God Questions - a dialogue

Besides arguing that God is evidenced by the fact of Objective Moral Values, Peter argues that God is evidenced in two inter-related ways by: 1) the Cosmological Argument – which argues that the cosmos must have a cause, which he identifies with God, and 2) the Design Argument, which argues that the universe shows clear evidence of Design, including evidence that the Universe is “fine tuned” for intelligent life. These arguments do not posit a specifically Christian God of Biblical revelation, but Peter argues that they contribute to the case for theism. Carl counters that neither of these arguments, singly or in combination, makes a compelling case for God.

[PW] Every physical object we know exists contingently – that is, it is caused by something outside of itself. That cause, in turn, exists because of some other cause or causes. But this chain of causes and effects can not be infinite. A boxcar in a train, to be in motion, is pulled by the car in front of it; but there must be a locomotive, which is not moved by anything else, to give the whole train motion. So, all contingent things need something not itself caused to account for their existence. That first cause is a necessary, uncaused thing, and without it nothing else could exist. Since this first cause is ultimately the cause of everything else, it is appropriately called God.

[CS] Peter, I think there is a flaw in this reasoning. It would seem to be true that every physical object we know is caused by something else – is in a long chain of causes and effects – but it doesn’t necessarily follow that there is a first cause, and that that is God. I think a more probable conclusion is that the universe, the sum of all that is, simply exists without cause – because there is nothing beyond everything to cause anything. In saying this, I am not conceptualizing the universe as a thing. Rather, it is everything. Nor is it a cause. The universe is not the cause of Ford motorcars or earthquakes. Rather, it is the framework; its existence is the necessary precondition of every cause and effect relationship within it. I, along with many other non-theists, think that the universe itself is not caused to exist but simply exists, probably eternally, as an undeniable fact.

[PW] But the physical universe is made up of lots of things that need to be caused by other things if they are to exist. As such, it cannot cause or explain itself. We agree that something exists without cause. Our disagreement arises when we try to identify this uncaused thing. I argue that it is something beyond the universe that causes the universe, while you argue that it just is the universe. Let’s make things clearer by calling ‘the sum of caused things’ the Cosmos. Atheists hold that the Cosmos is the Universe. Theists, on the other hand, think that the Cosmos is not the Universe, because they believe in the existence of a single uncaused thing (God) that causes everything else (the Cosmos) to exist. The sum of things that are caused (the Cosmos) cannot be uncaused. For example, a brick is a caused object; a brick wall, no matter how huge, is also a caused object. It is true that a whole can have different properties than its parts (water is wet but a single water molecule isn’t), but wet water is still dependent upon the conglomeration of water molecules, which are caused. A conglomeration of caused things cannot exist unless there is something outside all the caused things to give them existence. When the conglomeration in question is ‘the sum of all caused things’ (the Cosmos) then that cause must be an uncaused thing outside of the sum of caused things.

[CS] Peter, re-defining terms doesn’t make anything clearer. Your re-definition to differentiate between the Universe and the Cosmos simply assumes that all the energy / matter that exists is caused. But that’s the very point at issue. I deny your assumption. Your hypothesis that the universe consists of two things, the sum of all that is caused (the Cosmos) and the causer, which is uncaused, seems unnecessary unless it can be conclusively demonstrated that the totality of energy / matter must itself be caused.

Your brick / wall analogy is unconvincing. It is obvious to all that both a single brick and a brick wall are caused things; it is not at all obvious that the matter / energy of the entire universe is a caused thing. That water is wet, while a single water molecule is not, means, I admit, that water molecule must first exist before there can be water. But it does not follow that the universe, which ultimately produced water molecules and water, could not simply exist without being caused. This also raises the question – what was the universe made out of? The only possible answer for the theist is that it was made out of nothing (ex nihilo), and this contradicts our sense of reality. A brick wall can’t be made without bricks. And bricks can’t be made without clay. How can an entire universe (or Cosmos, if you prefer) be made out of nothing?

If I’m not mistaken, there’s another problem with your analysis. You write that theists "believe in the existence of a single uncaused thing (God) that causes everything else." But you have also stated [Problem of Evil, p. 14] that believers in libertarian freedom hold that "People are agents and, as such, are first causes or unmoved movers who have the power to act as the ultimate originators of their actions." This is argued to remove God from responsibility for moral evil, but contradicts the contention that God causes everything else. If libertarian freedom exists there is not "a single uncaused thing that causes everything else" but some 6 billion + 1 first causes. You can’t advance both the First Cause and libertarian freedom arguments without contradicting yourself. Of course the 6 billion or so first causes are not, like God, themselves uncaused; but libertarian freedom claims that their actions, like God’s, are uncaused. To illustrate: Cain decides to kill Abel. His decision to do so, according to libertarian free will, is uncaused by anything outside of himself. But God causes everything. Perhaps you can relieve my confusion; I find myself in a complete muddle here.

[PW] The cosmological argument in no way contradicts belief in libertarian free will. The question of whether or not, given my contingent existence, I have the capacity to act as ‘an unmoved mover’ is totally beside the point. It is perfectly coherent to affirm that God causes the existence of creatures capable of being the ultimate cause of their own actions. My existence (with or without free will) obviously depends upon the existence of other things; but since it is impossible for all things to be dependent, because there isn’t anything outside of everything to depend upon, there must exist a thing that is not dependent and upon which all dependent things therefore ultimately depend for their existence. The force of this deductive argument negates any concerns one might have about creation ex nihilo (creation not out of pre-existing stuff) by demonstrating that no other account of existence is possible. The Cosmos is like a brick wall because each of its parts being a caused thing necessarily means that the Cosmos as a whole is a caused thing, and thus that the Cosmos is not the Universe. You don’t consider my observation that the property of being an uncaused thing could not be an emergent property caused by the existence of things that can’t exist unless they are first caused to exist. Nor have you engaged with the argument that since no conglomeration of caused things can exist unless at least one of its members is caused to exist by something outside of the conglomeration, and since the Cosmos is ‘the sum of all caused things’, then the Cosmos must be caused by an uncaused thing.

The Cosmological Design Argument

[PW] Science reveals a cosmos that works according to simple, mathematically elegant rules. Why should nature work in such an elegant way? Either we seek an explanation of this state of affairs or we don’t. Not to do so would be to shrug our shoulders and accept nature’s economy and elegance as a brute fact even though these things appear to be contingent. The existence of scientific laws is inexplicable unless we move beyond science into the realm of metaphysics, postulating a God who intends those laws for a reason. The elegant mathematical equations that describe the normal working of nature do just and only that; they describe. A law of physics never has caused, and never can cause, anything whatsoever.

[CS] I agree with you that: "The existence of scientific laws in inexplicable unless we move beyond science ... postulating a God who intends those laws." But this leaves us with a God whose existence is equally inexplicable. This is not an improvement, but a needless complication. I can’t see this to be a valid argument for the existence of God. If, in fact, nature’s laws are simply brute facts, any attempt to find an explanation in metaphysics will be doomed to failure. Lead is a dense element is a brute fact which doesn’t, in my mind at least, necessitate the existence of a God who intends it to be such. You are free, of course, to postulate God as the cause, but that is a far different thing than showing the necessity for God. Another illustration: 2 + 2 = 4. Can we agree that this is a brute fact? 2 whatevers + 2 whatevers = 4 whatevers. Even God can’t change this! So there are brute facts, whether or not there is a God. The existence of God is neither proven nor evidenced by the existence of the brute facts of nature. I take the universe itself to be such a brute fact. I see no reason not to.

[PW] Science cannot explain why there is any matter, or why the universe ultimately takes the form it does, let alone why there is a universe in the first place. To hold as you do that “'Lead is a dense element' is a brute fact” and to place this supposed brute fact on a par with '2+2=4' is to confuse the categories of contingent and necessary existence. The existence of lead is a contingent fact; one can quite coherently imagine a universe without lead! However, 2+2 equaling 4 is a necessary fact, one that is true in every ‘possible world’. You have given no reason sufficient to justify the strong metaphysical claim that all natural facts are necessary facts on a par with 2+2 equaling 4. I seriously doubt such a reason can be given. (I would say that necessary facts like 2+2=4 are, like objective value, grounded in the existence of God; neither fact is created by God, but neither fact has an existence independent of God.)

God is the ultimate “brute fact”, for God’s necessary existence places Him beyond the possibility of further explanation. If one says 'I see that God’s existence is necessary; but why is there such a thing as necessary existence?' there is no available explanation besides 'there just is'. The same thing could be said of 2+2=4, but not of the existence of lead. Both the existence and nature of lead requires explanation, and God clearly provides an adequate explanation.

Your objection that this explanation leaves God unexplained and is hence redundant faces two insuperable problems. First, it would count against all scientific explanation. For example, atomic theory may explain certain physical phenomena, but it doesn’t explain atoms! Does this mean that scientists lacked justification for positing the existence of atoms? No! The atomic hypothesis was justified by being the simplest adequate explanation of the relevant contingent facts. Likewise, God is the simplest adequate ultimate explanation of the existence and nature of atoms, be they atoms of lead or otherwise. Secondly, it makes no more sense to demand an explanation for God's existence beyond grasping that it is necessary, than it does to ask why 2 + 2 =4.

[CS] In the first place, I don’t think God, as defined by theists, exists, so I can hardly think him to be a necessary fact. We differ on what we think requires no explanation. I see it as the universe itself, with the laws of nature contingent upon its existence; you see it as God. I think the universe is the ultimate brute fact, the thing that just is. Everyone agrees the universe exists; the burden of proof rests with theists to prove that God exists anywhere but in the human mind.

[PW] You assert that: “If, in fact, nature’s laws are simply brute facts, any attempt to find an explanation in metaphysics will be doomed to failure.” However, I don’t see any argument for the claim that the laws of nature actually are “brute facts”, and you admit that I am: “free ... to postulate ... an agent” to explain the laws of nature, so the doom that you assume awaits metaphysical explanations for natural laws presumably can’t be one of logical impossibility or meaninglessness. But this amounts to an implicit acceptance that the laws of nature are contingent. While a necessary fact (such as God, if He exists) cannot be explained, God can be postulated to explain the existence and nature of contingent facts like the existence of lead. Unlike God, the laws of nature are not beyond the possibility of further explanation. Once the distinction between contingent and necessary facts is recognized, the question becomes whether lead is or can be a “brute fact” in the sense of being ‘a contingent fact without explanation’. As I have argued, the existence of contingent facts requires explanation in terms of at least one distinct necessary fact. Indeed, the assertion that there could be a contingent fact without an explanation, without a cause that accounts for its existence (contingent or otherwise), is a contradiction in terms. Now, if the existence of contingent facts can and must be explained with reference to a necessary fact, why not explain the nature of contingent facts with reference to the same source?

[CS] Let me be explicit: I don’t see the laws of nature as contingent, except that nothing could exist if the universe did not exist. It seems to me that lead, whether or not it is contingent, is also a brute fact. I assume science can explain how lead came to be formed in the universe; science isn’t interested in explaining why.

[PW] Lead is either a contingent fact or a necessary fact. Unlike 2+2=4 (a necessary fact), the existence of lead is surely a contingent fact. It is impossible for 2 + 2 not to equal 4, but it is clearly possible for lead not to exist. The cosmological argument takes as its starting point the existence of contingent facts (like lead), while the design argument takes as its starting point the nature of contingent facts. You apparently deny that the existence of nature (the Cosmos) is contingent, and you therefore deny that the nature of nature is contingent. To apply this conclusion to the laws of nature is to make the counter-intuitive claim that ours is the only logically possible universe. It certainly seems that we can coherently imagine alternative ‘possible universes’; cosmologists do it every day. On the other hand, if you don’t apply this conclusion to the laws of nature, then you leave unexplained a state of affairs that calls out for an explanation and which admits a theistic explanation. Your “brute fact” hypothesis is therefore either counter-intuitive or falls short of explaining the facts. God explains not only why contingent facts exist, but why these particular contingent facts exist; roughly speaking, because they are the result of God’s choice to create a universe with such and such a character (described by the laws of nature discovered by scientists), and this choice is explained with reference to God’s purposes in creating.

[CS] Well, here I guess we just differ. I am content to limit my thought to this universe. One is sufficient. You might feel some need to explain why lead exists; I’ve never given it much thought and I doubt I ever will. Life is too short. Interestingly, whatever the question, you seem to have the same answer. Why is there lead? God wills it. Why are there Ford Motor Cars? God wills it. This you call an adequate explanation. The only exception is a question such as why did Cain kill Abel. Than your answer is that Cain willed it. As for why this universe exists, I think it just does. And I still don’t see any reason to think otherwise.

The Analogical Design Argument

[PW] William Paley famously argued that even if we had never seen a watch before, an inspection would lead us to conclude that it was designed and made for a purpose. Observing the universe we see an analogously intricate interplay of parts and contingent, complex physical laws arranged together and achieving a collective end. The watch had a designer, so it is reasonable to think that the world had a designer.

[CS] 'Observe the Universe' you say? Would that we could. The universe is so incredibly vast, so unfathomably complex in both its micro and macro dimensions that we are just beginning to grasp all that we don’t know about it. The idea that a rational, personal God created the universe seems implausible to me, because it suggests that the universe is a thing, like a cake or a car, and that God is like a person. But the universe is so unlike a cake, the making of it, if it was made, so unlike mixing and baking or any conceivable human activity, that the 'Maker', if any, could not be assumed to be anything like a human being.

[PW] Assuming this designer to be like a human being is exactly the conclusion warranted by the analogy. Such design as the cosmos exhibits requires something more akin to human intelligence than to unthinking instinct or reflex; the designer must be capable of intelligent intentional agency, and therefore be more like a human than a cabbage. Since we are intelligent, rational and personal beings, it would seem reasonable to suppose that the designer is also rational and personal. To do otherwise would be to believe that the greater came from the lesser. If the designer is rational and personal, it must know things. An independent, powerful, eternal, rational, personal, knowing being can appropriately be called ‘God’.

As for the cake analogy, cakes are made by following recipes. The existence of a recipe indicates the existence of a baker. Likewise, cosmologists today are searching for the fundamental ‘recipe’ that lies behind the cosmos. The cosmos has a fine recipe, containing exactly the right ingredients in exactly the right proportions and a recipe implies a ‘baker’. Who but God could be that baker?

You criticize me for speaking of the universe as “a thing, like a cake or a car”. However, I can talk about the universe as a whole. To deny this you would have to assert of the universe as a whole that no assertions can be made of it, which is plainly self-defeating.

[CS] My point wasn’t that no assertions can be made about the universe as a whole. Obviously, many can be, e.g. ‘From a human perspective, the universe is very very big.’ And from a human perspective, it’s not difficult to discern the purpose of an angel food cake, or a watch. Even I can do this. But what you are claiming is clear and certain knowledge about the fact that the universe was designed like a cake, and that it has a purpose which you understand. You have to admit this is an altogether more difficult endeavour.

[PW] To discern that a thing is the product of design is not necessarily to discern what its purpose is, although the two concepts are obviously closely related. All the design argument requires is that the universe is analogous enough to a watch to justify an argument by analogy for design. Both the watch and the universe have many parts whose mutual functioning results in a significant result (telling the time on the one hand and producing a range of beautiful, worthwhile things like galaxies and people on the other); since a watch has a designer, so by analogy we postulate the existence of a designer of the cosmos. Again, this argument works just as well, if not better, when we consider particular objects within the cosmos, such as the finely tuned biomolecular processes of the human body.

[CS] Yes, one might readily see the purpose of a watch and infer that it has a maker. But it is harder to infer the existence or intention of a Maker who produces not only beautiful, worthwhile things but also cockroaches, the AIDS virus and cataclysmic earthquakes. It’s as if the watchmaker put a pinch of sand in his timepiece, the baker a quarter cup of cyanide in his cake. What would be his purpose in doing this?

[PW] The Problem of Evil is a separate issue which we’ve debated at length in a previous chapter; and it clearly does not preclude the inference of intelligent design. After all, a torture chamber can exhibit as much design as a watch.[1]

The Intuitive Design Argument and Specified Complexity

[PW] “What could be more clear or obvious when we look up to the sky and contemplate the heavens, than that there is some divinity of superior intelligence?” So wrote Cicero,[2] and perhaps the majority of humanity echo this intuition at one time or another.

The obvious objection is to say that a naturalistic theory of evolution provides a simpler adequate explanation for the apparent design in nature. According to this theory, nature has produced life forms which evolved by natural selection into the variety of life we see today. Natural selection happens when small variations in DNA result in the existence of biological modification that helps an organism out-compete other organisms in a given environment. These organisms out-reproduce other organisms, passing along their characteristics to the next generation and the new form becomes established. The theory of macroevolution affirms that these small changes can accumulate to the point where a new species comes into existence. Naturalists hold that the system of evolution is not designed (either at a macro or micro levels), and that the process of evolution is not guided in any way by any intelligent agency. This naturalistic interpretation is called ‘naturalistic evolution’ or ‘Darwinism’.

Only naturalistic evolution contradicts the intuitive inference to design. Nothing about the theory of evolution prevents theists from interpreting evolution itself as the product of design, and there is an overwhelming intuitive impression that the universe is in fact an artifact. If God exists, one could reasonably expect Him to design an evolved human brain which would recognize the design of His creation and intuit His existence. So objections to the design intuition must concentrate on factual challenges to the existence of God. Besides, there are several aspects of reality that cannot be explained by evolution because they are necessary to the process of evolution itself, and these aspects of nature give the impression of design no less than does the whole of which they are such important parts. The evolutionary challenge therefore actually fails to contradict the intuitive design argument

[CS] Peter, you are only speaking for yourself and like-minded theists when you write of the “overwhelming intuitive impression that the universe is in fact an artifact”. I have no such impression, overwhelming or otherwise, and neither do many of my friends. Clearly, many things in this universe are related to and dependent upon other things, but some things seem utterly unpredictable and probably random. Why does one sperm penetrate the egg rather than another? I have an overwhelming intuition that the universe is uncaused and eternal, but neither of us can argue a rational case on the basis of our differing intuitions. I think there is no divine purpose to the universe, no end dictated by a supernatural being. I am perpetually surprised that anyone can think the end and purpose of the whole shebang to be what you and other theists imagine.

[PW] That some people do not have this intuition is no great objection to this proposal. This is an intuition that some people may ‘grow out of’, perhaps under the pressure of atheistic arguments, or perhaps under various psychological pressures, both from within and without.[3] The point is that a) anyone with this intuition is quite justified in accepting the existence of a designer and b) because the majority of people have this intuition those without it should take it seriously. I am constantly surprised that anyone can believe that there is no ‘end’ and purpose of the whole shebang, that it’s all for nothing!

There are several aspects of biological reality that cannot be explained by evolution and which justify the design inference. Many biological systems exhibit a type of order called ‘specified complexity’ that is best explained by intelligent design.[4] Roughly speaking, an object or event exhibits specified complexity if it conforms to a significant independent pattern at very long odds. As William A. Dembski explains:

specified complexity is a reliable empirical marker of intelligent design. A long sequence of random letters [as could be produced by the chance process of drawing scrabble letters from a bag] is complex without being specified. A short sequence of letters like “the,” “so,” or “a” is specified without being complex. A Shakespearean sonnet is both complex and specified. Thus in general, given an event, object, or structure, to convince ourselves that it is designed we need to show that it is improbably (i.e. complex) and suitably patterned (i.e. specified).[5]

For example, the Presidents’ faces on Mt. Rushmore are both complex (it is almost inconceivable that they would occur by chance) and specified (conforming to an independent pattern). These faces are clearly there by design. As with Mt. Rushmore, so with DNA, which is also highly unlikely to form by chance: “the probability of constructing a rather short functional protein at random [is] so small as to be effectively zero (1 chance in 10125)”.[6] To put this figure in context, there are roughly 1065 atoms in our entire galaxy! DNA is thus highly complex. It is also specified (by functionality). The inference is obvious. W. David Beck comments: “The crucial thing about DNA is that it has to exist before there are intelligent creatures, and yet it has the character of encoded information which can only be produced by an intelligence.”[7]

William Paley pointed out that a watch is irreducibly complex. Not only is a purpose carried out by the sum of the watch’s parts, but that purpose could not be carried out “if its different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed after any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed...”. Irreducibly complex systems, like a watch, have a number of mutually interdependent parts, each of which is functionally useless on its own. This means that such a system cannot evolve by natural selection, because until the whole system is functional there is nothing of advantage in existence to be selected. The probability of random mutations throwing up a) all the necessary parts of an irreducibly complex system b) all at the same time, and c) in the necessary co-ordinated way, is astronomically small. Darwin admitted that the existence of such a system in nature would falsify his hypothesis: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”[8] Michael Behe argues that the biomolecular level of life is full of ‘irreducibly complex’ molecular machines: “including aspects of protein transport, blood clotting, closed circular DNA, electron transport, the bacterial flagellum, telomeres, photosynthesis, transcription regulation, and much more.”[9]

Non-Christian scientists, like Paul Davies and Michael Denton, have in recent years written about how their studies have convinced them that the universe must be ‘a put up job’ because it is ‘fine tuned’ for sentient beings. A new design argument has been formulated on the basis of the observed fine-tuning of natural laws. This argument is called the ‘anthropic teleological argument’. (‘Anthropic’ from the Greek for ‘person’; ‘teleological’ from the Greek ‘telos’ meaning ‘end’, and ‘logos’ meaning ‘reason’.) This argument holds that the existence of God is the best explanation for the existence of a universe fine-tuned for sentient life forms. The fine-tuning of the universe is another example of specified complexity, because it constitutes an unlikely (complex) state of affairs that conforms to a specifiable pattern, the pattern of universal constants necessary for a life-permitting universe. The fine-tuning of the universe is identical in nature to the example of cracking a combination lock. In the case of a cracked combination lock, what calls out for explanation in terms of an intelligent cause is not merely the fact that an event of small probability had taken place (after all, any sequence of dialed numbers that long is equally improbable), but the fact that this small probability was specified (as the sequence necessary for opening the lock). In the case of cosmic fine-tuning, what compellingly evidences design is not merely the fact that a particular improbable set of physical laws exists, but the fact that this particular set of laws are specified as the set necessary for a life sustaining universe.

[CS] As to the statistical improbability of life emerging, I have neither the scientific nor the mathematical expertise to evaluate your sources. This whole issue is hotly contended; anyone who wishes to pursue it will want to read Intelligent Design: Creationism and its Critics, (MIT Press, 2002). The book is a collection of three dozen essays from both sides of the controversy and from many perspectives – philosophical, theological and scientific. It is not a light read and runs 805 pages.

According to your source, Steven C. Meyer, “the probability of constructing a rather short functional protein at random [is] so small as to be effectively zero.” And this statistical improbability involves only one of the basic building blocks of life. I acknowledge that this is a mystery: Why is our universe apparently so wildly improbable? In your Case For God, you refer to Don Page’s calculation of the odds against the formation of our universe as one in 10,000,000,000 to the 124th power. If true, this is all very interesting, but I don’t see its significance in evidencing that the purpose of this universe is the creation of human beings. Consider, it isn’t just our existence which is dependent upon untold trillions of improbabilities; the existence of everything else is also incalculably improbable. Yet everything else also exists. What reason do we have to believe that our existence is the sole purpose of all these improbabilities? Or even any part of the reason? Perhaps the real purpose of the universe is that pond scum might exist. Or the whole spectrum of life, equally. Or creatures entirely unlike us in a distant galaxy. Or snowflakes, or spiral nebulae. Or perhaps there is no purpose at all. To conclude that the “collective end” of all this is the “evolution of intelligent life forms” – meaning, of course, ourselves – this strikes me as the ultimate presumption. The whole idea made more sense several thousand years ago, when everyone thought that the totality of reality was the earth and the sky-dome where God lived, but having now at least a somewhat better idea of the reality that surrounds us, how can we still think that its ultimate and sole purpose is the human race?

A Boeing 747 has hundreds of thousands of parts. Let’s suppose that just one of these parts, perhaps a tiny bolt that fastens the beverage tray to its bracket, attains consciousness. If its consciousness was at all like that of a Christian, this tiny bolt would conclude that the airplane was constructed and had for its sole purpose the eternal life and the coming to consciousness of beverage tray bolts. And it would perhaps also conclude that God Himself was like a giant but invisible Beverage Tray Bolt.

Perhaps I can put this vanity in clearer light by taking it just one step further. The biological / mathematical improbability of my own existence is something that often occurs to me. When I was conceived, if any other of the 100 million sperm in my father’s ejaculation had impregnated my mother, I would never have existed. My parents would have had a different child, a sibling to the non-existent me. Moreover, for my mother and father to have existed, they too were dependent upon the one in 100 million odds of the right sperm penetrating the available egg. (Not to mention that their parents had to meet, marry, have sexual intercourse at the opportune moment, etc.) Trace this process through the generations, the pyramid of procreation, each time multiplying the one in 100 million odds exponentially. And then through the evolutionary process through millions of years. What inference should I draw? The fact of my existence is so incredibly improbable and so dependent upon a particular improbable set of physical laws and events I must conclude that the universe was created so that I would exist! You, the rest of humanity, the spiraling nebulae, the pond scum, the snow flake – all of these are insignificant, the necessary or accidental features of a universe created by God so that I could exist. I hope my point is clear. There is neither more nor less reason to give such significance to my personal existence than there is reason to give such significance to the existence of human life, simply on the basis of improbability.

The universe is between 12 and 18 billion years old. The radius of the visible universe is 10 billion light years ( 58,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles). The National Geographic estimates that there are as many suns as there are grains of sand on all the beaches of the world.

A Parable: There was once a very wise industrialist, so rich and powerful that he commanded all the resources of the world. He decided on a project to reveal once and for all his might and goodness. He built a giant factory, approximately the size of Yorkshire. He hired millions of workers and imported from the far corners of the world the finest raw materials. After a hundred years of product development and production, he at last fulfilled his desire: from the giant factory emerged a cookie. One cookie. It wasn’t a very good cookie. When his son ate the cookie he suffered and died.

[PW] Carl, your conscious bolt would be absolutely right to “conclude that the airplane was constructed”! Interestingly, atheist and scientist Sir Fred Hoyle has commented that the theory of a chance emergence of life on earth is as likely as a tornado whirling through a junkyard and accidentally assembling a fully functional Boeing 747! Such an unlikely but significant arrangement of matter simply cries out 'design', and so does the cosmos! The question as to whether or not the purpose of this cosmos is the creation of sentient beings is quite separate from the question of whether the nature of the cosmos (or at least elements thereof) is due to intelligent design, and we can settle the latter question without even asking the former. A successful argument against the hypothesis that sentient beings are the purpose of the universe would be strictly irrelevant to the conclusion of design.

The size of the universe in relation to humanity is irrelevant to the question of whether humanity is one of the ends for which the universe is designed. Indeed, the anthropic argument shows why the universe has to be the size it is if humans are to exist; so one could just as easily take the size of the universe as a cosmic compliment to the importance of humans!

William Lane Craig admits: “fantastically improbable events happen everyday. Your own existence ... is the result of an incredibly improbable union of a certain sperm and a certain egg, yet no one would infer that their union was therefore designed.”[10] However, he argues that: “what is at stake in eliminating the hypothesis of chance is what theorists call 'specified probability': the demonstration that the event in question is not only improbable but also conforms to an independently discovered pattern.”[11] For example, any equally long sequence of letters typed at a typewriter is equally improbable, but if we found a string of letters forming a sonnet, we would infer that it was not typed by the proverbial ‘monkey at a typewriter’, but was the result of intelligent design: “In the same way, physics and biology tell us independently of any knowledge of the early conditions of the universe what physical conditions are requisite for life. We then discover how incredibly improbable such conditions are. It is this combination of a specified pattern plus improbability that serves to render the chance hypothesis implausible... It is not the improbability of some universe or other’s existing that concerns us; rather it is the specified probability of a life permitting universe’s existence that is at issue.”[12]

The correct analogy here is not a lottery where any individual’s winning is equally improbable but someone has to win (like a particular sperm joining an egg), but a lottery in which a single white ball is mixed in with several billion black balls and you are asked to reach in and pull out a single ball at random. Picking any ball is equally improbable; nevertheless, it is overwhelmingly more probable that whichever ball you pick, it will be black rather than white: “Similarly, the existence of any particular universe is equally improbable, but it is incomprehensibly more probable that whichever universe exists, it will be life-prohibiting rather than life permitting. It is the enormous, specified improbability of the fine-tuning that presents the hurdle to the chance hypothesis.”[13] Robert Collins argues: “one could think of the initial conditions of the universe and the fundamental parameters of physics as a dart board that fills the whole galaxy, and the conditions necessary for life to exist as a small one-foot wide target: unless the dart hits the target, life would be impossible. [Hitting any space on the board with a dart thrown at random is equally improbable, but it is incredibly more probable that the dart will land outside the target than that it would land in the target.] The fact that ... the dart has hit the target, strongly suggests that someone ... aimed the dart...”[14]

I suppose it is just possible that if the purpose of the whole universe was to create a life form, perhaps 'pond scum' is the fulfilment of that purpose, and we are just a necessary or accidental part of a world created for pond scum. However, the background knowledge provided by the moral, ontological and other theistic arguments suggest that the designer of the cosmos is unlikely to be motivated by a love of pond scum (although I’m sure He gives it appropriate appreciation)! The existence of sentient life would seem to be the most significant fact about the cosmos.

Faced with a choice between saving the life our your sister or saving some pond scum you would surely, and quite rightly, opt to save your sister. This being so, we have adequate grounds to believe that the purpose of the all-good cosmic designer more likely has to do with the existence of people (whether on earth or elsewhere in the cosmos) than pond scum! If anything about the cosmos is serendipitous, it’s scum, not people! However, it is important to remember that recognizing the fact that something is designed is separate from the business of recognizing its purpose or from the question of the moral character of the designer. The design argument cannot prove the existence of God on its own, but it does make a strong contribution to the overall case for God.

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[1] Cf. Paul Nelson, ‘Jettison the Arguments, or the Rule, The Place of Darwinian Theological Themata in Evolutionary Reasoning’ @ http://www.arn.org/docs/nelson/pn_jettison.htm.
[2] Cicero, De Natura Deorum.
[3] Paul C. Vitz, ‘The Psychology of Atheism’ @ http://catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0384.html.
[4] Cf. William A. Dembski, ‘The Explanatory Filter’ @ http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_expfilter.htm.
[5] William A. Dembski, ‘Another Way to Detect Design?’ @ http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_responsetowiscu.htm.
[6] Steven C. Meyer, ‘The Explanatory Power of Design’ in William A. Dembski ed., Mere Creation, (IVP, 1998).
[7] W. David Beck, In Defence of Miracles, (Apollos), pp.157-158.
[8] Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, (1872), 6th edition, (New York University Press, 1988), p.154.
[9] Michael Behe, ‘Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference’ @ http://www.arn.org/docs/behe/mb_mm92496.htm.
[10] William Lane Craig, ‘Why I Believe in God’, op. cit., p.70.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid, p.71.
[14] Robin Collins, ‘The Fine Tuning Argument’, (Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, ed., Kelly Clark), p.55; cf. http://www.discovery.org/a/91.

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© 2010 Carl Stecher & Peter S. Williams.
This dialogue, edited by the authors in 2002, is now being published for the first time on bethinking.org, by the kind permission of both authors.