Saturday, 8 June 2013

Who Designed the Designer?

We agree that amazing things can exist without a cause. I think the Universe is amazing enough. There's no need to look for something even more amazing...... 

If you like flowcharts, you can probably see where I'm coming from just by looking at the one below. Most people, sadly, hate flowcharts. If you're one of them, just skip it and read on.

Who designed the Designer?

The above question is often asked by atheists in response to the many “arguments for intelligent design” that theist apologists often present.

WDTD has often been criticised by apologists as being non-sequitur. In other words, they contend that the argument doesn’t follow. That is correct, when related to a particular species of WDTD. Perhaps, in some forms, and when employed unwisely, the question does open itself to such criticism. But the question, if employed correctly, completely destroys many ID (intelligent design) arguments.


Let’s start off with a quick rundown of how the ID arguments (IDA’s) tend to be put. They usually take the following form:


1.       The Universe is a complex/organised/ordered place.
This claim is made and then sought to be supported by a variety of methods. Sometimes, the apologist will simply say “look for yourself; it’s obvious”. At other times, she will rely on scientific (or pseudo-scientific) data suggesting that the Universe in its present form, with its present physical laws and constants and attributes, is incredibly improbable. The argument usually focuses on the fact that it’s “only this type of Universe” that allows the development and existence of life or of intelligent life.
I will not explore the above claims at any length, although they in themselves are put on dubious grounds and have been rebutted time and time again. For our purposes, it’s sufficient to understand that these are the claims made.

2.       Order/complexity/organisation can’t come by accident. It must have behind it an intelligent designer.


3.       Therefore, there exists an intelligent designer of the Universe; we call it “God”.


The above argument has two implications. Firstly, it concludes (if you grant it premises 1 and 2; and they are NOT to be granted, but we will let that go for our purposes today) that the Universe has an intelligent designer.

But secondly, and more importantly for our purposes here, the argument excludes the possibility of existence of a complex/organised/ordered entity UNLESS that entity has been designed by an intelligent designer (Who Designed the Designer?). Thus, if we agree with the above IDA argument, it follows that this Designer (D1) must also have had an intelligent designer himself (D2). But wait, where did D2 come from? Again, applying the argument, D2 must have had an intelligent designer, D3. This, of course, will go on into backward infinity. We will end up with an infinite number of intelligent causes, infinite number of gods. Philosophers call this concept “infinite regression”. Apologists HATE the idea of infinite regression with a passion and there are numerous apologetic arguments that attempt to destroy it. In my view, all of them fail. But again, that is not something to be discussed here.

Obviously I can’t speak for every single atheist out there. But when I ask the “Who designed the designer” question, I am actually taking a shortcut. What I’m really saying is “so, if you’re right, there must have been an infinite number of gods, each creating the other; nice one”.

“Now now, Allocutus, don’t get cheeky on me. Nothing in what you have said destroys the above IDA. I’m not arguing about where god came from. I’m only here to show that God was the cause of the Universe” – is the reply I expect at this point. Fine. Let’s keep moving.

 How Infinite Regression Kills God

The IDA above necessitates the existence of infinite complex/organised/ordered causes. It precludes, in its current form, the existence of a First Cause; a cause that itself existed uncaused. If it leads to a god, the god is only one in an infinite number of gods (meaning “intelligent and sentient causes”). But does it really lead to a god? Let’s think about that. If we grant that there were an infinite number of organised/complex/ordered causes and that there was no First Cause, then we are saying that order/complexity and organisation in themselves are uncaused. Think about that. There’s an infinite set of gods, each being ordered/complex/organised (for those who claim God isn’t complex/ordered/organised, hold your horses, I’ll get to that too!), and this state of affairs in itself exists uncaused. The existence of complexity and order in the Wider Cosmos (by this I mean ALL OF REALITY, including the infinite gods) remains unexplained. Complexity, order and organisation are NOT the products of an intelligent designer. They are merely an UNCAUSED ATTRIBUTE that exists in the Wider Cosmos and gets passed on from one god to the next and, ultimately, to our universe. But if complexity/order/organisation are not the products of intelligent design then Premise 2 fails! Remember, P2 said “2.                Order/complexity/organisation can’t come by accident. It must have behind it an intelligent designer”.

And since the attribute of complexity/organisation/order is only passed on and itself uncaused, there is no basis to claim that it was passed on by SENTIENT causes in the first place. We can have infinite regress of non-sentient causes, each being organised/complex/ordered and each giving rise to an effect that carries these attributes onwards. From backward infinity into forward infinity (or a sudden end, who knows?). This answer is a hell of a lot simpler than positing causes that are complex/organised/ordered AND SENTIENT. The attribute of sentience is unnecessary.


Does Killing Infinite Regression Save God?

Now, what if we were to somehow kill infinite regression? Let’s assume that IR is impossible and there must have been a First Cause. What does it do to God in the IDA?

First of all, we’d have to modify Premise 2 to make it apply only to things that are NOT first causes. We will then end up with something like this:

“2.          Order/complexity/organisation in any thing that has a cause can’t come by accident. It must have behind it an intelligent designer.”

We can then say that God didn’t have a cause; God was the First Cause. Bingo! God is saved. But is he? Let’s have a think.

The new Premise 2 allows that there may exist a thing that is not caused. We can call that thing First Cause (FC). FC doesn’t require an intelligent creator because FC doesn’t require a creator at all. FC is special; it’s unique and it’s original. There is only one First Cause.

So, we have allowed that there can exist something that is complex/organised/ordered and yet does not have a sentient or intelligent creator. We have said that this thing was the First Cause. But then, why can’t the Universe itself be the First Cause? Or some other non-sentient thing (Unintelligent First Cause – UFC) that has given rise to the Universe as we know it? Perhaps the Singularity itself. Perhaps whatever gave rise to it. Perhaps whatever gave rise to THAT. Perhaps the First Cause is removed by a hundred billion other intermediate causes before the existence of our universe. Just like God, this UFC is organised/complex/ordered. Just like God, it is unexplained (Who Designed the Designer?) But unlike God, it isn’t sentient. Rather than positing an uncaused and unexplained God who has the uncaused presence, complexity and organisation of mind to create all matter and energy with all the corresponding physical laws and with full foresight of how this creation would behave if left to its own devices with the natural laws in place (a hugely demanding task, one might think), I am positing an uncaused and unexplained UFC which has is uncausedly organised/complex/ordered. As with the above paragraph, it differs from God in only one respect; it lacks sentience. And again, it is just as unexplained as God but is much simpler. Sentience is an unnecessary attribute because a First Cause (no matter how organised/complex/ordered) can exist without a sentient creator (see Premise 2).

What follows from the above two paragraphs is that whether or not Infinite Regression is true, sentience is an unnecessary attribute of any of the causes of a complex/organised/ordered thing, including our universe. If IR is true, organisation/complexity/order DO NOT have a cause. If IR is false, they ALSO do not have a cause. They exist uncaused (whether in the Wider Cosmos with infinite gods, a Wider Cosmos with no gods or a Wider Cosmos with just one God). And since they have no cause, they CERTAINLY don’t have a SENTIENT cause.



Have a look at the two diagrams above. The first one illustrates the number of uncaused attributes that would have to exist on the God Cause Hypothesis. The second picture shows how reality would look on a Non-God Cause Hypothesis. Remember, in NEITHER case is the existence of these attributes themselves explained. They just exist because they do. The God Hypothesis requires us to assume the existence of many more unexplained, uncaused attributes than does the alternative. And most of them are unnecessary. All that is needed for The Cause is that it have the potential to cause the Universe.

The “God is not complex” Objection

I have seen apologists claim that Premise 2 doesn’t apply to God because God is not complex/organised/ordered. This, of course, is a ridiculous position to hold; one that can’t be defended with success.

If God is capable of reasoning in such detail as to comprehend and create all of matter and energy and all of the natural laws that govern our universe, God must be capable of carrying and processing mindboggling amounts of information. There simply is no way around that. In terms of information, God must be at least as complex as the universe if he is to design it.  We can compare this to someone who designs a machine. Let’s say a watchmaker. The watchmaker must be capable of comprehending and storing information about his watch will work, what parts it will have, what physical laws will be at work, how they will allow the product to function. The watchmaker must be able to compose a mental map of the watch. Otherwise, he’d be a designer who doesn’t comprehend his own design and leaves it to chance. And of course, if the design of the Universe were left to chance, God wouldn’t be required in the first place. The Universe would be the product of chance.

So, if God has used his mind to design the Universe, God’s mind must have been at least as conceptionally complex (we are not talking about any physical structure of God’s mind here; only his ability to deal with information) as the Universe itself. But God’s mind is in fact much MORE complex than the Universe. Why? Because God is said to be sentient. That means that God must not only possess all the information for the creation of the Universe (any non-sentient but big enough machine could) but also is aware of himself. He’s a personal being. Neuropsychology is only just beginning to understand how our brains handle self-awareness. And our brains are very complex structures indeed. In fact, I’ve seen it written (can’t recall where but it was a theist source) that, in terms of organisation, our brain is more complex than the rest of the Universe. And yet, God’s information-processing capability would have to be a great deal more complex than ours.

Some apologists try to make a distinction between structural complexity and functional complexity. I consider that argument to be a copout. The issue here is the DESIGN of the Universe, NOT its physical coming into being. God is said to be the designer, to have thought up how this Universe will look, feel and function. Clearly, the complexity involved here is concerned with INFORMATION (the design, the blueprint) and not with the physical product. The Universe is said to be complex/organised/ordered (see Premise 1) precisely because of its design; not because of the physical parts that it contains. To demonstrate this, imagine that the Universe as we know it does not exist at all. All that exists is a single blueprint, recorded in some form. You are a spirit floating around in nothingness. You come across this blueprint. The blueprint tells you how a Universe will look. It tells you all about energy and matter and physical laws that will govern its behaviour. Would you find this blueprint (the CONCEPT) to be ordered/organised/complex? Of course you would. And of not, then you’re not buying the IDA in the first place.

God’s mind must be a very complex thing indeed, if it is to possess all the knowledge attributable to it. It must be very organised in order to be able to conceptualise each element of the Universe’s blueprint. He must be able to tell the difference between each chemical element, between each physical law. He must be an ingenious quantum physicist. Indeed, he must be smart enough to INVENT quantum physics (a field that even the smartest of us struggle with).


But WHAT IF God Really Is Simple?  

But let us, just for the sake of the argument, assume that God really is simple, whatever that means. Let’s assume that God’s mind is simpler than the blueprint of the Universe. While this contradicts what I’ve said in the paragraph above, let’s just entertain that thought for a second. What would that mean?

Well, if a cause of lesser complexity is capable of producing a product that is more complex than itself, then God is redundant altogether. We can just have a series of mechanical causes (no matter how many of them), each giving rise to a more complex effect. The result of this progressive process would be something as ordered/complex/organised as our Universe. No designer is required at all. Premise 2 is incorrect because a gradual cause-and-effect process can lead from the simplest initial cause to the most complex end result.


No matter which way you look at it, Intelligent Design Arguments shoot themselves in the foot. They invariably posit that the Universe is in a class of things that, due to their complex/organised or ordered nature, require a designer. They then go on to posit the existence of a complex/organised/ordered thing that DOES NOT require a designer. A non-designed God kills Premise 2. If a god can exist without a designer then so can the Universe, or a mechanical predecessor of it. If a god can exist UNCAUSED then so can a mechanical First Cause. If an ordered thing must have a designer then God needs one too (Who designed the designer?). And yet, if God does have a designer then we fall into Infinite Regression and end up with a reality in which order/complexity and organisation exist uncaused to begin with. And once we accept that proposition, Premise 2 dies again, as we negate any claim that order/complexity/organisation must have a cause.

Comments are welcome

1 comment:

  1. This is a common theological argument made by every theologian. This is nothing more than wordplay and logical games. The entire argument is a waste of time. Who designed the designer? Who said there was a designer? Yes, if someone said there is a designer, the burden of proof is on them. I personally find no reason to invoke an intelligent designer but at the same time the idea of one is not irrational. The two biggest questions in science have not been answered…How/Why the Big Bang and how did life start. Though I can reasonably make the leap from non-life to life, it has yet to be replicated in a lab. I find it more probable that it is natural than supernatural, and I see no reason to insert and intelligent agent, but to call the idea irrational when we do not know the answer is unfair.