The Futility of Design Arguments

I will grant that one of the most compelling arguments supporting theism is that of design. Like many apologetics, these arguments identify a aspect of the world we observe that is awe inspiring and to which no natural explanation is known and it seems impossible that one will emerge and label God as the unknown and unknowable explanation.

The game of the [celestial] sphere, or the universe according to [the astronomer] Tyco [sic.] Brahe.

Le jeu de la sphere ou de l’univers selon Tyco Brahe. 1661

Take the so-called “fine tuning” arguments. These acknowledge that there are a number of constants in the universe that are so precise that if they were even slightly different, nothing like the present universe could have arisen. Wikipedia provides an example:

for example, the strong nuclear force were 2% stronger than it is (i.e., if the coupling constant representing its strength were 2% larger), while the other constants were left unchanged, diprotons would be stable and hydrogen would fuse into them instead of deuterium and helium.[10] This would drastically alter the physics of stars, and presumably preclude the existence of life similar to what we observe on Earth. The existence of the di-proton would short-circuit the slow fusion of hydrogen into deuterium. Hydrogen would fuse so easily that it is likely that all of the Universe’s hydrogen would be consumed in the first few minutes after the Big Bang.[10] However, some of the fundamental constants describe the properties of the unstable strange, charmed, bottom and top quarks and mu and tau leptons that seem to play little part in the Universe or the structure of matter.

I do not presume to understand the physics of this, or a number of other examples of precise cosmological constants, but I accept that they are extremely precise. One website states that the maximum deviation ratio for the “cosmological constant” is 1:10120. I do not know what this means, but it appears uncontroversial that this is indeed the case. This is really incredibly precise.

The argument is that to be so precise implies that a mind must have decided on these, that they could not have arisen by “mere chance”. This of course simply dismisses the possibility that they are necessarily this precise, either because we are one in an infinite number of universes, or some other physical reason. See the Rationally Speaking podcast and blog for some counter-arguments in this regard.

But the point is that the level of precision itself means they are virtually impossible to be established by any other means than a deity. This is why they are considered “fine tuned”. If we turn on a radio that is perfectly tuned to a station, we acknowledge that it is unlikely that it just happened to be at that frequency by chance. The precision of these cosmological constants is so much more precise, many orders of magnitude more precise, which, we are led to believe implies only a god of such staggering power could have organized.

What I would like to point out is that this is all being considered from the human perspective. The constants are incredibly precise from our perspective, but they would not be precise at all from God’s perspective. A 2% deviation in the strong nuclear force may seem small to us, but it is needlessly vague for a being that has no limits to its power and faculties. This being is designing the laws of nature themselves and it would have no limits  on precision. 2% is twice as big as a 1% deviation. In fact, it would have been nothing for the creator of the universe to make the allowable deviation to be 0.000000000000000000000000001% or a trillion times more precise than that, and so on. In other words, given the power of the suggested god, the precision of the constants shows us nothing. It could have made them much more or much less precise.

What is really going on here is that humans have identified some properties of the universe that we find awe-inspiring and we do not understand them. Any time we have such a situation, theists will say the only answer is a god. The reasonable response is that we do not know why they have this level of precision.

This draws out that the idea God is not really an explanation for anything, it is a place-holder for an explanation. It is unfalsifiable. It is a panacea. It can explain anything and everything and any inconsistencies are actually proof of it because only a god can do what seems impossible to us.

Take the following examples of hypothetical discussions:

Theist: The Universe is designed for us! Look at the cosmological constants, they are so precise!

Atheist: But these same constants make the majority of the universe overwhelmingly hostile to life. Interstellar space, black holes, all the other planets in our solar system…

Theist: But only a god would make it so vast as to show us how special we are and to be in awe of his power.

Atheist: But if there were only one planet it was teeming with life, would that be evidence of no god? Isn’t this what theists used to believe and think made us so special?

In other words, a universe with only one planet filled with life suggests a god made it  just for us. Or a enormous universe with trillions of stars and empty space shows us how special we are too.

If we were to find out tomorrow that we were completely wrong about the constants and that they are much more fuzzy, this would still be proof of God. In this case, it was not God’s hand in designing the constants so precise that allows life, but ensuring that they were so vague that our universe was sure to support life. And so on.

If we were to find out tomorrow,  the top quark is heavier than currently thought, meaning the Universe is much more unstable and likely to annihilate us all in a moment’s notice, would this mean it is less designed for life? Of course not, this would be part of God’s design, likely his final judgment and power to end it all and bring the saved into his timeless, space-less transcendence.

You cannot take a fact and say that it points to God but even if it was completely different it would still point to God. This is why unfalsifiable premises make reasoned arguments pointless.

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About Brian Green Adams

I am an atheist in Canada. I know something about law. "Brian Green Adams" is a pseudonym, taken from Brian Eno, Robert Green Ingersol, and Douglas Adams. Three of my favourite atheists. Not to mention The Life of Brian, Brian Green (physicist), Eno's "Another Green World", and Adam from Genesis in the Bible. The connection to Brian Adams is an unfortunate coincidence, though I was very fond of him when I was 12.
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49 Responses to The Futility of Design Arguments

  1. Aside from common sense, both science and mathematics prove the argument for design.

    It is almost obvious that order cannot come from randomness. This is because design requires purpose and randomness, by definition is without purpose.

    From science comes the understanding of ecology, for example.

    Within an ecosystem is order and purpose.

    Again, we understand order to be fundamental to any system. And the purpose of an ecosystem is the procreation and flourishing of life.

    Each creature in an ecosystem is woven into a web of purpose. And if any creature disappears the web of purpose becomes endangered.

    Order and purpose prove design because order and purpose are impossible without design. We can easily see this in all the manufactured items we use everyday.

    Also, mathematics is the language of science and engineering. Engineering is a problem solving process which produces solutions by design.

    From this standpoint it becomes easy to comprehend the universe as one humongous arena of designed solutions.

    Most intimate and obvious of natural design solutions is life itself, which is actually an unimaginably complex system of design solutions.

    Thus, the argument for the existence of God from design is ironclad and can only be denied by denying science.

    • Thank you for your thoughts. I have to say that I do not see this design and purpose that you consider so obvious other that objects modified and built by humans. I see some order and much disorder in the universe. I see no purpose other than those purposes endowed by humans.

      I certainly do not see “solutions” in the patterns that we seem to observe in the universe.

  2. Stellawalker says:

    It is simplly that our understanding evolves and given enough time evolutionary knowledge will know more of everything and there will be less and less need to resort to the gawd thing….

    • Without God, the First Cause, everything happened all by itself.

      That is an obviously ridiculous notion.

      That God exists is reasonable.

      • David says:

        “That God exists is reasonable.”
        In your haste to declare victory for theism, you make leaps of logic that take the wind out of your sails. Order can emerge from chaos (somewhat depending on exactly how you define the terms); and you conflate order and purpose.

        But I’ll grant you those points for right now. Even were you to demonstrate that the universe is a result of design, you most certainly haven’t begun to show ANYTHING about the designer or the number of designers.
        So no, the design argument is irrelevant to most people’s understanding of god- at least, not until they can prove the identify this god.

      • David,

        Order cannot result from chaos. Such is a violation of the laws of physics.

        Order results from design which is governed by the laws of nature. This is true otherwise neither science nor technology would exist.

        Even on a metaphysical level, human beings educate themselves so that the mind may think in an ordered fashioned.

        In fact, no knowing is possible without ordered thinking. And it is absolutely obvious that ordered thinking takes lots of time and energy and cannot possibly result from the natural state of mind which is disorder.

      • David says:

        Silence, you didn’t respond to my main point (we’ll agree to disagree on the matter you responded to- as I said, it somewhat depends on definitions).
        As I said, I’ll grant you that the universe appears designed- sadly for you, that does not leave an undefined “god” as the designer.

      • Of course, with God, everything also happened by itself too, including God.

      • Brian,

        God, by nature and by definition is Creator. That means he is the First Cause.

        And by definition of the word, “first,” no other causes precede the First Cause.

        At first, your statement, “Of course, with God, everything also happened by itself too, including God,” looks like the result of willful stupidity or some sort of intellectual retardation.

        But when one comes to understand the philosophical basis for atheism (sophistry) then one also comes to understand that the atheist must redefine the entire universe in order to that God not exist.

        That includes redefining the meaning of God and doing away with cause and effect and observation (the basis for science).

      • David says:

        Silenceofmind, you got it wrong. It’s not God who is defined as creator- but rather, it’s Rod. He’s the creator. He’s one of many gods and his name is Rod. He created our universe. It’s easy for us to sit here and declare our pet god created the universe. It’s a bit harder to prove it other than by playing with the definition of words.
        Enough of that- neither of us has any evidence to prove that it was either your god or my Rod who created the universe, so let’s cut to the chase. What is the evidence that your god has anything to do with the gospels or the hebrew scriptures? ? I’m sure you’ve got loads of evidence so I’ll wait while until present it. Thanks!

      • David,

        You’ve just proved my point about atheism seeming like willful stupidity or intellectual retardation.

        It’s a shame really, that atheists don’t have the capacity for civil, reasoned discussion.

      • David says:

        “You’ve just proved my point about atheism seeming like willful stupidity or intellectual retardation.”
        I simply asked you to provide evidence, and you respond with insults. I hope you reconsider and decide to make a case. If you have faith, please present evidence that your prime mover is the god of the bible, and the NT in particular. If you don’t have evidence, carry on with the insults, since that’s obviously all you’ve got.

      • David,

        The entire universe is evidence of God’s existence.

        Math and science just pile it on so thick that only people in complete denial would deny the existence of God.

        I’m taking a beginning cellular and molecular biology class and the order, sophistication and precision inherent in living organisms limits out at infinite.

        That is direct evidence of God.

      • David says:

        Creation is no more evidence of your god than it is for my Rod, or a million goddesses. I share your fascination with the complexity of life. I just don’t put god in my gaps of knowledge (since there is no evidence that he exists).

      • David,

        The problem with trying to have a civil conversation with an atheist is that while I try talking science, you can’t seem to keep your heart, mind and hands off your tally whacker..

      • David says:

        Still too afraid to make a defense for your beliefs, you just continue the insults. When you change your mind, find a little integrity, and make the case for why your nebulous prime mover matches up with the bible, let me know.

      • David,

        Every comment I’ve made is a defense of my claims (taken from our Western Heritage) and a frontal attack on atheistic nihilism.

      • David says:

        Just saying stuff like “The entire universe is evidence of God’s existence” does not at all constitute evidence. That is an assertion, as is the following : The entire universe is evidence of Rod’s existence. They are vacuous statements unless backed up by evidence. You’ve provided none. Yet you still post- this would make you a troll. You can stop being a troll by supporting your assertions. Until then, I’ll just expect yet more insults!

      • David,

        I followed up my statement about the universe as evidence for God’s existence by citing the findings of science.

        Unfortunately, most atheists are philosophical and science illiterates.

        So you guys just read the talking points while thinking you actually know something.

  3. Stellawalker says:

    Order results from chaos every minute of every day

  4. StellaWalker says:

    Silence of mind dsounds like the Baltimore Catachismwhich indoctrinated millions of young Catholics ……Question 1 was Who made the world,answer.god….Question 2 Who is god? Answer,The creator of the world ……yea oh yea,a leap

    • Stella,

      My comments here are based on the philosophy of the ancient Greeks which includes Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

      • Maybe you need to read up on some philosophy that is not 2000 years old. Also If you interested in civil dialogue, you might want to refrain from suggesting atheism is stupid and verging on retardation.

        Atheism is not based on sophistry, at least mine is not, it is base on empirical skepticism, materialism and naturalism.

        Your contingency/cosmological, argument for god is not evidence, it is an argument and it is a very poor argument. It suffers from the argument from ignorance fallacy, in the sense that it is unknown how or even if the seemingly contingent material world we observe could have been caused initially.this does not entail that it was caused or what caused it. Even if a First Cause was capable of being proven deductively, how do you know it was a god?

        Your appeals to definitions is rather pathetic. We do not accept a god exists or is a creator just because you assert that that is how it is by definition.

      • Brian,

        Plato, Aristotle and Socrates are timeless and form the foundation of our Western Heritage which spawned the greatest, most just, most prosperous, most technologically advanced civilization in human history.

        The atheist rejection of our Western Heritage signals a return to the pre-civilization days of yore when ignorance and bias ruled the day and man lived short, miserable, impoverish, disease ridden, brutal lives.

      • StellaWalker says:

        Well that would be news to Socrates Plato and Aristotle….

      • Stella,

        You are basically uneducated so keep ignorant wise cracks to yourself.

        Civilized people don’t deserve abuse from barbarians.

      • StellaWalker says:

        TY for acknowledging the wise in my crack

  5. Silence,

    As an educated civilized person, please help us get to your level. I’ve read some Plato and Aristotle, but never come across anything written by Socrates, can you point us to some of his writings?

  6. Swiftsure says:

    We need a better explanation than, “God did it.” Scientists, not theologians, discovered the so-called cosmological constants anyway – none of that information comes from anything written in any scriptures.

    Science knows there are gaps in human knowledge, but shoving an alleged god into those gaps explains absolutely nothing. And which god, by the way? There are thousands to choose from.

    As for, “…science and mathematics prove the argument for design,” would Silenceofmind care to show his working out? The science and the mathematics would do.

    • Swift,

      All I can say is, take a university level science class, preferably cellular and molecular biology or physics.

      Most atheists would know science if it were Judas and came up and gave them a kiss on the cheek.

      Atheists scientists like Hawking are digging cake out of their undies because of what science has proven about the nature of things.

      They have responded with absurdities like “the multiverse” or that “physics teaches that everything happen all by itself.”

  7. Swiftsure says:

    Go to class? Learn? Done that.

    But I won’t be going to church to be programmed.

    • Swift,

      Judging by your behind-the-times viewpoint it has probably been decades since your last science class.

      Further, my arguments are not based on religion. So I do not understand the “going to church” part of your comment.

  8. Swiftsure says:

    Silence,

    Your design argument is religious in nature. If the existence of God is proved by science and mathematics as you claim, then show the science and the mathematics. But you’ve dodged that already.

    What you have is an unsupported claim – it’s called faith, not science. If you can show your working out, as I asked, then I’ll get back to you.

    • Swift,

      The topic of God can be either religious or not.

      When conversing with atheists it doesn’t do any good to talk in terms of religious faith because though atheism is a 100% faith-based creed, its worldview demands a total rejection of our Western Heritage.

      An example of a secular document that is based on the fact of God’s existence is the Declaration of Independence where God is mentioned four times.

      The Declaration of Independence cites “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” as the source of human equality.*

      Modern science is based on the Laws of Nature which philosophically links science to God’s existence.

      Recent findings in cosmology and cellular and molecular biology link science to God scientifically.

      The findings concern the infinite degree of order inherent in living things.

      We know from the logical proofs of God that infinite beauty, infinite power, infinite knowledge are all attributes of God by the definition of what God is.

      Therefore, if life must possess infinite order in order to exist, life’s existence is proof of God’s existence based on the findings of science.

      * http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

      • Interesting silence, what recent discoveries in cosmology?

      • Brian,

        Atheists have always held that since the universe is eternal, the existence of God as a First Cause is unnecessary.

        The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics by itself demonstrates that the atheist claim of an eternal universe is false since an eternal universe would require the violation of one of the fundamental natural laws that govern the universe.

        Recent findings in cosmology has proven the Big Bang which means that the universe had a beginning and was therefore caused.

        The First Cause must therefore be God.

        The utterly unscientific atheist response to actual science is the “multiverse” for which there is absolutely no evidence or observation thereof.

  9. Very interesting Silence. But you note recent findings in Cosmology, what are these, I’d be interested to know? Obviously the second law dates back to 1850 and is not cosmology. The Big Bang theory has been well-established for decades. Are you talking about the recent confirmation of Inflation?

    I’m afraid multiverse theory is not an atheist claim it is a theory advanced by physicists such as Guth and Tegmark, and Brian Greene (no relation). None of these people suggest it is confirmed scientifically. Appeals to the Multiverse in this context occur to rebut the theistic assertion that cosmological constants could not be so precise on natural phenomena. There is nothing in multiverse theory that denies a god could exists at all. Both can be the case, but neither are confirmed empirically.

    You are correct that when the steady-state theory of origins was considered consensus by cosmologists, atheists such as Ingersoll did argue that it refuted claims of creation. However, Big Bang cosmology does not confirm the existence of a deity. It says nothing of what occurred “before” the so-called singularity or the first Plank second. Indeed, theistic claims lack coherence I this regard as they both require a temporal sequence in order to facilitate creation but deny the existence of time in any sense!

  10. Swiftsure says:

    Silenceofmind is surely making it up as he goes along. I call “Poe.”

  11. Agreeing that your are a Poe is not name calling in my view, This is name-calling: you are arrogant and uneducated. Your tone is condescending and you either lack basic grammar skills or the discipline to check whether what you write makes any sense.

    Your comments are so pathetic and lacking merit that myself and others cannot distinguish whether you are just stupid, mentally ill, or a fraud. You are the definition of an internet troll and I won’t be feeding you anymore.

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