Explaining the Universe Calls for a Designer?

By | August 11, 2010

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?]

4 thoughts on “Explaining the Universe Calls for a Designer?

  1. Bob

    The basic laws of nature: the so callef Four Basic Laws of Physics have not changed over time. They were in existence from the beginning, operating upon the Big Bang as it cooled. The structure of matter and energy has not changed fundamentally, it has simply gone through processes consistent with the "initial conditions." All the elements as they are organized around sub atomic particles, all the molecules as they gradually form, are based upon an inherent structure.

    Where did the structure come from? Skeptics say, "We don't know." Skeptics say, "Don't ask; we won't tell."

    Many people feel that such structure implies intelligence and design, but I would agree that it is not "proof."

    At the very least it is a Mystery.

  2. philosophylnge

    Bob, thanks for your comments. Always good to get some feedback. However, I think you move too fast in asserting the four basic laws as there from the beginning, thus indicative of some initial inherent structure to the universe. Of course, this is a very difficult topic on which the experts disagree; but there are alternative theories which deny the view you uphold. Consider some excerpts from Victor J. Stengor's Book, God – The Failed Hypothesis – How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist
    Victor J. Stenger Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 2007

    (Victor Stenger, emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at the U of Hawaii and adjunct professor of philosophy at the U of Colorado. He is author of the The comprehensible Cosmos, Timeless Reality, The unconscious quantum, Physics and Psychics, Not by Design, Has Science found God?)

    First, he argues against your view that the universe had an inherent structure, or that the evolution of the universe was somehow present in the primordial structure of the universe.

    “…at the end of the earliest Planck interval where we must begin our description of the beginning of the big bang.
    “At that time, our extrapolation from later times tells us that the entropy was maximal. In that case, the disorder was complete and no structure could have been present. Thus, the universe began with no structure. It has structure today consistent with the fact that its entropy is no longer maximal.

    “In short, according to our best current cosmological understanding, our universe began with no structure or organization, designed or otherwise. It was a state of chaos.

    “We are thus forced to conclude that the complex order we now observe could not have been the result of any initial design built into the universe at the so-called creation. The universe preserves no record of what went on before the big bang. The Creator, if he existed, left no imprint. Thus he might as well have been nonexistent.” (121)

    Then he takes up the question as to the basic laws of physics and what they might imply.

    “… the origin and the operation of the universe do not require any violations of laws of physics. … “However, the scientifically savvy believer might concede this point … and then retort, “Okay, then where did the laws of physics come?” The common belief is that they had to come from somewhere outside the universe. But that is not a demonstrable fact. There is no reason why the laws of the physics cannot have come from within the universe itself.

    “Physicists invent mathematical models to describe their observations of the world. The models contain certain general principles that that traditionally been called “laws” because of the common belief that these are rules that actually govern the universe the way civil laws govern nations. However, as I showed in my previous book, The Comprehensible Cosmos, the most fundamental laws of physics are not restrictions on the behavior of matter. Rather, they are restrictions on the way physicists may describe that behavior.

    “In order for any principle of nature we write down to be objective and universal, it must be formulated in such a way that it does not depend on the point of view of any particular observer. The principle must be true for all points of view, from every “frame of reference.” And so, for example, no objective law can depend n a special moment in time or a position in space that may be singled out by some preferred observer. (129) . . .

    [See next comment for continuation.]

  3. philosophylnge

    [This continues preceding comment of remarks by Stenger on cosmology.]

    “In 1918 mathematician Emmy Noether proved that the most important physical laws of all – conservation of energy, linear momentum, and angular momentum – will automatically appear in any model that does not single out a special moment in time, position in space, and direction in space. Later is was realized that Einstein’s special theory of relativity follows if we do not single out any special direction in four-dimensional space-time.

    “The properties of space-time are called symmetries. The four space-time symmetries described above are just the natural symmetries of a universe with no matter, that is, a void. They are just what they should be if the universe appeared from an initial state in which there was no matter – from nothing.

    Other laws of physics, such as conservation of electric charge and various force laws, arise from the generalization of space- time symmetries to the abstract spaces physicists use in their mathematical models. This generalization is called guage invariance, which is likened to a principle I more descriptively refer to as point-of-view invariance. (130)

    “The mathematical formulations of these models … must reflect this requirement if they are to be objective and universal. Surprisingly, when this is done, most of the familiar laws of physics appear naturally. Those that are not immediately obvious can be seen to plausibly arise by a process, mentioned in chapter 2, known as spontaneous symmetry breaking. (130)

    “So where did the laws of physics come from? They came from nothing! Most are statements composed by humans that follow from the symmetries of the void out of which the universe spontaneously arose. Rather than being handed down from above, like the Ten Commandments, they look exactly as they should look if they were not handed down from anywhere. And this is why, for example, a violation of energy conservation at the beginning of the big bang would be evidence for some external creator. Even though they invented it, physicists could not simply change the “law.” It would imply a miracle or, more explicitly, some external agency that acted to break the time symmetry that leads to conservation of energy. But, as we have seen, no such miracle is required by the data. (131)

    “Thus we are justified in applying the conservation laws to the beginning of the big bang at the Planck time. At that time, as we saw earlier in this chapter, the universe had no structure. That meant that it had distinguishable place, direction, or time. In such a situation, the conservation laws apply.

    “Now this is certainly not a commonly understood view. Normally we think of laws of physics as part of the structure of the universe. But here I am arguing that the great conservation laws are not part of any structure. Rather they follow from the very lack of structure at the earliest moment. (131)

    “No doubt this concept is difficult to grasp. My views on this particular are not recognized by a consensus of physicists, although I insist that the science I have used is well established and conventional. I am proposing no new physics or cosmology but merely providing an interpretation of established knowledge in those fields as it bears on the question of the origin of physical law, a question few physicists ever ponder. (131) . . .

    “Whether or not you will buy into my account of the origin of physical law, I hope you will allow that I have at minimum provided a plausible natural scenario for a gap in scientific knowledge, that gap being a clear consensus on the origin of physical law. (132)

  4. Firooz R Oskooi

    One must ask: Is there order in the universe or not? How did order develope from chaos? Is there chaos or lack of understanding in our part? Is there a direction in evolution or is it chotic?


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