XFiles: Musical Gods

(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.

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XFiles: Constant superstition

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 5: “Why is the universe fine-tuned for life?”)

Chapter 5 starts the “Intelligent Design” portion of Dr. Craig’s apologetic, though he does not call it that. In fact, he puts in a sidebar that explicitly points out that “fine-tuned” does not mean designed. Fine tuning, he explains, “just means that the range of life-permitting values for the constants and quantities is extremely narrow.” But don’t let that mislead you, this is his ID argument, which he presents in the form of another syllogism.

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
  2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore it is due to design.

There are several significant flaws in this argument. First of all, as we saw last week, time itself has its origin, along with the rest of the universe, at the Big Bang. That means there has never been a time when the physical constants of the universe did not exist with their current values, which prevents any Designer from having the opportunity to design them. They’re already here, they already have the correct values, and the Designer himself could not have existed prior to the constants (since time itself does not go back that far), so we can eliminate design right off the bat.

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XFiles: Beginning vs. origin

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 4: “Why did the universe begin?”)

We’re in for a treat this week: the latter part of Chapter 4 is really quite good, and is an excellent overview of modern cosmology suitable for introducing Christian laymen to some of the subtleties of Big Bang theory. It’s not without its flaws and inaccuracies, and of course he’s writing with the intention of proving that God had to create the Big Bang. Fortunately, that conclusion doesn’t show up until the very end of the chapter, and a lot of the material in between is not bad at all, for a lay author.

Ironically, Dr. Craig seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that this effectively rules out the possibility of a divine Creator behind the Big Bang. Lucky for us, because there’s some good material here that we can share with creationists. And since it’s written by a leading Christian apologist, they can’t complain that it’s biased against God and the Bible. (Well, hell, they’re creationists, of course they can, but still.)

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The creationist handicap

Writing for the National Post, Prof. P. D. Brown says:

Like the evangelicals and other Christians he chastises for thinking that God might actually create something, I appreciate that Jonathan Dudley believes he is defending some variation of faith in God (The Christian duty to accept evolution, June 19). However, lurching into a naturalistic version of evolution occasionally baptized with the word “theistic” is arguably a worse mistake than the alleged immoderation of creationism.

Brown insists that it is evolution, not creationism, that has trouble explaining things.

[E]volutionary theory does not explain a lot of things – it does not explain the sudden appearance of life forms in the fossil record or the stasis that follows, it has no explanation for the coding and translation systems in life as they actually exist, it has no explanation or verifiable clues about the origin of life, it does not explain the origin of multiple layers of programming in the organism, it has no explanation for coordinating those multiple layers or how they relate to evolving function and development, it does not even explain — much less demonstrate — how a fruit fly could change to a house fly or vice versa (that would at least demonstrate that common ancestry between the two is possible), it does not explain how or why a common primate ancestor would diverge into chimps and humans, in fact it explains precious little at all. It is a one-trick pony doing a thousand versions of the claim: “Similarity implies common ancestry.”

But the real punch line here is in the credits at the bottom.

P.D. Brown is a professor of chemistry, biology and environmental studies at Trinity Western University in British Columbia

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