(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 5: “Why is the universe fine-tuned for life?”)
Dr. Craig closes Chapter 5 with an attempt to debunk The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Specifically, he goes after Dawkins’ famous “Ultimate Boeing 747” argument, in an attempt to show that it does not disprove the “design” argument he makes for a “fine-tuned” universe. But before we dig in, I want to make just a quick observation about the difference between “design” and mere “function”.
In brief, the difference between design and function is simply the presence or absence of intention. Outwardly, design and function are indistinguishable: all you can see is that a certain set of causes work to produce a specific result. If this result was an intended outcome, then we say it was produced by design; if not, then it is merely functional. If a squirrel climbs a tree one one side of a stream, and runs across interwoven branches to reach a tree on the other side, then the branches function as a bridge. This does not mean, however, that the trees were designed as a bridge unless someone specifically intended for the trees to have that function.
Scientifically, all we can observe is the function. The evidence cited by ID creationists does not consist of actual, verifiable intention, it consists merely of specific instances of function. To turn this into design, we must assume the presence of actual intention which is not present in the evidence itself. In other words, what ID creationists are doing is making the assumption that observed functions were intended by some Creator, and then using this assumption to interpret the evidence in a way that leads to the conclusion that the functions were intended by some Creator. Or more briefly, they’re just being superstitious.
Now then, on to Craig v. Dawkins.
Dr. Craig’s first attack on Dr. Dawkins is to accuse him of a “lack of philosphical depth.” I’m going to use a longish quote here because I think it’s important to see exactly how he proceeds.
Detractors of design sometimes object that on this hypthesis the Cosmic Designer Himself remains unexplained. This objection is what Richard Dawkins calls “the central argument of my book” The God Delusion. He summarizes his argument as follows:
- One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
- The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.
- The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.
- The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.
- We don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics.
- We should not give up hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.
Therefore God almost certainly does not exist.
…Dawkins’ argument is jarring because the atheistic conclusion, “Therefore God almost certainly does not exist,” doesn’t follow from the six previous arguments even if we concede that each of them is true… Dawkins’ argument is plainly invalid.
Anyone who is a quick and/or careless reader might miss the fact that the summary Dr. Craig presents as being Dawkins’ summary is actually Craig’s summary. The conclusion is indeed jarring, however it is not quite what Dawkins actually wrote. In context, Dr. Dawkins has just finished presenting rebuttals to the classic arguments for God (Chapter 3) and is now presenting his argument against God (Chapter 4). His conclusion is this:
If the argument of this chapter is accepted, the factual premise of religion — the God Hypothesis — is untenable. God almost certainly does not exist.
Dawkins’ point, in context, is that if complexity requires something even more complex to design it, then introducing a Designer only compounds the problem by increasing the complexity that needs to be designed. That’s not an invalid argument (and in fact Dr. Craig doesn’t really think so either, since he later tries to refute Dawkins’ point, which would be unnecessary if the argument itself were simply invalid).
What we need to consider here is precisely which God we mean when we say He “almost certainly does not exist.” Dr. Craig started out his book by giving a very specific definition that I think fits well.
Now when I use the word God in this context, I mean an all-powerful, perfectly good Creator of the world who offers us eternal life.” [Emphasis added.]
If the existence of a Creator is an untenable hypothesis because it only multiplies the difficulties that require explanation, then it is reasonable to conclude that God, as defined by Craig himself, almost certainly does not exist. You can argue with the premise (as Craig does later on), but the argument itself is hardly “invalid,” as Craig would lead us to believe. The God Whom Dawkins is refuting is a very specific God: He’s a Creator God, and Dawkins is rejecting His existence because he finds the creation explanation scientifically untenable.
Mind you, I don’t think Dawkins “Ultimate Boeing 747” argument is sufficient as a rebuttal of God’s existence. It’s on the right track though. We might not be able to prove a negative (i.e. “no invisible gods/dragons/unicorns/fairies exist”), but we can take each of the specific dogmas men propose and show how the teachings of men are inconsistent with each other and with the real world. Of course, then we get into the game I call “Musical Gods.”
Musical Gods is a game like musical chairs, but with a few variations. In this game, you have a certain number of gods who are very similar to each other and yet each is slightly different in some unique way. And you have as many chairs as there are gods. The game starts when the skeptic pulls the chair out from under one of the gods, as Dawkins does with his Ultimate Boeing 747 argument. At this point, the god falls down, and the skeptic says, “See? Your God can’t really stand on his own.” The believer then declares that the skeptic has pulled the chair out from under the wrong god, and indicates some other god or gods still firmly seated. The skeptic then goes to pull the chair out from one of the other gods, as indicated by the believer. Meanwhile, the believer quietly re-seats the original god, and the game continues ad infinitum.
At most, all that follows from Dawkins’ argument is that we should not infer God’s existence on the basis of the appearance of design in the universe… Maybe we should believe in God on the basis of the cosmological argument or the moral argument. Maybe our belief in God isn’t based on arguments at all but is grounded in religious experience or in divine revelation.
All of which, of course, Dawkins’ had previously addressed in Chapter 3 of The God Delusion. But those gods were quietly re-seated while Dawkins turned his attention to the one sitting in the “Design” chair. Meanwhile, Dr. Craig accuses Dawkins of a “lack of philosophical depth,” because his Ultimate 747 argument only pulled out one chair.
Notwithstanding his earlier claim that Dawkins’ whole argument was invalid, Dr. Craig then goes on to try and refute the premises. He first tries to dismiss point #6 as being “nothing more than the faith of a naturalist” (apparently assuming that “faith” means believing in something that ain’t necessarily so, hmm). But contrast Dr. Craig’s version of Dawkins’ summary with what Dawkins actually wrote in point 6:
We should not give up hope of a better crane arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology. But even in the absence of a strongly satisfying crane to match the biological one, the relatively weak cranes we have at present are, when abetted by the anthropic principle, self-evidently better than the self-defeating skyhook hypothesis of an intelligent designer.
Contrary to Craig’s snide insinuation, Dawkins is not at all resting on faith alone that we will someday find natural explanations for everything. He’s saying that what we have already seen so far is a better explanation than Intelligent Design. Dr. Craig may not agree with Dr. Dawkins’ conclusions, but he should at least try and resist the temptation to misrepresent them.
Dr. Craig tries to address the problem of “Who designed the Designer?” (step 3) by arguing that you don’t need to know who designed the designer to know that the artifact in front of you was designed. He uses the examples of archeologists finding arrowheads from some previously unknown culture, or of astronauts finding machinery on the back side of the moon. Accepting such things as “designed” does not require that you have all the answers to every question about who created them.
That argument sounds persuasive to a lot of people because it uses familiar informal reasoning to reach plausible sounding conclusions. If we follow through on our reasoning, though, this is actually a pretty good argument against the idea of Intelligent Design as an explanation of the universe. If we see an arrowhead buried in sediments, or a pile of machinery on the moon, we infer the existence of arrowhead makers or machine builders precisely because we have our own experiences in building machines and working with stone. In other words, we infer intention because of the similarity between the artifact and the types of artifacts we ourselves have produced by design.
So how many of you out there have ever created a universe ex nihilo, with arbitrarily-designated physical constants? Anyone? Buehler?
We don’t have any experience with creating universes, and therefore it’s not going to be like finding a machine on the moon. In the case of the cosmos, we don’t have a basis of common, real-world experience tying the alleged artifact with any known process capable of producing such artifacts by design. On what basis, then, could we reasonably conclude that intelligent design is even possible, let alone necessary?
We have two alternatives: we can concede that Intelligent Design is not, in fact, necessary (thus eliminating ID as an argument for God’s existence), or we can assume that there must be some principle that requires Intelligent Design in order to produce any phenomenon as complex as the universe. In the latter case, however, we get into an infinite regression, because the same principle is going to require a Designer for the Designer. The only way out of that regression is to concede, sooner or later, that Intelligent Design is not necessary in order to produce complex phenomena.
The example of arrowheads and moon machines is a red herring, because we don’t assume that ancient civilizations or even space aliens are themselves uncaused causes. Whether or not we know who made the arrowheads or who built the moon machine, we naturally infer that some prior set of natural conditions led to their existence, since this is consistent with what we have observed so far. To the degree that ID creationists feign belief in the possibility that alien races might be the Intelligent Designer, the question of “Who designed the designer?” remains a valid question. At the point where you try to turn the Designer into a Creator, though, you get into trouble. Either Intelligent Design is not required for things as complex as the universe, or else God also requires a Designer.
At this point, Dr. Craig takes his argument in a truly bizarre and fecklessly materialistic direction.
Dawkins’ fundamental mistake lies in his assumption that a divine Designer is just as complex as the universe. That is plainly false. As a pure mind without a body, God is a remarkably simple entity. A mind (or soul) is not a physical object composed of parts. In contrast to the contingent and variegated universe with all its inexplicable constants and quantities, a divine mind is startlingly simple.
Ok, Dr. Craig, please explain the Trinity in 25 words or less. Shouldn’t be too hard for a “remarkably simple entity” like God, eh?
Apparently Dr. Craig believes that only material things can be complicated. A mind can contain complex ideas, but the mind itself is exquisitely simple. Or so he claims. “Therefore, postulating a divine mind behind the universe most definitely does represent an advance in simplicity, for whatever that’s worth.”
I think Dr. Craig just put the entire psychiatric profession out of business, not to mention eliminating epistemology and phenomenology (assuming a mind with no body would be capable of knowing and perceiving). Minds are simple. Only ideas and material things are complex. “Goddidit” is the simplest possible explanation for the universe and everything in it. Sheesh.
Like I said, I have some reservations about Dr. Dawkins arguments in The God Delusion. I think he could have said more, and maybe rephrased his conclusion about the Ultimate 747 argument a little better. But then again, given the way apologists play Musical Gods, such problems are an occupational hazard of skepticism. And whatever flaws might befall The God Delusion, Dr. Craig’s problems seem much worse.
Next week: Can we be good without God? Stay tuned.