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Why should we think living things were created by God? 

An atheist insists that design is an illusion 

Feedback archiveFeedback 2016

Published: 7 May 2016 (GMT+10)

Today’s feedback comes from a mother asking for help with her son who denies that nature points to a Designer.

Eileen M. from the U.S. wrote:

morguefile.com penguins
My atheistic son said to me something that I suppose it would work in an atheistic worldview. The idea is that creation assumes that there is a "should", that things are as they are for a reason. He says that actually, it doesn't matter whether something survives or not. There is just the appearance of meaningful survival and progression (his words) because of the way it works out. The fact that certain things survive or that conditions are just right to support the amazing array of life we see is no wonderful act of God. If conditions were otherwise, other things would survive instead or maybe not. No big deal. He says we should not assume that creation was made to be ideal to support life, it looks only ideal because the life that the randomness produced is suited to the random forces and conditions that produced it. Other conditions would produce other results and those would be just as valid. I have tried to study, but have never found an answer to this thought. Thanks.

CMI’s Keaton Halley responds:

Hi Eileen,

Presumably you are a Christian. If so, it’s wonderful that you are dialoguing with your unbelieving son about such important issues and trying to improve your own understanding so you can respond to him, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Your son is correct that, if atheism were true, there would be no purposes in the world. All apparent purposes would be illusions, because all of nature would result from the combination of chance and necessity. Nobody would have intended the world (or anything in it) to be a certain way for any reason.

The problem is, we see solid evidence for purpose all over the place. This atheistic claim simply doesn’t do justice to the facts.

To explain, much of what we at CMI write about is the evidence for design, and design entails purpose. I encourage you to read Is the design explanation legitimate? to understand how we can detect design and rule out natural causes. It’s like a detective investigating a dead body and trying to determine whether there was foul play. If the death was caused by multiple stab wounds in the back, it should be obvious that the cause was an intelligent agent, not natural forces alone. And we see tell-tale signs of design in living things as well as other aspects of nature. See, for example, Earth is ‘too special’?

Your son seems to think that natural selection acting on random mutations (the neo-Darwinian mechanism) can produce the illusion of design in living things. It’s certainly true that this process can produce organisms that are adapted to their environments, but such changes are limited and they lead to the degradation of organisms.

There are many things the neo-Darwinian mechanism cannot do. It cannot build up the reams of genetic information found inside living things, for example, because it is going in the wrong direction for microbes-to-man evolution. See The 3 Rs of Evolution.

Also, the blind mutation/selection process cannot account for irreducibly complex structures in living things, because such machines cannot perform their functions without all of their parts in place, all at once. There would be no survival advantage to creatures with half of the blood clotting cascade, for example. And to build those structures would waste valuable resources, so their owners would be selected against.

Neither can natural selection explain the overdesign we see built into living things—abilities that make life better but far exceed the minimum requirements sufficient for passing on one’s genes. These are like luxury options on a car—unnecessary to get you from here to there, but they make sense if the car was designed for a purpose. In fact, over against evolutionists' claims that living things are put together in a kludgy manner, many creatures possess ingenious or even optimal features which are the envy of human engineers. See Design Q&A.

Finally, natural selection cannot even weed out the harmful mutations accumulating in various groups of organisms, so how could it create those organisms in the first place?

Beyond this, your son argued that we shouldn't be surprised about the apparent design features that we observe because, if nature had been randomly ordered differently, then we might marvel at that too, or we just wouldn’t be here. In other words, he’s thinking that the situation we do have is no more mysterious or surprising than any other possibility. But that’s incorrect. There are many ways to be dead, but only a comparatively few ways to be alive. So, in a randomly-ordered atheistic world, we should not expect any kind of life to exist.

freeimages.com tennis-balls

To give an analogy, let’s say we packed the entire visible universe with trillions upon trillions of green tennis balls, except for a handful that were colored red. Then we asked a blindfolded man to select one ball at random. What is the likelihood he would pick one of the red balls? Basically nil. But the fact that life exists is like picking a red ball.

Your son is saying that any individual ball the man picked is just as improbable as any other. That’s correct but, still, he would be overwhelmingly more likely to choose a green ball than a red one. We shouldn't marvel that the man picked the specific ball that he did; but we should marvel if he picked any of the red ones—because this is far too improbable to happen by chance. Returning to the existence of life, then, we aren’t saying that the universe had to be this exact way. But given all the possible ways the universe might have been, a life-permitting universe is far too improbable to chalk up to chance. See Cheating with chance.

Atheists who understand this difficulty try to get out of it by appealing to the ad hoc concept of the multiverse—the idea that there exists an enormous (perhaps infinite) number of parallel universes which are randomly ordered in their properties. But this just shows how desperate atheists are to avoid God despite the compelling case for design. See The universe is finely tuned for life.

I hope that encourages you, Eileen. I recommend you first read all the articles I’ve linked to above to thoroughly grasp the problems with your son’s argument. But then you might share this response with him, because I don’t think he’s really appreciated the strength of the case for Divine Design. If you can get through to him on this, perhaps it will open him up to repenting of his sins and getting to know the Creator personally.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Willem D.
Thanks for your reaction, Keaton. I know this place isn't meant for discussion, but I still think I had a good point and although you're perfectly right that we should be careful, in a way you actually confirm my point: we really can determine if something was created for a purpose or is just the product of natural processes. The fact that we now know the face on Mars was not intelligently designed and the fact that we know some rocks look like arrowheads but in fact are not, shows this. Also, I wouldn't consider the face on Mars an example of something that has the appearance of design. It just had the appearance of a face on one photo, but that's not much more than an invitation to take a closer look. Also, the shape of a rock is not what makes it look designed as an arrowhead. It's the discovery that the shape of the rock isn't determined by it's composition and thus cannot be explained by invoking wear and tear over thousands or millions of years, because it would have had a different shape then. It's the signs that somebody imposed his will on the matter, someone who knew how to make the rock take that shape while nothing in that rock contributed anything to this. So I maintain that the concept of "appearance of design" is invented solely for the purpose of dismissing the idea that life was created, because nothing in biology has shown that this appearance of design is just an illusion. It's only assumed, on ideological grounds.
Keaton Halley
I agree that if we set the standard for detecting design high enough, then we won't make any mistakes, because the right criteria reliably indicate design. So, as long as what you mean by "looks designed" is that it passes those tests, then, yes, nothing will look designed but not be. I was only trying to clarify that, because "looks designed" is somewhat ambiguous.
Philip U.
There is also the self defeating non logic in this claim for non purpose. If there is no purpose, then the idea that there is no purpose has no purpose. Therefore by its own premise the claim to lack of purpose is illogical.
murk P.
I like to go to the bottom. Sure the house is supported by the foundation but what supports the foundation?

Your son invokes chance as behind it all. If it is then all knowledge is an illusion. Anything can happen. Yet he is making a knowledge claim - think about it if he you and me are here by chance than our brains and thoughts come from this chance as well. therefore our thoughts cannot comport with anything that is true - since truth cannot exist (and the atheist must hold this as absolutely true:)

your son said: "There is just the appearance of meaningful survival and progression" this notion then also is meaningless - it has only the appearance of expressing something intelligent.

if chance is behind everything there is no chance that it did not -mmmmmm the adherent to chance being king must have a commitment to chance that is not subject to chance - do you see the tension.

Apart from Christ who created us and the world it is required to hold two opposing ideas simultaneously. Duplicity (or double mindedness) is a necessary result of attempting to suppress what God has clearly revealed to all people. He has done what He said he has. He determines reality

Opposition to this truth therefore results in never ending attempts to invoke absurd contradictory ideas to circumvent the unavoidable Why would someone who holds that chance is king use immutable invariant laws of logic to try to explain that it is?
Daniel F.
Wow! So glad I found this site. There are so many deluded people commenting with utter nonsense on topics clearly beyond their understanding. Looking forward to educating a lot of them.
Willem D.
It may also be good to make your son realise that everything we know that looks as if it were designed, IS actually designed! Archeologists use this principle when they dig up artifacts. They can simply see the difference between something that is made for a purpose and something that came about by random processes. Even something as simple as an arrowhead can easily be recognised as man-made. It's pretty weird to invent a whole new idea for the biological world (that design can be just an illusion) when our daily experience is that EVERYTHING that looks designed, IS designed. And if there's anything in this world that has all the characteristics of being designed (by someone far greater than we can imagine), it's living organisms.

I would ask your son for other examples where something looks designed, but isn't. The fact that he won't be able to name even one, should at least make him wonder why that is.
Keaton Halley
Let's be careful here. People are often fooled into thinking design is there when it is not. Just to give one example, consider the so-called 'face' on Mars. It superficially resembled the carving of a face into a hillside, although more detailed photos disproved this conclusively. And sometimes an ordinary rock may look like an arrowhead. It's not always easy to tell.

But when creationists identify design in living things, it's not just a superficial appearance of design. There are strong indicators that certain features like the reams of genetic information in DNA cannot be produced by natural processes, while designers do have that capability.
Robert B.
Often, when a creationist is trying to explain the vast improbabilities against random events spontaneously creating life, they resort to analogies like "guessing a 5000 digit PIN the first time, a tornado in a junkyard assembling a 747 airliner, or a Universe of green tennis balls and a few red ones... etc.
I'm pretty sure that all the homey analogies are water off a ducks back to a devout atheist however. They have boundless faith in the vastness of time and space to allow any improbable event to occur. But Stephen C. Meyer, devoted an entire chapter in his book "Signature in the Cell" to defining the "probabilistic resources" of the Universe by assigning actual numbers. Briefly, he took the the number of particles in the Universe and the supposed age of the Universe, and by factoring in the speed of light traveling the minimum distance possible (the Plank distance); he determined the maximum number of POSSIBLE EVENTS in a deep time universe. Then he went on to demonstrate that even a single modestly sized protein was unlikely given the probabalistic resources of the universe.
Many atheists realize that the only way get more in the way of a probabilistic resource is through the Multiverse; but that requires them to believe in something like the "Flying Spagetti Monster", something that cannot be seen and that we can never have evidence of. They have built themselves a God, except that their's demands nothing of them. Atheism is always idolatry ultimately.
Keaton Halley
Long ago, we published similar probability calculations dealing with the actual numbers and the probabilistic resources. See, for example, the video, Chemicals to Living Cell—Fantasy or Science?, or the book, By Design. The relevant section of the latter can be found in Answering another uninformed atheist: Galileo, Miller–Urey, probability.

My tennis ball analogy, although not precisely quantitative, was meant to capture the relevant probabilistic resources as well, but for the fine-tuning of the universe, not the origin of life. Red balls represent life-permitting universes, so there's more than one of those, but they are vastly outnumbered by green balls. In William Dembski's terminology, those are the specificational resources. Also, only one ball is picked, because we only observe one universe. Those are the replicational resources.

If atheists still favor the chance hypothesis, then, they are forced into believing in a multiverse which, as you say, is ad hoc and unscientific.
Joseph M.
The biggest problem is that life is not just a series of random forces and conditions. Information is central to life. Randomness don't produce informational products such as languages, codes, error correction systems and other abstract blueprints found in the cells DNA, epi-genome, etc. The closest analogy is the computer model and randomness is never used to create critical abstract software systems.

Physical and chemical laws are not random, but deterministic. Logical laws aren't random but absolute. We don't rely on random forces and conditions to reason, but we rely on uniformity (reliability) and absoluteness (logic). Our memory must be reliable before we can consider random forces and conditions. Information and absolutes destroys the randomness argument and it becomes the fallacy of affirming the consequence -- an argument where the second premise "random forces and conditions" affirms the consequent of the first premise "random life"
David M.
Any atheist should also consider that if their worldview were true – that everything is just the result of random chance happenings, blind chemistry acting in an undirected fashion, then truth and reason would be just an illusion. If an atheist/materialist worldview were true, they wouldn’t be able to help thinking the thoughts they do and in which case there would be no reason to believe such arguments in the first place! The fact that atheists want to engage in reasoned debate at all shows they can’t be consistent within their own beliefs which demonstrates that atheism is false.

By the way, it’s not just creationists that assume there is a ‘should’ – everyone, including atheists assume there are things that people should or should not do – if you are an atheist what is the basis for your ‘should’?
Peter D.
Re 'multiverse' hypothesis . Supposedly there are so many universes that every conceivable possibility must occur in at least one of them. If that hypothesis is true then there must be one universe which has been created. So how then do they know that our universe is not that one? Logically, if one universe in a multiverse is created, then all must be created. That's part of why I regard the supposed multiverse as high order nonsense.
Keaton Halley
Although the multiverse is fatally flawed, I don't think all of these criticisms succeed. For example, I don't see why all universes must have been created if one was. It sounds like you're trying to bring in the ontological argument for God here, but mischaracterizing it. See Multiverse theory for some of our criticisms.

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