Random thoughts and views of Tim Young

An Argument for the Complexity of God? (Part 2)

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A few posts back I took a look at a critique of the design argument in which the author argued that in order for Intelligent Design to be successful it must be demonstrated that “fundamental complexity” is true.  But since it is extremely difficult or even impossible to demonstrate that fundamental complexity is true, we have good reason for rejecting Intelligent Design.

In response to this I pointed out that the author’s definition of “fundamental complexity” is ambiguous.  Most likely he takes “fundamental complexity” to mean the inability of a phenomenon to be explained in naturalistic terms.  I pointed out, though, that this definition presents no real problem for ID since the ID proponent is not committed to the claim that there can be no naturalistic explanations for a phenomenon; the ID proponent only has to show that ID offers the better explanation for that phenomenon.

With this in mind, here is the author’s argument for the complexity of God:

 (P1) Extremely complex phenomena that cannot even in principle be explained as arising from simpler, more fundamental principles are extremely improbable.

(P2) God is by definition a being that is a) conscious, and b) fundamental in the sense that he is not evolved or derived from anything more fundamental.

(P3) Conscious beings are necessarily extremely complex.

(I1) From (P2a) and (P3), God is extremely complex.

(I2) God cannot even in principle be explained as arising from simpler, more fundamental principles since, from (P2b), God is defined as being fundamental.

Conclusion: The existence of God is extremely improbable [from (P1), (I1), and (I2)].

I don’t think this argument works and here’s why:

(P1) – There are two problems in the first premise.  Firstly, it seems to me to be ambiguous.   Just what does the author mean by “complex phenomena”?  In the opening part of the article, the author says:

“Natural phenomena often seem to be extremely complex.”

Notice the author is talking about natural phenomena.  In other words the author is talking about physical features–cells, flagellums, etc.  This is further evidenced by what the author goes on to say:

“But when scientific explanation is found, the complexity is invariably seen to originate from some simple fundamental principle.  The incredible complexity of the biological world, for example, is beautifully explained by a simple process of random mutations and non-random natural selection.”

Again, notice that the author is talking about physical features; specifically physical features that can be given naturalistic explanations.  Now, it seems easy enough to see why things like cells, fegellem, and car engines are complex phenomena: they all have physical parts arranged in a fashion unlikely to have arisen by chance alone.  But how could it be said that God is a “complex phenomenon”?  That’s the crucial question that needs to be answered.  The engine in my car is pretty complex, and it’d be foolish of me to think it was by pure luck that all the parts randomly and for no apparent reason, formed into the car engine that powers my car.  A more likely story is that a team of engineers designed it, and it was pieced together in a factory. Hence we have a naturalistic explanation for the origin of my engine.   But how might this apply to God? God does not have physical parts that are arranged in some fashion.  It seems really hard to conceive of a way in which God is complex in a way relevant to the author’s argument.  But we’ll examine this a bit more in (P3).

The second problem with (P1) is that with respect to God, it seems likely false.  Suppose we determine that God is complex in a way relevant to the author’s argument.  Why think this would entail that God’s existence is improbable?   There is a strong tradition of Christians who have argued that God is a necessary being.  They have argued that it is not even possible that God not exist.  So even if we discovered that God were complex in some way relevant to the author’s argument, it still wouldn’t follow that God’s existence was improbable.  Now, of course the author might disagree with the claim that God is a necessary being, but then he would actually need to present an argument against this.

(P2a) and (P2b) – I’ll accept.

(P3) – is problematic as well.  The question we’ve got to ask is: How might God’s consciousness be complex in the same way that physical objects (or “complex phenomena”) are complex?   Here’s where the irrelevancy of (P1) comes in.  As pointed out above, in arguing for (P1) the author references physical features.   However, in (P3) the author is appealing to consciousness.   Consciousness itself is not a physical feature because it lacks physical properties.  I might feel pain when I get pricked by a physical needle, for example, but my feeling pain is not a physical event.  I cannot examine or burn, my  feeling pain, for example, because it doesn’t have physical properties.  Now, the author might be holding to a Mind-Brain Identity Theory—the view that mental states are identical to physical brain states.  If so, this would make a wonderful argument for the complexity of human consciousness, but remember, the author is supposed to be arguing that God’s consciousness is complex.  God, if he exists, is not a physical being, thus he has no physical brain for his mental states to be identical with.  So clearly that doesn’t work.

But let’s move on here…  How might we say that God’s consciousness is complex?  Well, says the author,

To see that consciousness itself is complex, consider that consciousness requires the ability to store and access information that is linked together in many intricate ways as well as the ability to process that information and to reason. The web of intricately interconnected data that consciousness requires is extremely complex.

But notice, he hasn’t argued for this point at all.  He just asserts it.  What’s worst is we never find out just what “intricately interconnected data” amounts to or why it should be considered “complex phenomena.”  Plus, when we take into account the fact that God is not a physical being, it becomes really hard to see how any part of him could be considered “complex phenomena.”  

Now, I suspect that ultimately what the author is attempting to argue is that mind has an organization about it that seems unlikely to have arisen apart from a designer (whether that designer be God or evolution).  Since God displays this ‘mental organization,’ and since God is not designed, then it is unlikely that God exists.   But then, again, he’d need to reply to the long tradition that God is a necessary being.  So on the whole, his argument seems to fail.


Written by Tim

January 14, 2010 at 7:03 am

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