Arguments for God's Existence from Design

Posted August 14, 2017 by Amy Wang.

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According to one story, the famous scientist Isaac Newton devised a plan to convince his close friend to believe in God. Newton placed an intricate model of the solar system in his home. His friend saw it and inquired about its maker, to which Newton replied, there was no maker, i.e., it just randomly appeared! Seeing that his friend was not convinced, Newton then pointed out, if the model solar system must be designed and created, how much more should we think the same of the actual solar system? Could it really just be a result of atoms randomly striking one another? This atheist friend then became a theist, too. (Li Cheng, Song of a Wanderer,3-4).

Traditional Design Argument: A Watch is to a Watchmaker as a Universe is to a Universe Maker

Various attributes of the universe and biological life, including precision, complexity, purpose, and information, all strongly point to a creator and designer. In the traditional design argument, Christian philosopher William Paley makes an analogy between a watch and the universe. If you saw a watch lying on the ground, would you think it just randomly came together by chance? Paley reasons, just as a watch has attributes that suggest it has a maker, the universe has similar attributes that suggest it has a corresponding maker. Do you really think that the springs and gears of the watch could just randomly come together in a way that could tell the precise time? The universe, too, contains evidence of precision. Scientists marvel at the fine-tuning of cosmic constants and of all the details that had to be "just right" for life to be possible. By analogy, we would also reasonably believe someone designed the universe (Doug Powell, Holman QuicksourceTM Guide to Christian Apologetics", 50-51).

Evidence of Design in the Universe

Concrete examples that strongly suggest design of the universe include the following:

Fine Tuning of Cosmic Constants: Over 100 parameters must have values within narrowly defined ranges for life as we know it to exist. The probabilities for a planet to satisfy 122 of these narrowly defined ranges was estimated to be 1 in 10^138 (Geisler and Turek, I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, 106). That probability is less than the probability of picking out one atom of the entire universe (the estimated number of atoms in the universe is around 10^80)!

Atheist Dr. Paul Davies marvelled that the universe is balanced on a "knife-edge" and admitted it gives one the impression of design (Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos,156-157). Atheist Stephen Hawking also remarked that the laws seem to have been "very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life" (See A Brief History of Time or A Briefer History of Time).

Goldilocks Universe: Does the universe have a purpose-- to support life? There are many factors that are "just right" for life, causing some to call our universe a "goldilocks" universe (Holman QuickSourceTM Guide to Understanding Creation). Hugh Ross has a long list of factors that all have to be in perfect balance for life as we know it to exist (Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos).

Privileged Planet: The fact that our planet is just right for the scientific observation and discovery which enables us to even find evidence of the Big Bang is itself interesting evidence for intelligent design, according to The Privileged Planet (Richards, Jay W., Passionate Conviction, chapter 5). It does not just meet the needs for life, but also the needs for discovery. It's as if the Creator was hoping to be discovered.

Evidence of Design in Life

Like the universe, biological life is also complex and has purpose in a way that suggests a designer. The probability of forming a single functional protein alone is tiny, even after we factor in billions of years. Consider a sample calculation of its improbability. How much more complicated, then, is a single reproducing cell which contains many proteins. Christian apologists like Lee Strobel and Paul Little ask the following challenging questions: How do we get from nothing to everything, from nonlife to life, from invertebrates to vertebrates, from amphibians to reptiles to birds to mammals, from randomness to fine-tuning, from chaos to information, from unconsciousness to consciousness, and from non-reason to reason (Little, Know Why You Believe 1999,116; Strobel, The Case for a Creator 2004, 277)?

In New Reasons to Doubt Darwinism, we will look at some of the difficult problems for evolution including the fossil evidence, "irreducible complexity," chicken and egg dilemmas, the information and programming language of DNA, the problem of forming the first living reproducible cell, and probabilistic challenges. Evolution has not been able to adequately respond to these challenges, which appear even more insurmountable than before.

Even nonreligious scientists admit that we see in nature things that look as if they were designed, but they choose a priori to seek only natural causes, not supernatural causes, because they are not willing to allow a "Divine Foot in the door" (Geisler and Turek, 123, citing Richard Lewontin).

How to Answer Arguments Against Design

Philosophers and scientists, however, disagree on how appropriate the analogy is between the watch and the universe. In particular, they focus on biological life and the question of whether it might just be the result of random processes. Many consider Darwinian evolution to have refuted Paley's argument. Their arguments against design can be summarized as follows:

  • First, the analogy between watches and biological life is not so appropriate because there is one major difference with biological life: reproduction. Reproduction allows for the possibility that random changes over a long period of time could by chance lead to beneficial changes and improved survivability. These beneficial changes, chosen by natural selection, can then survive through reproduction. In other words, according to Dawkins, evolution is the "blind watchmaker."
  • Second, philosophers ask, if the universe requires a designer, does the designer also demand a designer? (Dawkins)
  • Third, multiple people could have made the watch together, so could multiple gods have created the universe together?
  • Fourth, if the watch has a defect, does it mean the maker is also flawed? (Hume) If the universe has evil, could it imply a flawed maker?
  • Fifth, the watchmaker may no longer be alive. Does that mean the universe's designer might have died?

(Ben Dupre, 50 philosophy ideas you really need to know, 152-155)

Counterarguments to Defend Design

Only the first two arguments are of serious interest here. Although the other arguments against design are interesting, they do not argue against intelligent design per se. They merely disagree on the attributes of the designer-- whether the designer(s) be single or multiple, perfect or flawed, and so on. They may influence our thinking about what kind of person(s) designed the universe, but not that someone did indeed design it.

  • As we will demonstrate in New Reasons to Doubt Darwinism, evolutionary theory is poorly equipped to account for phenomena like irreducible complexity and programming-like complexity that are found in life. Furthermore, even if the analogy of watches to biological life is inappropriate, we can still make an analogy of watches to the universe, because the universe does not reproduce. To get around the uniqueness of our universe, philosophers speculate on infinite parallel universes, but this is purely speculation. See below for further details on the Anthropic Principle and parallel universes.
  • Regarding the question of whether the universe designer himself requires a designer, William Lane Craig argues that this assumes the Designer is just as complex as the universe, whereas the Designer may be a simple unembodied mind capable of complex ideas (Craig, Reasonable Faith 3rd Ed., 171-172).
  • The argument of multiple people creating the watch is irrelevant to design, but it is interesting to note Christianity's trinity is also like a committee of sorts.
  • The argument of whether the designer has a flaw if the creation has a flaw is also somewhat irrelevant. The account in Genesis indicates that the creation was initially good until creatures exercised their free will in defiance of God's commands.
  • Whether the universe designer is still alive or not is also irrelevant to the existence of a designer. However, Jesus did in fact die and then later rose again.

Doubting Darwinism

With the discovery of the evolution idea, the invoking of a God to explain complexity was now considered a sign of ignorance. Philosophers use the term"God of the Gaps" to suggests that people invoke God when they have gaps in their knowledge— gaps that scientific knowledge should supposedly fill.

God cannot be squeezed out of the gaps

Unfortunately, Darwinian evolution proved to have its own flaws, as hinted above and detailed in New Reasons to Doubt Darwinism. Indeed, as scientific knowledge progresses, the gaps that science was supposed to fill have become more and more insurmountable. Darwin could not have known the complexity of biochemical processes which now make evolution appear more and more improbable, even given all the time in the world. Michael Behe explains how Darwin's simple anatomical analysis of the eye made it easier to imagine evolution than the actual evidence from complex modern biochemical analyses would allow. Perhaps, in that sense, it is actually ignorance which allowed evolution to gain the widespread acceptance that it did.

Answering the Anthropic Principle

Philosophers have also invoked the Anthropic Principle to challenge the idea of creation. The Anthropic Principle was created to explain the fact that if the universe were not fine-tuned, we simply would not exist to observe it. In other words, we should not be surprised to find that the universe is suited for life, because our life demands that it is. If we really think about it, this is not really a satisfactory answer. It is like saying that we should not be surprised that we won the lottery, against all odds, because the fact that we won demands it.

Parallel Universes

To get around the uniqueness of our world, some scientists have speculated that there are multiple universes. If every possible universe exists, then there is no longer a probability issue—we just happen to be in one of the unique universes where we actually have consciousness of our uniqueness. We may need quite a lot of universes to exist to overcome the probabilistic odds of happening by chance. However, where can we find any concrete evidence that every possible universe exists? Can we use this argument of multiple universes to explain every unlikely event, like a particular person winning the lottery, because there is one possible universe in which that occurs? Such a theory offers to explain too much (Geisler and Turek, 107-108). Being unverifiable, it is perhaps no better than a religious theory.

Continue to New Reasons to Doubt Darwinism.

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