The Design Argument: Answers to Atheists' Objections
Turns out Richard Dawkins' watchmaker has 20/20 vision after all.
The simplest and easiest to understand of all the arguments ever offered by believers is the Argument from Design. The argument is remarkably simple. It goes as follows: The existence of a suit implies the existence of the tailor who made the suit. The existence of a poem on a piece of paper implies the existence of the poet who created that poem. In other words, the suit itself is the proof of the existence of the intelligent creator of the suit, no other evidence is necessary. There are levels of design, sophistication, and functional complexity that the human mind simply refuses to accept could be accounted for by any undirected process. How to precisely define such levels is not our topic of discussion. It is clear, however, that a suit and poem by Robert Frost, and a living bacterium, are certainly well over that line.
The entire plot of the classic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey is based on this obvious principle. At a dramatic moment in the film, when a rectangular monolith is discovered buried on the moon, it is clear to those who discover it (and accepted as absolutely logical and reasonable by everyone watching the movie) that this is unmistakable proof of alien life. After all, a precisely measured monolith couldn't possibly have made itself or "evolved naturally." The rest of the film is about the search for the aliens who constructed and buried the monolith in the first place.
Does the incontrovertibly true Argument from Design apply to living organisms?
The human body is an incredible piece of machinery; who put it together? It certainly required a great deal more sophistication to build a human being than to construct a rectangular monolith. The existence of highly sophisticated living organisms implies a highly sophisticated designer of these organisms. Believers call this designer, the Creator or God. What could possibly be the flaw in such an argument?
Nobody Disagrees With "The Argument from Design"
Before we actually deal with the objections raised by atheists and skeptics, I want to stress: Nobody disagrees with the Argument from Design. There is nobody in his right mind who does not understand that the existence of the suit itself proves the existence of the tailor who made the suit and that the poem itself proves the existence of the author of that poem. In the debate between skeptics and believers the disagreement is not about the validity of the Argument from Design. The argument itself is undeniably true. The point of contention is the following: Does the incontrovertibly true Argument from Design apply to living organisms? Skeptics raise two basic objections to applying the Argument from Design to the world of living systems:
1) ideas found in the writings of a highly influential 18th century Scottish philosopher by the name of David Hume, and
2) Darwinian Evolution. We will deal with both.
David Hume and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Dr. Frank Sonleitner and Dr. Julian Baggini claim that Hume's philosophy invalidates any attempt to apply the Argument from Design to the living world:
Hume, in his book Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, shows that the Argument from Design ... is illogical and contrived. Norman Kemp Smith, late professor of metaphysics at Edinburgh, in his introduction to Hume, explicitly points out that organisms are not like designed, manufactured objects. (Sonleitner, NCSE Website)
Furthermore, as David Hume points out, we can only hypothesize [a designer of a watch], because we know by experience what the cause of watches are. We have no experience of causes of the universe, so we are not justified in making any assumption about who or what they might be. 1(Baggini)
Hume's argument is simple; we can know clearly that a suit is made by a tailor, because we have experience of suits being made by tailors. However:
Will any man tell me with a serious contrivance that an orderly universe must arise from some thought and art ... because we have experience of it? To ascertain this reasoning, it were requisite, that we had experience of the origin of worlds...2 (Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion)
I find it hard to believe that any intelligent person could seriously consider Hume's argument as having any relevance to the matter at hand. We are not discussing the "causes of the universe" or the "origin of worlds," i.e., things of which we have no experience.3 We are talking about highly complex living organisms that are meticulously studied, catalogued, and experimented on day and night by scientists all over the world. Let me give a few simple examples.
The Filter and the Pump — Most Definitely Within Our Experience
Suppose someone is unfortunate enough to suffer from impaired kidneys and must be hooked up to a dialysis machine several times a week. In a moment of frustration he barges into the R & D department of a biomedical engineering firm and demands that they manufacture an artificial kidney that can be inserted where a normal kidney goes. The sympathetic engineer tells him that our current technology is unable to produce such a device and the best we have to offer is the dialysis machine.
Experience teaches us that highly sophisticated filtering devices do not make themselves, any more than suits make themselves.
It would be foolish to suggest that the construction of the filtering device we call a kidney is out of our experience when we actually build kidneys; we just call them dialysis machines. They perform the exact same function as real kidneys, which are essentially nothing more than highly sophisticated filters, except that we experience and understand them well enough to know that they are primitive compared to an actual kidney. Experience teaches us that highly sophisticated filtering devices do not make themselves, any more than suits make themselves. Clearly, Hume's argument is not applicable.
There is another mechanical device that is well within our experience: the electric pump. Electric pumps do not make themselves. The human heart is nothing more and nothing less than an electric pump. It operates on the exact same principles of physics as every other electric pump on the planet Earth. Our bio-medical engineering firms also build "primitive" pumps to replace the heart. It is absurd to invoke Hume's argument when we are discussing the heart.
The kidney and heart are just two of many examples of systems that exist in the living world of which we have experience. We could have mentioned the navigational systems of birds and sea turtles, the sonar of bats, and the electrical generating systems of eels and other animals to name just a few. The rational conclusion must be that these incredibly complex systems could only have been designed and constructed by a super-intelligent creator. Eliminating Hume from the picture brings us to the second argument that skeptics use to claim that the Argument from Design does not apply to the world of living systems: Darwinian Evolution. I do not want to spend much time on this topic. For argument's sake I would concede the fact of Neo-Darwinian Evolution. Done!
Before Darwin even Richard Dawkins could not deny the existence of a Creator
Before the theory of evolution, however, one needed an enormous amount of almost fanatical determination not to believe in a creator. Remember, Darwinian evolution does not invalidate the Argument from Design; it simply offers an alternative explanation for the functional complexity of living systems. Christopher Hitchens begrudgingly concedes that before Darwin, the "default position" of a creator was reasonable:
Before Charles Darwin revolutionized our entire concept of our origins ... many scientists and philosophers and mathematicians took what might be called the default position and ... professed ... that the order and predictability of the universe seemed indeed to imply a designer... This compromise was a logical and rational one for its time...4
Richard Dawkins also admits to the obvious truth of this point. However, unlike Hitchens (a non-scientist) who downplays pre-Darwin belief in God by describing it as a "default position" and a "compromise," Dawkins states categorically that before Darwin he "could not imagine" being an atheist:
I feel more in common with the Reverend William Paley5 than I do with the distinguished modern philosopher, a well known atheist, with whom I once discussed the matter at dinner. I said I could not imagine being an atheist at any time before 1859, when Darwin's Origin of the Species was published. "What about Hume?" replied the philosopher. "How did Hume explain the organized complexity of the living world?" I asked. "He didn't" said the philosopher, "Why does it need any special explanation?" Paley knew it needed a special explanation; Darwin knew it, and I suspect that in his heart of hearts, my philosophical companion knew it too.6
Dawkins tells us that Darwin made it possible to be an "intellectually fulfilled atheist." 7 However, we shall soon see that just as Hume is irrelevant to our question, so too Darwin is irrelevant to our question (regarding the existence of a Creator).
The Amazing Microscopic Digital Information System
In River Out of Eden, Dawkins describes the intricate functioning of genetic coding in the living cell:
After Watson and Crick we know that genes themselves ... are living strings of pure digital information. What is more they are truly digital, in the full and strong sense of computers and compact discs, not in the weak sense of the nervous system. The genetic code is not a binary code as in computers ... but a quaternary code, with four symbols. The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal. Our genetic system, which is the universal system for all life on the planet is digital to the core ... DNA characters are copied with an accuracy that rivals anything modern engineers can do ... DNA messages ... are ... pure digital code.8
Dr. Paul Davies on the same subject:
In a living organism we see the power of software, or information processing, refined to an incredible degree ... the problem of the origin of life reduces to one of understanding how encoded software emerged spontaneously from hardware. How did it happen? How did nature "go digital?" 9
Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, echoes Dawkins' and Davies' description of the genetic coding in the cell, "DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we've ever created." 10
Darwinian Evolution simply begs the question
For the truth-seeking individual, the very best that Darwinian evolution can tell us is the following: Once you have in place a fantastically complex piece of molecular machinery called a living cell, which has at it's core an astonishingly sophisticated self-replicating system, which is based on the storage, retrieval, and decoding of enormous amounts of pure digital information – given enough time – the interactions between this nanotool filled organism, its "uncannily computer-like" genetic code and its environment (interactions we call "natural selection") are able to produce an astounding variety of forms of biological organisms. All varieties of life are possible – if, and only if – this amazing piece of machinery is in place. How did it get there?
All varieties of life are possible – if, and only if – this amazing piece of machinery is in place. How did it get there?
Lest anyone have the impression that the compelling and profoundly significant nature of this line of reasoning can only be appreciated by those with inclinations toward religion, here is distinguished philosopher Thomas Nagel (who describes himself as being "just as much an outsider to religion as Richard Dawkins"):
The entire apparatus of evolutionary explanation therefore depends on the prior existence of genetic material with these remarkable properties ... since the existence of this material or something like it is a precondition of the possibility of evolution, evolutionary theory cannot explain its existence. We are therefore faced with a problem ... we have explained the complexity of organic life in terms of something that is itself just as functionally complex as what we originally set out to explain. So the problem is just pushed back a step: how did such a thing come into existence?11
The Argument from Design does not disappear with Darwin; it is simply refocused with a vengeance
As it turns out, Darwinian evolution is not, as the skeptic would have us believe, a testimony to what can emerge from undirected processes; it is a testimony to the unimaginably awesome capabilities and potential contained in the first living cell and its genetic code. A paradigm-shifting insight emerges from all this: Contrary to popular belief, not only is Darwinian evolution not the cause or explanation of the staggering complexity of life on this planet; Darwinian evolution itself is a process which is the result of the staggering complexity of life on this planet. Human beings who are seeking the truth about the existence of a Creator should stop wasting their time and energy arguing about Archaeopteryx and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. It is all beside the point. Darwinian evolution most definitely does not provide an escape hatch from the challenge that Dawkins articulated to his atheist philosopher colleague: "How [do we] explain the organized complexity of the living world?" All existing life is nothing more than a variation on a theme. All the "organized complexity" of life is a variation on the "organized complexity" of the first living organism.
Darwinian evolution itself is a process which is the result of the staggering complexity of life on this planet.
This is what Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at New York University, Dr. Robert Shapiro, meant when he said that "The difference between a simple mixture of chemicals and a bacterium, is much more profound than the gulf between a bacterium and an elephant." The Argument from Design does not disappear with Darwin; it is simply refocused with a vengeance:
What stands out as the central unsolved puzzle in the scientific account of life – is how the first microbe came to exist. Peering into life's innermost workings serves only to deepen the mystery. The living cell is the most complex system of its size known to mankind ... ingenious marvels of construction and control, with a fine-tuning and complexity as yet unmatched by any human engineering... The problem of the origin of life reduces to one of understanding how encoded software emerged spontaneously from hardware. How did it happen? How did nature "go digital?"... How did something so immensely complicated, so finessed, so exquisitely clever, come into being all on its own? How can mindless molecules, capable of only pushing and pulling their immediate neighbors, cooperate to form something as ingenious as a living organism? (Dr. Paul Davies)
The only relevant question is: How did life begin? Darwin has nothing at all to say on the subject. Darwinian evolution does not even pretend to address the issue. Chance, as we've seen in a previous chapter, is not an answer. Science simply has no answer. Just as the suit itself is the proof of the tailor, and the poem itself is proof of the poet, the astoundingly complex microbe itself, with its fully digital software, is the proof of its creator. The who's-buried-in-Grant's-tomb, right-in-front-of-your-eyes, wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee, it's-staring-you-in-the-face answer is that life is created.
The Last Stand of Richard Dawkins
In the final analysis, the atheist's denial of God,12 despite his propagandist smokescreen to the contrary, has nothing to do with Science. We have shown clearly that the two giant battleships in the scientific arsenal of the atheist, Darwinian evolution and Origin of Life, are nothing more than floundering, leaky rowboats (if even that much). Evolution is irrelevant, and Origin of Life clearly points to a creator. As it turns out, the ultimate battle between believer and non-believer will not be fought in the scientific arena at all. Stripped of the mighty sword of Darwinism and his Scientific Naturalism body armor, the atheist retreats and barricades himself in his ideological version of the Alamo. "Dawkins' Last Stand" will be fought with the only weapon remaining: a philosophical argument that he calls "The Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit."
Fly the Friendly Skies of Dawkins Airlines; The Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit
This argument's intriguing name derives from the following analogy used by Sir Fred Hoyle to describe the extreme improbability of a chance origin of the first living organism on earth:
A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing 747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there? So small as to be negligible, even if a tornado were to blow through enough junkyards to fill the whole Universe.13
Before we present Dawkins' actual argument, let's summarize Hoyle's argument and its logical consequences. Sir Fred is telling us that the probability of life originating on earth by chance is as probable as a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a 747. Therefore, if you find yourself face to face with a fully assembled Boeing 747 you can be absolutely certain it was not assembled by a tornado; it was assembled by an Intelligent Designer.
The probability of life originating on earth by chance is as probable as a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a 747.
Carrying the analogy to its logical conclusion: If you find yourself face to face with a living bacterium (which is at least as functionally complex as a 747), you can be absolutely certain it was not assembled by random forces "sweeping through" a bunch of chemicals. It was assembled in the same manner as a 747, namely, by an intelligent designer. It's really a very simple and easy to understand analogy. Somehow, Dawkins manages to turn it into an impenetrable smokescreen.
And now Dawkins:
Actually the argument from improbability properly deployed, comes close to proving that God does not exist. My name for the statistical demonstration that God almost certainly does not exist is the Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit ... Hoyle said the probability of life originating on earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrap yard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747... However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the ultimate 747.14
Dawkins further clarifies the idea:
Seen clearly, intelligent design will turn out to be a redoubling of the problem. Once again, this is because the designer himself immediately raises the bigger problem of his own origin... Any entity capable of intelligently designing something as improbable as a Dutchman's Pipe [a type of flower], would have to be even more improbable than a Dutchman's Pipe ... chance and design both fail as solutions to the problem of statistical improbability, because one of them is the problem, and the other regresses to it.15 (The God Delusion)
Mayday! Mayday! Boeing 747 Going Down!
There is an obvious flaw in the logic of the Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit. Let's rephrase the above-cited paragraph from The God Delusion and apply Dawkins' logic to the Texas Instruments business calculator that is sitting on my desk as I write these words. It will immediately become clear that something has gone terribly wrong with Dawkins' attempt to cling to his non-belief:
Seen clearly intelligent design will turn out to be a redoubling of the problem. This is because the designer himself immediately raises the bigger problem of his own origin. Any entity capable of designing something as improbable as a Texas Instruments business calculator would have to be even more improbable than the business calculator itself ... chance and design both fail as solutions to the problem of statistical improbability, because one of them is the problem, and the other regresses to it.
Of course we know this is ridiculous. An intelligent entity purposefully and consciously designed and built the calculator. Applying the same logic to a bacterium is more absurd, in light of the fact that a bacterium is extraordinarily more functionally complex than a calculator. Only a willful designer could produce a digitally controlled self-replicating molecular machine like a bacterium.
Only a willful designer could produce a digitally controlled self-replicating molecular machine like a bacterium.
The confusion in Dawkins' argument stems from his subtle, but significant misrepresentation of Hoyle's analogy. Here is how Dawkins presents Hoyle's words: "Hoyle said the probability of life originating on earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane sweeping through a scrap yard would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747." That is not what Hoyle said. Hoyle said that the probability of life originating on earth by chance is comparable to the probability of a hurricane assembling a 747 by chance. However, the probability of a 747 being assembled by design and the probability of life originating on earth by design is extremely high. If we keep that in mind the rest of Dawkins' argument makes sense.
In other words, if it is statistically improbable that a 747 could have originated by chance, then it is an even greater statistical improbability that the designer of the 747 originated by chance. I agree wholeheartedly. Both the 747 and the human creators of the 747 are here not by chance, but by design!
The problem is not if the bacterium is designed and created; it is as obviously designed and created as much as a laptop computer is obviously designed and created. There is no escaping that simple fact. Just as there clearly exists a designer of the 747, and just as there clearly exists a designer of the calculator, so too, there clearly exists a designer of the first bacterium and its genetic code. The philosophical problem that must be addressed is the following: How do we escape from the dilemma of the infinitely regressing series of creators (i.e., whoever created me would have to be at least as complex and sophisticated as I am, and therefore he would also need someone to create him, and so on.)? To state this dilemma in a slightly different way: Since all agree that at one time life did not exist and now it does exist, there must be an actual beginning to the process, it cannot go back infinitely.
Only Complex "Material" Configurations Need a Creator
One of the skills stressed in Talmudic learning is that when posing a logical difficulty, one must struggle to formulate the question as precisely as possible. Many times, the largest part of finding a solution to a difficulty is asking precisely the right question. Dawkins did not accurately pose the question; therefore it is not surprising that he is getting inaccurate answers. Properly presented, the question is as follows:
Any functionally complex and purposefully arranged form of physical matter (i.e. a Boeing 747, a calculator, or a bacterium), must itself have a creator at least as complex as the object in question. How do we (or can we) escape an infinite regression of creators?
That which demands and requires a preceding creator is a complex arrangement of physical matter. With this precise formulation of the question, the answer becomes obvious. At some point in the progression, we are faced with the inescapable conclusion that there must be a creator who is not physical matter at all; a creator who does not need to be created; a creator who is not subject to the limitations of cause and effect. There must be a creator who is the first, who is the beginning of it all. There must be a creator who is outside of the physical universe. A creator who is outside of the physical universe, not existing in time and space, and composed of neither matter nor energy, does not require a preceding creator. There is nothing that came before him. He created time, he does not exist in time; there is no "before". ("What happened before the big bang? The answer is there was no ‘before.’ Time itself began at the big bang." 16Physicist, Dr. Paul Davies) We are created; along with time, space, matter, and energy. We are subject to the limitations of a time/space bound series of causes and effects. The creator simply is.17
Dr. Robert Shapiro and I Are In Agreement about a Supernatural Creator
In fact, in 1986, a year before Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker was published, Dr. Robert Shapiro had already presented the same argument and reached the same conclusion as myself:
Similarly, the existence of bacteria and other living beings, all of which are much more complex than a watch, implies the existence of a creator, as only a higher being could design creatures so fit for their function... If a watch is complex, then the watchmaker must be even more complicated. A being with the capacity to create a watchmaker would be the most complex of the lot. By following this line of reasoning, we have made our problem more difficult ... and we can resolve it only by introducing supernatural forces. We must look for another solution if we wish to remain within science.18 (Shapiro, Origins)
This is exactly what I stated above. The conclusion is that there must be a creator who is not part of the physical universe at all (i.e., a supernatural creator). Inasmuch as Dr. Shapiro is a self-declared agnostic, he obviously rejects this conclusion. Why?
Shapiro dismisses it because he does not like where it leads; namely, to the conclusion that the source of the first living organisms must be a supernatural force.
If you'll notice, Shapiro does not in any way whatsoever attempt to explain to us why this "line of reasoning" is flawed. He does not point out any logical inconsistencies, mistaken assumptions, or any other glitches that would cause a rational, truth-seeking individual to reject this "line of reasoning." He simply dismisses it because he does not like where it leads; namely, to the conclusion that the source of the first living organisms must be a supernatural force. In his own words: "...we can only resolve it by introducing supernatural forces." So I ask you Dr. Shapiro, what is so terrible about that?
In fact, the rational truth seeker would pose the following to Dr. Shapiro: All agree that the process which resulted in the formation of the first living organism required a beginning. There are two possible beginnings,
A) a supernatural creator who is composed of neither matter nor energy, and does not exist in time and space,
or B) a naturalistic process that started with non-life and ended with life.
The evidence for a supernatural creator is obvious. Just as the suit itself is proof of the tailor and the poem itself the proof of the poet, the bacterium itself (which is exponentially more sophisticated than either of the other two), is proof of its creator. As it turns out, logic leads us to the conclusion that this creator must ultimately be supernatural, but a creator nonetheless. What plausible, empirical evidence can you offer for alternative B), that life arose from non-life by a naturalistic process? Instead of admitting to the simple truth that there is no plausible evidence that life arose from non-life naturalistically, Shapiro, like many of his colleagues, dodges the issue: "We must look for another solution if we wish to remain within science." Dr. Shapiro, you can choose to remain "within science" if you so desire; I choose the truth.
The Reality of a Creator Is Part of Our Inner Essence
Not only is a supernatural creator the reasonable and logical solution to our question, I would suggest that we are "hard wired" to both understand and experience the reality of this concept. It is part of our inner essence. Richard Dawkins himself expresses this inner reality, and despite himself, is unable to contain this genuine reaction to the wonders of nature:
I think that when you consider the beauty of the world and you wonder how it came to be what it is, you are naturally overwhelmed with a feeling of awe, a feeling of admiration ... and you almost feel a desire to worship something ... I feel this ... I recognize that other scientists such as Carl Sagan feel this, Einstein felt it, we all of us share a common kind of religious reverence for the beauties of the universe, for the complexity of life, for the sheer magnitude of the cosmos, for the sheer magnitude of geological time ... and it's tempting to translate that feeling of awe and worship ... into a desire to worship some particular thing, a person, an agent ... you want to attribute it to a maker, to a creator.19 (from a debate with Dr. John Lennox)
What is Dawkins describing if not the experience of a reality that is indescribably greater than ourselves, that transcends our own being? That the beauties of the universe, the unfathomable complexity of life, the sheer magnitude of the cosmos, inspire in us a desire to reach out somehow and connect with that ultimate greatness. A desire to not just connect, but a primal understanding that this ultimate "maker" is a being we want to worship. What stops him from taking that step? In Dawkins' own words:
What Science has now achieved is an emancipation from that impulse to attribute these things to a creator... It was a supreme achievement of the human intellect to realize there is a better explanation ... that these things can come about by purely natural causes ... we understand essentially