe as a whole but is also evident even down to the cellular level. The fingerprint of the Designer is evident everywhere. This is in accordance with the Apostle’s Creed when it says, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” as well as Genesis 1:1—“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” But how can we detect evidence of design in nature?
Philosopher William Dembski is a proponent of what is known as Intelligent Design—that this universe shows evidence of being designed by an intelligent agent—and has argued strongly in favor of using a “design inference” to determine if some effect was caused by an intelligent being. He notes that this method is used by “forensic scientists, detectives, lawyers…insurance fraud investigators,”(1) and others in various fields when attempting to detect design. If an object or event can be determined to have neither a high probability of occurring nor even an intermediate probability of occurring but is a specified event with a small probability of occurring then design can be inferred.
Dembski has an “explanatory filter” to determine whether an object or event is designed or not. This filter assesses the circumstances to determine if the object or event possesses contingency (that it cannot be explained by natural laws), complexity (the more complex an object or event is the more likely that it came about through the design of an intelligent agent), and specificity (It is shown to have been a specific set of circumstances planned ahead of time that rules out the possibility of them happening by chance. This is not offering an explanation for the specific circumstances after the fact to support a predetermined position, but concluding that the specificity reveals the forethought and intentionality of design). If it possesses all three of these criteria then it can be said to be designed. The design argument and Intelligent Design uses this method of the explanatory filter and design inference and applies them to the area of natural science to discover or deny design.(2)
A great example of this would be Mount Rushmore. The faces of the four United States Presidents which are carved into the rock cannot be said to have happened purely by natural causes. Chance can also be ruled out because although the rock itself and the surrounding nature can be explained by natural causes and chance, the faces in the mountain are too contingent, complex, and specified. Even if someone had never heard of Mount Rushmore or witnessed the construction of it by human agents they could still recognize that it was designed simply by employing Dembski’s explanatory filter.
Evidence of Design
As evidenced by the previous blog post on the fine-tuning of the universe, the initial conditions of the universe coming into existence and what is required for it to be sustained in its existence and be life-permitting points to it being designed by an intelligent agent. When surveying the beauty and intricacy of plants, animals, mountains, and oceans one can also see design. And when one goes all the way down to the cellular level design is utterly undeniable.
Biochemist Michael Behe makes a formidable argument in favor of intelligent design based on what he calls “irreducible complexity.” By this term Behe means that an organism is considered irreducibly complex when all the parts perfectly work together to perform the organism’s basic function and that if any one of the parts were removed then the system would stop working. This type of specified complexity could only be accounted for by design. One of the examples Behe gives of an irreducibly complex “molecular machine” is the bacterial flagellum. This is what some bacteria use to swim and is essentially an outboard motor like one would find on a motorboat. It has many parts that all work together to propel the bacteria forward and enable it to swim. If even one of the parts were missing then the flagellum ceases functioning. It is not that it just works on a smaller scale or causes the bacteria to swim slower; it does not work at all or is never even constructed.(3) It is irreducibly complex and could not have come to be through chance.
Another complex system that supports design because of its contingency, complexity, and specificity is DNA. DNA’s double helix structure and the huge amount of information that it contains within its chemicals indicates design. It is nothing short of a “genetic code” that contains” the language of life.”(4) It is not just like a language constructed by humans but is its own language. However, it was already there and not created by humans. Rather, it shows evidence of being created by a grand Designer. DNA possesses a specified complexity “because the disparate parts communicate messages necessary for the functionality of organisms.”(5) Richard Dawkins, who denies intelligent design, sees DNA as comparable to the engineering behind the design of a computer and its programs. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, says that, “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.”(6) DNA meets the design inference criteria by being contingent, incredibly complex, and specific. Therefore, it is best to conclude that DNA is designed.
“Other examples of irreducible complexity abound in the cell, including aspects of protein transport…electron transport, telomeres, photosynthesis, transcription regulation, and much more.”(7)
Objections to Design
Even though the argument for God’s existence based on the fine-tuning of the universe and the evidence of design are compelling, there are still some who reject this conclusion. There are various rejections offered, but probably the most well known one is the multiverse, or many worlds hypothesis. This is an attempt to explain the fine-tuning and design of our universe without a Designer. This theory posits that our universe is simply one universe among many, possibly even infinite, universes. While it is hard to imagine only one universe that is life-permitting existing apart from a Designer, it is much more possible when there are an infinite number of universes with each universe varying in its physics. “The many worlds hypothesis is essentially an effort on the part of partisans of the chance hypothesis to multiply their probabilistic resources in order to reduce the improbability of the occurrence of fine-tuning.”(8) If universes are constantly being created with different parameters in physics then it would be inevitable that at least one of them be life-permitting. This is the reasoning behind this theory.
There are different views of the multiverse theory. One is the many universes multiverse theory which asserts that the universes are unique and completely separated from one another, and that there are no commonalities among them when it comes to physics. Since there are actually an infinite number of universes it is necessary that a life permitting universe such as ours happen at least once. Another view is the multidomain universe. Our universe is apart of this multidomain universe where all of the universes are connected on a very deep level that is not yet known to scientists. In this interconnection each domain is segregated from the others. The inflationary theory is currently the most popular view of the multiverse theory which says that an endless progression of universes began at the big bang and each one succeeds the others.(9)
The many universes multiverse theory is purely speculation that has no evidence supporting it. Just because something could happen does not mean that it actually does happen in some universe. It is a theory that is put in place not because of the logic behind the argument or the evidence available but purely to avoid the possibility of a Designer. The multidomain universe theory is more plausible than the many universes multiverse theory but still lacks the evidence to support it and only makes sense when a Designer is automatically ruled out and naturalism (the belief that nature is all that exists) viewed as true a priori. If the multiverse theory postulates an actual infinite number of universes then it runs into the problem of the existence of an actual infinite happening in nature, which doesn’t actually occur in reality but is purely a concept within the mind.(10) From what scientific data and observations confirm it makes more sense to adopt the view that a grand Designer designed our universe rather than adopt the multiverse theory. “Everything else being equal, we should prefer hypotheses for which we have independent evidence or that are natural extrapolations from what we already know.”(11)
Another popular objection that is presented when God is introduced as the reason for the existence of the universe is the God of the gaps objection. This asserts that positing God as the explanation for the universe is substituting a supernatural explanation where a natural explanation is sufficient. Essentially, we do not know the scientific explanation for the origin of the universe, its fine-tuning, or its design, so we place God as the explanation in that knowledge gap. But this is only a fallacy when an ordinary explanation is indeed sufficient and an extraordinary explanation completely unwarranted. An ordinary explanation is not always justified because that is giving special privilege to naturalism, which automatically rules out the possibility of God and has many problems on its own. “Whether an extraordinary explanation is appropriate depends on the event that needs to be explained and the circumstances surrounding the event.”(12) Based on Dembski’s explanatory filter design can be inferred from the fine-tuning of the cosmos and God can be posited as the Designer because naturalistic explanations are unsatisfying.
The Universe Appears Designed Because It Is
The alternative theories offered to avoid design are speculative and based on the promise that the supporting evidence will be discovered one day. This is because many scientists have already decided that naturalism is true and God nonexistent. Their minds cannot be changed so they interpret the evidence for fine-tuning and design in the universe to support their predetermined position, or they offer hypothetical theories that don’t have supporting evidence.
This is why atheist Richard Dawkins, when responding to William Paley’s watchmaker design argument, can say that he is absolutely wrong on all accounts. Not because the world doesn’t appear to be designed (which would suggest a Designer) but because we already know there is no designer and that nature is all there is. And for Dawkins nature is incredible to offer us a world that looks designed but is not. He calls nature the Blind Watchmaker because there is no foresight, forethought, or plan. And the results nature has given us “Overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker, impress us with the illusion of design and planning.”(13) But rather than taking the evidence for design and looking to the Designer of all things, he chooses to stand amazed that the impersonal, unconscious, automatic processes of nature and natural selection has done a pretty good job at almost tricking us into thinking the universe was designed when it was not. But there is no trick to try and avoid. The universe appears designed because it is.
Romans 1:18-20: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
-By Kevin Tapscott
1. William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 22.
2. Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 244.
3. Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box: the Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Free Press, 1996), 70-73.
4. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 313.
5. Ibid., 314.
6. Bill Gates, The Road Ahead, rev. ed. (New York:Viking, 1996), 228, quoted in Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 316.
7. Michael J. Behe, “Evidence for Intelligent Design from Biochemistry,” in Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources, eds. Kahldoun A. Sweis and Chad V. Meister (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 103.
8. J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.:InterVarsity Press, 2003), 487.
9. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 259.
10. Ibid., 259-60.
11. Robin Collins, “A Recent Fine-Tuning Design Argument,” in Christian Apologetics: an Anthology of Primary Sources, eds. Kahldoun A. Sweis and Chad V. Meister (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 113.
12. William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: the Bridge between Science and Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 241.
13. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London: Penguin Books, 2006), 21.