The Case for a Creator: The God Generator

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 6

For those who accept the premises of the cosmological fine-tuning argument – that the physical laws of the universe could have been different, and that there’s only a small prior probability they would have taken on the values to produce intelligent beings – there are two possible explanations. One is that these values were chosen by a god or other creative power. Another one, which has found favor with some cosmologists in recent years, is that there are a vast number of parallel universes which instantiate all the possible values, and we naturally find ourselves in one of the universes conducive to beings like ourselves.

In chapter 6, Lee Strobel pours scorn on this second possibility. He calls it a “metaphysical escape hatch to avoid the fine-tuning evidence for a designer” [p.139], and quotes some of his ID fellow-travelers who say that this explanation “does seem to betray a metaphysical desperation” [p.140]. He also quotes William Lane Craig, who describes this as an “outlandish theory” invented because “some people will hypothesize anything to avoid” [p.140] the ID explanation.

Something I’ve occasionally observed is that religious apologists will crank up the intensity of their polemic when logic alone doesn’t get them the answers they want, and that seems to be what’s going on here. There is no solid proof that parallel universes exist, but neither is there any way to disprove them; of course, both these points are also true of the intelligent-designer hypothesis. Since these explanations both account for the observations equally well, there is no obvious way to choose between them, and the ID explanation does not stand out as a clear winner. The sudden sharp increase in the hostility of Strobel’s language is probably deliberate, a smokescreen deployed to obscure that rhetorically inconvenient fact. (And didn’t he say in an earlier interview that “motive-mongering” is an irrelevant tactic and that every explanation should stand or fall on its own merits? Evidently, this has been forgotten.)

Note also the careful framing, in which Strobel’s wording is chosen to imply that a supernatural designer should be the default explanation. This may sound good to Christian readers, but it’s not how science works. Every hypothesis has to prove itself superior to its competitors by making verified predictions and producing supporting evidence. No explanation wins just by casting aspersions on its rivals. If Strobel and his ID compatriots want to win this fight, they would be well advised to figure out some concrete predictions that ID makes that differ from those made by multiverse hypotheses (many of which do make testable predictions, even if some of the tests are presently beyond our ability to carry out).

For whatever reason, after spending several pages sneering at multiverse hypotheses, Strobel next resorts to a fallback explanation: even if there were parallel universes, that would still indicate design! As Robin Collins says:

“My wife and I have a bread-making machine… To make edible bread, we first needed this well-designed machine that had the right circuitry, the right heating element, the right timer, and so forth. Then we had to put in the right ingredients in the right proportions and the right order – water, milk, flour, shortening, salt, sugar, yeast…”

“Now, let’s face it: a universe is far more complex than a loaf of bread. My point is that if a bread machine requires certain specific parameters to be set in order to create bread, then there has to be a highly designed mechanism or process to produce functional universes. In other words, regardless of which multiple-universe theory you use, in every case you’d need a ‘many-universes generator’…” [p.142]

No matter how cleverly worded they are or how many intervening steps they contain, cosmological arguments for theism always reach a point where they lapse into special pleading. The above paragraph is the point where Robin Collins does it. Do we need a “many-universes generator”? Then why don’t we also need a “god generator”, to produce the sort of intelligent designer that is capable of producing universes? Why does one need a further explanation while the other does not?

Any explanation for the origin of the universe is susceptible to such recursive questioning. Either the causal chain regresses forever, or we find a place where we have to stop and declare “that’s just the way it is”. The point is that creationists have no rational warrant for stopping the regression at the place most convenient for them. They have no justification for declaring that this step absolutely requires a further explanation, but that step is the one for which no further explanation is necessary. In the absence of evidence, that line can always be moved one step forward or one step backward.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that one day we will discover the scientifically supported explanation for the ultimate cause of all things. But that day hasn’t come yet; we probably don’t even know the right questions to ask. There’s ample reason for all of us to be patient and humble when it comes to the question of ultimate origins. We still have much to learn, and in the meantime, creationists should cease polluting the discussion with empty buzzwords like “metaphysically necessary”, or claiming that there “has to be” a supernatural explanation. These are not arguments, they’re just professions of faith.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • keddaw

    I love it when these people start going down the road of adopting (misappropriating?) science. For all their bluster at no point do any of their arguments give any credence to whether Jesus was the son of the god they try to prove, or if Mohammed was his last prophet. They get so far from their religion that I want them to turn round and see it as a dot on the horizon.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    In chapter 6, Lee Strobel pours scorn on this second possibility. He calls it a “metaphysical escape hatch to avoid the fine-tuning evidence for a designer” [p.139], and quotes some of his ID fellow-travelers who say that this explanation “does seem to betray a metaphysical desperation” [p.140]. He also quotes William Lane Craig, who describes this as an “outlandish theory” invented because “some people will hypothesize anything to avoid” [p.140] the ID explanation. … (And didn’t he say in an earlier interview that “motive-mongering” is an irrelevant tactic and that every explanation should stand or fall on its own merits? Evidently, this has been forgotten.)

    QFT.

    It never ceases to amaze me how clearly some people can point out a speck in their neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in their own (oh, burn! See what I did there?). I’m starting to think that perhaps there really is a god, but it has been grievously misunderstood every single time it tries to communicate with humanity. Best of both worlds! IDiots get their designer, I get my “all religion is bunk.” Of course, that’ll never happen; the “millions of years” schtick is practically a covert promise to defend to the last every single stupid thing in the Bible. Oi.

  • Ritchie

    Every hypothesis has to prove itself superior to its competitors by making verified predictions and producing supporting evidence. No explanation wins just by casting aspersions on its rivals.

    This seems to be a point which has escaped Strobel completely. He has already spent an entire chapter attacking evolution, apparently with the misguided idea that this is positive evidence for his alternative: creationism. It isn’t. And now he’s trying the same trick with the multi-universe hypothesis?

    To be fair though, he’s hardly alone in this. But that doesn’t make his logic any less flawed.

    The multi-universe hypothesis may be just a hypothesis, but it makes an awful lot of sense. We know of at least one universe that exists – this one. So we do know that universes are, in principal, things that can and do exit. So, given that one universe does exist, why not five, ten, a hundred or even billions? Intelligent designers are NOT the sort of things we know for a fact exist. So if we’re playing the probability game, a billion other universes are in fact more likely than an intelligent designer.

    Once you have established for a fact that at least one horse exists, it is more likely that a billion other horses also exist than a single unicorn.

    (Hmmm, re-reading my post it kinda sounds like I’ve just made the same logical fallacy I upbraided Strobel for making. So pre-emptively in my defence, I’ll just point out that I’m not claiming this as positive evidence that the multiverse hypothesis is correct. It is enough for me that it is at least as likely an explaination as the Intelligent Designer alternative.)

  • Alex, FCD

    He calls it a “metaphysical escape hatch to avoid the fine-tuning evidence for a designer” [p.139], and quotes some of his ID fellow-travelers who say that this explanation “does seem to betray a metaphysical desperation” [p.140].

    Have you ever heard of a scientist who was particularly concerned with the “metaphysics” of her hypotheses? What a weird way of trying to attack somebody.

  • valhar2000

    Have you ever heard of a scientist who was particularly concerned with the “metaphysics” of her hypotheses?

    Francis Collins. Well, he’s a “his”, rather than a “hers”, but you know what I mean.

  • Joffan

    What on earth is Robin Collins’ bread-maker analogy about? Does he totally fail to understand the many-universes hypothesis? It’s perfectly OK that he wants a universe-generating mechanism, but I completely don’t understand why he thinks it should “know” anything about the varying parameters of the universes generated. Of course the mechanism can then be unintelligent, which would detract from his desired conclusion.

    (Actually, re-reading, he slips in the incorrect notion that all the generated universes should be “functioning”, without which his argument fails).

    We still have much to learn, and in the meantime, creationists should cease polluting the discussion with empty buzzwords like “metaphysically necessary”, or claiming that there “has to be” a supernatural explanation.

    That’ll do it.

  • Alex Weaver

    My wife and I have a bread-making machine…

    <Cooking Enthusiast Chauvinism>*snicker*</Cooking Enthusiast Chauvinism>

    (Everything else I’d add at the moment seems to have been said already)

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    It is understandable that Christians ignore the question “who created God.”

    Christians begin with the assumption that the soul is immortal. God has a soul. Therefore, God is immortal.

    To ask the question “who created God” is to attack the very basic, primary premise that souls are immortal. To explain that God needs a creator is to explain that souls are mortal (they have a beginning and thus presumably an end). And if you could convince a Christian that his soul was not immortal… then the entire religion would collapse.

    Without immortality, there is simply no point to Christianity. Following a set of arbitrary and stupid laws, surrendering moral and personal authority, and generally denying yourself in this life for the sake of the next one is not worth it to anyone if there is no next one. Even Christians understand that.

    Without immortality, there is no Christianity. Thus, to even begin the conversation as a Christian, you must presuppose the immortality of God – both future and past.

    This is why this question simply cannot ever be seriously addressed by a Christian.

  • 2-D Man

    My wife and I have a bread-making machine… To make edible bread, we first needed this well-designed machine that had the right circuitry, the right heating element, the right timer, and so forth.

    Little known fact: bread was unheard of until humans figured out semiconductor electronics.

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    My wife and I have a bread-making machine… To make edible bread, we first needed this well-designed machine that had the right circuitry, the right heating element, the right timer, and so forth.

    Little known fact: bread was unheard of until humans figured out semiconductor electronics.

    Actually the first bread was created in the garden of eden from the rib of a pretzel.

  • http://www.time4rebellion.blogspot.com mavricky

    Ok is it just me or are there others out there who think that the argument about the origin of the universe as it is used in the creator vs science debate is wearing a little thin? There are really only two facts that encapsulate the whole debate. Fact One: Atheists will always say that they don’t know how the universe started, but that science is working on it and will probably figure it all out one day. Fact Two: Believers will always say that God created the universe, and that even if science figures it all out one day, then that’s exactly what God had intended anyway. So in my opinion this is why the whole creator vs science debate is fated to spiral ad infinitum, and ultimately why it will never result in a definitive conclusion – before the second coming of Christ that is.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Little known fact: bread was unheard of until humans figured out semiconductor electronics.
    – 2-D Man

    And an even littler-known fact: Bread is actually older than YECs think the Universe is.

  • Alex Weaver

    So in my opinion this is why the whole creator vs science debate is fated to spiral ad infinitum, and ultimately why it will never result in a definitive conclusion

    A problem which the propensity of certain believers to ignore questions posed to them for which they have no coherent answer nearly solves.

  • http://www.time4rebellion.blogspot.com mavricky

    Alex,
    Yeah, your familiarity with spiraling debates doesn’t surpise me. At what stage will you decide to break out the insults and drag this one south?
    http://www.daylightatheism.org/2009/10/celibacy-is-unnatural.html#comment-50923

  • Johan

    “Another one, which has found favor with some cosmologists in recent years, is that there are a vast number of parallel universes which instantiate all the possible values, and we naturally find ourselves in one of the universes conducive to beings like ourselves.”

    I would like a source for that claim. It’s not that I disbelieve you – I’m an atheist too. But I’d like som reference for it. It would be useful in my discussions with various religious people.

    Anyways, the idea is very interesting. IIRC, there is a dispute about if there are a finite or an infinite number of universes.

    Yet still, I guess a creationist could resort to what I myself wonder: Why something rather than nothing? Why universes rather than no universes? And why did the come into existence in the first place?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    We don’t know, Johan. We don’t know, and we have to live with that uncertainty, or we go nuts trying to satisfy it. Like, actually crazy, if only mildly and in one particular area of one’s life. It is no bad thing to admit the limit of one’s knowledge; but all manner of bad things have proceeded from laying claim to knowledge no person could possibly acquire.

    That wondering is exactly what ought to inspire us to rigorous scientific inquiry. The thin gruel of vapid mystery cannot satisfy curiosity; rather, it accustoms one to be satisfied without a robust, healthy curiosity. I have a pet hunch that this is one way insularity gets started, but it may be mere wishful thinking that lacking curiosity is bad for you.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    The breadmaker analogy is reminding me of the gag from the Simpsons, about the breadmaker-maker. A machine that makes a breadmaker, which in turn makes bread.

    Which is actually a very clever analogy for the infinite digression problem of the “first cause” argument. If something or someone had to make the breadmaker… then who or what made the breadmaker-maker?

    And Ebon, you’re totally right about the “snarky polemic is inversely proportional to actual logic or evidence” ratio. Just today in my blog, someone was scoffing at me for the absurdity of thinking that evolution could produce flowers, peacocks, and leopards… in the classic, “This is amazing, therefore God exists” gambit. No actual argument made. Just “How could you be so absurd?” I’ll have to remember that formula.

  • Neil

    I don’t understand why Strobel or anyone would limit the choices to two, other than lack of imagination and intellectual honesty. One fine tuned universe, or all possible universes, are the only conditions that could produce humans? Seems a bit arrogant to me. Are we really all that special? Seems to me that the Great Green Arkleseizure is just as likely, for all we know at this point. We are still light-years away from any real estimate of how common life is or can be in the universe we inhabit, or under what conditions it can start. We may be an amazing, almost impossible happening; we may be as common as mold in a dirty kitchen, just harder to find given the vastness of space. What amazes me about humans is how much “meaning” the human brain can assign to its own ignorance.

    In his post, Ebon brings up a point that has bugged me since I could think about abstract concepts. Why do religious people have such trouble examining their own assumptions? Why is this non-entity “God” so unquestionable to them, and always assumed(even, illogically enough, in arguments for God)? I ask believers “Well then, what made God?” and they look at me like I’m crazy. Putting in the empty placeholder “god” doesn’t change anything at all about reality or existence, except to give people a chance to inject their own cultural, moral, or philosophical assumptions, a chance to put their own personalities and wishes on the cold facts of the universe. In the simplest sense, I think that Yahzi answers my questions perfectly, and it is so childishly simple that it makes me a bit sick. If believers could just grow up and accept their mortality without pissing themselves and getting all depressed, they might be able to finally question the reliability of their assumptions honestly.

    Sorry to go on so long. I realize that I didn’t add much to the conversation content-wise, but this post and Yahzi’s reply have helped me to think of this issue in a new way. Usually this discussion ends with a believer saying something like “Well there has to be a first cause-how does something come from nothing, smarty-pants?” and me saying something like “Oh, so there has to be a first cause for everything except for the first cause that you just made up. How nice for you.”
    I doubt I’ll find any great new arguments all by myself, but Ebon and Yahzi have given me some new ways to think about and approach the issue. Thanks!

  • Alex Weaver

    Yeah, your familiarity with spiraling debates doesn’t surpise me. At what stage will you decide to break out the insults and drag this one south?

    1) I note that an answer to my question has not been produced.
    2) I “apologize” for hurting your poor little delicate feelings by accurately applying an unflattering slang label for an enthusiastic partisan, especially right-wing, intractably holding and vociferously promoting positions manifestly contrary to observable reality and/or their own internal logic.

  • http://www.time4rebellion.blogspot.com Mavricky

    Alex,
    A great many questions when addressed with disparaging slang labels do no receive answers. It’s just the way it is.

  • David Ellis

    “Since these explanations both account for the observations equally well, there is no obvious way to choose between them, and the ID explanation does not stand out as a clear winner.”

    True, but it worse than that for ID. The multiverse hypothesis is an explanation in terms of a class of thing we know to exist (universes). It simply posits that ours isn’t the only one. The God hypothesis is an explanation in terms of a class of thing far from established to exist (supernatural beings/disembodied minds).

    It seems pretty clear which is the more parsimonious explanation. That being the case their expressions of scorn are all the more inappropriate.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Johan, one notable physicist who takes the parallel-universes view is Martin Rees. Alan Guth and Brian Greene are two others who’ve expressed similar views.

    Why is this non-entity “God” so unquestionable to them, and always assumed(even, illogically enough, in arguments for God)? I ask believers “Well then, what made God?” and they look at me like I’m crazy. Putting in the empty placeholder “god” doesn’t change anything at all about reality or existence, except to give people a chance to inject their own cultural, moral, or philosophical assumptions, a chance to put their own personalities and wishes on the cold facts of the universe.

    Very well said, Neil. I particularly like the idea of God as a “placeholder”, because for these believers, that’s just what it is. They use it as a plug to fill a gap in their knowledge, and once the plug is put in place, they think that any further questioning is futile. That’s why atheists get such strange looks when we raise questions like, “Who made God?” In the theist worldview, that sequence of words doesn’t express a meaningful query.

    That’s just why we need to keep raising the question, to get them to come around to our point of view. Enlightenment is a gradual and painful process, but once you realize that “God did it” doesn’t actually answer anything, I think that’s the first big step toward adopting a scientific and skeptical worldview.

  • lpetrich

    Wikipedia has a nice article on the multiverse, which mentions Max Tegmark’s classification of multiverse hypotheses:

    1. Places in our Universe that we cannot observe from our vantage point.

    2. Multiverses, as commonly understood: multiple “bubble Universes” with ours being one of them.

    3. Many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

    4. The Ultimate Ensemble of every self-consistent Universe.

    For my part, I think that the multiverse hypothesis is a natural fit for string theory, since while one can get some approximation of our Universe’s physics out of it, it is far from unique.

  • jjdiogenes

    Well, we’ve practically created life in the lab so for all intents and purposes we know of at least one “intelligent designer” as well – humans! . . . and this is coming from a guy who thinks ID is a bunch of hogwash!

  • David Ellis

    Can’t we all just get along? There’s no need to debate multiverse vs intelligent designer. We can have both!

    We’re living in one of millions of computer simulations being run by computer science majors on the planet Gort.

    Once again, strife is averted by a sensible application of the Hegelian principle: thesis+antithesis->synthesis.

    :)

  • Alex, FCD

    Well, we’ve practically created life in the lab so for all intents and purposes we know of at least one “intelligent designer” as well – humans!

    What experiments are you referring to, exactly? My understanding of the phrase ‘to create life’ would be that we could, at least in principle, make a new, reproducing, evolving organism from inorganic materials; and we absolutely can’t do that.

    Even if we could, the implicit argument wouldn’t hold. Say that aliens, for reasons best known to themselves, came to earth and artificially engineered a bacterial flagellum. That hypothesis yields testable predictions: phylogenetic analysis of the genes in question should show that they were arbitrarily lifted out of other organisms and put in the study organism; or that they were entirely new, and they aren’t closely related to any genes that we can produce (because they were lifted from non-terrestrial organisms). Needless to say, these predictions don’t add up. Any other such ‘Designer as Craig Venter’ hypotheses would yield similar predictions.

  • Alex Weaver

    Alex,
    A great many questions when addressed with disparaging slang labels do no receive answers. It’s just the way it is.

    And a great many people oddly fail to realize that whining about how mean people are when they’re called on their bullshit serves mainly to attractive “further” (IE, genuine) disparagement.

    You still don’t have an answer to offer for the question I posed in that thread, you still haven’t contributed anything to this thread except to ask (perhaps not in these exact words) the other side to please stop trying to find the answer because it’s making you uncomfortable, and you are making a jawdropping tactical mistake by attempting to use a skin you present as being so thin as to be monatomic as both shield and sword Nerf bat, yet somehow you expect to be taken seriously. I invite you to consider the incongruity of this.

  • Alex Weaver

    For my part, I think that the multiverse hypothesis is a natural fit for string theory, since while one can get some approximation of our Universe’s physics out of it, it is far from unique.

    Isn’t one of the main criticisms of the general body of thought known as “string theory” that, like theism, one can get pretty much anything out of it? (IE, it’s not testable.)

  • Mavricky

    Alex,
    Guess I was on target with my comment about you not taking long to pull this debate south also. And thanks for your invitation, my RSVP would be to invite you to consider the posit that you prefer to engage in overdramatic redfaced huffing and puffing than serious debate.

  • Alex Weaver

    Guess I was on target with my comment about you not taking long to pull this debate south also.

    What debate? Everyone else has offered some commentary on the actual point of the post; from you, I see one request that people not advance answers that don’t fit your preconception and a lot of abject whining bordering on trolling. In other words, I see pretty much everyone “in the room” except you contributing to the actual discussion about cosmology, and I see you whipping out your persecution complex and stroking it vigorously.

    And thanks for your invitation, my RSVP would be to invite you to consider the posit that you prefer to engage in overdramatic redfaced huffing and puffing than serious debate.

    Considered it.

    Responded.

  • CRWRE

    Lets use a little common sense here. The so-called “Multiverse” idea is a totally specious argument. There is no way for us to know, nor will we EVER know if these “other universes” exist. In order for a scientific theory to be a good one it must be able to be tested through observation and experimentation. Since these “other universes” are conviently unavailable to us, that isn’t possible. Therefore, an untestable theory is really nothing more than rank conjecture.

    Oh and one other thing….we haven’t come close to creating life in a lab. At least not from something that wasn’t already living.

    Have a nice day..:-))

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    I’ll ignore CRWRE’s ignorance of physics (multiverse theories are testable in some ways, though some are untestable and can be safely discarded. In brief: multiple universes are a possible solution to the maths) and just link a Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mycoplasma_laboratorium