The old ‘Who created God?’ canard revisited
Who designed the Designer?
Published: 17 November 2007(GMT+10)
This week’s feedback comes from a Peter C. of New South Wales, Australia, who was really spoiling for a fight without bothering with the most basic research. The question was ostensibly about the old ‘who created God?’ argument, but it was really a smokescreen for resentment against Christianity. The resentment was mainly about things Christianity hasn’t even done, but also about its alleged control. Ironically, like many atheistic regimes of the last century, he supports quite a lot of coercive control himself. Dr Jonathan Sarfati responds point-by-point.
Regarding the assertion in your recent bulletin that the wonders of butterfly wing construction are proof of the genius of the creator of nature [presumably Why a butterfly flutters by—ed.]. One can equally assert that it is proof of the genius of the creator of the creator, or the creator of the creator of the creator … and so on. This means there is an awfully large number of gods we must worship; an endless hierarchy of subservience.
This argument sounds cute from a 5-year-old in a Sunday school class, but it is ridiculous from grown adults like Clinton R. Dawkins and those who parrot such arguments uncritically (with apologies to parrots which apparently have some comprehensive abilities). ☺
In objects of known origin, there are certain features—specified complex information—that occur only in those made by an intelligent designer (or an intelligently designed program).
In contrast, the argument is actually: in objects of known origin, there are certain features—specified complex information—that occur only in those made by an intelligent designer (or an intelligently designed program). So by the normal analogical reasoning we use in science, when we see these features in an object where the origin is unknown, we can likewise conclude that this object had an intelligent designer.
These features are those that an archaeologist would use to determine whether an object was designed by an intelligent designer, or that a SETI devotee would use to argue that a signal from space came from an intelligent alien, or whether a ballot or card game was fixed, or whether a sequence of letters was the result of intelligence or monkeys on a keyboard.
In the first two cases above, it would be perverse to complain that the archaeologist didn’t discuss whether the object’s designer itself had a designer, or that the SETI researcher didn’t tell us who designed the alien. It would be even sillier to argue from this that we should simply drop the idea of design, and conclude that the object or hypothetical space signal had no designer.
As it happens, the God of the Bible does not fulfil the criterion of specified complex information, since He is not complex at all but simple. The leading philosopher Alvin Plantinga explained Dawkins’ adolescent argument and then took it apart in The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism ad absurdum, his review of The God Delusion (cf. our review):
‘Now suppose we return to Dawkins’ argument for the claim that theism is monumentally improbable. As you recall, the reason Dawkins gives is that God would have to be enormously complex, and hence enormously improbable (‘God, or any intelligent, decision-making calculating agent, is complex, which is another way of saying improbable’). What can be said for this argument?
‘Not much. First, is God complex? According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like. Some of the discussions of divine simplicity get pretty complicated, not to say arcane. (It isn’t only Catholic theology that declares God simple; according to the Belgic Confession, a splendid expression of Reformed Christianity, God is ‘a single and simple spiritual being.’) So first, according to classical theology, God is simple, not complex.
‘More remarkable, perhaps, is that according to Dawkins’ own definition of complexity, God is not complex. According to his definition (set out in The Blind Watchmaker), something is complex if it has parts that are ‘arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone.’ But of course God is a spirit, not a material object at all, and hence has no parts. A fortiori (as philosophers like to say) God doesn’t have parts arranged in ways unlikely to have arisen by chance. Therefore, given the definition of complexity Dawkins himself proposes, God is not complex.
‘So first, it is far from obvious that God is complex. But second, suppose we concede, at least for purposes of argument, that God is complex. Perhaps we think the more a being knows, the more complex it is; God, being omniscient, would then be highly complex. Perhaps so; still, why does Dawkins think it follows that God would be improbable? Given materialism and the idea that the ultimate objects in our universe are the elementary particles of physics, perhaps a being that knew a great deal would be improbable—how could those particles get arranged in such a way as to constitute a being with all that knowledge? Of course we aren’t given materialism. Dawkins is arguing that theism is improbable; it would be dialectically deficient in excelsis to argue this by appealing to materialism as a premise. Of course it is unlikely that there is such a person as God if materialism is true; in fact materialism logically entails that there is no such person as God; but it would be obviously question-begging to argue that theism is improbable because materialism is true.’
My colleague Andrew Lamb pointed Peter to the article If God created the universe, then who created God?, and wrote:
‘The physical laws of our universe are intrinsic to our universe, but God has Sovereign existence independent/outside this universe that He created. The Law of cause and effect stipulates that for every effect (result), there must be an equal or greater cause, and this applies to everything that has a beginning—to a butterfly, a person and to the universe. But God is eternal. He has no beginning and therefore He needed no cause. There is no requirement that the Creator of our universe and its laws should Himself need a Creator.’
and Peter responded further:
Interesting corruption of the law of relativity, namely that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction.
It’s actually Newton’s Third Law of Motion, not relativity.
Every effect must have a cause, but it doesn’t have to be a god.
Not all causes must be God, and we never said that. But a cause of the Universe would be unlimited by time, space or matter to be able to cause them; and it would also be personal to choose a particular universe and moment of creation. This is consistent with the biblical God.
I notice that whenever a Christian is cornered they reach for their doctrine.
If a teaching within any philosophical framework is being attacked, it is perfectly reasonable to defend it with another teaching from within that same framework.
Such is the case below. You state that God doesn’t need a creator, yet you offer no proof of this.
Yes I do. I.e. God is not an effect at all; unlike the universe, He had no beginning in time.
If you believe that some sentient being has to create everything, then there is no way to rationally explain the existence of the alleged creator.
I don’t. I believe that only objects with beginnings need causes, not that everything needs a cause. This was clearly stated in my article.
It is the impossible Christian catch 22 that can only be resolved by resorting to pointless faith and mythology that has gained credence through extended use.
If an archaeologist doesn’t explain the designer of the designer of a stone tool, does it follow that there was no designer?
Catch-22 refers to a different sort of problem. In the original 1961 novel by Joseph Heller, if a pilot wanted to get out of flying hazardous combat missions, the only allowable exemption was insanity. But the military reasoned that any sane person would want to avoid such missions. So if one applied for exemption on grounds of insanity, it would automatically prove one’s sanity. Conversely, people who wanted to fly these missions were insane, so could apply for an exemption, but these are the very people who would not want to be excused. And if they did, they would automatically prove their sanity, so the Catch-22 rule meant that there could never be an exemption.
The novel also illustrated a self-imposed Catch-22 situation: a girl was upset that no man would marry her because she wasn’t a virgin, yet she refused to marry any man crazy enough to marry a non-virgin.
Christianity and rationality
I’m happy for people to believe this bull$%&@ if it makes them feel more secure in this troubled world. What bothers me about the Christian ani-evolution agenda, is that it shuts down rational thought with threats of hell for those who don’t fall into line with their beliefs; either that or the more subtle psychological tactics of manipulation through propaganda.
Actually, as we have pointed out that Christianity is the foundation for rational thought, while evolution provides no basis for it:
- Man can initiate thoughts and actions; they are not fully determined by deterministic laws of brain chemistry. This is a deduction from the biblical teaching that man has both a material and immaterial aspect (e.g. Genesis 35:18, 1 Kings 17:21–22, Matthew 10:28). This immaterial aspect of man means that he is more than matter, so his thoughts are likewise not bound by the makeup of his brain. But if materialism were true, then ‘thought’ is just an epiphenomenon of the brain, and the results of the laws of chemistry. Thus, given their own presuppositions, materialists have not freely arrived at their conclusion that materialism is true, because their conclusion was predetermined by brain chemistry. But then, why should their brain chemistry be trusted over mine, since both obey the same infallible laws of chemistry? So in reality, if materialists were right, then they can’t even help what they believe (including their belief in materialism). Yet often call themselves ‘freethinkers’, overlooking the glaring irony! Genuine initiation of thought is an insuperable problem for materialism, as shown by the article ‘The Origin of Consciousness’ Part 1 and Part 2 (off-site).
- Man can think rationally and logically, and that logic itself is objective. This is a deduction from the fact that he was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26,27), and from the fact that Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the logos. This ability to think logically has been impaired but not eliminated by the Fall of man into sinful rebellion against his creator. (The Fall means that sometimes the reasoning is flawed, and sometimes the reasoning is valid but from the wrong premises. So it is folly to elevate man’s reasoning above what God has revealed in Scripture. See Loving God with all your mind: logic and creation.) But if evolution were true, then there would be selection only for survival advantage, not rationality.
This suspension of rational thought also has the effect of immobilising people’s ability to respond to threats such as global warming.
Whether it is a threat at all is something that needs to be determined by the evidence, not ‘consensus’ or politics. See for example No consensus on IPCC’s level of ignorance (13 November 2007) by John Christy, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Alabama, who has contributed to all four major IPCC assessments, including acting as a Lead Author in 2001 and a Contributing Author in 2007. He points out:
‘While most participants are scientists and bring the aura of objectivity, there are two things to note:
- this is a political process to some extent (anytime governments are involved it ends up that way)
- scientists are mere mortals casting their gaze on a system so complex we cannot precisely predict its future state even five days ahead
‘Scepticism, a hallmark of science, is frowned upon. (I suspect the IPCC bureaucracy cringes whenever I’m identified as an IPCC Lead Author.)
‘The signature statement of the 2007 IPCC report may be paraphrased as this: “We are 90% confident that most of the warming in the past 50 years is due to humans.”
‘We are not told here that this assertion is based on computer model output, not direct observation. The simple fact is we don’t have thermometers marked with “this much is human-caused” and “this much is natural”.
‘So, I would have written this conclusion as “Our climate models are incapable of reproducing the last 50 years of surface temperatures without a push from how we think greenhouse gases influence the climate. Other processes may also account for much of this change.”
‘Of all scientists, climate scientists should be the most humble. Our cousins in the one-to-five-day weather prediction business learned this long ago, partly because they were held accountable for their predictions every day.
‘Answering the question about how much warming has occurred because of increases in greenhouse gases and what we may expect in the future still holds enormous uncertainty, in my view.
‘[F]undamental knowledge is meagre here, and our own research indicates that alarming changes in the key observations are not occurring.’
And our decisions should not rely on Al Gore’s film, which a British court found had 11 serious errors so couldn’t be imposed on school pupils without a disclaimer. But I would be more inclined to believe Gore was at least genuine in his actions if he didn’t jet everywhere to promote the cause and he didn’t have significant interests in companies set up to trade carbon credits, which are now worth much more because of his ‘documentary’. Gore’s producer Laurie David could also skip the two holidays per year on her private jet (but at least she says, ‘I feel horribly guilty about it’, and since much of the crusade is about the right feelings than actual results, that supposedly makes it OK. So she’s still entitled to abuse SUV-driving motorists from her car window for emitting CO2—a tiny fraction of the amount that her jet spews).
Our own view on this issue is clearly stated in Global warming: what is the creationist view ? We also noted in The Great Global Warming Swindle Debate that one leading global warming sceptic is the fanatical anti-creationist Ian Plimer.
Christian stewardship v ecofascist earth-worship
After all, if, as the bible claims, everything was created for man’s benefit, then how could there be anything wrong with exploiting the environment and laying it waste?
Try actually reading what the Bible teaches. God gave man dominion, which is responsible stewardship, not a licence to destroy. You could also try reading what we actually teach before ranting against what you think we teach, e.g. Earth Day: Is Christianity to blame for environment problems?
But let’s turn the question around on you: After all, if, as evolution claims, all creatures are rearranged pond scum, the result of survival of the fittest, then how could there be anything wrong with exploiting the environment and laying it waste? After all, it would just prove that we are fitter than all the exploited creatures.
For another illustration, Mr Burns in the anti-Christian cartoon series The Simpsons said:
‘Oh, so Mother Nature needs a favour? Well, maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys. Nature started the fight for survival and she wants to quit because she’s losing? Well, I say hard cheese!’
God will ensure that we will be fine in the end—isn’t that right?
Yes, but it doesn’t mean that He will pick up our garbage for us. The Bible makes it clear that our actions have consequences: ‘A man reaps what he sows’. It is a decidedly anti-biblical view that says that we can do what we like now because it will all pan out for well in the end. Grace is not a licence for sin (see Romans 6).
Humans: made in God’s image or parasites upon Earth?
This means there is no need to control population because resources are unlimited.First, as we have pointed out, the 6 billion people in the world
‘could all fit into an area the size of England, with more than 20 square metres each.’
Second, the reason for the population growth, as we’ve said, is
‘not because people suddenly started breeding like rabbits—rather, it was because they finally stopped dying like flies. Between 1900 and the end of the 20th century, the human life span likely doubled, from a planetary life expectancy at birth of perhaps 30 years to one of more than 60. By this measure, the overwhelming preponderance of the health progress in all of human history took place during the past 100 years.’
‘Troubled as the world may be today, it is incontestably less poor, less unhealthy, and less hungry than it was 30 years ago. And this positive association between world population growth and material advance goes back at least as far as the beginning of the 20th century.’
Fourth if there is to be population control, who does the controlling and how? People like American Eric Pianka, Melbourne’s John Reid and Finland’s Pentti Linkola, the role model for the atheistic evolutionary murderer Pekka-Eric Auvinen, who don’t mind some population culling? And population doom-mongers just loved the one-child policies of China (and we have noted the deafening silence from the feminists about the consequences of abortion and sex selection that kill girl babies preferentially).
As for resources, many doom-mongers misunderstand that the limitations have nothing to do with the amount of physical stuff in the ground, and everything to do with the cost of extracting them. Below a certain cost, it is uneconomical to extract the stuff, so most is not extracted. The leading and oft-discredited (but Greenie hero) population doom-monger Paul Ehrlich lost a famous bet about resources running out with economist Julian Simon, because he didn’t understand that limitations were really economical not physical.
This was illustrated in practical terms by the shortages of petrol/gasoline and the long lines at petrol stations (if they were even open) during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, caused by price controls on petrol. But Ronald Reagan’s first action when he became president was to lift these price controls. Reagan realised that lifting price controls would make it economical to re-open capped oil wells, and it would also encourage
It also means there is no need to control pollution, because God will take care of the waste.
Again, how does this logically follow?
Then if it all looks like it’s coming unstuck, it must mean judgement day is approaching—which is also good, because Christians get to go somewhere better; somewhere else they can lay waste!
‘The reality is that nations and cultures with a Christian background have, on the whole, the best track records when it comes to issues like pollution, etc. Following the collapse of communism, the appalling environmental track record of these socialist “model states”, run on atheistic assumptions, went on world display.’
Christianity: blessing or curse?
No, Christianity is not about goodness and kindness. It’s about control.
Christianity really has been a force for goodness and kindness, e.g. founding hospitals and orphanages, abolishing slavery and providing the basis for modern science.
Interesting irony here. Above, you were claiming that we should use coercive population control measures. Now you rail against alleged control by Christianity. But you overlook how Christianity really has been a force for goodness and kindness, e.g. founding hospitals and orphanages, abolishing slavery, providing the basis for modern science (see What good is Christianity? and Helping the needy with Creation? Surprising research facts about who really helps the poor). What has atheism done for the world? Not only that, but the greatest flowering of personal freedom followed the Protestant Reformation that re-established the authority of the Bible in society. Just try being an atheist in a country where Islam dominates; or try being a Christian in a country where atheism is the state religion (i.e. Communist states).
Just look at the first testament.
Actually, we have looked, in quite some detail! God as the Creator of life has the right to take it. There is no difference in the ‘second’ testament actually—both testaments clearly teach God’s righteous judgment upon sin as well as his mercy and longsuffering (where sinners don’t get what they deserve) and grace (where we get what we didn’t deserve). See also Good News! and Bible contradictions and errors .
But however much you may be able to control your flock,
CMI doesn’t have a flock, since we are not a church and our support is entirely voluntary. So we actually have to persuade people of our case, unlike the evolutionists who receive money coerced from taxpayers to push their propaganda and squelch dissent.
… you cannot ultimately control nature.
Of course not. Yet far too many people in effect make an idol of the government and think that this is the answer to everything—even though we are powerless against many natural disasters. But C.S. Lewis argued that living in this dangerous world was God’s ‘megaphone’ that this world was not the intended final destination for man.
What happened in Louisiana and California is testament to that. Were all of those affected atheists? Most certainly not.
As we have said ourselves in our article/booklet Why is there death and suffering?
‘The Bible teaches that suffering is part of the “big picture” involving sin, but individual cases of suffering are not always correlated with particular sins of individuals.’
Then we discussed the biblical cases of Job, the man born blind, the victims of the collapse of the Tower of Siloam, Lazarus and Paul.
Then we have produced articles such as Waves of sadness: Tsunami terror raises age-old questions, Tsunami tragedy and Darwin’s yard apes : A deadly hurricane exposes an even deadlier philosophy.
Ah but God moves in mysterious ways? Sure—random ways in fact.
More likely, God is sovereign and so does not dance to your tune. But He has given guidance about how He works in the Bible. God is in fact consistent: ‘He is the same yesterday, today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8), not capricious as you charge. This very principle provided one of the philosophical bases for modern science to flourish.
Christianity is no armour in life.
It is the best sort of armour of all: it is true, and rationally defensible!
It is merely a de facto lobotomy.
‘Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear. And I must say that these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposeful forces of any kind. No life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be completely dead. That's just all. That’s gonna be the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.’ [William B. Provine, Professor of Biological Sciences, Cornell University (Origins Research 16(1/2):9, 1994)]