Questioning Argument from Design
by Dr. M.D. Magee
The following was originally published on the web site AskWhy!. This article is copyright © Dr. M.D. Magee and republished with permission.
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The purpose of science is to explain complexity in terms of underlying simple principles, and the scientific method is the process of discovering the physical principles underlying the complex phenomena of the world around us. The fact that simpler principles can be found that explain complexity shows that the world is orderly. It is subject to laws that give rise to immense variety and therefore complexity, but which are themselves comprehendible, and allow mortal human beings to be able to predict what happens in Nature.
The “Argument from Design” is that a designerGodis the best explanation for the observed complexity of the world. The reason is that extremely complicated things could not have evolved because they are too unlikely, so must have been designed. For believers in God, that might be satisfactory, but it is not for a scientist because it is not a law and it cannot be used for prediction of what happens in Nature. It is, in short, not scientific, and it is of no practical value. It is really a form of the “God of the Gaps”, the hoped for gap God is filling being the apparent design!
“Argument from Design” has a consequence, and that is that there must be no scientific explanation that can explain whatever the ultimate designer has designed. It has to be so because, if a natural explanation is possible, then the supernatural Creator has no gap for His exclusive designing capability, and the argument must fall. In other words, to uphold the “Argument from Design” that there is a God, then God must be the only cause of anything we see around us.
In defence of this position, then, the Creationists claim that there are indeed systems that are so complex that evolution cannot have produced them, and the ultimate designer is the ultimate answer to these. Supposedly, they are systems in which the removal of any part would cause the whole to be ineffective. It is assumed that such systems cannot have evolved. The foolishness of it is that the parts are assumed, apparently, to have evolved separately, one at a time. Actually, they evolved together. A flower fertilised by the activity of a particular insect did not evolve, and then the insect evolve to match. They evolved together, each of them being selected in parallel, not in sequence.
The argument of complexity also has its implications for God himself. If God is so complex that He can design the whole universe, then He must be the most unlikely thing ever. God is assumed to have been ever present, but the “Argument from Design” is that complicated and therefore unlikely things must have been designed, but God was not. If such complexity is somehow possible in God, then why cannot it be possible without God as a designer?
If God is the most complicated thing possible, and so God must have been designed, a God who designed God has to be assumed. He must have been more complicated than God. We are in an infinite recession. Who, of this infinity of Gods is the real one?
Some believers might like to think that God is really supernaturally simple, but can still give rise to complexity. Doubtless believers can invent anything at all that is utterly impossible, but once they accept that the complex is able to come out of the simple, then they have accepted the principle of evolution. If God is accepted as supernaturally complicated, then He is more impossible than the universe we live in. The universe can therefore be accepted in its own right with more likelihood than believing in a God.