Random thoughts and views of Tim Young

Archive for April 2009

An Argument for the Complexity of God? (Part 1)

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So I’ve finally found an article that presents an argument for the complexity of God. The author of the article is anonymous so for simplicity’s sake I’m going to refer to the author as “he” even though I’m fully aware that the author may be a “she.” I’m going to respond to the article in two parts. In the first part I will respond to the author’s objection to the design argument, in the second part I will response to the author’s argument for the complexity of God. Hope you enjoy, and if you happen to know the author of this article, feel free to direct him to my somewhat rough critique!

In the article the author distinguishes between complexity and what he calls “fundamental complexity.” As we shall see, the exact nature of “fundamental complexity” is a bit of a mystery—I’m just not exactly sure what he means by the term—but in any case the idea really presents no problem for intelligent design.

The authors begins the article by noting that though “[n]atural phenomena often seem to be extremely complex…when a scientific explanation is found, the complexity is invariably seen to originate from some simple fundamental principle.” That is to say, complex things like cells and flagellums can be explained in terms of random mutations and natural selection. At first brush, things such a cell seems impossible. However, when you throw natural selection into the mix suddenly it makes the cell’s complexity all the much more palatable. The same goes for many other natural phenomena we find in the world. They may seem very improbable at first, but there always seems to be some underlying principle in terms of which their complexity can be explained. Though these types of phenomena are complex they are not fundamentally complex.

So just what does it mean for something to be fundamentally complex? The author defines it this way:

By “fundamental complexity” I mean that the complexity cannot, even in principle, be explained in simpler terms.

That is to say, a phenomenon is fundamentally complex when it cannot be explained in terms of some underlying principle. Remember the example of the cell above? I said that the complexity of a cell can be explained in terms of random mutations and natural selection. In that case natural selection is the “simpler term” that explains the origin of cells. But suppose there was no simpler term or underlying principle that explained the complexity of a cell. What then? Well, then the cell would be “fundamentally complex” since there would be no underlying principle that explains its complexity. Fundamental complexity is the inability for some natural phenomenon to be explained in “simpler terms.”

Now for some reason the author seems to think this distinction creates a problem for the design argument. He says,

One of the latest incarnations of the Argument from Design, is Behe’s claim that biochemical processes are “irreducibly complex” and therefore a god must have created that complexity.

That’s a pretty crude representation of ID, but we get the point. In any case, what’s the problem with this? Well says the author,

The notion of irreducible complexity is a weaker principle than the notion of fundamental complexity discussed above. It is not enough for Behe to show that a biochemical system is irreducible complex for his conclusion of a designer to follow; he must show that the system is fundamentally complex and he has not done this.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Why on earth would Behe or any other ID proponent need to believe in fundamental complexity? What the author is assuming here is that fundamental complexity is a necessary component of ID. But that’s obviously false. Clearly both evolutionists and ID proponents believe that complexity can be explained in terms of some “underlying principle.” The evolutionist believes that principle is natural selection, while the ID proponent believes it is design. Evolution explains complexity in terms of random mutations and natural selection, while ID does so in terms of design and “intelligent causes.” Nobody needs to claim “fundamental complexity.” In fact, I have a hard time seeing why anyone would ever want to believe in such a thing like fundamental complexity. It really has no bearing on the discussion.

But perhaps the author means to say something different here. Perhaps when the author says that a phenomenon is fundamentally complex when it cannot be explained in “simpler terms” what he really means is that a phenomenon is fundamentally complex when it can’t be explained in naturalistic terms. Maybe he believes the fundamentally complex phenomena are those that have no naturalistic explanations are. He doesn’t spell this out explicitly, but since all his examples refer to natural explanations, (scientific explanations, natural selection, etc.) this seems to be what he means. So going off of this a more accurate definition of “fundamental complexity” would be:

-A phenomenon P is fundamentally complex if and only if P cannot, even in principle, be explained in naturalistic terms.

This definition avoids the problem I raised earlier. Plus, it serves the author’s intended purpose since ID proponents really do appeal to non-naturalist principles in order to explain complex phenomenon (like appealing to a supernatural intelligent designer, for example).

But still, there is something really odd about the author’s argument. Notice that a phenomenon is fundamentally complex only if there is no naturalistic explanation for it. This means that as long as there is some possible naturalistic explanation for a phenomenon, then that phenomenon is not fundamentally complex. So long as some evolutionist can give a naturalistic explanation for P than P is not fundamentally complex. But that’s a strikingly odd (and noticeably biased) claim to make.

Suppose an evolutionist and an ID proponent are discussing the complexity of a cell. The ID proponent tells the evolutionists “See, I think an intelligent designer best explains the enormous complexity we see displayed in a cell.” The evolutionist responds, “But, my dear friend, natural selection still represents a possible naturalistic explanation for the complexity we find in a cell. Therefore intelligent design is false.”

Clearly that would be fallacious reasoning on the part of the evolutionist. The ID proponent doesn’t have to show that there are no possible naturalistic explanations, she only has to show that ID is the best explanation—which is the very same task the evolutionist has. It is not as though the only way for ID to be true is for there to be no naturalistic explanations for complexity. I mean, why couldn’t we just suppose that the reverse is true? Why not suppose that so long as there are non-naturalistic explanations then naturalistic explanations (such as evolution) are false? What if after hearing about evolution and natural selection an ID proponent responded with “Well that’s a nice theory, but ID still represents a possible non-naturalistic explanation for the complexity of biological systems, therefore evolution is false.” Obviously that wouldn’t work for the ID proponent, so why should we allow such a move from an evolutionist?

More importantly, I wonder if the author even realizes his bias here. I doubt he does, and such an attitude is part and parcel of the elitism present in naturalists circles.

One last possibility. Maybe the author thinks that a phenomenon is fundamental complex only if there are no probable naturalistic explanations for that phenomenon. But of course, part of the ID case lies in showing that naturalistic explanations are highly improbable, and that’s a point the author would need to interact with if he wanted to avoid begging the question.

Written by Tim

April 8, 2009 at 5:30 pm