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Feedback archive Feedback 2015

Objections to the logic of design

Published: 13 June 2015 (GMT+10)

E.K. from the U.S. wrote in, asking us to help him answer some challenges to the logic of the design argument:

Photo by Eric Erbe, wikipedia Escherichia coli

Low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped.

How do I respond to this? “how can you differentiate between design and not-design when, in your view, everything is designed by Yahweh? How do you differentiate between Yahweh designed rocks and Yahweh designed bacteria?

More importantly, by definition Yahweh is not limited to designing the way material life designs, so the leap from “This looks like something we might design, therefore Yahweh exists and designed it” is a pretty big leap.”

CMI’s Keaton Halley responds:

Hi E.K.,

Glad you are interacting with these questions which presumably come from a critic. If they are meant to undermine the design argument, I will argue that they do not succeed.

Regarding the first question, the difference between a rock and a bacterium is that one of these exhibits features which cannot be accomplished by natural processes. The bacterium is characterized by a high degree of specified complexity, which enables us to infer design since natural processes alone cannot generate this feature de novo, while we see agents producing specified complexity all the time. See Is the design explanation legitimate?

Note, here I'm talking about how the structures of rocks and bacteria arose given a world with raw materials already in existence. If we were to consider the origin of the raw materials themselves starting from absolutely nothing, natural processes would not be able to produce the rock either. We've exposed many problems with the idea that stars and planets and rocks could be produced in the aftermath of the Big Bang. But let's just stipulate that the raw materials are in place and natural laws are governing the universe. At that point new rocks can form on their own from raw materials, but not so with bacteria.

Now, whoever posed this question is right to recognize that we believe God is responsible for the properties of the rock as well as the bacterium, because God set up the laws of nature which governed the formation of the rock. He works through natural processes as well as supernatural. But something more than natural processes was required to produce the bacterium—something we call design.

So I would not use the language of 'design' to describe the rock unless this particular rock was produced by something other than natural processes. That is, for our purposes, the definition of design includes producing something by means that are not purely natural (how the world regularly and consistently operates today). And, using that definition, we can make a case that rocks are not designed (or at least that we cannot infer design in their case) and that bacteria are, even though God stands behind both.

Regarding your second question, the challenger has oversimplified the argument and left out a number of steps, so it's no wonder the critic mischaracterizes it as “a pretty big leap.” First of all, our case does not depend on a particular method or mechanism God used to design, so whether God designs “the way” we do is a red herring.

Second, our argument is stronger than saying this merely “looks like something we might design.” We claim that, whenever we know the source, a high degree of specified complexity can always be traced to an agent and never arises due to natural processes alone. So it is most rational to attribute those cases where the source is unknown to agency as well—and this is the very premise behind much of archaeology, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, crime scene investigation, etc.

Third, there are many other considerations that come to bear on the identity of the Designer. For example, the Designer of life and the cosmos is a personal being (since that is what it means to be an agent). Given the genius and scope of the designed objects, the Designer must be vastly more intelligent than any human being, and must transcend the universe since the universe itself is designed. The critic wants to avoid the implication that God made these things, but how many other plausible candidates meet the criteria of being a personal, transcendent, highly intelligent being?

Also, the design argument need not be considered in isolation—there are many additional reasons to believe that God is the Designer. One independent source of knowledge, for instance, is the revelation which God has given us in the Bible. The Bible insists that God is the Creator, and we have many good reasons to think the Bible is genuinely God's Word. So it's not a big leap to recognize God as Creator; it's actually so obvious that people are culpable for their unbelief.

Romans 1:18–20
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Keaton Halley

Helpful Resources

By Design
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $10.00
Kindle (.mobi)
By Design
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $10.00
eReader (.epub)
Refuting Evolution
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $12.00
Soft Cover
Busting Myths
by J Sarfati & G Bates, edited
US $17.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Robert W.
E.K. Is almost there. Almost able to grasp just how great The Creator/Sustainer of the universe and all things really is. YHWH indeed is not limited......period.
Just as Jeremiah was told vs. 5 chapter 1 of the Bible, "I knew you before I formed you in the belly, Before you came forth from the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you a prophet to the nations".
That was Jeremiahs deal, and it means that every life is known by God prior to conception, that God places His special stamp of holiness and high status on each life, and thirdly that He has a plan for that life-IF we choose to embrace that plan.
Everything shows us that God Is. And we are wise to have ears to hear everything He says, from instruction on how to live, to standing strong against those who oppose Him. His love for us is the most wonderful thing about Him.
Mankind asks why He doesn't just reveal Himself to us. He does. He walked this earth as a man, as a God-man, Son of God, son of man. And we "must" believe this. Gods plan for our re-birth in Christ is the best news of all. And He set the example by experiencing death, then taking His life up again.
Bible prophecy, another proof that God can be trusted because what He decrees comes to pass and will continue to, (read The Bible, then watch the news), is proof He knows the future.
He sentenced sin to destruction, not us. But only in Jesus Christ do we have eternal life. Just as Jeremiah embraced Gods plan for his life and is called a holy man, each of us have our own. In Christ, we too are made holy.
Lachlan W.
One of the most convincing proofs for me that this world was designed is that I am designed to recognise design.
Adrian C.
Good response by Keaton.

1) God designed the "raw materials" - the initial universe, the laws of physics, etc - and let these laws run their course (while sometimes intervening). Among many other things, they produced things like rocks. So, rocks are not directly designed by God but indirectly. One can see the design of the "raw materials" when one looks at the "Fine Tuning Argument" for example - they were setup very precisely so that 1) the universe permits the existence of life and 2) the universe can be known by intelligent agents like us.

2) Keaton rightly points out the issue with the critics' use of "the way" - which assumes there are multiple ways (and this assumption of plurality underlies both of his questions). There is really one way to conclude there is design involved: specified complexity as Keaton mentioned. This was obvious as early as Paley's Natural Theology. More recently Dembski's Design Inference rigorously defines the inference of design. This is a pretty obvious conclusion. Whenever you have coordinated complexity that could have not occurred naturally it, it must have been designed, regardless of the "way" the agent chose to express design. The coordination required by specified complexity entails astronomically small probabilities that could have not happened naturally unless one believes in miracles. Abiogenesis is a good example.
Robert W.
The critic is well-taught by this article. CMI is now my number two scientific source next to Gods Word itself for truth in all creation vs. evolution discussions. It is only after a lot of prayer that I am confident to make this statement.

I pray that all skeptics and outright unbelievers come to the knowledge of YHWH and His Christ, by whom and for whom ALL things are made (created). Some are not far from The Kingdom of God, those who believe aliens of greater intelligence crafted life forms, for instance, think of it. YHWH is not of this world, but from The Third Heaven. Why, then is it so hard to admit the "alien" you so desire to know not only made you but loves you? Christ taught He was not of this world, and that He and The Father are one. And many witnesses saw Him prove it. And then they documented it. And not mere men, not in the spiritual sense. Men inspired by God through His direction as well as by the things they witnessed and experienced.

All praise to our Great Creator! Receive Christ today.
Keaton Halley
Thanks for the kind words. Only as a point of clarification, the way the theological term "inspiration" is ordinarily used, it applies to the written Word itself rather than the men God used to write that Word. Didn't want anyone to be confused by that.
Dave R.
“This looks like something we might design, therefore Yahweh exists and designed it” is an extension of “This looks like something that must have been designed, therefore someone must exist who designed it”, which is surely a perfectly logical conclusion, in view of all the “somethings” in question being of such an order of complexity and ingenuity that, comparatively, they make a sky rocket look like a kid’s toy.

It is both perfectly logical and wholly scientific to conclude that, when design is clearly in evidence, then there must be a designer. But logic and the scientific method are jettisoned when, in the full light of obvious design, one precludes from one’s consideration the possibility of the existence of a designer.

Such an aberration is adequately described thus in Paul’s epistle to the Romans,
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them for, since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse for, although they knew God (that he exists – because of all the material evidence), they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Romans 1 v 18-21
Jeff W.
Helpful and well reasoned.

Struck by how the beginning of wisdom and knowledge is the fear of the LORD*; that is, the response of humble belief in the self-existent God who created heaven & earth is required before anything in His creation truly makes sense or consistently yields to reason. He is our dwelling place throughout all generations (Ps 90:1) and the foundation of sound thought.

(*LORD, YHWH = 'I am who I am')
Steve S.
Before Creation Week there was just the uncreated, eternal God, so everything exists because of God.

Nobody would dispute tablets of stone with writing carved on it as being ascribed to intelligence, but they would dispute it if it were the 10 Commandments written by God, likewise all life and the universe.
Ron F.
Great initial article in response to critic's question. Great comment by John H. Great response to comment. All three magnified God for me. I think that God is involved in "natural" laws so perhaps they are also divine laws. Colossians seems to say that God created all things and He holds them together.
Chandrasekaran M.
How can you differentiate between apparent design and not-design when, in your view, everything is evolved by natural processes? How do you differentiate between natural processes producing rocks and natural processes producing genetic information of bacteria?

More importantly, by definition natural processes are not limited to producing the way material life produces, so the leap from “This looks like something we might design, therefore evolution exists and produced it” is a pretty big leap.”
Keaton Halley
I assume this is directed toward evolutionists, but I don't think it rightly characterizes the way they reason. I like the idea of turning the tables on them using their own arguments, but we need to accurately portray their arguments lest we attack a straw man.
Joseph M.
I would say there are two aspects here and they are “design” and “thoughts”. “Specified complexity" is a reliable indicator of “design”. That is to say, sequences of characters are organized in a particular way to convey meaning to whatever is acquainted with the language.

But design can be programmed into thoughtless machines that reproduce designed tools. So we also have to seek reliable indicators of ‘thoughts’ associated to the design process, which machines do not possess. We know natural processes are deterministic and the outcomes are dictated, such as chemical reactions. So, it is safe to make the claim that natural processes cannot cross the divide between organized abstract concepts (e.g. programming) and deterministic outcomes.

“Intentional Choice” is a reliable indicator of “thoughts”. That is to say, freedom from determinism involving organized abstract concepts that exhibit intent for a reason and purpose or ultimate meaning.

“Specified complexity” uniformly arises from intelligent causes, not the unguided forces of nature. “Intentional choice” also uniformly arises from intelligent thought causes, not the unguided forces of nature. The biological cell has both these indicators of intelligence.

Design and intentional choice is a central theme throughout Genesis both in the creation of everything and the choice to sin of Adam and Eve.
John H.
Actually, even the rocks and all else in existence are composed of atoms and subatomic particles that are "precisely balanced" and profoundly ordered and structured. Created and designed to accomplish a specifically prescribed purposes. And "Chaos Theory" has itself demonstrated that there are amazing and highly elaborate patterns even in what "appears" to be chaos. Meaning, there is specified structure and design in all of nature, even at the deepest level.
Keaton Halley
Yes, there is design at many levels. My response zeroed in on the fact that natural laws are insufficient to build a bacterium, but not a rock, from spare parts. But those laws themselves demand an explanation, and we shouldn't let atheists get away with positing the laws of nature as a brute fact.

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