Monday, February 3, 2014

Grand Designs

Since I've decided to make a new effort to blog again, I've been reviewing some old drafts and talking points that have been accruing dust.  Yesterday, I came across a post that I never got around to finishing.  It was written when Ray Comfort called into the Atheist Experience show near the end of March in 2011.  I just heard that Matt and Ray are supposed to debate again this coming Friday, and since this is the eve of the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham "debate", I thought it fitting to finish up the post for you.

As I press play on a video of the Atheist Experience TV show, I find myself reaching for a stress ball.  This is a special episode in which evangelist Ray Comfort calls the program.  I'm familiar with Ray and his favorite arguments for the god of the bible, and I'm more than certain he's going to use one that falls into the category of PRATT (Previously Refuted A Thousand Times).

Sure enough, Ray began his argument from design right out of the gate.  In Ray's view, anyone who has a brain and eyes should be able to look around at the world and see design.  How this apparent design points to his particular god is still a mystery, but the flaws to this argument are not.

And while you might think I'm about to list all the reasons why this argument is flawed, I'm not (you can find those on your own).  Instead, I'm actually going to -- for the sake of this post -- concede that nature has been designed.

"STA, have you lost your godless mind?!" No, no yet anyway.  But if we analyze this "designer" vis-à-vis its "design" we can examine the aptitude of this being.  It's irrelevant if this designer is the god of the Bible or the Qur'an, Zeus, Baal, FSM, or shape-shifting lizard men from the Andromeda galaxy.  If we assume that whoever created and/or designed life as it exists on our planet was indeed a conscious designer (or group of designers) that has a mind either dependent or independent of a body, we can examine its work and know it, as Matthew 7:20 states.

I Don't Need No Proof
I'm a somewhat musician and I love to sing and strum to a variety of songs, several of which come from a band called Live.  (At the time of writing, Live has disbanded and apparently the lead singer has now fully embraced Christianity.)  My guitar-playing buddy and I used to cover one of their songs entitled Heaven, whose chorus lyrics are:

I don't need no one to tell me about heaven
I look at my daughter, and I believe.
I don't need no proof when it comes to God and truth
I can see the sunset and I perceive.

I have to admit that once I truly became aware of my disbelief in a god, I could no longer perform this song -- even though I still perform many songs that reference ideas about heaven, god, angels, etc.  This song embodies the argument from design (in some ways a subset of the argument from ignorance) so completely that I can't bring myself to perform it for people.  It's still a good song in its own right, with a great hook, catchy melody, and it's well performed as many of Live's songs are.  But the narrator of the song (and now the actual singer, apparently) believes that God exists because things like sunsets and babies are beautiful.

Pay No Attention to the Flesh-Eating Bacteria
This kind of argument is put forth almost every time I ask a theist to give me reasons why they believe in god.  The response usually goes something like, "Look at the trees, birds, and the magnificence of a baby's eye and tell me how you don't believe in a god!"

But what about the very unpleasant in the world: ichneumon wasps, childhood leukemia, necrotizing fasciitis.  It's always amazing to me that I have to point out this bald-faced cherry picking of nature.  They might say, "look at this wonderful flower!  Only a God could have made it!" and then I turn over the flower and find ten kinds of bug that can kill you ten different, horrible ways.  Where's the credit go then?
Were we to examine the enumerations of our world's supposedly grand designs, we would see that a better design could be easily proposed.  Neil deGrasse Tyson said it well:

As Mr. Tyson points out, the world doesn't seem designed with us in mind.  Indeed, even our own bodies are lacking when it comes to functionality.  There are a myriad of ways to die without the aid of external forces, such as choking to death.

The theistic claims generally rest upon the idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing designer, and the fact that we, a supposedly fallible and broken creation, could suggest a design that is better than "perfect" should be a red flag.

It is not hubris to claim that the designer could have done better.  For the "designer" is blind.

The Blind Watchmaker
Nature has been designed -- by nature herself.  The puddle of rain was not designed for the divot in which it rests.  The hand was not designed for the glove.  Creationists too oftentimes put the cart before the horse.  Had enough metaphor yet?

The "designer" simply used the tools that were available, molding and shaping fauna and flora by jerry-rigging haphazardly working with what it has.  It's like giving a child a set of blocks and telling him to build various things with them. Whereas the child is given only a finite number of blocks, a truly omnipotent designer wouldn't have to stick with the pool of resources to create, it could simply create from nothing the parts it needed.

Only in reality, the "designer" is mindless.  There is no direction or goal to the design.  It's not a true design in the sense that we know it, and that's one of the main problems with the watchmaker argument, a favorite of Ray's.  But we can look around and easily see how much of the universe isn't designed for us.  We can examine ourselves and discover problems with our parts and systems as a whole.  We see design because life works and we're used to thinking that things can't work unless they are created with a goal to do so.

If a designer made nature, it could have done better.  Fortunately, we have found that by putting the evidence first -- not the conclusion that we are designed -- we find life changing and evolving without the need of a designer.  The results look designed, but only in the same sense that the puddle looks designed for the hole it lands in.

I Look At My Daughter
Even if evolution were to somehow be disproved, some kind of intelligent designer wouldn't automatically win the top spot for explanation.  Instead it must be proven on its own merits that this designer made things like trees, birds, cholera, and eyeballs.

Since the time of this writing, I have had a daughter.  The first time I saw her, I was filled with emotion and love.  She was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.  Now, looking back at this post, I'm reminded of those lyrics in the song.  I don't need anyone to tell me a god designed us.  I look at my daughter, and I perceive the little shifts that life took, over millions of years, to "design" such a wonderful thing.  To claim that a god poofed her into existence is to deny facts and evidence we've gathered through diligent study, not reading from a book.  And we I look upon a sunset, I believe that humanity can and will learn more through the use of science and the eschewing of religion and ideas of intelligent designers.

But I'll admit my version's not as catchy.


No comments: