18
Mar
09

The Theory of Untelligent Design and other Arguments

NOTE: I wrote this a few years ago for a blog that has long since been taken down by the owner. So thought I would put it as the first post in my new blog, I don’t know how much more of this type of thing I will do in future posts but there may be one or two…

Christians will tell you that the existence of the universe we live in is the only proof needed for the existence of their god. The usual argument is that of the pocket watch, the existence of a watch proves the existence of the watchmaker because if one cog or spring is out of place the watch will not function and as it is not possible for all of the pieces to be in the right place without a watchmaker to put them there he [1] must exist in order to have done so. They claim the same for their god; something as complicated and perfect as the world we live in, they say, could not have come into existence by chance, ergo, there must be a creator of some kind who did it. Most of the world’s religions (particularly the monotheistic ones) use similar arguments to justify the existence of their gods; I am however going to focus on Christianity, not because I have something against them, but simply because I know a lot more about their religion which means I can write about it without making so many mistakes [2]. They say there is no more original material any more and they are probably right, for this reason I might as well start by saying that this is likely to be heavily influenced by the works of Terry Pratchett, Richard Dawkins and Douglas Addams. Hopefully by freely admitting it I will prevent people saying “you ripped off such and such from so and so”.

I first wrote about the theory of Untelligent design as a joke when taking my GCSE Religious Education (Short Course) [3] exam. The question was something like this: “Explain the watchmaker argument for creation and discuss its validity”. So I explained about the argument and then went on to point out some of the flaws. This is what I am going to attempt to do again now, and (as I have more than half an hour to do so) this time in much greater detail. I suppose first I had better tell you exactly what Untelligent design is.

Untelligent Design – the theory that the world is in such a mess because it was made by a very stupid creator.

Let’s face it, the “perfect world” that Christians say proves the existence of their god simply does not exist. The world is a mess; there is famine, war, pestilence and death. If we are assuming an omnipotent and benevolent god created the world as a nice place for us to live (as any good Christian would have you believe) he would have been bloody stupid to include the four horsemen. Now I have tried pointing this out to some devout Christians, and they told me that these things are as a result of the original sin (the bit in the bible with the snake and the apple). Again this forces me to point out the stupidity of their god, why did he put the “apple tree” in the garden if he didn’t want them to eat from it? Being omnipotent he must have known that the serpent would persuade Eve to eat the fruit, so make a garden without the tree of knowledge and/or the serpent. Problem solved. You might say that it is easy to solve these problems with hindsight, but that is something that an omnipotent and omniscient being, by definition does have (and not just the kind that you get after an event). I must also point out that, for a supposedly omni benevolent being, their god can sure hold a grudge if we are still being punished for what our ancestors did shortly after creation. So according to the bible the world was badly put together, All of this suggests that the Christian god is either really stupid (hence untelligent design) who did a really bad job of it or does not exist. Personally, I prefer the later explanation. I also like the explanation given by Terry Pratchett in his novel “Small Gods” so I am going to include it here [4].

And of course there clearly had to be, said Koomi, a Supreme Being. But since the universe was a bit of a mess, it was obvious that the Supreme Being hadn’t in fact made it. If he had made it he would, being Supreme, have made a much better job of it, with far better thought given, taking an example at random, to things like the design of the common nostril.Or, to put it another way, the existence of a badly put together watch proved the existence of a blind watchmaker. You only had to look around to see that there was room for improvement practically everywhere.This suggested that the Universe had probably been put together in a bit of a rush by an underling while the Supreme Being wasn’t looking, in the same way that Boy Scouts’ Association minutes are done on office photocopiers all over the country.
So, reasoned Koomi, it was not a good idea to address any prayers to a Supreme Being. It would only attract his attention and might cause trouble.

So why is it that so many people insist on believing that the universe was created by a supreme being? The only real reason is that it is an easy explanation, one that requires little or no thought on the behalf of the believer. Scientific theories are often, at first glance, complex and difficult to understand, as a result a lot of people prefer the easy option; god did it. This removes the necessity to learn about difficult concepts and has the added bonus that it can answer every question [5] whereas science still can’t. In fact that is one of the main reasons given for faith over science, “science does not explain everything and therefore must be wrong” or “science keeps changing its mind and therefore must be wrong” and the old favourite “The devil put that evidence there to trick you therefore science must be wrong”. Now as far as the first two go, the scientific community would be the first to admit they don’t know everything and that they keep changing their minds about things. They would also say that assuming you know everything is a very good way of never finding anything new and that not changing your mind in light of new evidence would have the same effect. As for the third argument I would like to pose another question for the religious: If your god made everything why did he make the devil? And if he is so powerful why does he let the devil put this false evidence [6] for us to find? Why can’t he stop it?

The second part of the watchmaker argument states that it is not possible for the watch to exist without the watchmaker and that if you just threw the parts together randomly it would not work. And they say the same about the universe, it is impossible for it to have come together by chance. But is it? Unlikely is not the same as impossible. Would you consider it impossible to shuffle a deck of cards and have the cards all come out in numerical order? Well it isn’t. It could happen, even though the odds are around 8*10^67 to one against. The thing a lot of people don’t consider is the fact that every other combination of cards has exactly the same chance of turning up after a completely random shuffle. You would never say “Wow, that is amazing, I just shuffled these cards and they came out ‘6♠ 9 K♦ J 3♣ etc” would you? So why say it is amazing when they are in numerical order? It is because humans are good at seeing patterns in things even though these patterns are often not very special at all when mathematically analysed.

So we know it is not necessary for someone to deliberately arrange the cards in order to get one of the other combinations, this implies that it is not necessary for them to be deliberately arranged for them to be in numerical order either. This implies that if a universe of chaos (which is what the religious say we would have without a creator if we had a universe at all) doesn’t need a creator then neither does the universe of “order” that we live in. In fact the chances of this universe occurring by chance are exactly the same as that of any other universe.

Of course all of this only proves we don’t need a creator to explain how the universe ended up like this; it does not explain the existence of a universe in general any more than the above statement about cards explains the existence of the deck. This is something I would not like to speculate on myself, realising that one is ignorant is the most important step in understanding something new, and I freely admit I am ignorant on exactly how the universe began. The “big bang” theory (or a derivative of it) is somewhat popular at the moment but who knows what will be discovered in the future that might change that? All I can say with some degree of certainty is that, once the universe was started [7], no gods were necessary to ensure everything turned out the way it did; it was simply the roll of the dice.

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[1] I suppose I should be politically correct here and say “or she”.
[2] Ironically, when writing “so many mistakes” all three words had a typo in them. I would like to thank spellcheckers, without whom, this document would not be possible.
[3] GCSE RE is, for some reason, compulsory in the UK.
[4] Yep, extra padding!
[5] Though the answer “because god made it that way” isn’t really any more satisfying than the “because I said so” a child might get from his parents when asking why he can’t have another sweet. And let’s face it, “because I said so”, as many children have pointed out, is a pretty poor explanation really.
[6] Like rocks that are older than 6000 years and have dinosaur fossils in them.
[7] That is, a rapidly expanding region of space and time with matter and energy in it.

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