This morning, I started writing about a podcast episode I enjoyed that touched on the theme of reductionism. In doing so, I was reminded of Intelligent Design exponent Michael Behe’s notion of irreducible complexity, which led me to write an extensive aside about Intelligent Design that I’m now going to publish as a brief post in its own right.
The gist of the Intelligent Design argument – of which irreducible complexity is an important part – is that the universe is too complex, too fine-tuned and too statistically unlikely to have come about without a designer. Even the simplest life forms are far too complex to have come into being out of natural causes.[1. If you want to hear someone arguing this position, there are many examples on YouTube, such as Dinesh D’Souza arguing here that for a cell to have come to being in a warm pond would be tantamount to a skyscraper or car suddenly appearing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9V85OykSDT8&feature=youtu.be&t=30m00s] The existence of a designer is, therefore, the most plausible theory, they claim.
Many (practically all, in fact) supporters of Intelligent Design use the theory to support belief in God.[2. Intelligent Design theory is a contemporary facet of the old Teleological Argument for the Existence of God, which is most popularly associated with William Paley: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/teleological-arguments/] Behe himself, however, has pointed out that the theory does not tell us much about the nature of the designer or designers.[3. I heard Behe, himself a Roman Catholic, interviewed on this topic in the documentary, Flock of Dodos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GU8V5oTIwKM] After all, to apply one of 18th century philosopher David Hume’s many ideas on the topic: a skyscraper is designed and built not by a single entity, but by a large group of workers who are dead within a hundred years of building the thing.
There are many strong arguments against Intelligent Design, but the one great big question that completely destroys the theory is the following (note that I’ve worded this to emphasize notions of complexity):
If the universe is too complex to have come into being on its own and therefore required a designer, and if God himself is infinitely more perfect and complex than the universe, then is it not required that a designer designed God?
In other words, there is the implication in Intelligent Design that at some point, a complex un-designed designer came into existence, presumably – Behe’s qualifiers notwithstanding – one who is perfect, all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful, etc. Most Christians, however, will point out that God is infinite and has no starting point.[4. For a philosophical explanation of this, see Thomas Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument, which has its roots in Aristotle via Islamic philosophers: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/]
That’s fine, but it only further takes the steam out of Intelligent Design theory, which presents itself as a more rational, scientifically plausible explanation for the existence of the universe and life than what most scientists currently accept. That is, it’s harder to accept an infinitely complex and perfect sentient creator coming into being without a designer than it is to accept a far less complex and less perfect finite universe coming into being without a designer.
I propose an alternative perspective: That the complexities of the universe are beyond human understanding says more about the simplicity of the current state of the human mind than it does about the nature of the universe. I have a hard time believing that a species that has not yet even figured out how to live peacefully and nondestructively has evolved anywhere near the point of being able to make accurate declarations about what qualifies as impossibly complex.
My favorite argument for the existence of God is the simplest: “I look at the world and, inexplicably, I feel His presence.” It seems to me that to acknowledge the possibility for science to threaten such a feeling is to point to the possibility that the feeling is dependent upon special conditions in which there exists the idea that God exists. If God exists, the effects of God’s presence should obtain regardless of explicit philosophical or implicit scientific claims to the contrary.