An acquaintance (call him “Bob”) tagged me in Facebook with a set of remarks arguing that random chance and physical processes alone could never explain how the universe came about. I considered his remarks, replied to them, and tried to show why (like most scientists and rationally-critical people) I reject this argument. It is not even remotely close to making a good case for an intelligent designer working behind the scenes to bring about the universe.
Below I list Bob’s Facebook remarks, with my criticism in highlighted brackets:
But in reality, the existence of the universe around us is not just the product of chance and time. In fact, chance, working alone, will produce nothing. Imagine that you have a universe which consists of a box of titanium marbles and a box. The box is so constituted that it randomly shakes the marbles every ten seconds. Will this system ever produce anything new? No way. Billions of years later you will still have nothing but titanium in a box.
[This is a bad analogy. A strictly naturalistic picture of the primal physical processes that worked following the Big Bang do not lend themselves to this rather simplistic analogy of “chance working alone.” Again, I suggest you look at what physicists and scientific cosmologists have to say about this early scenario of how the processes (strictly naturalistic, physical, and eventually chemical processes) that led to the birth of stars, galaxies, planet, and such. It is only those people, like Paul Davies, a good scientists, who look for indications that the process required some type of intelligent direction. But they have not managed to make a good scientific case for that hypothesis.. Also, John Wilkins, in the article on the web (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/chance/chance.html) takes up claims like yours, pretty much refutes them as misconceived, and offers a much more interesting, relevant analogy].
What produces things in this, our marvelous universe, are the initial conditions, which are carefully tuned and very complex.
[You’re making a big assumption, which is either false or completely misleading, when you assert that the “initial conditions .. are carefully tuned and very complex. Most scientists who work in this area reject this assumption. You assume without argument that initial simplicity cannot eventually result in greater complexity. .]
After the initial “Big Bang” a specific amount of energy was released, which congealed down to a specific amount of hydrogen gas. Where did the Hydrogen gas come from? The entire structure of the universe was already implicit in that initial explosion of fire and energy. The entire structure of the periodic table. The four basic physical laws. The properties of carbon molecules.
[Again, a very vague, strange notion of the “entire structure of the universe ..already implicit in the initial explosion of fire and energy.” What exactly do you mean by “implicit”? And what is you basis (scientific, logical) for this assertion?]
What time plus chance did is massage this initial set of conditions and move it along to its amazing current state of complexity on earth. Hydrogen condensed into stars and produced Helium, and heavier atoms by a process of fission. The property of these stars caused them to explode at a certain stage, flinging these new elements into space, to congeal into new stars and planets.
If you change this set of initial conditions only slightly in any one of dozens of ways, it will halt the entire process of evolution, and all you will have is a box of steel balls, inert and lifeless.
[Maybe, although some physicists question this claim; but even if true to some degree, it doesn’t demonstrate anything about “fine tuning” of the conditions and dynamics. It surely does not demonstrate that some intelligence must have fine tuned the primordial conditions so that the universe would be the result. To say otherwise (as you do) is to move too fast and too carelessly.]
So what is the true source of Evolution? Not chance. The specific structure and design of the universe, inherent from the beginning. Where did this structure and design come from? Consciousness and intelligence, obviously. Blind chance does not produce intelligent systems, unless it is working on an intelligent system.
[Here’s an invalid inference based on a questionable premise and vague question? You assert --- but surely have not shown that random chance could never have resulted in the structure and ‘design’ of the universe. And then you compound your fallacy by drawing a completely invalid inference: Consciousness and intelligence is required. But even a more basic problem: what is meant by asking for the “true source of evolution”? Nothing in science and rational thought demands that there be a true source of evolution (presumably an external source). Sometimes the best we can say – with some rational, scientific ground – is that some things just happen. Any stories and fantasies dreamt up by theological-inclined people are simply without relevance.]
Why are modern skeptics and atheists so averse to this fairly obvious observation?
[Easy response: because your so-called “observation” is just a body of fallacious thinking and speculation.]
Because the notion of “God” is tied up with primitive, historical religions, which have claimed to speak for God, and which have propounded absurd laws (like the Islamic laws about women, or the Old Testament laws of “justice.” Religions have done terrible, evil things in the name of their gods, murder, torture, wars, human sacrifice, and have opposed science when it contradicted their dogma.
So modern people have quite understandably concluded, “If this be religion, and this be God, then I want no part of it!” But historic religion is not the final word on the mystery of the universe. And if we are to learn more about the mystery, like good scientists, we must be willing to open ourselves to greater possibilities.
[These “greater possibilities” you lay before us are ‘possibilities’ only in the sense that any number of groundless speculations, fantasies and just-so-stories are ‘possibilities.’ We open ourselves to these "greater possibilities" only at peril to reason and sanity.]
If historic religion is not the final word, the answer is not to give up all religion. The answer is to improve religion, throw out the nonsense, and grow closer to the Grand Designer as HE/SHE really is.
[Now you present us with “The Grand Designer”? You recommend that we "grow closer to the Grand Designer?" How, Bob, do you propose that we do this? Are you sure you're not pushing a form of super-natural religion in which we pray to the Lord in heaven?]