Atheists Make Chance Vs. Design Issue #1

Over the past several years, there has been an aggressive attack made on those who believe in God by a broad coalition of organizations. Not only have openly atheistic groups made this attack, but it has also been made by groups like the National Center for Science Education and a variety of skeptic societies. The basis of these attacks has been the belief that anyone who agrees that there is purpose or design in the cosmos is an ignorant religious fanatic who needs to be kept out of education or any role in society. When reputable authors came out with a book titled Of Pandas and People which suggested that design was necessary for life to come about, they were exposed to ridicule and their jobs as university teachers were even threatened. Reputable scientists like Fred Hoyle, Frank Tipler, and Paul Davies who have written scholarly works suggesting that chance cannot explain the complexities of the cosmos have been assailed as having lost their scientific credibility. We are now seeing articles in the popular press comparing belief in design in the cosmos to belief in ghosts. The recognition of evidence of design in the creation is viewed by some authors as unscientific and thus not worthy of consideration.

It may well be that the acceleration of attacks on the design question is due to the fact that atheists recognize how strong the argument is and want to dismiss it as religious so they do not have to deal with it. The fact is that, when the issue is considered, it does have credibility and can teach a great deal. It is also interesting to realize that there are other areas of science where the methods used to argue for design are not challenged even though the results are somewhat bizarre. In quantum mechanics, for example, there are major questions being considered as to whether the mere presence of an intelligent observer affects the outcome of an experiment. There is no action or process involved in this consideration--just the fact that the observer is there is believed to have a potential impact on the results.

I would like to suggest some major misunderstandings that people who object to design arguments have. I freely admit that I believe that the evidence of design in the creation is a valid argument for the existence of God, but in this discussion, I am primarily concerned that the arguments that I hear atheists making to deny that there is design demonstrate some misunderstandings of the concept itself. We would like to make four points which respond to these misunderstandings.

The Ability to Give a Hypothetical Chance Solution to an Issue Does Not Constitute Proof.

Many supporters of the belief that all that exists in the natural world can be explained by chance believe that, if there is any model they can construct which explains a phenomena which excludes design, the design alternative is automatically invalid. People like Richard Dawkins (author of The Blind Watchmaker) develop elaborate hypothetical series of events which could lead to a certain desired result. Some of these events are very unlikely, and many times there are large numbers of events that have to occur in a sequence for the end result to be accomplished. Writers like Dawkins are very creative and very intelligent so the arguments are quite complex. After making the long series of steps from one event to the next, the language of the author speaks as if the event obviously happened by a random chance process because the model they built is possible.

There are many problems with this approach. First of all, there is the issue of probability. The more chance events there are to get to a desired result, the less likely it is that the event will occur. The odds of drawing the ace of spades out of a deck of cards is one out of 52. The odds of doing it twice in a row is one out of 2,704. The odds of doing it four times in a row is one out of 3,311,616. The more complex the situation, the less likely it is that blind chance can be the causal agent. To ignore this basic mathematical fact and claim proof because you have a possible path of events is a poor argument.

It is also important to understand that any chance model that does not have historical documentation to support it is a long way from proof. Models just show a possibility. In most evolutionary proposals, there is more than one possible way a particular form of life or condition of matter might have come into being. To prove that any particular process is, in fact, what happened, there must be historical data that validates the proposal. Transitional fossils, chemical or physical traces, observations by people who witnessed events in the past, or cases where the process is repeated in today's world are all ways in which this can be done. Many times in the past, there have been proposals which turned out to be overly simplistic, with whole steps missing or environmental circumstances not understood. Sometimes destructive agents were found in the process that required special adaptations to avoid the destruction of the whole experiment. The famous Miller/Urey experiment which produced amino acids from ammonia, methane, water vapor, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen is a classic example. The energy systems used in the experiment (electricity and/or ultraviolet light) destroy amino acids 10,000 times faster than they form them. A trap is necessary in the apparatus to sweep the amino acids out of harm's way. Translating this to a natural environment takes a great many creative guesses.

Even experimental models that work may not be correct because of the difference between laboratory conditions and conditions in the real world. Models are useful, but they do not constitute proof.

Design Arguments Are Not Ad Hoc

What are the odds that you would be sitting where you are reading this article? The answer is 100% or one out of one because you are doing it! Many critics of the design proponents state that all of their arguments are like this one--ascribing odds to things that already exist! There undoubtedly have been those who have done this, but questions about process must not be confused with questions about results. The odds of life originating by chance, for example, does not assume life's existence at the beginning, but assumes the materials to make life were already created and in a given location with a set of environmental conditions--in other words, creation is assumed. People who argue for the chance formation of life then propose ways that the assumed materials could have produced that which is able to move, breath, respond to outside stimuli, and reproduce.

Design proponents make the same assumptions about the start of things, but look at the odds of any pathway to any kind of life (by the standard textbook definition given above) by chance alone. Their conclusion that any pathway is too statistically unlikely to accept just implies there are other methods which involved intelligence to get to the desired result. The two approaches are both concerned with the odds of the processes, and both would allow end results unlike what is in existence today.

Design Does Not Automatically Mean God

Francis Crick, the Nobel prize winning biologist, in his book Life From Space goes through the odds of life occurring by chance and shows that chance is an invalid mechanism. To solve this, he proposes that aliens have seeded the cosmos with packets of DNA so that life can proliferate in large numbers of places. Critics will be quick to point out that Crick's solution only rolls the question one planet back to the question of who created the aliens, but our point here is that design is not automatically a religious proposal. Many skeptics of religion have offered design proposals apart from any kind of a supreme being.

"Any Chance at All" Is Not a Valid Response

The chance of drawing the ace of spades out of a cold deck is one in 52. If I gave you 52 draws, however, the odds are that you would get the ace of spades once during your 52 draws. A favorite argument against design is that, if you went long enough, it would happen no matter what the odds are. The problems with that proposal are enormous. First of all, there is not infinite time available. The maximum age of the cosmos by anyone's guess is 1010*. If the Big Bang, inflation, or even oscillating universe theories are accepted, space is not infinite. Whenever the creation process began, the cosmos size constraints were established. Nuclear theorists have estimated that there are 1070* baryons in the cosmos (the building blocks of atoms).

When one calculates the odds of life occurring by chance, or of cosmological conditions being capable of supporting life, the numbers come up to be on the order of one in 10160*, one in 10464*, one in 10700*. These are relatively simple calculations that many seniors in high school can do, and they all exceed the number of possible places in the cosmos by such a huge amount that they render chance as too improbable to accept.

The cosmos and life within it are not the produce of chance. Logically and mathematically, there is too much evidence of design to accept the notion that there is no intelligence behind our existence. While the nature of the design we see might be proposed by some to be aliens or other dimensional beings or forces, they cannot give a motive behind creation! Recognizing the existence of God and being able to see that there is a logical and eternal purpose in our being makes the design evidence in the creation a valid argument for the existence of God. Careless arguments to try to negate the design/Designer arguments need to be challenged. Truly, "we can know there is a God through the things He has made."

* text only web browsers, please read as 10 to the nth power
                            --John N. Clayton

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