Who designed the designer? (Part 2)

By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, December 11, 2008)

Who designed the designer? (Part 2)

The question—Who designed the designer?—is set out by Richard Dawkins (in The God Delusion) as an objection to God’s existence.

According to Dawkins, explaining nature’s improbable complexity (that is, nature’s apparent design) by appealing to a designer is to appeal to something more improbable than nature, because the designer would have to be more complex than what it explains. Moreover, the designer would have to be explained by the designer’s designer, and so on. Thus, according to Dawkins, God’s existence is highly improbable.

Here is another reason for thinking that this objection fails: it’s based on a false assumption.

Dawkins assumes that the complexity of a designer makes a designer hypothesis improbable. But consider this: Intelligent cause/designer explanations are accepted in science even if the designer is complex—e.g., in archeology (to explain cave paintings and arrowheads), in cryptography (to explain codes), and in forensic science (to explain whodunnit). In fact, in these sciences the designer is even more complex than the objects or phenomena explained, yet the designer hypothesis is legitimate.

If (for argument’s sake) we were to accept Dawkins’ assumption as true, then, to be logically consistent, the aforementioned explanations would not be legitimate. But they are legitimate. So Dawkins’ assumption—that the complexity of a designer makes a design hypothesis improbable—is false.

At this juncture, Dawkins might object (as he does in The God Delusion) that it is not reasonable to make a design inference in a more general or ultimate way, i.e., from the evidence of the physical universe to an intelligent designer such as God.

Why not? Because, according to Dawkins, ultimate causes should be simple and non-intelligent, as in neo-Darwinian evolution, where causes are non-intelligent as well as simpler than their complex effects.

Significantly, however (and unnoticed by Dawkins), this is in effect to assume that simple unintelligent causes constitute what is ultimately real. But if we are actually trying to let the universe’s evidence of apparent design (instead of our assumptions) tell us whether or not there is an ultimately real intelligent designer, then Dawkins’ assumption is at issue!

In other words, Dawkins incurs the fallacy of question-begging (a.k.a. circular reasoning): he assumes as proven that which is at issue, and he unwittingly sneaks this assumption into his argument.

Dawkins, then, assumes the outcome of his investigation right from the start, instead of letting the evidence of the investigation decide the outcome. God or no God, this is a logical sin.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, Otterburne, Manitoba.)

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