The Failure of the
Intelligent Designer Argument for God's Existence
Well from the title of this article it shouldn't be very hard to figure out whose side I'm on in this continuing polemic. What may be fresh, and I hope interesting to readers is the approach I will take to debunk the specious argument that has been dubbed Intelligent Design to explain the creation and development of the universe.
One of the most popular proponents of the view is Canadian physicist and creationist, Hugh Ross. He has written extensively on the topic. After reading some of his prolific writings on several Christian web sites, I think his work serves as an example of an argument that relies an statistical probability for its thesis, but ignores the fact that this field of mathematics doesn't support the conclusion of his thesis. This omission effectively shows how the whole argument hasn't the profundity it seems to propose. In simple terms, just because something, anything is probabilistically extremely unlikely, doesn't support a proposition that some other explanation is its cause. For that reason, I'm first going to give you a taste of what Dr. Ross is saying in a rather lengthy quotation, then use an example from my own life with a comparable logical structure, and show it doesn't allow me to infer an intelligent designer at work.
The environmental requirements for life to exist depend quite strongly on the life form in question. The conditions for primitive life to exist, for example, are not nearly so demanding as they are for advanced life. Also, it makes a big difference how active the life form is and how long it remains in its environment. On this basis there are six distinct zones or regions in which life can exist. In order of the broadest to the narrowest they are as follows:
Complicating factors, however, are that unicellular, low metabolism life (extremophiles) typically is more easily subject to radiation damage and it has a low molecular repair rate. The origin of life problem is far more difficult for low metabolism life (H. James Cleaves II and John H. Chambers, Extremophiles May Be Irrelevant to the Origin of Life, Astrobiology, 4 (2004), pp. 1-9). The following parameters of a planet, its planetary companions, its moon, its star, and its galaxy must have values falling within narrowly defined ranges for physical life of any kind to exist. References follow the list.
I gave you just this snippet because he goes on with these numerous citings ad infinitum. Hey, lets grant him all the above pronouncements. If all those very minute intervals are necessary for life on our planet or any other, it doesn't argue for a God. Let me try to illustrate this with an example from my own life. It's a recent example mind you, and one that is on a smaller scale, but similar.
I wanted to move from a locality in the city I'm living in now, to my present address, but had many, many obstacles in my path to achieve this goal. But, as I reflected on my accomplishment of this move, I am struck with the extraordinary degree of seemingly unlikely events and subsequent probabilities attendant to them that I (like Dr. Ross) might be moved to believe some Intelligent Designer had a hand in making my move happen at all.
At the beginning of the year 2004, I hadn't the money or wherewithal to move from the declining neighborhood and apartment in which I resided. I desperately wished, however, to get out of that building and location. A series of events and well how shall I put this I will say factors helped to contribute to my being able to move within 5 months in 2005. Here is a list of 6:
These series events happened in the exactly order I described, and this is what led to my moving to my present location.
With the above list I would like to estimate probabilities that might lead to me find a way to exploit circumstances to move to my present location.I must admit this is NOT easy, but it is possible, if we accept some projection of probabilities I put forth (which is not much different from what Ross does).
Lets take 1.
How could I ever predict the probability that I would use the $7,000 savings to accomplish my moving to another address, rather than traveling as planned, realizing that this change of heart was contingent on future events that I had no knowledge of?
Whew! Well, we first begin by recognizing that the probability of using $7,000 for a given purpose is nothing more that ratio of that purpose to all other possible purposes. This ratio is small (but not infinite which would be undefined) if the other purposes are large. And they ARE. Just think, and you don't have to think hard. I could've lost say just a $5000 of the $7,000 and then not been able to arrange things to pay the security deposit and 1st month's rent and not been able to move. I could add that possibility up for every possible decrement up to the $7,000 itself. This procedure would involve counting the number of ways one can arrive at 7000 by the operation of addition, with addends 1-9. It's not hard to see there are a LOT of ways of arriving at 7000 with this procedure. Remember, every possible combination or decrement of the 7000 is a reality that could have been actualized. I could say, spend 4000 gambling, leaving 3000, then bought things with 1500 dollars. Or I could have had a large variety of other combinations occur. This is called a partition of the number 7000 and it would add up to a number well over a trillion. So, the ratio is at least 1:1,000,000,000,000 ways that could have lead to my NOT moving due to just not having enough money to make the move. But it is likely even smaller, because there are some many other ways this money (or portion of it) could have been used rather than to move. But, even if we accept that 1:1,000,000,000,000 is the probability of my moving, it still must be taken into consideration other events that were yet to happen. These events serve to change my mind and lead to my actualizing a desire to move.
Lets put 2 through 6 in and we have the following:
The transpiration of my moving then becomes a combinatorics problem in probability theory rather than just a straight probability. That is, we must ask: what are the different arrangements of events that are possible within the 6 I listed above? This question has a simple answer. The possible combinations are 6!that is 6*5*4*3*2*1*(0)!=720 (where (0)!=1). 720 different orders of events for those 6 listed above is not so large. No it isn't. But the probability of the order of event occurring in the exact order I described out of the 720 is 1/720th. So, events 1 through 6 occurring out of 720 is 1/720th.But remember I said that event 1 alone had a probability of at least 1/1,000,000,000,000. This already small probability is compounded because combinatorically probabilities are multiplicative. Now we have the probability that I would move as described, being 1/720 * 1/1,000,000,000,000= 1/720,000,000,000,000. Now, I must say that this is an exceedingly small probability of my moving AS I DESCRIBED it. It is important to understand that there could be a near infinite number of ways I could have done other things: I could've moved elsewhere or done partially the things listed, moved to another unit in the same building, played the lottery and won a 100,000,000 etc. But for it to go-down (to use the vernacular), just the way I described is so small, as to make one wonder: Damn, did some unseen intelligent designer have a hand in making me move ? And it's so seductive too. I mean with all that mysterious stuff about how this I.D. (Intelligent Designer) could be contriving things right before us without our ever being aware of it. I mean the I.D. could have arranged events so that I would move without my EVEN knowing, He, no--- I mean the I.D. did it. See? Doesn't this closely follow the heuristic argument that Dr. Ross is proposing? You see, these guy don't whack us over the head with explicit pronouncements about God's grace and his eternal will conjuring up this or that world. Oh no, they're too slick for that sort of travelling roadshow approach. They simply put a lot of scientific facts and figures out there, and then ask slyly I might add--Now come on, you and I both know that all these unlikely events couldn't have occurred without well you know who? (winking an eye)
I must add he even goes further than small probabilities and narrow parameters in his non-argument. He uses the admission by other physicists, that there is a lack of knowledge about the universe beyond the Planck length to support his conclusion. He asserts this admission is itself a breakdown in theory that requires his conjectured Boogey-man I won't deign to address that issue. Oh, non-existent God, I can't help myself. Look, if a scientific theory can't explain the origins of the Universe at an extremely small scale, then we can just jump in and say: GAME OVER God did it! I win. Is this valid logical implication I ask?
From the simplified analysis above, it should be clear that small probabilities or combinatorial methods don't allow us to posit some dreamed-up being doing the magic, BECAUSE of the events being unlikely.It doesn't follow; it's a non sequitur. For once I can use the clich phrase you hear misused correctly: do the math, it's doesn't add up.For me to explain my move to where I'm writing this from at this moment by some God in an immaterial realm manipulating probabilities within fine ranges is as absurd as saying Santa Claus helped me moved. I hope any reader can see that the same applies to the variegated examples that Dr. Hugh Ross proffers to convince us a God made the universe and all that flows from it.
Robleh Wais 11/29/06
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