Yesterday, when suffering a mountain biking excursion with my wife in the cooler mountains of Prescott, Arizona our trail came upon a “cairn.” Immediately I wondered “How did this get here?” This pile shows signs of intentionality, design, and purpose. It’s a kind of signpost, or so it seems, constructed by intelligent beings. But wait? This would mean that this pile of rocks displays signs of intelligence. Hum…sounds very similar to an argument showing that it’s reasonable to believe there is a God.

The argument from design moves from what looks like design and order in the universe to a master Designer. It’s like moving from a work of art to the artist, from a building to its architect, from a song to its composer, from a book to its author, or from a “cairn” to its engineer. Could one look at the faces carved into Mount Rushmore and ever believe that they came about by chance or accident? Given an infinite amount of time, wind, rain, and organic materials, it is still hard to believe something like this, tied to history, was randomly formed in this country at this time. Common sense leads us to conclude that people planned and skillfully constructed this grand composition. So too does the universe appear to have intelligence and design built into it. Naturally, this assumes there is a master Architect or intelligent Agent behind the order and design of the universe.

This argument can be formulated in a few ways.

  1. Human artifacts (computers, watches, buildings) are products of intelligent design.
  2. The universe resembles these human artifacts.
  3. Therefore, the universe is (probably) a product of intelligent design.

Or consider another formulation.

  1. Living things appear to show signs of intelligent design.
  2. Living things that show signs of intelligent design are either a) a product of chance and random processes, or b) intelligent design.
  3. Living things are not a product of chance and random processes.
  4. Therefore, living things are a product of intelligent design.

You might respond that Darwin showed living things are a product of chance and random processes. However, for Darwin’s story to work there must be 3 key elements. First, random distribution of biological variations must be present in living organisms. Second, some variations are better than others in giving species an advantage to survival. Third, variations that survive in species must be hereditary. I’d like to respond to the first of these.

Today, mutation is essentially what is known as random distribution of biological variations. No one questions mutation in species. What is scientifically unsound and vastly improbable is the notion that mutation produces new species from existing species. Why is this so? Every living organism is a complex system of interrelated parts, such as organs. Each organ is a complex system of smaller interrelated parts, such as cells. Each cell is a complex system of even smaller interrelated parts, such as the bacterial flagellum. Now it is a fact that many organs require a combination of complex parts in order to perform their functions and produce a biological advantage to a species. Yet according to Darwinian evolution systems, organs and cells gradually change or mutate over time and not all parts change at the same rate.

A commonsense question arises at this point. How could an eye, as a complex system composed of interrelated parts that must operate in concert to be fully functional, gradually change to confer an advantage on the new species if it is only partially functional? You see, an eye could never become what it is in all its complexity and utility if any of its parts randomly changed over time. Should the genetic characteristics of a partially functioning eye be passed on to subsequent generations, the species is far less likely to survive than thrive. The partial evolution of an eye, therefore, would clearly be a disadvantage for survival.

Especially with the advent of genetic engineering, Darwinian evolution is considerably weakened since it depends upon “random variations” rather than carefully planned and engineered products of geneticists in a laboratory. It seems, then, that the random distribution of biological variations is not so “random” after all.

It is significant to note that Darwin’s story only applies to living things. Even if it were scientifically demonstrated to be true, Darwin’s story does not explain the apparent design in non-living, inorganic things in the universe. This takes us to another form of the Design Argument.

The universe as a whole seems to display immense precision and order such that certain physical constants must be finely tuned in order for the universe to be life-permitting rather than life-prohibiting. Many conditions and values in the physical constants of the universe had to be delicately balanced for our universe to be life-permitting. Should any of these values and conditions be altered by a small fraction, the universe would either not exist at all or be life-prohibiting. In other words, it’s extremely improbable that our universe should come into existence with no intelligent Designer behind it to fine-tune all the variables necessary for our universe to be life-permitting. The argument runs like this:

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

The expression “fine-tuning” means that the actual values assumed by the constants and quantities of the physical universe (gravity [electromagnetism], density [proton to electron mass ratio], etc.) are such that small deviations from those values would render the universe life-prohibiting. For example, a change in electromagnetism by one in 10-40 would be disastrous for the sun, making the existence of other planets in our galaxy impossible. The physical universe does not have to be the way it is; it could have been otherwise. Consider just a few more conditions and values.

Had the rate of expansion of the universe been different (by one part in a million million), no life would have been possible. The material of the observable universe is isotropic (meaning evenly distributed) to an accuracy of 0.1 percent. The balance of matter to antimatter had to be accurate to one part in ten billion for the universe to be as it is. Had the ratio of carbon to oxygen been slightly different, no life would be possible. If the mass of a proton were increased by 0.2 percent, hydrogen would be unstable and life could not have formed. For life to exist and sustain on Earth, the right temperature range must be maintained, which is achieved by a balance of the Earth being just the right distance from the sun, just the right size, maintain the right rotational speed, with the right atmosphere, and contain just the right amount of metals (particularly iron), and just the right radioactive materials (Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pp. 52ff.).

Now I grant that a million monkeys set in front of a million computers could, given enough time, produce an intelligent, coherent paragraph. But the mathematical probability of that occurring is so small that it takes far more faith to believe in chance and random processes than in intelligent design. A reasonable and rational person could only conclude, upon examining the evidence, that some super Intelligence had something incredible to do with the universe! This super Intelligence we call God.

I submit, therefore, that this cairn we happened upon yesterday was equally the product of an intelligent being.

8 Comments

  1. You got one thing right: “Living things are not a product of chance and random processes.”

    What you probably don’t understand is there’s nothing random about natural selection.

  2. You asked : “A commonsense question arises at this point. How could an eye, as a complex system composed of interrelated parts that must operate in concert to be fully functional, gradually change to confer an advantage on the new species if it is only partially functional?”

    If your aim is to rally the faithful against accepting the evidence for evolution – that’s a great question – which is why it’s so frequently used in creationist / anti-science resources.

    If you are actually interested in the answer to how the eye could have evolved please take a look at some of these resources, each of which clearly explains the sort of path that would be needed, showing how each small step would confer a small (but real) advantage over it’s predecessor;

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/1/l_011_01.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_the_eye
    http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/ridley/a-z/Evolution_of_the_eye.asp

    http://tinyurl.com/2bxedfd

  3. Paul,
    Your arguments are sound. Let’s call the formation of the earth so that it can even produce life and the combination of elements up to the point when they can actually be considered to be a reproducing instance of life “pre-evolution.” Traditionally, advocates of pre-evolution have appealed to the huge amount of time available. The argument has been that, given enough time and a sufficient number of chance encounters, it not only become possible, but even probable (if not inevitable) that life should emerge. This argument has had the wind taken out of its sails because recent research has shown that the amount of available time and the window, both physically and temporally, for sufficient chance encounters to make the combination even mildly probable is far too small to be plausible. This research has been summarized by Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross in The Origins of Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004). Rana and Ross are not inventing arguments of their own, but are essentially compiling the conclusions attained by non-Creationist, non-ID, scientists, who have found themselves stuck in their attempts to account for the emergence of life, let alone intelligent life, at any time or place on earth. Even if you allow the earth an age of five billion years, only a small fraction of that time could conditions have been such that life could have emerged spontaneously. And even then, it could have done so only in highly accommodating places, not just anywhere on the globe, and no attempts to identify any such locations where life forms could have been produced without being immediately disintegrated again have withstood peer analysis. Scientists of high standing have toyed with, if not embraced, panspermia, not because they have turned into crackpots, but because they are recognizing that a theory of an earthbound origin of life cannot be sustained.
    Furthermore, never mind the eye. I’ve never quite bought into that argument from the creationist side because one could construct a relatively smooth chain from simple photon receptors to the sharp vision of, say, hawks, over existing taxonomy. But the need for all-or-none complexity arises a whole lot earlier. As Rana and Ross point out, in order to have a living cell, it needs to be contained by a functional membrane, and in this case one really can’t get away with anything less than the finished product. If you equate a cell membrane with a bucket, it has to be a bucket that holds in most of its contents, but not any undesirable products; it has to keep out many external products, but not all of them. A bucket that leaks even a little in either direction is useless. For such a bucket to come together by chance, once again, even if it were possible, would require far more throws of the dice than there was time or opportunity.
    “Human Ape” has it right when he says that “there’s nothing random about natural selection,” though perhaps not in the way in which he means it. The process that allow for certain mutations to become successfully propagated in a given population of organisms is rigorously delineated and can even be quantified. Now, here is what I see as a significant aspect of that process. If a population encounters a change in its environment of sufficient magnitude to favor an altered phenotype, then it can bring out the new phenotype only if the essential mutations are already present in the population’s genotype. It would be way too late, statistically speaking, for the members of the population to wait around for any one of its members to come up with the needed mutation, and then for that mutation to spread around the entire population to rescue it. That may sound overly dramatic, but evolution depends on pressures that give populations of organisms clear advantages, and–short of viability (survival and the ability to produce viable offspring)–there would not be enough reason for the change. (It is fascinating how many evolutionists begin to sound Lamarckian at this point without realizing it.) Organisms do not evolve for aesthetic reasons or because they see an advantage in evolving themselves into a particular direction. Unless viability is affected, any mutation simply gets absorbed and genotypic as well as phenotypic equilibrium is preserved. But, as I said, the key for success in adaptation is that the essential gene already has to be present, and, thus, either
    a) populations of organisms generally have a sufficient number of previously useless mutations distributed among its members to meet the needs of changes. Even given the fact that many species do become extinct, this is not statistically possible; or,
    b) populations of organisms plan ahead and maintain and distribute specifically those mutations that will be required for its genotype in anticipation of probable future changes. Then we would have intelligent self-design of the organisms; or
    c) something outside of the population ensures that, once a change that exerts evolutionary pressure on the population occurs, the population’s genotype is prepared to adapt to the change. But purposive adaptation for the sake of anticipated events requires a modicum of intelligence.
    Consequently, the fact that there’s nothing random about natural selection contributes to the case for a creator or supervisor of the world of biological organisms.
    I’ve talked about this a little more in a compilation of a few entries from my blog.
    Have a great day.
    Win

  4. I am an editor for Christian.com which is a social network dedicated to the christian community. As I look through your web site I feel a collaboration is at hand. I would be inclined to acknowledge your website offering it to our users as I’m sure our Christian reformed audience would benefit from what your site has to offer. I look forward to your thoughts or questions regarding the matter.

    Vicky Silvers
    vicky.silvers@gmail.com

  5. Excellent! Thanks, Win! Sincerely appreciate you taking the time to unpack here. Clearly I’ve much to learn and much to read!

  6. Thank you, for pointing out these references. They were illuminating for me. Nevertheless, I believe my overall framework still stands (sans the eye example).

  7. I’m glad you were able to gain something from the discussions of the evolution of the eye.

    For the rest of the argument about why the universe is so finely balanced in a state that supports the existence of carbon based life – I remain unconvinced by the argument from the appearance of design.

    The best summary of this question that I’ve read is Paul Davies’ book “The Goldilocks Enigma” (also published as ‘The Cosmic Jackpot”).

    He summarises the current status of the discussion and the various theories put forward to explain the ‘fine tuning’. It’s a well written account of a complex subject. Predictably perhaps, I came away from reading it confirmed in my atheistic agnosticism. Others of a religious nature seem to have viewed it as supportive of their creationist view of the universe:

    http://www.amazon.com/Goldilocks-Enigma-Universe-Just-Right/product-reviews/0547053584

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