Friday, April 6, 2007

Inferring Atheism from Bad Design

by JM

In challenge to the argument from the complexity of life to an intelligent designer, some have maintained that while this methodology may lead us to posit some form of intelligence, it would equally lead us to posit an inferior form of intelligence. This challenge takes the undeniable decay and disorder in the universe (e.g. like disease, old age, and death) and insists that a consistent proponent of intelligent design, (if he is to infer intelligence from the complexity of the world) must also infer a defective intelligence as designer.

The tactic here isn’t to admit to some transcendent cause of the universe (most who use this argument are atheists), but merely to show that people who use this methodology (Christian apologists) are forced to adopt an unwanted conclusion: That God isn’t a competent creator. It is at this point that the challenger feels content in the position that there is no scientific warrant for the God of the Bible.

There are at least two weaknesses in this conclusion:

(1) This conclusion would have force if the biological world is so flawed that the alleged design is such that one cannot in principle tell whether it is accidental or a product of a person. Put differently, since an object is so defective that it is nearly indistinguishable from something everyone agrees is not designed, then there is no warrant for claiming an intelligent cause. For example, a canvas that is splattered with paint may be the product of an artist, or it may be the product of an accident in which a can of paint, residing on a ladder, falls from that ladder (let’s say due to an earthquake) into the current of air created by a fan in the room, which splatters some paint on the canvas. In either event, it’s quite difficult to come to some solid conclusions about the cause of this painting; whether it is intelligent or not; accidental or purposive. In this case, it is truly unwarranted to insist on intelligence as being the cause of the painting.

Now, I don’t think the challenger means this. Certainly, those who know anything about the complexities of a cell do not regard it as indistinguishable from, let’s say, a rock or a water molecule. Across the board, we affirm mind boggling complexity in biological entities. Even someone recalcitrant as Richard Dawkins admit that the world gives an overwhelming appearance of design. So, the issue boils down to whether the degree of complexity that we do view is equally explainable within an non-ID (ID meaning intelligent design) paradigm as it is in an ID-paradigm. The presence of flaws or dysfunction doesn’t immediately dismiss the inference to intelligence, provided that the complexity of an object is of such a level as to strain naturalistic explanation.

(2) Neither does the presence of dysfunction require the postulation of a bad designer or non-existent designer. Let’s say we were to drive up to a car that has flipped up on it side. One can picture the damage that’s done to the car (broken windshield, scratched paint, etc…). Now it may be the case that the car had a faulty design. For example, the wheels weren’t properly installed. If this were the case, we infer correctly that there was some flaw in the designer.

However, it may the case that the car was operated in a way that it wasn’t designed to. So it was designed take corners at 40 mph, not at 80 mph. This doesn’t reflect upon the intelligence of the designers (certainly, they have made cars that handle corners going that fast), but it reflects the limitation of the design (again, not the limitations of the designer).

Also, it may be the case that the car was designed to suffer this damage. Bob the stuntman drove a car that was designed to react this way when certain maneuvers were undertaken for the purpose of capturing the culmination of a thrilling car chase for a motion picture. So the dysfunction doesn’t immediately limit the competence of the designer.

In summary, the presence of pain, suffering, dysfunction, calamity, and the like are not the clear defeaters of the Christian world view that some would pretend. There’s enough complexity to require design, and there’s enough room within God’s creative possibilities that allow for good things to go bad.