Train a hundred monkeys in a room to randomly strike a keyboard, provide them all the bananas and cigarettes they want, and given enough time one of them will eventually compose Hamlet. In fact, give the room of monkeys an infinite amount of time and they will each compose Hamlet an infinite number of times.
How do we explain the apparent design of the universe without a God? A common answer is, “Give matter in motion enough time and randomness and eventually the material order will create things that look designed for a purpose.” Many philosophers and scientists have speculated that there may be an eternal, material reality (sometimes called the “multiverse”) within which our universe was birthed. Give this larger material system enough time and variety and a universe like ours would eventually arise non-theistically with all its apparent “design”.
I personally think this is a worthy move, but I don’t think the materialists who use such arguments realize how lethal this step is for their position.
Certainly I can agree that given enough time and random motion and a larger (unobserved) “multiverse”, eventually a universe like our–with the physical laws set just so from the outset, able to contain carbon based life, eco-systems, and self-aware minds–could come into being. However, it is likewise very easy to imagine all the matter in tmultiverse doing something in the distant past that would have made the creation of you and I impossible.
That is, if you give a material system enough time and variety it may eventually produce us, but it likewise would have produced all kinds of situations that would make the future creation of our universe impossible as well.
Consider the argument this way:
(P1) If materialism is true, there is an infinite chain of causal events that preceded this moment, with enough variety to eventually create an exceedingly complex universe like ours.
(P2) Given an infinite amount of time and variety, at some point—in the infinite amount of time that preceded this moment—all the matter that exists would have either:
i. Began moving outwardly in an irretraceable direction.
ii. Slowed and ceased moving at the same moment everywhere.
iii. Moved inward toward a common point, stopped, and would not have moved outward again.
(P3) Had any of the possibilities in (P2) occurred in the past, the world as we know it would not exist.
(P4) We do exist.
(C1) Therefore, Materialism is false.
This is my take on Aquinas’s third way.
Given an infinite amount of time, our universe will have been composed an infinite number of times, but so too: all the matter in the universe will have stopped at least once, all the matter in the universe will have spread outwardly in all directions to a point where it could not possibly reverse at least once, all the matter in the universe will have clumped into a ball from which no motion could occur again, at least once.
If these three pictures (and others we may imagine) are physically possible then our Universe would not have come into existence at this point in time. At some point in the distant past the randomness of material motion would have hit a trajectory that made future complexity of the sort we experience unachievable. We may go a step further and assert:
(P5) Only a purposeful agent of immense power could direct the flow of matter away from such stagnating results.
(C2) Given P4 and P5, a purposeful agent of immense power exists, and this agent we call “God.”
If the universe is eternal, it seems to me a purposeful, powerful agent must also exist.
Jeff Cook lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). You can find him at www.everythingnew.org and @