I took a break from blogging over the weekend so now I can dive back into this sea of insipid without drowning. First it was genetics, then it was origin. The next way the United Church of God thinks you can prove god’s existence is…design.
Everything that has a specific and complex design has a designer.
Well sure, by definition. Just like every painting has a painter. There are a few problems with this though.
1. Not everything that is complex has a designer
Take snowflakes, for instance. Each unique. Each very complex. But nobody needs to invoke a snowflake-making god because we already know the natural processes that produce them. In fact, as new FtB blogger Richard Carrier says…
There was once a time when nothing was explained. Since that time, everything that has been explained has been shown to be the product of mindless forces acting on inanimate objects.
Everything. No exceptions. So if complexity can arise naturally, how can you point to an instance of complexity in nature and say that it must have been designed?
2. The universe does not look designed
There are many things that make perfect sense in a chaotic, ever-changing natural universe that are just weird if a god designed anything. Wisdom teeth, for instance. What nimrod designed those? They make sense in terms of evolution, but not if a competent god did anything. Or what about the clunky nature of DNA replication that results in all manner of afflictions from cancer to mental retardation? This is what we’d expect as the result of mindless forces, but not if an intelligent being is at work.
3. For a god that made everything, you’d need everything in the universe to be complex for this argument to work. If everything were complex, how would the complex things stick out to you?
First sentence out of the gate and there’s already a mountain of wrong. I continue to scale it!
No amount of time, chance and unthinking natural processes can produce a building. In a similar way, we see the exquisite designs of things around us.
In nature we see complexity in things around us, but we do not see design. Buildings don’t build themselves because a building is not composed of molecules that self-replicate. Human beings are. And when you have a self-replicating molecule, along with a lot of time, errors in replication (mutation), and selection (natural selection) then increased complexity will always be the end result.
The same is true of the universe. From a cloud of hydrogen, not complex at all, you can add gravity to create entire solar systems with no appeal to god being necessary! There are loads of processes at work that produce order and complexity all by themselves. Everything we have explained has been the result of these processes.
Also, a designed universe would look very different from the one we see. A designed universe would not need billions of years of stagnation in chaos while waiting for natural processes to take their course and create our star, our planet, etc. However, a godless universe predicts a very old universe with lots of things happening, so things that have a low probability of happening (like planets in a life-supporting orbit or self-replicating molecules) have a lot of chances and a lot of time to occur (see the part on the gambler’s fallacy later in this post). The universe we’d expect in a godless universe is exactly where we find ourselves.
So the claim that no amount of time, chance, or unthinking natural processes can produce life, or diversity, or a star, or any of the countless other phenomena we’ve explained by recourse to mindless mechanisms is flat out false.
The fact that so many of the planet’s features had to be just right for complex life to exist indicates that a designer was at work.
Oh good, a little dose of the fine-tuning arguments to make the design argument extra unappetizing.
Which features are those? Tornadoes? Earthquakes? Cancer? Animals with claws that think humans are delicious? Asteroids that hit the Earth regularly and destroy a great deal of the life on it (including human life)? You’re telling me these are the work of a designer that wants us to live?
The combination and interworking of such features are far too complex for them to be the product of mere chance.
First, what are those odds? Do you even know? No, you don’t – but you’re sure they’re too great to be the product of chance, right?
Second, you’ve just committed the lottery fallacy (or gambler’s fallacy). What are the odds of winning the lottery? Astronomical! Multiple-state lotteries generally have odds of around 120 million to 1. Yet people win the lottery all the time. That’s because you have a lot of people playing. If 120 million people play the lottery, you’d expect a winner most of the time. Or, if 10 million people were playing, all you’d need is 12 lotteries to expect a winner.* So things that have a very low probability of occurring become more probable, or even likely, given enough attempts and enough time.
So let’s assume the scenario of an Earth-like planet is very improbable. That means in order for it to happen naturally, we’d predict a very old universe so our ‘lottery’ can be played billions of times. We’d also expect there to be a whole bunch of ‘lottery tickets’ (stars and planets in this case). Of course, the universe predicted in a godless existence is precisely the one we find ourselves in.
Compare that to what the universe should look like were it designed. Why all the dead stars, or stars without planets in habitable zones that are essentially wasted resources and effort of a god? These make up a large portion of the universe. Was god just bored and fucking around making an immeasurably vast universe until he thought, five billion years ago, that Earth would be a keen idea in one eensy weensy part of it? The universe we see does not look like the product of design – it looks like the product of mindless forces over a long period of time.
For instance, for the earth to have life, it had to be just the right size—8,000 miles in diameter. If it were 9,500 miles in diameter, scientists have concluded it would double the weight of the air. Then there would be so much oxygen turning into water that it would cover the entire earth. None of the continents would have appeared, so there would be no land-based life—including us.
Our environment was not molded to accommodate the existence of human beings. Obviously. It was actually the other way around: human beings, like all other life on Earth, evolved to operate within our environment. Were the conditions different, life would look different. Animals evolved in the water before moving to land in the first place. Were there no land, they would’ve just stayed in the water. Life would look different under the situation you paint, but there would still be life. So much for the Earth needing to be precisely fine-tuned.
The earth is just the right distance from the sun—93 million miles. If it were just 5 percent farther out from the sun, the earth would be too cold and mostly covered with ice. But if it
were just a bit closer to the sun, it would be unbearably hot and the polar ice caps would melt, flooding the coasts.
Human life is not the whole kitten caboodle. Life is possible in many forms in a wide array of conditions. Even if there were no humans, life is not all about us.
In the past 30 years, however, our knowledge of life in extreme environments has exploded. Scientists have found microbes in nuclear reactors, microbes that love acid, microbes that swim in boiling-hot water. Whole ecosystems have been discovered around deep sea vents where sunlight never reaches and the emerging vent-water is hot enough to melt lead.
The Goldilocks Zone is bigger than we thought.
Maybe human life wouldn’t exist, but life, evolving and growing in complexity, would exist beyond the narrow figures given by the United Church of God’s poorly researched article.
So how big is Earth’s Goldilocks Zone? It turns out we could be 25% closer to the sun and up to 300% further away. Also, even given our miniscule knowledge of other planets, we are still aware of several that may reside in their star’s habitable zones. We even think there may be potential for life on Europa, a big ball of ice orbiting Jupiter waaaaaaaaaaaaay far away from us. Also, if the universe was designed for us, why is it so full of life-destroying radiation? What is the point of god even dreaming up the concept of a habitable zone in the first place?
So the claim that we’re just oh-so-fine-tuned is utter hogwash that could have been remedied by either spending a few minutes on google or by actually talking to a fucking scientist or reading a fucking science book.
The earth also needs the right rotational speed. If it were just a little faster, the earth would not be warmed enough, freezing much of the surface. But if it were slower, the heat would be oppressive.
And life would evolve differently. Life exists in its present configuration because of where the Earth wound up. Had it wound up somewhere else, creating different conditions, life would have evolved differently to operate within those conditions. It’s that simple.
Consider a similar situation: someone is walking through a town of 10,000 houses and is going to knock on the door at one house. Whichever house she picks would be a 1 in 10,000 chance. Do we assume divine intervention because she picked a particular one? Of course not. No matter which door she picks, it would be a 1 in 10,000 chance. Any outcome is going to be a 1 in 10,000 chance, but one of them is going to wind up being the outcome.
Similarly, there are several different ways the Earth could have been placed in our habitable zone. This is the door that got knocked on and, in this one, we have an environment that caused life to evolve in the way we see it today. In other circumstances life would have looked different. You can’t just say “Ha! Life that evolved under our circumstances would be screwed in other circumstances!” Yes, yes it would. So what?
The same refutation applies to the oxygen and moon examples in the article.
That this magazine has the temerity to use the word ‘thought’ in its title is a tribute to the Charles Darwin quote:
“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
And that’s just the thing about Christianity: while the rest of the world endeavors to carve out bad ideas, Christianity empowers ignorance and protects bad reasoning. Hell, it even rewards those things and promises greater rewards after death. Christianity, faith, religion, they train people be emotionally bound, not to good reasoning, but rather to be emotionally bound to conclusions (conclusions usually acquired at an age where full reasoning was impossible). This is why a lot of them will read bullshit like the UCoG article and, without doing any fact-checking, will run around to any non-Christian they can find, throw the mud at the wall, and hope it sticks.
Religion rewards people for being dumber. It needs to die.
* Given the conditions of the pre-biotic Earth, the assembly of a self-replicating molecule was very likely: Ricardo, Alonso; Szostak, Jack W.. Scientific American, Sep2009, Vol. 301 Issue 3, p54-61, 8p