Chapter 4: Order and Design
Does the universe come with a "designer label" which reads: "God"?
Those who believe that the universe was created by a conscious being will look at the complexity of nature and declare that it shows signs of intelligent design. But, does it?
The "watchmaker" analogy is a favorite of theologians. They say that finding a watch on the ground we would conclude that it had a maker, so we should also conclude that the ground had a maker. It is true that if we find a watch on the ground we conclude that the watch had an intelligent maker. But note this: the watch seems out of place on the ground -- we conclude that it had a maker in contrast to the ground upon which it lies.
The analogy actually points out the opposite of what the theologians attempt to demonstrate. We immediately recognize a fundamental difference between the watch and the ground. Since they are so different, the fact that the one had a maker does not mean that the other also had a maker.
"Look how different these two things are! So, what is true of one must be true of the other!" This is the gist of their ridiculous argument.
But the analogy does point out something useful: our human propensity towards anthropomorphism. Because humans make things, we tend to think of existing things as having been made by someone. Since humans did not make the universe, it is tempting to conclude that some super-human-like being made it. But this type of thinking fails for the same reason the "first cause" argument fails: if everything has a maker, then who made God? And who made God's maker? And who made the maker of God's maker, and so on...
Once again, using "God" to solve the riddle of the universe merely moves the questions back from the universe to God, and raises many more questions.
"But," a believer will ask me, "how do you explain the amazing complexity of the universe? Can't you see how everything was purposely created to support human life on earth? If the earth were a little closer to the sun or a little further away from the sun, the planet would be too cold or too hot to sustain human life. If the mix of oxygen and nitrogen in earth's atmosphere were slightly different, we couldn't breathe. If the complex organs in our body didn't work together in a marvelous way, we would die. If the interconnected ecology of nature were tampered with, the planet would eventually cease to support human life. Surely, you can see how only an intelligent designer could bring all of this about."
The above statement is the height of egocentrism. The world was not created for the benefit of humans. Humans are the result of millions of years of evolving to adapt to the conditions existing in the world. If the earth were a little closer to or further from the sun, then forms of life adapted to those conditions would've evolved instead of us.
Let's look at it from a different perspective: that of a cancer cell. From the perspective of a cancer cell, the typical human body must appear to have been created specifically for its benefit. It is the perfect host! It is an environment without effectual natural enemies, allowing cancer cells to reproduce at an astounding rate.
Wood ticks (which carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and tularemia), deer ticks (which carry Lyme disease), and mosquitoes (which carry malaria, yellow fever, and encephalitis) would share the same opinion of the human body (if they were capable of holding opinions.) How marvelous that the human body was designed with its blood so easily accessible near the surface! How amazing that human blood carries just the right nutrients (for feeding in the case of ticks, and for enabling egg production in the case of mosquitoes.)
Of course, if we were created for the benefit of cancer cells, or ticks or mosquitoes, then the world was not created for our benefit, but the other way around!
But all of this is nonsense. It would be like looking at a radio and concluding that radio waves must've been created specifically to cause the radio's speaker to vibrate in imitation of the original sounds. The truth, of course, is the other way around: radios "evolved" (in the sense that they were "perfected" over time through trial and error) in order to make use of the properties of radio waves. Radio waves were in existence long before humans discovered and made use of them, and long long before radios were invented. So too, the earth was around long before humans evolved within its environment. The earth was not created for our benefit; we just evolved in such a way as to take advantage of what was there (because "what was there" influenced how we evolved.)
Nothing in nature was specifically designed for the benefit of anything else. Everything is the result of millions of years of evolution. We think the sun is at just the right distance from the earth simply because life evolved on the earth at just this distance from the sun. The sun was not placed at this distance for our particular benefit.
"But how could such complexity come about through sheer chance?" A theologian might ask. The answer is: it didn't.
If sheer chance were involved, the chances of life emerging would be extremely small. But, we know that there are fundamental properties of matter which cause matter to behave in certain ways, and thus give a certain preference to one interaction over another.
There are the four fundamental interactions in the universe: gravity, the weak nuclear force, the strong nuclear force, and the electromagnetic force. These forces not only account for every interaction in the universe, they also eliminate the possibility of absolute randomness occurring in the universe.
We know that two large bodies of matter within a certain distance will experience a gravitational pull towards one another. We know that, barring other forces, they will move towards each other rather than away from each other. So too, the nuclear forces act on the sub atomic level in certain predictable ways, while the electromagnetic force affects us on a more human scale.
So, when we talk about "chance" we do well to remember that this does not mean the absolute randomness of total chaos. I know that if I should trip on my daily walk to work, there is no chance that I will fall upwards and land on the moon. When my brain sends signals to my fingers to type these words, I know there is no chance that these signals will cause a volcano to erupt somewhere. How do I know these things? Because of the fundamental interactions of the gravitational and electromagnetic forces: they keep "chance" from meaning random chaos.
Theologians love to make the analogy of 100 monkeys plunking away at their typewriters and eventually churning out the Complete Works of William Shakespeare merely by chance. They tell us this is as likely to occur as life was to evolve after the Big Bang.
But the flaw in the analogy is that it confuses "chance" with total randomness. We have already seen that the universe is not like that. There are fundamental interactions which give preference to certain results. When this fact is introduced into the mix it makes a great deal of difference. Computer programs have been written which randomly generate letters, but then another part of the program gives preference to the letters which match the bard's works (discarding those which do not match). Within a very short time (depending on the speed of the computer) the Complete Works of William Shakespeare will have been generated.
Of course, the computer program "knew" where it was heading: it knew what the ultimate goal was, and thus just had to wait till the next matching letter was randomly generated. Evolution, in contrast, didn't know exactly where it was heading. It didn't know that humans were the ultimate goal (nor do we know that; we could be one more failed experiment like the dinosaurs: only here till something better evolves). So, how did we come about?
If you shoot an arrow up into the air, you don't know exactly where it will come down. When it does come down you can factually state that the odds against it landing in that particular spot were enormous. But: it had to land somewhere!
The odds against winning my state's lottery are huge enough to keep me from ever throwing my money away on a ticket. But, someone has to win. When they do, the odds against their winning will have been just as high as mine (had I purchased a ticket).
The odds against all the particular events of your own life, which have happened to you from your birth to this day -- and which have led you to who you are and where you are today -- are virtually infinite. But that doesn't make your life an impossibility or even unlikely.
In each of these cases the odds of one particular outcome are enormous: but the odds that there will be some outcome are certain.
So too the odds against human life evolving are huge. But, given the fundamental interactions inherent in matter, the odds that something would eventually evolve are good. That the end result of millions of years of evolution would be finely attuned to the environment in which it evolved is not surprising: we would be surprised if it had been any other way.
There is order in the universe, but there is no design. Order happens due to the inherent nature of matter. Chaos theory shows us how order naturally evolves out of "chaos": it doesn't require divine intervention.
The idea of evolution fits the facts and has abundant evidence to back it up. In sharp contrast to this, the notion of intelligent design contradicts the evidence we find in nature.
If a super-intelligent being designed the universe we wouldn't find useless items such as nipples on male mammals, or bovine teeth which never break through the gums. We wouldn't find evidence of design failures such as the dinosaurs which didn't manage to survive the changing conditions on earth.
Finally, if a super-intelligent being designed the universe, we wouldn't be able to design a better universe. We are able. Therefore, a super-intelligent being did not design the universe.
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