Random thoughts and views of Tim Young

Posts Tagged ‘Intelligent Design

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

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

The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

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The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is meant as a parody of intelligent design. He makes his first appearance in a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education in protest to their decision to require that intelligent design be taught alongside evolution in public schools.We are told that the FSM created the world and even regularly intervenes in human affairs by use of his “noodly appendage.” He supposedly created the world to make it look as if evolution is true, and he frequently sabotages carbon dating test so that they give inaccurate readings, leaving us with the impression that the world is really very old when in fact it is only 10,000 years old. There is even a church for this deity called The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I say: Give it up! Please!!

First off this is nothing unique. We have the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU), Russell’s tea pot, supermanism, etc. All of these are really meant as parodies of theism (usually Christianity), and they are supposed to somehow show the absurdity of believing in God. Well, I’m beginning to get tired of hearing all of them (FSM seems to be the most popular at the moment). So atheists, before you’re tempted to use one of these as an objection to Christianity, please take note of the following:

By creating such superficial fairytales as the FSM or the IPU, you are really showing your superficial understanding of Christianity, and any reasonably reflective Christian will not take you seriously. Why? Well:

1. These cheesy, on the spot parodies do not at all take into consideration the historic development of Christianity given through the various works of great historic (and contemporary) figures. Everyone from St. Paul, St Augustian, Thomas Aquinas, and Anselm, to Calvin, Edwards, Plantinga, and Van Til… the list could go and on, but the important thing is that you’re failing to understand Christianity as a complex knowledge tradition, and this causes you to draw inadequate analogies between the God of the bible and, say, a flying spaghetti monster.

2. You’re mistakenly viewing the Christian God as a vacuous concept.. As if I could go from believing “God exist” to believing “God does not exist” without it having a catastrophic effect on my world view. More to the point, Christianity is a complete world view, and the Christian God is at the very center of that world view. He gives purpose to our existence, He gives purpose to the universe, He is the ground of knowledge and truth, ethics and aesthetics. I cannot answer the questions “what is right and wrong” or “what is beautiful” without making recourse to God.. The entire foundation of philosophy, science, history…in short, everything, is built upon God. To get rid of God is to get rid of an ENTIRE world view, thus one is forced to answer life’s ultimate questions by making recourse to other things, by other means. On the other hand, whether or not I choose to believe in a flying spaghetti monster, an invisible pink unicorn, a dragon in my garage, an invisible gardener, or a tea pot in orbit around the Sun between Earth and Mars, has no such effect.

So please, give it a rest!

…though I do have to admit the FSM pictures are pretty funny!

So is God Designed? (In Christian Perspective)

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Last post I pointed out that the “Who designed the designer?” objection to intelligent design is a red herring. Pointing out that the designer is complex and therefore in need of a designer itself doesn’t mean that the universe wasn’t designed. Maybe the designer is complex? So what? If ID is true, then the universe is designed regardless.


But still, might it be the case that God is designed? After all, wouldn’t God be more intricate and more complex than any feature of the universe? Sure cells, flagellums, humans, etc., are complex but wouldn’t God be even more complex than they? And if we’re arguing that the complex features of the universe are best explained by an intelligent designer, then how much more would this principle apply to God?

So, can this problem be escaped? I think so. The first question we’ve got to ask is this: Why should we believe God is designed? The argument for that goes something like this:

1. Complex things are best explained by an intelligent designer.

2. God is a complex thing.

3. Therefore God is best explained by an intelligent designer.

No doubt, the first premise will be accepted by ID proponents. Indeed some would argue that ID entails (1). After all, ID proponents like Michael Behe, for example, often appeal to the complexity of cells as evidence for them being designed by an intelligent designer. So for now we can accept the first premise. What about the second premise ? Why should we believe God is complex? As best I can tell the assumption for (2) goes something like this: Any being who could design all the complex features of the universe would in all likelihood be at least as complex as those things it designed. And naturally this seems like a reasonable assumption. There are many examples of manmade things in our world: machinery, computers, cars, architecture, art, data structures, etc., etc., and no matter how complex and amazing these things are, there is still something that’s even more complex than they are: their designer–in short, human beings. The same is true for other animals as well. Birds make intricate bird nests, and ants make intricate underground networks, but a bird and an ant are far more complex than those things they “design”. Thus–or so the argument goes–it is reasonable for us to assume that if God designed the universe, then in all likelihood He is at least as complex as the universe itself, and probably more so. Hence we get (2), and (3) follows logically.

Now it’s worth noting at this point that ID proponents typically view complexity in terms of the arrangement of material parts. Just reflect for a moment on what is commonly appealed to in intelligent design arguments. Cells, DNA, flagellums, eyes, etc. What should be fairly obvious is that these are all material things and they are “complex” in that they are constituted by an intricate arrangement of material parts unlikely to have arisen by chance. In fact, the probability of their parts being arranged as they are completely by chance is extremely low. Something like the probability of a tornado going through a junk yard and producing a 747 jet…and I don’t think that any of us would hold our breath waiting for that to happen.

So why is this important? Well because it would appear that according to ID a necessary condition for X to be complex is that X be a material object.  In other words, anything called “complex” (in the ID sense of the word) has got to be a material object or some sort. We don’t find, for example, ID proponents speaking of the irreducible complexity of “souls,” or minds, or abstract entities like numbers. They’re always talking about some physical object: cells, bacteria, etc.

So according to (2) God must be a material object of some sort.  But why should we suppose that God is a material object? After all, doesn’t the Bible make abundantly clear that God is spirit (e.g. John 4:24)? Furthermore, why should we believe that God is complex? Isn’t it, for example, a Christian tradition of ours that God is simple i.e. not a composite being? It’s quite clear that the Christian conception of God doesn’t fit (2).

So again, why is it that we should suppose that God is complex? Well the argument for (2) above was essentially that in all our experiences with design the designer is always more complex then its design, thus we have good reason to believe that in the case of God and the universe, God is more complex than the universe. But isn’t there something a bit odd about this claim? Suppose it is the case that the Christian God exists. If that be the case, then there are many designed things which are more complex than their designer. In fact, everything that God designed would be more complex then He is. The universe would be filled with such examples, and we’d come in contact with them on a daily basis. So the argument in support of (2) does nothing more then beg the question. What really needs to be shown is why God must be complex which, unfortunately, is an argument I’ve yet to find. Maybe someone reading this knows of one?

Written by Tim

March 17, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Wait a minute…so who designed the designer hmmm..?

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Smug Duck





Ever see the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still  (the original)?  <POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT> In order to stop the destruction of Earth at the hands of an “omnipotent” robotic galactic law enforcement agent, a woman must utter the words “klaatu barada nikto” while in the presence of the robotic agent.  If she fails to do so, earth is doomed.  Fortunately she manages to blurt out the phrase just as the robot is about to kill her and begin its destructive rampage. <END SPOILER ALERT>  In the end, Earth is saved by the woman’s courage, steller memory, and most importantly by the words “klaatu barada nikto!”

It seems to me that some think there is equal power in the question “So who designed the designer?”  And I really shouldn’t call it a question because it’s more like an objection.  Kinda like a “Ha Ha, you just shot yourself in the foot” type of objection.  In any case, the whole Intelligent Design case is supposed to grind to a halt as soon as the objection leaves the lips of the questioner.  Every argument and every evidence is presumed to be overturned the very instant the final syllable of the objection whooshes past the vocal cords and strikes the ear drums of everyone listening.


But I say “So what?”  Who cares about the question/objection?  It’s not really relevant?  Suppose you and I are walking in a desert and you happen to stub your toe on a sharp object.  You look down and Lo! it’s an arrowhead!  You pick it up and filled with sheer delight exclaim “Will you look at this Tim.  It’s an arrowhead!  Just think Tim, this artifact I now hold in my hand was designed by someone many many years ago!  Wow!”  I, however, remain unconvinced. “Pfff…,” I say, “you really think someone designed that thing?  Obviously if that were designed then whoever designed it would have to be even more complex then that arrowhead..and if he were more complex he too would need a designer!  And so I ask you friend, who designed the designer of the arrowhead?”


Would you be persuaded by my argument?  Didn’t think so…  After you patted me on the head and gave me my medication, you’d probably place the arrowhead in your pocket and be on your merry little way.


Here’s the thing, when it comes to intelligent design, raising the question “who designed the designer?” is a red herring.  If we’re considering whether the cell was designed or the universe is fine-tuned it really makes little difference whatsoever whether we think the designer was designed or not.  Why? Because, that is not relevant to the inference that X, Y, or Z was designed.  That the designer of an arrowhead may have been designed himself is not really relevant to whether the arrowhead itself was designed.  So I say “So what?” Even if we are unable to answer the question of whether the designer was designed, we’ve still got to deal with the inference that the universe was designed.  That’s the real question at hand, and ID isn’t halted just because someone utters the magic words “So who designed the designer?” 


…And yes I do realize I haven’t answered the “question” directly.  I will, you’ll just have to wait till next time 🙂

Written by Tim

March 11, 2009 at 11:55 am

Intelligent Design — What’s the Problem?

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I’ve been thinking about intelligent design (ID) lately and I am wondering what all the beef with the argument is about. For those of you who don’t know, ID in a nutshell argues that certain features of the universe, life, etc., are unlikely to have arisen by chance or natural selection alone. These features, it is argued, are best explained by an intelligent designer.  So just what sorts of features are better explained by an intelligent designer? Well firstly there are those features that are so complex that it seems unlikely that evolution can account for them. When one marvels at the workings of a cell, for example, it is hard not to think the cell at least LOOKS designed by some intelligence.

Then there are those features of the universe that appear to be so precisely tuned to the correct parameters, that to even suggest random chance as an explanation seems almost to border on lunacy. Here’s one example given by Robin Collin:

There are other cases of the fine-tuning of the constants of physics besides the strength of the forces, however. Probably the most widely discussed among physicists and cosmologists – and esoteric– is the fine-tuning of what is known as the cosmological constant. The cosmological constant was a term that Einstein included in his central equation of his theory of gravity – that is, general relativity — which today is thought to correspond to the energy density of empty space. A positive cosmological constant acts as a sort of anti-gravity, a repulsive force causing space itself to expand. If the cosmological constant had a significant positive value, space would expand so rapidly that all matter would quickly disperse, and thus galaxies, stars, and even small aggregates of matter could never form. The conclusion is that it must fall exceedingly close to zero, relative to its natural range of values, for complex life to be possible in our universe.

Now, the fundamental theories of particle physics set a natural range of values for the cosmological constant. This natural range of values, however, is at least 1053 – that is, one followed by fifty three zeros – times the range of life-permitting values. That is, if 0 to L represent the range of life-permitting values, the theoretically possible range of values is at least 0 to 1053L. To intuitively see what this means, consider a dartboard analogy: suppose that we had a dart board that extended across the entire visible galazy, with a target on the dart board of less than an inch in diameter. The amount of fine-tuning of the cosmological constant could be compared to randomly throwing a dart at the board and landing exactly in the target![1]

Wow amazing! How could that be anything but God? …Ok ok, so perhaps I’m a bit too partial to the ID argument 🙂 In all actuality, though, I don’t really consider myself knowledgeable enough on the subject to make an informed judgment; it’s all kind of new to me and I’m still looking into it. Still, I have a hard time seeing what the arguments against it could be?


[1] Collins, R. (n.d.). God, Design, and Fine-Tuning. Retrieved Feburary 2009, from

Written by Tim

February 14, 2009 at 12:36 am